The Ethos of the Church
The witness of the Orthodox Church is a quiet one. It is founded more on a life of worship of love and of service than on preaching and proselytizing . This worship – orientation is its basis for all thought and action as well as the reason for its survival through recurrent terms of trial.
For the Orthodox , tradition is ever alive and is indeed the witness of the Holy Spirit, His unceasing revelation of good tidings. For the living members of the church, tradition is not so much an outward historical authority as the continual voice of God, not just the voice of the past but the call of eternity.
There is not better guarantee for the members of the church that they are following the right path than for them to preserve the organic unity with the saints, the holy men and women of the past generations who are known to have lived in communion with the Holy Spirit. The principle of apostolic succession upheld by the Orthodox Church has to be grasped in this light, as a living bond between successive generations of church members, preserving the unity of faith and life, in spite of the constant flow of time.
It is this concept of unity in which the individual voluntarily merges his or her life in the wider fellowship of the whole body, that has helped the Orthodox to preserve the truth of the Christian revelation. The identification with the familial community, rather than discipline through centralized authority , is the life – breath of the church. From this flows the communitarian ethos of the church and the fine balance achieved between democratic functioning and Episcopal maturity. The role of the bishop is to sanction in the name of the church an action performed by the Holy Spirit, expressed as the unanimous will of all the members of the church, present and invisible, gathered to celebrate the Eucharist. This principle sustains the democratic orientation of the Orthodox community, indeed of all Eastern Churches.
The Constitution of the Orthodox Church in India ( which has retained the traditional name , Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church was brought into force on 26 December 1934, with some amendments made later in 1951 and 1967.
Article 4 defines membership of the church: “ All men and women who have received Holy Baptism and believe in the divinity of the Holy Trinity, the incarnation of the Son, the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father, the Holy Church , and the application of the Nicene Creed , three – in – all, the divine inspiration of the Holy Traditions, the intercession of the Mother of God and the Saints, the commemoration of the departed ones, the administration of the seven sacraments and the canonical observances like fasting , and have accepted the obligation to observe them, will be members of the Church.”
The Structure of Governance
The Constitution defines the institutional structure of the Church for preserving its integrity and autonomy and for administering its spiritual , ecclesiastical and temporal functions . It upholds the historical tradition that the Patriarchate of Syria and the Catholicate of the East freely function, each in its own sphere, mutally respecting and not interfering in each other's domain . the church is self – governing under the ethical and spiritual guidance of its ecclesiastical head .
The representative basis of self – governance is assured at all the three levels – th parish , the diocese and the church as a whole . The Parish Assembly of all its members elects the Managing Committee each year from among the lay members . The vicar, appointed by the Diocesan Metropolitan is the joint – steward, together with the elected lay trustee of the assets of the parish, and presides over the managing committee and the parish assembly.
Likewise, the diocese is administered through the Diocesan Council representing all the parishes. It is presided over by the Diocesan Metropolitan and assisted by the Diocesan Secretary .
At the apex, the Church has a representative Association , by the traditional name of Malankara Syrian Christian Association. It consists of the priest and two lay members elected by each Parish Assembly . The Church Managing Committee is drawn from among the members of the Association . the Catholicos, as the Malankara Metropolitan, presides over the Association and the Managing Committee . Those prelates having administrative charge of a diocese are vice - presidents of the Association.
The Catholicate in India
“I am the good shepherd”
The good shepherd lays down his life fir his sheep”
This verse (John 10:11 ), recited at the consecration of the Catholicos, echoes the essence of the Christian calling, personified by him.
The Catholicos is the supreme head of the Orthodox Church in India . The present Catholicos is the 89 th chronological successor to the Catholicate of the East founded by St. Thomas the Apostle in Seleucia , later revived in Tigris and relocated in 1912 in Kottayam.
The prime jurisdiction regarding the temporal, ecclesiastical and spiritual administration of the church is vested in him, in his capacity as the Metropolitan of theMalankara Archdiocese. He is the trustee of the central assets of the Church, together with two elected co-trustees, a priest and a lay member of the Association.
The Malankara Metropolitans, is elected by the Malankara Association and approved by the Holy Episcopal Synod .
The Catholicos presides over the Holy Episcopal Synod which is the supreme authority in all matters concerning faith, order and discipline in the Church.
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What indeed is the Orthodox Church ?
Most people in India have heard about Roman Catholics and Protestants , but know very little about the Orthodox . They assume every Christian has to be either Roman Catholic or Protestant. There are more than 150 million Orthodox Christians in the world today - in Russia Romania, Ethiopia , Egypt , Syria , Armenia , India , Greece , Bulgaria , Serbia , America , Europe , Asia , Africa and Australia . We are now in two families: the Oriental Orthodox comprising the five ancient churches of Egypt , Syria , Armenia , India and Ethiopia , and perhaps now a sixth formed this year in June, the Erithrean Orthodox church, still waiting to be recognized by all. This family has a total membership of some 35 million, including around two million in India . The other family is larger, with more than 120 million members, in some 20 national Eastern Orthodox churches in communion with the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, in Istanbul , Turkey . The two families separated from each other in the 6 th century, but hold to the same faith and tradition to this day, after 13 centuries of separation.
