Dear Shemachan Boby,
Greetings in the name of Christ.
You ask a series of much needed questions for all of us; the answers
that I will provide may sting. The Malayalee Christian community has
many great qualities that others can certainly learn from, but since
the nature of your questions begs a critique, I will focus on answers
to these critical issues within our Church. Accordingly, this email
will observe some of the negative qualities we possess, in the hope
that we may address and rectify such qualities. So if anyone is
reading and apprehensive about what I hereafter convey, stop reading now.
Your questions can be summarized in two parts: What is the role of
the Church in the life of the youth/young adults, and why are some
young people enjoying (certain types of) Protestant groups, instead of
Who is the Church? In my experience with the Malayalee Christian
community (as well as various other Orthodox Christian cultures), this
is a question that many laity find difficulty answering. The Church
is every human being baptized into the One Holy Universal (Qatholiki)
and Apostolic Church: This includes all those who are canonically in
communion with our Church (including the Coptic, Armenian, etc.) and
possibly some other individuals or groups. WE are the Church. Dear
Dn. Boby, what do you have planned for the young people? What do the
moderators of this forum have planned for the young people? What do
the readers have planned for the young people? The Church is not
simply a series of clerics; the Patriarch and Catholicos are not
executives of a corporation per se. Clerics all have a role in the
Holy Church, just as you and I have roles in the Holy Church. As a
deacon, your role is to serve at the altar and serve the Church
community in whatever their needs are. Clerics have a duty to
dispense the Holy Sacraments, or assist in their dispensation (as in
the case with the diaconate). When one reads through the lives of the
saints, one will see that these holy men and women had all sorts of
vocations; many were clerics, and many were not. Each of them, and
likewise each of us, has a role in the history of the world. We all
have a purpose.
The problem we face is ignorance. Often, I have seen many in the
Malayalee community apply their personal misunderstandings of the
Church to the detriment of the youth. I will provide some examples.
- The Rank of the Shemachen.
Traditionally the "Fr. Deacon" is a title reserved for those who have
received the rank of Deacon (Diakono / Ewangeloyo), and is not used
for minor ranks of the diaconate such as Reader (Quroyo) or Sub-deacon
(Apo-Diakno) in every Orthodox jurisdiction--especially in our own
Syriac tradition. I have most commonly found that among Malayalees,
when one receives the rank of Quroyo, they are treated as a true
Shemachen (though I also know of a few exceptions). Why do I bring
this up? For the Shemachen himself, this usually is not an issue
because he is serving the Church, but for the people it is
problematic. The position of Reader (Quroyo) is called such because
this is a person who has been ordained to read from the Holy Bible
during the Qurbono. In most Malayalee churches I've visited, those
who were reading were simply Cantors (Mzamrone). Many were older
gentlemen. Many of my friends who served the altar as Cantors had
expressed to me their desire to become ordained to one of the lesser
ranks of the diaconate, as it is the case in the rest of Orthodox
jurisdictions in the world, but they also told me of the potential
problems they would face. Apparently, a great amount of social
pressure is placed upon the Quroyo, as many (if not all) of his
community will then hassle the person about becoming a priest. This
has become such an issue, that now many will only become ordained to
the diaconate if they later intend to become a priest. This
misunderstanding has two negative effects. The first is that many who
are called to the diaconate and not the priesthood, avoid their
calling from God and miss out on service to the Church because of
this. The second negative point is that this creates in the mind of
the laity that one must wear black and have a title in order to be a
leader in the Church. Each of us have roles and responsibilities; we
must not leave everything to the clerics. We must not create such a
gap in people's minds as if there are two different classes of Christian.
- The Celibate Priesthood.
If we are referring to monks, who are ordained as priests, this is not
a problem. But a priest should not be ordained if he is not married.
This is unfortunately a legacy left-over from the Roman Catholic
conquest of the Syriac Orthodox Christians in Kerala. This evolves
into a problem when people misperceive holy orders. I once had a
conversation with an individual from the IOC who loved the idea of the
celibate priesthood because it allowed for one to "shoot for a higher
goal like bishop." If one is desiring to become a bishop, such a
person needs to be the first person crossed off the list of potential
bishops. Shepherds are called by the will of God and not their own
will. The episcopate is not a political office. It would be better
for such a person to walk into the desert and spend the remainder of
his life there than it would such a person to shepherd other souls.
One must not plan to be a bishop; one must simply be a good Christian
and yield to the will of God. Such a person makes for a saintly bishop.
- "Bishops are living saints."
I have heard of this from several people of Keralite origin (both
Syriac Orthodox Christians and those among the IOC). I was told by an
IO priest that "we can venerate whomever we want no matter how bad
they are or whichever Church they are from, because all bishops are
living saints." (I guess this is why they acknowledge a militant
Syriac Orthodox Christian such as Mor Gregorios Gewargis of Parumala).
In any case, I don't have a problem with the idea of "living saints"
because this is the calling of ALL CHRISTIANS. The problem lies in
that people misinterpret the word "Mor" to mean "Saint", when it
really means "My master". By saying "bishops are living saints,"
people do themselves and their community a disservice by distancing
themselves and their personal responsibilities as Christians with
those of the episcopate. Bishops have a certain role in the Church,
and so do each of us. No role is more important than the other; our
roles are just different.
- "It's All the Same. We're All Christian."
