At six o’clock in the morning Priest Dr. George Pulikottil of St. Gregorios Orthodox Church, Oak Park, Illinois, USA woke me up from my deep sleep to tell the sad news of the demise of our Holy Father Mor Thoma Basilios Matthews II, who had retired from the administration of the Church about two months ago.
Normally speaking, one has no reason for a shock after listening to the news of the earthly departure of a ninety-one year old high priest who has had the longest tenure in his episcopate in the history of the Church of Malankara. In fact, His Holiness was a bishop of Holy Orthodoxy in Malankara for about fifty-three years. But what was most shocking was his unexpected demise as he maintained a habit of fighting for his life as a man of prayer and vigil. None of us thought that this would happen so soon.
I was seven years old when my mother placed me in front of Hieromonk Matthews for his blessing when he visited my mother parish at Edavankad, Cherianad, India. This was about a year before his consecration to the episcopate at the age of thirty-eight. He laid his hands on me and blessed me. It was the same hands that were laid on me when I became a Chor-Episcopos of Holy Orthodoxy in 1986. This is the personal spiritual bond that connected both of us, in addition to his rank as the hierarch of hierarchs in the Church of Malankara.
IHe saw the good days of the Church from 1958 to 1971 when the Holy Church of Malankara was united again after the famous Supreme Court verdict of 1958. He saw also the unpleasant days of the Church since 1971 when the Church was again rocked with the resurrected schism. AS head of the Church he received another verdict from the Supreme Court in 1995 establishing the legitimacy of the Catholicate and the Constitution of the Church promulgated in 1934; which was definitely a victory. However, it is observed that he could not reap the benefits of this victory due to the uncompromising position of the patriarchal faction. On many occasions, this writer has observed, that the meekness and humility of His Holiness were detrimental, because they prevented him from taking decisive actions as an administrator. He was a kind and compassionate father that he never wanted to inflict pain on anyone, and so he sought ways that were diplomatic and comforting rather than surgical. In this sense, his meekness was his weakness. The monastic life that he embraced always reminded him to be least punitive and offensive. Many people exploited his meekness and took advantage of him. The results? The Church could not harvest the fruits of peace despite the great Court victory in 1995.
His Holiness will be remembered as a great pioneer in establishing educational institutions within an ancient Church. He believed in the social power generated by educational and social institutions. Therefore, he mobilized his energy and time in this direction. There are numerous collegiate, secondary and primary institutions erected by him. In a society where relevance is measured in terms of the strength of institutions that support the community at large these establishments are definitely lighthouses that declare the contributions of the Orthodox Church in Keralam. Thousands of students are being educated in these institutions, and thousand are employed in various capacities and thus are supporting their own families and the economic framework of the community. If we look for an individual entrepreneur employing the largest number of workforce, we may not find any other person but His Holiness.
There were critics about how these institutions were built; many people were not happy about donations demanded for these institutions. Once Metropolitan Eustathios of Niranam observed in connection with a reception accorded to His Holiness, “People generally consider His Holiness and me the most skillful in fundraising. What I do is simply the job of a postman; I get your contributions and give to the projects for which the funds are raised. His Holiness is the wise entrepreneur, who invests your funds in constructing and reconstructing our communities where the members of those communities become beneficiaries of his farsightedness as students, clients and employees”. Yes, an enormous number of beneficiaries, beyond the denominational lines, venerate His Holiness as their provider, father, benefactor, mentor, adviser, healer, and spiritual master. In the history of any Church in Keralam, there is no prelate or community leader parallel to His Holiness in this respect.