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Are We Really An Indian Church?

When E. M. Philip wrote his church history he titled it as : “Apostles Thomas’ Indian Church” (1951). In his book he tried to establish the identity of the Indian church with its affinity and obligation to the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch. Today we affirm that Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is an independent (Autocephalous) church with its own administrative head and infrastructure in place. We have been fighting to establish that independence through civil procedures.

In our pledge of allegiance we proclaim the “freedom and indivisibility of the Church”. They are well taken points. We are that part of the Body of Christ in India and it should be recognized as the Church of India established by Apostle St. Thomas at the command of his Master.

When we say ‘Indian’ we expect some special characteristics. For example, ‘Indian Art and architecture’ will differ significantly from Greek or Roman art and architecture. ‘Indian philosophy’ is unique and differs in certain areas with Western philosophy. ‘Indian spirituality or piety cannot be compared one to one with Jewish spirituality.

‘Indian culture and customs’ vary significantly from the western customs and culture. In an ‘Indian restaurant’ we expect certain specialties as opposed to a Chinese restaurant. So anything we claim exclusiveness should reflect some of its special characteristics.

Now let us examine our church’s worship and the names that we give to our bishops. How do we differ from our sister autocephalous church viz. Syrian Orthodox Church? We simply translate and use Syrian worship books written centuries ago to maintain our identity. Our offices of prayers and the sacramental styles closely resemble the Syrian Orthodox church. Well, that is our affinity and relationship to them since 1665 to maintain Orthodox solidarity.

When it comes to the names of Bishops we search the church history books for the names of all 318 fathers of the Nicaea and pick one that ends in “—os”. (There are some exceptions too)

Interesting history book shows that a bishop John of India attended the Council of Nicaea in 325 with no “os” suffix. If we believe that we are an Indian church why can’t we use our own Indian names to our Bishops? Indian Christian tradition of naming a child is family oriented, i.e. giving the names of the grand parents or their near relatives. When it comes to naming a bishop, why do we have to go to the Greek or Syrian relatives? By bringing some one to bishopricate, are we throwing them away from our family of origin? In naming the Bishops/clergy Church of North India or Church of South India, or even Roman Catholic Church of India are more indigenous than the original Indian Church founded by Apostle Thomas. Will there be a paradigm shift when we name our newly elected bishop candidates?