# Annual family get together planned in Kerala on January 4, 2013
# Regional centres/councils in Africa will be on similar lines in UK
# Metropolitan favours aligning these with backward dioceses
# Prefers an autonomous nature for the Diocese
# For developing OTS as a major centre of learning
# Chalks out ambitious plans for Menorah Orthodox Centre
HG Dr Mathews Mar Thimothios, Metropolitan of UK-Europe and Africa Diocese, visited Sultanate of Oman on his maiden visit as the chief guest at the Muscat Mar Gregorios Orthodox Maha Edvaka’s 40th Harvest Festival. Dr Mar Thimothios is a reputed scholar with proficiency in five foreign languages. Deeply influenced by David Livingston, a noted Scottish and one of the greatest European explorers of Africa, His Grace has a Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from Biblical Institute, Rome and a doctorate in Psalm 24 from Pontifical Institute, Rome where he was based for 7 years. In a recent interview, Mar Thimothios discusses about the future plans and visions for his Diocese.
Major challenges faced since taking over:
UK-Europe and Africa Diocese which I have been shepherding since 2009 faces more of a geographical challenge. There is no free movement and to enter each country in my diocese you need to have visas. It’s a sort of a unity in diversity! The work involves small countries and the challenges itself is a blessing for the Diocese.
This faced with the vagaries of different languages between each continent which includes various currencies. All in all it’s a unique diocese with different time zones and cultural differences. I see the role of the bishop here more as a uniting force of all these varying factors for which the Metropolitan has to play an important role.
When I took charge in 2009 as the Diocesan Bishop, we had only one church as our own in London but now we have another own new church in Bristol and about 21 congregations in major cities.
St Thomas Orthodox Church at St Agnell’s Lane, Hemel Hempstead is the second church which is owned by Malankara Orthodox Church in UK and built in traditional architecture. The church was consecrated in September 2012.
We had a major family conference in September 2012 in which over 400 members took part which brought our community people from diverse background on a common platform and are looking forward to the next conference in January 4, 2013.
We recently launched Harmony, the monthly news letter for the Diocese at the St Gregorios Orthodox Church on Diocesan Day. The news letter helps in updates for the parishes and to be mutually connected.
Visions and dreams for the Diocese
At present we have UK as a complete regional centre with formation of a regional council and have major presence in the United Kingdom from North to South and in the central part of UK.
We have a major say in UK and are active in all ecumenical boards. I was elected Chairman for the Oriental Orthodox Church Council in UK for three-year tenure from 1999. The community consists of the Council of Anglican Churches and Council of Catholic Churches. The Bishop of London, Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, awarded me the Order of St Mellitus in recognition of our partnership in the Gospel in July 2012.
Next, our plan is to target Ireland and efforts are on to create another regional council there since about 200 Orthodox families have made their presence at present.
At a later stage, I would like to relate churches in UK to any other diocese in Kerala so that the size of the diocese is reduced and the diocese is easy to manage. This will help develop the Diocese on a autonomous nature and could take take place within a year or so. We will strive to develop such a system and place some promising young priests for ministry work.
There are also smaller Orthodox congregations in France, Holland, Belgium and Hungary which we want to target. Also Orthodox congregations both big and small exist in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
The impact on the lives of the faithful post financial crisis:
Major migration to Europe took place from 2000 onward. Usually it is the nursing profession which is in demand. The spouses do other menial jobs and contribute much to the upliftment of the family. Initially they struggle to settle, to have a home, children’s education and such. When faced with trials in life, the natural way of the faithful is to seek help from the savoiur and rely upon Him.
What are the plans for the African continent
Our next major focus area will be the vast continent of Africa where we have 13 places of worship with about 150 families. We have parishes in South Africa, Kenya, and Ethiopia and also unorganized Orthodox faithful in Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia and Malawi. Rev Fr Joci John is in-charge of the parsonage in Pretoria and Johannesburg.
