St. Geevarghese Mar Gregorious, popularly known as “Parumala Thirumeni”, was a bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church and the first saint from the church to be venerated. He was famous for his saintly life, unfaltering faith, passion for the mission of Christ and compassion for his fellow beings.
He was born on 15th June 1848, in a distinguished family called ‘Chathuruthi Pallithatta’ in the village Mulanthuruthy near Cochin. He was baptised by name Geevarghese and was called ‘Kochaipora’. From childhood days, he was strongly inclined towards a very disciplined life of prayer and fasting. His uncle Fr. Geevarghese Malpan, who was a teacher in the church, trained him in faith, liturgy, theology, Syriac etc. He was ordained as deacon (Korooyo) at the age of 10 and after the demise of his uncle, he continued education under Konatt Malpan of Pambakkuda and bishop Yuyakim Mar Koorilose of Antioch.
In 1865, Mar Koorilose raised Deacon Geevarghese to the order of priest (Kasisso), when he was only 17 years of age. In the very same year, he was also ordained as Cor-Episcopa. All this happened while he was traveling to various churches along with Mar Koorilose, as his secretary and student. The bishop was deeply impressed with the faith and devotion of young Geevarghese and decided that his ordination would help to fight the protestant ideas, which were creeping into the church.
Geevarghese Kasisso was very much inclined to the life of a monk and had Mar Athanasios (Monk, Egypt, 3 rd Century AD) as his idol. So he moved to Vettikkal Dayara and lead a monastic life. In 1872, Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysious ordinated him as Ramban (Monk). He was very happy at this and became all the more devoted to prayers and fasting. This helped him to purify himself as a godly man. His presence at the Dayara attracted many and even people with family left it to be at the Dayara. Geevarghese Ramban had to discourage many of them for the sake of their families and instruct them to go to the Dayara only on Sundays and other canonical feasts.
He grew in prayers and visitors could rarely meet him as he spent most of the time in his prayer room. He was also keen to make copies of ancient Syriac books, for printing was rare in those times. He was very zealous about Lents and used them well to grow in spirit.
The Patriarch of Antioch Mar Ignatius Peter III visited Malankara in 1875, in view of controlling the Protestant Reformation, which attracted many members of the church. Geevarghese Ramban was his secretary and interpreter, and impressed His Holiness by his devotion and commitment to the cause of the church. Mar Ignatius sanctified Geevarghese Ramban to the order of Metropolitan (Bishop) on December 10, 1876 as Mar Gregorios, at the age of 28. He was the youngest among the bishops and came to be famous as “Kochu Thirumeni”, which means ‘young Bishop’. Since Mar Gregorios was appointed as the bishop of Niranam Diocese, he moved to his bishopric. He started a monastery at Parumala and trained deacons and priests for the Church.
The relationship that Kochu Thirumeni had with Niranam is worth mentioning. He used to stay in the Niranam Church for administration purposes and used a small room, which had been separated for the use of bishops. Kizhakkedathu Geevarghese Kathanar, Kuttikkattil Yeramia Kathanar and Chennithala Kottathuvilla Valiachan who were members of Niranam Church, stayed with Parumala Thirumeni to help him in his endeavours. Also, the members of the parish economically supported in sustaining the seminary at Parumala. There were many clergy from Niranam, who were trained by Mar Gregorious. Some of them to be mentioned are Mattakkal Alexanthraos Kathanar, Panackamittathu Abraham Kathanar etc.
The room that Thirumeni used, is no longer used, as a new building was constructed for bishopry, called Aramana. But this room has been segregated and the bed used by bishops preserved, for believers to see. Recently, the porch in front of this room was reconstructed to be used as a memorial for the Saint, and named as “Parumala Thirumeni Smrithi Mandiram”.
* * Kathanar, Achan etc means priest
Mar Gregorious was a visionary and was instrumental in setting up many educational institutions which are till date serving the society at large. The Syrian English School (present ‘MGM Higher Secondary School’) at Thiruvalla, was a dream of Parumala Thirumeni. He was also keen to preach gospel among the lower castes. He was a social reformer who very well understood the social stigma that could arise towards the lower caste people who were baptized. He was of the opinion that they should be given exclusive churches at first and later, mingling should happen. He also wished to provide education to the poor and downtrodden.
In 1895, Mar Gregorious visited the Holy Land. During his Pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he stayed at the Monastery of St. Mark (‘Markosinte Malika’) and vistited all the important places related to the life of Jesus Christ. On his return, he initiated collections from all the Parishes in Malankara and made a Silver Cross, which was sent as an offering to the Jerusalem Church. He also published ‘Urslem Yathra Vivaranam’, a book – the first of its kind in Malayalam- that depicted his experiences during the pilgrimage.
After his fellow bishop Mar Euleos passed away, Mar Gregorious was also in charge of the Thumpamon diocese. Later Kollam diocese was also bestowed upon him Mar Dionysious, thus making him the head of the entire southern portion of Malankara Church.
In 1902, Thirumeni became seriously ill, at the age of 54. Though leaders of the church took extra care in giving treatment to Thirumeni, he knew that his end was near. One day, he enquired which date it was and on hearing the answer said “Oh Jesus, I should suffer for 2 more days.” Other bishops, priests, deacons and laity remained with him praying and singing hymns. On 2nd November 1902 His Grace Geevarghese Mar Gregorious passed away. He was buried at Parumala Seminary Church, at a place which was shown by His Grace prior to his death.