So the feet that traveled the world have now stopped walking, the lips that proclaimed Faith, Hope and Charity, and true love of God are now sealed, the eyes that saw goodness in everyone have closed, and the heart that loved his parents, family, spiritual church hierarchies, loved all his flock, has stopped beating. My profound condolences on the falling asleep in the Lord of the Very Reverend Dr. Mathai Yohannan Sankarathil Chor Episcopos, the deeply beloved and respected senior priest of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The passing of the Sankarathil Chor Episcopos is a deeply felt wound for me as I have admired his wise pastoral stewardship of five decades as the Vicar of Saint Thomas Orthodox Church, Long Island, New York and other parishes across the United States of America and in India. I honor his memory, as he faithfully served our Lord and the Holy Orthodox Church with unwavering commitment and Christ’s love in his heart. Truly our beloved spiritual father has left behind a wonderful legacy in the memories and the hearts of everyone who had the privilege of knowing him.
It is with a heavy heart and great sadness I write this reflection on the life of my beloved mentor, an elder of our Church, and a spiritual Father, the Very Reverend Dr. Mathai Yohannan Sankarathil Chor Episcopos (Sankarathil Achen) as God called our most beloved Sankarathil Achen home at the age of 85 on March 20, 2021.
Sankarathil Chor Episcopos gave an inspiring witness of his love for God and self-sacrificing service in his priestly ministry. The death of a priest is unlike the death of any other: we feel it differently, deeply. We sense that in losing him, we have lost not only the man but also his unique way of manifesting God. The voice that spoke of God has been silenced; hands that once blessed are impotent. Since a priest is one who takes on the person of Christ, his leave of us is somewhat of a loss in our very communication with the Lord. No one will ever again exemplify Christ for us in the singular way that this particular priest has done.
It was a true union with Christ that guided and shaped the life of our beloved Sankarathil Achen. It would be very difficult to define his personality, even to conceive of his life, apart from the priesthood. Always dignified, courteous, humble and kind, he seemed to inhabit a different world from ours. I find it remarkable that this man was so deeply appreciated and loved by so many. Sankarathil Achen spoke to people through his priestly life. And here, I would say, is where the greatness of this man shone forth. There are some instances of this that I think appropriate to mention, not to eulogize him— that’s for the Lord to do— but to stimulate us on to attain a higher degree of sanctity.
Our beloved Achen unconditionally served his Lord and His children here on earth for 50 plus years. He will be remembered as a community man full of love who ensured the faith formation of the people entrusted to his care. Achen has faithfully served many churches in Kerala and across the United States. Sankarathil Achen traveled extensively, established, and served and built many parishes throughout the U.S. Achen was instrumental in building the Saint Thomas Orthodox Church, Long Island, New York from ground up to the beautifully blessed church they enjoy today; a reflection of 30 plus years of hard labor and dedication of his service and love for God and His church. Young and old, everyone who came across Achen has a beautiful story to share. He was loved and respected by the countless faithful to whom he ministered during his distinguished priesthood. Achen was truly a devoted servant of the Lord, and his willingness to continue his ministry well beyond his health challenges is indicative of his level of commitment to the Holy Priesthood. I hold spending time and celebrating the Holy Liturgy with Sankarathil Achen at the Saint Thomas Orthodox Church, Long Island very dear to my heart. Despite his health challenges, Sankarathil Achen’s heart was always full of joy and love.
Sankarathil Achen understood that reigning with Christ in God’s Kingdom means to imitate Him, to have His concern and love for the faithful. Sankarathil Achen had a more direct and visible contact with people through his sacramental ministry. I commit the remembrance of his life to every heart and mind who holds the recollection of his love in a special experience, unique to each. The life and ministry of Sankarathil Chor Episcopos is not easy to encapsulate in a single encomium, no matter how eloquent or embellished it might be. But one thing is certain – he was a true
guide of Orthodoxy' and ateacher of piety and solemnity.’ His entire life was dedicated to the knowledge of God: whether he was studying at the seminary or teaching and preaching for decades as your Spiritual Father. As I reminisce Achen’s decades of serving his Creator and His children here on earth, the words of Saint Gregory the Theologian, in his famous eulogy and oration after the death of his nearest and dearest friend, Saint Basil the Great, come to mind, and could be said as easily of our beloved Sankarathil Chor Episcopos: `He pursued philosophy, a holy renunciation of the world, and communion with God, by concerning himself, amid things below, with things above.’ Achen was, as Saint John Chrysostom says of the exemplary priest, a man with his feet on earth and his mind in Heaven. He was energetic and dutiful, inquisitive and didactic, and always dedicated to his spiritual children. This devotion to those whom he shepherded – whether they were his parishioners and fellow clergymen who commemorated his name in the Divine Services – Sankarathil Chor Episcopos was always the kind and good shepherd. He sought the best for everyone, and went out of his way to minister to the needs of each.
We will all miss Sankarathil Achen here, but we will rely on his continued help from the next life. We yet have much to learn and are given a certain time yet to live as Christians-in-the-making. In the meantime, we will remember Sankarathil Achen in our prayers and Liturgies, never presuming upon his merits, imploring the good Lord soon to grant him fellowship with the saints, and unbounded happiness and everlasting union with Jesus. I will cherish the 42 plus years of friendship we shared and his spiritual guidance. I first met my beloved Achen when I was 16 visiting Achen’s Parish in Elmont, New York. As a priest, he was known for his approachability. Achen developed a close relationship with the church youth. He was just committed to serving the Lord and was able to relate to people very easily. Ajitha and I had the personal pleasure to visit and stay with Achen and Elcy Kochamma on many occasions at their residence in New York. Also, fondly remember multiple Florida visitations of Achen, Kochamma, Mathew and Thomas. While I am unable to be present to personally to grieve with you, all of you remain in my thoughts and prayers, and you have my profound and deepest sympathy along with my most heartfelt prayers for the repose of Achen’s soul among the just.
Saint Paul reminds us in his First Letter to the Thessalonians, “We do not want you to be unaware, brothers, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest, who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose, so too will God, through Jesus, bring with him those who have fallen asleep” – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14. As we know, the priesthood is a gift, one of the greatest gifts God has left for us on earth. For it draws down for us God Himself in the Eucharist and the other Sacraments. Let us therefore show our gratitude to God for this gift, through the holy priesthood of Sankarathil Achen. We rejoice in the confident knowledge that he is at peace. Because of his faithful living, he received this final blessing from up above: “Well done, good and faithful servant, you have been faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:33). May the Lord grant the Very Reverend Dr. Mathai Yohannan Sankarathil Chor Episcopos eternal rest among the Saints, and may the love of Christ sustain his grieving flock. May his memory be eternal (αιώνια η μνήμη)!
May his soul and the souls of all the faithful departed through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien,
Senior Priest of the Orthodox Church &
Senior Executive (SES),
Office of U.S. Government Wide Policy,
United States Government,