Faith and Beliefs
The Faith of the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian Church
We believe that in a mysterious way the bread becomes the body and wine becomes the blood of our Lord. It was after blessing the bread and wine that our Lord said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood". Just as our Lord was perfect God and perfect man, without any change in the godhood and man-hood, after the blessing, the bread is, both bread and the body of our Lord. Also after blessing, the wine is both wine and blood of our Lord. Protestant churches say that the bread and wine are only the symbols of the body and blood of our Lord
Eastern churches give primary importance to worship. The heart beats of the church are manifested in worship. The Holy Eucharist is the crown of all other worships. It is performed ‘in spirit and in truth" (John. 4:24).f) The term "Qurbana" is a derivated form of "Qurbono". Following the tradition of the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church uses the Syriac term "Ourbono" which means sacrifice or offering (that which is offered to God). Through the sacrifice of our Lord, we offer ourselves and the whole universe as a sacrifice to the heavenly Father.. This holy sacrifice was instituted and entrusted with His disciples, by our Lord. The church celebrates this holy sacrifice as the continuation of the sacrifice on Calvary. Man, made as little less than God and crowned with glory and honor, (Ps. 8:5) is basically a worshipping creature. The infirmities and gratitude of the creation, bring man to the creator. He stands with a humble heart, bowed head and eyes yearning for God’s vision, before the Almighty God who is the Creator and Sustainer of all. Man often enjoys fellowship with God in silence also reminding us of the verse "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
Passover was the memorial of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Moreover, the blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on the two door posts and lintel of the houses, to allow the inhabitants to escape from the plague of destruction (Ex. 12:13). The eternal sacrifice of our Lord marked the end of the bloody sacrifice. This was the end of the Jewish Passover and the beginning of the Christian Passover also. When "the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29) was sacrificed, the new Passover was established. The bread used by our Lord for the institution of the Eucharist was leavened bread ("lahmo" – in Syriac and "artos" – in Greek). Hence the Orthodox Churches use leavened bread for Holy Eucharist from the very early days. There is a tradition that, a part of the dough used for making the bread was set apart and kept as leaven when the bread was made for the Last Supper.This leaven is mixed with the dough when the bread is made for the next Eucharist. This tradition is continued even today.
"Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19) was the command of our Lord who instituted Holy Eucharist. We read in the book of Acts, how Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the early church (Act. 2:42,46; 20:7). Orthodox Churches, unlike Protestant Churches, give great importance to Holy Eucharist. Holy Eucharist is celebrated on all Sundays, and other feast days except Good Friday. All the other sacraments are perfected by Holy Eucharist. eg. Baptism, Confession, Ordination, Marriage and Anointing of the sick. Also, consecration of the church and Holy Myron are perfected by Holy Eucharist. The church teaches that all who participate in the service should receive Holy Communion.The hymns and prayers in the Holy Eucharist bear witness to this. There is no teaching in the Orthodox Church that there need not be Holy Eucharist when there is none to receive Holy Communion. Administering the Ministry of the Word alone, instead of Holy Eucharist is against Orthodox tradition.
"In remembrance of me" Holy Eucharist is not a mere intellectual calling back to memory of something that happened in the past. It is the calling back to experience in the present tense that which happened in the past. Through worship, and participation in the body and blood of our Lord, we bring to our present experience, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and His saving acts. We become one with our Lord in Holy Eucharist. The whole account of our Lord’s incarnation is brought to rmembrance in every Holy Eucharist. In a prayer of the preparatory service of the Holy Eucharist, it is said "we celebrate the memorial of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, and all His saving acts on our behalf, especially the annunciation by the angel, His glorious conception, His bodily birth, His baptism in the River Jordan, His fasting for forty days, His atoning passion, His crucifixion, His lifegiving death, His burial in honor, His glorious resurrection, His ascension into heaven and His sitting on the righ-hand side of the Father". (Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Mar Julius Press, Pampakuda – 1986,~Page – 272).
