Learning from the Life of An Orthodox Christian Monk, Rev. Fr. George Philip (1952-2022)

Written by a Member of SBGOC

According to His Holiness Baselios Mathews III, Rev. Fr. George Philip was a true monk, in the tradition of Geevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala, Kuriakose Mar Gregorios of Pampady, Mylapra Ramban and Geevarghese Mar Ivanios of Kottayam. 

Most likely, you have never heard about Rev. Fr. George Philip, former Superior of Mar Baselios Dayara, Vakathanam near Kottayam, Kerala.  He passed away on September 4, 2022, leaving a legacy of which there may be few parallels in the history of our Church in Kerala.

Let me start with two powerful testimonies from Rev. Fr. Vijay Thomas and Rev. Fr. Abey George who had the opportunity to meet Rev. Fr. George Philip during their 6-month orientation periods as Deacons at the Pazhaya Seminary at Kottayam, about 15 years ago.

Rev. Fr. Vijay Thomas: “When I first met him, I was amazed by his humility. …I realized how special he is.  He shunned publicity and position, and spent his time in prayer…”. 

Rev. Fr. Abey George:

Fr. George Philip with Fr. Abey George (Taken from Facebook)
  • Why would a person want to live his or her life as an ascetic (one who practices severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence) or as a monastic (one who renounces worldly pursuits to devote oneself fully to spiritual work)?
  • What good does such a person do for the world?
  • How does such person serve the purpose of God?

Such questions have occurred in my mind, in the past; but I never spent much time trying to find answers.  Those questions arose again with an urgency, when Vijay Achen asked me last week if I’d want to write a short biography of Rev. Fr. George Philip.  I accepted the assignment, but I did so reluctantly and with trepidation.  Rev. Fr. George Philip was a dear, younger cousin of mine. (I had a younger brother with the same name, who also passed away at a young age several years ago.)

EARLY LIFE OF REV. FR. GEORGE PHILIP

My earliest recollection of Rev. Fr. George Philip is his being a naughty little boy.  He was four years younger than me.  His parents were the best-educated among our immediate family members. His father had B.A, B.Com and LL.B degrees and his mother had a B.A.  They lived about two miles from my house, but I used to meet him often at family gatherings, church and school.  He was a happy, lively little boy and a good student.  He enjoyed swimming, riding canoes and having a frivolous time in water.

A TRANSFORMATION

As I moved away from home for higher studies and then for my job, and later to the USA, my contacts with him became rare events.  In the meantime, important changes were happening.  He went on to do his LL.B at an out-of-state University.  Half-way through his studies there, his view of the world, philosophy and vision for life changed.  He took the train back, returned home, and told his parents that he had decided to go to the seminary.

That was the beginning of a powerful transformation in the life of a well-educated young man, the son of well-educated parents from a middleclass family.  I did not quite understand what was happening with him.  Whenever I met him during my visits to India, he was cordial, calm and soft-spoken, but his bubbly demeanor had disappeared. 

He had become a strict vegetarian.  I was told he cooked his own food in clay pots.  He spent most of his time reading, writing and praying, but he also found time to feed his cows and tend his vegetable garden.  He did not socialize much.  He had no desire to earn money or live a comfortable life. 

As a priest, he was assigned to small parishes.  He lived humbly on his salary, with no desire for saving money, gaining fame or competing for positions.  He did not offend anyone, but led his congregations with sincerity in his faith, action and way of life. 

For a while, he functioned as the Vice Principal of an English Medium Higher Secondary School.

However, he was eventually drawn to a life of prayer, meditation and quiet service, at a monastery on a hilltop in bucolic surroundings.

QUIET SERVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

He performed community service humbly, in small ways.  By his very nature, but perhaps not intentionally, he was interested in bio-diversity and preservation of nature. 

He was active in raising “Vechur” cattle native to Kerala- small sized cows that are of exceptionally small, manageable size, resistant to diseases and easier to raise and maintain.  They have a pleasant disposition and a long, productive life span.

He traveled to Wyanad to visit a tribal farmer “Cheruvayal Raman”- who had been collecting and propagating over 60 traditional rice varieties that had been gradually disappearing from the agricultural scene. Some of those rice varieties have medicinal properties, some are aromatic, while others can withstand hot weather and floods.  He invited Mr. Raman to Vakathanam and sought his advice on how to help save rice varieties from becoming extinct.

Another example of his low-key operation was his association with Prakriti Jeevana Samiti and Jeevan Daya Vedi which are small organizations with dedicated members who work to promote vegetarianism and living in communion with nature.

IMPACT ON OTHERS

Rev. Fr. George Philip was not an orator.  He never fancied himself as a saint or self-styled faith-healer. He eschewed power.  He did not come across as a scholar.  He was not a fund-raiser or a leader with big ideas of building charitable organizations and educational institutions.  I would not have thought that such a humble person who avoided wide social exposure, and who never organized or led any major projects would be viewed as a valuable asset to our Church.

However, his small stature, calm exterior and seemingly avoidant personality did not make him insignificant. He was recognized to be worthy enough to be assigned as the Superior of Mar Baselios Dayara succeeding someone who is remembered as a Man of Unceasing Prayer – Radiance of Orthodox Spirituality and Monasticism – His Grace Geevarghese Mar Ivanios.

I was literally shocked by the high level of appreciation expressed in the eulogies toward the end of his funeral services by some of the most prominent leaders of our church.  Would you believe that this frail, diminutive priest was the “Confession Guru” for several of our bishops, for many years?!

POSTING BY HIS GRACE ZACHARIAH MAR NICHOLOVOS Sept. 4, 2022

Facebook post by HG Zachariah Mar Nicholovos

EUOLOGIES

Rev. Fr. K.M. George who was his professor at the Seminary, talked about his wide-eyed, attentive, but quiet student who would rather approach him and others in private to ask questions or discuss disagreements, rather than being disagreeable in public.

