-Kuriakos Tharakan Thottupuram, Ph.D., D.D.
I believe it was Goldsmith, who said: “Water, water, everywhere water; not a drop to drink”. Now we have another paradox.
A few years ago, I was strolling with His Holiness Mor Didymos I, Catholicos-Patriarch of the East, the head of the Church of Malankara, on the courtyards of the prestigious Orthodox Theological Seminary at Kottayam. We talked about the great strides the seminary had made, and I proudly said: “Look, Your Holiness, most of the faculty members possess doctoral degrees from prestigious institutions of Europe and it is definitely going to improve the academic standard of our seminary and enhance a deeper understanding of genuine orthodoxy amidst the encircling heterodox tendencies resulting from unhealthy contacts with Roman and Protestant theologies and practices.”
The response of the Catholicos is the topic of this article. “Yes, we have many Doctors here; but there is no one to treat the disease. Actually the Church is getting sicker and sicker everyday in the areas of doctrines and practice. Our faith is eroding every day, our spirituality is getting more and more westernized and losing its genuine eastern flavor…”
For the past few years I have been reinvestigating the depth of this response, and I also came to the same inference: “Doctors, Doctors, Everywhere Doctors; there is not a single one to treat the disease!”
A few years ago an Orthodox pastor lost a family from his parish; and that family left his congregation for another parish under the same jurisdiction of the Orthodox Church. The priest visited the family three times to inquire about the reasons for their departure from his parish where they worshipped for over twenty years. He met with the father and his adult son thrice at different times in order to gather their explanations for their action. One of the major concerns to justify the family’s departure to the other parish was very disappointing for this writer. On different occasions the father and his eldest son said to the priest: “You are too Orthodox. Always you teach and preach Orthodoxy. Orthodoxy, Orthodoxy and Orthodoxy, that’s all we hear from you all the time. You do not teach Christianity, you teach just orthodoxy. When we go to the other Church, it is different. They sing hymns that we use in prayer meetings during the sermon of the Holy Liturgy, even during the Holy Liturgy they have other non-liturgical Christian songs…”. The priest wondered about what he did wrong as an Orthodox pastor.
From my deep recollection of these explanations I understand what this family was missing in their former Church, and what the priest did not have for them. During the early period of their life as immigrants in America the religious needs of this family had been primarily met by non-orthodox groups. For them Christianity consists of sermons of revival, noisy music (preferably with instruments that make ear-breaking sound), presentations of testimonies and the like. Pure Orthodoxy has no such noisy outbursts. It is simple, soft, and recollecting. Whereas our young priests were exposed to other forms of worship either when they were in the seminary or when they were out in the field; and they were indoctrinated to accept the legitimacy of those forms of worship as being part of orthodoxy. The former orthodox pastor of this family kept the traditional style of worship without Protestant adulterations, and he also kept the traditional style of didactic preaching in order to explain and elucidate Orthodox doctrines and practices and their theological and patristic justifications. People who were exposed to Protestant forms of worship may find the Orthodox worship and preaching very arid if they do not understand the meaning and symbolism behind it. The truth is that the formation of our current generation of priests is within an ecumenical environment that inhibits articulation of orthodox doctrines and practices. I have seen no Protestant clergymen eager to follow an Orthodox pattern of prayer; on the other hand, most of the modern Malankarese Orthodox priests seem to deliberately appease the other side of the audience by following their pattern of worship and prayer. If a seminarian who is exposed to Protestant forms of worship and prayer comes out as a priest into the vineyard of the Lord, naturally he will be more “Christian” (?) than “Orthodox Christian”.
This writer feels that our seminary at Kottayam is primarily concerned about theology as an academic discipline. That is why its leaders are more concerned about its degrees and their recognition by Serampore College, a very liberal Protestant institution established during the British rule in India. In a seminary the primary goal of the Church should be to promote the faith, doctrines and morality she upholds. This writer understands the relevance of theology as an academic discipline in a university set up where the primary goal of a theology department is not to promote a particular faith but to explore areas of knowledge within that field. However, a seminary is a place where the seeds of faith and doctrines of the Church are sown and nurtured. The Latin word seminarium literally means a field where seeds are sown and raised. It is deplorable to implicate that our seminary at Kottayam does not adequately promote genuine orthodoxy.
