Catholicos to espouse cause of downtrodden, poverty elimination through ‘Sahodaran’ charity project

• His Holiness envisions a golden future through ‘Sahodaran’ project
• ‘Religions must do more to remove poverty and promote it globally’
• Malankara church to go by rule of law and face the church row legally
• Visits to sister Orthodox churches planned by October
• His Holiness favours breaking ethic boundaries to involve other faiths
• Calls for pan-Orthodox groups can group to find solutions to issues
• Supports ordination of women deacons

By Liju Cherian

HIS Holiness Baselios Marthoma Mathews III, the Supreme Head of the Indian Orthodox Church, was enthroned as the Catholicos in October 2021. The Primate undertook a two-week apostolic visit to the Sultanate of Oman for the Holy Week services of the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Maha Edavaka (MGOME) Muscat and launched the year-long Golden Jubilee celebrations of the parish.
Despite his busy schedules, His Holiness engaged himself in an interview at the Maha Edavaka suite where he discussed a wide range of issues from Oriental Orthodoxy, ecumenism, Malankara church row, global charity project to fight poverty and women deaconess.

His Holiness (HH): What is the vision of the Orthodox Church under your leadership?
(A): One of my visions which I will endeavor to promote is poverty alleviation and helping the poorest in the society. I envisage a global role for eradicating poverty and welcomes the support of all towards the ‘Sahodaran’ charity project. If one of our own brothers suffer from injustice or poverty, will we be happy? I, therefore, call upon all religions and leaders to come forward for a wider ecumenism towards fulfilling my aim.
The ‘Sahoodaran’ charitable project aims to convey the message of ‘universal brotherhood’ and one day, we will be able to realize a golden future where we all can live peacefully without any form of rivalry, suffering or injustice. I have made a beginning inviting one and all to contribute towards the project. Let the world come to know about my vision and bring about a change. I will strive my best to tackle problems through sharing and steadfastly follow the Gospels and teachings of Jesus who said “share what we have with others, give your ears to realize this and work unitedly.”

HH: What are the major decisions or plans undertaken since your enthronement in 2021
A: One of the major decisions was electing seven candidates to the post of Episcopii towards filling up vacancies for seven dioceses as we need full time diocese heads which are lying vacant for long. As decided by the Holy Synod, the Malankara Association met under Covid protocols where over 3,900 voted through an online voting system in the history of the Malankara Church. After ordination on July 28, 2022, the Metropolitan designates will be allotted the dioceses at the earliest which will be based upon recommendations by the managing committee with final approval from the Holy Episcopal Synod.
The Holy Synod will include the new metropolitans after their ordination. On August 4 the Malankara Association will meet to elect a Priest Trustee and a Lay Trustee. The managing committee will then meet to discuss and decide regarding allotting new dioceses for the ordained bishops. The managing committee will again meet to elect an association secretary and all the processes are expected to be completed by September.
The tenure of the managing committee expired by March 2022 and we have to elect a new managing committee, new association members and also a new working committee and fill up these official bodies by August.
Secondly, my vision is to make the ‘Sahodaran’ (brother) charitable project in the blessed memory of my predecessor late HH Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, a global project. This is a project for the poor and the downtrodden irrespective of caste, creed or nation.
I launched this on (February 12, 2022) my birthday as a challenge. I want to create an awareness about the concept among the community and religions. My request is to contribute a part of the birthday celebrations to the project in each one’s capacity. We are God’s children and we need to help each other.
The project aims to endow and support seven primary categories and help the financially distressed. During our birthdays we spend a lot, so some amount can be set aside for monetary aid which can be used for housing, wedding grants, educational help, healthcare support, protection for the physically and mentally challenged, for the elderly aged, and financial aid for poor farmers and workers.
A main aspect which will be tackled is special diseases related to ‘muscular atrophy’ which cannot be controlled by medicines. We can only extend help upon availability of funds for this and all must cooperate. So, whether it is a poor Pakistani, Bangladeshi or a Nepali, irrespective of nations, we will try our best to help. By October, I should be able to give more time to the project once all the other priority engagements are done with.