Baptism is the most important of all the Christian Sacraments. But this doesn’t reduce the importance of Holy Communion. Baptism is the first step with which one is entering into the church, the body of Christ. Through the turn of centuries Christian churches began to be separated and sub-divided based on difference in faith and practices. It is true that some divisions have happened due to misunderstanding in the interpretation some theological terms.
While we believe in the general priesthood of all believers (I Pet. 2:9), we believe in the special priesthood also. This was handed down from the apostles to the bishops and priests, through apostolic succession. We believe that the bishops and priests act as the symbols and representatives of God. Our Lord says that the sins forgiven by the authorized persons, will be forgiven by God. "Receive ye the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (St.John 20:23).
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is an episcopal church. There is the three-fold ministry of priesthood in the church, namely bishop, priest and deacon. Bishop is the symbol of unity in the church.The church’s teachings on priesthood are made clear in the following passage. "Priests are the guides, making the earthly beings a heavenly beings They are the ambassadors of God. They administer the sacraments entrusted to His church. No one can receive this position by himself. This is for those who are elected according to the will of God and those who have received the ordination through the laying on of hands by the bishop. Anyone with out this laying on of hands and permission, has no authority to do any service or to preach in the church. No one is allowed to doubt the validity of the sacraments conducted by those in the priestly service, as long as they are not suspended or dismissed by the holy synod or higher authorities, however unworthy those priests may be. It is also not right to refrain from the services conducted by such priests. As the holy anointing is upon the priests as they conduct the services in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as the effect of the service does not depend on the righteousness of the priests, those who participate in the services with good intention and true faith will receive spiritual strength. Those priests who conduct the services in their unworthiness will receive God’s punishment. Those who are found to be guilty are to be dismissed and they are not to conduct any sacrament afterwards. The faithful shall not participate in the services conducted by the dismissed priests if they happen to conduct services" (Dionysius, Geevarghese Mar Vattasseril Metropolitan. Mathopadesha Saram – Thachings of the Reilgion – Page 29, 30).
The Piresthood in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Chruch is largely connected with its foundation, and development of the church through centuries. The history of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church starts with its establishment in 52 A. D. by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of the Jesus Christ.He converted the local Brahmins and ordained presbyters -bishops-, belonging to the four families of Pakalomattam, Sankarapuri, Kalli and Kaliankal. St. Thomas also established seven churches in the following places, Maliankara, Paloor, Parur, Gokamangalam, Niranom, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam.
Eligibility for ordination and consecration Priesthood is a divine call. God calls people to priesthood through the laity and the ordained ministers. The process for selection to priesthood, in the Malankara Orthodox Synan Church is as follows. Deacon/Priest "Those desiring to be ordained shall on the recommmendation of the Parish Assembly or on their own, apply to the Diocesan Metropolitan and he after due inquiry, if he feels no objection,shall send them to the Malankara Metropolitan and he according to his convenience, shall send them to the Theological Seminary of the community and if, after needed theological study, the principal of the Seminary certifies that they are fit for ordination, the Diocesan Metropolitan or Malankara Metropolitan will at their discretion ordain them. But after three years of theological studies, if a certificate is issued by the principal, the ordination of "Korooyo" (Reader) may be administered" (Constitution of the Malankara Qrthod~ Syrian Church -Clause 111). Generally, a full deacon (Samsono) is not allowed to marry. Hence the decision about marriage should be taken before ordination as a full deacon. Both married and unmarried deacons can be ordained priests. Marriage of priests is not allowed. This applies also to the priest who becomes a widower. If a pnest gets married, he is not allowed to continue as a priest The widow of a priest is expected to remain a widow until her death But secod marriage is not forbidden to a deacon, who becomes a widower.
