Liturgy

ORIENTAL CHURCHES:HISTORY, LITURGY, THEOLOGY

ORIENTAL CHURCHES

HISTORY, LITURGY, THEOLOGY

Dr Antony Nariculam

Preface

Since some years I have been giving a short Introductory Course on Oriental Theology to the students of various Major Seminaries in India.  In the course of these years I realized that many seminarians were not aware of the inter-ritual ecclesial reality in India and its implications.  I also realized that after my lectures students were happy to have had some understanding about the history, liturgy and theology of the Oriental (Eastern) Churches in general and in particular that of the Oriental Individual Churches – Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches – in India.

From time to time the students were requesting me to give them my lectures in the form of cyclostyled notes or in a book-form.  For various reason I could not respond to their request.  Now I am happy to present the content of my lectures in the form of this small book.

This is not a scientific exposition of the subject or an exhaustive study of it.  The simple aim of this book is to introduce the various aspects of this subject to the students of Theology.  This is more a class-text than a detailed study of the vast subject of Oriental Theology.  In fact, there are Oriental theologies rather than Oriental theology.  It is a wide subject that cannot be contained in a small book of this nature.  Still I hope that this short exposition will help to have a general idea about the Oriental Churches, and their liturgy and theology.  In this hope I dedicate this book to my students of Oriental Theology.

I am grateful to my colleagues Dr.Thomas Pallipurathukunnel and Dr.Philips Vadakekalam who went through the manuscript and gave creative suggestions to improve the content and the language of this book. My thanks are also due to STAR Publications for undertaking its publication and Alwaye Press for its printing.

0. Introduction

Pluriformity is an accepted fact today in theology, liturgy, spirituality and discipline.  In fact, it is our daily experience that in all aspects of human life – culture, food, dress, language etc. – there is no uniformity.  But when it comes to the Individual Churches or Rites, many people opt for uniformity.  Their argument is very simple and straightforward: ‘After all, there is only one Faith, one Baptism, one Church founded by Christ; then why so many Churches, even in the One, Holy, Apostolic and Catholic Church’?  Apparently it is a relevant question.

We must remember that the history of the Church is one of pluriformity, and not of uniformity.  As Vatican II rightly observes, “The holy Catholic Church, which is the Mystical Body of Christ, is made up of the faithful who are organically united in the Holy Spirit by the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government.  They combine into different groups, which are held together by their hierarchy and so form particular Churches or Rites” (OE 2). And in another place Vatican II says:
”It has come about through divine providence that in the course of time, different Churches set up in various places by the apostles and their successors joined together in a multiplicity of organically united groups which, whilst safeguarding the unity of the faith and the unique divine structure of the Universal Church, have their own discipline, enjoy their own liturgical usage and inherit a theological and spiritual patrimony” (LG 23).

A classical example of this pluriformity is the four gospels.  All the gospels are narrating the same story of Jesus and his deeds.  Still we find diversities in their narration of the gospel events. These diversities are due to the context in which they were written and the people to whom they were addressed.  Consequently, we have the gospel ‘according to St. Mathew’, ‘according to St. Mark’, ‘according to St. Luke’ and ‘according to St.John’.  Though the ‘content’ of the narration is the same, its ‘expression’ is different.  Even in the sacrosanct Institution Narrative of the Holy Eucharist we come across certain variations.  While St. Luke mentions a ‘supper’ (Luke 20:20) between the blessing of the bread and the cup, there is not such a reference in St. Mathew (26:26-27) and St. Mark (14:22-23).  The genealogy of Jesus elaborately described by St. Mathew (1:1-16) is not found in other gospels.  Mathew considered it necessary while addressing the Jews who were very particular about genealogies.  Besides, the background of the Evangelists too has influenced their writings.  The long reflections on Jesus as the divine Son of God in St. John is an example thereof.  In other words, the ‘charism’ of the Evangelists had a role to play in sharing their experience of Jesus.

Another example of pluriformity is the ‘charisms’ of the religious congregations for men and women.  According to the Catholic Directory of India 2005 – 2006, there are 314 religious congregations in India.  All these men and women religious follow the same three vows – obedience, poverty and chastity.  Then why so many congregations?  Why each one of them starts its own novitiate and generalate?  Even when the number of novices is meagre, they conduct their own novitiates with the infrastructures needed.  The reason for this is very clear and justifiable: each congregation has its own ‘charism’ and they want to train their members in their own ‘charism’ or tradition.

The above mentioned principle is valid also for the Individual Churches or Rites.  Each Church has her own ‘charism’ which consists of her liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. According to the Code of Canon of the Eastern Churches, an Individual Church is “a group of Christian faithful united by a hierarchy according to the norms of law which the supreme authority of the Church  expressly or tacitly recognizes as sui iuris is called a Church sui iuris” (CCEO, can. 27).  And it defines a Rite as “the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, culture and circumstances of history of a distinct people, by which its own manner of living the faith is manifested in each Church sui iuris”(CCEO can. 28 #1).  In other words, the same faith is expressed and lived in a variety of forms by different Individual Churches or Rites.

Before Vatican II, the Eastern Churches were known as the Eastern Church in the singular.  The new awareness about the diversity of Churches paved the way for the plural form while describing the Eastern tradition.  Accordingly, the Roman dicastery which was known as ‘Congregation for the Oriental Church’ was renamed ‘Congregation for the Oriental Churches’.

In the past, the Eastern Churches were supposed to take only spiritual and pastoral care of their faithful wherever they lived and they had no role in the work of evangelization.  This basic gospel duty was entrusted with the Latin Church.  This old view was corrected by Vatican II.  Thus all Individual Churches in the Catholic Communion are of equal rank and they have the ‘same rights and obligations even with regard to the preaching of the gospel in the whole world under the direction of the Roman Pontiff’  (OE  3).  As early as 1929, the Vatican Congregation for Universities and Seminaries had prescribed that the Oriental themes should form part of the theological curriculum.  In 1928 Pope Pius XI had mentioned about it in one of his Apostolic Letters.  In 1935 the Congregation for Seminaries asked all the Catholic Bishops to celebrate an ‘Oriental Day’ in every seminary to make the non-Oriental students aware of this ecclesial reality.  In 1987 the Congregation for Catholic Education sent a circular to all the Bishops, Rectors of Seminaries and Deans of Theological Faculties to introduce the Oriental subjects in the curriculum.  This last document, quoting Pope John Paul II, affirms that “the Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs, its Eastern one and its Western one” (No.1).  It also notes that “by returning to the essential sources of the faith, the theologian who belongs to a particular Church not only enriches himself through this experience of the ‘Others’, but also, through this method, returns to his own roots” {No.5).  As a practical step, it suggests that “in seminaries and theological faculties, courses should be made available to the students on the fundamental notions regarding the Eastern Churches, their theological ideas, their liturgical and spiritual traditions” (No.10) because the various ecclesial traditions, as the Decree on Ecumenism notes, belong to “the full Catholic and apostolic character of the Church” (UR 17).

It is needed that all Christians grow in mutual understanding by improving their knowledge of one another.  Pope John Paul II suggests the following to realize this desire of the Church: ‘Know the liturgy of the Eastern Churches; deepen the knowledge of the spiritual traditions of their Fathers and Doctors; follow their examples for the inculturation of the gospel; encourage dialogue between Catholics and Orthodox; offer appropriate teaching on these subjects in seminaries and theological faculties, especially to future priests’ (Orientale Lumen, 24).

In the first millennium, the ecumenical Councils were all celebrated in the East.  The Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451) Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680) and Nicaea II (787) were held in the East.  Some of the dogmas of the Church like Word of God made flesh from Mary; Trinity etc. were defined by these Councils.  The Councils of the second millennium like Florence (1438 – 45), Lateran (1123, 1139, 1179, 1215), Trent (1545 – 63) etc. were all held in the West.

