HIS Grace the Most Rev Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan has passed away at the age of 104.
Early on Wednesday (May 5) morning, many Mar Thoma Malaysians were met with the news that the venerable bishop of the Mar Thoma Syrian Christian Church had passed away at the Fellowship Mission Hospital in Kumbanad in the Pathanamthitta district of Kerala, India.
He had just celebrated his 104th birthday on April 27, and was regarded as one of the world's oldest bishops.
Philipose Mar Chrysostom, fondly known to local Mar Thoma parishioners as Valiya Thirumeni, was the emeritus Metropolitan of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, and a bishop for close to 68 years.
He was awarded India's third highest civilian award, the Padma Bhushan, in 2018.
"The passing on of our revered Philipose Mar Chrysostom Valiya Metropolitan is a great loss to the church and the numerous people he touched through his life and ministry.
"He was loved by everyone and brought so much joy and laughter through his witty and humorous presentation," said Rev Dr Thomas Philips, former President of the Council of Churches Malaysia and Senior Vicar of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church in Malaysia.
"Valiya Metropolitan was truly a man of the people who showed the love of his God through his care and concern for everyone. He was a regular visitor to the Malaysian Church from 1954 to uplift the faithful diaspora community until the time he was unable to travel.
"The world has lost a great visionary but his legacy will continue.”
When he turned 100, it was reported in the online news portal onmanorama.com that Mar Chrysostom had said,"My father lived up to 103 years old. Now, I am turning 100. But I do not believe that I have made any significant contribution to the world. I was born in an ordinary village. I was not ambitious. I never chased anything. But God made me do so many things. I am happy.”
Mar Chrysostom's parents were Vicar General K. E. Oommen and Sosamma. Born Philip Oommen in 1918, he attended schools in Maramon, Kozhencherry and Eraviperoor, and went to UC College in Aluva and the Union Theological College in Bengaluru before going on missionary work to Ankola in Karnataka.
He was ordained in 1944 and made an episcopa in 1953. During his tenure, he was the president of the National Council of Churches, India and attended the World Council of Churches at Evanston in 1954 and Uppsala in 1968. He also attended the Second Vatican Council.
In 2007, Valiya Thirumeni announced his resignation as supreme head of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church on grounds of old age and ill-health.
Many youth from Mar Thoma churches in Malaysia have fond memories of Valiya Thirumeni and remember him as a jovial, friendly bishop who always had time to chat with them at annual church camps.
The name Chrysostom in Greek means "golden-mouthed" and Valiya Thirumeni was reported to have once said: "I do not have a golden tongue but I love talking to people. I was not a public speaker when I was a student. But I used to talk a lot. I am just speaking about the things I have learned from those interactions and experiences. I always liked interacting with individuals and society."
On Mar Chrysostom's 90th birthday, the Mar Thoma Church devised a project, the Navathy Home Project, to build homes for 1,500 families in India, irrespective of caste, creed or religion.
On his 100th birthday, the Church officially inaugurated the project among the transgender community.
Bible Society Malaysia general secretary Rev Mathew K. Punnoose, also a Malaysian Mar Thomite, remembers Valiya Thirumeni once responding to a question on whether he had any disappointments in his life with: "When I make my own appointment in life, I face disappointments. But if go by God's appointment, then I never have any.”
Archbishop Datuk Melter Tais, president of Council of Churches Malaysia (CCM), the Christian Federation Malaysia, together with other church leaders conveyed their condolences and sympathies to all the faithful of the Malankara Mar Thoma church, along with CCM general secretary Rev Dr Herman Shastri, who said,"May His Grace rest in peace as he awaits the resurrection of the blessed.”
ANN MARIE CHANDY