Great Lent- Some Scattered Thoughts / Fr. K. K. John

Once again, we are in the middle of Lenten season in 2018.Usually people get serious after mid-lent. There is an increased awareness in the Orthodox Church and Episcopal Christendom as a whole fasting and prayer during Great Lent. Almost all parishes conduct daily evening prayer, annual retreat and confession. We have in Philadelphia joint Lenten retreat on behalf of MOCF, which has 8 Orthodox parishes. Young women (GROW) and Morth Mariam Samajam conduct diocesan level Lenten retreat. Many different groups conduct Gospel Convention, Ecumenical Convention, Phone-prayers.Family Conference, Clergy retreat Hadootho for youth and many gatherings round the year, where scholarly admonitions, bible readings/teaching, choir songs, prayers, meditations etc. are routine to enrich the spirituality. Many people attend weekly services. Some members still unsatisfied go to interdenominational/denominations for prayers,conventions and Bible studies. The staggering question is: did these spiritual exercises wrought stimulus in the faithful, if it did to what extend? With all these hectic, time-consuming activities how many people really improved the way they look at life, think, talk and act; how many of them came closer to God?Truth is: no change in peoples’ behavior or way of life. General body/Committee meetings are still a nightmare in many parishes. Families are torn apart because of unending strife, spouse abuse, child abuse/violence, neglect of aged parents, sibling jealousy/rivalry, immoral life style, alcohol and drug abuse, pride, selfishness, unsocial behavior and so on go on unabated. Spiritual activities become mere show rather,lip-service if the attitude and the way of life does not transform the inner being and remain unchanged.Shakespeare said about such people, “The devil can cite Scripture for his purpose. /An evil soul producing holy witness. / Is like a villain with a smiling cheek, / A goodly apple rotten at the heart. / O, what a goodly outside falsehood hath!”

What are the significance of lent. Why Church admonishes every believer to observe it. What are the benefits or is there any benefit if we strictly observe the lent etc. are thought provoking! How many faithful and clergies take it seriously is another matter. Nowadaysa large majority, if not all, believes that avoiding certain kinds of food is sufficient Lent observance.I do not agree to this new concept and yet console ‘something is better than nothing.’The other day my 7 years old granddaughter told me, “Appacha, I am observing lent; chocolate is my favorite, I shall not eat it during this lent.” Healthy personsmust shun certain food items such as, meat, fish, egg, milk and their by-products. This is our cherished tradition from ancient times. Church teaching is poignant that we must avoid foods that induce physical energy More energy means moretemptations and more inclination to worldly pleasures, that is, lust of the flesh, where the spiritual side will be fragile. Lent is a period to uplift the spiritual energy shifting the priority from the physical to spiritual. Evading certain food items is not an end in itself but a means to attain higher goal. Affording first preference and effort to enrich the soul, increase in virtues and empathy for the less fortunate, suffering fellow-beings and acts of charityare of paramount consideration. Church admonishes not only to forsake meat and meat products but also to fast once a day. This is good for a healthy living, when the stomach is empty, the body utilizes the stored fat to produce needed energy. Burning out of excess fat will help weight-loss, prevent obesity and many related ills of the body. Value of the saved food must be given to charity to make fasting meaningful. In the evening prayer we recite, “Soul and body together must observe lent. As the body fasts from food the soul must fast from evil thoughts. Forsaking food alone without dumping evil thoughts is false Lent.” Cleansing the soul, mind and thoughts from all kinds of impediments is the crux of the lent.Fasting and prayer are two most effective weapons in the warfare with Satan, Mat 17:21.The basic purpose of fasting is to gain control over wild passions. St. Athanasius the Great says,“Let us love fasting exceedingly, for fasting cures diseases, casts out demons, drives away evil thoughts, renders the mind brighter, the heart pure, the body sanctified and presents man to the throne of God.” “Lent is a powerful weapon for our unseen spiritual warfare. It is the human tendency to fight always. But its proper orientation is not against other people but against evil within us and evil in the society. God is helping us to conquer passions like hatred, avarice, jealousy, greed, lust etc. through Lent. Jesus Christ went through a long fasting and immediately after that we see him saying a bold NO to the evil force who brought temptations. Till the last breath there will be temptations and spiritual warfare in the lives of all and those who make use of Lent as a spiritual weapon will be victorious.”

History of lent and fasting has its beginning right in the Garden of Eden. While placing Adam in the Garden, God gave him a command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, Gen 2:16. That was not a hard condition because there were plenty of fruit bearing trees in the Garden and there was no need to eat from the tree of Knowledge. But Adam and Eve were more inclined to eat the forbidden fruit trusting more on serpent than God. Human sufferings, sickness, death and decay, enslavement to the evil passions, rebellious attitude against God and fellow-beingsentered into humanity.Adam and Eve fell preys to the undesirable desire for food. In Lilio Prayer we recite, “By indomitable desire for food Adam ate the forbidden fruit in the Paradise and because of the food he was ashamed and expelled from the Garden. Our Redeemer came down and subdued the desire for food. Help us Oh Lord not to love our stomach.”Lenten prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church is vividly beautiful, “Adam was expelled from Paradise through food; / Sitting therefore in front of it he cried / Woe unto me / one commandment of God I have transgressed / Depriving myself of all that is good; / Paradise holy! Planted for me; / And now because of Eve closed to me; / Pray to thy creator and mine / That I may be filled again by thy blossom. / Then answered the Savior to him; / I wish not my creation to perish; / I desire it to be saved and to know the Truth; / For I will not turn away him who comes to me.” Food is essential to sustenance, without food no living being can survive but vesting undue importance and priority over divine and spiritual aspects is a sin. Overeating is gluttony, it is harmful to the eater, cause of many ailments and a deadly sin because such person is unconcerned about the less fortunate who even starve for want of a square meal. We need to empathize, mere sympathy is insufficient, with the poor and oppressed; fasting is a teacher to that end. Desire of the soul must overtake the desire for food. Imposing food restrictions should not be merely to obey a statute but improve self-will.

