Sunday, September 02, 2012

The diff in presumptions between Catholics and Orthodox Christians as regards worship and service ....

I wanted to pen these thoughts for a long time, but somehow did not do it. Finally at some point it has to be done, let me relieve myself of the guilt of not doing it. The reference here is to the Indian Orthodox Christians in India ..

The Catholics, Orthodox Christians, Protestants  are the three main dominant Christian groups of the world and share the same lineage and genealogy for more than one thousand to one thousand five hundred years, and their basic beliefs and practices differ on some theological assumptions. Keeping them aside, in the sphere of spirituality and social service how these groups vie, collaborate or compete with each other is an important element which any Christian would be interested in knowing.

My present inquiry through this article is to throw some light on this aspect which interests the youngsters of today .. Some of these points ( from a layman's perspective) are  : ( these points came up in my discussions with a senior Cor Episcopa on 2 Sept, 2012) 

1. Stress on spirituality :  Orthodox believe in spirituality, worship, sanctity in the faith and total commitment, more than service, while Catholics give more importance to service than spiritualisation of the believers. True Christianity is not just spirituality, it should be a right mix of spirituality and service for the less fortunate sections of society. 

I am reminded of the saying  "An ounce of action is more heavier than a tonne of speech ". Does self-piety have a role to play here ?

2. Separate groups of priests for parish service and social service : The Catholics have different groups of priests who look to satisfy the needs of the believers, the parish priests and a different group to look after the great service they do to the society. These priests and nuns are not involved in any parish activity. For orthodox priests, there is no such classification. The same priests who are given the responsibility of managing the spiritual needs of the parish people also have to attend to other administrative and social service activities, if any are undertaken. 

3. Involvement of laity in all activities : Social service activities are undertaken by Catholic priests with great vigour and enthusiasm as they have less of interference from the laity, while for Orthodox, the system is more democratic, decisions are taken by consensus and hence, all such social service actions involve the laity too and they are vetoed down or run down by these same laity members. And some among us the laity are an INCORRIGIBLE LOT .. While the respectful and conscientious keep away from holding office out of modesty, not  indulging in issues and conflicts, the "nouveau riche" and those yearning for some or any sort of recognition, adorn committees, act irresponsibly causing undue hardship to everyone !

Some among the laity seem to forget the following biblical verses :  "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve."   Mark 10:43-45 (NIV)

4. Availability of time with unmarried priests : Provision for unmarried and Married priests in Orthodox faith  compared to only unmarried priests in Catholic faith, speaks a lot about the time and commitment Catholic priests are able to give to any venture in comparison to Orthodox priests. Protestant priests also have a similar problem regarding time and commitment as they also have the provision to marry or remain single.

While I also agree with the fact that faith and spiritually are important for doing true service, I do not think Orthodox Christians believe it to be true the other way round, that service is a must for true faith and belief. (Mother Teresa was a living example..) Even after having so much of spirituality in them, the Orthodox Christians are yet to make a presence in the service sphere for the downtrodden in society. All communities do have committed people doing it anyway, not generalising !! The name of the Orthodox Metropolitan, Late HG Geevarghese Mar Osthathios of the Niranom Diocese of the Orthodox Church, who during his lifetime. not being interested in power and positions within the church, was instrumental in starting  at least 15-20 social service organisations in the service sector, needs to be specially mentioned as a one off case ..

Even the Protestant Christians, the break away group from Catholics in 1500 AD, also only have a very nominal presence in the service field, in India, like St Stephens College, Delhi, Bishop Cotton school in Bangalore, Bombay Scottish in Mumbai and others. The problem with the new, aggressive born-again faiths, triggered by US dollars and Euros, are that they are more interested in finding a comfortable, firm place  in society and a firm source of revenue for themselves, than doing any service outside their fold.

The tragedy is that the more recent TV evangelists like Thangu, Dinakaran and Co., KP Yohannan,  MY Yohannan and the likes, have no interest in service of society than making a quick buck while the sun shines !! True spiritual entrepreneurs to the core !! Though they have been able to give some solace to a society running mad after material, worldly pleasures ..

It is an undeniable fact that Catholics are doing great, silent, yeomen service for the downtrodden in society and for promoting healthcare and education, across the country more than any other community for the past several decades, any Indian can vouch for this. I have been a personal recipient of their service throughout my life, as I do presume many of the readers also to be ..

With overriding stress on spirituality than on service of the downtrodden, are Orthodox Christians losing their relevance in the present world ? Can we initiate an open discussion and come up with ways and means to overcome this weakness ? There are valid points in the arguments from the Orthodox priests as well ..

Comments are welcome ..


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