In today's parlance, “ Orthodox” means ‘conservative' strict in observances, unwilling to change . That was not the original meaning when the word was actually created by the Church in the 4 th century. Orthos doxadzein was a Greek expression of ‘ rightly glorifying through the right doxologia:' “Glory be to The Father , and to The Son, and to The Holy Spirit”. The Arian Heretics had changed the doxology to suit their heresy – i.e., that only the Father is God, and that the son and the Holy Spirit are merely creatures. Their new doxology was: Glory be to the Father, through the Son, by the Holy Spirit. That gives glory only to the Father, the two persons becoming channels or instruments.
The Pillar foundation of the Orthodox Church ( both the families ) is the Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God incarnate as a Human Being, as testified to by the Apostolic witness and teaching . To be in continuity and communion with that Apostolic heritage and teaching of the One Undivided Church of the early few centuries is the touchstone of the Orthodox faith , not any particular dogma. The Orthodox are united in denying any authority for one national church over other national Churches. They are therefore unanimous in rejecting the claims of the Pope of Rome to have authority or jurisdiction over anything other than the Western church . The principle is that each national or regional church should be autocephalous, that is, having its own head and not normally dependent on other churches for consecration of new bishops or for maintaining continuity . Every autocephalous Orthodox Church is governed by its own Synod, and represents in itself the fullness of the Church - not just part of a Universal Church , but the whole Church fully present in the locality, nation or region. The India Orthodox Church too represents the fullness of the Church . It is not under any other Church or Prelate outside .
We believe that all of us human beings have come from God in Christ, and subsist in Him, irrespective of whether one is Christian or not. to be human is to be in Christ . God is our origin; in Him we subsist; without Him we are nothing ; and in Him we shall find our fulfillment as well as the fulfillment of all. He is the Saviour of the Whole Universe, including the unseen dimensions of the Universe. No human being, in fact nothing in Creation, is alien to Him. Except Sin, Darkness and Evil. Christ is the Light in all human beings . As the Prologue to the Gospel of John puts it: He is Light, and the true Light that illumines every human being coming into this world.
Christ loves the whole of humanity , and the whole of Creation, and the Christian cannot set lower limits for his or her own love. Universal love for all is the nature of Christ and that should be the nature of Christians as well. God is Love and where Unfeigned Love is present , there the Presence of God can be experienced .
For the Orthodox , true worship of God with genuine compassionate love for all is more important than Dogma or Creed. Where there is a failure of love, there is the failure of the Church; for the Church's main task is to manifest that love. And many indeed, as well as tragic, are the failures of love in the long history of the Church. Divisions and wars , oppression and exploitation, corruption and injustice, cruelty and violence – these are basic failures of love, whether in the Church or in the life nations.
We believe that Humanity is ultimately One, and that all divisions and groupings, whether of nation or race, of culture or religion, of language or caste, of economic status or social rank , have no final validity, and are meant to be transcended. Humanity is also One with the God – given Environment, and is its Steward and Caretaker, responsible for respecting it and cherishing it.
There are moments when I feel truly ashamed of the record of the Christian Church . Where have Wars and Colonialism - Imperialism come from in this century? Which nations are the strongholds of the perpetrators of global cultural and economic injustice today ? Which nations are the creators of the oppressively dehumanizing urban – industrial technological civilization in which most of humanity lives and feels suffocated today? Which nations have the major responsibility for the present Environmental disruption? Which nations lead in the death – dealing arms trade and armament race today ? The answer is obvious – those nations which were called “ Christian Nations”! I hang my head in shame.
This is not to ignore or undervalue the tremendous self – sacrificing labours of Christians throughout the two millennia, their role in promoting a moral order in the world with some semblance of justice; their persevering work with the poor and the oppressed, the marginalized and the outcast, their positive role in health and education, governance and peace –keeping. That is a noble record indeed; but in the minds of many the dark side f the record is dominant.
Here is the challenge today, before the Orthodox Church, as before other churches and religions . We have oppressed, exploited , ignored, neglected or despised large segments of humanity. We continue to do so. Today the world is waiting for the Church and the Religions to become authentic and creative , so that the darkness enveloping humanity can be dispelled , and the pall of gloom that lies over the earth be lifted . May the Light of God shine through the Orthodox Church as well as through other. Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu . Peace be with you. A Blessed New Year to all of You .
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