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The Ministry Of Episcopate

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The word episkopos was used at first in Greek literature for one who kept a watch over a country or a people or even a treaty or an agreement. Later on it became the title for the official who was sent from Athens, the capital of Greek Empire, to its dependant states. The word was used in the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, for overseers, officers and governors (2Chr 24,11; Neh 11,9; 12,42). The verb episkeptomai was used for God’s “loving supervision and solicitous care for the land of Israel” in Deut. 11:12. The Qumran Community used an equivalent term mebaqqer for its leader (1QS 6,12.20). This one was an expert in Law and was entrusted with the leadership over the community; he could make its final decisions, take disciplinary actions against its members and control its fund. He was considered as a fatherly figure in the Damascus Document: “He shall love them as a father loves his children, and shall carry them in all their distress like a shepherd his sheep. He shall loosen all the fetters which bind them” (CD 13,9).

The New Testament uses the term episkopos five times only:

1 Pet 2,25 describes Jesus Christ as the “guardian” (episkopos) of the souls of the believers along with his role as their “shepherd” (poimen).

The above two roles of Christ (episcopos and poimen) are ascribed to the elders of Ephesus in Paul’s speech to them in the Acts 20,28. This has an Old Testament background; when Joshua was elected Moses prayed to God to give Israel a “leader” and “shepherd”.

In the opening sentence of Paul’s Epistle to the Philippians he addresses the “bishops” (episcopoi) along with the “deacons”(diakonoi).

In 1Tim 3,1 we read about the qualities of an episcopos of the early Church, which include sensibility, dignity, hospitality, scholarship, gentle behaviour, management skills etc.

In his letter to Titus St. Paul says that “a bishop (episcopos), is God’s steward” and he must be “blameless, hospitable, lover of goodness, master of himself, upright, holy and self-controlled” and he must not be arrogant, quick-tempered, violent, drunkard or greedy (Tit 1,7-8). He must “hold firm to the sure word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to confute those who contradict it” (Tit 1,9).

Functions of a Bishop:

Professor Karl Christian Felmy, a retired Lutheran Pastor of Germany and an expert in history and theology of the Orthodox Church, made a sarcastic comment once during a discussion; “the problem of the Roman Catholic Church is that it has got only one bishop, while that of the Protestants is that they have no bishops at all, and that of the Orthodox Church is that it has got many bishops”. This remark makes clearly the basis of Orthodox ecclesiology. As per the Orthodox understanding all bishops are equal in their status and the Patriarch or the Catholicos is called “the first among the equals” (primes inter pares).

We can say that Orthodox Church is episcopocentric, because everything depends upon the bishop and nothing can be done without him. But what actually is this “everything”? Does it include all sacramental functions of a parish like baptism, marriage and funeral? None of the Orthodox Churches has got the practice of our Church; one or more bishops attending the sacraments of a parish. Every day they have to travel at least hundred kilometres just to lead the funerals and weddings. Even though our bishops are suffocated with this hectic schedule, they are helpless, because it has become a custom especially in central Travancore to invite a bishop for personal functions. People consider the position of the bishops as a ceremonial one and they do not understand more than that about him. Does the above “everything” mean that the bishop should be consulted before each and every instance in the decision making process of a parish? This has become a practice in our Church since the dioceses have become small in their geographical area and since communication became easier. The parish priests have got the freedom and discretion to take decisions as per the constitution and canons and customs of our Church. Bishops can be approached only when things become “exceptional”. What then are the duties of a bishop?

According to Orthodox ecclesiology the bishop is the President of the Eucharist. Ignatius of Antioch says: “you should regard the Eucharist as valid which is celebrated either by the bishop, or by someone he authorizes. Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church” (Smyrn. 8,1-2). The priests are just “vicars” of a bishop. However, this Eucharistic function of the bishop has been changed later. Zizoulas, himself being a bishop of the Greek Orthodox Church and an authority on the topic says; “the Eucharist, from being the business of the episcopate par excellence, was later (it remains to be seen when) largely transformed into the principal task of the parish and the presbyter. While the bishop, from being par excellence the ‘president’ of the Eucharist was largely transformed into an administrator and a co-ordinator of the life of the parishes” (Eucharist Bishop Church, HCOP, Brookline 2001, p. 23).

