Holy Synod urged to tackle pressing problems of ‘migrant children’

Written By: on Feb 21st, 2011 and filed under Church News, Features, News.

Holy Synod urged to tackle pressing problems of ‘migrant children’
Houston Vicar writes ‘moving’ open letter to Dr Mar Yulios

HOUSTON, Texas —The Holy Episcopal Synod of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church which begins its winter sessions from today (February 21, 2011) will have a host of pressing issues to be debated upon.

An immediate issue of concern is the problem of Malankara Orthodox youngsters participation in the liturgical services of the church.

How are they following the services and how much are they able to understand or adapt it to their personal life. Why are they going astray or falling prey to other congregations..All these and many other issues need to be debated thoroughly by the Holy Synod.

As a precursor to this, Fr C O Vargis, Vicar of St Stephen’s Orthodox Church, Houston, Texas has written a lengthy ‘Open Letter’ to Pulikkottil Dr Geevarghese Mar Yulios, Metropolitan of Ahmedabad Diocese, urging His Grace to present and discuss this alarming situation in the meeting of the Holy Synod.

The letter from Fr Vargis was dated February 17, 2011.

The senior Orthodox priest has suggested that the Synod take an important step to publish the Orthodox liturgical service books in English
‘immediately’. Though, two committees were earlier appointed by the Holy Synod, nothing concrete has materialised, he points out. He has therefore requested Dr Mar Yulios to volunteer the effort in this regard.

In a deeply touching letter, the vicar, shares some of his deep concern and shares his views about youngsters where over 90 per cent of American-born children are unable to read or understand Malayalam making them impossible to participate in our services resulting in many deviating to other churches.

He calls upon the Malankara Church leadership to act fast to bring about changes.

“It is now almost half a century since our people came to this country (USA). But the church has done very little to address this problem – even to recognise it. This tells very bad about our leadership. It shows our lack of concern for our people’s spiritual life,” the letter reads.

Fr Vargis further goes on to comment our wayward priorities. “People are losing respect for the leadership. Many of them do not understand the uniqueness of our worship and disdain from it,” he lamented.

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11 Responses for “Holy Synod urged to tackle pressing problems of ‘migrant children’”

  1. annie mathew says:

    In my opinion a standby with Tenny U.S.A has been be blessed with children who are born and brougght up here and taken the initiative to go to seminary and steped out to do the work the lord has appointed for them. But how pmany priest want them in their church ones in a blue moon they will be invited over and then they are frantically looking for good orated priest who are their classmates freinds to run the show here during important times like the holy week everyone knows what the reason behind it is . Our children will learn and never leave their home parish but yes they can be given a little more opporunity to understand what is going on but again how many of our priests mingle with these youngster and bring them closer to the worship place.

  2. JG says:

    I agree, Fr. T. George – it is good that we all learn Malayalam, Syriac, and English. All of those languages – no matter where we are from – are extremely relevant to our cultural identity, heritage, and knowing those languages help us to understand liturgy, faith, traditions of Malankara Syrian orientation better but I think it is critical that priests from Kerala coming to the USA, Canada, UK, Australia, and other English speaking countries with large numbers of English speaking young folk, that they take more effort in providing training and English Qurbana and especially English sermons. Personally, I understand Malayalam to a very small degree and I take a lot of effort to try and understand which often leads to me asking a friend or family member, “What did Achen say?” The issue is when I see the sleepy youth, the wandering eyes to their cell phones during a sermon administered in Malayalam, I wonder what the future holds for those kids.

