This text is a volume, which works out to be an output of committed researches on certain elements of Church History, more or less on a global perspective, which unfolds quite a lot of material evidences and inferences good enough to re align our age long perceptions. The authors or rather the leading ones among a fellowship of authors, Dr Ajesh T Philip and Mr George Alexander are two youngsters who have undertaken a task for the last many years. Their goal was not to earn fame, but to ascertain certain facts for the benefit of those who view Church History not confining to issues of litigation, but to comprehend, who we are, in a pragmatic sense. Their team of colleagues too did a good work, as one understands from their contributory articles.
A reader should first set aside his standard approaches to reading a volume confining to History; instead, he should have an open mind or more specifically, I would say, he should thoroughly do a washing of his interior faculties to venture into a text like this. It must be born in mind that more than a comprehensive volume, what we have here is a series of articles or papers by the main authors as also by their supporting fellowship. All put together, we get an integrated view of different Orthodox Churches and Communities across the globe with a specific stress on the contributions L/L H G Alvares Mar Julius Metropolitan in the field of evangelism.
The volume under discussion comprises of papers spread over 30 chapters in four parts and a fifth part of 8 epilogues covering some of the unavoidable traits in history not covered within the main text. The ‘Introduction’ provided at the very beginning briefly explains the background of various Orthodox Churches and Orthodox Communities. Beginning with the definition of orthodoxy, we are enlightened with the differences within orthodoxy we practice. Here, the authors throw an open challenge to the laity, the clergy and the Holy Synods: if Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox Churches could reconcile, why Syrian and Malankara Orthodox Churches cannot. The lacuna lies not within Christianity or Orthodoxy or even within Spirituality, but with a plurality of material issues. Strangely, legality of issues too stand settled now (perhaps, after working out most of this text). Here, the reader should think aloud one, just one aspect. Why should Malankara Orthodox Church and THOZHIYUR Church maintain a DON’T TOUCH ME attitude? There might be reasons in the past, which were personal and not ecclesiastical; they were material and not spiritual. In addition, THOZHIYUR Church has close relationship with Malankara Mar Thoma Church despite ecclesiastical, theological, Christological and spiritual differences. Let us understand that we follow Jesus Christ, Son of God and we are not following the THRONES of various legacies.
While going through the ‘Introduction’, one would feel congratulating the authors for a meticulous treatment of the umpteen Orthodox Churches and Communities, which would be new information for good number of readers. The primates of these Churches also stand well introduced. Nevertheless, there could have been details of their web contacts also.
The main text commences with a brief but narrative biography of L/L Alvares Mar Julius Metropolitan bringing out the scenes behind the curtain how a priest from the Roman Church joined an Eastern Church, our Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, quite unusual those days and these days. History pinpoints incidents the other way as we have many examples live before us. Once we go through the pages, it reveals that there was reason sound enough to stand against an all ‘powerful’ papal authority and the priest whom we study here had enough courage to stand firm on his principles rather than surrender meekly. Fr Alvares was ordained Metropolitan on July 29, 1889 at Old Seminary, Kottayam and was the Arch Bishop of Independent Catholic Mission Church (of Portuguese Goa, British Ceylon and India excluding Malabar). The mission grew and many Roman parishes joined us. The chapter ends up with the recovery of his relics and entombing it at the left side of the Holy Madbaha of St Mary’s Orthodox Church at Ribandar, Goa on October 5, 1979, though he breathed last on 23 September 1923. These narrations about His Grace illustrate how to follow Jesus, carrying one’s cross. The succeeding chapters up to VII carry biographic narrations of other stalwarts of the Independent Catholic Mission. These include that of Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus whose name is quite familiar to many of us, even to those who are not scholars in Church History.
Part II of the volume from chapters VIII to XII discusses the WESTERN RITES OF SYRIAC – MALANARA ORTHODOX CHURCHES. What is strange about this is that most of us, the Orthodox Church members in Kerala, do not know that there are such Orthodox Churches who are following their own liturgical orders and practices, but are in full communion with Malankara Orthodox and Syrian Orthodox Churches. The writer briefly narrates here the Orthodox mission and the roles played by Metropolitan Alvares Julius and Archbishop Rene’ Vilatte in the development of this mission. However, it is sad to learn that these rites did not flourish as they promised earlier due to a series of hindrances such as our failure in providing clergy support, assisting their financial needs, lots of pressing commitments L/L Alvares Mar Julius had and the continued persecution from Roman Church. However, the authors are hopeful of a revival with the formulation of a constructive framework, which are detailed. The days Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church stood united saw wonderful progress in Western Orthodox Rites. The charts provided by the authors are good learning material. Discussion on racial, ethnic, socio – economic and political structure at a reasonable depth brings out the scenarios where we fell back, partly due to our lack of resources and partly due to our lethargy.