Fasting, prayer and lent are observed in various names and fashions throughout the world, in all religions, races and nationalities.That itself proves it began with the first man in the garden of Eden. Actually, Hindus and Muslims are more steadfast in fasting. Muslims fast from day break till evening on all Ramadan days andare very strict on the timely prayers. Hindu friends from Rajasthan fast on all Fridays from morning till evening. They offer prayers bowing down before their deity as soon as they enter the office. Jehovah Witnesses pray before each meal. Such steadfastness is seldomfound in Orthodox Christians. They are pretty good to find loopholes how to circumvent the rules of fasting.

Self-imposed food restriction should lead to more immaterial things, there is no justification to skip food alone. Mor Aphrem the Syrian, famously known as the Lyre of the Church, wrote:

“Oh, Lord and master of my life / Take from me the spirit of sloth, / Faint-hardheartedness, lust of power, and idle talk. / But give rather the spirit of chastity / Humility, patience and love to your servant. / Yes, Oh Lord and King / Grand me to see my own errors / And not to judge my brother; / For you are blessed unto ages of ages.”This melody contains in a nutshell what we ought to repudiate and not, during the lent.

Sole purpose of lent and fasting is spiritual perfection. Sum total of Orthodox theology is Theosis, that is, complete divinization of the faithful, “Grow up in all things into Him who is the head-Christ,” Eph 4:15. Church fathers interpreted concerning Incarnation, “God became man so that man become god.” Lent, fasting, Prayers, benevolent acts, worship, Scripture reading, meditation, introspection, repentance, confession and partaking the Holy Eucharist are steps to purification of soul, body and mind to attain the ultimate goal of perfect transformation to divinity. Of these repentance is the most important goal of lent; hence in detail below.

Two extremes are seen in the Bible: (1) Instructed by Lord God, Noah preached repentance for 120 years; not even one repented and the great Judgment fell upon destroying the whole Cainetic civilization. (2) Jonah reluctantly preached only one sentence to Gentile nation, Nineveh, “Nineveh will be destroyed in 40 days.” Whole nation from king to cattle took it seriously, earnestly fasted,repented and turned from their evil ways to God. God was pleased and showed mercy so that God cancelled the impending judgment and the whole nation was saved. Nineveh Lent is considered of great significance that we begin the Holy Eucharist beseeching God to show same mercy on us. Present generation as whole, in particular America is in dire need to repent, turn from evil ways to God in humility. Jewish nation still remains heard-hearted rejecting the Redeemer,needs to repent. This is the age of grace, God is patient, hesitates to destroy the chosen people. God delays Second Coming of Christ for them to repent. He comes to Judge both the quick and the dead.Another reason for the delay is: the Churches world-over are apostate; evangelists, clergies and hierarchies are Balaam’s followers. They are averse to repent even if the donkey speaks!

  1. S. Lewis in “Mere Christianity”, insists this point, “Fallen man is not simply an imperfect creature who needs improvement; he is a rebel who must lay down his arms. Laying down your arms, surrendering, saying you are sorry, realizing that you have been on the wrong track and getting ready to start life over again from the ground floor – that is the only way out of our ‘hole’. This process of surrender – this movement full speed astern – is what Christians call repentance. Now repentance is no fun at all. It is something much harder than merely eating humble pie. It means unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years.” Florence All-shorn, an African missionary said more specifically in his “Notebooks”, “Repentance is not a mere feeling of sorrow or contrition for an act of wrongdoing. Repentance is contrition for what we are in our fundamental beings, that we are wrong in our deepest roots because our interior government is by Self and not by God.”

