Malankara World

Issues with Faith of the Church

Where Do Orthodox Christians Stand?

by Eldho Joseph

This article is not to hurt anybody; but a strong inner feeling that burst out.

"But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." (Galatians 1: 8-9 KJV).

During these days, we are seeing many unprecedented practices in our Church which, I feel, are against the Scriptures and doctrines of the fathers.

St. Paul says:

"But every woman that prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, for as much as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered?" (1Cor. 11: 5-13 KJV).

Why we are not observing this simple instruction that was under practice till recently and even practiced now by a minority? Why the bishops and priests are not asking the women to do so? When they keep mum people will take it as granted and a different doctrine than of St. Paul enters in the Church and whoever is responsible is accursed (according to Scriptures; if they believe).

We can see so many videos in YouTube, Facebook etc of holy matrimony of our Church where the bride is almost half naked (I mean the backside is completely open from waist to head) and of course without covering the head. Recently such a video is seen and surprisingly the marriage was solemnized by a bishop. My opinion is that the Metropolitan should have told the bride and her relatives to dress decently. This is what St. Paul taught us. In the past, revered priests were asking the women and girls to veil their heads and dress properly. I am a witness of such an instruction, during usual sermon, long years ago, in St. Mary's Orthodox Cathedral, Ernakulam.

Another point is about a news that is seen in 'Catholicate News' dt. Sept 28, 2011. It reads like this: 'Start of formal education (Vidyarambham) will be conducted at the land where Parumala Thirumeni's divinity is filled, after the holy kurbana on Oct 6th. Revered priests will lead the function. Vidyarambham will start at Mavelikara St. Thomas MTC at 8.30. HG Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthatheos will lead the function'. (Note: October 6th is the Vijaya Dasami day).

Let us examine the contents of the news on the basis of Galatians 1: 8-9. When St. Paul says these words, he knows what he says and means it; we also believe it.

'Vidyarambham', as it is mentioned in the news is a new practice in the Church. It was not there in the past. One priest started it somewhere and without looking into the merits and demerits, others followed it, including bishops. My question is: Is there an approval from the Church for such functions? If not, why such forbidden practices are not stopped by the Church? If yes, is it according to the Scriptures? If we find out a single Scriptural reference against this event, then it is detestable. Leviticus 19: 26 (KJV) says: 'ye shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall ye use enchantment, nor observe times'. Simply speaking, since we do this at a particular day, it is the observance of that day and is against the Scriptures (observing time). It is a message passed to the believers that if the education is started on 'Vijaya Dasami' day the start is blessed and if not it is unblessed. We may judge whether it is right or wrong. Many of the churches give advertisement and media coverage for this function.

Orthodox community has so many traditions; every Christian community has some kind of traditions. Traditions will enter in a community during the course of time due to many reasons. For example, festival 'purim' became customary to Jews as a memorial of the destroying of their enemies (Esther 9: 25-29). But we should ensure that it is not against the Scriptures. We know how the Bereans accepted the words of St. Paul and his companions (Acts 17:11). They just examined his words with regard to the Scriptures. We also should have such a view when new doctrines or practices are at the threshold. Anything that is against the Scriptures shall not be allowed.

'Vidyarambham' (like present) was not a function or ritual in the Church, may be, 10-12 years ago, because it is a ritual in Hinduism in connection with 'Navarathri', 'Durga Pooja', 'Vijya Dasami' etc. I never heard that Christians are observing it, since my childhood, other than enjoying the holiday for 'Durga Pooja'. A priest (I compare him to Arius the heretic) started it somewhere on the day of 'Vijaya Dasami' and some churches, from certain areas, followed (they also attracted the media attention). No bishop or priest had a second thought on this matter. If anybody opines that it is just for making money, we cannot blame him. I hope that no other Christian denominations started this unbiblical act. Even in Hinduism, this is a ritual restricted to Kerala and elsewhere. Wikipedia says: 'In Kerala, three days: Ashtami, Navami, and Vijaya Dashami of Sharad Navaratri are celebrated as Sarasvati Pooja in which books are worshipped. The books are placed for Pooja on the Ashtami day in own houses, traditional nursery schools, or in temples. On Vijaya Dashami day, the books are ceremoniously taken out for reading and writing after worshipping Sarasvati. Vijaya Dashami day is considered auspicious for initiating the children into writing and reading, which is called Vidyarambham. Tens of thousands of children are initiated into the world of letters on this day in Kerala.'

Some people may ask, what is wrong in it when the priests are conducting it in the Christian way. First of all, when it is done on 'Vijaya Dasami' day as done by Hindu believers it is not the Christian way. If nothing wrong, our fathers would have done this long ago. At least up to AD 2000 it was not there. In 1 Samuel we read 'And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams'. (Please read 1 Samuel 15: 10-24). Saul did nothing wrong; he just kept some of the fat oxen to offer to God, a good thing. But in the sight of God and Samuel it was wrong since Saul was asked to destroy/kill everything.

Church also can do the 'vidyarambham', on a suitable day for the candidate. We are not baptizing all the children on a particular day in a year. Likewise, when the parents feel that their child has grown to a level to start his/her formal education, let them bring him/her to the bishop/priest or elders as they like. That is how all Christians started their education in the past.

Again there can be an argument that this is part of communal harmony. All people know that communal harmony is term that is mainly used by politicians; it is an unreachable target. But personal harmony is possible and that is why the society exists. When a religion says that there are thousands of Gods and another says that there is only one God but has three persons within and yet another says there is only one God with one person, where can be the harmony? What is harmony simple answer is 'compatibility in opinion and action'. So communal harmony is possible? Even the Trinitarians do not have harmony they differ in the nature of Christ. We all have very good friends from other communities; community, religion or caste is not a barrier to make good friends.

St. Paul says: 'I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such a one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? Do not ye judge them that are within?' (1 Cor. 5: 9-12 KJV).

Jesus asked us to 'love our neighbors, not their practices'.

'Vidyarambham' on 'Vijaya Dasami' day by the Church is an imitation that others do. They have their belief and reasons to do so; but on what background Orthodox Church do it? Does the Church accept the belief of Hinduism in this matter? The great deceiver is so clever to deceive the anointed also. 'For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect' (Mat. 24: 24). If anointed ones are not exempted, where do we ordinary people stand?

Once again, this is not to hurt anybody but to make us think. In the matter of belief, there should not be double standard either God or mammon; not both. Jesus says: 'No man can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon' (Mat. 6: 24).

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