Malankara World

Faith of the Church

Tribulations within the Church- Optimistic Approach

by Philip Abraham, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

[Editor's Note: These are suggestions for improvements within both churches so as to usher an era of peace from the century-old fights and court cases from a member of the Indian Orthodox Church. They merit our serious considerations.]

With the enthronement of the new Catholicos of the East and Malankara Metropolitan H.H. Moron Mar Baselious Marthoma Paulose II, it's certain that almost everyone within and outside the Church is looking forward for a complete revamping of the century old feud besides straightening other issues.

Some of them have been contemplated as under:

A) FOREIGN VISITS BY BISHOPS:

1) Any parish in a foreign diocese desirous of inviting a Bishop from another Diocese to perform a Sacramental duty shall not send the invitation directly to the concerned Bishop but shall have the invitation mentioning the purpose of visit first authorized by the Diocesan Bishop under which the Parish belongs.

2) The invitee Bishop on receiving the invitation letter authorized by the respective Diocesan Metropolitan shall subsequently have the invitation letter approved by the Catholicos.

3) A Bishop's foreign visits other than participation in Conferences and Seminars shall be limited to one per year.

4) The H. Synod must approve the participation of the Church in recognized Conferences and Seminars nominating the Bishop who should represent the Church and the Catholicos must issue a Kalpana authorizing the participation of the Bishop who represents the Church.

5) The visitor Bishop upon arrival in the foreign country as a result of being invited to perform a Sacremental duty or as a result of being nominated by the Church to attend Conferences or Seminars shall first contact the Diocesan Bishop.

6) The visitor Bishop shall reside with the Diocesan Bishop as far as possible.

7) Other than the Purpose of attending Conferences or Seminars, there shall not be more than one visitor Bishop at a time in a foreign country.

8) The visitor Bishop on returning back home shall report to the Catholicos and submit details of the visit in brief including financial collections (if any), its purpose & execution, progress and completion.

9) The outcome of Conferences and Seminars attended by the nominated Bishop shall be published in all official news media of the Church.

10) There shall be no private bank account for Bishops but only in the name of the diocese.

11) In the larger interest of the Church it is high time that periodic "Inter-Diocese" transfer of Bishops be implemented.

12) Bishops belong to the Church overall and not to trusts or any individuals. They are undeniably jewels, ornamenting the Church and are respected, deemed to be leading a monastic and pristine life. They are seen next to God by the believers. Unlike the ordinary, any slipup results in serious repercussions.

B) PRIVATE PROJECTS WITHIN THE CHURCH:

1) The Church is an Institution by itself.

2) There shall be no institution within an institution i.e. there shall be no private establishment or projects run by anyone within the Church.

3) Even in the name of charity, all establishments and projects shall not be registered in the name of individuals, Priests, Bishops or the Catholicos, but all establishments and projects must be registered in the name of the Church. The name of the Church shall not mean the name of individual Parish Churches or Chapels but the Church as a whole i.e. "Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church" (Indian Orthodox Church)"

4) In the better interest of the Church, all the existing establishments shall be re-registered in the name of the Church.

5) All the incomes generated, as well as through periodic fund collection programmes of the Church and from any establishment within the Church whether educational, healthcare, commercial, or otherwise shall be suitably collected by the diocesan bishop, periodically audited and submitted to the Church.

6) The Church under the Management Committee shall have a centralized source to receive, allocate and audit resources. The disbursement shall be based on the approved budget for each establishment within the Church such that uniform development is expected throughout- from the largest to the smallest one in a remote area and from diocese to diocese. This shall also include Priests Salary and care of the needs of the Bishops.

7) This could lead to better management and not only prevent media reports that appeared previously such as: "of the Rs. Six Crore, Rs. Two Crore reaches Sabha Central Office and where-abouts of the balance are in the hands of private banks/no traces. Similarly, in another report of the Rs. Ten Crore, the entire amount is in the hands of private persons and Sabha (Church) gets none". These had occurred as a result of "trusts" formed by Metropolitans, hopefully in good-will (but the negative has happened),to manage establishments and its resources.