Diversity in the Church is not something to be just ‘tolerated’, but is a necessary reality as the life of the faith is always ‘incarnated’ in a particular culture and context.  It in no way stands in the way of unity, communion and catholicity.  Rather, as the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches states, diversity manifests unity (OE 2).  In fact, the Catholic Church has one faith with many faith expressions, one worship in spirit and truth with many liturgies and one life in the Spirit with many spiritualities.

This book has three chapters besides an introduction and a conclusion. The first chapter is a general introduction to the Eastern Churches and their liturgies.   It looks at the terms ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ Churches, the five Families of Eastern Churches, a brief history of the Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara Churches, and the Vatican II understanding of Catholic Eastern Churches.  In addition, it deals also with the understanding of the Catholic Church in India as a communion of three Individual Churches and the question of inculturation as understood and practised by the Eastern Churches.

The second chapter tries to explain the characteristics of the Eastern Churches.   It touches upon the liturgical, theological, spiritual and juridical characteristic of the Christian Oriental World.

The third chapter is devoted to the specific theological features of Oriental Theology.  The method of theologizing in the East is called the apophatic way.  The ‘mysteries’ of God cannot be fully comprehended or explained by human reasoning.  Therefore, the attitude of a devotee of God must be that of wonder and amazement before this ‘mystery’.  It is in this context that this chapter briefly explains some themes of theology from an Eastern perspective.

The Oriental Theology in India is not made, but is in the making.  Christianity is basically Asian.  Therefore, Eastern theology finds a suitable home in India.  It is hoped that the understanding of Eastern Theology would be a helpful tool also to delve deep into an Indian theology.

Chapter I

 Eastern Churches

There are many Eastern Churches in the universal Christian Tradition.  22 of them are Catholic and others non-Catholic.  The Catholic Churches are those which are in communion with Rome and therefore which accept the Roman Pontiff, the Successor of St. Peter, as the supreme Head and Pastor.  Our main concern in this chapter is the Catholic Individual Churches in communion with Rome.

1.1  The Origin of Eastern and Western Churches

The naming of the Church as ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ has its origin in a geographico-political division which in course of time became an ecclesiastical one.

Broadly speaking, this division is based on the demarcation of the Roman Empire made by Diocletian (A.D 284 – 305), which became permanent with the death of Theodisius I (+395) who divided the empire between his two sons – Arcadius and Honorius – who later became emperors of the Eastern (395 – 408) and Western (395 – 423) parts.  The Eastern empire took the name ‘Byzantine’ from Byzantium which was the ancient name of the capital.  Byzantium was called Constantinople or New Rome after AD 330 when it was made the metropolis (=mother city) of the Roman Empire.

In ancient times state and  religion were so closely interwoven that Churches which happen to grow in the Eastern part of the empire were called ‘Eastern Churches’ and those in the West ‘Western Churches’.  They are also called ‘Oriental’ (Oriens = East) and Occidental (Occidens = West) Churches respectively. These Eastern Churches centred mainly around the metropolis of Constantinople and the Western Churches around Rome.  This, as we have noted above, is a broad division as there were Eastern Churches outside the confines of the Eastern Empire such as the East Syrian, Armenian and Ethiopean Churches.

Another broad division was based on the language in use.  One of the predominant languages in the East was Greek and in the West, Latin.  Hence we come across the expression ‘Greek Churches’ for the Eastern Churches and ‘Latin Church’ for the Western Church.  But this division into ‘Greek’ and ‘Latin’ Churches does not do justice to the historical development of the Churches.  Actually in the East there was another important tradition of the Syriac Churches.  In the Greek or Hellenistic tradition we have the great theological contributions of the Cappodocian Fathers, John Chrysostom and Pseudo-Dionosius. In the Syriac tradition, which was semitic, there were renowned theologians like Aphraates, Ephrem, Jacob of Serugs and Babai the Great.

In the West, Rome played a very important role to keep up unity, and even uniformity, despite the fact that there were few schisms.  In the East, most of the schisms were followed by division and separation.  The undivided Eastern patrimony may be found till the Council of Ephesus held in AD 431.  Nestorianism and Monophysitism were the two major schisms that divided the Eastern Christendom.

Originally, that is during the Council of Nicaea in AD 325, there were three Patriarchates: Rome in the West, and Alexandria and Antioch in the East.  The third Eastern Patriarchate was Constantinople, the titlr conferred in AD 381 by the Council of Constantinople I. The fourth was Jerusalem Patriarchate.  The Persian Church, of which the centre was Seleucia-Ctesiphon, was the fourth Eastern Patriarchate was the fifth Eastern Patriarchate.

Today the geographical, political and linguistic factors that caused the division into ‘Western’ and ‘Eastern’ Churches do not apply because there are so-called Eastern Churches in the West and Western Churches in the East.  Besides, vernacularisation has made the division on the basis of languages irrelevant.  For practical purposes, however, all the Churches not belonging to the Western or Latin tradition are today called ‘Eastern Churches’.  According to the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Oriental Churches arise from the Alexandrian, Antiochian, Armenian, Chaldean and Constantinopolitan traditions (CCEO can. 28#2).

1.2  Church and Rite

In the Vatican II documents the term ‘Particular Church’ and ‘Rite’ have the same meaning (OE 2).  Here the term ‘Rite’ is used in the canonical sense and not in the liturgical sense.  However, elsewhere ‘Particular Church’ is used by Vatican II for the diocese (LG 23).

It may be useful to make a distinction between ‘Church’ and ‘Rite’. Very often these two terms are used to mean one and the same reality.  Thus, Latin Church and Latin Rite or Syro-Malabar Church and Syro-Malabar Rite mean the same.

The Indian theologians representing the three Catholic Individual Churches in India discussed the inter-ritual situation in India in 1993 and made the following distinction between a Church and the Rite.  A Church is a community which proclaims the Christ-event with its own identity; whereas a Rite is the liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony, characterized by culture and history of the people, through which an Individual Church expresses its faith and life.  (ITA Statement of 1993, No.2) .  Though this is not a magisterial teaching on the Church and Rite, it is helpful to understand the faith believed and lived.  This distinction is broadly based on CCEO can. 27 & 28 #1 which defined a Church and a Rite.

In baptism one is born into a Church and not necessarily into a Rite.  Therefore, it is not easy to change one’s Church.  On the other hand, the Rite can be understood as the manner of the living the faith of the Church which is expressed in liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline.  These four elements can undergo changes depending on the culture and the living context of the people.  Hence we have diverse forms of living our faith.  In other words, ‘inculturation’ of the liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline is so natural to Christian living.  Thus in the Latin Church there is Roman Rite, Ambrosian Rite, Spanish Rite, Indian Rite, Congolese Rite etc.  Within an Eastern Individual Church too there can be diversities in ritual expressions.  The attempts of the Syro-Malabar Church to adapt its ecclesial life to the cultural context of North India is an example of a ‘new’ Rite in the Syro-Malabar Church.  The liturgy at Kurisumala Ashram in Kerala is yet another example experimented in the Syro-Malankara Church.  In short, there can be varieties of ‘Rites’ within the same ‘Church’.

1.3  Five Families of the Eastern Churches

 

The Churches are divided into various groups based on their liturgical tradition.  There are at present six liturgical Families of which one is Western (Roman) and five are Eastern.  The Eastern Families are the Antiochian, Alexandrian, East Syrian, Armenian and Byzantine.  Among these the Armenian Family has only one Church, and that Church is called Armenian Church.  The rest of the Families have two or more Individual Churches.   Here below are given the names of the Churches according to the Families.  In brackets are given the approximate number of faithful in each of them.  All these Churches, except the Maronite and Italo-Albanian, have Orthodox counterparts.

