Thursday, April 5, 2012

ROYAL PRIESTHOOD –REFLECTION FROM THE BOOK OF HEBREWS

The subject of priesthood runs through the scriptures from Genesis to the book of Revelations.  With the appearance of Melchizedek in the book of Genesis, this subject finds its grand opening.  The Old Testament Levitical books, the books of Kings and Chronicles, the Psalms, the books of the prophets expounds in great detail the Levitical priesthood.  This theme continues in the New Testament in and through the High Priesthood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who ushers in a new form of the priesthood with the theme running right up to the book of Revelations.

This article is an attempt to bring out some salient features of this vast subject as seen through the eyes of the author of the book of Hebrews.  Some salient features that the article would touch on are as follows:
1.  Jesus is the eternal Son of God.
2.  As the Son of God, Jesus is superior to the prophets of the Old Testament, to the angels and to Moses himself.
3.  Jesus has been declared by God to be the eternal priest, superior to the priests of the Old Testament.
4.  The believer is saved from sin, fear and death and Jesus as High Priest provides the true salvation, which was only foreshadowed by the rituals and animal sacrifices.

It is not very clear the audience to whom the author of book of Hebrews was addressing.  Was it to Jewish Christians, the Gentile Christians or a group of Jews who had broken with Orthodox Judaism but were not convinced that Jesus was Messiah?  Yet what is quite clear is that the author wanted to show the imperfect and transitory nature of Old Testament sacrifice.  The writer to the Hebrews draws from the Exodus experience in the Old Testament, and the return of the Jews from Babylon, to suggest that the redemption in the New Testament and Christ's priesthood was actually a New Exodus from the old Levitical priesthood to a new priesthood in Jesus.

In the Old Testament the Exodus had served as a return of the Jews from the Babylonian exile (Isaiah 42:9, 43:16-21, 51:9-11).  In the New Testament the redemptive work was regarded as the new exodus, experienced first by Jesus himself (Luke 9:31) and then by his followers (1 Cor 10:1-11)
(The New Jerome Biblical Commentary 1990, 1968 by Prentice Hall, Inc., 927)

There are three areas which we need to address:
1.  Exodus from Old Testament priesthood to New Testament priesthood.
2.  The writer of Hebrew takes pain to show that any form of priesthood from the New Testament priesthood, in and through Jesus Christ, back to the Old Testament priesthood actually amounts to apostasy and is rebellion against God himself.
3.  The dichotomy between the clergy ministry and lay ministry is nonexistent in New Testament priesthood.

In the first chapter of Hebrews, the writer begins by showing that Jesus is equal to God and was also superior to angels.  He speaks by showing the primacy of Jesus as the author of eternal salvation by first showing his equality with God in that God created the universe through Him and that he reflects the brightness of God's glory and that he is the exact likeness of God's own being and sustains the universe with his powerful word.  The author notes the supremacy of Jesus by showing that after achieving the forgiveness of sins of mankind; he sits in heaven at the right hand side of God, the Supreme Power.  In other words, the ultimate supreme power and authority rests in Jesus showing again that he is in no way inferior to God, but in every way exercises the ultimate supreme power and authority of God. The author opens this letter to the Hebrews with such a grand opening in order to show to the readers that Jesus' sojourn on earth for the salvation of mankind and forgiveness of sins should not be in any way be interpreted as Jesus becoming inferior to God in any way humanly conceivable.  This opening affirms the Trinitarian nature of God and is in tune with the theologies of John and Paul.  The Gospel of John echos this theme in its grand opening:

"Before the world was created, the Word already existed; he was with God and he was the same as God.  From the very beginning the Word was with God.  Through Him God made all things; not one thing in all creation was made without Him.  The Word was the source of life, and his life brought light to mankind."  John 1:1–4.

Paul, in his letter to the Colossians presents the same idea of the equality of Jesus with God when he wrote:

"Christ is the visible likeness of the invisible God.  He is the first-born son, superior to all created things.  For through him God created everything in heaven and on earth, the seen and the unseen things, including spiritual powers, lords, rulers and authorities.  God creates the whole universe through him and for him.  Christ existed before all things, and in union with him all things have their proper place."  Colossians: 1:15–17.

Paul continues to show the pre-eminence of Jesus with the church which is his body when he wrote:

He is the head of his body, the church; he is the source of the body's life.  He is the first born son, who was raised from death, in order that he alone might have the first place in all things.  For it was by God's own decision that the son has in himself the full nature of God.  Through the Son, then, God decided to bring the whole universe back to himself.  God made peace through his Son's death on the cross and so brought back to himself all things, both on earth and in heaven."  Colossians 1: 18-20

Paul in his letter to the Philippians and through his kenotic theory again reflects the opening of the author of the Hebrews in showing that Jesus, by becoming human, his death on the cross, and his resurrection did not in any way become inferior to God or lose any of his equality with God.  Paul writes:

"He always had the nature of God, but he did not think that by force he should try to become equal with God.  Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.  He became like man and appeared in human likeness.  He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death – his death on the cross.  For this reason God raised him to the highest place above and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.  And so, in honor of the name of Jesus all beings in heaven, on earth, and in the world below will fall to their knees, and all will openly proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."  Philippians 2:6-11

Having shown that Jesus was equal to God, the author of the Hebrews had another task at hand in that he had to prove to his audience that Jesus was superior to the prophets of the Old Testament and to Moses himself.  In proving Jesus' superiority over the Old Testament prophets, to Moses who initiated the Levitical priesthood in the Old Testament and to Joshua who took the Israelites to the promised land, the author could prove that High Priesthood of Jesus was not only superior to the Old Testament priesthood, and not being of human origin originated by God himself.

