Friday, January 28, 2011

North America Seminary Education , Culture and Indian Church

This posting is an offshoot from the recent postings in ICON on aspiring priests being educated in Eastern Orthodox seminaries and influence on future of the Indian Orthodox Church.

First and foremost on some things that I consider to focus for the basis of futher discussion.

1. Our faith is that by baptism by an Indian Orthodox priest and by that first communion thereafter , we each have become part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

2. The Indian Orthodox Church with it's prelate the Catholicose of the East in Devalokam , founded by St. Thomas, with it's Catholicate established in 1912 , presently follows a major portion of liturgical forms of worship adopted from the contact with the Syrian Orthodox Church since 17th Century.

3. There existed some forms of worship used by the Church in India prior to the 17th Century unique to the Kerala culture and traditions that the Church adapted of which a few is being used by us presently like Kaiasthuri, Manthrakodi, Minu kettu etc.

4. The ancient communities in the mediteerenian area had a unique opportunity of being in close proximity , constant interaction due to trade and within the same empire. The Indian Church , unlike the Syrian , Coptic , Ethiopian , or Armenian Church , was not part of the Byzantine empire or the Mediteranian locale where the Ecumenical Councils of the Church were held . It has not played an active part prior to 17th Century , in the development of the Orthodox Theology when it was formulated in the three Councils or it's defence against the innovation perceived then against council of Chalcedon on the One Incarnate Nature of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. ( In short we got to know of Chalcedon after 17th Century interaction with the Syrian Church).

5. In the development of the two Christian communities in the immediate two centuries after the council of Chalcedon , amidst local persecutions ,attempts were made by each to explain their position as right and failure to come to consensus resulted in each calling the other as heretics.

6. The naming of Christian communities as Eastern Orthodox or Oriental Orthodox is a development in the last two centuries to show the distinction between those who accept the existence of Seven (7) Councils as Ecumenical including the council of Chalcedon and those who consider only the first three councils of Nicea, Constantinopole and Ephesius. This is the situation that the Indian Orthodox Church finds itself ifacing the Eastern orthodox and others with whom we share communion with called the Oriental Orthodox in 20th Century.

7. The life of the Church as examplified by the Church Fathers common to all be they Syrian, Armenian etc. is not only be confessing in words its theology but by living the Orthodox Christian Faith. (( Here clarity required - Orthodox is referred to it as Right Glory (God's glory) or Right Worship))

8. The Indian Church unlike the others that we share in communion did not have a history of martyrs and suffering from the first Centuries till it's major persecution from others who consider themselves as Christians - the Portuguese Roman catholics and have no record of calendar of saints like the Coptic , Syrian Church or the Ethiopian Church have. ( In fact these Calendars were edifying tools to guide members of the Church of the path followed by others previously to emulate ) . It should not be away from our focus that potential of persecution is yet to come for us if it is for God's glory through us.

9. It took the Orthodox community as a whole centuries for the Liturgical forms and Worship amidst differing situations in the past to develop prior to us the Indian Church adapted from the Syrian Church. Similarly it took centuries for the forms used by the Armenian , Coptic or Ethiopian Church for them to use it like they do now in their Church life. This is applicable to the Greek or the Russian Church which are the bulk of the Eastern Orthodox community.

10. Orthodox Christian communities in the past has always exercised the independent freedom on how it used the knowledge of the faith they have gained from others to edify the community as a whole to live out the Orthodox Christian faith. It is recorded that classical Greek Christian Scripture used to preach in one community were also used the other communities and each community had translated the texts for it's common people to understand . The forms of worship were different but the essence of faith remained un changed and coming to consensus was the norm and faith that the Holy spirit is guiding the Church to fulfill it's destiny.

Examples :

-Ethiopian Church while it has close connnection to Coptic Church has developed their form of worship in their native language , musical instrumentals adapated to glorify God as part of the liturgy.

- Russian church which never knew of Orthodoxy of any form till Prince Vladimir sent emmisaries in 10th Century A.D to Greece has adapted the forms they received specific to produce Holy men like St. Seraphim of Sarov and living it out from with the persecutions of communism.

- The OCA ( Orthodox church in America) which came about an offshoot from the Russian church during communism has adapted to translate the Russian liturgy ( St. John Chrysostoum Liturgy which has found it's way to Russia from Greece and thereafter to U.S) and attracted quite a few biased to western prostestant thought to turn to it , formed the St. Vladimir Seminary ( One of the seminaries where our aspiring priests in U.S have been accused ofbeing educated in Eastern Orthodox than the Oriental Orthodox or Indian Orthodox )

11. Due to it's significance to the topic , not to mention to above list is our Indian Orthodox Church in India (mostly isolated to state of Kerala and migrants from Kerala to other places thereof) which has in the last two centuries translated a lot of the Syrian prayers into native language of Malyalam , building up a community since 1912 that has a potential to grow in glory and witness to the present time and facing up to heresies and persecutions and produce martyrs ( here clarification martyrdom does not signify only by dying to torture at hands as shown by early Christians facing up to Romans , but no to sin , no to focus on a life away from God prayer worship amidst the many distractions including blogs and social media )

12. The community formed from Indian Orthodox Church in America , it's interaction with the Culture it finds itself in North America based on western model should be seen as unique and focus should not turn from these which I consider important.

-It's interaction with the Easten Orthodox in America , -Education by teaching by many of Eastern Orthodox in America noted in the native English language publications as only the Orthodox Christian community which has held it's faith since first century and preached in pulpit of the Atar by their priests ( knowingly or unknowingly the ancient Churches like Syrian Orthodox Church , Coptic Armenian or Ethiopian are potrayed as either heretical or trying to get in communion with them and one should be kind to them and try to offer help to accomodate them) , welcoming with open arms immigrant community to join them in worship and not explaining that there are theological differences and that some whom they consider as saints are labelled as heretics or robbers.