                                                            Alexandrian Family

 

                                                             (1)  Coptic Church (243000)

                                                             (2)  Ethiopean (197000)

                                                            Antiochian Family

                                                             (3)  West Syrian Church (124000)

                                                             (4)  Maronite Church (3107000)

                                                             (5)  Syro-Malankara Church (405000)

                                                            East Syrian Family

                                                             (6)  Chaldean Church (383000)

                                                             (7)  Syro-Malabar Church (3753000)

                                                            Armenian Family

                                                             (8)  Armenian Church (369000)

                                                            Byzantine (Constantinopolitan) Family

                                                                                  (9)  Albanian Church (not available)

                                                            (10)  Byelorussian Church (100000)

                                                            (11)  Bulgarian Church (10000)

                                                            (12)  Greek Church (2400)

                                                            (13)  Hungarian Church (269000)

                                                            (14)  Italo-Albanian Church (61000)

                                                            (15)  Melkite Church (1341000)

                                                            (16)  Romanian Church (746000)

                                                            (17)  Russian Church (not available)

                                                            (18)  Ruthenian Church (598000)

                                                            (19)  Slovakian Church (226000)

                                                            (20)  Ukranian Church (4322000)

                                                            (21)  Macedonian Church (6100)

                                                            (22)  Eparchy of Krizevci (77000)

1.3.1        Alexandrian Family

Alexandria is a city in Egypt.  The foundation of the Church in Egypt is associated with St. Mark, the Evangelist.  Their liturgical tradition is known in the name of the city itself.  This liturgy is used by two Churches – the Church that uses the Coptic language and the Church in Ethiopia.  Most of the Coptic faithful live in Egypt, and the members of the Ethiopian Church are mostly in Ethiopia.  There are over 9000000 Coptic Orthodox faithful, whereas the number of Catholic Copts is over 200000.

According to an ancient tradition St. Frumentius is the evangelizer of the Ethiopians.  They have retained many Jewish practices.  The liturgy is influenced by the Syriac tradition.  There are about 3000000 faithful in the Orthodox Ethiopian Church.  The number of the Catholic Ethiopians is only about 200000.  When Eritrea became independent from Ethiopia in 1993, the Eritrean Orthodox wished to form a Church separate from the Ethiopian Church and they became an Autocephalous Church in 1993 itself.  There are about 150000 faithful in the Eritrean Orthodox Church.

1.3.2        Antiochian Family

The Syrian Church of Antioch traces its origin back to early Christian community at Antioch mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (11:19-26).  It was a great centre of Christianity in the early centuries.

There are three Churches in this Family.  One among them is the West Syrian Church.  Its members are spread over Syria, Lebanon etc.  The Malankara Orthodox Syrian and Malankara Syrian Orthodox Churches of India are the non-Catholic sections of this Family.  There are about 17000000 non-Catholic Syrians in the world.

Another Church of this tradition is the Maronite Church.  The name ‘Maronite’ comes from a monk called ‘Maron’ who lived in the fourth century.  A special feature is that unlike the other Churches this is one among the two Eastern Churches of which all faithful are Catholics.  This is the third largest Eastern Catholic Church with over 31000000 of faithful.  Many of them live in Syria and Lebanon.

The third Church of this tradition is the Syro-Malankara Church of India with about 400000 members.  These are the faithful who got separated from the Catholic St. Thomas Christians of India (Syro-Malabar Church) in 1653 after the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’, and who in 1930 got reunited with the Catholic Church.

1.3.3        East Syrian Family

The two Churches that belong to this liturgical Family are the Chaldean Church and the Syro-Malabar Church.  The birth place of the East Syrian or Assyrian liturgical tradition is the present-day Iraq.  The Assyrian Church was accused of Nestorian heresy, and a section of it got reunited with the Catholic Church in 1552 assuming the name ‘Chaldean’.  The non-Catholic section continues to be called ‘Assyrian’ Church.

The St. Thomas Christians in India happened to have had contact with this Syriac tradition probably from the fourth century.  Various reasons are pointed out to justify the introduction of the Syriac tradition in India.  The Syriac contact paved the way for the prefix ‘Syro’ to the name of the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala/Malabar.  The Syro-Malabar Church is the second largest Catholic Eastern Church with over 37000000 faithful.

1.3.4        Armenian Family

The Armenian liturgical tradition is followed by only one Church – the Armenian Church.  They are spread over countries like Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Turkey etc. There are about 4000000 of Catholic Armenians.  Their liturgy was influenced by elements of the Syriac, Jerusalem and Byzantine traditions after seventh century.  The number of Orthodox Armenian is about 6000000.

1.3.5        Byzantine Family

The Byzantine liturgical Family has 14 Churches.  Since Constantinople was the capital of Byzantium, it is called ‘Constantinopolitan Family’. 10 of these Churches are without  proper hierarchy and other ecclesiastical infrastructures.  Therefore, they are directly under the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff.  Most of these Churches were in the old Soviet Union or Eastern Europe, and hence they were under Communist regimes.

Among the Byzantine Catholic Churches the Ukranian, the Melkite, the Romanian and Ruthanian are the ones with large number of faithful.  The Ukranian Church is the largest among them with over 43000000 members.  There is a sizable number of Ukranian Catholic in Poland (13000000) and in the USA (105000).

The term ‘Melkite’ comes from the Syriac and Arabic word for ‘King’.  Originally the members of this Church were those who accepted the Christological faith professed by the Byzantine Emperor (King) after the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451).  They are the fourth largest Catholic Eastern community after the Ukranians, the Syro-Malabarians and the Maronites.  The smallest among them is the Greek Catholic Church with less than 3000 faithful, whereas there are 10000000 of Greek Orthodox faithful.

Of the 14 Individual Churches in the Byzantine tradition, the Italo-Albanian Church also, like the Maronite Church, has no corresponding Orthodox Church.  The Byelorussian Church is today called ‘Belarusan’ Church.

The largest among the Byzantine Orthodox Churches is the Russian Church with about 90000000 faithful.  Compared to the Catholics, some of the Orthodox Churches are quite large in the number of faithful.  There are 13000000 of Macedonians, 190000000 of Romanians, 6000000 of Albanians and 650000 of Bulgarians.  In the Slovakian Church, there are more Catholics (226000) than Orthodox (71000).  The Byelorussians are almost equal:  100000 Catholics and 1100000 Orthodox.

1.4  Churches not in communion with Rome

 Alexandrian Tradition                        Coptic Orthodox Church

                                                            Ethiopean Orthodox Church

                                                            Eritrean Orthodox Church

 Antiochian Tradition                          Syrian Orthodox Church

                                                            Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church

                                                            Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

                                                            Thozhiyoor Church

                                                            Marthoma Syrian Church

 Armenian Tradition                            Armenian Apostolic Church

East Syrian Tradition

                                                            Assyrian Church of the East

                                                            Assyrian Church of the East of Trichur

 Byzantine Tradition                           Four Autocephalous Patriarchal Churches

                                   (“Autocephalous” in Greek means “self-headed”.  An autocephalous Church possesses the right to resolve all internal problems on its own authority.  They do not in any way depend upon other Churches for taking decisions which concern them like the choice of the Bishops or the Patriarchs.  Though each autocephalous Church acts independently, all remain in full sacramental and canonical communion with one another).

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch

                                                            Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem

Eleven other Autocephalous Churches

Orthodox Church of Russia

Orthodox Church of Serbia

Orthodox Church of Romania

Orthodox Church of Bulgaria

Orthodox Church of Georgia

Orthodox Church of Cyprus

Orthodox Church of Greece

Orthodox Church of Poland

Orthodox Church of Albania

Orthodox Church of Czechoslovakia

Orthodox Church of America

 Autonomous Orthodox Churches

                                   (Autonomous Churches, though they function independently, are however canonically dependent on an Autocephalous Orthodox Church.  In practice this means that the head of an Autonomous Church must be confirmed in office by the synod of its Mother Autocephalous Church)

                                                            Orthodox Church of Mount Sinai

                                                            Orthodox Church of Finland

                                                            Orthodox Church of Japan

                                                            Orthodox Church of China

The Canonical Churches under Constantinople

 

American Carpatho-Russian Orthodox Church

Greek Orthodox Church

Ukranian Orthodox Church of America and Canada

Russian Orthodox Archdiocese in Western Europe

Albanian Orthodox Diocese of America

Byelorussian Council of Orthodox Churches in North

                                                                        America

1.5  The Origin of the Catholic Eastern Churches in India

There are two Catholic Churches in India.  They are the Syro-Malabar Church and the Syro-Malankara Church.  The origin of Christianity in India goes back to the Apostolate of St.Thomas who, according to tradition, came to India in AD 52 and died a martyr in AD 72.  The Eastern Churches in India – both Catholic and non-Catholic – trace back their origin to the apostolate of St. Thomas and hence they were called ‘St. Thomas Christians’. Here below is a short history of these Churches.