There is an unreasonable emphasis placed on diplomas or degrees and their nomenclatures. It is not only the ordinary people but also the so-called elites in the Church who are overly anxious about such honors. This tendency will induce proliferation of phony degrees received by clergymen, who think that it is such academic abbreviations that ultimately offer them acceptance and room for further advancement. It is said that an episcopabilis, who is a definite candidate in the upcoming episcopal election, has reportedly harvested a handful of phony master’s degrees from degree mills (in India!) to impress the screening agents. This writer can enumerate any number of examples of such unhealthy episodes.
Many years ago, a priest who was pastoring a Church of the dissident Orthodox group, was chosen to become a bishop. He was working as a clerk in one of the schools in America. Upon his election to the episcopate, he managed to acquire a mail order doctoral degree (at that time it would have cost him $40.00). Within a few weeks he was made a bishop in India, and the news columns of Malayalam dailies acclaimed him “Dr. Mar…….”! He was a close friend of this writer before his departure, but after this incident, he avoided all occasions to see him! How much of genuine orthodoxy can this prelate preach with this phony doctorate? Can he treat the diseases of faith?
We see many prelates (some of them even did not complete a middle school education in India) who regularly visit America and return with a doctorate. Once they return home there are receptions waiting for them to honor their achievements. Their so-called degrees are either from Degree Mills via mail or from some institutions that claim to be universities registered with a State, but with a P.O. Box address! Yes, it is only in America that you can get a doctoral degree within three months of your summer tour! These are reported as honorary degrees. Some such institutions also offer degrees based on your life experiences. You can see a list of such institutions in airlines journals when you fly 35,000 feet above the earth.
Yes, accredited universities in America offer honoris causa doctoral degrees to highly recognized scholars and leaders, which are more difficult than earned doctorates to obtain. The recipients of such degrees are great authors, scientists, political leaders, statesmen, educators, and social reformers. None of them uses Dr. before his name, if he does not possess an earned academic doctorate. Thirty-eight years ago this writer attended Mid-Continent College, a Baptist institution, for his pastoral counseling (Christian Social Ministry) training. Its president did not possess a doctoral degree when he went there. Later the president was awarded an honorary doctorate, but never did this writer see this great academic leader using “Dr.” before his name. We asked him why he did not use that title. The response was thought-provoking. “I did not earn it to own it or hold it or carry it. It was just a perception of the trustees of that college and they honored me; it has no academic value at all! Call me Mr. Markham if you want to be formal, call me Oscar if you want to be friendly; and call me President Markham if you want to keep a protocol.” Now you may compare this gentleman with many of our clergymen who are Drs. before their names after receiving a piece of paper with a bogus degree on it from some unknown institutions that exist either in papers or in P. O. Box addresses.
Can these doctors treat the diseases of faith in our Church?
The current doctoral proliferation is in the area of Ministry. A few years ago an academic friend of this writer tried to convince me that American seminaries are in the business of moneymaking through their Doctor of Ministry programs. This writer does not know if standard seminaries are making money out of these programs. Nevertheless he thinks that it is a worthless program in view of its theological sophistication, and in that sense it cannot be legitimately called a doctor’s degree. What one needs is only a Bachelor/ Master of Divinity degree and three years of ministerial experience in order to be qualified for admission to this program. Generally there are no academic requirements of any standardized tests, such as GRE (Aptitude or Advanced), and the Miller Analogy Test, in order to assess the academic strength of a candidate. A few years ago, a CSI minister started his sophisticated Th.D. program at one of the Lutheran Seminaries in America. He did not sustain his language and comprehensive examinations and the seminary professors gave him another option just to get out of the seminary with a degree. He completed a Doctor of Ministry degree within a brief period of time and returned to India. There are many cases of Th.D. students eventually completing this ornamental doctorate and find it as a face saving outlet when they cannot complete the originally intended Th.D. program. Similar cases were witnessed by this writer when he was a Doctor of Philosophy student in graduate school. Many Ph.D. students in education could not meet the requirements of a rigorous Ph.D. program, particularly its double language requirement and intensely demanding comprehensive exams. As a result, they were given the option of slipping into an Ed.D. program where there are no language requirements, or rigorous admission requirements, or intensely sophisticated concentration in a single major; and they got out with a practitioner’s doctorate from the School of Education.
