Byzantine Orthodox ethos – a threat to our Liturgical Theology? – Dn Shaun Mathew

Written By: on Jan 22nd, 2011 and filed under Columns, Features, Opinions.


In the current discussions involving Liturgical Translations, the influence of Byzantine Orthodox education given to our youngsters over the last 10 years set off an alarm in my mind. I have a doubt: Is it possible that the introduction / influence of a Byzantine ethos has already caused, or will cause,
permanent damage to the minds of those who think liturgically in our church? I have little knowledge in this area, so could someone please clarify?

The Malankara Orthodox Syriac ethos (the inner spirit with which we approach our way of life), part of the Oriental Orthodox ethos, is similar in some aspects to the Byzantine Orthodox ethos, but differences exist in many areas, most importantly in Liturgical Theology. For example in the interpretation of the Feast of Denaha, the perspective of Fr. Varghese Varghese (which i believe is strongly Oriental Orthodox, especially Malankara Orthodox Syriac) differs from the Byzantine interpretation in many areas.

Then, where is the danger? Could it lie in the fact that when we have one or two generations of youths trained to view a liturgical manuscript by teachers who received Byzantine or Roman Catholic training, is it possible that we could lose the ability to view our liturgical texts from our own ethos?

In Fr Varghese Varghese’s experience, when trying to extract the meaning of a particular passage in our liturgy that springs from a Malankara Orthodox Syriac ethos, Achen had to shut himself from reading / hearing anything Byzantine. I believe Achen is not alone in having to do this.

The Byzantine orthodox perspective has benefited the youth in America and in India in that at least something Orthodox was/is transmitted to them. In a way, we are indebted to the Byzantines for this. However, as we progress in our journey, especially in liturgical translations, do we need to wake up regarding the need to bring out the uniqueness of the Malankara/Oriental Orthodox ethos? Is there a need to make our youngsters (myself included) aware of what exactly the differences are in how we understand our liturgy? I am not sure of the answer. Will someone answer this?

Is it already a bit late in that the Byzantine ethos (which does have its plus points) has already influenced the minds of some very talented youngsters, to the extent that, when it comes to commenting on our own liturgy, that they are unable to identify elements that are uniquely Oriental Orthodox? Perhaps some may be able to do so now, but what about in 50 years or 100 years time? Many articles over the last decade written by ‘authoritative’ personalities in our church that have something to do with “Orthodox Theology” have a Byzantine flavor. Is there a danger to this?

The tools that we use to dissect our liturgical manuscripts to flush out the theology in them – those tools themselves are Byzantine or Catholic or even
Protestant – anything but Oriental Orthodox. Do those tools need to be thrown out? Or do we need to use them carefully from now on?

We are indeed deeply indebted to the Byzantine Orthodox seminaries in the USA for infusing in our youngsters the need to think and live in a truly Orthodox way. However, i am beginning to doubt that this cozy relationship is as beneficial to us as it seems. I may be ruffling some feathers here and upsetting some high-powered folks, but am trying to increase my understanding of this area, so any clarification and your thoughts on this matter are deeply appreciated.

Sub Dn Shaun Mathew
Diocese of South-West America
MA Syriac 1st year,
SEERI, Kottayam

Source: ICON

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