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New Series: Malankara’s Mythical Minefields

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  • Georgy S Thomas
    Dear Icon members, Encouraged by Mundukuzhy achen s series on the Catholicate, I am beginning to write a small series on the many myths prevalent among the
    Message 1 of 1114 , Sep 22, 2005
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      Dear Icon members,

      Encouraged by Mundukuzhy achen's series on the
      Catholicate, I am beginning to write a small series
      on the many myths prevalent among the faithful
      regarding the conflict in the Malankara Church. I
      hope through this series I will be able to clear
      some cobwebs.

      Most senior members of this forum will be familiar
      and aware of the issues being discussed. They may be
      interested in reading it only if new insights are
      being offered. But the series is primarily targeted
      at young Indian Orthodox Church members,
      particularly of the diaspora, whose parents are
      often unable to brief them properly about the crisis
      in which our church finds itself. Jacobite members
      in this forum may have differences of opinion with
      many of the views expressed, therefore, I urge them
      to approach it only to understand a slightly
      different perspective on the issues debated.

      This series is not meant for those ICON members who
      have time and again expressed their distate for the
      subject. I urge them to safely skip the posting
      whenever they see it.


      Faithfully
      Georgy S Thomas
      Bangalore
      -----------------------------------------------------
      Malankara's Mythical Minefields-I

      The Malankara Orthodox Church's quest for peaceful existence as an
      autocephalous church, at once proud of its Indian roots, even as it
      remains in spiritual association with the Syriac Orthodox Church and
      in communion with all other Oriental Orthodox Churches, is indeed a
      noble objective. But unfortunately, this noble quest has time and
      again encountered opposition from one section of our own church,
      whose energies and God-given talents are spent on the grant project
      of tethering the church in an unequal relationship with the Syriac
      Church.
      Myths have had a calamitous role in derailing Malankara's journey
      towards the fulfillment of our search for identity. These myths are
      also an obstacle against providing a healing touch. The time has
      come to unravel a few of these myths for our greater common good.

      1.) Myth: The church is universal. Therefore, to stress on one's
      national heritage is unchristian.
      Fact: The church is indeed universal. But for the message to be
      understood, its language has to be rooted in the cultural milieu of
      any given society. When we talk about the universality of the
      church, our focus should rightly be on the apostle St Paul, without
      whose single-minded devotion in preaching the message to the
      gentiles, the worldwide Christian church wouldn't have been a
      reality. The Acts of the Apostles tell us that the apostle St Paul,
      himself a cosmopolitan Jew and a Roman citizen to boot from Tarsus,
      ensured that his actions and speech were always rooted in the
      cultural context in which he found himself.
      Take for instance, his speech at the council of the Areopagus in
      Athens (Acts 17:19-33), where speaking, no doubt, in Greek, he
      adopted the tone of a philosopher suited for a city, whose
      residents, according to St Luke, ``spent their time in nothing else,
      but either to tell, or to hear some new thing''. The apostle St Paul
      even quoted from Greek poetry to impress his listeners, and impress
      he did to an extent.
      A few chapters later, in Acts 23, we find the apostle explaining his
      stand before a very agitated Jewish Sanhedrin, and using a language
      rooted in the milieu. ```Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son
      of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called
      in question'. And when he had so said, there arose a dissension
      between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was
      divided...'' A very effective communicator indeed!
      As the original and truly Indian church founded by St Thomas, for
      our message to be effective, it should convey the good news about
      Our Lord Jesus in an idiom in tune with the cultural moorings of
      this country. Otherwise we will always be perceived as aliens, and
      the universality of the Christian message will be lost in suspicions
      about hidden agendas. It thus becomes important for us to stress our
      national heritage. And by doing so, we become at once universal (in
      the sweep of the message) and particular (by stressing our
      independence and adopting an idiom rooted in the milieu).