1.5.1        The Syro-Malabar Church

The name ‘Syro-Malabar’ for the old Catholics in India is not very ancient. It appears for the first time in one of the letters of Mgr. Aloysius Mary OCD who was the Vicar Apostolic of Malabar from 1784 – 1802.  The traditional name of this Christian community is ‘St. Thomas Christians’. ‘Malabar’ is a name attributed to the present southern Indian State of Kerala.  Their liturgy was in Syriac (Aramaic) language at least since the fourth century.  As this ‘Malabar’ Church was using ‘Syriac’ , it happened to be called ‘Syro-Malabar’ (= ‘Syriac’ in ‘Malabar’).  This designation was used to distinguish the St. Thomas Catholics of India from the Chaldean Catholics of Middle East because the Malabar Church was known also as ‘Chaldeo-Malabar Church’.

When we examine the history of the Syro-Malabar Church, we can identify five stages.

Stage One: The St. Thomas Period (AD 52 – 4th Century)

St. Thomas the Apostle is believed to have stayed in India from AD 52 – AD 72.  It is to be assumed that wherever the apostles went to preach the Good News, Christian communities were established, and the sacraments, especially baptism and the Eucharist, were celebrated.  Naturally, St. Thomas too must have celebrated these sacraments in the seven communities he founded in Kerala.

But what was the ‘shape’ of the liturgy he practised?  What was the language he used?  No ‘proof’ is available to answer these questions when we apply the historiographical rigorous methods of today.  However, we can arrive at certain possible conclusions from circumstantial evidence.  This is a very slippery area where opinions vary.  What we can guess with quasi-certainty is that the liturgical celebrations during that period had no definite shape, and that St. Thomas introduced some fluid form on the basis of what he learned from Jesus at the Last Supper.  It is to be assumed also that the Eucharistic bread and wine were some indigenous products rather than bread of wheat and wine.  Thus the first stage of St. Thomas period is one of uncertainties and hence one has to be satisfied with the above-mentioned plausible conjectures

Stage Two: The East Syrian [Persian] Period [4th – 16th century]

The origin of the East Syrian Liturgy in Malabar may be traced back to the arrival of Thomas of Knai in the 4th century or so.  It is known that Thomas belonged to the East Syrian Church.  This Church is understood to have been one of the most flourishing Christian communities which had developed theological schools and liturgical structures.  Hence it is quite probable that Thomas of Knai brought  to Malabar a developed Syriac liturgy.  This liturgy continued to be in use in Malabar almost intact till the arrival of the Portuguese Latin Missionaries in the16th century.  It seems that the contact of the Malabar Church with the East Syrian [Persian] Church, which was only a friendly one among sister Churches in the beginning, later developed into hierarchical dependence of the former on the latter.  However we have no evidence of any ‘conflicts of interests’ between these Churches.

Stage Three:  The Portuguese Period [16th century – 1896]

During the third stage of almost four centuries of the Portuguese period of the Latin Rite missionaries, there began to emerge some conflicts.  One reason for this was their attempt to meddle with the affairs of the St. Thomas Christians, especially their Syriac liturgy.  The missionaries even suspected them of ‘Nestorianism’ [ The heresy calling Virgin Mary only ‘Mother of Christ’ and not ‘Mother of God’] as the Malabar Christians were using the Syriac liturgical texts.  [The Syrian Church was accused of Nestorianism]

The conflict between the Portuguese missionaries and the St. Thomas Christians later developed into a serious crisis and it led to a sad split among the Malabar Christians with the ‘Coonan Cross Oath’ in 1653.  It was a public protest against the missionaries, and a group of Malabar Christians left Catholic communion. These separated Malabar Christians later took the Antiochian liturgical tradition abandoning their East Syriac liturgy. The formal acceptance of the Antiochia liturgy took place in the  Mavelikara Synod held in 1836.

Despite the crisis, the non-separated St. Thomas Christians continued to be under the Latin rule with their fragmented Syriac liturgical tradition.

Stage Four:  The Syro Malabar Period [1896 – 1992]

The Malabar Church got partial independence from the Latin rule in 1887 when Rome established two Vicariates for them.  She got greater independence in 1896 when the two Vicariates were reorganized into three Vicariates of Trichur, Ernakulam and Changanacherry, and three Syro-Malabar priests were appointed to head them.  That process came to a happy conclusion when the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was finally established in 1923.  Since then the Syro-Malabar Church had a spectacular growth in terms of the faithful, dioceses, priests, religious and institutions.

Stage Five:  The Syro-Malabar Major Archiepiscopal Period [1992 –           ]

Though the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy was established in 1923, the Church had not achieved the full canonical status of an Eastern Catholic Church.  To be a full-fledged Eastern Church, she had to be recognized either as a Patriarchal Church or a Major Archiepiscopal Church with the Synod of Bishops as foreseen in the Eastern Code of Canons.  This happened in 1992 when she was raised to the Major Archiepiscopal status.

Today the Syro-Malabar faithful find themselves in a number of life-situations due to their history, evangelization and emigration.  They have traditional parishes with their agricultural background, rapidly growing urban parishes, inter-ritual situations, mission territories in North India, migrants in Indian cities, and in Europe, America and Gulf countries.

When we examine the liturgy of the Syro-Malabar Church today, we can identify various influences.  Though her liturgy is basically East Syriac, we can find influences of Latin and Indian elements. For example, the private confession and the anointing of the sick as practised today, are influenced by the Latin tradition.  The custom of tying the Thali and giving of the Manthrakodi in marriage, and the various customs connected with the funeral are definitely of Indian origin. ( See below, p…..)

1.5.2        The Syro-Malankara Church

 

The Syro-Malabar and the Syro-Malankara Churches have the same history till the split in 1653 (Coonan Cross Oath).  After the split, the dissident group of St. Thomas Christians began to follow the Antiochian liturgical tradition, and eventually came to be known as the Jacobite Church. It went on till the late 1920­­s.  In 1930 the Indian Jacobite Archbishop Mar Ivanios with another Bishop, a few priests and lay people decided to reunite with the Catholic Church assuming the name ‘Syro-Malankara’ Church, and using the Antiochian liturgy which they were using  since the split.  Instead of rejoining the Mother Church – the Syro-Malabar Church – they decided to keep their newly–found identity with the Antiochian liturgy, and the Pope recognized them as a new Church  under Antiochian liturgical Family.

The growth of this Church since 1930 has been phenomenal with new dioceses, parishes, institutions and a high number of vocations to priesthood and religious life.  In recognition of this growth, the Pope erected it as a Major Archiepiscopal Church in 2005 with the synod of Bishops, and thus it attained the characteristics of a full-fledged Catholic Eastern Church.

1. 6 The Non-Catholic Churches in India

The St. Thomas Christians who joined the Jacobite Church after the split in 1653 were later divided into different Christian denominations.   One group, as we mentioned above, got reunited with the Catholic Church in 1930.  The others are found in the following Christian Churches.

1.6.1        The Marthoma Syrian Church

The 19th century Anglican influence created new problems in the Jacobite Church.  A group of Jacobites was happy to welcome the Anglican alliance, and their ‘reform movement’ was influenced by Protestantism.  Eventually, after the synod of Mulunthuruthy held in 1876, they got separated from the Jacobite Church and organized themselves as a new group taking the name ‘Marthoma Syrian Church’.  As they are influenced by Protestant theology, they do not recognize some of the important traditional elements of Christian faith such as the sacrificial nature of the Holy Mass, the prayer for the dead and the intercession of the saints.  As a matter of fact, these are some of the faith-traditions of the Eastern Churches whether Catholic or non-Catholic.  Hence the ‘Eastern nature’ of the Mathoma Syrian Church is called into question, the reason being the strong influence of the theology of the Protestant Churches.  There are about 700000 Marthoma Syrians.

