PRACTICES OF A SISTER ORIENTAL ORTHODOX CHURCH MIGHT HELP THE CHURCH OF MALANKARA
-Chor-Episcopos Dr. Kyriakos of Chicago
Next month (September 2008) the Church of Malankara is electing seven new diocesan bishops and the whole process is tainted with a lot of criticisms and confusions. In this connection, we would like to use this editorial to expose the regular practices of the Coptic Orthodox Church which this writer had the privilege of visiting for some seven years ago.
When His All-Holiness Pope Shenouda, the Patriarch of Alexandria visited Chicago in April 2001, this writer received him along with the Coptic community; and during his meetings with the Holy Father, the Pope extended his gracious invitation for him to visit Coptic Orthodoxy in Egypt. This writer was in Egypt for about a month visiting the patriarchate in Cairo, the holy places, and ancient monasteries. He was stationed basically at St. Bar Souma Monastery, the headquarters of the Diocese of Helwan, where Bishop Picenti, and the monks and nuns of the monasteries had been a tremendous spiritual inspiration.
This editorial is based on the information gathered by this writer during his Egyptian pilgrimage.
It is reported that there was a distinctive procedure for the selection of bishops and the patriarch of Alexandria. No bishop was normally eligible to become a patriarch, because as a practice the synod of bishops was not permitted to elect one among them to the patriarchate lest there be any accusation that they were partial to a particular candidate or that a bishop was engaged in campaigning. The bishops had to select a patriarch from among the monks of the many monasteries of Egypt, who most of the time would be unknown to the public. (Please note that the present patriarch, Pope Shenouda had been a bishop when he was elected the patriarch) This is the most ideal process to select a catholicos in the Church of Malankara. This would stop the competition among our bishops who are eying on the Catholicate. This would also arrest the desire for anyone to become a Catholicos at the time of his election to the episcopate. Unfortunately, this selection process is virtuously impossible in our Church, because we do not maintain a cogent and deeply spiritual monastic system to supply strong candidates to the Catholicate, nor do we have a large pool of ascetics and contemplatives in our Church for wider selection.
Let us see how the former saintly Patriarch of Alexandria, Kyrillos VI, was chosen to become the Patriarch.
There was no patriarch on the See of St. Mark at the time of the election of Kyrillos VI, and therefore Metropolitan Athanasios was the locum tenens as Deputy Patriarch. There were many bishops under him. As a preparation for the election, Metropolitan Athanasios made a nomination list, and all nominations were on behalf of spiritually outstanding monk-priests who never knew they had been in the list of nominations. There were no bishops in the list. Nominations were submitted on behalf of Fr. Demian, Fr. Angelos, Father Timotheos, and Father Mina. Having later known about his nomination, Father Mina declined to be part of this process. Having heard about this the Deputy Patriarch called Fr. Mina and asked him:
“Father Mina, why are you not part of this election?”
“Your Holiness, … may the Lord choose a good shepherd to guide His people with piety and purity of heart.” Father Mina replied.
“You should not have missed this duty.”
“Who am I but a little worm, to even consider this glorious and serious responsibility, and carry its enormous trusteeship, which should be given to a divinely chosen person, and not to whomever wants it.” (sic).
“But, I still did not hear your answer as to why you did not allow yourself to be nominated and allow the Lord to choose according to His will.”
“Your Holiness, all my fathers, the monks, who were nominated, are suitable for this critical position. But as for me, I am content with the Lord’s grace that is with me.”
“Father Mina, I am submitting a nomination for you.”
“ … but where would the lowly stand among kings?’
“The Lord can lift the poor man from the pits to seat him with the principals of His people.”
Later Father Mina conducted a campaign against himself like St Ephraim.
On April 17, 1959 the nominees were narrowed down to three monks, Fr. Demian, Fr Angelos, and Fr. Mina.
On Sunday, April 19, 1959 the Deputy Patriarch offered the Papal Election Liturgy, which was attended by high dignitaries of the country, including the late President Anwar Sadat, ambassadors and high-ranking delegates of other churches in the world. At the end of the Liturgy, a young deacon was appointed to draw one of the nominations from their container placed on the altar. He pulled out the nomination that has the name of Father Mina, a humble monk of St Demiana Monastery.
While this was going on Fr. Mina was celebrating his Sunday Liturgy at St. Mina’s Monastery in Cairo. The news of his divine election was broadcast all over the radio stations in Egypt, and it came to the attention of the participants of Fr. Mina’s Liturgy. Bells of all the Churches rang all over Egypt, but Fr. Mina refused to allow his beloved people to ring the bell of St. Mina’s Monastery Church. You should know what Fr. Mina did when he heard about it. He went up to the sanctuary and cried. The people forced him out of the sanctuary. He came out and addressed his people: “Glory be to God. The Lord has chosen to demonstrate His power and glory through my weakness. I tremble with fear in the glory of Your power. … From You we receive power and help, O our Lord and Redeemer.”
Readers, this is the divinely led election. Can the Church of Malankara follow this in India? Every practice that is proper and good cannot be put into practice in India! Somehow some Protestant practices of the West have influenced its systems. That is the result of its unholy alliance with the Western churches from the time of Buchanan. Why don’t they try this ancient system and feel the presence of God in the election of their Catholicos and bishops? They need a small amendment to the Constitution of therir Church to accommodate this practice; and let them do it.
Let us see how we can do the election of our bishops (and the catholicos) in Malankara. Let the Vox Populi stay intact through the Malankara Syrian Christian Association meetings. But let the final decision on the episcopabiles be a liturgical act. This is how it should be done:
The members of the Association would nominate three most qualified candidates to the episcopate if one bishop is elected. This gives the people of God an opportunity to participate in the election of their bishops. It is reported that in September the Association will be electing seven bishops. If we need seven bishops, the Association will elect twenty-one nominees to the episcopate. We need to put the next phase of election into the hands of God, through a liturgical act.
Let the Holy Synod decide a date for the next phase of the election process through a solemn Holy Eucharistic Liturgy officiated by the head of the Church and assisted by the college of bishops, chorepiscopi, priests, and deacons of the Church. The names of the candidates the Association has nominated are to be deposited into a Eucharistic chalice and the chalice should be placed by the sacred elements of the Holy Eucharist during the time of Holy Liturgy. During the epiclesis the main celebrant prays over not only the sacred elements, but also over the chalice that contains the names of the nominees. During the same time, simultaneously, Holy Eucharistic Liturgies are to be celebrated in the sanctuaries of all the parish churches and monastic houses all over India (and everywhere possible). The Catholicos or a senior bishop should draw seven names from the twenty-one names of persons elected by the Association from the chalice after the commemoration of the Mother of God and saints during the Holy Liturgy. These names are to be published immediately, and the people would accept them with the acclamation, AXIOS, AXIOS, AXIOS! From this point onwards all our churches should ring the bells until the time of vespers in joy and in acceptance of the decree of God.
The same procedure can be also followed for the election of the Catholicos.
Thus we become assured that the people of God have a voice in the process, and that it is God who ultimately elects someone to the episcopate or to the Catholicate. Such is a divine election led by the Holy Spirit. The current procedures are more political than a political election for a secular position. The Church of Malankara has to immediately change it. Otherwise, she will be left without the presence of God within Church.
Are we ready to wake up?