The Eucharistic function of the bishop should not be considered as less important to other duties of a bishop. On the one hand the bishop is the sacramental presence of Jesus Christ with in the Church. But on the other hand he unites all the people. That is why we say there can not be more than one bishop within a local Church. Since the bishops represent Christ they have to possess a model life. Paulose Gregorios says; “On the analogy of both the consecration of Holy Chrism, and also the consecrated Chrism itself being sacraments, the consecration of a bishop as well as the consecrated bishop is a sacrament” (Glory and Burden, ISPCK/MGF, Delhi 2006, p.95). We have already seen the list of qualities, which St. Paul expected from a bishop (1Tim 3,1ff; Tit 1,7-9). St. John Chrysostom says; “The offences of the insignificant, even if made public, harm no one seriously. But those who are set upon the pinnacle of this honour not only catch every eye; more than that, however trifling their offences, these little things seem great to others, since everyone measures sin, not by the size of the offence, but by the standing of the sinner” (On the Priesthood, SVSP 1984, p. 85-6).

What distinguishes a bishop from a priest is his authority for ordination. It is his prerogative as a successor of the Apostles. Laying on of hands was originated in the rabbinic schools of Judaism. A candidate was ordained as a rabbi once he completed his training in interpreting the Torah. Early Church adopted this as a sign for handing over priestly authority. However, by ordaining somebody the bishop is transferring not just his authority for teaching, which was the practice of Jewish rabbis, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. The ordained gets the divine charisma, which will be used for the edification of the Church. The deacon gets the charisma of service while the priest gets the charisma of forgiveness of sins and that of the authority for presiding over the sacraments.

Teaching can be considered as the unique function of a bishop. Even though the New Testament did not make a distinction between a priest (presbuteros) and a bishop (episcopos) in this regard, later on the bishop became the final authority for teaching. He is the one who declares a final word about a disputed matter of faith. He will decide what is “orthodox” and what a “heretical” teaching is. He does this not as an individual but as the member of the Holy Episcopal Synod. For this he needs a lot of time for learning the faith of the Church and for examining the writings of the Holy Fathers. However, most of our bishops do not get enough time for reading and reflecting because of their pre-occupations with ordinary functions like a wedding or funeral. The administrative duties can also become a hindrance for their study and meditation. Some bishops are exhausted by attending committees after committees.

Therefore the Church as a whole has to rethink about the rank as well as functions of an episcopos. He is different from a priest and a deacon not simply in the vestments but in his identity. This should be widely understood and respected. Once the whole Church acknowledge not only their apostolic succession but also their apostolic authority things will be quite different. Let each one do his own duty; the priests should perform all parish duties and the committees should fulfil their responsibilities. Bishops may stand at the top as Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.

The author (Fr. Dr. Reji Mathews) is the principal of St.Thomas Orthodox Seminary, Nagapur

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Articles We Believe

Scripture And Tradition

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Tradition constitutes the Christian faith. It can be devoted as the act, by which something, which is handed down from ancestors of posterity. The Orthodox churches hold the view that apart from the Holy Scripture, other sources of divine revelation manifested through the incarnating Jesus also form part what churches believe and practice today. As social creatures, human beings depend not only on a contemporary group or literal writings, but also on earlier generations and their living conditions. They receive a heritage from a rich and diversified heritage, which may be called as tradition. However, when we assume the terminology ecclesiologically, the concept has deeper and wide meanings. There could be fundamental difference between tradition and traditions even. When traditions cover the concept and practices, which were handed down from ancestors, tradition, imbibe the integral part of everything that is it includes all the socio economic religion background in its integrity. When we transfer this aspect in ecclesiology, we will reach to the point that “Church itself in the traditions”.

What is Holy Scripture?

The Holy Scripture is the sacred book that reveals the divine plan of Salvation in Jesus, which God the Father has began in the Old Testament times. The Holy Scripture relates the history of salvation revealed to Israel (OT) and the church (NT) for the benefit of the whole humanity.

The OT and NT are Holy Scripture. The OT predicted and expected a saviour, the Messiah in the fullness of time. In the incarnation of Jesus, the prediction of OT, one part of the Holy Scripture was fulfilled. This fulfilment was recorded and preserved in literary form, which is the NT.

