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The Mission of Malankara Church in Western Context


Contextualization and Enculturation are very much present in western missiological thought. Western world realized their mistakes and failures of the old methods, which were used by missionaries in the past. Western imperialism accompanied western mission and contributed towards colonialism of much of the non-western world. Western missionaries went abroad assuming that their task was to take ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ and the benefits of Western civilization to the rest of the world. Darrell Guder, a famous theologian says, ‘western evangelic efforts were often linked with the unquestioned assumption that the churches they founded would end up looking very European’. But now an incarnational approach to mission also speaks to related problems in the Western churches with regard to their evangelistic work within their own cultures. As Indian Orthodox Christians, we are always confused about our involvement towards the western context. Our churches seem hesitate to mingle with the societal issues.

Adaptation and avoidance of western culture, in full sense are not healthy and advisable. The most considerable approach is to be faithful with ourselves, as Indian Orthodox Christians, and try to accomplish our identity through the involvement in the society.

Understanding of ‘Contextual Theology’ is very relevant and helpful to highlight what we, as the Indian Orthodox community can do in America. Jesus did not soar off into heavenly heights but immersed himself into the altogether real circumstances of the poor, the captives, the blind, and the oppressed (Luke 4:18). The last words of St. Mathew’s gospel revealed Jesus’ teaching about “Great Commission”. David Bosch, another great western theologian says “Christians find their true identity when they are involved in mission, in communicating to others a new way of life, a new interpretation of reality of God, and in committing themselves to the liberation and salvation of others”.

Contextual Theology emphasizes the need of our theology and belief contextualized. The Church cannot turn away its face from the poor, miserable, persecuted, oppressed and all other marginalized people. The Church must involve in political, social, cultural and economical issues of this world. The life of Church is based on Christ’s victory over the powers of evil and death, accomplished once for all. The purpose of Christian mission is the transformation of man and entire the creation.

As members of an alien community in US, we should be aware of our inability to achieve our identity even now. Most of the westerners still believe that the eastern orthodoxy being something primitive, quietist and not activist. Even though it is because of their lack of knowledge and misunderstanding, we have to accept our impassivity in the involvement with this culture. The protestant understanding of evangelism does not truly apply in the Orthodox Church, which is very different from the western approach. The church believes that a true Christian is a person who leads a Christian life and affects others with it. Each member of the church is considered responsible to spread the word of our Lord through his way of life. A person who leads a life of worship, dedication and social service is considered a true follower of our Lord. Orthodox spirituality is mainly based on purity of life. In order to gain this purity one has to get involved in daily prayers, fasting, meditation and sacramental life. We all have the responsibility to show the depth of our spirituality through our way of life and praxis (action). Our praxis should not be isolated from our real life. Our spirituality must be contextualized. No parish can exist meaningfully without reacting to the need and changes of the society. We have to find out the possibilities for starting monasteries, nursing homes, old age homes, counseling centers etc or visit such institutions and provide help and care. Another important crisis we face in achieving our identity is lack of ‘oneness’ in our community. If we control the mushrooming of several congregations, we can use our togetherness force to extract our wider resources and utilize it where needed.

The quality of human lives depends on our relationships with other human being and with God. As Indian Orthodox people we have to show our non-individualistic nature and the values of our extended family system. Lack of a good Support System will continue to create problems for the new immigrants to pursue better opportunities. Had there been a Support System in place with the availability of free information to make critical decisions, it would have eased the pain that others who came here earlier went through. Since Support Systems exist in other communities and denominations, there is a tendency for some of our Orthodox people to leave the Orthodox faith and join other denominations.

The following suggestions may be considered in establishing a good support system. Each parish can keep one or two apartments where people come and stay temporarily till they are familiar with the situations. There is need to help and develop a Medical Information network of voluntary services for those who do not have insurance. Language counseling should include in this Support System. Several of our Indian Orthodox communities come from a non-English speaking background. The ability to get trained in communication and language skills for better job opportunities is determined as another important service a Support System could provide. It is certain that by providing such a support system, our community will be tightly knit with the ability to grow and prosper both in spirit and in wealth.