In his struggle to show his audience that Jesus was superior to Moses and Joshua, the author of the Hebrews leads his readers to Israelite history.  The author of Hebrews was trying to equate the High Priesthood of Jesus to the Exodus in the Old Testament.  Just as the people of Israel were called out of Egypt to the Promised Land, which would be a land of rest, Jesus calls us out of the Egypt of sin to an eternal freedom and rest from sin.

"My Christian brother, who has been called by God, think of Jesus, whom God sent to be the High Priest of the faith we profess."  Hebrews 3:1

With this opening verse the author of the Hebrews begins to unravel the new mystery of priesthood through Jesus Christ as opposed to the priesthood of the Old Testament.  The writer of the Hebrews make pains to show that though both Moses and Joshua were chosen by God, and who through the Exodus experience led the people of Israel out of slavery to the promised land, they were unable to provide the Israelites the land of rest because of the stubbornness and unbelief, by which they were rebellious to God.  The root reason for this rebellion was that the people of Israel were evil and unbelieving.  Through Jesus we are offered the promised rest through freedom from sin.  The rest that God provides for us through Jesus Christ is to rest from our own works.  The basis of entering both the Promised Land by the Israelites and for us to enter the rest offered by God through Jesus Christ is faith.  Just as the Israelites failed to attain the promised land because of their lack of faith, the promised rest from sin provided to us through Jesus Christ may be lost if we do not receive it through faith.  In both cases, stubbornness and rebellion against God are the cause of the lack of faith.

In chapter 5, we can see a distinct shift of emphasis made by the author of the Hebrews, in that he is trying to make a break and show that the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ was not that of the Aaronic order of priesthood but in line with that of the priestly order of Melchizedek.  Here we can also see the change in process to becoming a priest in the order of Melchizedek which Jesus showed in his own life.  The change in paradigm is shown in the following verses.

"In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death.  Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him but even though he was God's Son, he learnt through his sufferings to be obedient.  When he was made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all those who obey him, and God declared him to be High Priest in the priestly order of Melchizedek."  Hebrews 5:7-10.

In the Aaronic priesthood, the priests came from the Levitical lineage that was hereditary in nature and no one else other than those who belonged to the Levites could be a priest.  At this juncture, Jesus, by his own experience during his life showed what needs to be the characteristics that set apart the new priesthood.  There are two characteristics that we see here which Jesus showed through his life which should characterize every believer who is called into the priestly service.  The first characteristic is a prayerful life.  "Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death."  Hebrews 5:7.  Why should Jesus be saved from death through prayer?  Death symbolizes all the evil that Jesus had to face in his life on earth from the forces of death be it through evil systems, structures, sinful people and situations that had the stamp of death on it.  The path that Jesus had to follow during his sojourn on earth and especially in his earthly ministry was a path froth with danger in the midst of wicked people, evil structures and the bastions of evil.  He was forced to confront conspiracies and the constant scheming of the powers that be such that death's shadow was always a reality.  To Jesus, the psalmist's prayer in Psalms 23:4, "Even though I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, Lord, for you are with me."  Death in all its reality was a constant experience.  The second characteristic is that of obedience.  Obedience is an extremely difficult discipline to learn and Jesus had to subject himself to suffering involved in obedience and had to humble himself to the will of God to the point of the death on the cross in order to provide the perfect way of salvation for sin.  This obedience was an extremely costly sacrifice and involves a great deal of suffering.

In chapters 7, the author of the Hebrews in order to stress the superiority of the priesthood that was from Melchizedek brilliantly points out to his audience that when Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, in fact Levi, who was in the loins of Abraham, also gave tithes to Melchizedek.  Thus, in blessing Abraham, Melchizedek not only received tithes from Levi but was also blessing Levi through Abraham.  The whole point the author of the Hebrews makes plain here is that even before the Levitical priesthood existed, an eternal and superior priesthood was in existence through Melchizedek.  In demonstrating the ineffectiveness of both the law and the Levitical priesthood for providing redemption for sins, the existence of a more perfect law and priest to provide redemption of sins becomes imperative.  Then it is pointed out that such a priest has already appeared in Jesus.  This priesthood had three distinctive characteristics separating it from the Levitical priesthood:
1.  This priesthood has the divine stamp on it in that Jesus became High Priest by a vow made by God himself, "The Lord has made a solemn promise and will not take it back; you will be a priest forever."  Hebrews 7:21.
2.  While the Levitical priesthood needed many priests, this High Priesthood had just one priest who lives forever to plead with God for us.
3.  The Levitical priest was imperfect and had to offer sacrifices not only for the people, but also for himself, whereas Jesus was holy and did not need to provide another sacrifice as he had provide the one sacrifice for the redemption of sins on the cross once and for all.

Chapter 8 is an extension of chapter 7 of the book of Hebrews where we find two salient features which further separate the new order from the old namely:
1.  The law is written in the minds and hearts of the believer.  "I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts."  Hebrews 8:10.
2.  There is no dichotomy between the clergy and laity.  "None of them will have to teach his fellow-citizen or say to his fellow countryman, 'Know the Lord.'  For they will all know me, from the least to the greatest."  Hebrews 8:11

In Chapter 9 we find that the old order of priesthood was only a copy or shadow of the real.  It was only a representative of the real and therefore in itself was not the real.  Thus the outer tent, the lampstand, the bread represented the Holy Place whereas the gold alter for burning the incense , Covenant Box, the gold jar with the manna, the two stone tablets represented the Most Holy Place.  Thus the copy or shadow was imperfect and could not make the worshipper's heart perfect.  When the perfect came the imperfect had to go.  It is then emphasized that the Perfect had arrived when Christ entered into the Most Holy Place in heaven not with the blood of goats and bulls but his own blood thereby obtaining the eternal salvation for all humankind.  Thus, Christ made the perfect sacrifice once and for all.

