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Catholicos calls for educating Orthodox community on church’s role in politics

Supreme head favours retirement age for bishops; deemed varsity status for old seminary soon

MOSC to extend helping hand to Egyptian Orthodox Christians if needed

Sees tiff with Patriarch faction as confrontation between justice and injustice, cannot accept foreign leadership in an Indian set up.

MUSCAT: The Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan HH Moran Mar Baselios Marthoma Paulose II, paid a 3-day visit to the Sultanate of Oman in March. During a 96-hour hectic visit the supreme head led the Holy Eucharist, attended receptions, family prayer meetings, addressed media conferences and held photo sessions.

The Holy Father also travelled to Salalah on a day’s visit. Despite his schedules, the Catholicos found time for a one-to-one exclusive interview with the IOH Muscat during which he answered a wide range of questions at the Mar Gregorios Orthodox Maha Edavaka. These ranged from why the MOSC has been neglected by various political groups, reconciliation efforts with the Patriarch faction and women’s emancipation through the proposed voting rights. Later, the day also saw the Catholicos keeping his official appointments with the Awqaf and Religious Affairs Minister and the Grand Mufti. His Holiness switched over to Malayalam after initially beginning the over a hour-long interview in English.


Q: What is your vision for the Gulf Orthodox churches and your opinion on expatriates here…

A: I am happy that the expatriates are always loyal to the government because we know that all the Malayalis when they are in Kerala or in India they are not able to express their potential and capability. There are so many reasons, politically, local or social but whenever they go outside of their homeland, personally speaking, they are highly potential and are highly loyal to the government. I can say they are very, far, far better in work and character. They are Indians and none will disagree with what I said. Every Malayali, when they come here they work hard, they try to prove their capability and are highly honoured, that is what I feel…

You know very well that Kerala is a consumer state, because we are not able to invest there and unable to work there nor able to express our potentiality and capability. The same holds good for the Orthodox churches here and the community here are hard working and goal-centred.

Q: Egyptian Orthodox Christians are suffering in their homeland and subjected to sectarian conflicts. Will MOSC interfere if our help is sought?

A: This is a local political issue. We can pray to God that there will be peace in the end. We are not at all troubling the government or the local people or the citizens of any country. Peace is the solution for all countries towards all its problems. If the locals disagree with the administration and their rulers, it can also be stabilized by way of dialogue and all that because the problem does not only stop there. It is a like a contagious disease and some social problem may arise in neighbouring countries too. I don’t think any expatriates in Egypt create any problem to the locals or to the government. They go in search for a livelihood there.

Whatever it is, if they need any kind of help, we are ready to help them out. We do not know the actual political situation existing there, if we go there and offer some kind of help to them, it may either flare up the whole situation or it might come to peace. But if they inform us what their requirement is, we shall be ready to provide them all help either at the government, social or at our own community level. We will definitely act if such a request comes. But we cannot act upon a political crisis there. We are bound to help them for whatever need they require, be it diplomatic or at government level.

We will get together with other communities to promote peace and stability. India’s basic foundation is laid on peace and harmony, which is Ahimsa. Indians do not go anywhere to create trouble, our culture is not that. Mahatma Gandhi did not teach us violence; he practiced non-violence, co-operation, all these form part of our basic foundation. Our philosophy is also based on religion, god-fearing, truth, justice, non-violence – all these are our basic teachings and doctrines.

Q: What is our stand on politics and why have we been sidelined despite being the second largest Christian community? What are the other alternatives?

A: We have been grossly sidelined by both the main political groups in Kerala. For this, the first and foremost thing we have to do is to educate our community about this; otherwise it will destroy the very existence of the community. Both the groups really don’t care a damn for the community though we are the second largest Christian community in the state. This rejection (by political groups) has led to a situation where we have no ability to react. Thereby our words or standing has no meaning. All communities have a voice. But it is not the case with our community. This is mainly because our community is not sure of standing firmly under a single leadership and we are not ready to be controlled by a leadership or obey his ideas. We are highly selfish….

There is no alternative but we will gradually communicate this to the ordinary people.

Take the case of Punalur Assembly constituency. We were initially told that a person from our community was offered a seat in the polls, but towards the end were told that someone else have been offered the ticket. When we enquired, we didn’t get any concrete reasons as to why this happened and we were taken lightly.
As leader of the Malankara Orthodox community, we should lead the community to educate the people on this but we cannot toe a political line or political principles. Our community is becoming voiceless and powerless and this will do us more harm in the days ahead. All these cannot be done overnight. A beginning has to be made at least now.

Let me reiterate that our church will not enter politics. However, our church will communicate the issues to both the political fronts. Many of our church members are members of different political parties. Church will not direct its members to support a particular political party. Instead, it will encourage its members to support candidates who work for the common good of the society, that is our view.

Q:Will there be a peaceful reunion ever with the Patriarch faction and what about the reconciliation efforts done in this regard…

A: (Switches over to Malayalam with a request….)
oh…This is a confrontation between justice and injustice. This is purely an ethical problem. Either we should hold up justice or should we support injustice. Say for example: in the Mahabharat, during the Kurukshetra war between Pandavas and Kauravas, there was justice among the Pandavas, but not among the hundreds. At that time, there came a situation when Arjuna (master archer) had to take a decision regarding going to war — we see a sad and disheartened Arjuna placing the bow and arrow on the ground. At this stage, a confused Arjuna feels that if he begins the conflict, his brothers will die. That’s why he decides that he is not powerful enough to wage a war, whatever be the loss. At that point of time, Lord Krishna enters the scene and advises Arjuna to perform his duty. That means to uphold justice. If a war should happen, then it should happen. Else, what you do is considered to be injustice… this interpretation is mentioned in Hindu mythology but our Lord Jesus doesn’t teach us this.