  3. Dearly Beloved in Christ:
    Thanks to the article on such a pressing and hot button issue, the long forgotten youth of the diaspora is finally given some dues-the dues that would have given decades ago, which would have sustained and nourished their spiritual and temporal needs and kept them inthe church. Now, they have left in droves and are the remaining ones are isolated and fragmented. The idea of the Eucharist in English would have been encouraged at an earlier stage and the proper forums would have tackled the lack of priests for such a task. It is at the best difficult for Achens from Kerala to get the desired language skills to do justice to the Holy Qurbana in english nor provide the communication lines open for a proper dialogue( leave aloneconfession). There are exceptions to this and many priests who hailed from Kerala have done a ‘meaning ful’ Holy Eucharist in english. Now that we are blessed with a lot of young priests in the American Sub- continent, my fervent wish is that they should be given the resources to go to each church in their region to celebrate the Holy Qurbana in english may be once a month. In the Northeast dioces churches the day for english Qurbana is always on the third sunday except during the big lent season and the third saturday is the youth day when the youth celebrate their spirirt of harmony and togetherness. So the newly ordained priests from this region can provide a meaningful service to these youngsters which is only a temporary solution to the problem.
    There are inaccuracies and grave mistakes crept in our translations which I have brough to the attention of the priests andThirumenis and nothing has been done. To cite one example,in the Nicene Creed thw crosses are placed at three different places rather than at the correct places and even noe that grave mistake continues and youngsters after youngsters forget to make the sign of cross whe :’ Jesus rose on the third day”-the cornerstone of our orthodox faith. Do I need to say more-we have failed even in the ‘proclamation and affirmation of our faith’- the Nicene Creed. I am glad that this issue has reverberated and more and more people will respond to this important question haunting us for a while.
    May God Bless you all.

  4. Tenny Thomas says:

    It is not that there are no English services done in the United States, there are several parishes that have service once a month and some twice a month. However, when you do something, it has to be done properly. Not everyone is linguistically gifted, so it takes a great effort to get the right people together to bring out a truly divine experience when things are done in a language which is not natural to the readers (I am talking about older generation). Many youngsters do not want English services in their parishes, not because they dislike English but because

    1) – what they hear only sounds like English, most of the time it is hard to figure out or make sense of the English used or read.

    2) – Parents do not give them an opportunity to take a lead during English services (there are exceptions), but I know that older men and women lead the choirs even on English service days.

    Fr. C O Vargis and many other seems to have expressed their frustration at the system. My question to these achens are – the United States can boast of several young men who are born and raised in the US, who went to Seminary in the US and India. How many achens really use the talent of the second generation priests? Why is it that every Holy Week and major feasts and events in your parishes are lead by priests/bishops visiting from India? Why not use the priests who are born and raised here? Agreed they might not know Malayalam, but they know English and some are well versed in Syriac – so a combined effort will be beneficial to the older and younger generation. We still have not become magnanimous enough to accept our own children.

    It is easy to say that nothing is being done. There are several opportunities that are right before our eyes – we ignore that and do nothing about it. We are the first ones to blame the system when we ourselves can offer the best solution. Sad and pathetic I would say. “One who can, does and one who cannot, just talks.”

  5. Tenny Thomas says:

    “Though, two committees were earlier appointed by the Holy Synod, nothing concrete has materialized” – Rev. C O Vargis

    I disagree with Vargis achen that nothing has materialized. Just because he does not know about it, does not mean that nothing is being done. There are several priests who have printed their own versions of Holy Eucharist book in their parish – a clear fault in the system to begin with.

    The work is in progress and some of the texts have already been approved by the Holy Synod. I know how many of us want the text instantly when we need it. There are so many instant translators and I understand their sentiments how we cannot depend on Kottayam for everything – and our children are suffering.

    The greatest disadvantage we put our kids in is that we started publishing books that are transliterated…the so called Manglish books. We are responsible for crippling our children. We gave them everything – provisions in life, education, health care etc etc – but we could not spare 15 – 30 minutes a day to converse or teach our kids the language of their parents. I am sure there are advantages to Manglish – but at the end of the day – there is no point in singing or chanting in language when you do not know what you are singing or reading.

    I am not saying that we have to force Malayalam onto everyone – not at all. We MUST provide our children with English translations and not something that looks like English. If we want to teach our kids the true faith, then we must provide them with the best possible translations in English or Hindi or their first language.

    Nowadays, we have so many translations of so many texts – 90% are cut and paste versions of earlier bad translations and makes no sense in English. The best examples are Holy Qurbono Books and Wedding Texts translated into English. Translation is not an overnight process and it is not done by anybody and everybody. You do not decide to medicate your child or operate on them just because you think you know the prognosis. I am not talking about minor colds or cuts – but serious illness. You take the child to a physician, who examines the child, and even the physician seeks the advice of fellow colleagues who are specialists. Why is is that when it comes to Theology or sacred texts – everyone seems to be expert? People with no training come up with their own versions because they know Malayalam and they think they know English. My biggest problem with certain translations in our Church, they were done by people who have had no training at all or serious theological training or language training. Reading books on theology, online degrees or relationships (family and friends) with priests and bishops does not count as serious theological education. (Late C P Chandy sir was linguistically gifted – (this is for those who will come back with comments that C P Chandy sir was not theologically trained – but he knew his languages well).