As a part of the grand finale, the author of the Hebrews in Chapter 11 show through the examples of people of faith in the Old Testament that faith alone entitles one to become a priest whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New Testament.

In light of the above, the Royal Priesthood epitomizes the perfect and not the copy or shadow.  The Old Testament priesthood or the Aaronic priesthood was the copy or shadow whereas the Royal Priesthood is the perfect covenant we have with God through the High Priesthood of Jesus Christ.  To go back to the copy or the shadow is equivalent to apostasy and rebellion against God.  To represent the sacrifice of Jesus Christ through ritualism and outward ceremonies is equivalent to idolatry, whereas the true believer in Jesus Christ, presenting the real from the shadow, the perfect from the imperfect, is  the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation, called out of darkness into his own marvelous light to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, and are the Royal Priesthood.

"But you are the chosen race, the King's priests, the holy nation.  God's own people, chosen to proclaim the wonderful acts of God, who called you out of darkness into his own marvelous light.  At one time you were not God's people, but now you are his own people; at one time you did not know God's mercy, but now you have received his mercy."  I Peter 2:9-10

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Leadership in the Mar Thoma Church – Do we need further reformation or should we question the authenticity of the prevalent one?

This article is an attempt to shed light about facets and facts, hidden and perhaps unknown, existent about the origin and evolution of the leadership within the Marthoma Church and/or other churches of Malankara church.  Through this article, the author would like to bring out, what the writer feels, are factors influencing the ecclesiological administration of the Mar Thoma Church and perhaps other Malankara churches in Kerala.

There are certain traditions that need deeper scrutiny to verify its authenticity:
1.  The St. Thomas tradition and the brahmanic connection.
2.  The Syrian connection in the history of the Malankara church.

ST. THOMAS TRADITION AND THE ORIGIN OF THE MALANKARA CHURCH ON THE MALABAR COAST:
It is traditionally believed that St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ, came to India in A.D. 52 and established a church in the Malabar coast.  In this statement lies two contentious hypothesizes that needs verification.  The first is whether the Apostle did really come to the Malabar coast and the second more contentious hypothesis is the brahmanic roots of the origin of this church.

To my mind certain facts that point to the probability that St. Thomas could have come to the Malabar coast are:
1.  There was a trade route from the Middle East to the Malabar coast, the veracity of which is testified by the scriptures.
2.  There was a Jewish community in the Malabar coast and DNA tests done on Syrian Christians in Malabar, though still inconclusive, alludes to this fact.

Other traditions about St. Thomas arriving to the Malabar coast, unless proved otherwise, may be set aside by objective historians as tradition or even mythology.  There is no conclusive proof to authenticate the arrival of St. Thomas to the Malabar coast and will need objective research to establish this claim.  However, tradition and other writings do point to the fact of a very early Christian presence in Kerala.

Mar Thoma Alexander Metropolitan in his book "The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission" wrote thus:  It has been believed from very early days that Thomas established seven churches on the Malabar coast at (1) Cranganore (Malankara) (2) Chavakad (Palur) (3) Parur near Alwaye (4) Gokamangalam (5) Niranam (6) Nilakkel (Chayal) (7) Quilon (Kalyan).

Church historians have gone by tradition in establishing a brahmanical origin to these churches with the clergy coming from four brahamnical families.  The four families ordained as clergies were supposedly from the Brahmin families of Pakalomattom, Kalli, Sankarapuri and Kalikavu.  Tradition also believed that high priests (bishops) were the exclusive rights of Pakalomattam family.  However, the fact that brahmins existed in Kerala before 6th century A.D. is highly debatable.  Secular historians are of the view that the earliest brahmanical presence in Kerala was in the 6th century A.D.  The assumption that the earliest Christians in the Malankara church were brahmins is almost akin to the assumption that St. Thomas arrived to the Malabar coast and is yet to be proved conclusively.  However, between the two probabilities, St. Thomas would steal a march over the Brahmins.

In light of the above, the theory that the leadership was from families such Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu suggests that this is a later addition that was craftily woven into the tradition of the Malankara church history suggesting a superimposition of the above theory into the history of the Malankara church by a more dominant culture at a much later period.  The factors that make this an ecclesiological reality continue to have dominion over the ecclesiological order, both domestic and foreign.

As mentioned above, the fact of early Christian presence is known through different sources and establishment of its authenticity is not the aim of this writer at this present juncture.

THE SYRIAN CONNECTION IN THE HISTORY OF THE MAR THOMA AND MALANKARA CHURCH:
This is a section that is steeped in obscurity and will need much objective research to establish its claims and it is the writer's aim to seek to bring to light as much facts as possible in order to make this comprehensible.

As previously mentioned, the early Christian presence led to the church in Malankara having continued connection with Persia, with even bishops arriving from the Middle East to the Malankara church through the centuries, and the church is Malankara had its local administration done by way of archdeacons.

However, there are certain problems that need to be ironed out concerning the church that existed in Syria.  One is the apostolic origin of the early church in Antioch.  The Petrine origin of the church in Antioch is a subject steeped in mystery and the pages of history and early Christian writings are still too obscure to forcefully establish its authenticity.  Another is the evolution of the Nestorian and monophysitic theologies that have influenced the Indian Orthodox and Jacobite Syrian Orthodox churches in Kerala.

An extract from Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan's book "The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission" would throw more light, "Very little is known of the condition of the church in those early days.  There was connection with the church in the Middle East from where bishops came and rendered spiritual ministrations and ordained priests.  The local administration was by the Archdeacons.  One sign of the Persian connections is the existence of Persian crosses, one of which is to be seen at the Valiayapally at Kottayam with an inscription in the Pahlavi language.  As a commercial community the Christians were not very much concerned about the theological nuances of the bishops who came from the Middle East, some of whom were Nestorians in their views.  Some others held monophysite doctrine regarding the person of Jesus Christ.  Irrespective of such differences they were welcomed for such help as they could render.  There is an interesting quotation given by Dr. Juhanon Mar Thoma in his book "Christianity in India and a brief history of the Mar Thoma Syrian Church" (page 6).

