Decentralisation of Ministry is My Main Focus: Dr Mar Seraphim
‘Spiritual revival to receive top most priority’
An Exclusive for IOH
MUSCAT : Dr Abraham Mar Seraphim, the youngest Metropolitan of Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, has after taking over the reins of the nascent Bangalore Diocese, completed visits to all 22 parishes and congregations in his diocese spread over Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and UAE emirates of Ras Al Khaimah, Dibba and Fujairah.
A good orator and counselor, a silent listener with a rich baritone, Dr Mar Seraphim has chalked out impressive plans for his diocese. Recently, in Muscat as the chief celebrant of the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Maha Edavaka for its Holy Week services, the Metropolitan interacted with wide sections and communities. In a free wheeling interview, Dr Mar Seraphim outlines his plans and defines a ‘new system’ for his diocese.
Q:What are your vision and plans for Bangalore diocese?
A: My first priority is towards spiritual revival. My vision for the diocese is towards the upliftment of the parish and individual families. I desire these to be more towards being a Christ-centred lifestyle which theologically means a Trinity having the basis of fellowship, family, sharing, love and care.
Q: What are the hurdles being faced in setting up the diocese…
A: Presently, I don’t have a place to stay or call it as our own…we are in a rented building paying Rs 25,000 per month. A room in the rented house also makes up as a place for prayer and meditation. I have a office boy and there is no transportation to move around at present for diocese work.
We are on the look out for a land in Bangalore to set up our Aramana and am on a drive for fund collection. We inaugurated the fund collection when HH the Catholicos visited Bangalore for the Sunthronitho ceremony and thereafter it was extended to all the parishes in the city. A seven-minute video clipping with my message was also shown on a projector in all the diocese churches urging the people to actively take part and to help the diocese with funds for us to move forward.
St Thomas Orthodox Church, Bangalore East provided an accommodation and office in Bangalore East taluk along with furnished buildings measuring about 4,400 sq ft with built up area and a chapel. The area is inside the city limits, surrounded by various Christian institutions. I like the place and I have dreams to have a centre of its own in this place.
The problem is that the property at present is on notified land. I am praying that it would soon be denotified by the Karnataka government so that we have a spiritual revival centre with an administrative office system or guest houses in future.
Our diocese doesn’t have any income generating schemes…not even a single LP school as a source of income. We need to have at least five acres if we have to set up schools and colleges. As real estate rates go up in Bangalore, we need to acquire some properties which can be utilised at a later stage.
Q: What reforms or changes have you envisioned as the Diocese head..?
A: Frankly speaking our church is presently not following the traditional way. We need to change our style and way of thinking. We are in the gradual process of this change. I have found ‘mentors’ in all our diocese churches who will be seniors or those in the age group of 40 and above. Since the church vicar cannot put take part in each and every matter, they (mentors) will be trained to act in his absence. They are being trained for Bible study and training classes have already begun recently under Rev Fr K M Jacob of Mathikere Church. We are aiming at decentralisation of ministry work or what we can call the Abhyantara Mission. Though initial resitance will be there, we have to give way and move ahead.
Q: Bangalore has a number of educational institutions and companies. How are you planning to tap these students who migrate from other states to come to Orthodox churches..
A: This is a pressing problem. Many of these youngsters are going haywire without any proper support. The moment they enroll with any college in Bangalore or Karnataka, simultaneously we will ask the vicars there to send a mail online or via letter to the nearest church in the new place where he/she is a student. Soon, all Bangalore churches will be linked online when the website of the diocese is ready.
We are also planning to have the students received at their port of call be it railway stations, airports or bus stations with a family kit. It is for them to feel that they are not neglected and to be with our community. I am also canvassing young couples to volunteer ministry work in colleges, to listen to their problems and request them to follow and come to our Orthodox churches.
Recently, prayer meets were organised for techies from IBM. Now, we have decided to have a wider circle of such meets to include all companies. The response was good and this is on an experimental basis where training on how to speak at prayer meetings has been conducted.
Q: English Holy Eucharist is a major laudable step of yours. What are your further plans..
A: I feel we must not remain only as a Malayali congregation but welcome others (Kannadigas or locals willing to join). We are open to all languages to make it more universal. Though we have been in Bangalore for so long we are still not being accepted into the mainstream of the society. Bangalore Diocese has to find place for new churches, hospitals, schools and service-oriented activities to be n the mainstream of society.
