The Orthodox Church of India is entering a new age– that is how I felt while participating in the Ortheo Meet 2016 held at the Sopana Academy attached to Mar Baselios Dayara, Njaliyakuzhy, Kottayam during the last week of May. It was primarily a meeting of the professors and selected students of the two seminaries in Kottayam and Nagpur, and it was jointly organized by the two seminaries together with the Sopana Academy. A good number of interested lay persons and clergy also participated full time.
The conference had its theme — Ministry and Mission of the Church Beyond Borders. The participants thoroughly discussed the various aspects related to this theme such as theological education and alternate forms of ministry, the upbringing of the new generation, dialogue, evangelism, leadership, and ecumenical relations.
The participants arrived on Monday the 23rd afternoon, and they had an orientation session by Fr. Dr. P.C. Thomas, and after the evening prayer there was a Bible study by Fr. Zachariah Ninan.
The next morning, on the 24th after the Holy Qurbana in the Dayara chapel, there was a grand inauguration ceremony. Fr. Dr. K.M. George, the director of the Sopana Academy, welcomed the participants. The Catholicos HH Baselios Paulose II inaugurated the conference with inspired enthusiasm for the future life of the Church, and HG Geevarghese Mar Coorilos of Mumbai presided over the function. Felicitations were given by Guru Ratnam Fr. Dr. T.J. Joshua, and by Mr. Kuruvilla M. George, formerly from the IRS, and now Director of Alwaye Fellowship House and editor of the Church Weekly. Fr George introduced the objective of the conference as a prayerful and collective reflection on alternate forms of pastoral ministry as distinguished from the ministry confined to the traditional parishes as well as exploring new avenues of the mission of Christ to the wider world outside the conventional borders of parish, geography etc.
It was followed by three panel presentations chaired by Metropolitans Dr Thomas Mar Athanasius, Yuhanon Mar Dioscoros, and Joseph Mar Dionysius. The presenters were Fr. Dr. Reji Mathew, Prof. Mercy John, Fr. Prof. John Mathew, Fr. Thomas Varghese Chavadiyil, Fr. Dr. Koshy Vaidyan, Fr. Joshy Varghese, Fr. Dr. O. Thomas, and Fr. Philip Kuruvilla. Following the evening prayer, there was a Satsang led by Fr.K.M. George. It was called a Bamboo Meditation taking examples like the bamboo in the Dayara garden to develop a new Christian sacramental sensitivity to nature, environment, and spiritual beauty.
The morning session of 25th was a Bible study by Fr. Dr. Varghese Varghese. It was followed by two panel presentations chaired by Fr. Dr. Abraham Oommen, and a round table on leadership moderated by HG Geevarghese Mar Coorilos. The presenters were Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip (through video speech from Nagpur as he was prevented by some health issues), Fr. Thomas Varghese Chavadiyil, Fr. Abraham Thomas, Fr. Aswin Fernandis, and Fr. Dr. Koshy Vaidyan. The round table was animated by Prof. Dr. Varghese Punnoose, Head of the Psychiatry Department of Kottayam Medical College, and the participants included Dr. Paul Manalil, Sr. Ludhia, Dr. Kurian Thomas, Prof. Mary Mathew, Dr. John D. Kunnath, Prof. Lovely Rajan, and Dr. Jaisy Karingattil. Dr Paul Manalil was specially honoured on his new appointment as Director of Kerala Bala Sahitya Institute .
The final session, moderated by Fr. Dr. K.M. George and Fr. Abraham Thomas summed up the findings of the conference presented by Dn. Jobin and his team of note-takers, which are excellent practical suggestions to be presented to His Holiness and to the Holy Synod. Final prayer and benediction was offered by Metropolitan Mar Coorilos of Mumbai who was present throughout the conference. The organizers thanked the Indian Christian Orthodox Network (ICON) that collaborated in offsetting a substantial part of the expenses of the conference out of their commitment to assist such worthy initiatives in the Church.
The primary significance of this conference as I see it is the following: This is the very first time that our two seminaries come together for a sustained reflection on the future ministry and mission of the Church. They came together under the leadership and initiative of the Sopana Academy. When the Sopana Academy was founded about a year ago, I couldn’t imagine that it would serve such a grand purpose. This was a wonderful opportunity not only for our seminary students and the professors but also for the lay participants to seriously discuss the vision and mission of our church.