"The Malabar Church suffered practical isolation with the rise of Islam and the dominance of the Indian seas by the Muslims.  The Syrians, however, clung tenaciously to their traditions and made desperate attempts to get bishops from Western Asia.  Of the geography of Western Asia they knew little; of the theological niceties that rocked the ancient center of Christianity, perhaps less.  What they apparently wanted was a bishop of Western Asian appearance; and as long as a person of this description came to them by sea they were not interested in his doctrines or his bonafides."  (The condition is not very much different now than it was then – author's comment).

The writer proposes to list other reasons that led to the transformation within ecclesiastical authority in the Malankara church in ancient Kerala:
1.  The growing influence of familial ties in the ecclesiastical order.
2.  The consolidation of influence of families by affiliation with political powers in Kerala (kings, dewans and political parties).
3.  The desire of families to increase their status through marital interconnections.

It is uncertain whether the Brahmanical influx after 6th century A.D. led to these changes.  However, a cross-analysis of the Malankara church history and the secular history in Kerala could bring more clarity to the above.

Even today, the influence of familial interconnection holding sway in Kerala is evident from a certain E-mail message the writer received.  Extract of the E-mail is produced below.

"This is to inform all concerned the news of the above a grand rally covering those ancient “Ezharappally” in Kerala namely Nilakkal, Niranam, Kollam, Palayur, Kottakkavu, Kokkamangalam, Kodungallur and Thiruvankod.  It starts from Pakalomattom(Kuravilangad) “Arkadiyakkon Nagar” on 18th January, ends at same place on 21st, covering all these centers and a few other like Kanjirappally, Trivandrum, Ernakulam, Edappally, Malayattur, etc.

This effort is in the auspice of those ancient Christian families like Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kaali, Kaliyankal, Chothirikkunnel, Kottakkali, Nedunthali, Vazhappally, Payyappilly, Thayyil, Erali, Madathilaan, Bhatamukku, Tharisathekkethil, etc and descendant family members.  It is a multi-sect endeavor to rekindle the subdued glory of Nasrani of past, in times of Arkadiyakons(Archdeakons), and thru the combined effort to refute the concocted theory that St. Thomas in Kerala and Nasrani-Jewish origin is a myth by vested interests.

The 20-member Committee consists of Syro-Malabar Catholic, Orthodox, Jacobite, Malankara Syrian Catholic, Marthomite, Assyrian, etc."

At this juncture, the author would like to provide factual evidence for some or all of the above factors coming into play in the ordination of bishops of Mar Thoma Church with supposedly a connection with bishops who were ordained before the reformation and breakaway of the Mar Thoma Church.

This extract is taken from the history of the Pakalomattam Ayrookuzhiyil family as put in the Internet.
Marthoma Bishops - 1653 to 1816 AD.  All Marthoma Bishops belonged to the Pakalomattam family.

Marthoma - I - Archdeacon Thomas became Marthoma I. He belonged to the Vadakkedam branch of Pakalomattam. Paulions call him "parambil Thommi", which cannot be true. The general expression of uncle of Bishop Alexander De Cempo, must have confused the Europeans. After a tumultuous life, he expired on 1670 April 22. He was buried in Ankamali St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma -II - He was the son of the brother of Marthoma I. He died at Niranam on 1686 April -13. He was buried in St. Mary's church Niranam.

Marthoma - III - He was the brother of Marthoma-II. After being bishop for 2 years, he died on April 19, 1688 at Kadampanad church and was buried in St. Thomas church, Kadampanad.

Marthoma -IV - He belonged to Pakalomattam Arackal branch. He was vicar of Kuravilangad church and became Marthoma on compulsion. He was bishop for 40 years. He died on March 24, 1728. He was buried in Kandanad St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma - V - He belonged to Andoor branch of Pakalomattam. His father served as administration chief of Vadakkamkur kings. He was ordained in 1728. He ruled for 37 years and died on May 8, 1765. He was buried at Niranam St. Mary's Church.

Marthoma - VI - He ruled from 1755 to 1808. He was the only son of Mathew Tharakan elder brother of Marthoma V. His real name was Ipe. He retitled himself as Valia Mar Dionysius. His remains are in Puthenkavil St.Mary's Church.

Marthoma - VII - He belonged to Palli Vadakkadathu family Kurichithanathu Kannokunnel. He was the son of Ouseph, brother of Marthoma VI. He was ordained as Marthoma VII at Kandanadu. On July 4, 1809 he died at Kolencherry and was buried at Kolencherry church.

Marthoma - VIII - He was son of Kuriala, the paternal uncle of Marthoma VII. He ruled from Kandanadu for 5 years. He died on January 23, 1816 and was buried at Puthenkavu St. Mary's church

Marthoma - IX - He could not function effectively. He was the Ipe Priest who was the brother of Kuriala Kadamattathu Thekkilakattil uncle of Marthoma VIII. Pulikkottil Ittoop Remban with the help of resident dewan Munroe of Travancore, ordained himself as Mar Dionysius -II and captured power. He died in 1817 and was buried in Kandamattam church. After abdication he took sanyas and lived at Kandamattam till death. With him the Marthoma bishops from Pakalomattam ended. In 1812 Marthoma VIII wrote a letter to Madras Governments in which he says that for 1308 years continuously Pakalomattam family headed the church. Now there are bishops in many branches of the Pakalomattam family.

Information on Marthoma X-XII not available.