 

1.6.2        The Malankara Syrian Church and the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church

 

After the split of the Marthoma Syrian Church in 1876, there surfaced another crisis in the Jacobite Church in the early 20th century. The crux of the problem was the authority of the Antiochian Patriarch over the Jacobite Church in India. One group accepted the supreme authority of the Patriarch, but this group was reluctant accept his authority in temporal matters.  This led to a split within this community, and they were divided into two groups – one accepting the Patriarch in everything and the other opposing the temporal authority of the Patriarch.  The former was called ‘Patriarchal group’ and the latter ‘Bishop’s group’.  The latter group established a ‘Catholicate’ [A central administrative body headed by a Bishop who is called Catholicose].  Soon a litigation started between these groups for the possession, especially of the properties.  The Patriarchal group is now known as the ‘Malankara Syrian Orthodox Church’ and the Bishop’s [Catholicose’s] group is called the ‘Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church’.  Both groups are following the same liturgical texts.  Together they have a strength of about 13000000 – 14000000 faithful.

1.6.3        The Syrian Church of  Thozhiyoor

This is a small Church of about 10000 faithful which got split from the Jacobite Church in 1772.  Since they are established in a place called Thozhiyoor in the north of Kerala, they are also called ‘Thozhiyoor Church’.  The validity of their priestly and episcopal Orders is not established with certainty.

1.6.4        The Assyrian Church of the East

This Church was bon as a result of a conflict within the Syro-Malabar Church.  When the Syro-Malabar Church was under the Portuguese Latin rule, there were various attempts to bring Syrian Bishops to rule over them.  But the Latin missionaries always stood against it.  Finally the Chaldean Patriarch sent two bishops to Malabar – Mar Roccos in 1861 and Mar Mellus in 1874.  Despite Latin objections Mellus continued to lead a group of Syro-Malabarians.  Mar Mellus was followed by an Indian bishop Mar Abdiso.  After his death, an Assyrian bishop Mar Timotheos organized this group of Syro-Malabarians and brought them under the Assyrian Church, and later they came to be known as the ‘Assyrian Church of the East of Trichur’.  The Assyrian Church of Mesopotamia was one of the most flourishing Churches of the Christian East by early 14th century. They had some 30 Metropolitan Sees and 200 suffragan dioceses.  Their Catholic counterpart is the Chaldean Catholic Church.

1.6.5 The St. Thomas Evangelical Church

 

This is one of the recent Churches in the St. Thomas Christian tradition.  This was born out of Marthoma Syrian Church.  St. Thomas Evangelical Church was formed in the 1960s accusing the Marthoma Syrian Church of not fully following the fundamentalistic Protestant dogmatic views on the Eucharistic celebration and the prayers for the dead.

1.7      The non-Catholic Western Churches of India

 

The following are the non-Catholic Protestant, Anglican and Pentecostal Churches of India.

v  The Church of South India

v  Lutheran Church

v  Anabaptists

v  Brethren Church

v  Baptists

v  Methodists

v  Salvation Army

v  Assemblies of God

v  Church of God

v  Seventh Day Adventists

v  Yuyomayam

v  Witnesses of Yahweh

v  Pentecostal Churches

1.8      Vatican II and the Catholic Eastern Churches

On 21 November 1964 the Second Vatican Council passsed the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (OE).  It has 30 paragraphs.  Paragraphs 1 – 6 give us the main thrust of this document.  Therefore, we shall make a short analysis of these paragraphs to highlight the importance of the Eastern Churches in the Universal Church.

The Eastern Churches, according to the decree, are ‘distinguished by their venerable antiquity’ and their traditions have come ‘from the Apostles through the Fathers’, and it is part of the ‘divine revealed, undivided heritage of the Universal Church’.  Therefore, Vatican II wants these Churches ‘to flourish and to fulfill with new apostolic strength the task entrusted to them’ (OE 1).

Though all the Catholic Individual Churches have the same faith, the same sacraments and the same government, they are organized under their own hierarchy with their own liturgy, spirituality and ecclesiastical discipline.  Between these Churches, notes the document, there is such a ‘wonderful bond of union that this variety in the Universal Church, so far from diminishing its unity, rather serves to emphasize it’.  Hence the Church wishes to keep their tradition ‘whole and entire’, but at the same time, it wishes also ‘to adapt them to the needs of different places and time’. (OE 2)

The Individual Churches are of ‘equal rank’ so that none of them is superior to the others, and all of them are equally entrusted to the pastoral guidance of the Roman Pontiff.  Therefore all of them have ‘the same rights and obligations, even with regard to preaching of the gospel in the whole world’, under the direction of the Roman Pontiff. (OE 3)

In order to safeguard the traditions and integrity of the Eastern Churches the document lays down the following:

–          Each should organize its own parishes and hierarchy where the spiritual good of the faithful requires it (OE 4).

–          All clerics should be well instructed concerning Individual Churches and rules regarding the inter-ritual questions (OE 4).

–          Lay people also should be given instruction about them in their catechetical formation (OE 4).

–          Every Catholic faithful must retain his/her own Rite wherever  he/she is, and live it to the best of his/ her ability (OE 4, 6).

–          All Individual Churches have the right and duty to govern themselves according to their own special discipline  (OE 5).

–          Changes in the rites may be made only to forward their own organic development (OE 6).

–          If the Eastern faithful have fallen away from their traditions, they are to aim always at a more perfect knowledge of their Rites and they are to strive to return to their ancestral traditions (OE 6).

–          If persons belonging to non-Eastern Churches are entrusted with the task of taking care of the Eastern faithful, they should be instructed in theoretical and practical knowledge of their rites, discipline, doctrine, history and character of the members of Eastern Churches (OE 6).

–          The Western or Latin Religious Orders working among the Eastern faithful are strongly exhorted to set up, so far as is possible, houses or even provinces of Eastern Churches to make their apostolate more effective (OE 6).

The decree also recalls the great contribution of the Eastern Churches to the Universal Church.  The Vatican II decree on Ecumenism has spelt out some of their  contributions.  It notes: “From their very origins Churches of the East have had a treasury from which the Church of the West has drawn largely for its liturgy, spiritual tradition and jurisprudence.  Nor must we underestimate the fact that the basic dogmas of the Christian faith concerning the Trinity and the Word of God made flesh from the Virgin Mary were defined in Ecumenical Councils held in the East” (UR 14).  Hence Vatican II considers the Eastern ecclesiastical and spiritual traditions as a ‘heritage of the whole Church of Christ’ (OE 5).

In the light of the teachings of Vatican II, the Roman Congregation for Catholic Education sent out a circular letter in 1987 to all the Catholic Ecclesiastical Educational Institutions like universities and seminaries affirming the need of imparting knowledge about the Eastern Churches to all the faithful of the Universal Church.  This is needed in order to have mutual understanding and love between Catholics of Latin tradition and the Christians, Catholics and Orthodox, belonging to the various communities of the East.  Commenting upon the lack of understanding which persists, and upon the ignorance of the spiritual traditions and values which form part of the heritage of so many Christians of Eastern Europe, the Near East, African and India, Pope John Paul II underlined the importance of these traditions for the life and well-being of the whole Church with the striking affirmation that “the Church must learn to breathe again with its two lungs, its Eastern one and the Western one”.  The circular letter of the Congregation for Catholic Education then asks : how much is known of the liturgical and spiritual traditions of these ancient Christian Churches?

The Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen” of Pope John Paul II published in May 1995 to mark the centenary of Orientalium Dignitas (An Apostolic Letter published by Leo XIII in 1894 to highlight the significance of the Eastern traditions for the whole Church) has put in unambiguous terms the need for all Catholics to be familiar with the Eastern traditions, so as to be nourished by and to encourage the process of unity of the Christians.  Hence the Pope writes: “The members of the Catholic Church of Latin tradition must be fully acquainted with this treasure and thus feel, with the Pope, a passionate longing that the full manifestation of the Church’s Catholicity be restored to the Church and to the world, expressed not by a single  tradition, as still less by one community in opposition to the other; and that we too may all be granted a full taste of the divinely revealed and undivided heritage of the Universal Church which is preserved and grows in the life of the Churches of the East as well as in those of the West”. (Orientale Lumen 1)

1.9      The Understanding of the Catholic Individual Churches in India and the Indian Theological Association

In 1993 the Indian Theological Association comprising members from all three Individual Catholic Churches in India met in Bangalore to discuss the inter-ritual situation in India.  In their final statement, they made some observations which are helpful to understand, evaluate and esteem the various roles of the three Individual Churches in India.

 The Church understands itself, observe the Indian Theologians, as the people of God.  However, a monolithic concept of Catholicity had often replaced the understanding of the Church as a communion.  The one Church of Christ made its appearance as many faith communities, each having its own specific, characteristics with regard to government, worship and life-style.  Thus we have the Church in Ephesus, in Jerusalem, in Corinth each one an ecclesial community in communion with the others.  The unity and catholicity were based on mutual recognition and communion, and not on the imposition of a common administrative or juridical structure.  The various individual Churches in the Universal Church is the best expression of the Church of Christ which keeps the tradition of authentic catholicity and communion (No. 12).

The structure of government and worship of these ecclesial communities emerged from within their life.  These were authentic Churches, having within them, all that is necessary to constitute them into the Body of Christ.  In course of time, they were less correctly called “rites”, a term which in some sense diminished their ecclesial identity, and reduce them to mere groupings of Christians within a monolithic catholicity.  Being authentic Churches, they developed their particular ecclesial expressions, such as liturgical celebrations, administrative structures, popular devotions etc.  These specific expressions of their faith were the manifestation of the vitality of the Holy Spirit operative within them.  There were thus able to manifest the catholicity of the Church in a rich variety of expressions and through a deep communion of sharing among the various Churches (No.13).

Referring to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala, the statement notes: ‘The St. Thomas Christians in Kerala were self-governing communities for several centuries.  The Oriental Churches of the past were in fact people-centred communities; they were not autocratic.  The ancient practice of Church assembly could be revitalized in such way that the modern parish councils do not remain merely consultative bodies, but truly participate in building the body of Christ’ (No. 14. cf. LG 32, 33).

The misunderstandings about the ecclesial realities, the statement further notes, have caused certain problems and issues in the Catholic Church in India.  This should lead us, it observes, to a discerning understanding of what it means to be Church, help us to appreciate the context and function of rites in the Individual Churches, and above all, to discover how a successful mode of inter-ritual or inter-ecclesial co-operation can effectively offer service to the people of India.

1.10  Inculturation and the Eastern Churches

 

“One of the first great values embodied particularly in the Christian East is the attention given to people and their cultures, so that the Word of God and his praise may resound in every language”, remarks Pope John Paul II.  And the Pope continues: “At a time when it is increasingly recognized that the right the every people to express themselves according to their own heritage of culture and thought is fundamental, the experience of the Individual Churches of the East is offered to us as an authoritative example of successful inculturation” (Orientale Lumen 7).

Appreciating  the process of inculturation in the Christian East, the circular letter of the Congregation for Catholic Education (1987) says that the Eastern Churches have a long tradition in the matter of teaching Christian peoples, from the very moment of their baptism ‘to praise God in their own language’.  In many countries of the East, the document continues, this inculturation sometimes reached the point of a transformation, of an identification of one’s cultural life with the manner of Christian living.  The study of this process, the document suggests, can serve as an example and guide for those involved in a similar process today.

In his post-synodal exhortation Ecclesia in Asia Pope John Paul II notes that the liturgy of the Oriental Churches for the most part has been successfully inculturated through centuries of interaction with the surrounding cultures.  Their traditions and rites, born of a deep inculturation of faith in the soil of Asian countries, deserve the greatest respect.  The Catholic Eastern Churches possess a great wealth of tradition and experience which can greatly benefit the whole Church (Ecclesia in Asia 22, 27).

For the Eastern Churches, inculturation was an ecclesial praxis or a practical and pastoral reality rather than a theoretical-theological academic exercise.  It was a lived and shared reality.  Instead of a philosophical and historical-critical methodology, it was applying a psychological, sociological and empirical methodology.  Being a shared ecclesial praxis, it affected the entire community.

As an example of this praxis, let us take the St. Thomas Christian tradition of Kerala.  Despite all drawbacks, they had a glorious history of identifying themselves with the religious, social and cultural set-up of the country.  This has been ascertained by both Christian and non-Christian historians.  There are writings to show that the St. Thomas Christians adopted the local art and architecture in building their churches.  They were in the fashion of Hindu temples.  They were externally distinguished from the temple by the Cross raised on them.  The paintings and the sculptures of the churches depicted the peacock, the lotus flower and tiger which were common symbols among the non-Christians.

According to the testimony of a Franciscan Missionary, the Eucharistic species used by the St. Thomas Christian were made of rice and wine of palms.

One of their rituals that adopted many indigenous elements is marriage.  They have adopted instead of the exchange of rings, the local practice of tying the Thali (a small gold ornament with the cross carved on it) around the neck of the bride by the bridegroom.  The Christian Thali is distinguished from the Hindu Thali by the cross engraved on it.  Another local element is Manthrakodi (bridal veil) being given to the bride by the bridegroom.

At weddings the Hindus used to have a lighted lamp (koluvilakku) as a witness (sakshi) representing the fire-god (agni).  It seems that imitating this custom the Christians used to prepare the marriage banns under the sanctuary lamp in the presence of the witnesses of the families of the bride and the bridegroom.

As in the case of marriage, there are quite a few local customs absorbed into the ceremonies connected with  burial.

After the funeral service, the priest and those who participated in it return to the house of the deceased person.  The priest is then served a tender coconut, which he drinks after saying grace.  This recalls the local custom of offering tender coconuts in the name of the dead.  This is followed by a vegetarian meal called pattinikanji (= rice soup after fasting period) which is the formal breaking of the fast for the members of the family of the deceased person.

Another custom in connection with the funeral service is pulakuli (=defilement bath).  It is

a ceremonial bath for purification after the death of a member of the family.  It takes place on the 13th day after the burial, following the Hindu religious practice.  Then a meal is served followed by a prayer service.  At the end of the prayer, the eldest son of the deceased brings a plate with Jeerakam (cumin) and receives the blessing of the priest.  It may be recalled here that at the burial service of the Hindus the eldest son of the deceased has a special role to play.

The birth of a Christian child too was associated with some indigenous elements.  Following the Hindu custom of Namakarana (=Naming), the name of Jesus and the child’s own name are whispered into the ear of the child.  A Poonul (sacred thread similar to that worn by Hindu Brahmins) was blessed and given to the male child at baptism.  The baptismal names given were often taken from the Old Testament.  They included Abraham, Jacob etc., but had many local derivations.

The indigenized form of Church administration is another important feature of the St. Thomas Christian tradition.  Their parish assembly was called Palliyogam.   In this system the whole community was constituted as a well-knit unit that functioned as an autonomous entity.  It was almost like ‘village-republics’.  The palliyogam, consisting of the parish priest and the members of the parish, decided all matters pertaining to the parish in a democratic way. The local non-Christian communities already had this type of assemblies.

The history of the St. Thomas Christians can be a stimulus to further inculturate the Individual Churches in India.  The failures of the past should not tempt us to shy away from making progress in this direction.  As Pope Benedict XVI clearly states, the fact that certain abuses have occurred in the process of cultural adaptations should not detract  us from the clear principle of inculturation.  It must be upheld in accordance with the real needs of the Church as she lives and celebrates the one mystery of Christ in a variety of cultural situations.  (Sacramentum Caritatis 54).

CHAPTER TWO

 

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EASTERN CHURCHES

As we have already mentioned, an Individual Church is distinguished by her liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. This chapter is devoted to the understanding of the liturgical, theological, spiritual and juridical characteristics of the Eastern Churches.