The sharp criticism from Roman and Anglican Churches and their attack attributing heresies on Mar Alvares Julius and Mar Rene’ Vilatte Timotheus are explained well. The persecutions they had to undergo were not of a minor nature. Those two Churches branded Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church as Nestorian and published booklets, presumably, to sustain ‘their faith’ which were anti Orthodox and obviously heretic. The Independent Catholic Church of Ceylon rightly re christened ‘Roman Catholics’ as ‘Roman Church’. On the other hand, Roman Church treated Clergy from Malankara who went to Ceylon, as spies. All these are explained well enough to make a reader perceive what used to be the ‘Christian spirit’ that prevailed during those days and such studied narrations throw light on the reasons prevailing even now to see another Church as a target.
Even this date, many among the Malankara Orthodox Church is not aware of the true history of Mar Alvares Julius and his contributions. Holy Synod of Malankara Orthodox Church had been in good relationship with the Independent Catholic Mission of Ceylon and Goa. Mar Alvares Julius served as one of the Vice Presidents of Malankara Syrian Christian Association. When Parumala Thirumeni had his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mar Julius was in charge of Niranam Diocese. Thus, his involvement was total and he was an integral part of Malankara Orthodox Church. He had visited many of the parishes in his capacity as Metropolitan. We can read all such details worked out with precision and the authors deserve compliments.
Part III throws light on various Missions those were active and effective in India and nearby Ceylon. Indian Catholic Mission (Western Rite) had its Head Quarters in Ceylon. This became part of Malankara Orthodox Church and had 30 parishes and chapels with them. They did not recognize Pope as the Universal Bishop. However, they had a more or less sad end during the civil war in Ceylon and these researches brought out a clear picture of the history of this Mission. Brahmavar Mission is perhaps one that is more familiar and many priests from Kerala had their roles here under the leadership of Mar Alvares Julius. The challenges they addressed then should enthrall the readers. Our present Brahmavar Diocese is a continuation of this Mission and there are some peculiar characteristics here. There are no fixed monthly subscriptions for parish members. (How many of the readers know that we have one parish in Kottayam Central Diocese without fixed monthly subscriptions? It is the Ebenezer Orthodox Church, Manganam that has completed 100 years last year; this church used to be the Head Quarters of Malankara Orthodox Church for a period close to a decade prior to Devalokam was established. Readers can refer the quarterly ‘Georgian Mirror’ April – June 2015 issue for detailed information of this historical truth). While celebrating feasts of saints, Brahmavar Diocese always observes the memory of L/L Mar Alvares Julius and Fr Nuronah also. Honnavar mission is another one where too there were involvements of many priests from Kerala. These Missions expanded and made inroads to the interiors of Tamil Nadu. The authors and their supporting team had taken lots of pain in visiting sites to explore the remnants and work out authentic papers proving the wonderful mission works carried out then. The Savanthavadi Mission itself commands respect as a model we have to emulate. Mar Alvares Julius was very particular that the Independent Catholic Mission expanded globally and its work in England amidst opposition from Romans and Anglicans was praiseworthy. L/L Alexios Mar Theodosius worked on these lines admirably in India and abroad. Order of Crown of Thorns may be a community not familiar to many of us; the authors make it a point to explain characteristics thereof in fair detail. This order has been an integral part of our heritage in as much as some of our fathers including St Gregoriose of Parumala, Mar Alvares Julius, Pulikkottil Joseph Mar Dionysius II Metropolitan, Kadavil Palouse Mar Athanasius of Kottayam and Patriarch Mar Ignatius Peter IV were all members. For a certain period, Archbishop Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus was the Grand Master of the Order. This Order followed regulations in line with the early Church during the time of Apostles. All the three perspectives of the Order find a place in the discussions.
Part IV is an exhaustive narration of the modalities employed by the team or rather fellowship in going on with the research and their experiences in the process that provide the reader information, which are exciting. The successful rediscovery of a community that has St Gregoriose of Parumala as their patron saint, but located on the outskirts of Dindigul, is no mean achievement. The support they had from HG Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros and leaders of Chennai Diocese including clergy are gratifying. These descriptions make the reader perceive that there was an era in our Malankara Orthodox Church when our services confined not only to people of Kerala origin, but also to followers of other linguistic traditions. Such achievements we had in preaching the Good News must, largely, be credited to Mar Alvares Julius. Chapter XXV has an elaborate discussion on this Dindigul family and their associates, which are even this date, dynamic in the enlightenment of St Gregoriose. Rediscovery of St James Independent Catholic Church at Sempatti is another brilliant achievement. HG Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros had found time to pay visits to families here who are aware of their history and their association with Malankara Orthodox Church. The authors have reproduced records of L/L HG Thomas Mar Dionysius having paid visits to this community. We must feel proud that on July 29, 2014, we could celebrate Holy Qurbana in Orthodox Liturgy Order at Dindigul Mission field after a gap of 59 years. Similarly, a Tablitho could be located at the Holy Epiphany Church, Pallithamam. The notes we find on this Tablitho are quite informative.