Below is the full list taken from Wikipedia:
Mar Thoma I (1653–1670)
Mar Thoma II (1670–1686)
Mar Thoma III (1686–1688)
Mar Thoma IV (1688–1728)
Mar Thoma V (1728–1765)
Mar Thoma VI (1765–1808)
Mar Thoma VII (1808–1809)
Mar Thoma VIII (1809–1816)
Mar Thoma IX (1816–1817)
Mar Thoma X (1816–1816), Pulikottil Mar Dionysius

The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma has taken the title of Mar Thoma XXI.  The first 12 metropolitans of the Malankara Church belonged to the Vadakethu branch of the Pakalomattom family.  Abraham Malpan’s real name is Abraham Panamkuzhy Pakalomattotil and Panamkuzhy is another branch of the Pakalomattom family.  The first four bishops of the Mar Thoma Church have come from this family.  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma is the fifth member of the family.  It has been openly reported in the Malayalam Manorama, in an edition during the Maramon Covention last year, that Abraham Mar Thoma and Juhanon Mar Thoma have connections with the Palakunnathu family and indirectly the Pakalomattom family.  Alexander Mar Thoma hailed from Kuriannor, Ayroor.  Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan belongs to the Sankaramangalathu family.

So for us in this age will have to look more objectively into the reformation that took place within the Mar Thoma Church and especially the leadership.  There are certain questions the writer would like to raise to the readers:
1.  In the leadership succession in the Malankara church, is familial polity playing a continuing role in the establishment of bishops in the Mar Thoma Church?
2.  Can we detect desire to build family influence, power and status through the position of bishop in the Mar Thoma Church?
3.  Was there a power struggle within the Pakalomattom family that led to the breakaway?
4.  What is the position of the common believer in this game, if there is one?

Taking into consideration all that has been written above and trying a psychoanalysis into the thought process of the reformers, certain pertinent questions arise:
1.  Were the reformers not aware of the anomalies existent in the issue of the Petrine origin of the church at Antioch and therefore its apostolic origin?
2.  Were the reformers not aware of the heretic component that existed within the ecclesiological growth of the church at Antioch?
3.  Was the need for an Eastern church and desire for episcopacy influenced by the familial ties that existed in the Malankara Church?
4.  Does a caste bias exist within the leadership of the church?

I would conclude this article asking the reader to analysis the data and come to their own conclusions and explanations and ask ourselves whether we have unwittingly become prisoners to powers that are mighty and are prey to forces beyond our powers to control?

CLAIMANT AND CLAIM:  The author of this article is a B.D. graduate from the United Theological College, Bangalore.  The opinions expressed in this article are the result of research and close study and observation by the author and are opinions solely his own, subject to both debate and correction, if proved otherwise.  The sources are from books, the Internet, and personal experience.  All material and ideas in this article are the property of the claimant and should not be copied, borrowed or plagiarized without the consent or knowledge of the writer.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Episcopal Issues in the Mar Thoma Church - Open Letter

From,
Ipe George
Thottukadavil House (Chiramel)
Karikuzhy P.O.
Neerattupuram
Kerala
Phone (M):  9846301374

To,
Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan/Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma/Espiscopas of the Mar Thoma Church/Sabha Secretary of the Mar Thoma Church/Council members of the Mar Thoma Church/Mandalam members of the Mar Thoma Church/Achens of the Mar Thoma Church/Church leaders/Lay leaders.

Dearly beloved in Christ Jesus:

Greetings in the name of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  In light of the upcoming election in the Mar Thoma Church to elect three persons to the high and most holy office of bishop, I have taken it upon myself to write this open letter to deal with certain issues that pertain to the history of the church in Kerala and more specifically to deal with issues and practices that I think need to be addressed to uphold the purity and integrity of the most holy and exalted office of bishop.

HISTORICAL ASSUMPTION CONCERNING THE MALANKARA CHURCH:  It has been traditionally believed and also written by church historians that high caste Brahmin families that first adorned Christianity were mainly Nambuthiri families.  These were four of the leading Brahmin families; Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu.

Tradition has it that St. Thomas established 7 churches in Kerala.  “It has been believed from very early days that Thomas established seven Churches on the Malabar coast at: (1) Craganore (Malankara), (2) Chavakad (Palur), (3) Parur near Alwaye (4) Gokamangalam, (5) Niranam, (6) Nilakkel (Chayal), (7) Quilon (Kalyan).  Extract taken from The Marthoma Church – Heritage and Mission, written by Alexander Mar Thoma Metropolitan.

However, the fact that brahmins existed in Kerala before 6th century AD is highly debatable.  Historians are of the view that the earliest brahmanical presence in Kerala was in the 6th century AD.  The earliest written evidence is that of Adi Shankaracharya and his date of birth was 788 AD.  Therefore, the assumption that the earliest Christians in the Malankara church were brahmins is something that needs further research and is most probably incorrect.  In light of this, the fact that the families from Palamattam or Pakalomattom, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kalliankavu were the first to be converted is questionable and needs to be objectively looked into.  Logically too, the existence of such an ancestry for 2000 years and its influence in the leadership even to the present day leadership, is highly improbable, to say the least.

Secondly, it is unlikely that the Apostle Thomas would have forsaken the methodology of his Lord which was to cater to the lowest in the society and therefore it is disputable whether he would have been accepted by the upper castes.  I am sure that the apostle would have addressed the caste issue and what response he received is not recorded in the pages of history.

HIGH PRIESTHOOD/AARONIC PRIESTHOOD/HEREDITARY PRIESTHOOD:  It is a biblical fact that Aaronic priesthood ceased with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a study of the book of Hebrews will clearly show this.  Jesus Christ is the only High Priest and believers in him belong to the royal priesthood.  With the cessation of the Aaronic or Levitical priesthood, there can be no question of hereditary priesthood.

However, it has been believed by the Pakalomattom family that they have hereditary rights to high priesthood in the Malankara church.  Why I bring the Pakalomattom family into the picture is because of links that this family has with the leadership of the Mar Thoma Church.