Repentance in its rudimentary form began as soon as man was expelled from the Garden of Eden. Man expelled from the pomp and pleasure of the garden to the rusticated earth full of thorns and thistles, destined to hard toil to eat the bread.When faced with reality he came to senses and understood his folly. He wanted to reconcile with God, thus began the worship of God, Gen 4:26. Worship of God and repentance are closely connected. Without true repentance no one can please God. God is not pleased with empty worship. So, worship devoid of repentance is lame and meaningless. Ravindra Nath Tagore wrote, “Words and heart together must pray, words without heart shall not reach above.” God detests such worship. Repentance is not a popular idea; many live-in sin,more so in denial of sin. It is hard to acknowledge one’s sinfulness because once the sinfulness is admitted he/she is loaded with the burden to repent, that requires many hard changes in life. Juxtaposition, contemporary social setups force one to tolerate and compromise with evil and immorality, thus further grows in sin. Present days’ specialty is that most Christians, including the clergies and hierarchy are in compromising mode, except of course for Church-property, short and sweet speech, undistinguishedaccommodationof vices and sins, do not speak of sin, speak only encouraging words, alter the traditions and practices to suit the individual-taste, etc. Tolerance and compromise are good in disputesbut they pose grave danger in spiritual mattersas it tent to destruction of soul. Writing to the Church of Pergamos Revelation 2:12-14 says, “Compromise is the Satan’s throne, who also hold Balaam’s doctrine.” When Balaam failed to curse Israel, he advised another compromise to Balak to encourage feasting with things offered to idols and sexual immorality between women of Moab and men of Israelso that God smite them, Num 31:15-16. God’s wrath kindled and 24000 fell to plague, Num 25:1-9. Church of Laodicea is characterizedas “Lukewarm, neither cold nor hot,”which is spiritual lethargy, another form of compromise. Ocean swallowed Laodicea. Such extenuations stress the inevitability of repentance for, repentance is the gateway to heaven. Without repentance no one attains salvation.Pope Shenouda III said, “In heaven, God will not ask us why we sinned; He will ask us why we did not repent.”

Genesis 6:6 says, God repented because the wickedness of man was great, his every thought was continually evil that grieved God. Repentance was not at all destined to God, Num 23:19, and yet God repented to show a model to humanity; if God the creator repented, what prevents human beings to repent? Prophets beckoned Israel to repent, Jer 25:5, Ezek 14:6. John the Baptist began his ministry of baptism calling for repentance for the remission of their sins, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Mt 3:2, Mk 1:4. Jesus began the ministry saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” Mt 4:17.Jesus came down from heaven for the very purpose to call “sinners to repentance,” Lk 5:32. Jesus sent out his disciples to preach repentance, “They went out and preached that people should repent” Mk 6:12. The last commission of Jesus Christ after resurrection and before ascension was, “Repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name to all nations,” Lk 24:47. Jesus repeatedly warned, if people not repent they would perish, Lk 13:3,5. Peter began preaching on the day of Pentecost, with a call to repentance, “Repent and every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,” Acts 2:38. Paul told Jews and Greeks, “God commands all people everywhere to repent,Acts 17:30, “Turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus,” Acts 20:21.Thus, throughout Old Testament and New Testament the chief message is to repent, turn to God so as not to perish. “Return to Me” is Jeremiah’s favorite phrase, 3:2. He repeats this phrase many times invoking the same sense, repent.

People misunderstand that mere feeling of remorse or saying ‘sorry’ is sufficient repentance. It is not true. Alexander Schmemann Theologian and thinker of the OCA says in his book “Great Lent,” page 65, that a mere admission of guilt or superfluous sorrow is not enough. Repentance come from the self-conviction that I am made in the image of ineffable glory-God, and realization that I have defiled, betrayed and rejected that in my life; “Repentance as regret coming from the ultimate depth of man’s consciousness; as the desire to return; as surrender to God’s love and mercy.” In other words, repentance is “penitential lamentation conveying to us the scope and depth of the sin, shaking the soul with despair and hope.” Judas witnessed Jesus doing many miracles. He self-convinced that Jesus is Messiah, the Mighty Son of God and no one could hurt him, rather, Jesus would victoriously come out of any adversity.He fallaciously thought he will have the easy money, 30 pieces of silver. Blinded by avarice he betrayed Jesus. Judas felt remorse and in fact repented when he realized that Jesus was arrested, condemned and his plans failed. He returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and elders saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood,” Mt 27:3-4. He was so immersed in remorse and overcome by guilt that he could not face Jesus and seek forgiveness; instead, he committed suicide. Had Judas honestly repented he would have gone back to Jesus who alone had the authority to forgive. Judas’ act of betrayal was not that destroyed Judas but his failure to repent and return to Christ. Jesus called him, “Son of perdition,” and that was “to fulfill the Scriptures,” (Ps 41:9-10, 69:25, 109:8), John 17:12. Satan tempted Judas, he succumbed to Satan’s ploy. Peter committed a grave sin, not willfully, he denied Jesus thrice. Peter suddenly saw Jesus empathetically looking at him, remembered his prediction of denial and wept bitterly. Church fathers record that from then on Peter woke up when the rooster crowed and bitterly wept every day until day break till his last breath. Continuous flow of tears made an indelible mark on his cheek-face. That is the best model of repentance. Satan sought permission and Jesus allowed it, same as of Job, to sift Peter as wheat but Jesus prayed for him not to fail. Even in that deplorable situation Jesus asserted his resolve, “When you have returned me, strengthen your brethren,” Lk, 22:31-32. Considering the different treatment Jesus envisaged in the case of Judas and Simon, it is a grotesque violence of justice to equate both. Pertinently, Simon fell down before Jesus. Jesus graciously reinstated Peter. Thus, betrayal by Judas and denial by Peter had different divine manifestations. Scriptural comments based on bits and pieces are wrong.

