More than 100,000 people, from a wide range of Christian confessions, attended the funeral January 13 of Metropolitan Alexander Mar Thoma, a highly respected and loved church leader who was head of the (Orthodox) Mar Thoma Syrian church for almost a quarter of a century.The funeral was held at St Thomas Cathedral in Tiruvalla, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, headquarters of the 900,000-member Mar Thoma church. According to church officials, about 200,000 people had also queued up earlier to pay their respects to the Valia (Great) Metropolitan who died in hospital January 11 at the age of 87. As well as the nine bishops of the Mar Thoma church, the mourners included Orthodox and Roman Catholic bishops and leading officials in the Kerala state government. Supreme head of the Mar Thoma church from 1976, Metropolitan Mar Thoma retired last October and became the first "Valia" Metropolitan of the church, which broke away from the Malankara Orthodox Syrian church in 1836. After his ordination as a priest in 1946, the future metropolitan—then known simply as M. G. Chandy, received his doctorate at Hartford University in the United States and was consecrated as bishop in 1953. He was installed as Metropolitan in 1976.

"The number of people who turned up for the funeral shows the Valia Metropolitan's legacy," Metropolitan Mar Chrysostam, Metropolitan Alexander's successor, told Ecumenical News International (ENI) in a telephone interview from Tiruvalla after the funeral.

Metropolitan Alexander had "cared not only for our people but also for the sick, poor and lonely" of other denominations and communities," Metropolitan Mar Chrysostam said. "That's why thousands came for his funeral."

He also pointed out that Metropolitan Alexander had initiated major welfare projects for the benefit of the general public. A whole village in the state of Maharashtra in western India had been adopted by the Mar Thoma church after an earthquake in 1994 that killed 10,000 people and left thousands homeless.

"Valia Metropolitan Alexander has not died. He continues to live in human hearts," said P. K. Narayana Panicker, general secretary of Nair Service Society, one of Kerala's biggest Hindu organizations. He added that the late Metropolitan was "one of the closest friends of Hindus."

Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews II, Catholicos of the 2.5 million-strong Malankara Orthodox Syrian church, said that Metropolitan Alexander had been "a good leader and an ecumenical-minded person." Catholicos Mathews, who delivered the sermon during the four-hour funeral service, told ENI by telephone that as well as "improving" relations with the Malankara Orthodox Church, the late Valia Metropolitan had played a key role in promoting church unity.

The Kerala church has received messages of condolence from churches and ecumenical organizations around the world. The Christian Conference of Asia's (CCA) general secretary, Dr Feliciano V. Carino, praised Metropolitan Alexander's "love of humanity, Christian commitment, initiatives in ecumenical life and inter-religious dialogue, profound scholarship and love for the whole church of Christ."

Mathews George Chunakara, who will soon take up the post of Asia secretary at the World Council of Churches, said in a letter of condolence: "The global ecumenical family considered the late Mar Thoma Valia Metropolitan as patron of true ecumenism and modern prophet of inter-religious fellowship and harmony. The late Metropolitan had been instrumental in founding the CCA, he said.

In a message to the church, Jeanne Becher of the WCC, wrote on behalf of the general secretary, Dr Konrad Raiser, that Metropolitan Alexander's "contribution to the spiritual life of the church and his concern for the marginalized and the poor, regardless of caste and communal distinctions, will remain a beacon for those who follow."

Ipe Joseph, a Mar Thoma priest and general secretary of the National Council of Churches in India (NCCI), told ENI that Metropolitan Mar Thoma was the first person in the history of his church to relinquish authority and to install a successor in his own lifetime.

Several of those who paid tribute pointed out that Metropolitan Alexander played a major role in setting up a major ecumenical body—the Joint Council of Church of North India (CNI), Church of South India (CSI) and Mar Thoma Church—in 1978 and "in nurturing it till his last."

"While CNI and CSI nominees in the council have been changing, Metropolitan Alexander was involved in it from its inception," the Joint Council's secretary, retired CNI bishop George Ninan, told ENI.

Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.

Related Elsewhere apparently no longer exists, and a note at says they haven't built their site yet.