- Mind set of the Immigrant Indian Orthodox community of the past in North America - a) Not missionarries ,but first priority as who feel lost missing the support system of Church and Culture in India , looking to hold on to something of the past establishing congreggations and parishes with liturgy services in Malyalam . b) The ignorance of not knowing indepth the theology or the practise of the Orthodox Christian faith of merely having continued in simplicity the tradition common in India. c) Fear of losing children as they grow up using predominantly English language normally outside , being exposed to the fast western culture - forcing to attempting to hold back change by actually changing themselves using translations of liturgical books in English for Qurbana and singing in Malyalam tunes ( Emphasis so much on tunes and not meaning - The words and tune together to uplift the worshipping community as a whole and each individual as a participant was what the ancients prescribed and proved) d) The furstations by nuances of human fraility of pride , arguments on who should be Secretary , are they Jacobites will our church building be taken away and infighting within parish leading some youth brought up in America thinking they don't belong here and/or from pride again impatient sighs -Oh these are ignorant people and this is my Church and I must do something to change like going to Eastern Orthodox seminary or parishes to learn and help it ( An anology that comes to mind would be like some Orthodox Christians in India following a pattern without actually understanding or participating in worship jumping ship to protestant missions to learn the Bible and they come back trying to change the Church and their parents)

- Breakway from past and moving forward-

It is important to focus beyond the walls of the Indian Orthodox Christian community and see that mission of the Church in North America India continuing in the footsteps of our Lord and God Jesus Christ ,the Apostles and the Church fathers , is for all people all inclusive on every activity of their lives . The immigrant community culture issue in North America is not limited to us and would cite these diverse examples from my personal observation to elaborate

a) Ukranian community of glorious past in America where greater emphasis on Culture and language was emphasised , with limited youth from present generation even participating in liturgical services and limited members planning to enter into seminary training

b) OCA offshot of the Russian Church which have come a long way in very limited time centuries producing it's own seminaries with many caucasian converts joining to it's members and even inspiring cradle Indian or Ukranian Orthodox.

c) Common to all of the Oiental Orthodox Christian community in America - Coptic , Armenian, Indian , Syrian , Ethiopian and Eritrean

- each living out their life as Church within their culture and language limitations ( Copts get together with Copts only, Indians having liturgical service in Malayalam , Ethiopians only within their community etc.) and limited interaction together as Church. Isolated cases of interaction might be happening but not on a continuous basis to grow . ( An organization which seem promising to me is the SCOOCH even within the limitation of facing others from within our faith labelling us as heretics because of our unfortunate past relation with the Syrian Church)

d. Relationship with the Church from which it had its roots -

Syrian and Kerala traditions

I believe it is important to prove the past wrong which our young seminarians in U.S show promise on going back to find out how the Church existed in India and the situation they had to face in the past and learn from it. It is a shameful scandalous truth facing the Church in India with our Sister Orthodox adapting almost 90% of their liturgical forms forgetting the fact that many fathers of the Church whose work we have come to be blessed with lie in isolated unmarked graves of Antioch without any one there to do Doopa prarthana on their behalf. It is my prayer that the future Indian Orthodox in America would be foremost to go back to establish the relationship with seminaries and study organizations in India and other places to go back to studying old scripts of Syrian prose and Malayalam translate for common man to use in their prayerful lives in English or Malayalam as their preference and offer Doopa prarthana the fathers of old Antioch and Church Fathers of India who had stood up to persecutions from Dutch, Anglican , Syrian a like on the faith. Another aspect not to forget is grasping without offering - The practical usage of the Indian Church on traditions it had got the forms of Syrian traditions translated how much is being used on personal lives - Are we for convenience not going to confession , breaking away from 7 times of prayer ? . Here again I wish to draw a parallel on the use of Jesus Prayer which is now being labelled as part of Eastern Byzantine tradition when it is not as they originated from arrow prayers places like Nitrea and is even shown in our Ninevah prayer ( Yeshuve nee njangale sahaiyikename - ) It is just that the publicity and wide spread usage by Eastern Orthodox ( Not sure if they teach this in the seminaries of OCA)

Balanced focus on Syrian ,Other traditions that formulated Oriental Orthodox Christian Faith English language and potential in North America

Here I should emphasise us not to forget not only Syrian but also other traditions recorded in Geez , Coptic , Armenian and Greek etc. which would show a glimpse of past and formulated our common faith of Oriental Orthodox. In the past due to distance , language and cultural barriers the Indian Church could not interact with these Church communities. However the potential to interact has tremendously improved with internet, immigration policy in North America (In most major cities in U.S there exist Ethiopian , Armenian, Coptic and/ or the other three communities for us to interact and learn to edify together as Church. There exist seminaries and monasteries of Oriental Orthodox and monasteries in U.S ).

The fast pace of Globalization and English language influence in every aspect of life should also not be forgotten and unlike in the past what affect in US affect the very core in India too , it is a responsibility of Church as a whole and each of us as individuals by virtue of our membership to encounter. The question is How sincere are we and what will we be willing to sacrifice and how much encouragement we will give to some who want to attempt ?

Some thoughts to conclusion in future :

This past Sunday ( the reading of the Church - 4th Sunday after Epiphany ) focus on unbelief in God and each of us should not forget that We believe that God is guiding the Church to it's destiny with the Holy Spirit in it's fullness and the expectations of each of us shown in the Epistle reading of I Corinthians 12:12- 27. The Apostles and Church fathers including those Fathers labelled as Oriental Orthodox have lived it. Let us take time to cry out for His help and mercy in our lives to find use of us for Right Glory.

January 31, 2011

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