2.1   Liturgical Characteristics

 

2.1.1.      It is Communal Worship 

 

‘Privatization’ of liturgy (eg. Private Mass, Devotional Mass etc.) is not an Eastern practice.  Since the Eastern worship system has popular and cultural roots, it is naturally community worship.  Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is a celebration of the unity of the local Church. The Divine Office too is the ‘public worship’ of the community of the faithful.  Therefore, the tendency to reduce the time of worship to a manageable length so that many Masses can be conducted at regular intervals is not of Eastern ethos.

2.1.2.   ‘Mystery’ Dimension and  Liturgical Celebration

 

The ‘mystery’ dimension (not ‘mysterious’ dimension) is highly emphasized in the Eastern tradition.  Various means like the use of the veil, incense, prayers with  expressions like ‘awful’ and ‘fearful’, numerous prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant and the people etc. are used to underscore the mystery dimension.  Therefore, the Blessed Sacrament is not generally ‘exposed’ in the monstrance.  If at all it is exposed, a veil is put on it as in the Syro-Malankara Church. (The practice of putting a veil in front of the tabernacle, if there is Sacrament reserved, may be recalled in this context; so also, the veil of the ciborium containing the consecrated species). There are also Eastern Churches that ‘expose’ the covered ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, instead of using the monstrance. The Eastern expressions like the mystery of baptism, the mystery of Eucharist, the mystery of matrimony etc. may be understood in this context.  The most solemn celebration of the holy Qurbana in the Syro-Malabar Church is even now called ‘Raza’ which literally means ‘mystery’.

2.1.3  Importance given to Symbols

 

A complaint about the Eastern liturgies is that they are ‘long’, ‘pompous’ and ‘complicated’.  This impression is based on an inadequate knowledge about the great importance the Easterners attach to symbolisms in worship.

The symbols are widely used in the Eastern liturgy. They include objects, places and movements.  The division of the church building into three parts – sanctuary, choir and nave – is an example thereof.  The sanctuary symbolizes the heavenly Jerusalem and the nave the earthly Jerusalem.  The choir symbolizes the angels who sing the praises of God.

In the Antiochian tradition, the thurible has a fantastic interpretation.  The upper part of the thurible represents heaven, the lower part the hell and the cup containing fire symbolizes the purgatory.  The three chains which support the lower part of the thurible are symbols of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the single chain of the upper part symbolizes the Triune God.  Each chain has 18 rings representing the 72 (18×4) disciples and the 12 bells on the chains are the 12 apostles.

The gospel procession from the sanctuary to the ambo placed in the nave symbolizes Christ coming down from the heavenly Jerusalem to the earthly Jerusalem to announce his Good News. According to some Eastern Churches, the deacons undertaking various duties during the celebration are called Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Of course, certain symbolisms would give the impression of allegories.  What is important, however, is the preference of the Eastern Churches for the appeal to the senses rather than for the intellect that expresses the invisible realities.

2.1.4 Postures and Gestures

 

The Eastern tradition is very particular about giving symbolic meaning to the postures and gestures used in the liturgy.  For example, standing symbolizes joy, and hence except on a few occasions, one has to stand up during the Eucharistic celebration as it recalls the joy in the Risen Lord.  One has to kneel down when prayers of penitence are said as kneeling is generally interpreted as a penitential act. One sits down ‘to listen’, and hence sitting posture is common during the scriptural readings (except gospel reading) and the homily.

In the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, the celebrant after entering the sanctuary kisses the altar at the centre, on its right and left, these places in turn symbolize the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively.

2.1.5 Manner of making the Sign of the Cross

The universal practice of making the sign of the cross on oneself was from right to left.  Later some Churches began to make it from left to right.  Various interpretations are given to this practice.  Those who move their hand from right to left attach importance to the common understanding of the ‘right’ as the place of ‘goodness’ and ‘light’.  Hence one has to take the light from the right, and then to the left to dispel the ‘darkness’ of the ‘left’.  Those who move from left to right mean that at birth we are children of the ‘left’, and hence of ‘darkness’ as we are born with the ‘original sin’.  Moving to the right, we abandon the darkness and go to the light on the right. Another simple explanation is that when one blesses others with the sign of the cross, he moves his hand from the right to the left of the person blessed.  Hence it is proper that when he makes the sign of the cross on himself he does it in the same manner.

2.1.6 Continuity in the Liturgical Tradition

 

A special attachment to the liturgical tradition is very evident in the Eastern Churches.  This does not mean that their liturgy is immobile.  As a matter of fact, change and growth in their liturgy are slow, and sometimes imperceptible. One reason for this is that the changes are not dictated from above, but are part of a natural process taking place slowly.

2.1.7        Repetition of  Prayers and Hymns

 

Repetition of prayers and hymns is in fact a feature found in all Eastern Religions.  The Bhajans and Namajapas of Indian tradition are examples thereof.  Repetition is said to be helpful to concentrate on a particular idea and to underscore it.  Repeating the prayers is not entirely an Eastern tradition either.  The Kyrie Eleison and the Agnus Dei in the Latin Mass too are examples of repetition.  The Eastern liturgies, of course, use it more profusely.

 

2.1.8 Importance of Community Singing

 

‘Who sings, prays twice’ is a well-known and accepted dictum.  The Eastern tradition has always given importance to singing in the liturgy.  Even the prayers are said in a musical tone.  Therefore, the choir substituting community, found in some Eastern Churches, like  the Syro-Malabar Church, is entirely a new phenomenon.  Very often the hymns are sung alternating the stanzas between the celebrants and the choir (community) or between two groups of the choir (community) itself.  As community singing is the norm, the melodies are always simple.

2.1.9        Role of the Holy Spirit

 

The pneumatology of the East is well-known.  The importance attached to the epiclesis in the Eucharistic celebration, and in the blessing of the oil and water in baptism are concrete examples of this pneumatological emphasis.  The deprecative (declarative) formula in Baptism (‘you are baptized’) and Penance (‘you are forgiven’) are other examples.

2.1.10    Icons and Statues

 

The Eastern Churches prefer icons to statues.  In the Indian Eastern Churches, however, the statues need not be a taboo. The Indian religious culture has both statues and mural pictures. (The icons of the Eastern Churches are not the same as the pictures of the Indian tradition). Today the Syro-Malabar churches have more statues than icons.  The influence of the Western Church is evident in this development.

2.1.11    Communion of Saints and  Liturgy

 

The Church is not simply a place where the faithful worship God.  In a typical Eastern church we find the faithful going from one icon of saints to another, venerating and kissing them, and sometimes lighting a candle before them to express the ‘communion of saints’.  The icons are often the figures of the Old Testament and the Fathers of the Church.  Their great devotion to the dead too is noteworthy. The prayers and hymns in the liturgy bear ample witness to this devotion.

2.1.12    Construction of the Church Building

 

Vatican II, while referring to the construction of the churches for worship, remarks:  ‘When churches are built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful’ (SC 124). The Eastern Churches have been always very careful in keeping the norms regarding the construction of the churches.  Each Individual Church has her own understanding of worship and worship symbols, and the churches were constructed accordingly. The setting up of the sanctuary, altar, tabernacle, ambo, choir and baptistery must be helpful to reveal this understanding.

Here below is described one model of church construction practiced in the East Syrian tradition.  Of course, this construction needs adaptations according to the needs of today and the availability of space.

The inside of the church consists of three parts, namely the sanctuary, the choir and the nave.  The choir is constructed one step above the nave, between the sanctuary and the nave.  This is to show that the choir represents the angels who sing glories of God in heaven.  The sanctuary built three steps above the choir symbolizes the Holy of Holies, the heavenly abode.

On both sides of the altar, a table each is put, one to prepare the bread and the other for the chalice. This is mainly not to allow the gifts to be prepared on the altar that represents the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.

A veil is put between the choir and the sanctuary.  It separates the Holy of Holies (the mysteries) from the rest of the church building. (As a veil is put in front of the tabernacle when the Eucharist is preserved, a veil is put before the sanctuary to recall the mysteries being celebrated inside the sanctuary).

