When we look at the Church both in the days of the early Christian communities, and the Malankara Orthodox Church in its Diaspora, we find a common thread of unity in the faith and worship of those church communities. However, something that was missing in the Diaspora in the United States for the Malankara Church was clearly evident in the early Church. That “something” created the movement of Christianity and gave it life to grow into what we currently know in various traditions and forms. It established the faith to be not just the old man’s religion and ways, but the young man’s hope for a better world of peace and love. That “something” we find in the great leaders of the early church, especially in the young disciple of St. Paul, Timothy. In fact, that something was clearly also despised by those elders who felt threatened by the authority from someone so inexperienced. And so the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy saying, Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I arrive, give attention to the public reading of scripture, to exhorting, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you through prophecy with the laying on of hands by the council of elders.” (I Timothy 4:12-14). The role of the youth, and young leaders like Timothy, set the Church apart for greatness, and gave the early Church a life and a conviction that allowed the faithful to even go and die for their faith. Today, in the Malankara Orthodox Church in America, in the face of obstacles and trials, the youth have risen to their calling, and have not neglected their gifts, thus giving the Church in the U.S. a new life and the people who live here, a new hope about the future of the Church.
It is to this new revolution of the youth that I belong, and became an active part in. The MGOCSM and the Sunday School became the strength and the backbone of the American Diocese because of young leaders and workers who have given their lives, time and energy for a faith that they believe strongly in and for a Church that brings them the Christian hope for a better world in Christ. Young men and women, teens, students, professionals, young married couples, all who share the common experience of growing up in a land that is not their own and in a culture that clashes with their mother culture, have stepped up to making the Diaspora Church their church, and not just their parents’ church. So, today the MGOCSM has over 50 active units in the American Diocese, helps to coordinate the Diocesan Family & Youth Conference, leads a Leadership Camp for young leaders, helps to lead the OVBS and Sunday School activities, raises money for charity, hosts sport events, talent shows, and encourages the youth to become active leaders in their home parishes, as well as on the Diocesan level.
The biggest sign of hope, however, came with the ordination of several young men to the Diaconate (Readers and Sub deacons) from among the American born and raised youth. I, along with a few other young men of various ages, took the Call of Christ to accept ordination and work along with the bishops and priests in the role of pastoral leaders.
Many people ask how did it all happen? When did I know that this was my calling? Why did I choose to take up this cross for a Church that seemed to have lost touch with its people? Honestly, there was no moment of revelation to do this work as a Korooyo (Reader Deacon), and the same is true for the other deacons. Rather, it was the way in which we were brought up, that nurtured us to life within the Church, and to life serving the Church. It was a feeling of being complete while being within worship in the Church; a feeling of satisfaction in helping others; and ironically, the feeling of suffering for Christ by helping people who didn’t like or want the youth to be in authority. So, for many years after first being ordained on September 13, 1997 at the age of 19, by His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas, in the presence of H.G. Dr. Thomas Mar Makarios, I had to earn the trust and support of the people within the Diocese.
After my ordination, there were doubts expressed by some quarters about my maturity to handle things due to my very young age. But I took it as a challenge and turned to verses from I Timothy (“Let no one despise your youth…”) and Proverbs 3:5 (“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own insight…”), which has inspired me to this day. I, along with other youth who had similar convictions took the message to churches and congregations throughout America. We were able to create a stronger structure for the MGOCSM, develop various wings like they have in Kerala, and even motivate people to take their Calling in Christ to the next level and accept ordination or attend the seminary.
Many different types of responsibilities were thrown on me all at once, as being the only deacon of my age at that time in the American Diocese. In that first year, I was Sunday School Headmaster, Parish Newsletter Editor, Family & Youth Conference Associate Coordinator, Diocesan Voice Editorial Board member, MGOCSM Regional Secretary, OVBS Committee Member, etc. As I learnt that I could not do all these at once, I learnt to relegate the duties I was least able to handle to others and focused my work on the youth at the Diocesan level.
For us, and for the new leaders from among the youth, the challenges are great and many. There will always be people who look down on us, but looking back on my own experiences, I saw hope in Christ to change these people. I did not find hope in the people themselves, or in my own ability to do anything. I simply used the gifts that God had blessed me with to create good soil and to plant a good seed. The growth, as St. Paul says, is God’s power. Today, the MGOCSM has a Parish Visiting Committee, a Liturgical Music Committee, MGOCSM Choir, a Website, a Charity Wing, a Professionals Wing, 5 active regions with their own structure and administration, an annual Leadership Camp, Conferences, Retreats, and Talent Shows throughout the country. How is this possible from people who do not know the difference between right and wrong? It is not possible. But by the grace of God, and the Spirit motivating us to die for the Church, the way the youth did in the early Church, great things are once again happening in a Diocese and place where people prophesied that nothing good has ever happened and nothing good would ever come out of. If it can happen in America, it can happen anywhere, provided the youth step up to the calling and work in the face of obstacles and challenges, and have the conviction about Christ in the faith of the Church, and not in the people or structures of our community.