Much-beloved Bishop Thomas Makarios Dies at Age 81
Bishop Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios, founder and leader of the
U.S.-Canada Diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Church of India and a
much-beloved professor of religious studies at Alma College for the
past 25 years, died Saturday morning, Feb. 23, in Newcastle, England.
He was 81.
The Bishop was in England for his annual pastoral visit to the parishes
in the United Kingdom and Ireland when he sustained serious injuries in
a traffic accident on Jan. 5. He remained hospitalized until his
The Bishop will be buried in India, according to traditional church
rites. Services in India are scheduled for Sunday, March 2 and Monday,
March 3. Alma College President Saundra Tracy and Provost Michael
Selmon will attend the services in India on behalf of the
College. Information about a campus memorial service will be
“As a priest, and especially as a hierarch, Metropolitan Makarios was
distinguished for his ecclesiastical ethos, his work ethic, his
adherence to the fundamentals of liturgical life, his commitment to the
Orthodox Faith and the traditions of the St. Thomas heritage,”
according to the St. Gregorios Indian Orthodox Church Website. “He was
a great gift from God to the Church.”
At Alma College, Bishop Makarios was a teacher, friend and advisor to
hundreds of students, faculty and staff members. His flowing red robes
made him a well-recognized and distinguished presence on campus.
“Bishop Makarios was a revered member of the Alma community,” said President Tracy. “While he was a distinguished world religious leader, his commitment to educating and nurturing Alma students was profound. He will be deeply missed.”
Bishop Makarios came to the United States from India in 1963 as a priest to earn a doctorate in religion. When he returned to India and was consecrated as a bishop, he asked to return to the United States to minister to Indian families he had met there. He received his S.T.M. degree from Virginia Theological Seminary and his Th.D. from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Va.
He began teaching at Alma College in 1983, launching a 25-year association as professor of religious studies, committed to introducing students to differences between Eastern and Western modes of religious thinking.
While teaching was his first responsibility, he also considered his
students as members of his personal family. His commitment to Alma
College and its students and faculty were evident in an interview that
took place in October 2006.
“My mission at Alma is not just academic alone,” he said. “By being on campus, I’m a father figure to many students to help them in their personal lives. Sharing with students about their concerns and their problems — that is part of my calling.
“I see Alma as a family much more than an academic institution,” he said. “It is family work. Students are my children. When they come to share a problem, or they invite me for a meal at an Indian restaurant, that is more meaningful to me than giving them a grade or a test.”
He brought to his classes a unique teaching style, said Dr. Ronald Massanari, his longtime colleague and retired chair of the Alma College Religious Studies Department.
“He used books, but he would teach with parables and stories,” he said. “He would tell them stories, and then explain them, often with an Eastern twist. He was very engaging.”
His passion for students included introducing them to Indian philosophy and culture. He encouraged and made it possible for Alma students to visit India. He helped develop the Alma India Program, which has a relationship with the Mathen Mappilai Memorial Public School in the village of Ayroor in the state of Kerala. Over the years, many Alma College students performed volunteer work in the Mathen Mappilai Memorial School and with other local organizations while also attending classes at Mahatma Ghandi University.
The Bishop oversaw 75 churches and 7,000 families at the same time he was teaching in Alma. He constantly was traveling to minister to his churches and was a frequent guest of church leaders around the world.
“He was very attentive to image, but not his own,” said Massanari. “He was the only American religious figure invited to Qatar to a worldwide conference by the king of Qater. He was often invited to United Nations events or Presidential commissions. He always took the time to talk about Alma College at these events.
“Before his accident he talked with the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he thought that was a wonderful opportunity for Alma College,” said Massanari. “He would do interviews with reporters from newspapers all over the country, and he would always talk about the College.”
He was very inclusive, not judgmental, about other religious traditions, said Massanari.
“He had this way of being non-judgmental, accepting and open to other perspectives, even though he represented a specific Christian perspective,” said Massanari. “About 10 years ago, he saw a need to encounter Muslims, and he used to take students to the Islamic Center in Lansing; he became a good friend to the Muslim leader at the center. The Bishop was treated like a spiritual holy man, even though their religions were different.”
In 1990, Alma College bestowed the honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in appreciation of his contributions to the campus and church. The citation acknowledged his significant representation of the Malankara Orthodox Church and worldwide Christianity; his leadership in nurturing the Indian Orthodox churches in North America; his active involvement with the students, faculty and staff at Alma College; and his support of and encouragement to Alma College and the religious studies department.
In 1993, the Alma community celebrated along with him as he earned his United States citizenship.
In 1999 he moved his church headquarters from Buffalo, N.Y. to Alma, Mich. At that time he was pleased to welcome Moran Mar Baselius Mar Mathews II, then head of the Malankara Orthodox Church, for a home blessing.
In 2005, he traveled to the city of New Orleans to minister to the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He was profoundly affected by the suffering experienced by so many people, many of whom had lost everything in the devastating storm. His gift of compassion was evident as he ministered there.
Posted: Thu, February 28th, 2008 at 11:16AM