Byzantine Orthodox Ethos: A threat to Our Liturgical Theology? – Fr. Mat Alexander

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


There are many reasons why I do not deserve to be a priest in God’s Holy Church, but ‘graduating from a Byzantine Seminary’ is not one of those reasons. I am really confused, it’s not just Fr. Shebaly (reference his editorial on Orthodox herald), but many others from India have told me that we in America who are educated at Byzantine seminaries are Byzantine influenced and lack the Malankara Syrian ethos. Let’s leave the world of theoreticals and be specific. What is it that we “do” that is so Byzantine and seems to upset so many people?

Is it because some of us wear black cassocks? When I was ordained, I was given a black cassock, that is what I wear. From now on, just think of it as, we who are from America are greater sinners than those from India and so we need to wear black. (this is manifested most especially in my lack of skill in getting fish curry stains out of a white cassock ;).

Is it because we prefer meaningful icons to protestant or catholic style portrait paintings? Icons are deeply rooted in the Syriac tradition as well.
Also, I’ve seen the same movement back to icons in Kottayam and Bombay Diocese. So, perhaps Kottayam diocese lacks this Malankara ethos too.

Is it because many of the American students prefer not to use the keyboard during worship? Or they enjoy using the traditional 8 tones instead of the
modern western tunes used all over India?

Is it because we teach the Jesus Prayer? The Philokalia and its teachings is also appreciated and taught by His Holiness Didymus I and His Grace Mar Ivanios. I guess His Holiness is Byzantine influenced as well.

Dn. Shaun mentioned something about interpreting Denaha the Syriac way versus the Byzantine way and an article by Varghese Achen. I have not read that article, perhaps you could send it to me. But, I first read St Ephrem, St Severus, and VC Samuel at a Byzantine seminary. In addition, I never understood why we put the cross in the baptismal font during Denaha until I saw what the Byzantines do in their tradition. (and no, I’m not going to share, to find out everyone will have to do the ghastly act of researching another Orthodox experience)

Our exposure to other Orthodox traditions is not a threat, it’s a blessing and helps us understand ourselves better. In seminary I got to learn about Russian, Antiochene, Greek, Ethiopian, and even Armenian traditions. It was an amazing experience. We will not lose our Malankara ethos (whatever you define that as) by opening ourselves to experience the way the Holy Spirit has worked through a people and a culture different than ours. If anything, the Byzantines have learned from us too. Several Byzantine students studied Syriac with us at the Armenian seminary.

Something I’ve noticed is that when a priest or bishop from India studies from a Catholic or Protestant school, it is to their credit. When someone from America studies at an Orthodox institution, it is our handicap. Why? Is that something in the Malankara ethos that I can’t understand?

Let me be clear, none of my comments are to demean the experience of those who go to Kottayam Seminary, a wonderful and historic institution of our Church. The worship in the chapel at Old Seminary is truly amazing. I rejoice because God is doing great things there and also here. I’ll even take it a step further and completely agree that a graduate of Kottayam Seminary will be a much better priest than me. But that’s not because I’m Byzantine influenced.

Fr. Mat Alexander
Youth Minister for the churches in Dallas, Texas

Source: ICON

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4 Responses for “Byzantine Orthodox Ethos: A threat to Our Liturgical Theology? – Fr. Mat Alexander”

  1. Alan says:

    This is a cool discussion, and maybe a little heated. But I hope it serves as a reminder that ALL OF US should strive to maintain Malankara ethos. I see why clergy receiving Byzantine education could raise concern, but clearly there are many other influences that can change the ethos as well… Parishes and priests in India should certainly remove the plank in their own eye.

  2. annamma says:

    God bless achen for your opinion. I am auny from the old school but my heart rejoice to somany children from u.s.a have dedicated themselves to the a priestly life but I am also sad that your extraordinary works cannot be appreciated by the present old priest who have nailed the church on their name. They cant imagine that god is just giving them enough time to just sail enough and hoPe they will use thir kottayam seminary knowledge for the growth and change in the churches of U.S.A. jUST LIKE THE SEMINARIANS OF KOTTAYAM ARE LIVING A VERY HARD LIFE TO MEET THEIT NEEDS AND THERE FAMILIES. oRTHODOX OR BYZANITE THEY WILL USE ANY EXUCES TO STICK ON HEAR. Continue your blessed I have hear your sermons many a time and yoiu are always in my prayer.

  3. Blesson says:

    Well said Matt Achen! I am of the first generation born here in America, and while I certainly have quite a bit to learn yet about the faith, I find it refreshing to see the Achen’s, deacons seminarians who studied here, in an Orthodox seminary, and are excited about learning about and teaching us about Orthodox faith. People in India say that we American children are lazy, don’t understand our culture or religion, and don’t want to try to to commit to the one true faith, yet so many of here in this country have a true zeal of learning about the true faith, wanting to adhere to the teachings of our forefathers, and not make concessions to our faith and how we practice it, which may have come about under Protestant influence. I look forward to you and the fellow Achen’s, deacons and seminarians taking the effort to teach us about our faith, in its true form. My dream is to one day have Qurbana in our churches celebrated in the 8 true tones handed down by our forefathers. Keep up the good work! We will you you all in prayer!

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