Mission work among Orthodox churches is much more than ‘proselytisation’ and should equip ourselves for dialogue with other churches and other religions’
‘National ecumenical bodies must initiate dialogue with Malankara and Jacobite factions to avoid conflicts and abide by court directives’
“Missionary is a rare commodity with our Church and we must get away from extraneous preoccupations”
‘Church must prepare and groom apt persons for representing at ecumenical forums. Over enthusiasm for ‘church planting’ is doing more harm than good.
HG Dr Yakoob Mar Irenios, Metropolitan of Kochi Diocese and the present Chairperson of the Faith Unity Mission Commission of the NCCI, demits office by April end. It is for the first time that a Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Metropolitan gets to become the Chairperson of the Faith, Unity and Mission Commission, which is of great importance.
As Chairperson since 2009 and member of Executive Committee, Dr Mar Irenios, outlines the work he did and explains how the Orthodox Church can play an effective role in future with better planning strategies.
Mar Ireanios took charge as Metropolitan of Kochi diocese on April 1, 2009. Earlier, His Grace was the Metropolitan of Madras diocese from 1997. Earlier, in 1993 Mar Ireanios was elevated to the rank of Episcopos and became the Assistant Metropolitan of Malabar diocese.
Excerpts from an email interview. Exclusive to IOH.
Q: After you took over as chairman of faith unity mission commission, what were your plans and programmes? How much were you able to achieve during your tenure.
A: The NCCI, by the grace of God, is slowly recovering from a very difficult financial situation, which was caused by lack of proper financial management for a few years. Now things are back on the rails, thanks to the dedication and prudential financial management of the treasurer.
I shall try to answer your questions rather generally; since it is group work at all levels of NCCI activities. As you know the Orthodox Church is a small part in this institution, where the large majority is Protestant.
Unity, Mission and Evangelism is a wing of the NCCI among others. Every such unit has an Executive Secretary, who is on the staff of NCCI. With the concurrence and direction of the Chairperson, organises programmes. He or she is a kind of CEO, which means the Chairperson has precious little to perform! But the Chair gets involved in several ways. We had an exploratory session immediately after the new Chairpersons took over, and prepared a chart for the several programmes to be implemented during our tenure. For instance the Centenary of the Edinburgh World Missionary Conference in 2010 was an occasion for arranging several á “revisit” programmes at different centres.
The main focus of course, was on the aspect of unity at different levels. These were conducted in the North East, Central India and the south. In fact The Orthodox Church hosted a dialogue programme for Churches in the South at Kochi. Such occasions the different churches and confessions a lot to understand each other better. The Protestant members were very curious to learn about the Orthodox Church and its understanding on unity and mission. Of course, there are some differences in the way these concepts are understood and explained by the Orthodox Church and the Protestant block.
It was the consensus that the western missionary models were outdated and not of much use in modern India. The Orthodox members were trying to convince the rest that mission means much more than ‘proselytisation’.
I myself was a resource person at the consultation on ‘Tradition and Modernity’ at Chiang Mai, Thailand organised by the WCC, CCA and the NCCI. I presented a paper on this which was widely appreciated and acclaimed. They were told that ‘Tradition” has a very dynamic meaning than what they had actually thought about!
Q: As member of the executive committee, what was the role you performed.
A: As a member of the Executive Committee, we attended the meetings which mainly deal with administrative matters. Here programmes are reviewed and discussed in detail. I could contribute my mite and make the Orthodox presence felt in such assemblies.
Q: The recent consultation meeting prepared a report of a national study conference on grass roots ecumenism. What was the report like..
A: The recent Consultation on Grass root ecumenism held at Madurai in February was a useful one, though I could be present there only on the concluding day to deliver the valedictory address. I was trying to convince them that the Church is one entity and ‘Grass root’ has no existences separate from the main body of the church. Protestants are always ready to ‘share the Lord’s Table’ with any one at the local level, which we just cannot. It is good to cooperate at the local level, but full communion is something that has to take place no short cut in an undisciplined manner.
Q: How relevant is ecumenism among different faiths today. Do you feel they are moving in the right direction?
