Tuesday, February 4, 2014
The Thrikkunnathu Seminary saga: A different reading
St. Mark 6:1-6.
Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.
The passage introduces us to Jesus who is questioned by people in his own town. He is questioned with regard to his antecedents and family. Isn’t this the carpenter and isn’t this Mary’s son appear to be not just a question asked in earnest but a question which was likely to cause humiliation. Jesus is quite taken aback and does not manage to do much. He is shaken by the question and manages to say that a prophet is not without honour except in his own town.
The question of whether the Jacobite church was well within its rights to enter the contested Thrikkunnathu seminary church and whether this lead to rising of tempers between the Jacobite church and the Indian Orthodox church is a valid question? But more questions should be asked in the direction of what the place holds for the leadership and believers of the Jacobite church.
January 25th was remembered as the memorial day of St. Athanasius Paulose, who was declared a saint of the Malankara church in 2004 by the Patriarch H.H. Mor Ignatius Zaka I Iwas and the Holy Synod, and remembered in the 5th intercessory prayer during Holy Qurbana from 2009 onwards. His life was inspirational not just for the saintly life he lived but for the organizations he started. The Malankara Sunday School Association, the Mor Gregorios Syrian Students Association and a brotherhood and sisterhood were all his brain child. The Thrikkunnath seminary campus was also build by him and people were encouraged to come and settle there. The foundation stone of this seminary was laid by another scholar of the church Paulose Mor Athanasius Kadavil (popularly known as Kadavil bishop). At one point of time many priests and future bishops did their seminary education in this centre. The list included two greats of the church in the form of the former Catholicose H.B. Baselios Paulose II and Bishop Abraham Mor Cleemis of blessed memory of the Knanaya community. What happened due to the closing of this centre to the Jacobites was the loss of an institution and a place to study the word of God and the traditions of the church. Kadavil bishop’s dream was to make this place a centre of Syriac and English learning! This loss is therefore irreplaceable and should be understood as a loss of the right to study and educate the clergy and people of one’s own church!
Today the question from the passage rings loud in our ears as well. Who are you?, who is this?, who are these people?, aren’t they the dissenters? Questions which cause deep hurt in the minds of the people and the leadership. The Jacobite church is still finding its bearings with regard to seminary education. The MSOT seminary in Mulanthuruthy is trying its best to equip candidates for pastoral ministry in the church. Other candidates are also going to seminaries all over India for studying and training. But the fact remains that a centre for excellence was lost in the schism with the Indian Orthodox church.
The morning entry and worship can be seen as a struggle to say that we are indeed the sons and daughters of the carpenter but we also want the space to enter the church (synagogue) and be a part of the deliberations and learn and teach. Denial of entry is a denial of basic human hood and basic rights of numerous people and the clergy who need education as their right to move up the social ladder. It is also a denial to move up and a denial that we exist, despite being together with other churches as the oldest in the country. St. Athanasius Paulose became Valia (Big) thirumeni (bishop) from “Kochu Paulo” (Small Paul). The yearning of the community is to study and become big in the same manner. The land which the church stands is therefore land which the people of the church wish to touch and be blessed.
St. Athanasius Paulose brought about a social transformation for the community by giving impetus to education of people and the clergy. The church was dealt a double blow on losing him as we lost both a steadfast leader and his vision for better education, which may have also been an inheritance and legacy of his predecessor Paulose Mor Athansius Kadavil. The entry can be seen as a yearning to walk on the ground that these educators walked, to inherit the values that they spoke of and practised and to touch their entombed remains as a means of saying “We will struggle and study and try and come up. Please be with us in our struggle.”
As we continue to pray for peace let us also understand that standing for Jesus and with Jesus entails suffering and hardship. This is not status quo but a march for attaining rights to exist and be accepted. Peace should prevail and it will when the dust has settled. Until then let us not think that we can be veiled from reality and what is happening in the church. Prayer forms a powerful form of protest which says that even though others will not accept us and honour us as living beings, we will continue to believe in Christ Jesus and the way he dealt with the questions “What’s this wisdom that has been given to him” and with the insults of others taking offense with him. The very people who have cut off our lines of education and upbringing are now questioning our antecedents. Let us continue to pray and hope that God may offer peace, a peace which brings about justice even when it passes all understanding. Amen.
(Excerpt from a sermon preached in St. Mary's JSO Cathedral, Bangalore on February 2, 2014.)