    As much as we want to see every text translated into English for our children – I suggest we give them the best than serve them with poor and bad variants of self made and unapproved texts. I know my words will come across as negative to many. I suggest we pray for those who are working on translations, support the translations with monetary contribution and the most important – not to be frustrated but think about the growth of the Church and glory of God’s Kingdom. When a child is born, we dream for them to become someone great – but everyday we see that slow and beautiful process. At times it can be frustrating, troublesome, sorrowful and even painful – but when the child grows up to be who they could be best – it brings us great joy and unbound happiness. In the same way – let us work step by step – slowly and diligently so that we produce the best that can be. “Rome was never built in a day”.

  6. Jigme says:

    It seems like priests in Germany put up little to no resistance toward German Qurbana, whereas in USA there is so much resistance to English Qurbana. Is it cultural? Likely – considering the history of the British in India. Times have changed, there needs to be more English Qurbana and more accessibility and acceptability toward English speaking Malankara faithful. I am indeed one such person in the USA this article describes. I would rather take no church than not go to Orthodox church however, and if MOSC is not willing to adapt, it will make having faith difficult. I don’t think there are people with the same patience I have.
    This is an issue both MOSC and JSOC share in the US.

  7. Baboi George says:

    Dearly beloved in Christ,
    The subject of youngsters can’t understand the Orthodox worship is a main concern for the passing older generation. Keeping this in mind the London Parish Vicar Rev.Fr.John Samuel has just compiled a book named ‘ The Service Book of Holy Eucharist ‘ . This book comprises of Sunday evening and morning worship written in Malayalam, Mamklish and English for everyone to understand and follow during Holy Qurbana. It has many Malayalam hymns written in Mamklish and Intercessory Prayers, and also some meaning of Syriac
    words used in our worship. This book is a valuable tool for the Non-Malayalam speaking people in our church on their regular Sunday Service.
    For copies :- E Mail: [email protected] Mobile: 07957440736

  8. Rather pathetic. We hope that the Holy Synod discusses many important issues this week.

    Yes this is important – but are you implying that only our esteemed Metropolitan of Ahmedabad Diocese is qualified to provide leadership on this. We have several Senior Metropolitans who can lead us on this issue !

  9. joy pyngolil says:

    Another appeal for action. Good effort, this time we have two bishops in the Holy Synod (actually three) who had some parish ministry experience in America, that is good. (Un) fortunately they use their urban democratic American experience in rural India and autocratic (not all inclusive) Middle East. What a paradox.

    We need the church to bring par with our context of ministry. Contextualization is a must. Holy Synod may designate people to empower the local parishes/dioceses to meet the need.
    Earlier we spent time is problem solving and parish splits. We need t o stop that and implement frequent, timely and systematic clergy transfer including bishops. A term limit for priest and bishops in a diocese may be a good practice to bring about vitality to mission.

  10. DEAR ALL,

    Kerala which lies at the tip of the Indian peninsula and protected by
    the Sea of Arabia in the West and the Sahyadri hills in the East is indeed a
    beautiful piece of land for living, Isn’t it? The serene streams of water run
    through the thick forests, the quiet back waters, the nicely cut and manicured
    hilly tea estates, the plantation of the coconut trees, the paddy fields, and
    the wealth of wild life, all are a feast to the eyes. The panoramic scenery of
    the landscape heralds the fact that God appears to have carved every nook and
    corner of this land with care as if with His own hand. Certainly this land is
    worthy to be called ‘God’s own Country’. Nature has been so kind to Kerala with
    its wide variety of natural resources. It is fortunate that this land was
    blessed by the footprints of St Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ who
    braved to come all the way from Jerusalem down to Kerala. It is in this land
    where according to legend, Mahabali, an ideal King of humility and magnanimity,
    ruled. Onam- the national festival of Kerala- is celebrated every year to
    commemorate and to re-live those good old days. It helps the people of Kerala to
    foster a sense of oneness, and to inculcate a sense of humility in them and to
    urge them for a mutual sharing. It is surprising that there was order without
    law in this land once up on a time. Justice, Peace, Equality, Fraternity, and
    Liberty prevailed in Kerala in those days of the past. Gone are those