“The four families ordained as clergies were from the Brahmin families of Pakalomattom (Pakalomattam) , Kalli ,Sankarapuri ,Kalikavu .It may be because they were already doing priestly activities.  Traditionally it is believed that high priests (bishops) were the exclusive rights of Pakalomattam family.

The head of the Indian church was held by a priest holding the post of Archdeacon, which in Kerala was called "Arckadiyakon" which means head of one set of people. All the Archdeacons of India, came from only one family, i.e. The Pakalomattam family. This is one of the care act of blessing of God, on one family.  All historians have agreed that Pakalomattam family held the monopoly of this headship of the Church.  It was the assigning of the post to the Pakalomattam family by St. Thomas that helped the family to retain the post. The entire Church held the post as one of spiritual holiness and social primacy. It remained as a historical link with the apostolic mission of St. Thomas to India. The nepotic succession of bishophood and priesthood remained with the traditions of succession of the Persian Church. It copied the levite priesthood, which worked in the succession principle in the old Testament for 1300 years. This nepotic or patriarchal succession happened for Archdeacons and Marthoma Metropolitans of Pakalomattam family for 18 centuries.

The Metropolitans used to exercise their control over the Church through the Archdeacons. In practical and day-to-day functioning of the Church Arch-deacons exercised superintendence. The practical necessity of a native chief was felt by the Persian Bishop as they were ignorant of the language, social and political situation, etc. of the place. It came as a hereditary right to Pakalomattam. Down the centuries and over the generations Pakalomattam family produced hundreds of priests and tens of Bishops.  When the oriental missionaries established a new administrative system, they accepted the primacy of the Pakalomattam family. Archdeacon of Kerala Church was not an equal to the Arch-deacons of Europe. He was a much larger entity with wider powers and exalted position. He was called prince of believers, Lord of the Christians, and Archdeacon of the whole of India. The Archdeacons were the right arm of the Metropolitan Bishop, and in their absence or vacancy held spiritual control of the Church also. In addition to the rights of Archdeacon in the Persian Church, the Archdeacons of Kerala exercised special powers. Selection of seminarians, appointing and transferring of priests, exercising temporal powers over the church properties, collecting the levies from the faithful, etc. fell within his domain of his powers. The Kings and Princes used to consider him as the chief of Christians.” -These three extracts have been taken from the history of the Pakalomattam Ayrookuzhiyil Family as put in the Internet.

How does this relate to the Marthoma Church?  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma has taken the title of Mar Thoma XXI.  The first nine metropolitans of the Malankara Church belonged to the Vadakethu branch of the Pakalomattom family.  Abraham Malpan’s real name is Abraham Panamkuzhy Pakalomattotil and Panamkuzhy is another branch of the Pakalomattom family.  The first four bishops of the Mar Thoma Church have come from this family.  The Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma is the fifth member of the family.  It has been openly reported in the Malayalam Manorama, in an edition during the Maramon Covention last year, that Abraham Mar Thoma and Juhanon Mar Thoma have connections with the Palakunnathu family and indirectly the Pakalomattom family.  Alexander Mar Thoma hailed from Kuriannor, Ayroor.  Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar Thoma Valiya Metropolitan belongs to the Sankaramangalathu family.

The question is, do we still believe in the Aaronic priesthood and in hereditary priesthood?  Is it a fact or just a twist of fate that in many cases episcopacy of the Mar Thoma Church, which supposedly is a constitutional episcopacy, but is often negated by polity and eventually leads to hereditary priesthood?  It cannot be passed away as God given as there is no biblical basis for such an assertion and puts to question the justice of God.

OXIOS:  This custom during the consecration of bishop was a practice of the early church to see that no worldly influences corrupt the high and holy office of bishop.  It is a Greek term which means, “He is worthy” and said three times during the consecration.  However, a careful study of the Mar Thoma Church will show that certain families were involved with kingly families of old like the Chempakassery Kings, the dewan of Travancore and even the royal family of Travancore.  It was a custom in Kerala to raise the king up when he was crowned king.  Has this custom and its political implications influenced the coronation of a bishop to suggest monarchial episcopacy?  The more dangerous fact is the political influences that are involved in decision making concerning the governance of the church.

HEARSAY ISSUES:  On the basis of the above facts, it is possible that familial, political and material interests play a great role in the election to this most holy office in the church.  It is even rumored that there are caucuses formed and mafia nexuses involved in seeing their candidates through.  There are subtle hints that candidates are even doctored even when a priest and given transfers and postings by the church and subtly and skillfully maneuvered to project them as “God-chosen candidates” for the posts of bishop.  All this is done with such subtlety that it is almost difficult to detect.

Article 16 (3) of the constitution of the Mar Thoma Church reads thus:  Although according to the Bible an Episcopa may be a married person, the person nominated to the episcopate should be celibate, since it is deemed necessary to continue the ancient custom requiring the Episcopas of the Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church to be celibate.  Though the bible allows a person elevated to the position of episcopa to be married, in order to uphold the ancient custom requiring the Episcopas of the Malankara Mar Thoma Church to be celibate, and being done on their own free will and volition, it is absolutely imperative that the church ensure that this holy office is not stained in any way by sexual immorality, even of the most subtle and undetectable kind, in whichever form it may occur.

These matters are causes of deep concern and brought your attention to see that this most holy office of bishop is not stained by worldly corruption.

May the leaders of the church call the faithful to pray and be vigilant that we may safeguard this most holy ministry.  May the Lord Jesus Christ establish only those whom he has chosen.

CLAIMANT: The author of this letter is a B.D. student from the United Theological College.  The opinions expressed in this open letter are a result of research and close study and observation by the author and are opinions of his own, subject to both debate and correction, if proved otherwise.  The sources are from books, the Internet, and personal experience.