Our Lady of Good Death Cathedral used to be the Head Quarters of Independent Catholic Mission Church in Colombo. This also used to be the Cathedral of L/L Mar Alvares Julius. The history of this Cathedral is quite informative, but Malankara Orthodox Church had no clue for many decades about its location or whereabouts. The fellowship of OCP through their systematic and strategic hard work rediscovered the same, which is no mean achievement because the same has been under the control of Roman Catholic Church for long and they were very calculative not to disclose it to us.
The final part of this volume is eight numbers of Epilogues. Conventionally, an epilogue is a short piece added at the end of something, but here we have not one but eight of them, not short pieces, but rather lengthy and worthy enough to count as articles or chapters by themselves. Notwithstanding this lacuna, one has to admit that these eight pieces carry many sensible and informative inputs to readers. They cover an overall perspective of Western Rite in the Orthodox Church rather widely but specifying the characteristics precisely.
The vision St Gregoriose of Parumala shared with Patriarch Ignatius Peter of Antioch (also called Peter, the Humble) and Metropolitan Joseph Mar Dionysius II Pulikkottil on the global growth and expansion of Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church is revealed systematically. All these three sages maintained frequent contacts with their counterparts of likeminded prelates with this goal in mind. Indeed, their efforts did have positive results then.
Perhaps, much more exciting would be the perceptions of Tamil based Bishop K C Pillai (Lesser known as Bishop James Charles Ryan) about faith and Holy Bible. He, during the process of enlightenment, realized that Holy Bible is essentially Eastern and that Western missionaries had not understood the essence of Bible in its true perspective.
The Mission undertaken by Arch Bishop Rene’ Vilatte Mar Timotheus, notwithstanding being misunderstood by some, was highly praiseworthy. He was ordained Bishop in Malankara Orthodox Liturgical Order and he valued Orthodox faith, which stood documented in his many letters.
There is an exciting treatment in the epilogues about the zeal possessed by Mar Alvares Julius and a nun Gerontissa Gavrielia of Eastern Orthodox tradition; however, we Indians gave prominence to the charity works of Mother Teresa and ignored the equally valuable services of Sr. Gavrielia for reasons known to nobody, though both were contemporaries.
The depth of the individuality of Brahmavar Orthodox community is transparent through the epilogues. While going through our various services and zeal, one disturbing thought comes up with one who completes reading this volume: should Malankara Orthodox Church and Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch or their Malankara counterpart stand separate?
As a reader finishes the volume, a few thoughts come up in his mind of which a prominent on would be his newly acquired insight that Roman Catholic Church is just Roman Church and is not Catholic. While we read the Nicene Creed, there is a sentence: …And in One, Holy, Catholic, (Orthodox) and Apostolic Church…The Creed defines we are ‘Catholic’ Church. How is that we surrendered this qualifying title to Romans? ‘Catholic’ literarily means, ‘universal’ and nothing else.
While concluding this piece, I must appreciate the hard work and commitment behind this exercise; these papers would surely clear many of the myths we have been holding for long. Whatever developments are there, one thing has to be accepted. There is only one truth. Pure water is colorless, odorless and tasteless; it remains so. If anyone changes that, he is contaminating it. This fellowship of OCP has taken pains to do exhaustive research and their inferences we have before us in perfect documentation with many charts, records and photographs. We, as Orthodox Christians are duty bound to encourage their labor for the sake of Orthodoxy.
Finally, notwithstanding the merits of this exercise carried out by OCP, issues to move forward should not lag behind. We, Malankara Orthodox Church have tall claims that we were under the spiritual supremacy of Archdeacons, but many of their tombs are at Kuravilangad under the control of Roman Church. Surely, we have no chance to retrieve them; however, our people should know that they are there and must carry out periodic visits like pilgrimages and study tours. Again, many of us are unaware of the history of two of our churches one at Pallikkara under Jacobite faction and another at Arthatt under Malankara Orthodox Church. These were two churches within Malankara, which withstood the atrocious invasion of Goa Archbishop Alexius de Menezesin 17th century and the believers boldly challenged his cronies to walk over their dead bodies to enter the church. Team of Alexius de Menezes had no way out, but to retreat. These two churches are the only ones those were not under Alexius even for a single day. OCP has to take up these historical truths as challenges to educate our present generation with adequate documentation.
It would be inappropriate if a very crucial point does not find a mention here; being a volume of learning material for those who are keen to study, appending a subject wise ‘index’ is inevitable. Let me wish OCP all success in their upcoming endeavors.