Blessed be the Name of the Triune God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit!
The first Prime Minister of our country, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, at the beginning of his magisterial work, The Discovery of India discusses the idea of this nation. He mentions early on that “there were large numbers of Syriac Christians in the South and they were as much part of the country as anyone else”. It’s remarkable how well he knew so much about the farthest parts of the country and the history of people that inhabited it.
Today, on this Sunday evening, in this capital city, so many of us are gathered here today to celebrate this very unity that Nehru wrote so long ago about – that we, like so many others, are part of this extraordinary country, without in any way diminishing the authenticity of our traditions or compromising the strength of our faith. The presence of so many dignitaries from different walks of life and persuasions, in particular the Hon’ble Cabinet Minister, the Chief Minister of Delhi, the Minister of State and the Chairperson of the National Minorities Commission and my brethren from other churches only affirms the continuing vitality of this secularism.
Indeed, it is a secularism that has withstood difficult challenges, and one that has been redefined specifically for the Indian context. But like Mahatma Gandhiji always pointed out, the nation and its politics cannot be completely divorced from its moral and spiritual underpinnings. For it is these that must guide the State in the objectives it seeks to achieve: the creation of an equitable and compassionate society that realizes the potential of all its members. The protection of the minority communities was an essential part of this secularism: an acknowledgement of their contributions
to the wider society, and their affirmation of trust in the Indian nation.
Yet, this secularism has not taken root in a void, but within the protective cover of democracy. The recent movements the world over for greater freedom reminds us that we cannot take the rights we enjoy for granted, but that we must constantly strive to use them for greater good.
It is appropriate, then, that the theme of this meeting is the ‘Role of the Indian Orthodox Church in the Third Millennium.’ Historically, the Church has always taken pride in its apostolic tradition and its indigenous cultural inheritance. It has always affirmed the values of non-violence, democracy and concern for the marginalized that are the foundations of this nation. Members of the Church played an active role in the freedom struggle, and since then, many have been members of the Cabinet and the Parliament, top civil servants, industrialists and businessmen, journalists and thinkers. The Church has reiterated that the capability to work and think independently is important for real growth.
It was in the pursuit of this goal that in the year 1912 a Catholicate was established in India, as a continuation of the spiritual legacy vested by St. Thomas, the Apostle of Jesus Christ. Next year, we will celebrate the centennial of that momentous event, a time for joy as well as introspection.
The Church and its leaders have also been at the forefront of inter-church and inter- faith dialogues. One of the foremost proponents of this continued engagement was the late Metropolitan of Delhi, Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios who firmly believed that this constant dialogue and seeking was essential in our quest to discover the very source of our being. An award instituted in his name is given to outstanding figures in the areas he had distinguished himself in. Past awardees include His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Varghese Kurian, Dr. Karan Singh and Baba Amte. But while looking to and learning from the past, the Church, like the nation recognizes that the challenges of this century and this millennium are going to be very different. In an increasingly globalized world, there is extraordinary opportunity to do good, as much as there is the potential for harm, whether they be in such different issues as climate change, human rights, or disarmament. The globalized world also connects us with communities otherwise divided – the Indian diaspora, of which the Syrian Orthodox Christians comprise a sizeable portion, is at the forefront of contributions to India’s growth. Indeed, this is an indication that wherever Indians may be, and whatever their religious or ethnic identities, their affection for their roots remains undiminished.
The creation of a global village also challenges us to renew our commitment to the potential and spirit of young people and to channelize them in ways that are beneficial to their families and societies.
The Indian Orthodox Church is approaching seven decades in the national capital. It is interesting to note that when the first Church was formally established here, shortly after independence, the function was attended by none other than Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Pandit Nehru, our first President and Prime Minister. This March evening in 2011, we are glad to renew that commitment to the nation, as we seek a greater partnership in building a sustainable and civilized society.
Finally, but most importantly, we must realize that our future as in the past, rests and can be sustained only on a strong foundation of love, compassion and humanism. Even as the world and large sections of our country have grown richer in recent years, there is a sizeable segment of the population that is living in poverty, unemployment, repression and sickness. We are also living in the midst of a host of social evils like alcoholism and divorce. It is when we can translate and make visible that love of Jesus Christ on the cross to alleviate the suffering of our fellow beings that our lives and our future will have a greater meaning.
I cannot conclude, but on an emotional note. As I see the thousands of my own people from all parts of the Diocese of Delhi gathered here, I want to say I am overwhelmed. And even as I take this opportunity to thank each and every one of them, I also want to say that their presence and showers of love reassure me that God will give us the strength to cross with courage, all the challenges that we as a community will face in the new millennium. I am also fortunate to have my dear elder brethren Job Mar Philoxenos leading the Diocese and our Church with fortitude and prayers, despite his ill health. I pray to God to give him long years of life.
May God bless the nation and each one of us. Jai Hind!