Is it all the same? Are we "all Christian" as many uncles and aunties
and even priests teach?! Too often, this is the mantra of our
faithful. I will give an example. Here in Southern California, we
have many ecumenical events where all the various Orthodox gather
together to celibate the liturgy, to have joint prayers, Bible
studies, youth trips, etc. This applies to all the Orthodox
jurisdictions, but the Oriental Orthodox in particular... yet when one
hears about an ecumenical event at a Malayalee church, it means, all
the Keralites from competing Christian denominations and different
beliefs come together because of their nationality. While the rest of
us Orthodox are gathering together based on our common faith, many
Keralites gather together based on nationality. Is it any wonder then
that the children of people who engage in such activities abandon the
faith for other denominations? When the young people are taught that
"it's all the same," then who can blame them for abandoning the faith?
According to what they've been taught, they are not abandoning
anything since "it's all the same anyway." [NOTE: Malankara Syrian
Orthodox Christians participate in our pan-Orthodox gatherings, but
the numbers are not as high as the pan-Malayalee events].
- Inter-faith Marriages
Often, it is the same uncles who engage in bitter arguments with those
outside the Holy Orthodox faith who will quickly attempt to marry off
their daughters to those same groups they are arguing with! "Oh, he
has good job. He has H1 Visa!" And another thing... this whole idea
of the daughter converting to her husband's religion is Islamic, not
Christian. If the uncles believe that the Church is worth fighting
for, why are these same guys throwing their own flesh and blood to
those they fight against?
What is happening to our liturgies?! The use of the organ was
permitted in the early 1900s, not for its musical value, but so that
it would be easier for populations to learn the Beth Gazo--our system
of chanting. The early 1900s represents a difficult period in our
Church history, as we were on the receiving end of two disastrous acts
of genocide. With population decreases, it is only natural that we
find ways to educate our faithful when many of our educators had been
put to death. Instead of a culture of those educated in our musical
tradition, the organ found itself being transformed into an electronic
instrument--the keyboard. This keyboard came to be used to compete
with Protestants and the RCC who permitted its use. As such, we
substituted the beauty of Orthodoxy, for trendy and ever changing
tunes that sound like film scores more than they do the divine
worship. Aside from the fact that the music (or better stated,
"noise") sounds horrible, the tragedy of all of this is that we now
suffer far less participation in the service. The whole point of
employing these hymns and chants in our liturgy is to serve as a mode
of education to our faithful. They are so deep! When people stop
engaging themselves in the Qurbana, are they rightly preparing
themselves to partake in the holy mysteries? My prayer is that we
will rid ourselves of this wicked instrument, sell these, give the
money to some good use, and use this energy that some people have to
further educate and enhance the lives of our faithful. Right now, we
pray for men in the 5th Diptych who condemned the use of instruments,
then follow their commemoration by playing these silly instruments.
- General Ignorance
If we perpetuate ignorance, we should not ask questions about why some
leave the Church. I will provide a few more anecdotes:
I knew a Malayalee Christian girl who went away to school and made
some Pakistani friends, and wanted to be a Muslim for the following
reasons: "In Christianity, you're allowed to do whatever you want
like have sex or drink and stuff, but Islam is different. They
believe in praying and fasting. How come we don't believe in
fasting?" This statement was incredibly ignorant on her part, but to
what extent can she be blamed? Certainly in the end, we are all
accountable for ourselves--God has given each of us the ability to
learn and the faculty to reason. But if this girl, who was raised in
our faith thought that sex (outside of marriage) and drinking to
drunkenness are permitted in Christianity, and that we do not believe
in fasting, then somewhere along the line, someone did her a major
disservice. The great irony is that Islamic fasting comes directly
from Syriac Christian fasting. We fast from sun-up to sun-down,
having nothing during this time, but unlike Islam, we abstain from
animal products during the times of our fasts (which tend to last
longer than Islamic fasts).
I've met many other youths who also know little to nothing about our
faith, and when they learn of it, they are blown away by how profound
real Christianity is. Recently at the family conference of the
Malankara Archdiocese of the SOC here in North America, I met some
individuals who had become "Non-Denominational" Protestants. Their
experience at our family conference had opened up their minds to the
Syriac Orthodox Christian faith in ways they had never known before.
Praise God, they have returned home to the mother Church. Their
biggest struggle growing up was that they were not taught the
Christian faith, either by word or by deed. They were introduced to
Christianity generally speaking, but who were their role models, and
who was there to feed them spiritually?
The first solution is to observe the issues we are facing and then
provide the appropriate education so that individuals can make
decisions on their own. Education is a key point. On the West Coast
of the United States, we have a lot of educational initiatives.
Perhaps these same initiatives can be undertaken in India also.
Education alone is not enough! We must live a life of faith! We must
live the lives of saints! This is the more important point. Knowing
about Holy Orthodoxy and living the life of a true Orthodox Christian
is not the same. It is a challenge that I myself must confront on a
daily basis. I am in a unique position, having learned much about
our faith; but the more I learn, the more responsibility I have to all
of mankind. This is our collective challenge as Christians. In life,
we are gradually learning more and more, and as such, we find
opportunities to interact with God. It is very easy to acquire an
education and use it for the wrong reasons. We must be living examples.
Maybe this was a long answer to your short question, but there are
indeed reasons why young people are leaving the Church. They are
doubly poisoned by ignorance and lack of saintly examples (starting in
the home). If a person has a genuine love for Christ and then
encounters Syriac Orthodox Christianity, such a person cannot turn away.
--- In SOCM-FORUM@yahoogroups.com, Rev. Dn. Boby Thomas wrote:
> Hello all
> I want know about Jacobite church position.
> What the church provide for the young people? And what they expects
from the church?
> Now days so many protestants groups are starting, and our young
people like these groups more than our church? Why it is happening?
> # 3089