Yours humbly in Christ Jesus,



Ipe George

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Prayer request

There is going to a special mandalam (council) in February 2010 in order to decide and call for nominations of new bishops in the Mar Thoma church. An objective analysis of the history of the orthodox and Mar Thoma Church will show that 14 bishops (nine of the orthodox church before the reformation and five of the Mar Thoma church has come from the Pakalomattom family - Palakunnathu is a branch of the Pakalomattom family). The reformer Abraham malpan is also from the Palakunnathu family (His real name was Abraham Pannamkuzhy Pakalommathil). However, another interesting phenomenon is that even other bishops consecrated in the Mar Thoma have marriage connections through close kin or other relatives with the Palakunnathu family. Thus, a deeper study of the history of the Mar Thoma church will show a pattern emerging where there is interconnection between families in the matter of ordination of bishops. So, it would seem that a family polity controls the ordination of the highest leadership in this church. On the other hand, there is no evidence either in new testament history or in reformation history that God has used such dynasties to control his church. In the circumstances, as in the apostolic times, when the church "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication" it is the need of the hour that the church pray that God saves his church from the manipulation of human beings. A chain prayer to galvanize 8-10 lakhs marthomites is attempted. A request to all members of this community to help by your prayers. You can also post your prayers in this thread. You can also give your suggest to find creative ways to make this chain prayer a reality. May we see a miracle in our times as in the days of the Acts of the Apostles.

O God, establish him whom Thou hast prepared for us - St. Hippolytus of Rome (Ý235)
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I have begun a new community in orkut called Apostolic Reformation. The link is www.orkut.co.in/Main#Community?cmm=97383274 Please prayer for this and contribute.
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Please pray that I may be able to complete many projects that I have in mind. One is an objective history of the Mar Thoma church. Another is a book on St. Paul. The third is to seek out to create a new community of the likes of the first apostolic church. Another is to seek for the reformation of the church of India from within the leadership of the church.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Fig Tree

Opening the window of my heart, a glorious site greeted me.
Ha, a fig tree.
Beautiful to behold.
The hue of its leaves made me gaze at it in admiration,
Like a thirsty man near a desert stream.
The hope of fulfillment filled my soul.
I ran outdoors in anticipitation, in joy, eager to delight in its succor.
Reaching it, I stopped, amazed!
Frantically I searched, for something, for what?
To satisfy my thirsty soul.
But, no fruit!

In dissappointment, in acute distress, I gazed at it in wonder
My sould trembled within me
In my mind I wondered,
Oh fig tree, why did the Creator make you?
Was it not to give succor.
He expected you to be a blesssing
But, no fruit!

Then in the window of my mind I see another scene
The advocate of the fig tree
Is in the Supreme Court of the Creator
Vociferously agruing for her
"Oh, Supreme Judge,
You cannot be so unjust and condemn her
Her lush leaves give her a beautiful look
Now that is what everyone wants
And she is popular
And glamourous
Nobody looks for fruit the way you do
So why curse her?"

Then the Creator looks gravely at the advocate
And says,
"You are right,
She has all the virtues that you say
But that is because she is using up my manure
And the succor from my ground
That she has all the virtues you so elequently state
But I woul d rather have an ugly tree in her space
That has fruit!"

What else can be your fate,
But to be cursed
To wither.
The world will see and wonder
They will shake their head and mourn
At your fall.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Objective view - Reformation in the Mar Thoma Church

March 29, 2009
I would like to put the following views for readers to ponder upon:
1. The Mar Thoma Church claims that St. Thomas was its founder and therefore the Mar Thoma Church is apostlic in origin. So, there must have existed an apostolic church in Kerala from AD52 itself. Why then, did we have to go to Syria to get our bishops ordained?
2. If God used poor fisher folk to form the body of Christ on earth, will he change his strategy when he sent his apostle to India. However, the the history of the origin of the church in Kerala seem to suggest that God changed his methology in that members of brahmanical families were the first converts of St. Thomas and it is through them that the church in Kerala was formed.
3. There is no evidence in biblical or reformation history that God has used a single family for the furtherance of his kingdom on earth. Yet it seems that God had a preference when he came to Kerala in that the bishops who were "crowned" in the Mar Thoma Church have their roots back to brahmanical families or to some renowned family in Kerala. Is God a respecter of faces?
4. The root of all evil in India is the caste system, which is one of the most demonic systems conceived by the human mind. This is the one of the root problems of the Indian society. Yet, it seems to me that we are unable to fight this system as the roots of the Syrian christian churches in Kerala seem to have their roots in brahmanical tradition. It is my hypothesis that in a very systemic way there seems to be a link of these families influence to the leadership of the Syrian christian churches in Kerala. If this hypothesis is correct, then the caste system continues to be perpetuated and so thereby render the church ineffective in combating this evil that plagues this land.
5. It seems to me that there has been a "political maneuvering" that has taken place in the reformation in the Mar Thoma Church, in that most of the bishops seem to come from one particular family or from renowned families in the Thiruvalla-Kozhencherry belt.

Therefore, it is my contention that an objective review or research into the history of the Kerala Church needs to be undertaken to see if there is more to the story than meets the eye.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

College, Village Work, Theological Studies, and rejection of application for Ordination to Priesthood

I completed my B.Sc. at the P.S.G. Arts and Science College, Coimbatore, having graduated in Physics with a first class. After that my aim was to do evangelization work in N. India. However, I was not able to find a suitable mission work that was working in the villages. Then I came across Mr. P. A. Cyrus, who was working in the High Court at Cochin as a civil lawyer. He had given up his law practice and was working in the villages in Madhya Pradesh. He was basically working for the upliftment of the poor in the villages against big land owners who were exploiting the poor and keeping them poor. Since my aim was somehow to evangelize to the people in North India, I jumped into this work.

