Orthodox Teacher
Orthodox Church in India
Orthodox Church in India

The Orthodox Churches of the East received the historical character against the intellectual and spiritual background of ancient Greeko-Judaic situation. During the first four centuries this eastern form of Christianity was extended to various peoples of Asia, Europe and Africa. In this way their came to be established the Churches of Syria and the Orient, Egypt, the Mainland of Greece, Armenia, Ethiopia and our own Indian Sub continent. Among these Eastern Churches, our church is in many ways an exception. The other Churches were able to receive each of them its own character within the geographical areas of their existence, even supplanting existing civilization and cultures. But our Church, at present, although we claim to have St.Thomas as our Apostle, as existed in India as a branch of the Syrian Church of the Middle east, all through this centuries, without ever feeling the need for a real confrontation with the great intellectual and spiritual tradition of India. Consequently we have not acquire an Indian character in the religious and spiritual spheres. We have all along been satisfied with our Indian Identity in this social, economic and political life only.

India , as is well known to nay one, has a religious and philosophical heritage as profound as, if not profounder than, that of Greece and Rome. But we have never made any contact or acquaintance with it. There is one reason why we have not produced a theologian or religious poet of the caliber of the many renowned figures who have adorned the Churches of the Orient. In fact, it was through the labors of such men that the Syrian, Coptic, Greek, Armenian, Roman, and Ethiopian Churches had, each of them been able to develop centuries ago theological and liturgical traditions for itself, on the basis of a common foundation inherited from early times. In this way each of these Churches acquired its own ecclesiastical character in relation to, but not depending upon, the other Churches. We, on the contrary, have never developed one of this. By autonomy and the autocephalous status we have meant only a kind of administrative independence.
The two reasons can be adduced for this plight of ours. In the first place, till recently we have been isolated group of Christians, with no intimate contact with the Eastern or Western world. Our knowledge of Orthodoxy had consisted of a kind of smattering acquaintance with the Syrian tradition gained through our limited relation with the Patriarch of Antioch. Since a study of theology, history and other related subjects in depth has somehow never attracted our attention, our knowledge of ultimate questions had been confined to what the Syrian people arrived here intermitedly and had told us, and we ourselves never undertook an investigation of such issues. We have received a great deal of the Syrian liturgical texts, some of which we use in our worship without knowing the meaning of it. In fact, as an autonomous Church what we really needed was a clear grasp of the common Eastern Orthodox tradition in theology, liturgy, and so on, in order that on its basis we could work for an indigenous Indian identity. This, however, escaped our thinking and we continued in our deeply influenced by the Roman Catholic and Antiochene Churches, without realising these facts. On this account we have often taken purely Roman Catholic ideas and emphases for the teaching of Orthodox Church.

In saying all this we do not all imply any idea of downgrading the Syrian or Roman traditions. On the contrary, against the background of a serious study of the Syrian fathers and of a fair amount of knowledge of other eastern traditions, we can say the very precisely that the former are in no way inferior to the latter. The point made here is only that the Syrian traditions constitutes only one among more than five respectable eastern traditions, and that we as an autonomous Christian community in India cannot feel gratified about the greatness of the Syrian heritage. While claiming an apostolic founding for our Church, we should seek to find equally an Indian ecclesiastical identity for our Church.
What is meant here should be further clarified. In preferring to the other Eastern Churches, we noted that each of them acquired its own character and theological and liturgical traditions, and that we should also work for evolving an Indian character and identity. The point we aim at may be stated by distinguishing the theological tradition from the liturgical tradition. In theology, for instance, the Orthodox Churches of the East have received on the whole a common basic tradition. This tradition needs to be explained to every generation in its own language and thought-forms, facing questions and problems raised by it. When this is done with a view to build up the community in the faith, there is bound to be growth in theological thinking, and I believe that if an Indian Christian theologian is able to confront the religious tradition of India, he would be led to interpret the Christian faith in a way that would contain a contribution towards the development of an Indian Christina theology. This precisely what the fathers of the Eastern Church, notably those of the Alexandrine School and there successors, had done with the intellectual and spiritual heritage of Greece in ancient times.
The question of liturgical tradition is also similar in many ways. It is not necessary for us to give up the Syrian liturgical forms which we have taken over. But we should select from them whatever is useful and intelligible to us in the present century Indian situation for the maintenance of an intelligent worship. To this, we should make suitable additions of our own making. It should be admitted that the production of literary materials for liturgical worship is not an easy task, and that only persons can undertake it with a natural gift for it. At the same time, without proper encouragement, such development cannot take place. An expert committee should carefully scrutinize whatever is produced in this way and officially approved by the Holy Synod of the Church before it is given for use in public worship. If this task is handled responsibly with a knowledge of the spiritual and theological traditions of Orthodoxy in general on the one hand and our Indian back ground in life on the other; our Church will be able to have a liturgical tradition of its own, a tradition which is Indian and which at the same time includes all the basic elements of Orthodox liturgies anywhere else in the world. As we celebrate the nineteen hundredth anniversary of St.Thomas the Apostle, we can on no account neglect this duty and claim to be an autonomous and autocephalus body within Eastern Orthodoxy.

In this connection a word should be said about our ecumenical task in India. It is a fact that there are various ecclesiastical traditions, both Eastern and Western in our country. As the Apostle of India St.Thomas is the spiritual father of all of them, and as such they all are brethren. We should be able to seek and find them, so that they and we are found together in the ONE CHURCH of India. This is the vision which we should see, in the light of which we should enter in to a theological and spiritual dialogue with the other Churches in the years to come, with a view to gaining a closer understanding of them as they exist and function in the Indian context. This will require of us a spelling out of our positions on the one hand, and listening to what they have to say about themselves on the other. If we take up this responsibility with the seriousness it demands, we shall be lay to the foundation for the coming together of the different ecclesiastical traditions in our country and the eventual formation of the ONE CHURCH OF INDIA.


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