HH: How do you view the move to legislate new law in the dispute of Malankara Church
A: This is a sensitive issue to be handled because it is the state legislative assembly which drafts laws which none can prevent them from enacting. But we can only question their moves if the law is legally valid. We can argue or challenge them in the courts if they go ahead and bring about changes to the law. We will go by the rule of the law and face it legally but it is sad to note that there might be repercussions.
If they make a law against our wishes, we have all the right to challenge them in courts of law because the Supreme Court verdict of July 2017 is final. But instead of implementing the apex court verdict, they are bent on suppressing or overriding it and bringing in yet another law.
If the state government decides to go ahead, we will approach the courts to squash the order but until that period of time there might be law and order problems which may invariably give rise to violence. So we have approached the state government not to go ahead but they mention they will go by people’s opinion and look for their betterment.
The people can say anything but they will have to follow truth and justice. Going against the Supreme Court verdict is like challenging a nation which we are not ready to accept.
However, we will face this boldly and the church will not and cannot take the path of violence. We will not resort to cheap means of capturing a church or foment violence. We do not have to proclaim victory through violence but by following the law. The problem here is that those who implement the law have to practice it and we hope they will follow this and until then we will fight for it. Individuals approved by the church have held talks with the government and they have to maintain peace.
About 60 churches have come under the Supreme Court order of 2017 which was implemented. The state government can follow or implement the same among other churches so there will not be any problems.
The patriarch faction have no majority but we are clueless as to why the government is siding with them. The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (MOSC) have their presence with dioceses all over Kerala and beyond but their only strength lies in Ernakulam district and few other areas.
Despite having a huge presence we have been pushed aside which gives us pain. Why do they favor a minority community and go after and protect their interests? We have no idea. We are for implementing the apex court verdict and there will be peace only if they accept this or they are welcome to move out by building new churches as an alternative.
Anyone is welcome to the Malankara Orthodox Church if they are willing to follow and accept the rules. As it is an issue which can give rise to problems, I have met the Kerala chief minister and others explaining our stand. Still if they prefer to go ahead with the law we will fight it out.
MOSC will face losses and we are at a pain to understand this which is not something new for us. We have faced it earlier and will face it in future too and move forward. God will help and deliver us and we are not disappointed about it.

(HH): Have you planned visits to meet heads of sister Orthodox churches
A: The visits are being planned by the Department of Ecumenical Relations (Interchurch relations department) but till the end of September, I am tied up with various other issues. Probably by October, I plan to schedule my visits abroad and meet with leaders of the Oriental Church and Byzantine Orthodox Church with whom we have close fraternal relations.
I am also planning to meet with the heads of the Roman Catholic Church, Anglican, Lutheran, German, Protestants and to develop deep bonds with all of them.
My first visit could probably be to the Russian Orthodox Church as I had pursued higher studies in Theology at Theological Academy, Leningrad, Russia. Alternatively, I may also pay a visit to nearby Armenian and Byzantine Orthodox Churches. I also studied for two years and took part in programs of the Armenian Orthodox Church, so visits to Armenia, Georgia, Russia will be my priority along with visits to Yugoslavia, Serbia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Macedonian Orthodox Churches. I also have plans to visit the Vatican to meet the Pope as I had pursued my PhD from Oriental Institute, Rome. I also desire to develop and revive ties with Ethiopian, Eritrean Orthodox Churches but these may take some time.

HH: Any plans to host a global Orthodox meet from all Pan-Orthodox churches
A: The Oriental Orthodox Church itself had issues within themselves so a meeting looks tough. However, the Byzantine Orthodox Church had been planning a meeting for years for hosting a pan Orthodox council meeting but could not hold it due to issues. We want to develop fraternal ties with Russian, Greek churches and monasteries and I would prefer to personally visit them to renew the bonds of friendship.
What we can do is gather together Pan-Oriental Orthodox churches as some issues still exist with the Patriarch of Antioch Church who is not on good terms. So there are issues to be solved among Ethiopian, Eritrean churches while the Coptic Orthodox Church issues have been solved to some extent.

