Cor-Episcopos Kuriakos Thottupuram I believe it was Goldsmith, who said: “Water, water, everywhere water; not a drop to drink”. Now we have another paradox.
A few years ago, I was strolling with His Beatitude Mor Timotheos of Malabar, the Catholicos-elect of the Church of Malankara, on the courtyards of the Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam. We talked about the great strides the seminary has made, and I proudly said: “Look, Your Beatitude, most of the faculty members possess doctoral degrees from prestigious institutions of Europe and it is definitely going to improve the academic standard of our seminary and enhance a deeper understanding of genuine orthodoxy amidst the encircling heterodox tendencies resulting from unhealthy contacts with Roman and Protestant theologies and practices.”
The response of the Catholicos -elect is the topic of this editorial. “Yes, we have many Doctors here; but there is no one to treat the disease. Actually the Church is getting sicker and sicker everyday in the areas of doctrines and practice. Our faith is eroding every day, our spirituality is getting more and more westernized and losing its genuine eastern flavor…”
For the past few years I have been re investigating the depth of this response, and I also came to the same inference: “Doctors, Doctors, Everywhere Doctors; there is not a single one to treat the disease!”
Recently a family left my congregation for another parish under the Malankarese Orthodox Syrian Church. I visited the family three times to inquire about the reasons for their departure from a parish church where they worshiped for over twenty years. I met with the father and his adult son thrice at different times in order to gather their explanations for their action. One of the major concerns to justify their departure to the other parish was very disappointing for me as a Chor-Episcopos. On different occasions the father and his eldest son insisted: “You are too Orthodox. Always you teach and preach Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy, that’s all we hear from you all the time. You do not teach Christianity. When we go to the other Church, it is different. They sing hymns that we use in prayer meetings during the sermon of the Holy Qurbana, even during the Holy Qurbana they have Christian songs…”. I wondered about what I did wrong as a priest.
From my deep recollection of their explanations I have understood what they are missing in my Church, and what I do not have for them. This family was wandering from faith to faith during their sojourn in America before finally settling down in my parish, and their religious experience had been primarily their exposures to different types of Protestant denominations, particularly the Pentecostal groups. For them Christianity consists of sermons of revival, noisy music (preferably with instruments that make ear-breaking sound), presentations of testimonies and the like. Pure Orthodoxy has no such noisy outbursts. It is simple, soft, and recollecting. Whereas our young priests were exposed to other forms of worship either when they were in the seminary or when they were out in the field; and they were indoctrinated to accept the legitimacy of those forms of worship as being part of orthodoxy. I keep the traditional style of worship without Protestant adulterations, and I also keep the traditional style of didactic preaching in order to explain and elucidate Orthodox doctrines and practices and their theological and patristic justifications. People who were exposed to Protestant forms of worship may find the Orthodox worship and preaching very arid if they do not understand the meaning and symbolism behind it. The truth is that the formation of our current generation of priests is within an ecumenical environment that inhibits articulation of orthodox doctrines and practices. I have seen no Protestant clergymen eager to follow an Orthodox pattern of prayer; on the other hand, most of our priests seem to seem to deliberately appease the other side of the audience by following their pattern of worship and prayer. If the seminarians who are exposed to Protestant forms of worship and prayer come out as priest to the vineyard of the Lord, naturally they will be more “Christian” (?) than Orthodox Christian.
This writer feels that our seminary is primarily concerned about theology as an academic discipline. That is why its leaders are more concerned about its degrees and their recognition by Serampore College, a very liberal Protestant institution established during the British rule in India. In a seminary the primary goal of the Church should be to promote the faith, doctrines and morality she upholds. This writer understands the relevance of theology as an academic discipline in a university set up where the primary goal of a theology department is not to promote a particular faith but to explore areas of knowledge within that field. However, a seminary is a place where the seeds of faith and doctrines of the Church are sown and nurtured. The Latin word seminarium literally means a field where seeds are sown and raised. It is deplorable to implicate that our seminary does not adequately promote genuine orthodoxy.
There is an unreasonable emphasis placed on diplomas or degrees and their nomenclatures. It is not only the ordinary people but also the so-called elites in the Church who are overly anxious about such honors. This tendency will induce proliferation of phony degrees received by clergymen, who think that it is such academic abbreviations that ultimately offer them acceptance and room for further advancement. This writer can enumerate any number of examples of such unhealthy episodes.
Many years ago, a priest who was pastoring a Church of the dissident Orthodox group, was chosen to become a bishop. He was working as a clerk in one of the schools in America. Upon his election to the episcopate, he managed to acquire a mail order doctoral degree (at that time it would have cost him $40.00). Within a few weeks he was made a bishop in India, and the news columns of Malayalam dailies acclaimed him “Dr. Mar…….”! He was a close friend of this writer before his departure, but after this incident, he avoided all occasions to see him! How much of genuine orthodoxy can this prelate preach with this phony doctorate? Can he treat the diseases of faith?
We see many prelates (some of them even did not complete a middle school education in India) who regularly visit America and return with a doctorate. Once they return home there are receptions waiting for them to honor their achievements. Their so-called degrees are either from Degree Mills via mail or from some institutions that claim to be universities registered with a State. Yes, it is only in America that you can get a doctoral degree within three months of your summer tour! These are reported as honorary degrees. Some such institutions also offer degrees based on your life experiences. You can see a list of such institutions in airlines journals when you fly 35,000 feet above the earth.