    Kerala has now become almost a mint of monetary monsters and pent of
    political puppets. Water for drinking from natural springs and tender coconuts
    are replaced by the bottled pesticides like Pepsi-Cola and Coco-Cola. Deep
    de-forestation has brought about the draining of the once swollen rivers of 44
    in number. Rare species of wild animals and plants have now more or less become
    defunct. The gutter roads are becoming ghastly death traps and drinking water
    pipe lines are just turned out to be cesspools. It is a pathetic plight that
    this land, once eulogised as the neatest place in the world, is fast becoming a
    breeding place of mosquitoes, flies and rodents and hence epidemics are all the
    more rampant than ever before. It is a horrible scene that on many of our
    roadsides across the country there are heaps of rubbishes dumped awkwardly as if
    they are communal bin bays which attract stray dogs causing nuisance to the
    commuters. Murder and vandalism are now not a news. The greed for money and
    lust for comfort, the influx of perverted western and urban cultures into the
    minds of people, all facilitated this country to change itself to a dull and
    barren desert. Kerala once popularly known as a land of religious harmony has
    now become an arena of fundamentalists, bigots and fanatics. Though cent percent
    literate, it is rated first among all other states in India for suicide and
    corruption. The five-star bars and brothels are mushrooming enormously. People
    are becoming more alcoholic than workaholic. Let us pray for a divine
    intervention to retrieve that past glory of this great land.

    Ours is a country which can boast of a unique cultural ethos and
    social ethics. Let us be proud of our rich and unique cultural heritage and
    thank God for letting us being part of this wonderful country of God. As we
    celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the formation of Kerala state on 1st of
    November, let us uphold our mother country in our prayers. Let us pause for a
    moment and ponder whether we are able to impart our cultural riches to our
    budding generation or not. As the national church of India, we who care about
    the present and concerned about the future, are duty bound to preserve our
    legacies for the posterity lest our indigenous traditions and languages be

    It is history that in search of greener pastures, lots of people from
    this potential state started migrating to other parts of the globe which made
    them financially sound over the past few years. By out-sourcing, many developed
    countries have been gaining benefits out of it. As part of seeking better
    prospects, a multitude of people from Kerala migrated to different parts of the
    world. Though may be far away from our home land, many of us have a feeling at
    home, don’t we? Being expatriates, we enjoy all the amenities that we had back
    in our mother country except the life together with our parents and siblings.
    Every nook and cranny of the world, many eyots of Keralites could be seen.

    When we, the Diaspora, were dubious of how we should sing the hymns of
    God in the foreign countries, God had been so gracious that we were being
    blessed to enjoy the Christian fellowship and to have the beautiful Orthodox
    worship done in our own vernacular language. We are now blessed with wonderful
    places of worship and are able to come together for singing praises to God. It
    is really a great thing that we are given a chance to bring our children up in
    the same Christian faith and spirit as we had been brought up in the past.

