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Re: Church position?

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  • Mike Wingert
    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
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 7, 2007
      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
      our Church?

      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?

      - Keyboards
      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?

      Some Solutions

      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.

      Mike Wingert
      # 0902

      --- 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?
      > Dn.Boby
      > # 3089
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