Monday, July 10, 2017

God! Help us to Unite!

The one primary direction that Christ gave us is to love each other, for that is the means to witness Christ to the world. "When you love each other, the world will know that you are my disciples" Christ said.
But unfortunately, the Syrian Christian community in Kerala has been fighting and killing each other, going to courts against each other -- we did everything except what Christ told us to do. We have been doing this for a century now. As a result, the world around us knows that we are not the disciples of Christ. Although we honor Christ with our lips, our actions have nothing to do with it. Just as a plant can be identified with its fruit, the world around us has identified us as anti-Christians -- people who dishonor the name of Christ. We have become wolves in sheep's clothing. Pleople have been laughing at us, and we couldn't walk along the streets with our heads held high.

This evil among us was started by an older generation; we simply inherited it. Let us not hand it over to our next generation. If we let it die with this generation, our future generations will be grateful to us.

Christian community has been in existence in India since the time of Christ. For the first sixteen centuries, we were united. We loved one another, and the world around us knew that we are Christ's disciples. The problem started since the arrival of the foreigners for the last four centuries. The Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British people came here. They made us slaves in our own land. The Christian community in India sought the support of the Antiochian Orthodox church in defending the assault of the European colonizers. The Antiochian church helped us to get free from the Europeans, but eventually they tried to enslave us. They claimed that the Indian church has to be under the authority of the Antiochian church. Unfortunately some people in the Indian Community trusted them blindly, which started our present mess. Antiochian church still wants to keep us in slavery, and some of us seems to enjoy this slavery.

Now the Supreme court of India has clearly stated that we are a free community, and not under Antiochian church's authority. Let us together take this opportunity and love each other, and let this evil die along with us. If we pass this down to our children, and grandchildren, they will never forgive us. We may not be able to convert this world into a heaven for our children; at least we can refrain from converting it into a hell.
I think this is a crucial time, and if we miss this opportunity, we may never be able end this evil. So the leaders of both sides need to act wisely. They need to realize that a large number of people on both sides eagerly wish for a united church. If they make a blunder and let this chance slip through their fingers, the future generations will never forgive them.
 It is time for a meeting of the representatives of both sides. They need to be clear about the goal of the meeting -- unity. They are not meeting to prove who is right and who is wrong. We are a broken family, and what we need is a mending of broken relationship and  a reconciliation. They may want to come together around a table and discuss the points they can agree on and those they cannot agree on. They need to see the issues from Christ's perspective. If Jesus were in body among us now, how would he address this issue? As Christ promised, when two or three of us meet, he would be among our midst though not visible to our eyes. So let us make sure that our exchange of feelings and thoughts are pleasing to Christ. Also let us give our future generations a chance to feel proud of us.
Before going to the legal and logical issues, the emotional issues need to be addressed first. The ego of one side is severely wounded by the court judgment. Their hurt feelings should be acknowledged and accepted and addressed.   
Once the emotional issue is addressed, the primary issue needs to be taken, which is the place of the Patriarch of Antioch in the Malankara church. The very first clause of the 1934 constitution says: "Malankara Church is a division of the Orthodox Syrian Church. The Primate of the Orthodox Syrian Church is the Patriarch of Antioch." Although both sides agree to this clause literally, it still needs to be clarified what they both mean by this clause. Ambiguities need to be resolved. The side that favors Antioch may want to make sure that their feelings and beliefs about Antioch are heard by the other side. Once both sides are open to each others' feelings, beliefs and thoughts, a way will be visible for unity.
God! Help us to unite!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Indian Orthodox Church in the US

Indian Orthodox Church in Raleigh
My wife and I returned to India in 2012 after being in the US for twenty years. Recently in 2017, which is after a break of five years, we visited the US.

I noticed that the Malayalee church communities are more vibrant and active in the US than in Kerala. People there are more active in the church activities. The primary reason for this seems to be that they are immigrants in a foreign land. They need to get together to see one another. The other six days they spend time with the general public, which consists of people of all races. On the seventh day, they get together to meet other people like them, to speak their own language, and to satisfy their nostalgia. The people encourage their children to be friends with others like them so that they may find life-partners from within the community itself.

Although the Malayalee community enjoys a higher living standard in the US than in Kerala, they still have a longing for the native land where they were born and raised. Although they have better food, better roads, and better comforts in the US, still they are aliens where they live, and their hearts long for their homeland. They satisfy this longing to certain extent when they get together on the seventh day in their church.

The parish I used to go while I was there earlier looked radically different. Being in Texas it gained a lot more people than it used to have. More and more people have been migrating to the south. It used to have the same vicar for over twenty years, and as he was directly involved in the administration of the parish, there were always conflicts between the vicar and some members. The bishop effectively implemented a transfer system for the priests, and this parish got a new vicar who could help the community grow to become a very lively and vibrant one. People enjoy being there.

The priest who was in charge of this parish has been transferred to another parish, where he is being successful. He is giving leadership to build a new building. This shows beyond doubt that the problem was not with the priest or with the people, but with the system. 

A transfer system is not yet implemented in the North. We had the opportunity to visit a couple of parishes in New York. The ones we visited were managed by very mature priests, who could keep the parish together in spite of the fact that they have been in the same position for a long time. I learned that they did not involve themselves in the church administration very much. They assumed the role of a father-figure, and not that of an administrator. So they could avoid conflicts with the members to a great extent.

As I understand, a priest has three different roles in his parish:

1. A Father-- leader of the community life. From this position, he is expected to care for the well-being of the community. Anyone should feel free to approach the priest in times of emotional distress. He is a leader or shepherd who will guide the community. He is also a role model young people can look up to. He should be able to counsel and teach people. From this role, his service should be available not only to the members of the community, but also to all others who seek help and support. If a community does not have a strong father-figure, it can’t have a healthy existence. In order to perform this role, one needs maturity and counseling skills.

2. A Priest-- leader of worship. A priest leads the community in conducting the worship-- its sacraments, its holy days etc.

3. A Vicar-- leads the administrative matters. Representing the bishop, he leads the group of people elected for the administration of the church property, its activities and its income and expenses. 

Of these three roles, the first one is undoubtedly the most important one. Lay people in the community, who are mature and have counseling skills, can help and support him in performing this role. Regarding the second role, only a priest can lead the community in liturgical worship.

Regarding the third one, his role has to be minimal. He may preside over the General body meetings and committee meetings, but his role should not go beyond being a moderator or a facilitator of the meetings. He can even designate a vice president to conduct these meetings. He needs to be like the president of India, without having a direct involvement in the administration. He needs to let the elected lay people directly involve in the administration. If he directly gets involved in the administration, he won’t be able to do his primary role as the father of the community. Wherever a priest gets involved in the administration, he fails as a father. He becomes the leader of one party or group, and fails to keep the entire community united.

Priests need to heed to Jethro’s advice to Moses, his son-in-law. Jethro saw all people coming to Moses with all sorts of administrative problems all daylong, and Jethro advised him to designate assistants who would take care of administrative matters, so that Moses could devote his time and energy to perform his primary role, as the father/leader of the community. Priests also need to follow the example of the apostles when they handed over the administrative matters to the seven deacons, so that they could focus their attention to prayer and preaching.

In the seminaries, where the priests are trained, they are trained primarily to perform their second role-- to lead the worship. I think a shift of focus is needed. They need to be trained primarily to perform their primary role -- as a father of the community. They also need to be taught how to be a vicar without directly getting involved in the administration.