Here is a warning for all those who run around not knowing who has the authority from Christ to remit and retain sin. Numerous self-made leaders claim they are ordained by God to preach Gospel, perform the sacerdotal functions and heal the sick. They even dare to place hands on the head and pray for the people and pretend doing miracles. Christ multiplied five loaves of bread but he did not distribute it directly to public. He gave it to 12 disciples to distribute. Christ conducted Passover meal, also famed as Last Supper.After the Passover SupperChrist established Holy Eucharist.He did it in a closed-door setting with the 12 apostles. Jesus did not invite even his mother to participate. Holy mysteries are entrusted to 12 apostles and through them to their successors by Laying of Hands. Christ neither gave authority to the seventy evangelists nor to general public to perform the holy mysteries. Thus evidently, without unbroken continuity of apostolic succession no one has authority to perform any functions of Christ. It is difficult for an average tantalizing person to accept this point. They will ask, “Why, they are speaking from the bible, they are healing, showing wonders,” etc. My answer to them is: Egyptian magicians did all that Moses showed, (staff became serpent), Ex 7:11-12. Satan mimics Christ, transforming as good angel of light, 2Cor 11:14. Jesus had in mind what Egyptians did in Moses’ presence, when he said, “Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven but he who does the will of my father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, cast out demons in your name and done many wonders in your name? And then I will declare to them, I never knew you, depart from me, you who practice lawlessness,” Mt 7:21-23. This is a stern warning to all members and hierarchy of all churches who fight for mud and mortar building, to satisfy their ego forgetting theirvocation that is to build up the God’s kingdom on earth.

One called a Christian and unrepentant has a stony heart. Hardheartedness blocks the channels of grace. Such individual, particularly Christian, is more dangerous than a nuclear bomb. Repentance is the life blood of Christian life. Repentance is a return journey to the beginning point to regain the lost grace. Self-evaluation, steadfast faith, change of behavior and lifestyle are the essential marks of repentance. It is a fervent imploration to God for restoration through restitution. Repentance is a deep discernment of one’s own sin, willingness to depart from sin, placing God first in all things and resolve to righteous life and blames conduct. A few quotes from the Church fathers will help:(1) St. Anthony said, “Ask for repentance during every moment.” (2) St. Basil, the great,Cappadocian father said, “It is good that you do not sin. If you do sin, then it is good that you do not delay repentance. If you repent, then it is good that you do not return to sin. If you do not return, then it is good that you know this is with God’s help. If you know, then it is good that you thank Him for the state that you are in.” (3) “We will not be punished or condemned in the age to be because we have sinned, since we have been given a mutable and unstable nature. But we will be punished if, after sinning, we did not repent and turn from our evil ways to the Lord; for we have been given the power to repent, as well as the time to do so. Only through repentance shall we receive God’s mercy, and not its opposite, His passionate anger. Not that God is angry with us: He is angry with evil. Indeed, the divine is beyond passion and vengefulness, though we speak of it as reflecting, like a mirror, our actions and dispositions, giving to each of us whatever we deserve,” Theognostos, Practice of the Virtues, Philokalia, Book 2.

 Fast from or give up all evils that endanger the soul:

(1) give up arguments, instead be gracious, blameless and pure, Philip 2:14-15, 1Thes 5:18.
(2) Give up bitterness, rage, slander, malice, instead forgive, Eph 4:31.
(3) Give up worry, instead Trust in God, never doubt God, Mat 6:
(4) Give discouragement and despair instead Be full of hope Deut 31:8
(5) Give up hatred,insteaddo good and bless those who hate us. 1 John 2:9 Luke 6:27 –
(6) Give up anger – Be more patient andreconcile with brethren Mat 5:22 Proverbs 15:18 says, “A hot-tempered man stirs up dissension, but a patient man calms a quarrel.”
(7) Give up gossip – Control your tongue Ps 34:13, Prov 21:23

(8) Give up bad habits such as liquor, drugs, etc.

Part II

Social, political or religious leadership must be open to criticism, self-evaluation and correction. That is the fruit of repentance and an advantage of the Lent. Self-awareness is the best form of wisdom. No one appreciates outside evaluation, they name it criticism and hate one who criticizes. Yet, without creative criticism society will not progress. The best alternative is self-criticism but people seldom show interest in self-criticism. Testifying that this is a true attempt towards that goal, without malice, a reflection of what happened in the past, like it or not, both sides must show positive attitude, accepting the other with a forgiving spirit, if not perish in their hardness.

Change of attitude deserves detail: Attitude toward life, behavior, interpersonal relationship with family, parents, siblings, spouse, children, neighbors and God needs change. The general misconception is that God will accept all our deeds, thoughts and prayers without distinguishing the merits. No, we have to straighten our relationship with relatives, friends, society, and the systems that God created and established for the smooth functioning of the world. Man, when stretching hands on both sides assumes the shape of the cross on which our Savior was hanged; one plank is vertical and the other is horizontal. The horizontal plank, that is the stretched hands points to the relationship with fellow-beings. Unless we first make good our relationship by reconciling, forgiving and seeking forgivenesswith brethren, God will not accept our prayers. That is why we begin the Great lent with the service of reconciliation (Subukono) where necessity to forgive is stressed forcefully.Jesus said, “You bring gift to the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother and then come and offer your gift,” Mat 5:23-24. “My heavenly Father will do to you if each of you from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses,” Mat 18:35. Unfortunately, the hard reality is that 99% families are living in jealousy, hatred, enmity, fight and pride against siblings andfellow-beings. Many reports come in the social media how sons and daughters neglect and abandon disabled and weak parents in old age; how rudely siblings treat the weaker and unmarried siblings; put them under chains with conditions worse than a dungeon maltreat, make them starve to death; etc. all because of greed. Kids run away from rude parents; never ending boundary disputes and violence among neighbors, etc. are on the rise.

