I was reading with great interest the series of five articles written in the Diocesan Bulletin ( DB), Dec 2021, Jan, Feb, March and April 2022, by the senior most bishop of the Indian Orthodox Church, His Grace Dr. Thomas Athanasius. It was a good soul searching exercise to the eyes of initiated and uninitiated believers of all shades, depicting as how skillfully and cleverly the clergy manipulated the tender feelings and ego of the laity to suit the vested interests of the spiritual leaders from time to time, even at the cost of defeating the basic calling of the Church! While I salute the frankness, theological and historical and scholarly acumen of the writer, I urge all right thinking laity to proactively consider the writing on wall based on the high priestly prayer of Christ on the cross vis a vis the manipulative designs of the clergy. Athanasius stands out as a class ranking communicator with the erstwhile world citizen of the Indian Orthodox Church, Dr. Paulose Gregorious. Gregorious was a thinker, philosopher and theologian par excellence of international fame. Nonetheless, it was little realized by his own Church due to its manipulative designs to the chagrin of the world ecumenical community , WCC and the Christendom at large. Who lost finally? It was a total loss to the IOC. IOC was as usual penny wise and pound foolish!
Here I am picking up the gist of the logic of the arguments of the writer, while making own candid observations with agreements and dissents. I do not follow or endorse the arguments in doted lines of His Grace Athanasius fully as I am not under any obligation to fall in line for fear of excommunication form the Church. I cannot be showing animosity for the sake of personal differences with anyone being a professional of maturity and some international standing. I got out of the Small Persons Syndrome ( SPS) long ago as a professional and cannot stoop down to quarrel with friends or foes, particularly the bishops or Catholicose or Patriarch. I have tried my best to be objective in my approach and passionately fine tuning in my analysis.
Church had usurped powers with the connivance of rulers in the ancient days. That was the pattern of the unholy alliance form the beginning till state was divorced form religion.
The separation of church and state was one of the legacies of the American and French revolutions at the end of the 18th century. It was achieved as a result of ideas arising from opposition to the English episcopal system and the English throne as well as from the ideals of the Enlightenment. It was implemented in France because of the social-revolutionary criticism of the wealthy ecclesiastical hierarchy but also because of the desire to guarantee the freedom of the church. The French state took over education and other functions of a civic nature that had been traditionally exercised by the church.
Immediately after the resurrection of the Lord, for a long time, the Church was devoid of any superstitious rituals. From AD 1215 the so-called sacrament of Holy Confession was introduced. It was used very well in the absence of any qualified counselling men and women. Now it is high time to do away with that practice, as it is much abused left, right and center. The apostles did not hear any confessions in the early church. AD 350 witnessed the first Christmas celebrations by the decree of Pope Julian being the festival of the Sun God. It was very recently in 2014, Pope Francis denounced the bible story of genesis and accepted the theory of evolution. He is becoming contemporary and relevant to the modern times unlike the Malankara Church. Here I may recall an old axiom—each one to himself and let the devil take hindmost. In a way we are offering ourselves to the devil as a propitious burnt offering being too conservative and orthodox without realizing that we are proving ourselves unfit in a changing world scenario.
John 8.32 says, “Truth will set you free” and let us approach the five articles with an open mind to discern the whole truth to guide and empower us proactively.
Church is a fellowship and must be a generous fellowship. In Greek Church is qualified as ecclesia. This gives the physical and metaphysical identity to Church. Church must be a body of believers to witness Christ Eucharist after Eucharist. The hierarchy of a given Church is not a sign of living Church unless it is witnessing Christ in word and deed alike. Hierarchy without Christ is like a dead body. May be our Malankara Church is a dead body judged by that criteria.
The laity has an ever challenging role to play. It must be ever vigilant body to ensure if the Church is perpetually responding to its calling to witness Christ in action. The clergy, by and large, may not be interested to see that Christ witness may not be that much of a prime concern as they have everything to keep them in good humor and going as per their schemes. They may even prevail up on the laity to be lukewarm to suit their own designs as well.
Russian Orthodox Theologian Vladimir Lossky says, it is a kind of personal relationship experienced in relation of reciprocity. In other words, when the believers are one with Christ, it is an exclusive experience of encounter in participation and partaking in the mystery of Christ—ontological participation and this is Church in reality. Truly then we become singing Christians in a sinking ship! John 15: 17 testifies it. Do we have any semblance of that kind of experience or encounter with the Lord? This question is addressed to our clergy particularly.
In a Christ centered Church, there is no room for rivalry, hatred and divisive intrigues. Schemers do not find any room for them in such a set up.
Incidentally, in the case of the IOC, we did witness and observe much of the intrigues in the modern era too and the recent elections to the position of the Catholicose of the East, it was nothing but intrigues and scheming to outwit even third rate politicians.
We conveniently forget to observe that Church is a movement of born again people-men , women and children. In fact, it is a spirit filled and motivated dynamism in action. In the Malankara Church we observe one rare specimen of a living Sanit in His Grace Zachariah Mar Anthonios of Kollam .
A living Church must renew itself every day to become the light, salt, etc as Christ himself had mentioned it.
Church is known as Koinonia.It is a fellowship and rich and generous fellowship in Christ. Here we perceive the sense of belongingness, not the commands and dictatorial orders of the clergy or the bishop – Catholicose.
