Leader in Worship


Question:

Respected Thirumeni,

What I am raising before Your Grace is a simple silly question which have been haunting me for years and whoever I have discussed this with have not given anything more than beating about the bush.

Every time we pray at home, we start the KAUMA with THRITHWA STHUTHI. We laymen are allowed to do it in our personal and family prayers as well as in public prayers. But once the THRITHWA STHUTHI gets translated to Syriac, lay men are not permitted. Deacons are also not permitted. In presence of a Thirumeni, achens are also not permitted. If some achen does it as habit when a Thirumeni is present, he is immediately corrected or stopped by the Thirumeni. Why is this? The ” SHUBAHO LABO . . . . .” is nothing but exactly the same as ” Pithavinum Puthranum . . . .”.

Your spiritual son (?),

My Reply:

Dear (?)
Thank you for the mail and query. What you said becomes a question only when we have two languages in our worship. In Syriac tradition, prayers are always (except personal meditations) be corporate and in the context of a community. Prayers, for that tradition, can be begun and lead by the senior-most in the congregation. Suhabo labo, labro, val ruho qadiso is the declaration by the leader for the rest of the community to respond to. The rest of the community responds to it saying, Men olam v’adamo la olam olmin Amin. (from the beginning till eternity it shall be so). This is something like Joshua did when Israel entered in to the land of Canaan (Jos. 24:15 – 16 “… but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD. Then the people replied …”). As for Malankara Orthodox Church, we follow the West Syriac tradition in our liturgical life. Congregation in our tradition can be the one in the family, in a Church or in a community. Senior can be the senior in that particular situation. That can be head of the family, head of the congregation or head of the community. When we apply that scheme, whether it is in Malayalam or in any another language, this particular phrase, “in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” or “Glory be to the Father and to the Son  and to the Holy Spirit” becomes the prerogative of the leader or head of that particular situation, father in the family, episcopo in the congregation, or leader in the community. It does not mean that no one else can say it. It is primarily a question of honoring the position of each and every member in that community and for that matter the leadership of the senior-most in that context . However, if someone says it accidentally or unintentionally, it does not need to be considered as a serious offense or an act of disrespect. Of course any one can say this phrase. But, as in the case of many other things, this is also a question of recognizing and respecting the structure of the community. If we go for a meal with a family in our context, the guest will be at the head of the table. In western culture, the head of the table is reserved for the host. In Kerala in certain region in the northern part, in a marriage feast priority seating will be given not the guests but to the family members. This will be humiliating for some one form another region. It can happen the other way also. Again, the question is which format we follow.
Hope I answered your question.
Regards and prayers
Thirumeni

Orthodox Church on Election


The Malankara Orthodox Church has expressed its unhappiness over the way United Democratic Front led my Indian National Congress dealt with the demand of the Church to have few persons of the Church to be granted candidacy for the Kerala Legislative Assembly Election. When I say this people call me communist. When others say this, I do not know what they will be called. Watch this video. The Association secretary is thanked the Left Democratic Front led by Marxist Communist Party for giving four seats to Orthodox Church members. Just go to watch the video report to http://cid-866cc4f0caf251c6.photos.live.com/albums.aspx

Question on Jesus’ Baptism


Dear Thirumeni,

Hope you are keeping good. Would appreciate if you could throw some light on this:

I read in a non-orthodox periodical that the purpose of Jesus’ baptism was to reveal himself to John, the Baptist.( The author does not say ‘reveal to Israel’  as is given in John 1: 31). The author mentions St. John 1:33,34 to support his claim  and says that St. John did not know Jesus before the baptism.

But when we read John 1:29 we get a different idea, that John already knew Him. Mathew 3:14 also gives the idea that John the Baptist already knew Him. Luke 1:41 also says that John as a baby leaped in his mother’s womb hearing the greeting of Mary. So how could he not recognize Jesus when he was grown up, until His baptism?

Thanks and regards,

(?)

Dear (?)

Your question concerning the reason for Jesus’ baptism can be discussed only on the basis of our understanding of the Bible. You cannot pick independent verses from the Gospels and for that matter from the Bible, and argue this or that. This is because Gospel writers (Biblical writers in general too) were using data available to them from various sources and they were not recorded or reproducing them in a strictly chronological order; rather as the writers understood them and on the basis of what they wanted to convey to their readers (I will write a note some time later in detail in my blog on this). Luke 7:19 says, ‘John sent his disciples to Jesus to ask Him whether He was truly the expected one or they should wait for another’. This may look as if John was not sure of Jesus’ identity even after the baptism (Luke 3:21 ff.). This also contradicts what you see in John 1:29 to 35 and Matthew 3:14. This proves that we cannot take random verses from the Bible and argue this or that. Rather we have to take the message of the Bible in its totality.

Now regarding your query, Biblical scholars are of the opinion that Jesus’ baptism was to identify Himself with people. This probably agrees with the opinion of our Church fathers who say that ‘to save humanity Jesus had to go through every stage humans have to go through in their lives’. This is also why we say in the H. Eucharist, ‘your birth, baptism, suffering … we remember Oh Lord’.  Further, to support this opinion, you may find John 1:31 last part which says, “… might be revealed to Israel”. This suggests that baptism was for Jesus to be revealed to all Israel. But again you cannot take it as a proof text.  One thing is sure; Jesus’ baptism was not with a limited goal of just revealing Himself to John the Baptist, it was for Him to be with people where ever they are and what all stages they had to go through in their lives to be saved.

