In India, Practical Ecumenism

This news item from India: Catholics and Orthodox agree to cooperate practically on church buildings, cemeteries, and clergy for Sunday and funeral Masses.

Father Paul Thelakat, spokesperson of the Syro-Malabar Church, says unity among the Churches is the need of the hour and local Churches should have more autonomy.

“There has to be more decentralization in the Church. What divides us is the question of power,” he said.

Kerala Catholics’ link with the Orthodox Churches is stronger than their relations with Protestants, Father Thelakat said. He said he was praying for these Churches’ union. “We alone can make that unity,” he said.

I’m not aware of a long-term precedent in Catholic-Orthodox relations, but I would bow to the knowledge of Henry, Neil, or others reading. Using the same churches and cemeteries, that’s a pretty easy adaptation. But practically, what does this mean for clergy trained in one rite being available for leading prayer in another? I’m assuming Indian Orthodox churches with their long pedigree on the subcontinent, use local languages. Catholics would too, since Vatican II. Do you suppose clergy will cross-train with workshops? Or is it as simple as “say the black; do the red” in the missal in which one finds oneself?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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9 Responses to In India, Practical Ecumenism

  1. What we have in India is something similar to what we have seen in Armenia. The Catholics and Orthodox there tend to be very interactive, and I know it is quite common to have inter-communion there.

    The article gave a good introduction to the source of the split within the Thomas Christians; after Vatican II, the Syro-Malabars have now come to realize they can de-latinize, and that brings them in better relations with their Orthodox counterparts.

    It is also not uncommon, if there is no or less antagonism to the Eastern Catholics, to have them and the Orthodox working together. It really depends upon many features there– some really hate us as “uniates,” but others do see us as brothers. I do know in the US, the relations tend to be good, and some priests have had at least a part of their education at St Vladimir’s Seminary, and I remember a couple years ago, Bishop Ware was the speaker to a Byzantine Catholic priest conference/retreat. I was not there, so I don’t know how close the workshops were.

  2. Neil says:

    Dear Todd,

    I don’t know as much about the situation as I would like, but I would speculate that the Kerala situation is somewhat unusual in that:

    1. I think that most Orthodox and Catholics in Kerala are quite conscious that their split has to do historically with forced Latinization and Portuguese colonialism. I am not aware of any theologian at present who defends these practices. Obviously, there are theological issues at play, such as papal primacy. But I wonder if the origin of the division between Catholic and Orthodox in a problematic and largely rejected colonial history makes it easier to bridge, at least pastorally.

    2. As Henry Brownrigg has noted in a short piece about Kerala’s museums, there is “social” division between Syrian Christians and Latin Christians (converted by the Portuguese or later missionaries), in part because of caste. He writes, “To this day intermarriage between, say, a Syrian Catholic and a Latin Catholic is uncommon.” And, he says, it is important to at least some Syrian Christians to maintain that St Thomas converted a group of Nambudiri Brahmins.

    This might mean that there is a common “Syrian” or “St Thomas” identity that overlaps ecclesiastical differences, and, in time of need, might encourage joint pastoral ventures.

    But, again, I stress that I really don’t know enough to comment with any great deal of confidence. (But, hey, it’s the Internet and that’s never stopped anyone, right?)

    I should also add that I’m sure that this sort of thing goes on all the time “unofficially” in areas where Christians, or at least the members of a certain rite, are minorities.


  3. Yes, the St Thomas Christians do keep to themselves and their caste, and follow more traditional Indian cultural norms. I’ve been told, at more than one occassion, they were considered brahmin-level in rank so that many Syro-Malabar priests actually have been known to do purification rites for brahmins at Hindu temples (this from my friend, a Byzantine, who is married to a Syro-Malabar woman from India, and her uncle is a priest). I don’t know the full story because there is a mixed-reaction to inter-religious issues in India.

    Nonetheless, it is clear that the Romans, when they entered into India, destroyed quite a bit of the history and records of the Thomas Christians, in part because of their cultural forms were seen as “pagan.” This was one of the real reasons for the latinzations, and one of the reasons why they often work together, despite the political division.

  4. tia says:

    what is both churches’ decision on marriage? my friend in kerala is a catholic girl and wishes to marry a malankara orthodox boy . her church is not giving permission for holding the marriage in his church and the boy wants to conduct the marriage in his church. we have heard of joint blessing of marriage by both catholic and orthodox priest in any of the churches. what should be done to make this option possible?

  5. Todd says:

    In the US, it’s a routine matter for a bishop to give a Catholic a dispensation to be married in a non-Catholic church.

    If her church won’t give permission for the wedding to be in his, it would seem the matter is settled. Except for the human and pastoral negotiations with the guy and his family.

    Aren’t Indian weddings like those big Bollywood productions? Can the guy’s church host evening prayer and a blessing the night before, or a special Mass of thanksgiving after the wedding?

  6. jacob says:

    Aren’t Indian weddings like those big Bollywood productions? Can the guy’s church host evening prayer and a blessing the night before, or a special Mass of thanksgiving after the wedding?

    Orthodox mass could take up more than 2 hours.
    And for the lang problem, except some syriac used by Orthodox, there wont be much of a problem.

  7. Suraj Iype says:

    Long after the split in the 16th century, prominent churches throughout Kerala were shared between the Catholics and Orthodox.

    In Kerala in a particular area, one parish which is oldest one and from which all other other parishes were created over time , would be often considered as the Mother Parish. At Parish priests , it was common to have someone from the Mother parish attend regardless of whether it was Orthodox or Catholic. Intermarriage was common as was laity and clergy crossing over .

    Then the British arrived and most of the shared parishes were partitioned, after than intermarriage stopped, soon almost all social interaction on a religious level stopped. 10 years before, intermarriage between the Syrian Orthodox and Syrian Catholics was unthinkable and something which was extremely rare. Today things have changed somewhat.

    Not all marriages are arranged, young people fall in love and so on.

    Now I think the respective synods feel that at the local level some of things can discussed. Some of the polemics of the past is not very relevant.

    The doctrinal issues are very much present and today papal primacy and the Latin theological distinctives would be a point of discussion in a way it would have not in the 17th or 18th century; but some pastoral issues can be addressed. We are after all one people, and Catholics and Orthodox do share more than they do with Protestants.

  8. Tijo Thomas says:

    I am a Malankara Orthodox boy and I am love with a Syro Malabar Cathoilc girl, we wish to marry but her parish is not allowing to marry. Can some one help us ????

    • Todd says:

      Can someone here help you? Likely not. In the US though, ecumenical marriages involving Catholics are nearly always successful: low divorce rates, mutual understanding, cementing of families. Pope Benedict referred to such unions as “laboratories of ecumenism.”

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