His Grace Dr Pulikkottil Geevarghese Mar Yulios, Metropolitan of Ahmedabad Diocese, recently completed his first-ever visit to the Sultanate of Oman after formally taking charge as diocese chief on September 3.
In a hectic schedule spanning two weeks, His Grace visited churches in Muscat, Sohar and Salalah and congregations in Al Buraimi, Ibri, Al Rustaq, Nizwa to get first-hand knowledge of the Orthodox community members and also briefed them on the new diocese. In an interview, Dr Mar Yulios took time off to explain on how he visualizes the infant diocese, his aspirations and what really is in store for his flock. Excerpts.
Q:You have now completed visits to most churches under your care..What are your aspirations for the new diocese..
A: After having visited 34 parishes in the Ahmedabad diocese, I have now a geographical idea from visits to Gujurat and Saurashtra covering places like Nadiyad, Anand, Gandhinagar and Rajkot. I will be travelling to Gandhidham, Veraval, Porbandar, Baruch, after my Oman trip. Also in Rajasthan except Kota, Banswada, I covered Udaipur, Chittogarh, Bhilaspur, Mt Abu, hill station. Here there are 30-40 Orthodox families in small cities, villages where we started the new St Thomas Congregation which can soon develop into a parish.
In Madhya Pradesh, I visited Udaipur, Indore, Dewar, Pitampur, Mavoor, Khandwa and still there are more churches to be visited which will be covered by the middle of February. All my visits will be completed well in time for the next annual routine meeting of the Holy Synod from February 22-26, 2011 where I will present my views of my new diocese.
Q: Do you plan to develop your diocese with any model in mind and what are the projects thought of…
A: We were giving thrust on material development but what we need also is the spiritual development of the church. The church should adhere itself to the faithful and members should feel they have a vicar or a bishop to look after their needs. That is the basic reason why I visit families during my visits, to know their problems and views.
The church thus comes more close to the people. I can vouch for the fact that the Indian Orthodox is one of the best church which cares for its people through its various spiritual organisations from Balasamajam, Sunday Schools, Martha Mariam Samajam, MGOC Youth Movements, Divyabhodanam (laymans programme), the Association of Altar Boys, which really helps people maintain a disciplined Christian faith and practices.
I am personally proud of our church because of the system we follow…even a small boy should know his role and what it means and the many liturgical fasting sessions we adopt throughout the year.
To make a strategy, I agree we need to have models. My blueprint itself will change in due course…I am visualising a new concept, a model upon Christ. But my practical wish is towards a Gandhi Smaran Diocese which I am hoping to name the new diocese as.
By following a Gandhian style, we are respecting our father of the nation, following a secular outlook. Indian Orthodoxy is just not praying in a church. Let us look inward and outward to develop our community and religion is a force to attain that. ‘Gandhi Smaran Diocese’ has been in my thought for two reasons. For one, Mahatma Gandhi is the symbol and fundamental reason for India’s independence and Gandhi’s life of simplicity is drawn from Biblical percepts. I want to see the Diocese depict the freedom of the Malankara Church completely.
I am having no sketch for any physical set up on the diocesan front. The Diocesan Development Committee constituted when His Grace Geevarghese Mar Coorilos was incharge will look into this. My prominence is not to have a lavish aramana or for huge church buildings.
I visualise my diocese to have spiritual counseling centres, various meditation and social service schemes and educational institutions. The present set up is small and when we will buy a land, we will start a school and so on. Let us have a huge complex of Pancha Padhati-like planned in due course of time…
Q: What exactly do you mean by a global church with Oriental aspirations? Briefly explain..
A: I meant our Orthodox liturgical calendar gives one an idea of the real cosmic culture of our church. For example God is not a ring master and He is the one and only cosmic church which affirms our faith… we belong to one true God, all things visible and invisible.
My concept is to comfort the people and in turn let them do good deeds, which is my message to the entire world which aims for the betterment of the universe. I would like to stress here that the Kingdom of God is in here itself….you do good and you can visualise the cosmic church here. Among Oriental liturgy, shanti or peace is here to stay for all churches. Whatever be the religion, it has to deliver itself to the immediate community…
Q: How do you view the century-old feud with the Jacobite faction? Will you be part of any reconciliation efforts?
A: The issue is a long standing and man-made one. But with all due respects to the other faction, I have my own pessimistic views on the matter. I am confident that there will not be any reconciliation on this long-deadlocked issue, which is very unfortunate. My solution is let us realise the reality and concentrate more on the long-cherished Indian Orthodox traditions, its canons and the adherence to the 1934 Constitution. There is a separate legal cell in our Malankara Church and they will deal with it legally..
Q: What were the suggestions made at the recent Bangkok meet on Indo-Pak relations that you led..
A: The meeting was a bilateral interfaith consultation between Interfaith Coalition for Peace (India) and World Council of Religions (Pakistan) aimed basically for better Indo-Pak inter-communication relations. Gujarat shares parts of the border with Pakistan (Rann of Kachchh). Now the discord is over silly matters..I feel both the parties must develop relationships between the two communities, maybe have a pilgrimage sort of visit each other during a festival. We had two full day sessions and I headed the Indian delegation which consisted of a CSI priest, 2 Sikhs and 2 women, which was conducted by the Norwegian Church Aid (NCP) and the delegates were gathered by IGP and WCR, both NGOs.
We are planning to have two more meetings in 2011 which will be held alternatively in both the countries. The present meeting was a good beginning and was held in a neutral location. The Pakistani delegation consisted of 2 bishops and also from two different Islamic sects. My fundamental message which I argued was to tell them the reality and to respect the views of the minority.
Q: What are your impressions of the Holy Land trip..
A: This was not my first visit but it was a truly great experience to travel with the newly consecrated bishops. We travelled to Egypt with a brief stop-over at Muscat airport. Before entering Israel, we visited Egypt and witnessed sacred places like Maddi Church, where the Holy Family stayed during their flight to Egypt. Also saw Giza pyramid complex, Great Sphinx and drove through the Sinai Peninsula, Suez Canal through the African border.
We also visited places where apparition of St Mary took place. From there we went to Mount Sinai and the Egyptian sojourn longed for two days. In Israel we spent six days and traced the footprints of Lord Jesus on earth.
We had 3 days in Israel visiting places like Jericho, the oldest continuously inhabited city of the world, placed 450 kms below sea level, Jerusalem and Temptation Mount. Tourists are frisked thoroughly during their travel once they enter Israel from Egyptian border. We also visited the Dead Sea (Salt Sea), which is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water. Security was very tight. We also met the Bethlehem city mayor who was a Christian. A Holy Qurbana was conducted at St Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church, Bethlehem.
Q: After visiting the Gulf, do you have plan to come out with new concepts for churches here…
A: The whole church is hopefully looking towards Gulf parishes. Let me thank wholeheartedly the contribution of the Muscat (MGOC) parish when it was earlier under the Kolkata Diocese. My earnest feeling is towards a change and my priority in Muscat is for it to have a full fledged Sunday School building which it now lacks. I also want all the prayer groups to be very effective and youth movements everywhere must be active and go door to door and pray for the sick.
Q: Lastly, how was the feeling lifting the Catholicate chair proclaiming Axios…
A: (Laughs….) The concept is very good but it’s indeed a tough job.. to hold on to the chair until the Evenkeliyon is fully read out…I want to suggest that there should be a pulley attached to the chair which will make it more easy the next time…