But one fact is very right: what is the yardstick for measuring justice and injustice in the context of our situation in Kerala and the country. Suppose if we are unable to get justice, we will approach the respected courts. This is justice. If they say this is not justice, then what is justice? This is my question? Secondly, we cannot identify ourselves under or accept a foreign leadership, be it politically, socially or religiously. Orthodox people are always pleading for an indigenised Indian national culture. The illegal ways of approach used in religious activities cannot go on.

I said two main factors: One is confrontation between justice and injustice. In this context Jesus Christ also faced a stage where He had to accept punishment in order to fulfill justice. Here Pilate when asked Jesus what is truth, Jesus answered him saying “you know the truth.”

What I am saying is this factional fight is a confrontation between justice and injustice. What is the measuring tool to evaluate this?

In a democratic set up, the proper means to know which is justice and injustice, must be proved and declared by the judiciary. An acceptance of a foreign leadership serves no good for the community. In a way it’s something similar to slavery.

Here, some who want to achieve their own personal ends, who don’t want to obey any laws, politically with wrong preaching or in an unprofessional manner runs the show.

Two months back I visited Mulanthuruthy Church and led the Holy Qurbana. I have never entered the church during my childhood nor after I had grown up. The authorities informed that the Orthodox Catholicos was arriving to perform the service. I stepped in, completed the Eucharist and it was calm throughout and came back peacefully. The problem here now is creating atrocities and pleasing some minor groups and fomenting trouble. These groups (other faction) if they want to go out they can do it and we don’t bother, and will not question that right..

‘Needhiyudhe sothu aneedithullavan thattiparikkunnadhe sherialla…’

There are murders taking place, criminals are being encouraged and it is bad that at a religious level, a top religious head is into such heinous crimes which he should not have done. This is my frank opinion. But we cannot stop all these.

‘Bellamullavan, bellamillathavane akrami kunnu..’ that’s what is happening here. But I want to stress again that we cannot live under or accept a foreign leadership in an Indian democratic set up.

Secondly, if it is a confrontation between justice and injustice, to prove the definition of justice we can use established norms. Otherwise, if they are keen in believing or following a foreign leadership, then do not plead for the assets.

We are always ready for reconciliation. Whatever happens has to be within the framework of the 1934 Constitution which has been approved by the Supreme Court. Even if the people are one, some leaders have different opinions. They want foreign domination. But we cannot accept that and we want our church to be independent.

Q: The old seminary turns 200 in 2015 but still its syllabus is still based on the Serampore University. Will you take the lead to make it a deemed university? MOSC also celebrates its 100th anniversary next year and what are its main plans.

A: Surely. We have already started it technically, but it has to proceed further. We do have some problems being affiliated to Serampore University towards teaching our dogmas and doctrines properly. We have to do it more carefully and want more students to study at the seminary. We have charted out the plans but finance is a problem. We have to see if we can keep up our ethical stand, but if done it will be fine. We need to have a proper infrastructure to implement it. Surely, we will make it a deemed university with UGC recognition and efforts have already begun in this direction.

For the centenary celebrations, a separate committee has been formed and they will look into it. The basic principles of the church however are the same, like helping the poor and the marginalised.

Q: How about ecumenical efforts to bring all Christian factions together. Will MOSC give stress to it under your lead.

A: Ecumenical relations with other communities are good. Any one section swallowing (or silencing) up the other or not recognising is not proper. Let us keep the identity of all the churches and come together to work for a common cause and against social evils. Ecumenism is vast or forms a major part of the community.

We all have different dogmas and doctrines. Jesus Christ is only one. But what He said is been interpreted or defined differently and in different angles. We don’t have to bother. Every one has their own traditions. So what we need from ecumenism in my opinion is respect for each other, acceptance between each other, along with that many common causes and difficulties faced by man. On such grounds we can unite together — so coming together for a common cause to bring peace, harmony and truth in the society is good and appreciable.

Q: What measures will you take to help revise our constitution in the light of women soon getting voting privileges.

A: The entry of women towards a voting system is good. The constitution has to be changed and it has got its own proceedings. However, the most important difficulty here is that now a bishop is being elected by a samithi or a parliament consisting of 4,000 members. With the inclusion of women, it will be around 8,000, which is an unwieldy issue.

Therefore, there should be proper canvassing and subjective quality is best called for. I mean to say regarding the election, we have to look into the ethics, quality, financial stand and how important it is for the efficiency of the system.

Democracy has got it merits and demerits. Women’s way of thinking is different and is in different spheres. However, it will have its merits and demerits. Finally, we have to find the pros and cons of implementing this major decision by the Sabha.

Q: Are you in favour of retirement age for bishops? How will the church utitlise their services post-retirement.

A: Surely, before I was of the opinion that there should not be a retirement age for bishops. But, earlier, we had fever number of bishops. There were no unwieldy problems as I said earlier. Presently the number of bishops has gone up with the rise in diocese and the area wise. Earlier, there was a single bishop and a single diocese. Those days, to see or to meet with a Thirumeni we had to wait for a long time. Now it is not like that. In order to bring efficiency to the system, we should keep an age bar for retirement. This will not create any harm, that is my opinion. We should change in with the times. If not it will reduce the efficiency of the sabha as such.

I think I have been able to answer all your queries.
Thank you and God Bless