Church scenario: Is it any better? The body of Christ is being fragmented and tormented by schism, heresy, pride, ego, greed, power-struggle, and all kinds of unchristian vices.Very seldom parishes enjoypeace, free from strife, group quarrel, altercations, fights and violence. General Body/Committee meetings in many parishes arepandemonium and war zones, never endingarguments and counterarguments between fellow-members and the president, disrespect to vicar, anonymous calls and letters against other members, vicar and bishop go on unabated.No one has any control of the tongue; that too immediately following the Holy Eucharist. Nowadays interested personsrecord the meeting-drama on cell phones and post in internet, which spreadslike wild-fire world-over. Continuous fights and gossip caused our kids desert the Church and join denominational groups. Financial misappropriations have reached all-time high. Hierarchy suspended a Protestant priest in Kerala because he manipulated and deposited in his account a charity-check he received for the parish from USA. Not long ago a Protestant priest charged as many credit cards as possible in three years and returned to Kerala. Western Church is riddled with sex abuse scandal. Kerala is not exemption; many clergies live in debauchery and they have no shame! Even Pope is helpless. Is there peaceful situation in the diocesan level? Some senior priests think the kingdom, the power and glory are theirs, for they have closeness with Head Office at Kottayam, they are powerfulto divide the diocese, scandalize, oppose and transfer the bishop failing to dance to their tunes. Such clergies spend a lot of time on gossip, anonymous calls, drafting, printing and mailing anonymous and demeaning letters to laity, priests, bishops and so on, disassociate and encourage others to non-cooperate andfail to pay dues. Some have no idea about the solemnity and sanctity of marriage, this includes clergies, indulge in fornication, illicit affairs while married, some priests divorce for simple reason of spouse’s complexion, remarry the divorced in utter disregard to the teaching of Christ, millenniums-old tradition and canons and at the same time want to show up in priestly vestments in utter disobedience to orders of the hierarchy; sad indeed, what is going on in the Church and where is the Church discipline and Christian virtues! Clergies lost moral authority to teach/advise. A complete “U Turn” is the most exigentneed more forthe clergies than the faithful.

Church as a whole needs introspection and self-evaluation because the situation in the Churchis stinky and reprehensible. It resembles “Rustom-Sorab duel.” For the past over 100 years the church is riddled with factionalism, fight, hatred, violence and litigation. One party wants eternal slaveryunder Antioch. The other party wants total independence. I studied history, theology and other factors that led to the Church division and found nothing worthwhile. Power struggle and ego of the leaders are behind all separations/divisions in the Christendom, they are adept to manipulate the bible, history, theology and logic towin favors of the ignorant and weak followers. From two decades I work for Church unity, wrote many articles and letters all fell in deaf ears.

My position concerning both sides can be summarized as follows so that if any good-will remains both sides must cast off pride and ego, seriously ponder before the Lord and come to unity and peace: (1) Being an Independent Church is not a heresy. Church of Cypress and Georgiacame out independent long before from the overlord-ship of Antioch.Ethiopia and Eritreafrom the Coptic; not without resistance.None of them is considered heretic or schismatic. How then Malankara will be an exception? (2) More than the unity in faith, traditions, doctrines all families including that of bishops are blood related, marriage related, of one-blood having many social bonds. (3) Majority on both sides earnestly aspires unity. (4) 1934 Constitution cannot be an issue to seek division. Patriarch, willingly or unwillingly, accepted it in 1958. Both parties before division in 1975 obeyed 1934 Constitution. (5) To attain status-quo as decreed by the SC in 1995, all the then bishops including present Catholicos of India, executed affidavit in the court accepting 1934 Constitution, none of them revoked the privilege until now. (6) SC verdict 2017 or any earlier decree did not ask the newly named “Jacobite” to vacate the churches or the Orthodox to occupy.Counter-propaganda is a criminal offenceagainstIndian justice system. (7) What the SC said was, the churches are to be administered according to 1934 Constitution. There cannot be a genuine problem in that. How a member of episcopate twists the truth, misguide the followers and indulge in criminal activities?(8) If court’s decrees were unacceptable why they went to court for 50 years spending billions of Rupees?At the start of litigation itself they would have taken a stand, ‘we do not believe in courts, let us find other ways. (9) No law-abiding citizen can afford to challenge the justice system. (10) Relationship with the Patriarch has nothing to do with faith-doctrine. It was an administrative arrangement made in the great council 325 years after the emanation of Church. (11) All bishops in Syria and Kerala of all churches are untrained in the art of management; which enhanced favoritism and unfair decisions. Numerous problems could have been averted had they been trained.(12) What is the difficulty now for those who were already within its scope of 1934 Constitution and already executed allegiance to it and what impels them now to go against it? Moreover, they did not raise objection or disputed the validity of the constitution, in the court. Why the hue and cry, show of strength now? How shameful and below dignity for a bishop yelp like a drunken stupor, which even a low-class politician dread to? Is it not evident, that the only reason is the power hunger, greed and ego of a few leaders as the hurdle for unity, because once in the helm of affairs they can enjoy the wealth? But what way the ordinary faithful are benefited? Keeping silent will only obfuscate the rift! Say to the hierarchy, enough is enough or get lost. (13) Patriarch is not guiding them properly instead, silently blessing the uproar? The attitude is evident; ‘Let them do whatever they choose, fight or die, so long as there are supporters I shall content and be with them’ It resembles the fox who watched two rams colliding head-on. It does not enlist qualityleadership.Prolonging the division is the most unchristian counter-witness and no justification. Mammoth show of strength and challenge esp. during great Lent is an abomination, that is one side of the coin. (14) Succession was broken in Antioch many times. During Mia-Dio-phisite schism, Yacoub Burdono went to Egypt and Coptic Patriarch consecrated him bishop. He returned, installed a Catholicos and 2 Patriarchs. Coptic Patriarch did not claim administrative jurisdiction or superiority over Antioch. Same scale applies to Malankara too. Patriarch must treat Malankara as equal and relinquish administrative claim. In the light of SC observation, ‘powers of the Patriarch reached vanishing point’ that issue stands solved automatically. Unfortunately, Patriarch-side is in denial, revolting mode rejecting unity/peace, a counter witness to Christ.