Some of this writer’s friends in America are eagerly attracted to the Doctor of Ministry program, not because of its academic value. They do it for obtaining a more in-depth understanding of their ministry. They do not prefix a Dr. to their names once they have obtained the degree. When I talked with a director of the D. Min. program at one of the seminaries, she told me why: “It does not have the sophistication of a doctorate; it is just a practitioner’s degree”.
The word doctor comes from the Latin root docere, which means, “to teach”. Literally a doctor is a teacher. With no intense and sophisticated curriculum to augment researches for a teaching career in Theology, the practitioner’s doctorate in ministry is not meant for preparing anyone to teach theology. That’s why my Anglican friend, who possesses a Doctor of Ministry degree, does not call himself “Dr.”. The teaching degree in Theology is still a very sophisticated Doctor of Theology or a Doctor of Philosophy in Theology. However, we see that many of our young priests come to America seeking a D. Min. degree. There are many reasons behind this tendency. First of all, there are no strict admission criteria for this program; anyone with a basic B.D. and a few years of ministerial experience has easy access to this program. (To our surprise, recently a pastor from India, who reportedly holds no undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree and no Bachelor’s degree in Divinity (B.D.), or an M.Div., is said to have been admitted into a Doctor of Ministry program!!!! He reportedly possesses just an undergraduate diploma, not a degree, from an Indian seminary. He will also prefix his name with a Dr. soon! This writer was reported that while dining with another priest in a baptismal party, he boasted that he, reportedly without a basic degree and a degree in theology, was pursuing a DOCTORATE!!! This sounds like a person, who has never been baptized, elicits the audacity to get ordained to the episcopate without a baptism) Another reason is the unquenchable thirst to add the prefix of Dr. before one’s name, because, unfortunately, in Kerala this title makes its holders more distinguished in the sight of ordinary people who have no idea about the worth of it or how it was acquired. This degree has more substance than a mail order degree anyway. For many celibate priests it is the highest achievement (?) they can flash on their curriculum vitae for advancement towards the episcopate, because a “Dr.” is the magical title that mesmerizes the rank and file. These priests do not possess the necessary scholastic strength to get admitted into a Th.D. program. Therefore, it is the easy route towards a recognizable title. In fact some of the recently elected bishops in the Indian Church are the owners of this worthless and meaningless D.Min. degrees! They must have mesmerized the public with the flaky radiance of this cheap nomenclature!
A few years ago, an Indian priest came to America looking for admission into a Th.D. program; and he knocked at the doors of admission offices of many seminaries in America. The same priest confessed to this writer that he was denied admission to the Th.D. program in all these seminaries. But he was in dire need of a Dr. before his name. A seminary was generous to admit him into a D.Min. program. Many suggested to him about the worthlessness of the program he was accepted into. He paid no attention. He finished the program, and returned to India. Well, he is now a Fr. Dr. … Most likely this person would end up in the list of candidates for the next Episcopal election.
It is the humble suggestion of this writer that all the D. Min. degree holders be made ineligible to the episcopate of the Orthodox Church.
How much fidelity to genuine orthodoxy can we expect from these doctors? Can these doctors heal the disease of faith and morals in our Church? If these doctors become bishops can we expect the Church to be truly orthodox? Think twice.
Now we come back to the faculty of our seminary at Kottayam. We are really proud of our seminary. We have scholars in our seminary. However, because of the academic supervision by a liberal Protestant institution, and because of the proximity to liberal Protestants who impose their way of thinking on our faculty, and because of unhealthy ecumenical relations with the heterodox, I wonder, if our seminary is a flagship of genuine orthodoxy. The current D.Th. program and its curriculum contents are very ecumenical and the seminary becomes a melting pot of many doctrines and beliefs. The doctors in our seminary do not have the fortitude to articulate orthodoxy or cancel affiliation with a Protestant College of Theology, because it is ecumenism and attachment with Western theology that take them around the world and offer them red carpet services.
Can these doctors treat the disease of faith and morals in our Church? His Holiness was right when he said: “Yes, we have many doctors; but there is no one to treat the disease…”. Let me reiterate the title of this article: “Doctors, Doctors, Everywhere Doctors; Not A Single One To Treat the Disease!”