Thus, I was in a village called Gatapara, near Raipur, in the state of Madhya Pradesh, amonst a people called Satnamis. They are supposed to one of the lowest castes in the caste system. To my mind , the caste system is one of the most exploitative, oppressive, and evil systems ever created by the human mind. Here I worked for 1-3/4 years. We were actually educating the poor on their rights and trying to organize them to fight against the caste system, which is so prevalent in the villages of India. It was at this time that my eyes were opened to the appalling poverty that exists in the villages of India. Mahatma Gandhi said that India is in her villages and I have found that to be true. If we want to know the real India, we must see her through her villages.

It was here that I was exposed to the teachings of Mr. P. A. Cyrus on the Suffering Servant and this I consider is the greatest mark that his work has made in my life. Having grown and been brought up quite comfortably, this aspect of the christian life never really touched me. But I realized that the real type of christian leadership is through suffering servanthood. This is what St. Paul theologized about Jesus in that though Christ was at the right hand side of the Father, he left his glory and became a man. Being found in the form of a man, he took the form of a servant, and even went to the extent of dying on the cross. The Apostles also followed the same style and the mark of the church right through the ages has been the mark of suffering. This became the basics of my life and understanding of the christian gospel from here on.

I thought of the possibilities that existed in the Church in Kerala. I thought of the amount of talent and resources that were available in the church that could be utilized to evangelize the whole of India. Hence I thought of doing theological studies and use the resources of the church for this evangelization. I gave my application to the Mar Thoma Church, but was told that I would not be a sponsored candidate of the church and so I did my entrace exam at the United Theological College. I passed the entrance exam and was able to study do my studies at the theological college as an independant candidate, having recived the college scholarship.

The four years at the United Theological College, Bangalore, were four years of a thrilling journey in theological pursuit. It was years of intellectual creativity and discovery of the vast subject called theology. It was here that I discovered how little we really discover God and how we can be led astray into an intellectual confusion that plagues the church in India. It is here that I discovered that we can call ourselves the church of christ, but by false practices be the synagogue of satan. It is here I discovered the depths of ungodliness that exists amongst many of those who profess to be servants and priests of christ. Yet, it was here in UTC that my theological foundations were laid. It was a thrill to be amongst faculty and students from all parts of India and also members of different denominations of the church in India and abroad. It was here perhaps, that the foundations of ecumenism in the real sense of the word was formed . It was here that I discovered the power that the church can possess . It was here that I beheld the power that bishops and administrators of the various churches hold and how they can influence the tide of events in the church and also the nation. It was truly a time of discovery!

After my theological studies, I gave my application to the Mar Thoma Church to be ordained as a priest in the Mar Thoma Church. As I have already mentioned, thinking of trying to utilize the resources that exist in the church, I thought that getting into the church would serve that purpose. I must mention here that I have never seen ordination as the end, but only as a means for the furtherance of the Kingdom of God.

Being brought up in Kenya, East Africa, my grasp of malayalam was not great. On giving my application to the church and knowing that my weakness was malayalam, I was asked to try to improve my malayalam before appearing before the Vaidika Selection Board, the board that selects candidates for ordination. So my first assignment was the Mar Thoma Deaf and Dumb School at Cherkala, Kasargod district, where I spent 1-3/4 years. Needless to say, my malayalam did not improve very much, although my understanding of what the deaf and dumb children go through did increase. Then, I was sent to St. Paul's Church at Kozhikode, where I spent another 6 months and then to Chungatara where another 6 months went by. After that I appeared before the Vaidika Selection Board who did not find my malayalam up to the mark and I was sent to Jerusalem Mar Thoma Church, Elamkulam, Cochin for another 6 months or so. After that I spent 6 months at the Kottayam Seminary. After this I appeared for the final session before the Vaidika Selection Board and the matter was passed over to the Synod, the board of all bishops of the Mar Thoma Church, to decide on the final ordination.

After this, a drama unfolded, which to this day is clouded in mystery. There was no official information given to me that I was rejected for ordination and apparently the then Sabha secretary informed us by word of mouth that the Synod had rejected my ordination to be a priest of the Mar Thoma Church. I went to see the then Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church, Dr. Alexander Mar Thoma, to ask for the reason for rejection. To my utter surprise and dismay, he did not give me clear cut reason. After a lengthy discussion, I finally asked to give me officially, in writing, that the Synod had rejected me from being a priest of the Mar Thoma Church, which he did.

Now the reason I asked him to give me this in writing is the following reasons. According to the constitution of the Mar Thoma Church, if the Synod has to reject an application for ordination to the Mar Thoma Church, it means that the Vaidiaka Selection Board has approved of that candidate or there is no way that the matter can be presented before the Synod, which means even in the case of my malayalam the board was pretty satisfied. Therefore, in all aspects the Vaidika Selection Board had found the candidate suitable for ordination. So what transpired in between the Vaidika Seclection Board's decision to approve of my candidature and therefore present my case before the Synod and the Synod's decision to reject that, is a mystery, to say the least!

As I have mentioned earlier all this was shrouded in mystery and everyone was tight lipped about the matter. Needless to say the event was a great shock to me and my family and has led to a great amount of suffering in the ensuing years. May I suggest that this was one event that made what I had said about suffering servanthood become not not a theory but a reality for me. In my ensuing years I wanted justice to be done to know what really was the administrative procedure that went into that decision. In my quest to have justice done I got one comment from a person of high standing in the Mar Thoma Church that I did not conform to "popular opinion." What this "popular opinion" was my search and research in the following 12-13 years or so and what has led me to discover many truths about the history of the church in Kerala, its evolution, the role and influence of certain families in its evolution, and the reason perhaps of its ineffectivess in Kerala and India and this I was to further explore.