The trend of opening individual establishments whether in one's own diocese or another diocese continues within the Church even today. This should be discouraged and stopped. All establishments whether in one's own diocese or another diocese should be under the CHURCH ONLY and NOT UNDER INDIVIDUAL TRUSTS.

C) REHABILITATION PROGRAMS:

1) A project shall be set up under the centralized control of the Church preferably in a single location in any area for the rehabilitation of Bishops and unmarried Priests, Nuns, etc after retirement.

2) This shall include residential facility, Chapel, a library, meditation facility, health care centre, helper for individuals etc

D) PREFERENCE FOR ADMISSION IN EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS/ EMPLOYMENT IN INSTITUTIONS OF THE CHURCH:

1) Preference for Sunday school performers, poor Orthodox students, out standing Orthodox students in academics and Orthodox students excelling in sports shall be given preference in educational institutions of the Church. The same criteria shall be considered for employment opportunities in any of the related institutions of the Church.

E) NORMS FOR BISHOP SELECTION:

1) It is the desire by many that eligible candidates should not be left out just because of the "age factor" when OTHERWISE THEY ARE WORTHY to lead the flock. Such candidates should be listed on top priority. The age factor is no fault of theirs, because when these candidates were in the "prescribed age limit" there wasn't a call for Episcopal Candidates.

2) There is always the scope for a re-look into age factor and amending them isn't a big issue- since it is we who had made the norms and not by a court or external body. In future the "prescribed age limit" should be avoided.

3) The selection committee should strictly adhere to the prescribed norms. They cannot invent their own norms eg; disqualification based on lack of prayer. God alone can do that. Selection committee is not competent for such issues.

F) ELECTION CRITERIA IN THE MALANKARA ASSOCIATION:

1) The fact that in this Modern World of fast communication other means of exercising one's vote through computerized system from a far off place "involving a fool-proof mechanism" is absolutely necessary in case someone due to constraints is unable to attend in person. Sufficient amendments shall be brought about to include such facility.

G) UNITY:

Unity is the best solution and 90% members in both the parties are uninterested in the division. Only less than 10% people on both sides having vested interest i.e. the extremists are against unity and controlling the majority by intimidation and other unlawful tactics. Given this and due to various reasons, under the present scenario "Unity" is very difficult to achieve.

Now 100 years have passed and "experience the best master" has taught either side that unity can only be preached, it's fragile and cannot be accomplished in total. Besides, both sides have got rights and wrongs. The same history of infighting and mudslinging continues and the next generation of both the IOC and SOC will look back after 25 years henceforth and see history repeating itself. Let's give the next generation a better chance to promote Jesus and His love.

We have two choices for peace:

OPTION 1:

Have full unity and relationship with the Patriarch as per the 1934 Constitution amended appropriately as per the 1995 Supreme Court judgment.

An initial step toward "UNITY" would be to work with time schedules and cut off dates. To start with, a few priests and lay men from both sides shall chalk out the core issues and methods to resolve them. Once this is through, few bishops from either side can join in to cement the decisions, followed by the Managing Committees of either side. Once this is through, the H. Synods of either side will finalize and the Church Heads will endorse. And then, let's select the next Catholicos designate from the Malankara Association of the United Church. But this is easier said than done. It requires dedicated positive approach from both sides forgetting the blame each other attitude, but with a focus to attain the `goal' with preparedness to `give and take' in Christian Spirit.

OPTION 2:

Don't go for unity, but sort out issues, establish peace and live as "Sister Churches" being in communion with each other.

In option 2, the main issues to be sorted and legal binding agreements to be made are disputes concerning the following issues (i) to (v):

i) The Apostolic Thrones:

As per the present practice let the IOC be loyal to the Throne of St. Thomas and the SOC be loyal to the Throne of St. Peter. Anyhow, we agree on one fact that both were disciples of Jesus. So, let us consider the Churches established by both disciples as "Sister Churches".

ii) The Constitution:

IOC will follow 1934 and SOC 2002.

iii) The Head of Church

H.H. The Catholicos of the East for IOC and H.H. The Patriarch for SOC.