Being independent I must dealwith both sides.

The other side of the coin is: both camps are in the same boat, one is not better than the other. Why the Orthodox side is shy of declaring the privileges that the 1934 Constitution clearly stated and SC has acknowledged concerning the relation with Patriarch? As soon as the SC verdict 2017 was published many well-meaning leaders including HH Catholicos, Priest Trustee Rev Fr M O John, etc. came out favoring reconciliations. Later it seems they are silenced. Instead, the recent public utterances are contrary and repugnant; calling Antiochian fathers as “Vazhiye vannavar,”etc. Such rhetoric will offend the other side distancingfrom unity and peace. Both sides are hardening.

The fact is: Antiochian fathers for the most part sacrificed their lives to establish and bring up indigenous episcopacy to the present level of dignityandunderstanding. Not all fathers were power-hungry, they toiled hard, died and buried in our soil. I have not come across biodata or life story or burial tomb of any bishop particularly indigenous bishop from first to seventeenth century, there was none. There was no systematic worship or religious practice as we have today until the advent of Antiochian fathers. Hindu landlords and local kings, persecuted our forefathers, they were not free even for Sunday worship. They assigned hard field labor, cleaning Hindu temples and habitats andhouses of landlords on their feast days,particularly on Sundays. Even priests were not spared from field labors. They preferred to look good in the eyes of Hindu landlord for, it was a struggle for existence. Missionary zeal seen in other parts of Christendom was completely absent. They mingled with and adapted more to high caste Hindu customs, rather than preaching gospel and converting. Had the English missionaries not arrived the sad plight of Malabar Christians would have become worse. St Thomas is said to have established Seven Churches.Nazrani and migrant Knanaya community together had 116 parishes before Udayamperur Meet in 1599. 129 parishes represented at the Mulanthuruthy Meet in 1876, which HH Patriarch Peter III (actual IV) presided; such was the dismal growth for nineteen centuries from inception.This growth was because of increase in generation, not of conversion!

Rev P T Geevargese M A, (Later Mor Ivaneous, founder of Malankara Catholic Rite), then trusted disciple of Vattassery Mor Dionysius proved in detail in his scholarly thesis titled, “Were Syrian Christians Nestorians?” He says, in the introductory page, “A.D. 450 the Syrian Church was under Catholicos of Seleucia. The Catholicos was not Nestorian at this time. He was under the Patriarch of Antioch, who again, was not a Nestorian.” “From the earliest times until A.D. 1490 the Church was Jacobite. From A.D. 1490 -1599 the church was Nestorian. From A.D.1599 – 1653 the church was Roman Catholic. From 1653 to the present time the church was Jacobite.” Many authors have concurred this position. E M Philip, quoting Renault claims, “Malankara Church accepted the Jacobite faith in A.D. 696,” page 133. Many new Orthodox historians, admit that Malankara Church had relation with Persian Church but do not distinguish that there were two Churches in Persia, Jacobite and Nestorian-as were later called.Our association from the beginning was with Patriarch of Antioch, laterJacobite Persians, except during 1490 to 1599.

Apostle St Thomas is our father in Christ. We cherish and greatly honor his lineage and are proud. We repudiate GM Ray and such others who deny St. Thomas’ arrival in Malankara as perversion. Having said that our priesthood is from Antioch. Our liturgies, faith-doctrines, vestments, are living proof of our Apostolic succession from Antioch. One who rejects this truth owes an explanation how and why Malankara ended up with Antioch and why the Antiochian fathers needed to come to Malankara. Priesthood is identified with St Peter who represents all apostles including St Thomas. That all apostles received same priesthood from the Lord and all apostles appointed bishops as their successors wherever they preached and martyred is not a matter of contention because all of them received and imparted to their successors the same priesthood of Jesus Christ. Jesus established only one Church, one head and one way of Salvation; that head was Simon Peter, “Semavoon Reeso d’sleehe.” Church, priesthood and Apostolic succession becomes valid and perfect when all bishops from all parts of the world come together in unity of faith, until then all are fragments, not full.  Catholicos of the East and all bishops are on the same pedestal as the Patriarchs of Antioch, Coptic, Rome and elsewhere.