Regards and prayers

Thirumeni

When did?


My Question: How old is the Church?

Question on Women’s Franchise


There has been a question when the women’s franchise proposal will be implemented in Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. The answer is:

The women’s franchise proposal has to go through two stages to get it implemented. First the Rules Committee has to make necessary constitutional amendments and then the Managing Committee has to approve it. I was asked by Holy Synod to draft the proposed constitutional amendments and I have just done that and have sent it to the legal expert for comments and for his advice. After receiving a go ahead signal from the legal expert, I shall submit it to H.H. Bava Thirumeni. H.H. will pass it on to the Rules Committee. If they are convinced they will do it in the next meeting. In principle the matter is decided, but the formalities have to be completed. I hope the whole thing will be over in three to six months time. This may not be implemented in the Annual General Body of parishes, 2011. But for the half yearly GB of 2011-12 this probably will be in effect. Of course the amendment has to be accepted by the Malankara Association. But according to the constitution, to implement it we do not have to wait till then. Once the Managing Committee accepts it, it will be in effect until the next Association.  The Association has to adopt the amendment for the process to become complete.
So be patient and hopeful. God will do it ‘in the fullness of time’.

Panel Presentation at Bhubaneswar


Text of my presentation at the Panel that talked about Church’s response to Kandhamal and similar situations

Friends!

We are now concerned of Church’s response to Kandhamal and similar situations. My opinion on this has already been expressed in my Bible study earlier. The primary question asked in this context would be, what is meant by ‘the Church’? To me Church is ‘an agency that tries to work out the liberation Jesus inaugurated in this world’. This agency, therefore, has no fixed or permanent structure or shape. It is ever dynamic and vibrant and at the same time local. The best and most effective model for the Church to adopt to be an agency of Christ’s liberation is ‘the incarnation model’. John 3:16 portrays this model very well. It says, “God so loved the world that He gave (away) his Son …”. (The emphasis and bracket are provided and they talk about the methodology of the model).

The Church today has become an institution with its riches in many areas and the structures that keep and multiply these riches. Unless, following the classic model, the Church is ready to give away and shed these engulfing structures and come out in to the midst of the people like Jesus did, it can not address the question raised here.

Jesus was called Son of God (by Peter), son of David (by the blind man on the road side), good teacher (by a ruler) etc. These were titles that would have put Jesus up on high pedestal. Indeed he was on the pedestal. But taking up the mission of his Father, he came down in to the midst of the people. During his time, any one who was called a teacher stayed in the temple or in the synagogue. But as Jesus himself put it, such teachers ‘put so much burden on the shoulders of the people and never cared to lift it even with their small finger’.  Son of David to them was one on the throne with political power.  Yes, he was Son of God, Son of God with us (the people);  he was son of David as a ‘good shepherd’, he was a master who taught in the streets with words and deeds.

The Church has not learned much from the incarnation model. Rather, it copied the old model of the Jewish leadership, which was irrationally proud of its Mosaic authority and Abrahamic heritage. But they forgot the fact that these two leaders were called by God to be ‘with the people and be leaders in God’s liberating act and be a blessing to generations’;  not oppressors and enslavers. They were called for a mission with the people. They had no right to make their calling a proud claim of exclusivism and authoritarianism and to distance themselves from God’s creation.  The Church today has become highly institutionalized and structured. It is primarily concerned of maintaining status quo and keeping the structures and protect its interests. This is what the Church need to shed to come down in to the midst of the people.

The early fathers of the Church said, ‘Jesus went through all the stages and situations of humans to liberate those stages and situations from bondage’. He participated in the life of humans with its most crude and concrete situations. He shared human’s times of joy, sorrow, suffering, hopes and every other mood in this world. This is what the Church is called for. The incarnate Word asks his disciples to ‘go out in to the world and be his witness’.

The response of the Church to situations like that of Kandhamal is ‘incarnation’, to be present in body and spirit in every situation humans are placed in. This presence is fundamentally and essentially liberative in goal and purpose. Only being incarnationally present can be liberative. The Church will ‘walk with those humans who ‘walk through the valley of the shadow of death’ and will help them to resurrect.  It is a participatory role. It will help people to face dangerous situations with determination and courage and to come out victorious and be resurrected. No one shall ever ask the Church ‘where you there when I was persecuted or when I was in jail or when I was hungry or when I was naked?’ Church’s presence and participation will help people take up the cross and to transform it to a sign of victory over every thing deadly. A Church that is tied up by institutional interests can not engage in such a mission. Hence, the Church has to first come out from its castle, then has to be present in the midst of the people. Situations like that of Kandhamal is a frequent possibility in today’s world that is under the powerful influence of evil forces. Only the way of the cross can win over such situation and for that the Church, the steward of Jesus in this world’ has to be present to bear that cross on behalf of the people.

Bishop Yuhanon Mar Meletius, Thrissur Diocese, Orthodox Syrian Church.