Why the Holy Scripture?

Thus, since the NT reveals the God through Jesus Christ, the Bible is a holy scripture. According to the church, God inspires the Holy Scripture. Therefore, the scripture is true, Sacred and infallible and normative. In this sense, the Holy Scripture is a divine book.

Divine inspiration of the scripture

The Holy Scripture has divine origin. The inspired men of God under divine directions speak God’s word or write it (cf. Ezekiel 3:4; Acts 1:16, 4:25; Rev. 2:1, 8, 15). The divine mysteries revealed by God to persons who then were under spiritual compulsion to speak or to write. Consequently, the creative intuition of the writer is reflected in the Holy Scripture. In other words, the scripture reflects divine charisma by which inspired words of God is written.

The divine inspiration is uttered in the Bible as St. Peter, the chief of the apostle says “First of all you must understand this, that no prophesy or scripture is a matter of ones own interpretation, because no prophesy ever come by human will, but men and women moved by Holy Spirit spoke from God” (II Pt. 1:20-21).

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Articles Devotional

The Rich Young Man And Jesus

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When we go through the Gospel narratives the encounter of Jesus with young people seems very attractive. Young people are fond of asking questions, because they want to find answers for all the issues of their day to day life. Jesus was patient enough to hear the problems of the young people and he liked to have dialogues and even debates with the youth. We see people of different social backgrounds and faith affirmations approaching Jesus to find better answers for their questions. The rich man of the eighteenth chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke is a typical example. His story is repeated by the other two Gospel writers also (Mtt 19,16-30; Mk 10,17-31). I find this portion very meaningful for the New Year.

During the time of Jesus as well as today three kinds of people enjoy power in a society:

a) The young people have a say in a society because of their youthful energy and ideas. They are pro active and the famous revolutions of the world were led by them only. The uprising of the youth in 1968 was a great phenomenon around the world. Young people want to destroy the existing system and to establish a new world; normally they will be very idealistic in matters of politics.

b) The rich people govern most of the modern societies. They create a world, which will be attractive for the majority. They are able to purchase anything and everything. It is very difficult to stand against them.

c) The wise people guide a society by their wisdom. Right kind of wisdom is more powerful than physical strength and wealth. The wise men will have many followers, because they create a new culture of their own. They help common people to analyze situations and to take new steps in their life.

In the case of the man who approaches Jesus he had all the above qualifications; he is a young, rich and a wise man. Therefore we can imagine how much influential he would be. When he approaches Jesus he shows himself as an obedient disciple. If we read the passage carefully we can find a lot of positive things in his life. They are the following:

1. He had a good childhood and he became an expert in matters of the Jewish Law called Torah. We have to appreciate his parents for sending him for religious studies at an early stage. Not only did he learn all the commandments, but also he could remember those at a later stage.

2. In spite of his busy life he finds enough time for spiritual nourishment. He comes to Jesus secretly for seeking Eternal Life. I know many youngsters who deviate from the faith of their childhood. They feel proud of their new assignments and they work hard in the night as well as day to amass wealth. Once Jesus tells us a story about an young man who wants to “tear down barns and build bigger ones” so that he can store more grains; his philosophy of life is to “eat, drink and make merry” (Lk 12, 16-20).

3. The young man has the knowledge that Jesus is able to solve problems of his life. Many people have problems in their life, but only a few know how to solve them and whom to approach for it. They want to solve everything by themselves and often they fail in doing this. Just like Nicodemus, who came to Jesus secretly in the night, this young man also acknowledges the spiritual authority of Jesus.

4. He asks for the right thing, which is Eternal Life. He is not like the rich man to whom Jesus said: “You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself” (Lk 12,20). Many youngsters of today seek answers for many things, but their real problem is in their inefficiency to ask the right questions.