Priesthood from Antioch does not require Malankara subjugated under the over-lordship of Antioch; it is administratively independent of Antioch for pristine reasons. Every church was independent, administered by independent bishops until 4th century, it ought to be so. Ignatius Noorono of Antioch defined the Church, “Where there is bishop, there is Church.” Bible is the proof: “Church of Rome, Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colosia, Thessalonica, are identified by place names. Apostle wrote them epistles individually, not collectively. Present set up is alien to Orthodoxy,an emulation of Rome’s flawed royal hierarchicalmodel of the Church.

Some so-called historians in Malankara, use the pen only to find fault with Antiochian fathers, deliberately or with dubious intention to divide the Church.They say that HH Peter III, divided the church into 7 dioceses as his policy was“divide and rule.” This allegation is an extraneous stretch devoid of truth. He did it for better administration. Kerala was a tri-state -Travancore, Cochin and Malabar- a stretch of 700 KM from Kanyakumari to Kasarcode. Considering the primitive transport facilities on those days, such as bullock-cart, horse-cart and boats, travel was time consuming, tiresome and laborious.It was impractical for one bishop alone to cater the spiritual needs of a vast area on a timely fashion. Episcopal visit was limited to once in a blue moon and that was grossly insufficient. Had Malankara been divided into dioceses long ago it would have grown much faster. Malankara must be thankful to the magnanimity and far sightedness of HH Patriarch Peter III instead, people are blaming, that is ingratitude.Then leader (Arkadyakon) was confined to a single Pakalomattam family member from the beginning and that was another cardinal reason why Church did not progress, but our so-called historians are blind on that aspect. While putting HH Peter III in the culprit’s cage,if it were an error, every Christian denomination after him repeated the same error on a grand scale and continues even today. We have now in Orthodox faction alone 30 bishops and dioceses? Patriarch faction has equal number of bishops. Malankara Rite, Malabar Rite, Kaldaya Rite, Thozhiyur, Marthoma, CSI, Evangelicals, etc. fragmented from the original Church of St. Thomas havealtogether about 300 (not exact) bishops in place of one Malankara Methran andone or twoRC bishops before 1876. But no one blames the leaders who further increased the number of bishops as “Power-hungry or divide and rule policy,” etc. Is it not a contradiction? I heard Kottayam HQ is considering to consecratemore bishop as if the present number is too little. In ancient times bishops were evangelists and all the bishops until 300 AD suffered martyrdom. Nowadays it is the most comfortable position. As ‘too many cooks spoil the dish’ to many bishops are unnecessary “white elephant.”

When Power struggles began? Pulicottil Mor Dionysus was Malankara Methran, Konat Malpan and CJ. Kurian were co-trustees. Theyjointly handled the keys of the treasury.They handed over their keys to Pulicottil thirumeni for convenience-sake to avoid cumbersome travel and time wastebecause of distance. When Vattasseril thirumeni succeeded he wanted to enjoy the same privilege as his predecessor. Konat Malpan refused to handover the key to him because Vattasery Dionysius hailed from South-Travancore, that was the beginning of all troubles. Personal clashes, altercations and even manhandling between Konat Malpan and Mor Dionysus took place many times in the precincts of Old Seminary concerning the dispute as to who should hold the treasury keys. Thus, power struggle was not a legacy of the Patriarch, as some would erroneously think or cast it under the rug, it began long before the arrival of Patriarch Abdulla. However, his arrival gave impetus to the already burning struggle. Konat Malpan, CJ. Kurian and Kochuparampil Mor Kurilos together formed an “axis,” lending full support to the Patriarch isolating Mor Dionysius. Syrian prelates are generally good, fond of flattery and closeness with frequent visitors who extol them.They believe what they hear firsthand as true.

Our people, as always, are too cunning experts to exploit the goodwill of Syrian fathers. One example: The same tactics our people applied to LL H. E. Mor Athanasius Yesue Samuel, Royo Saareero, Metropolitan of USA and Canada. I am fortunate H.E ordained meKoruyo. He was so kind, simple and humble hearted, catered all the spiritual needs of Malankara makkal without accepting even a single cent in return. More than 250 families came to USA because of his Visa recommendation.He opened the doors of their parish to us where we had a few members and no parish free of cost. He gave recommendation for Visa, job and education to so many of our people without reward or notasking Orthodox or Jacobite. But our thankless people insulted him. He said in a Delegate Meeting, with deep pain, “Mr. X comes and says, Mr. Y is bad and untrustworthy. I believe him. Next day Mr. Y comes and says, Mr. X is an evil liar, do not trust him, I believe him too. After too many repetitionsbymany, I concluded, X and Y and all are good, I am theliar.”

