This part of the life of Fr.Tovt should provide us an opportunity to examine our own behavior about welcoming converts to the Orthodox Church of Malankara. If a priest or layperson from a heterodox group comes back to the Orthodox Church we stigmatize him as a reject from his former affiliation, and ridicule him to the extent that he is not welcome in our midst. He is often pictured as a scandal. Some of us would even spread fabricated stories to defame him. Recently, one of our bishops who happened to be a convert from a Protestant church told this writer that some of his priest-colleagues were very jealous of him, and one of them even kept on emotionally persecuting him. When this bishop was elected to the episcopate, that priest (who happened to be celibate) sarcastically observed: “The bread that belongs to the children shall not be thrown to the dogs!” This is a classic example of our attitude towards converts coming to our church. This writer knows that it is not the mind of the church, but is the satanic behavior of a good number of our people including priests. This tendency will never enhance the image of our church, nor will it construct Holy Orthodoxy.
Fr. Alexei Tovt later worked among the poor Orthodox immigrants in San Francisco with great priestly fervor. The people could not support him as they were very poor. Although he had possessed an earned doctoral degree, he had the Christian humility to work in a bakery not only to support himself but also to provide for the temporal needs of his parishioners, such as food and clothes. He had the courage to do any menial job for himself and his poor people. His trials and temptations were innumerable; but he held on to Orthodoxy and to his priestly call. His sanctity was extraordinary. He died in Wilkes-Barre, PA in 1909 as a very saintly priest of his Church.
He was also canonized for altar veneration in May 1994 by His Beatitude Theodosios of the Orthodox Church in America.
These priests were both married, and exhibited extraordinary Christian perfection. They are modern role models for ordinary clergy. Their story tells us that every parish priest can attain sanctity despite the pressures of their families, and the Church recognizes it in order for us to follow such examples. Will we see in our Church such a recognition being ever accorded to our zealous and holy priests in our life time? Or are we here only to venerate our dead bishops?
Before God, there is only one criterion to measure one’s holiness that is the degree of our acquired sanctity in accordance with the evangelical precepts. God does not have different standards to measure the sanctity of His people, although more will be demanded from those that have been given more. Of course, God demands more from a bishop, or a regular priest, than from an ordinary secular layperson who struggles to feed his children by hard labor in a factory or agricultural field. But God’s measuring rod is the same for bishops, priests, monks and laypersons, when it comes to sanctity. A bishop or monk does not get MORE HEAVEN because of his hierarchal status, but there are different levels of God’s presence in heaven based on one’s holiness, or on heroism in achieving holiness. God calls all Christians to sanctity irrespective of their position on earth. When the Malankarese Church initiates canonization procedures only for some bishops (viz. recent canonization and steps for more canonizations), I tend to think that there are no holy people in the church other than bishops. We believe in the “One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”. Can we call a church HOLY, if the ninety-nine plus percent of her people are devoid of holiness? Then that church is not HOLY! It is the people of God that fundamentally constitute His Church, not some bishops or priests.
At this point may I correct a wrong notion among our people that miracles are the only evidences of a departed person’s holiness. This is a wrong notion we borrowed from that Roman Catholic Church, which bases its process of canonizations on miracles reportedly wrought by a dead Christian. Miracles are possible, and in some cases they are evidences of a person’s sanctity. If you study the history of ancient saints, they were all canonized by the people of God, and accepted by the hierarchy, on the basis of their extraordinary Christian zeal, or virtuous life, or Christian heroism. Our recent canonization of St. Dionysius Vattasseril was based on these three factors.
There are countless saintly people living in families; they work in offices, farms and factories; some of them are least educated, some are most educated. Some of them have a recognizable and measurable degree of heroic sanctity, and are endowed with intercessory privileges before God after their departure from this world; and their sanctity should be recognized, and they should be elevated for veneration like the other saints in the history of the church. I hope our church should be courageous enough to initiate procedures of inquiry into the sanctity of their lives regardless of their marital or hierarchal status in the church.