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Articles Devotional

The Food Security Project Of Jesus

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The price of food materials is increasing everywhere in the world along with that of oil. Inflation is a regular phenomenon in countries like India and people are afraid of starvation. Economists and scientists suggest many ways to control inflation and to put an end to the rise of price for essential commodities. In places like Kerala the governments are thinking about developing a Food Security Project (Bhakshya Suraksha Padhati) so that this issue can be dealt with for a long time. In this background let us have a new study about the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

This miracle is recorded in all the four gospels (Mtt 14,13-21; Mk 6,32-44; Lk 9,10-17; Jn 6,1-13) and in Matthew and Mark there is a second account; the Feeding of the Four thousand (Mtt 15,32-38; Mk 8,1-13). Whether the first was done in a Jewish territory and the second in a Gentile land is a matter of debate. Some people think that Matthew and Mark give a duplicate account of the same miracle.

Both these reports have many things in common; only the place of happening, the number of loaves, the number of people gathered and the number of baskets are different. This miracle happened in a place near the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus got big crowds always. According to Luke this happened in a place called Bethsaida and John says that the season was that of Passover. The reason for a big gathering might be the increasing popularity of Jesus due to the healing miracles he was performing and because of the wonderful sermons he was delivering.  Jesus is accompanied by his twelve disciples and the event becomes a practical class for them. Good teachers use always teaching aids and they choose good locations to make their ideas more concrete. The Feeding of the Multitude teaches the disciples as well as the people gathered the salient features of the Kingdom of God. They are the following:

1. God acts when his people suffer

Spirituality is not only about nourishing the “spirit” but also about addressing the needs of the “body” and “mind”. Since the spirit finds its home in the body, physical needs appear also in the divine plan of salvation. God is concerned about the material requirements of his people and he intervenes in history whenever there is a heavy need. He had answered the cries of Moses and the Israelites during their desert life and He had provided the Manna. According to the fourth Gospel this same God is active in the feeding of the five thousand. Jn 6,25-59 gives us a detailed exposition of the report of the feeding and there Jesus compares the event with that of the time of Moses.

The pain of the people was always disturbing Jesus. He was healing “the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, who were laid at his feet” (Mtt 15,30) and the people were amazed at his divine power and they said: “this is a new teaching”. Yes, the healing and the teaching were two sides of the ministry of Jesus and these happened together. Jesus had compassion to the crowd which spent three days with him in a remote place. It is interesting here to note that even though the hungry people did not make any uproar Jesus understands their pain and he expressed his compassion towards them.

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Teachers Of The Bible, Share The Glory And Goodness of God

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One of the recent conferences of the Orthodox priests who work in the Outside Kerala Region had a very relevant theme: “Share the glory and goodness of God”. It gave a call for the theosis or divinization of Christian ministers. This was taken from the introductory remarks of the Second Epistle of St. Peter, which reads: “His (God’s) divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2Pet.1:3). Let us examine the context in which the verse was originally written and what are the demands of being called in the glory and goodness of God.

Even though the authorship of the Second Epistle was always disputed right from the beginning, the main ideas are compatible with those of the Early Christian Church. Origen was the first Church Father who ascribed the epistle to St. Peter, the disciple of Christ as it is mentioned in the very first verse of the book. A careful reading of the letter would expose the context in which it was written. It seems that Peter wrote it almost at the end of his life by visualizing his death (2Pet. 1:14-15). His intention was to make sure that his disciples or students teach the right kind of Gospel in their congregations. He did this because many false interpreters of the Bible were misguiding the people (2.1). Peter speaks about “eloquent but erring” teachers who crept in to an Apostolic Church and invaded it. These had not only deviated from the “orthodox” faith of the Church but also misguided the believers, who were supposed to be divinized through the study of Bible.

False Interpreters of the Scripture

The main theme of the Epistle is, however, a caricature of the “false interpreters” of the Bible. Peter finds them as a dangerous group like the “False Prophets” of the Old Testament. These were mostly court prophets, who worked in the palaces of Old Testament kings. For them money, power and name were more important than the Word of God. Just to please the rulers of Israel they compromised with the world mostly. The Bible teachers of the Church of 2 Peter are not better than these. See the important allegations raised against them in the Epistle:

1. They introduce destructive heresies (2:1): The responsibility of a Christian teacher is always to teach the right faith in accordance with the Bible. But there were many in the past who became heretics, because of their lack of commitment to God, who appointed them as teachers of His Word. Even today there are many who do this without knowing that they will have to report back to Him, who sent them.