Palakkunnath Mathews Mar Athanasius introduced Protestant heresies, defected and finally divided the Church. Patriarch Abdulla as a precaution against future recurrences insisted to register the Church properties in favor of Antioch. In fact, the axis was the chief player and beneficiary who supported the Patriarch. Patriarch was dancing to the tune of axis in this drama, not knowing the depth of the rift between axis and Mor Dionysius.Mor Dionysius refused.Thus, our own people used the Patriarch for their gain. Patriarch Abdulla was dragged in the already existed the power struggle between them and Vattassery Mor Dionysius. Who deserves blame? The same play, that is, “North-South” rift is now reenacted, and that is the only reason it does not end.

The present turmoil began in the early seventy’s immediately after the election of Catholicos designate. HG Daniel Mor Pheloxenos and Mathews Mor Athanasios were contenders to the Office of Catholicos. LL HH Geevarghese II and HH Yacoub III were in favor of Mor Pheloxenos. Mathews Mor Athanasius dexterously turned the plate upside down and became the designate and without any delay began direct administration, fully silencingHH Ougen Bava, who later died in despair. It was a clever ploy to declare independence from Antioch. Catholicos designate Mathews I (Vattakkunnel) was the sole planner and executor in this game. He introduced the imaginary St. Thomas throne all others clapped. HH Patriarch Yacoub III, in a personal letter to Catholicos denied the claim exhorting to recant. HH Ougen was officially Catholicos but he was unaware of the whole episode. Mathews I, then designate, made it a weapon, let loose agitation against Patriarch thoroughly ignoring those who wished to stay with Patriarch. He did all in his power to silence and annihilate those who favored to stay with Patriarch, that too based on miscalculation. The Patriarch followers revived the old “Syrian Christian Association” and compelled the Patriarch to send bishops. Mor Pheloxenos of Kandanadu could not help at that stage because he had already executed “Salmoosa” to the Catholicos. Here again our people took advantage of the Syrian weakness, and the Patriarch in compliance to the repeated pressure from Malankara sent former Aboodi Remban as Bishop Mor Themotheos back to Malankara. It is a long story. SC opined in the 1995 decree that “St. Thomas Throne is an honorific title,” which meant it has no value or meaning. Yet, Orthodox side holds it dear and cannot avoid the title, only to sustain the faction.Calling Antiochian fathers as “foreigners, vazhiye kerivannavar,” etc. aggravates the rift.

One false propaganda that ‘Catholicos accepted Patriarch’unconditionally in 1958is obstacle in the way of unity. Truth is opposite. Patriarch accepted Catholicos unconditionally but Catholicos accepted the Patriarch “Subject the 1934 Constitution.” This made immediate furor because Orthodox faction introduced and accepted the said constitution without the involvement of the Patriarch. Patriarch supporters claimed that priesthood cannot be conferred through mail. For this reason alone, many unpleasantness took place actual unity delaying until Patriarch came in 1964.

We have to fast from all these negativities on both sides if unity and eternal peace is the real motto.God wants spiritual fruit; not religious nuts.Most people active now in both sides do not know the truth, they believe and fight what the top leader says, not knowing they are manipulations to rouse the people.My explanation may be unpleasant,many may disagree or oppose.I pointed out good and evil aspects of both warring sideswith full conscience of truth to introspect so that both sides come to unity saying farewell to devilish tendencies and enjoy peace in the Lord.

Hierarchy of both sides deep delved inlitigation spent multi-billions on lawyers and courts.Unfortunately, they are not done yet still wanting to continue. In this predicament the faithful, the priests and bishops from both sides who aspire unity must come to the front and impel the hierarchy for change. Jesus is not present in the Holy Quorbono conducted with police protection or with a defiled mind as Justice Kurian Joseph rightly observed. Whether unity takes place or not both sides must surely behave each othernot with hurt sentiments of the past but decently showing Christian virtues, especially on the occasion of burial of departed. Unchristian attitude, intolerance and violence that prevented many funerals are more painful reason why both side distrust one another. If we can avoid that, half the hatred shall disappear. Such are the weapons of Satan and all are under the spell of Satan, let us fast from it and repent. Stop throwing mud on others; use only decent words. Let intelligence instead of emotion take precedence in all matters. If not change, all our spiritual acts, worship, sacraments sermons, charity and everything will be defiled without Christ’s presence; it is a great hypocrisy!!!

“വൈരം മത്സരമിവ വെടിയും സ്നേഹത്താലുള്‍ ത്തളിരു നിറയ്ക്കണമേ .. നാഥാ..
കുറ്റം ചെയ്തോനിങ്ങു വരട്ടെ സം-മാന്യന്‍ ഞാനങ്ങെത്തീടില്‍ മാനം കെടുമെന്നോതീടല്ലേ..”

I stop here

with final advice of Vattassery Thirnumeni to his dear flock: Let him who has ears, hear. “The poor little flock of our God’s beloved Church should not be allowed to be shattered by divisions and to prevent that happen every faithful should forgo self-pride and quarrels so as to achieve total peace selflessly, committedly and most unreservedly, seeking God, which I passionately extol to my beloved children even in my last breath as your utmost prime duty and responsibility.” God bless all to have a meaningful Lent, fasting, repentance and cast away all moves that hamper unity.With reverence, humbly,