We want to concentrate in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia and plan to send two more experienced vicars there soon. I will be planning a visit to Africa during Passion Week in March 2013 and efforts are being made to channelize more large number of faithful. Setting up of a regional council on similar lines like UK, will be made, though it’s not that easy. But we are definitely working in that direction. Most of the countries mentioned have a stable economy. We also plan to speed up various missionary activities in the name of Late Lamented Dr Geevarghese Mar Osthathios say in about two to three years time from now.
Can you explain about the dreams, visions of Menorah Orthodox Centre
Menorah Indian Orthodox Centre is based at Venmony, Chengannoor. The Centre is primarily striving to promote Orthodox ethos. The centre is presently set up on a one acre plot. Presently we have a Remban and seminary students who are engaged in serious work. The centre conducts yearly youth orientation classes for children from UK who come to Kerala during vacation in January each year. We want to build the infrastructure further and conduct more seminars and conferences. We also conducted blood donation camps and a Pravasi Sangamma for families from the diocese last year.
Can you explain about the January 4 Family Conference:
The Diocese is planning its family get together in India on January 4 from 10 am to 1 pm at Menorah Orthodox Centre, Venmony, Kerala. Rev Dr Jacob Kurian, Principal-Orthodox Theological Seminary will be the chief guest. General meeting, seminars, love feast are being arranged at the event. Seminars on Catholicate Centenary and psychology of Diaspora community will be conducted as part of the event. Bishops, priests, ecumenical church leaders, social and political dignitaries will attend the meeting. Rev Dr Jacob Kurian will lead the seminar on the theme of this year’s meeting on ‘Bharatheeyathayum Navodhanavum.’
Your views as MOSC celebrates its Catholicate centenary, future plans:
Catholicate Centenary (1912-2012) symbolizes freedom which is generated from the people, by the people and for the people. Ours is a unique church having its own constitution. The Malankara Association is a large elected body with over 4,000 members and maintains its own fervor and democratic principles. The Episcopal congregation is binding and approved by the Holy Episcopal Synod. Eastern Orthodox churches look upon us as a beacon of hope. We have to take care not to lose our democratic principles since ours is a universal church.
This is a new set up where 3 desks have been set up. These are the Ecumenical and Spiritual which is being looked after by Elizabeth Joy. Next is the PRO who sources matters for the newsletters, websites and other office administration matter and is headed by Saji Varghese as Deputy Secretary for Public Relations. Lastly is the registration and accounts which often looks after charity related aspects and training courses.
Message to the rest of the church in relation to making women’s participation more visible in our church’s life and witness..
Women have already been playing a leading role long before empowerment.…. They have far more opportunities now and Martha Mariya Samajams in UK has been very active from long. The diocese backs women empowerment to the full though none of them have been elected to the council as yet. Even this could be a reality sooner or later. For better functioning of the Diocesan office, we have split up major jobs into different desks. One of them is ecumenical relations and spiritual organization and appointed a veteran in Mrs Elizabeth Joy as the Deputy Secretary. She will make timely consultations with the Regional Secretary of the Diocese for the smooth functioning of the Desk.
Suggestions for OTS seminary, Kottayam:
Our primary base is seminary and seminary leaders are very important. This is amplified and reflected in the church by the leaders. Present Principal of Orthodox Theological Seminary (OTS), Rev Fr Jacob Kurian, is doing a great job in leadership training and direction for the seminarians. But we need to have more professional and dedicated teachers. Through this we can develop OTS as a major centre of learning and develop it as an autonomous institute. Orthodox tradition and culture can be promoted and we need more resource persons and experts in all aspects.
What are the specific interests of your grace as a scholar
I would say my special interest is in liturgical study since our liturgy is more rich and dynamic and its expressions more archaic. But it is not translated and transmitted to the people and ours is highly Biblical. Something has to be done in this regard.Thanking you for spending your time for the interview.