Yes, accredited universities in America offer honoris causa doctoral degrees to highly recognized scholars and leaders, which are more difficult than earned doctorates to obtain. The recipients of such degrees are great authors, scientists, political leaders, statesmen, educators, and social reformers. None of them uses Dr. before his name, if does not possess an earned academic doctorate. Thirty-three years ago this writer attended Mid-Continent College, a Baptist institution, for his pastoral counseling (Christian Social Ministry) training. Its president did not possess a doctoral degree when he went there. Later the president was awarded an honorary doctorate, but never did this writer see this great academic leader using “Dr.” before his name. We asked him why he did not use that title. The response was thought-provoking. “I did not earn it to own it or hold it or carry it. It was just a perception of the trustees of that college and they honored me; it has no academic value at all! Call me Mr. Malcolm if you want to be formal, call me Oscar if you want to be friendly; and call me President Malcolm if you want to keep a protocol.” Now you may compare this gentleman with many of our clergymen who are Drs. before their names after receiving a phony piece of paper from some unknown institutions that exist either in papers or in P. O. Box addresses.
Can these doctors treat the diseases of faith in our Church?
The current doctoral proliferation is in the area of Ministry. A few months ago an academic friend of this writer tried to convince me that American seminaries are in the business of moneymaking through their Doctor of Ministry programs. This writer does not know if the seminaries are making money out of these programs. Nevertheless he thinks that it is a worthless program in view of its theological sophistication, and in that sense it cannot be legitimately called a doctor’s degree. What one needs is only a Bachelor/ Master of Divinity degree and three years of ministerial experience in order to be qualified for admission to this program. Generally there are no academic requirements of any standardized tests, such as GRE (Aptitude or Advanced), and the Miller Analogy Test, in order to assess the academic strength of a candidate. A few years ago, a CSI minister started his sophisticated Th.D. program at one of the Lutheran Seminaries in America. He did not sustain his language and comprehensive examinations and the seminary professors gave him another option just to get out of the seminary with a degree. He completed a Doctor of Ministry degree within a brief period of time and returned to India. There are many cases of Th.D. students eventually completing this ornamental doctorate and find it a face saving outlet. Similar cases were experienced by this writer when he was a Doctor of Philosophy in graduate school. Many Ph.D. students in education could not meet the requirements of a rigorous Ph.D. program, particularly its double language requirement and intensely demanding comprehensive exams. As a result, they were given the option of slipping into an Ed.D. program where there are no language requirements or intensely sophisticated concentration in a single major, and they got out of the School of Education with a practitioner’s doctorate.
Some of this writer’s friends in America are eagerly attracted to the Doctor of Ministry program, not because of its academic value or the so-called doctorate it attaches to its successful completers. They do it for obtaining a more in-depth understanding of their ministry. They do not attach Dr. to their names once they have obtained the degree. When I talked with a director of the D. Min. program at one of the seminaries, she told me why: “It does not have the sophistication of a doctorate; it is just a practitioner’s degree”.
The word doctor comes from the Latin root docere, which means, “to teach”. Literally a doctor is a teacher. With no intense and sophisticated curriculum to augment researches for a teaching career in Theology the practitioner’s doctorate in ministry is not meant for preparing anyone to teach theology. That’s why my Anglican friend does not call himself “Dr.”. The teaching degree in Theology is still a very sophisticated Doctor of Theology or a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology. However, we see many of our young priests come to America seeking a D. Min. degree. There are many reasons behind this tendency. First of all, there are no strict admission criteria for this program; any one with a basic B.D. and a few years of ministerial experience has easy access to this program. Another reason is the unquenchable thirst to add the prefix of Dr. before one’s name, because, unfortunately, in Keralam this title makes its holders more distinguished in the sight of ordinary people who have no idea about the worth of it or how it was acquired. This degree has more substance than a mail order degree anyway. For many celibate priests it is the highest achievement (?) they can flash on their curriculum vitae for advancement towards the episcopate, because a “Dr.” is the magical title that mesmerizes the rank and file. These priests do not possess the necessary scholastic strength to get admitted in a Th.D. program. Therefore, it is the easy route towards a recognizable title. It is to be observed that most of these degrees are milled out from Protestant institutions.
How much fidelity to genuine orthodoxy can we expect from these doctors? Can these doctors heal the disease of faith and morals in our Church? Think twice.
Now we come back to the faculty of our seminary. We are really proud of our seminary. We have scholars in our seminary. However, because of the academic supervision by a liberal Protestant institution, and because of the proximity to liberal Protestants who impose their way of thinking on our faculty, and because of unhealthy ecumenical relations with the heterodox, I wonder, if our seminary is a flagship of genuine orthodoxy. The current D.Th. program and its curriculum contents are very ecumenical and the seminary becomes a melting pot of many doctrines and beliefs. The doctors in our seminary do not have the fortitude to articulate orthodoxy or cancel affiliation with a Protestant College of Theology. Because it is ecumenism and attachment with Western theology that take them around the world and offer them red carpet services.
Can these doctors treat the disease of faith and morals in our Church? His Beatitude was right when he said: “Yes, we have many doctors; but there is no one to treat the disease…”. Let me reiterate the title of this editorial: “Doctors, Doctors, Everywhere Doctors; Not A Single One To Treat the Disease!”