As luck would have it, our blind obedience and allegiance to the church leaders like clergy and bishops and Catholicose or Patriarch would pave the way for a kind of salve like submissiveness. It is not koinonikose. Indian Orthodox Church had some glimpses of gospel orientation under the sprit filled late Ostathious Metropolitan of Mookkencheril and Gheevarghese Ostathious. In fact, it was more like a punishment for those who embraced Christianity on account of the efforts of the above mentioned bishops, as their fellow men and women who stayed back were given much fillip to get themselves empowered by the national government policies in India for education and job reservations. Is this not anything for our Church leaders to help them to get empowered vertically and horizontally for becoming Christians? Why is that they are treated as second grade citizens in IOC?
One more blunt truth is the hierarchy based submissiveness of the IOC. It has become counterproductive and an eternal hindrance to realise the divine call and to discern the will of God in our gospel out reach.
Our spiritual — clergy –leaders skillfully and intriguingly exploit the laity to sing halleluiah for their petty narrow ends by playing on the emotional realms of the laity. Our laity get elated and experience emotional elevation on such feudal platitudes to get off their way to do anything to please the clergy even at the cost of the Christ relationship. St Paul asks even to our laity, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?”.
Malankara Church feud is not based on Faith and Order issues at all. We must get out of that mindset as we were manipulated by the sordid vested interest groups guided by the clergy for keeping their interest intact. In fact , the divisions and the resultant feuds were not the creation of the laity and they must take charge to make the body of Christ again a forum of witnessing the Lord in action. Reconciliation is the core issue now to be addressed by all well-meaning laity as we should not squander any more opportunities for creating lasting peace for the extension of His Kingdom based on the High Priestly payers of the Lord Jesus.
Let us be reminded and if possible educated by a book by late Pope John Paul the second, “ Crossing the Threshold of Hope”. He observed that any such divisions resulted only in losses and the irreparable anti-witness. The same logic holds good for the current man made crisis in the Malankara Church. Why are we so stubborn not to learn lessons from the history for a change?
Let us realize that a Church based on the divisive forces from both within and without, everyday cannot witness Christ with any credibility. As the author quoted the late Dr. Paulose Gregorious, “I myself strongly argued the court judgments may be decisive for property matters but for the general administration of the Church, the canons of the Church and the Constitution of Malankara Orthodox church are decisive”.
The biggest folly of the IOC recently was to slight Dr. Paulose Gregorious and sidetrack him from becoming the Catholicose of this Church at a critical juncture. It has taken us backward by leaps and bounds in our global perceptions, setting and status. As a world citizen with great connections and global influence the IOC preferred to be a frog in the well policy to isolate us from world stages as the combined duo of Dr. Philipose Theophilus and Gregorius would have achieved a quantum jump for this ancient Church. IOC was like that for most of the time. It was following an ostrich policy and was wearing the blinkers like the horse in its universal perceptions, save a very few exceptions like Rev Dr VC Samuel and Rev Dr KM George to mention a few.
When we are talking about the unity aspect, let us go back to the Russian Theologian Vladimir Lossky again , “ Outside the unity of the body of Christ who cannot be divided, the other qualities like Catholicity and Apostolicity cannot subsist. That is no longer the Church, but a divided humanity that of confusion”. How true is his observation in totality, if we care to listen to our inner voice! Again it is to be understood unequivocally that, “ It is impossible to imagine a Church without the mark of unity. The Orthodox argument –IOC-as heard in the general domain that it is for the freedom of the Church that we had to breakaway, is totally unacceptable in the true Christian spirit of theology. Nonetheless, it is welcome to have administrative and liturgical freedom at the same time. But it is worth recalling the matured observations made again by Dr. Paulose Gregorious in 1995.
“ The Catholicose—Malankara Metropolitan was trying to manipulate the synod in order to strengthen the total and unchecked authority of Malankara Metropolitan. He claimed that he is the sole authority in the Church”. This situation has further aggravated in the recent days to an alarming stage.
Even the present Catholicose is a super intriguer and schemer in usurping the powers of the synod and managing committee and such other bodies. God alone knows, if he may ask for a set of keys of all parish churches to be deposited with him!
It may be borne in mind that the division and conflicts were engineered not by the laity but by the clergy higher ups only. But to legitimize it , the poor and gullible laity were used tickling their emotions by resorting to nefarious tactics. The laity must be sensitized by massive awareness creation programmes. Surely it is the need of the hour. But Church leadership would never do it, as it is suicidal for them to have a well-informed laity community!
We must have the vision to be influenced by a Christ centered liberation gospel as our creed. Unless we become singing Christians in a sinking ship, Church is like Pearls thrown before the swine.
Malankara Church must become relevant as per the teachings of Jesus Christ. It must become thematic and contemporary. It must ask itself day in and day out whether it is the light of the world and salt of the earth. It must shed its holier than thou attitude and embrace its role model Jesus who washed the feet of his disciples on the Passover night—last supper. Can you the clergy embrace the creed of reconciliation? The future beckons… shall we falter, so that the blood of millions are not in the hands of our clergy including bishops, Catholicose and Patriarch both literally and figuratively. Please do recall again Church is one entity of conciliatory alternative—sobermost. Otherwise the Malankara Church is a synonym of hypocrisy in practice.
It is the final call to the Malankara Church to awake and arise. It must be staying positive and inclusive. It must look outside the box to be bonding by a fireside in its zeal for the extension of Lord’s Kingdom.
Let me remind the clergy ,again, of the Church what Jesus had named you long ago in his agony and indignation, Mat 23: 27-28, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”.