2. They do not respect the heavenly beings (2:10): Because of their over confidence and arrogance they lose their thoughts even about heaven. The presence of heavenly beings like angels in the Church will totally be ignored by these foolish preachers. They do not realize that whatever they do is naked before the “unseen” divine beings.

3. They are arrogant (2:11): Due to their ability to know the Scripture, understand it and interpret it, some theologians become arrogant. They forget the source of their wisdom and think that whatever they do are just because of their talents. Gradually they distance themselves from God and the people among whom they are appointed as God’s companions.

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Ecumenical Winter In Kerala: A Report

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Cardinal Walter Kasper, the president of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome, wrote to H. G. Philippose Mar Eusebius (dt. 18th June 2005), the president of the Commission for Inter Church Relations of the Orthodox Church: “the title of the Catholicos has not been given by the Holy See (Pope) to His Grace Cyril Mar Baselius”. He continued to say that the only title given to Mar Baselius was the Major Archbishop. The cardinal reiterated the fact that neither there is a provision for such a title in the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches nor had it been pronounced by Cardinal Moussa I Daud, the representative of Vatican during “his stay in Kerala” when Mar Baselius was honored as Major Archbishop. Cardinal Casper wrote all these in response to the letters of Mar Eusebius and Fr. John Mathews, the secretary of Inter Church Relations Committee. Both made it clear that if Vatican is not ready to respect the history and traditions of the Orthodox Church it doesn’t want to continue the annual ecumenical dialogues with the Roman Catholic Church, which has been continuing since 1989.

The whole story began when the Syro Malankara Rite of the Catholic Church and its prelate Mar Baselius had claimed that the latter was enthroned as the Catholicos of Malankara (Catholic) Church. Mar Eusebius conveyed the protest of the Malankara Orthodox Church in person to Cardinal Casper and Monsinjor Johann Bonny, who are responsible for the inter Church relations of Rome, during his visit to Vatican on 4th March. On their advice he met also Cardinal Ignace Moussa I Daud, the prefect of the Congregation for Oriental Churches, on March 5th. All these gentlemen assured Mar Eusebius that Rome has never offered the position of Catholicos to Mar Cyril Baselius. They handed over Mar Eusebius a copy of the Papal order regarding this in English as well as in Latin.

The above Papal order recognizes sui juris the Syro Malankara Church as a Major Arch-Episcopal Church. This is in recognition to those Catholics who left the Malankara Church in 1930 and became a part of the Roman Catholic Church. Mar Ivanios was the leader of this group who got the Sacred Pallium from Pope Pius XI on June 11, 1932. This Church has got 4,10,000 believers all over the world under five dioceses: Trivandrum, Tiruvalla, Bathery, Marthandam and Muvattupuzha. The 6,200 families of this denomination reside in different states of India outside Kerala and they come under the supremacy of the Latin bishops of their respective territories. Those who are emigrants in USA and Europe have got an Apostolic Visitor bishop nominated by Pope. There are 632 priests and 2030 sisters in the Church under 16 different religious congregations. Mar Cyril Baselius will be the Major Archbishop and head of this group, which is other wise called as Syro Malankara Rite of the Roman Catholic Church with his head quarters in Trivandrum. The Syro Malabar Rite and Latin Rite of Kerala have Major Archbishops of their own. By the new recognition the Syro Malankara Church becomes “an autonomous Church in the Holy Catholic Communion”. It can have its own Episcopal synod and the Major Arch Bishop is equal to the heads of other Oriental Churches who are parts of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Orthodox Church of India and its supreme head Mar Baselius Mar Thoma Mathews II has no intention to interfere in the administration of the Catholic Church. What offended the Orthodox people was rather the ulterior motifs of Malankara Catholics in calling bishop Cyril Mar Baselius the Catholicos of Malankara and on some occasions even the Malankara Metropolitan. It is well known to Rome that these are titles used by the supreme head of the Orthodox Church of India since Sept 15, 1912. Rome recognizes the Malankara Orthodox Church as an autonomous and autocephalous Church and representatives from all the Rites of Catholic Church come for the dialogues held every year. In spite of some theological disagreements Rome and Kottayam maintain a good ecumenical fraternity. This becomes distorted when the Syro Malankara Church called Mar Cyril Baselius the Catholicos of Malankara.