We believe In One True God, The Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in One Lord Jesus Christ, the Only begotten Son of God; begotten of the Father before all worlds; Light of Light; Very God of Very God; begotten, not made; being of the same substance with the Father; and by whom all things were made:
Who For Us Men, And For Our Salvation, Came Down From Heaven, And Was Incarnate Of the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother Of God, By Thy Holy Ghost, And Became Man: And Was Crucified For Us In The Days Of Pontius Pilate; And suffered, And Died, And Was Buried:And the third day rose again according to His will: and ascended into Heaven, and sat on the right hand of the Father; and shall come again in His great glory to judge both the quick and the dead: whose kingdom shall have no end.
And in the one living Holy Spirit, the life giving Lord of all, who proceeds from the Father; and who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified: who spoke by the Prophets and the Apostles:
And in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: And we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins: and look for the resurrection of the dead: And the new life in the world to come. Amen
Life after death
We believe in the communion of saints and in life after death. death is only a bodily death. The departed souls are benefited by our prayers. The arguments against prayer for the departed are based on Psalms 115:17. But if the verses 17 and 18 together will not support their arguments. The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any that go down in to silence. But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for ever more". The usage "the dead" here means spiritual death because in verse 18 it is said "we will bless the Lord for ever".
We will also benefit from the prayers of the departed souls. St. James says "The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16). The departed are only bodily dead and are living.
The Holy Sacraments
The Indian Orthodox Church believes in seven sacraments: Holy Baptism, Holy Mooron (Chrismation), Holy Confession, Holy Qurbana, Holy Matrimony, Holy Orders (Priesthood) and Holy anointing of the sick. Of these the Holy Baptism, Holy Mooron and Holy Orders are the three sacraments which shall not be repeated.
The Sacrament of Holy Baptism
The sacrament of Holy Baptism involves new birth, forgiveness of sins, reception of the Holy Spirit, union with the body of Christ and the Church, and entry in to the Kingdom of God. New birth implies birth from God, the Trinity. Birth from the Holy Trinity means transference of the characteristics of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Father is full of selfless and self giving love, for He gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). The Son is full of love for He gave His life a ransom for the many (Mark 10:45). The Holy Spirit imparts love (Roman 5:5). The Holy Baptism provides forgiveness of sins and reception of the Holy Spirit as St. Peter says, "Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of the sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Sprit (Acts 2:38). The concept of Union with the Body of Christ through Baptism is evident from Romans 11:17. Finally, the entry in to the kingdom of God through Baptism is confirmed in John 3:3 and 3:5, where our Lord said, "Truly, Truly I say to you unless a man is born anew he cannot see the Kingdom of God". Further our Lord says "Truly truly, I say to you unless one is born of water and spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
The conditions for the Holy Baptism are faith in Jesus Christ, repentance and dedication to a new life. In Mark 16:16 our Lord says "He who believes and is baptized will be saved". The above verse sets belief in Christ as a precondition for Baptism. The condition of repentance is evident in the verse Acts 2:38 where St. Peter says "Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins".
In our creed we say that one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. This means that it is wrong to give baptism for a person who has been baptized previously. One who has received the holy Spirit need not receive it again. One should renew the baptismal covenant (oath) not to sin again.
Seven important steps in the service of Holy Baptism
It may the worth examining the seven important steps in the service of this important sacrament. The seven steps are:
- Entry in the “Book of Life: The chief celebrant in the course of the service enters the name of the candidate in the “book of life”, the baptismal register.
- The Ministry of the Word : The epistle is Romans 5:20 to 6:4 and the Gospel is St. Luke 3:15, 16 and St. John 3:3-5.
- The priest breathes on the face of the candidate saying give this person the godly breath.
- The priest marks sign of cross on the forehead of the candidate three times in the name of the trinity and gives the person baptismal name.
- Invoking God’s grace to overcome the evil forces and baptismal oath is the fifth stage. This include renunciation of satan and confession of faith in Jesus Christ. In the case of infants the God parent takes this oath.
- The sealing of the cross on the forehead with baptismal oil.