      Oriental Orthodoxy And Nationalist Self-Assertion

      If we look at the origins of the family of Oriental Orthodox
      Churches to which we belong in terms of faith, we find that the
      monophysite* doctrine — which led to the parting of ways of the
      Armenian, Egyptian and Syrian Churches from the Chalcedon position —
      though located in Christology, conveyed a sense of nationalist self-
      assertion by all the above people against the Greek-dominated
      Byzantine government. In other words, the differences were one part
      Christological, and one part self-assertion by groups of aggrieved
      people organised along ethnic lines. (source: encyclopaedia
      britannica entry on Byzantine Empire)
      Even today, the Egyptian (Coptic), Armenian and Syrian Churches are
      known for their ethnicity. After the separation of the Ethiopian and
      Eritrean churches, the Coptic Church is almost exclusively composed
      of ethnic Copts. The Armenian Apostolic Church is entirely composed
      of Armenians. Except for the Jacobite faction in India, all members
      of the so-called universal Syriac Church are ethnic Suryoyo
      (Suriyani) people. ``When we speak of Syriac Christianity, we refer
      to Christians whose native tongue was Syriac and those who employed
      Syriac as their liturgical language,'' explains the Syriac orthodox
      resources (sor) website in its overview section.
      That the Suryoyos do not have a country of their own, and are spread
      across Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, and a diaspora in Europe and
      America, is a function of history. If they had the opportunity, they
      would have gladly formed themselves into a nation state.
      In short, what our Jacobite brothers in India are effectively saying
      is that the Suryoyo people can organise themselves in a manner which
      stresses their cultural heritage, but we Indians cannot. Isn't there
      some injustice in this?

      Conclusion: Considering its antiquity, its cherished St Thomas
      tradition, and the importance of conveying the message in an idiom
      rooted in the cultural milieu, the Malankara Orthodox Church is
      justified in its claims of independence and quest for Indian
      moorings. At the same time, it's desirable that the Church continues
      its spiritual association with the Syriac Church. Instead of getting
      apoplectic about it, our Jacobite brothers should join forces with
      others in creating a structure for the Malankara Orthodox Church
      which will enable a united church to honour both our spiritual
      association with the Syriac Church founded by St Peter and our
      legacy as a church founded by the apostle St Thomas.

      Note: *The preferred term nowadays is miaphysitism. But I am using
      monophysitism because for researchers who want to look up the
      subject, more material is available under that head than under
      miaphysitism. For example, a simple Google search under the
      head `monophysitism' returned 72 pages, whereas one
      under `miaphysitism' returned only six pages.

      Tomorrow: Is autocephaly an alien concept for the Oriental Orthodox?

      Georgy S Thomas
      Bangalore
    • Thomas P
      Reading a misleading article made me write this. Every Orthodox Church has a constitution. Consitution is for the functioning of the Church in the world.
      Message 1114 of 1114 , Oct 18, 2005
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        Reading a misleading article made me write this. Every Orthodox Church
        has a constitution. Consitution is for the functioning of the Church
        in the world.

        Recently a member of the Malankara Church was challenging the
        consitution of the Malankara Church. Let me ask him one question? SOC
        also has a consitution. How the constitution of SOC originated? Was
        the Malankara Church involved in drafting it? SOC made several
        revisions to the constituion not involving Malankara Synod.

        Following is from an article about SOC consitution: "Every institution
        has a constitution rules and regulations of its own. They are
        considered to be binding. Every constitution and every law has three
        basic elements: firstly the party establishing the constitution,
        secondly, the party declaring it; thirdly, the party abiding by it"
        "Both the board of clergy and the board of trustees have the power to
        set up by-laws that do not conflict with the constitution of the
        Church its general law and judgments, nor with the decisions of the
        Holy Synods or the laws or the country where the diocese is
        established." {Source: Syrian Orthodox Church, Canada Diocese}

        So, SOC agrees that every institution has a constitution of its own.

        It was in 1933 that SOC officially adopted a consitution. Evidence is
        here: "the Synod of Homs which was held in February 1933 and set out a
        complete constitution for the church clarifying the jurisdiction ..."
        (The Concept of Jurisdiction and Authority in the Syrian Orthodox
        Church on Antioch Article by His Grace Mor Gregorios Johanna Ibrahim
        Metropolitan of Aleppo)

        "The articles of the Synod of Homs in the year 1933 became the basis
        for what is known today as the Church Constitution. In spite of this
        brief time many amendments have been made to this constitution by
        several synods which were held after that date. The last one was the
        Synod of Damascus in 1991 ..." (Ibid)

        So, they have amended the constitution drafted in 1933.

        Too much pride is not good for any one. Christianity requires
        accepting the realities and accepting each other. Other than rejecting
        it for pride reasons, what is there in the consitution of 1934 that is
        unacceptable to an Orthodox believer? It allows honoring the Patriarch
        of SOC (not in an exaggerated way, but in a practical way).
        It is only for ego that people fight and cause divisions. What is
        there so special in the new Jacobite constitution of 2000? Why is it
        not made public in the web?

        -Thomas
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