The IOC will amend through the Malankara Association the Constitution of 1934 as under;

CLAUSE 1: DECLARATION:

Amend to read as:
1) The Malankara Church was founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in A.D.52 and is included in the `Orthodox Syrian Church of the East'. The Primate of the `Orthodox Syrian Church of the East' is the Catholicos.

2) The ancient and the real name of the Malankara Church is the `Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church' and ever since the Church introduced the West Syrian Rite in A.D. 1665, it is wrongly called `The Jacobite Church', by which the `Orthodox Syrian Church' in the West Syrian Rite has been also called so.

3) The Primate of the `Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church' also known as the Indian Orthodox Church is the "Catholicos of the East on the Throne of St. Thomas".

CLAUSE 4: MALANKARA ARCH DIOCESE

Amend to read as MALANKARA CHURCH

70) The Malankara Arch-diocese (amend to read as Malankara Church) shall have an Association by name "Malankara Syrian Christian Association".

CLAUSE 6: PATRIARCH.

Amend to read as Primates of Oriental Orthodox Churches.

101) The Malankara Church shall recognize the Patriarch, canonically consecrated with the co-operation of the Catholicos. (Amend to read as: The Malankara Church acknowledges as Sister Churches all Churches in the family of Oriental Orthodox Churches. The name of the first among equals the Patriarch of Antioch on the Throne of St. Peter- the Primate of the `Orthodox Syrian Church' will be remembered first in the Thubden followed by the names of all Primates of Oriental Orthodox Churches).

CLAUSE 8: ORDINATION

B. High Priests (Prelates)

114. Amend to read as: If any one shall be consecrated as Catholicos he shall be elected to that office by the Association. If such election is approved by the Episcopal Synod, the Synod will consecrate the new Catholicos with the senior most Metropolitan officiating the ceremony (or) if the outgoing Canonical Catholicos is available and his health permits, then he shall lead the consecration ceremony of the new Catholicos. All heads of Sister Churches in the Oriental Orthodox family may be invited for their gracious presence in the consecration ceremony of the new Catholicos.

CLAUSE 9: COMPLAINTS AND DECISIONS

118. Amend to read as: If the complaint is against the Catholicos, the decision of the majority in the Synod shall be taken and the senior most Metropolitan shall pronounce the decision. While the Synod meets for these purposes such members of the Association Managing Committee as are deemed needed may be invited for consultation.

iv) The Disputed Churches and Property

Since the Patriarch's party did not abide by the Hon Supreme Court order and quit the Malankara Association of 2002 supervised by Justice Malimud as per directions of Hon Supreme Court and formed their own Constitution in 2002, they had broken away from the Malankara Church. But, before doing so they were dutifully bound to handover the ancient Churches belonging to Malankara, but nevertheless for the sake of peace and establishing love in Christian faith, the following may be considered.

a) All the closed and disputed Churches or property which had not been resolved on or before the date of Malankara Association in 2002 held under the supervision of Justice Malimud as per directions of Hon Supreme Court shall be considered as `closed and disputed Churches or property'.

b) Any dispute of Church or property after this date shall be retained by the side in whose possession the Church or property was on or before this date, irrespective of the documents each side may have to prove otherwise. Status Quo henceforth will be maintained from this date. From this date, no further infringement or claims shall be made into each other's Church or property.

c) All closed and disputed Churches in reference to (a) to be opened up for service. The disputed Church and property to be resolved as under:

The Church and property will be a joined ownership with each side owning 50% share irrespective of the people strength each side may possess. The Church and property will be maintained by both sides and expenditure towards and income from the Church and property will be divided equally by both sides. Priests will be appointed by the concerned Metropolitan of each side and Sacramental services will be conducted every alternate week by each side. Perunal & other feasts will be celebrated by the side on whose turn the week falls, if need be with their respective Metropolitans or Heads. All offerings /collections will be retained by each side in whose turn the week falls. Faithful according to their choice are freely allowed to participate in the Sacramental Services each week.