- Washing with water. It is a mixture of hot and cold water as it is said that river Jordan is from two streams one of which is hot water and the other carries cold water. Hot water depicts Holy Spirit. Holy Mooron is also poured into the water in drops. The candidate receives white cloths after washing in water.
The above seven steps are followed by two other sacraments: The Holy Mooron and the Holy Qurbana. The Holy Mooron is christmation and reminds us of the coming down of Holy Spirit in the form of dove following the baptism of our lord. With the baptism and Holy Mooron the candidate becomes full-fledged member of the church. Then the candidate is given a crown (signifying the crown of glory) and white garments (immortality). The candidate is then taken to the thronos and given Holy Qurbana.
Infant Baptism – a critique: The practice of infant baptism has been criticized by the protestant reformists. But a careful study of the scriptures support the practice of infant baptism. First, denying baptism to infants is contrary to the Bible. St. John says "I am writing to you little children because your sins are foregiven for his sake" (1 John 2:12). Forgiveness of sins of infants is through baptism. Our Lord gave forgiveness of sins to the paralyzed based on the faith of the people who brought him (Mathew 9:2). Similalry, the infant is given forgiveness based on the faith of the people who brings him/her. One may ask the what the sin of the infant is. Mankind is in sin through the sin of Adam. Through baptism the infant is given the Holy Spirit to overcome sin. In Acts 2:39, St. Peter says "For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him". Here the promise means the Holy Spirit. In the previous verse (Acts 2:38) St. Peter says Holy spirit is given to grown ups who repent and get baptized and the infants who are baptized along with them.
The Angel’s words that John the Baptist will be filled with the Holy Spirit while he was in the womb of his mother and the words of Elizabeth that the baby in her womb leaped for joy further testifies the fact that infants can receive Holy Spirit. Entry into the Kingdom of God is through Holy Baptism and hence denial of Baptism to anybody including infants is against the Holy Bible. Our Lord also says in Mark 10:14 "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them for to such belong the Kingdom of God. There is no record in the bible that tells us that our Lord was against infant baptism. However there are instances in the bible where infants are said to have been baptized. In 1 John 2:12, infants are said to have received forgiveness of sins which may be presumed to have been through baptism. There are also instances where whole families are said to have received baptism. The word family includes children and infants and the scriptures does not say otherwise. Hence we may conclude that infants also received baptism. Instances in the Bible of whole families receiving baptism are: 1. Lydia and her family- And when she was baptized with the household (Acts 16:15); 2. The jailer and his family- "He was baptized with the household" (Acts 16:33); 3. Crispus and his family were baptized- "Crispus, together with all his household and many Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized (Acts 18:8); 4. Baptism of Stepanos and his family- I did baptize the household of Stephanos (1 Corinthians 1:16 a ). In any of these instances the Bible does not say that infants in the family are excluded when the whole family was baptized. The foregoing analysis support the practice of infant baptism. But it should be remembered that the God parent and the parents have the responsibility to raise the infant in Godly life and holy confession at the appropriate age.
In Holy confession the penitent confesses sins to God before the Priest who is the representative of our Lord. The priest forgives the sins and the penitent receives the forgiveness of sins from the God through the priest. Sin is disobedience of God, doing things that we ought not to do and not doing things we ought to do. Holy confession is needed to deliver us from the bondage of sin and is also a preparation for receiving the Holy Qurbana. Confession is the renewal of baptismal covenant in which we renounce all our sins and surrender to God’s will.
One may ask as to why confess before the priest. The priest is given authority to forgive the sins as Christ has said in John 20:23 "If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any they are retained". Other arguments which support the idea of confessing before the priest is the real presence of Gods representative. The presence of the priest makes confession all the more real with real presence of God represented by the priest, when the penitent hears the liberating words of absolution pronounced by a priest, reception of forgiveness becomes a real experience. In confession the penitent also surrenders himself to God and the presence of the priest makes this surrender all the more real. A real confession involves self-examination, repentance, renunciation and restitution, reconciliation with our brethren, and confession and absolution.