Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostom was just a smile away from Christ. His name will be etched in history as the one who reminded a generation to laugh with his humor-laced sermons.
Like Jesus Christ who generously sprinkled his discourses with parables and anecdotes, Chrysostom recognised the potential of humour in the spiritual sphere.
The peals of laughter that he sparked, went beyond the Church. He effectively employed humour to win hearts, and to lead his audience to profound thoughts.
His ways were different from conventional methods. Since the beginning of modern times, the Church confined its reading to only one book, The Bible. It kept movies, music and literature at an arm’s length. Hymns and songs gained prominence in the worship sessions gradually.
Chrysostom was a refreshing change to the orthodox Church atmosphere. He attracted the common man to the church though humour and simple messages.
The change was revolutionary. He proved that humour in church would not dilute its sanctity. In fact, it reinforced the foundation of the Church.
Laughter, for Chrysostom, was a potent tool to effectively communicate to the common man the secrets of life and profound spiritual truths. The lofty thoughts that Chrysostom offered wrapped in humour seeped into his psyche as he keenly listened to him.
After his abdication in 2007 as the Senior Metropolitan, Chrysostom gradually became a part of the larger society. His column, Vellithaalam (silver platter), in Malayala Manorama, made him more popular. The column catapulted him from being the Bishop of the Mar Thoma Church to a Bishop for all, cutting across religious boundaries.
Chrysostom’s humorous takes were often gentle humbling raps on our pride, which made us see the truth. He had the uncanny ability to hear and observe things missed by an ordinary person. His ability to weave in contemporary developments to his writings gained wide acceptance.
However, restricting his legacy to humor is a transgression. The thoughts which emerged from his vast experience were profound. While we memorised the dictum, 'an unchanging God in a changing world', Chrysostom taught us of 'a changing God in an unchanging world'.
He was a staunch advocate of unity among churches as well. He taught that even the supper served by your mother is a sacramental food with the presence of the Holy Spirit. The Senior Metropolitan also taught to consider any event in life as a sacrament, strengthening the relationship with the society.
Chrysostom had also stood for the environment. His had raised concerns over development leading us to an irreparable exploitation of natural resources and environmental pollution. He was worried over the plundering of natural resources posing a threat to future generations.
He had been worried over wealth being confined to a small section with its rightful owners becoming refugees in their own land. “Tribals are being evicted from their natural habitats. The silent population has to sacrifice much to ensure a better life for the rich,” he had said.
Chrysostom once wrote: “Some may address Metropolitans as the supreme authority of the Church. But Jesus is the Church’s supremo.” Not many can claim to have his humility.