d) Anyone desirous of changing sides individually or collectively whether a laity, deacon, priest or bishop they may do so according to their free will, but they shall not take the Church or movable or immovable properties along with them as these does not individually belong to a person(s).

e) In the above conditions of agreement are not acceptable to one or either sides, then both sides shall approach the Government with a request to take over the disputed Churches and properties and form a board with equal representation from both parties to conduct Sacramental Services, meet expenses and share income from property on an equal basis.

v) Withdrawing all Church cases by both parties after a consensus has been Agreed and Signed.

vi) A legal agreement in a court of law to be signed by both parties stating that all issues have been resolved and a commitment that the `agreement will be honored in letter and spirit and that no further infringement or claims of each other Churches and properties will be made whether old or new and that the two parties will henceforth exist as two Sister Churches'.

These are proposals and protocols hovering on the internet for Option 1 and unity. Many believe given the history of 1958 to 1973, Option 1 may not be viable. So Option 2 has a better chance of succeeding as `Sister Church' which the Patriarch too opted in his earlier speeches/messages.

The Sister Churches of the Indian Orthodox Church would then be:

The Syriac Orthodox Church, The Coptic Orthodox Church, The Armenian Orthodox Church, The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and The Eritrean Orthodox Church. Sister Churches share the exact same faith and consider the Sacraments administered by each other as having the same `Grace and Validity'. But, they don't interfere in each other's administrative affairs.

The fact is that we cannot have the present condition go on forever. There should be a full stop. We need peace. For peace we have to choose Option 1 or Option 2.

Problems will solve only when both parties think and act like Christians.

References:

1 Corinthians 1: 10 12; "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment. For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you. Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ"

The Apostles are not regional. St. Thomas belongs to someone in Rome or Antioch as much as St. Peter belongs to someone in Kottayam or Puthecuriz. Jesus Christ did not partition his Apostles to various regions. In the Orthodox tradition no particular Bishop succeeds a particular Apostle. Every Bishop is a successor of every Apostle. There are only three ranks in the Priesthood: - Deacon Priest Bishop.

All Bishops are equal, nobody is superior to another. For administrative purposes one is considered to be the first among equals, and he leads the Synod. That's all.

So it is an error to say 'See of Peter' or 'See of Thomas'. Every Bishop is a successor of Peter and Thomas and not just these two, they are successors of Matthew, John, James, Andrew, Bathelomew etc. This is the Orthodox understanding.

We don't belong to Peter nor to Thomas. We belong to Christ. It is not the Pathriarkese Bava or the Catholica Bava that we should care about, but Aakashathilulla Bava.

These days Internet media is the best place where one can see the common people's voices. The managing committee should take serious note of people's voices and present it in the appropriate meeting of the committee and take proper decision and forward to all concerned, for necessary enforcement.

We cannot let things go on like this for ever. There has to be an END. Action should be taken. Authentic action to end all the problems. All problems are man made. So, there's a way out to solve them. It needs will power and earnest dedication by all those in the decision making front on either side. If not, history will keep repeating and not months or years but a century will again go by and generations will pass. Let us not close our eyes and create darkness, let us come to reality. Let us not be a laughing stock in the World. Alas, at the end of the day the question asked to either side is "What has the Holy Church done to reveal Jesus Christ and His teachings?"

Besides my opinion, the above points have been summarized together from various positive articles contributed at different times by esteemed writers of both ICON and SOCM. I credit them for having put forward such an optimistic thought and proposal.

See Also:

Malankara's Mythical Minefields
Debate between Georgy S. Thomas, Bangalore and Very Rev. Kuriakose Moolayil

A Suggested Approach to Solve the century old disputes between (Jacobite) Syrian Christians and Indian Orthodox Church
A Prominent Jacobite Priest suggests a Christian approach to solve the church disputes.

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