Rev. Fr. Bijesh Philip noted that the more Rev. Fr. George Philip tried to isolate himself from the public, the more people sought his opinion, advice and prayers. Bijesh Achen referred to Rev. Fr. George Philip’s Malayalam translation of “On the Incarnation” by St. Athanasius of Alexandria. In the conclusion of the translated version, Rev. Fr. George Philip highlighted the following words of St.Athansius: “Anyone who wishes to understand the mind of the sacred writers must cleanse his own life and approach the saints by copying their deeds”. https://d2y1pz2y630308.cloudfront.net/15471/documents/2016/10/St.%20Athanasius-On%20the%20Incarnation.pdf  .  Rev. Fr. George Philip grasped the deep meanings in the writings of our religious fathers and put them into practice in his own life.

Rev. Fr. Johns Konat spoke about the time with him as a classmate at the seminary.  His classmates used to call him ‘Vakkeel”, as he had been working toward his law degree before joining the seminary, but he had no interest in claiming any special status or recognition. 

Rev. Fr. V. Varghese referred to him as an ideal monk, who would give up almost instantly anything that seemed to get in the way of his pious way of living.  Rev. Fr. Varghese, with some obvious emotion, quoted John 1:47: When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”.  He had no enemies. Everyone was his friend. He was different from all other priests.  Rev. Fr. Varghese wondered if and when there would be another worthy priest like him. 

Mr. Kurian, the leader of Jeevan Daya Vedi and Prakriti Jeevana Samithi, spoke so touchingly about Rev. Fr. George Philip’s devotion to their causes of bio-diversity, preservation of nature and kindness to all living beings.  Mr. Kurian proposed that if adequate finances can be made available, a “Meditation Hut” be built in a corner of the Dayara’s property, as a memorial to Rev. Fr. George Philip.  This would be designed to blend into the natural surroundings of the Dayara and be built using high density coconut timber.

H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Chrisostomos was at the seminary one year behind Rev. Fr. George Philip.  His Grace talked about a tentative plan they made at that time to work together at a newly established Dayara.  Even though that plan did not work out, they remained in communication and retained their spiritual connection over the years.

H.G. Zacharias Mar Aprem said that as a seminarian he had heard about Fr. George Philip, but never had an opportunity to interact with him in the early years.  The first time they met was when His Grace was residing at the Dayara in prayer and meditation in preparation for his ordination as a bishop.  That was in 2010.  Rev. Fr. George Philip was his “Confession Guru” at that time, … and ever since. This Guru listened patiently and gave simple advice on leading a more perfect Christian life.  That was accompanied by words of forgiveness and consolation.

H.G. Geevarghese Mar Coorilos called in by phone from Mumbai and offered his condolences.  His Grace noted that Rev. Fr. George Philip lived like the poorest of the poor.  He had no outward pretenses. 

Finally, our Catholicos His Holiness Baselios Mathews III spoke about Rev. Fr. George Philip as having been a spiritual reservoir at the Dayara.  According to His Holiness, he was a true monk, in the tradition of Geevarghese Mar Gregorios of Parumala, Kuriakose Mar Gregorios of Pampady, Mylapra Ramban and Geevarghese Mar Ivanios.  His Holiness hoped and prayed that someone else will come up from the ranks of the Church to pick up his mantle and be the spiritual reservoir that Rev. Fr. George Philip had been.

CONCLUSION – Lessons learned

What do we learn from the life of a monastic like Rev. Fr. George Philip?  How was his life useful to the world?

Having struggled for quite some time to put together a proper, well-reasoned answer to such questions,  I was lucky to have found guidance in the 5 points discussed in detail at https://www.conceptionabbey.org/5-ways-live-like-monk-world/.  

In the discussion below, I give quotes from the link above, interspersed with my own brief comments.

Five Lessons from the life of Rev. Fr. George Philip

1. Cultivate Silence

  • St. Benedict wrote, “Speaking and teaching are the master’s task; the disciple is to be silent and listen”.  (Wow! Isn’t that Rev. Fr. K.M. George said about his student Rev. Fr. George Philip?)
  • By avoiding unnecessary noise in your life, you learn to cultivate inner silence, which is the ideal setting for prayer.

2. Be Faithful to Daily Prayer

  • The aim of monks is to pray without ceasing, and you can do this by keeping the memory of God alive in your heart and mind at every moment.
  • Of course, Rev. Fr. George Philip was faithful to daily prayer
  • In spite of a demanding workweek, hectic schedule, and numerous responsibilities at home, we should find time in the morning to praise God before the day begins and pray in thanksgiving during the evening before going to bed.   

3. Form Authentic Community

  • St. Benedict instructed, “No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else.  
  • Rev. Fr. George Philip wanted little for himself and devoted significant efforts to support bio-diversity and preservation of nature, all for the good of the world.

4. Make time for sacred reading

  • Spiritual reading nourishes your mind and soul and often provides those inspired words that you needed to hear. Encountering the Word of God each day in a prayerful manner draws us into deeper communion with the One who speaks the word to us.
  • Rev. Fr. George Philip devoted a lot of time for sacred reading.

5. Practice Humility

  • Being a humble person means being grateful for the blessings and opportunities that God gives you and recognizing that your gifts and talents have God as their source. Allow daily struggles, and even falling into sin, to be an invitation to humility, where you admit without hesitation that you must depend entirely on God’s grace, and not on your strength. 
  •  Rev. Fr. George Philip was the humblest person I have ever known.

May the memory of Rev. Fr. George Philip be eternal.

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