A: India presents a multi-religious situation. Now, almost all religions are ‘awake’, sometimes in an aggressive manner, and the mission endeavours have to be conscious of the ground realities. The western model has done its course, and is not of much use today. ‘Witnessing” has to be redefined especially in a country like India. Over enthusiasm for ‘church planting’ is doing more harm than good.
Q: Does the Malankara church have any policy on ecumenism? If yes, what have we achieved so far because what we see is all of them talking about it…
A: Malankara Church is associated with the ecumenical movement from its very inception. At the level of the WCC, the Orthodox Churches are trying how to make their voice and concerns heard. At different ecumenical levels and bodies, a new awareness about Church history, tradition and the like is being planted by the Orthodox Churches. The Orthodox Church has a very clear view on ecumenism.
Q: Do you feel ecumenism can play a role in bringing together the two warring groups (Malankara & Jacobites) together. What steps need to be taken in this regard.
A: The usage “warring groups” is not a healthy one, since it is a group creating disorder in the Malankara Church; and not two groups quarrelling!
However, this query is very relevant indeed. In the NCCI and the CCA, the Jacobite group has obtained membership, because the Malankara Orthodox Church did not oppose it. But this group is not a member of the WCC. There they are part of the Antiochene Syrian Church.
The NCCI General Secretary had issued an appeal when the Kolencherry issue was at its peak. Since the contents were not based on facts, I wrote to him about this; and he apologised to me for his statements.
But, as we know, the NCCI is not a Super Church with power of arbitration, unless both sections ask for it. So it can do precious little about it as things stand. May be this national ecumenical body can take the initiative to talk to both parties and impress upon them the need for avoiding conflicts and abiding by court directives and the rule of law.
It is also a fact that the vast majority of members of this National Ecumenical Body are the Protestant Churches, and the Orthodox Church forms only a tiny minority.
The Orthodox Church may try to make available its members to serve on the staff of this body in different capacities. For instance Fr Veneeth Koshy did a good job as the Youth Executive Secretary; as did Fr Abraham Oommen earlier. Fr Philp Kuruvila is also presently serving on an arm of NCCI.
I feel the Orthodox Church should take its ecumenical moves and role a bit more seriously, in terms of participation; and grooming a few of its members for taking up responsibilities in such bodies at the correct time. In this aspect we are way behind other churches!
Q: How can the Orthodox Church take ecumenical moves seriously or how can this be rectified to have our voice heard at major forums
A: The Church has to select/call/prepare and groom suitable persons for representing it at various ecumenical fora. Changing delegates every time will not only bring down our credibility, but will not help us to gain anything in the long run. We have the spectacle of sister churches planning for and grooming their representatives sufficiently early, that they have no dearth of candidates at any given time! This happens at positions of leadership in ecumenical bodies. This kind of homework rarely happens with us.
Q: What do you mean exactly by “witnessing” in a country like ours.. Can our church adopt to this?
A: The religious pluralistic situation in this country offers a challenge and an opportunity for this ancient and indigenous Church in its given task of witnessing Christ. The Orthodox need to remain faithful to their faith and indianness that there will be precious little of ‘imported-ness’ with it. Simultaneously we need to reach out to the villages and the poor; equip itself for dialogue with other churches and other religions as well on an intellectual level. We have dearth of church publications which are helpful in this. As matters stand today, our status leaves little to be proud of.
Actually we have very few mission endeavours and “missionary” is a rare commodity in this ancient church. Programmes like adoption of villages, mission outreach programmes among tribal’s and the like are still almost unknown in our psyche. Such projects are proceeding in full swing in the case of others. Sadly enough, we have other extraneous preoccupations which keep us too busy for such endeavours.
Q: Lastly, do you feel our church must retain executive posts with bodies like NCCI, CCA to have its presence felt…
A: In the situations today, our Church has to make its presence felt, though we are a ‘minority’, by coming to positions of responsibility, at least for not getting sidelined. The ecumenical world is wont to have its pushes and pulls and bits of ‘politics’. The realities should never be missed!