HH: Do you envision a wider ecumenism of all religions coming together to fight poverty
A: I have spoken about this on several occasions. Ecumenism means living under a single roof. So not only Christianity but also world religions must group together and they have to fight against poverty which will bring in justice and peace. Recently, I observed Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif, Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, saying that they were willing to cooperate with India to fight poverty. I do appreciate this initiative but whether he really means it sincerely remains to be seen.
I do not believe in poor people being helped though we have a lot of government welfare programs namely ‘Garibi Hatao’ but it is not reaching the grassroots level as far as I know. Poor remain poor and there is no campaign for them. It is here that world religions who practice brotherly love must take the initiative.
Political leaders have nothing on their agenda but religions believe in God and its creator with all human beings as brothers and promote love. All religions cannot just sit idle or stand in a corner, instead they have to come together to fight poverty. People dying in poverty is injustice in the name of God as no religion can neglect poverty and homelessness. This is not good and we cannot call them a ‘religion’ instead they may be some social organization. A religion must pertain itself to ideals of brotherly love and establish or grow to develop and have a vision to come together towards a wider ecumenism.
If I get a chance to speak about poverty at any global forum, I will be the first person to do it as this is very much a topic of concern and as I am not concerned about other problems of the world.
My aim is that people must live in peace and provide them with basic necessities of life namely home, education for children, medical treatment for diseases. That is what eradicating poverty means and our dreams will be realized but all individuals must cooperate. I will be able to take the lead and persuade others. What I feel and think to do, I will show the way or what I believe, in my own way as I have responsibilities being a spiritual head.
World religions must unite, cooperate to make it happen. There has to be a shift in emphasis, or an orientation in this regard. At present, religious leaders only try to safeguard their identity.
Religions must do more to remove poverty, this must be their emphasis. They need to make it work at the global level. The message of the gospel in action is love. Let that message of love and peace be established through your act and not by preaching alone. The time for preaching the gospel is over but preaching gospel has to be there, instead doing something better for humanity is the gospel.

(HH): What measures will you make the church come out of its national outlook
A: There is a need to have a religious vision and I have plans to work out a way for this. When we try to involve more people there is a likelihood of an ‘ethnic breaking’ among the forms of workshop. We are a closed community but not proven to be an opening for the other community to accept us to accommodate them as we have our own style.
Having or involving them together and their forms of worship can well be thought about. Malankara Orthodox Church is still an ethnic group and we must be willing to invite an African, an Arab or an Englishman, as this is my idea and vision.
Russian, Byzantine Orthodox Churches were able to break ethic boundaries and spread beyond China, Russia, Japan, Africa and have their own indigenous community. We have churches in Africa or Europe but these are due to the faithful who migrated after having moved out from Kerala and other states seeking employment. Global indigenization has to take place and we should do this carefully. Presently, we also lack ecumenical leaders at the global level who can give valuable output at global ecumenical forums when compared to earlier days.

HH: Your views on attacks on minorities and taking the lead for peace and justice
A: To understand the gravity of the situation, MOSC and the BJP leaders have developed a relationship and urged them to protect Christian minorities to make way for peace and stop atrocities and make friendship with them. We cannot fight or oppose them but talk with them in a friendly manner. Many BJP and RSS leaders in Kerala have met me personally and we have told them that though you claim to help minorities, your actions are totally against them. We want them to define their policy towards minorities and come clear on this.

HH: Will the church take up ordination of women deacons in future
A: This is very good in my opinion. Roman Catholics have a large number of nuns but we need to give our nuns systematic training through spiritual organizations and they must be devoted in a spirit of human service. Ordination will be a good step for consideration but MOSC may take its time on this. A committee has been set up to study this, like an institute to minor order under two or three Metropolitans with a study program to include women deacons. How far this will come up remains to be seen and if possible we can implement this after a thorough study. As women voting is in practice at all parish levels, this can be extended to diocese and association levels in the future. I am not personally against deaconess but very much support this idea.

HH: Regarding special care for youth or counselling for lay counselors
A: I am all for having a Youth Ministry which will help make it more vibrant and active. Though we have OCYM meetings at church levels on Sundays, church festivals, and charitable projects for the poor, more important is they must be actively involved in eradicating poverty.
Secondly, as the youth face crisis, there is a need to give guidelines to tackle them and find suitable resource persons to lead. Youth ministers and ministry must be formed not only at diocese levels but at all parishes like the Diaspora Ministry.
Thanks and god bless you