Though we did face initial resistance to the English Eucharist, it has been accepted gradually. This will greatly benefit students, migrants who do not follow Malayalam but only speak English. The service is now being held every Sunday evenings for two hours in a neutral place on an experimental basis. Slowly, we will have this in each of the 12 churches in the city. We are bringing out a common prayer book containing the sayings of priests and the laity, which will greatly be of help.
Q: What are your new approaches to boost the laity’s involvement in church activity?
A: As I mentioned earlier, I am of the opinion that our church must be accepted into the society. Even after having a presence in Bangalore city for over 67 years, we are still being left out and neglected. I would favour our diocese to have ‘structures’ or a monument by which we will be noticeable or stand out, when we have a set up of our own.
I would also like to organise family conferences like those in the US which will revive strong family bonds. These conferences have common sessions like prayer, meditation, meals and games wherein each families stay together for 3-4 days together in a place. Myself and HG Mar Yulios attended such a family conference (3-day) at Milwaukee (US) after our ordination as bishops. We also used to organise such meets in the US during our days as Vicar.
I am planning to have something like this in my diocese soon and also have all the seven recently ordained metropolitans to come and stay in Bangalore. They can celebrate perform Holy Eucharist in seven different churches of Bangalore.
I also recently met the Archbishop of Bangalore Diocese and we have become part of all other Christian groups in the city. We need to have strong ecumenical ties which will help us to perform as a community and to give back something for its betterment.
Q: You have called to emulate the practice of Ethiopian Orthodox church style of shunning cities and moving to ashrams for a life of prayer, meditation. Is it really practicable…?
A: Rev Fr Jossy Jacob of Malankara Orthodox Church showed me pictures of different types of Ethiopia’s neglected island monasteries and how it is being practised. On these 30 islands, lie some of the oldest monasteries in Africa. Fr Jacob has invited me to pay a visit there. The monks live here in secluded monastery and the solitude it offers is great. Their strict routine consists of waking up at midnight and praying together until first light. There is no electricity and they pray in the darkness throughout the night. Pray and meditation is performed amidst wild animals which roam about freely. The skeletons of some of the saints are hung over huge trees or installed there.
Our own St Gregorios of Pampady was a popular bishop whose love for birds is well known and liked to feed them. I am telling this we can also recreate the same in our Indian context with some modifications to include yoga, ayurvedic sessions and others.
Q: Bangalore opened a MGM Counselling Centre after you took over. What are these modern amenities you have in mind..?
A: The MGM Counselling Centre was a mobile venture of Fr Dr Paul T Varghese, Students’ Chaplain and Vice President, MGOCSM, Karnataka Chapter. In future such centres can also include accommodation and offices. I am for pastoral counselling, and setting up counselling centres for youths. We are now targetting suburbs like Bellary and Raichur. These are with large number of study centres and institutions. If we set up a base in suburbs, in about 5-10 years from now, we can reap rich harvests. In suburbs if we plan and move like buying a piece of land it will be to our benefit and 10-15 families will be good start. Income can be generated by renting it out by way of schools or as a multi-purpose hall. We have an offer from Yacharam centre, 45 kilometres away from Hyderabad to use their land for educational purpose. We will plan it accordingly in the near future…
Q: I like the selection of your name ‘Seraphim’. What made you go for it?
A (smiles) Seraphim means one ‘angel of the highest rank’ or ‘one who shines over others’. During the 2008 MGOCSM Centenary Celebrations, Bishop Angaelos from the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria led the conference. As MGOCSM President, I got an opportunity to meet the Bishop and was impressed with his style and way of thinking. I was looking for having a similar name since ‘Angaelos’ means angel. Bishop Angaelos also specialises in youth ministry and is based at the Coptic Orthodox Church Centre in UK. He travels extensively, lecturing to Coptic youth at various youth conventions and conferences throughout the world.
Later, it was HG Mar Ivanios Metropolitan who suggested and helped me to choose the name ‘Seraphim’ and asked me if I liked it. I then went into a study and found Saint Seraphim from Kursk, Russia was one of the best-loved saints of the Russian Orthodox faithful during the 17th century. St Seraphim served the Sarov Monastery and His love for God was something great. The elderly saint or spiritual father also functioned as a venerated adviser and teacher. Hence I choose the name and got its approval.
Thanks and God Bless you.