    But in the present fast changing scenario following the globalisation,
    I doubt whether we, the expatriates, are able to conduct our orthodox worship in
    tandem with our cultural milieu and in our vernacular language or not. In and
    outside Kerala, the modern trend is to give more emphasis to English. Of
    course, one cannot negate the importance of English as a universal language. It
    is a must, but at the same time one cannot ignore one’s own vernacular language
    and cultural heritage which link us to our ancestors. We all know that our
    liturgy would be more effective only when it
    is done in all its sincerity and seriousness. It becomes a meaningless
    perfunctory act and a farce, if it is done devoid of true spirit. Language is a
    major factor in making the liturgy more effective. The best way is to conduct
    the liturgy in a language with which the faithful are most familiar -a language
    in which we are able to think and communicate easily. Then only a full
    expression is possible.
    Our Church is a common wealth of different cultures. We have Syriac as
    liturgical language (Deva Bhasha), Malayalam as mother tongue (Mathre bhasha),
    English as the professional language (Vyevahara bhasha). Right from the very
    first century we started using Syriac as our liturgical language, and hence
    inherited the title Syrian Christians. I have seen some people frowning at when
    they hear some Syriac words or sentences used in the liturgy. Syriac is
    pertinent because it is rather poetical. Every language is good and has its own
    beauty. We may be able to grasp anything under Sun through the medium of
    English but one gets into the roots of their culture only by one’s mother
    tongue. We need not minimise the importance of any language. The language plays
    a pivotal role in the network of human relationship and exchange of cultures. I
    believe it is the duty of the Church to maintain our cultural heritage including
    our vernacular language, liturgy, social custom and values for the posterity.
    See how our
    Muslim brethrens promote the teaching of Arabic (the divine language of Muslims)
    wherever they are.
    Why can’t
    we stick on to a three language formula of Malayalam, English and Syriac and
    adapt to the Muslim’s style of activity. Giving equal importance to the three,
    we can make our liturgy more lovely and lively. I opine that our Sunday school
    curriculum must be re-designed in such a manner as to teach our children the
    languages like Syriac and Malayalam in addition to the English in our church so
    as to make them proficient in these languages. Given a chance to learn our
    Lord’s language (Syriac) from their childhood days, I think more effective
    participation in the liturgy would be there from our ensuing generation. Though
    the British had been to India for nearly 300 years, they neither forsook their
    custom of using spoon and fork, wearing pants, ties, suits and shirts nor their
    language- English. Instead, they tried to impart what they had to us. Similarly,
    when the foreign missionaries came to Kerala, they tried to impose their
    language and liturgy, and our ancestors imbibed it without any hesitation.
    The Malayalees have now become a cosmopolitan community who prove their
    competency and proficiency in every field they belong including learning various
    languages like, Hindi, Arabic, and English so on and so forth. Why then we
    should marginalise our cultural heritage especially our mother tongue,
    Malayalam, when we are expatriates? Why can’t we take a little pain in imparting
    our children the cultural values and vernacular language of ours? I fear this is
    one of the reasons for our youngsters who are being brought up abroad, are least
    interested in attending our Sunday worships and are reluctant to come back to
    India even for a vacation. The peculiarity of Indians is that they give values
    to the family relationship which has great appreciation among the foreigners.
    But the present generation do not care about this that much. If things go like
    this, I fear the modern trend would axe the very roots of our social fabric.
    Communication barrier is the main problem. It is why I suggest that the parents
    should encourage our kids to learn our mother tongue so that eventually they
    will be able to handle Malayalam with much ease. This will help them acquiring
    knowledge in yet another language in addition to what they learn in their
    schools and to avoid use of transliteration during Holy Qurbana. We can rely on
    the famous axiom, “Where there is a will, there is a way”.

    Blindly following the western life style, our youngsters too
    prefer to go to church very rarely for Sunday worship and the modern trend of
    working even on Lord’s Day(Sunday) has posed great threat for the future of the
    church. We have to salvage our young generation from further perish. “Let the
    little children come to me; and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God
    belongs to such as these” (Mark10:14). Bringing our children to Him has been
    what our Lord Jesus Christ wanted and still wants from us all. It is God’s will
    that the children must be brought to the feet of Our Lord for blessings.
    Denying the basics of one’s mother tongue and the doctrines of one’s mother
    church to a budding person is same as denying the breast milk to the new born
    babies. Orthodox Church is the only one where infants are privileged to receive
    the holy sacraments like Baptism and Holy Communion whereby they receive the
    Lord Jesus Christ. Let the orthodoxy thrive in the soil of the God’s own
    country and let it ramify to the four corners of the earth. May I conclude this
    with the words of Malayalam poet Vallathol:
    “If heard of Bharat, must our hearts be proud of
    And if of Kerala, must the blood boil in our veins”.

    All the best!
    George Achen,Ireland.

  11. Roy Thomas says:

    Dear Beloved

    We the beleivers of Malankara Orthodox Church beleive our Church has now become a Universal Church . However this can be complete only when the spirital and litergical needs of the present generation is properly addressed. Wherever there are system of Citizenship like USA, Australia, Malasia, Singapore & Europe , the International language English should be encouraged as medium of worship. Especially in US, Europe & Australia, our present generation doesn’t understand Malayalam.

    If they learn Malayalam, that can be appreciated only. Time has already come to implement these measures with utmost importance. If the elders can use English in their office, why it cann’t be extended to Church. Holy Synod can do a lot in this regard.

    With Prayers

    Roy Thomas
    Abu Dhabi -UAE.

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