The ambo is placed in the middle of the nave.  The ambo is not simply a lectern.  It is a fixed platform called the bema on which are arranged a table for placing the candles, the cross etc., and two lecterns for the Old Testament and the New Testament readings, and  chairs for the celebrants.  The liturgy of the Word in the midst of the people (in the nave) is interpreted as Jesus coming to the people to proclaim his Word.

The tabernacle is placed on one side of the sanctuary and the baptistery on the other side.  The closeness of the baptistery to the sanctuary is understood to emphazise the relationship between the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as  sacraments of Christian initiation.

The symbolic set-up of the East Syrian tradition has the influence of Jerusalem temple.  As a matter of fact, it is well-known that this tradition had close contacts with, and high influence of semitic tradition.  Since the Syro-Malabar liturgy belongs to the East Syrian family, she too is supposed to follow these liturgical settings.  But, due to the demands of modern pastoral situations, some changes had to be made in this arrangement.  For example, the place of the liturgy of the Word (bema) is now arranged just in front of the nave, instead of in the middle.  Since the community singing is preferred, the role of the choir has faded away to a certain extent.  The choir occupying the place one step above the nave has almost disappeared. The custom of the Mass facing the people, now prevalent in many dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church, has put in question the relevance of the veil between the sanctuary and the choir.

However, one thing is certain.  Whatever the structure of the church and its settings, the church building should be such that it is conducive to worship and active participation, and that it should evoke a sense of the sacred and the mysteries celebrated.

2.1.13    Altar as a Symbol of Jesus’ Sepulchre

 

There are at least two main symbolisms expressed by the altar.  According to one, the altar symbolizes the ‘table’ of the Last Supper.  The other is the symbol of the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.  The Easterners in general prefer the latter symbolism.  The prayer in the Syro-Malabar Qurbana bidding farewell to the altar after the holy Mass clearly expresses this symbolism.  The prayer runs as follows: “Praise to the altar of sanctification. Praise to you the sepulchre of Our Lord.  May the holy Qurbana that I have received from you, be for me unto the forgiveness of my debts and the remission of my sins.  I know not whether I shall come again to offer another sacrifice”.

The deposition of the gifts on the altar at offertory too alludes to this symbolism.  The celebrant after raising the paten and the chalice in the form of a cross, recalling the death of Christ, places them on the altar which symbolizes the sepulchre.  He thus commemorates the ‘burial’ of the Lord, and then covers the offerings with a sacred veil to recall the ‘tombstone’.  For this reason the Eastern altars are generally covered on all four sides.

2.1.14    Fermented Bread and the Eucharistic Celebration

 

Many Eastern Churches use the fermented bread for the Eucharist.  It is a break from the Jewish tradition of unfermented bread used for their Paschal Meal.  Some Easterners interpret the fermentation as a symbol of the ‘living’ bread that gives remission of sins and eternal life.  However, some Eastern Churches, including the Syro-Malabar Church, have switched on to the unfermented bread for practical reasons.  The Syro-Malankara Church continues to use the fermented bread.

2.1.15    Structure of the Anaphoral Prayers

 

When the ancient Roman Rite was using only one anaphora (Roman Anaphora), the Eastern Churches produced a number of anaphorae. The Antiochian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malankara Church, has over 70 anaphorae, though some of them have been lost or are only fragmentary.  The East Syrian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malabar Church, is said to have had about 10 anaphorae.  At present it has only three.

There is an important difference between the Western and the Eastern anaphorae. While the West was satisfied with one anaphora, it had a number of Prefaces according to the liturgical seasons and feasts.  As the East does not have the so-called ‘Preface’, it multiplied the anaphorae.  While the Eastern anaphorae try to cover the main events of salvation history as a whole, the Western anaphora concentrates just on one particular event in its Preface.

The Syro-Malabar anaphora has four cycles of prayers, each cycle consisting of four prayers.  The first cycle of prayers is Theological in content thanking God the Father for His great mercies towards humankind.  The second cycle is Trinitarian  thanking the Holy Trinity for creation.  The third cycle of prayers is Christological recalling the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the institution of the holy Eucharist.  The fourth and  last cycle is Pneumatological or epicletic asking the Holy Spirit to come down and to sanctify and perfect the celebration.  The anaphora then concludes with a final doxology.

The Syro-Malankara anaphora has a total of 66 prayers of which 33 are fixed, symbolizing the 33 years of the life of Christ in this world. These prayers include the Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, prayers of thanksgiving, propitiation etc., and six intercessory prayers –  for the living and  the dead.

 

 

2.1.16  Concept of Concelebration

 

In general, the concept of concelebration in the East is different from that of the West.  A theological basis of the Western understanding of concelebration may be traced in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II.  It shows the “unity of the priesthood” (SC 57).  There are Catholic Eastern Churches (eg. Syro-Malabar Church) which follows this understanding of concelebration).

In the Eastern perspective in general, the priest-celebrant represents Jesus Christ the High Priest who offers the sacrifice.  In this understanding, the other priests are only ‘assisting’ him, and not ‘concelebrating’ with him.  Hence all prayers of the anaphora are to be said by the main celebrant alone, and they are not to be distributed among the concelebrants.  In this understanding, the gospel has to be proclaimed by the main celebrant himself, and not by the concelebrants or the deacon as in the Latin West.

Co-consecration by the concelebrants is found in the West already in the 7th century Ordo Romanus III. The earliest Eastern practice is that of a Byzantine rubric book of 10th century. This text is a witness to the concelebration with only priests, without a Bishop.

Today there are various modes of concelebration in the Eastern tradition. The Armenians have it only for episcopal and priestly ordination. Among the Catholic Copts and Maronites there is verbal consecration by the concelebrants, whereas among the Orthodox Copts, the consecratory prayers are said only by the main celebrant. The Syrian Catholics and Orthodox have the so-called “synchronized” Mass, that is, each concelebrant has his own bread and chalice, and he joins the chief celebrant at the main altar by synchronizing his prayers and gestures.  In the Byzantine tradition there are various forms of concelebration.  There are those who practice verbal consecration by the concelebrants, and those who allow the main celebrant alone to utter the consecratory prayers. The Orthodox Byzantines normally have concelebration only when the bishop is present.  If only priests are present, one becomes the main celebrant, and others assist modo laico without sacred vestments.

According to the ancient East Syrian tradition, the priest who is ‘chosen’ to be the main celebrant alone says the consecratory prayers.  The other priests ‘assist’ him uttering some prayers of the pre-anaphoral and post-anaphoral parts. The Syro-Malabar liturgy which belongs to the East Syrian tradition, however, is now following verbal consecration by the concelebrants, though the main celebrant is given certain privileges.

2.1.17  Symbolism of East: Mass facing the Altar/People

 

Facing the East in prayer has been a universal tradition of Christian liturgies. Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd century) says: ‘Indeed it is required that you pray toward the East, as knowing that which is written: “Give thanks to God who rides upon the heaven of heavens toward the East”’. The symbolic significance of the East is based mainly on the rising sun. Christians considered it as a symbol of Christ. The symbolism of the East is supported also by the texts in the Bible. Paradise is said to be in the East (Gen 2:8). God’s glory comes from the East (Ezek 43:2). St. Augustine, Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Clement of Alexandria and St. John Damascene have mentioned the importance of prayer turning to the East.

For Christians, facing the East points to the eschatological hope. The East is symbolized as the place where the Lord will appear on the last day (Mt 24:30). Thus facing the East during prayers symbolizes the waiting for the Lord. It is a journey towards the heaven of the pilgrim Church. For these reasons the Eastern Churches – both Catholic and Orthodox – continue to face the East (for various reasons the ‘East’ is now symbolized also by the ‘Cross’ or the ‘Altar’) during the prayers, especially at the Eucharistic celebration.

But there are the Eastern faithful, especially in the Syro-Malabar Church, who prefer to face the congregation during the holy Qurbana. They are influenced by the Vatican II liturgical reforms and the practice in the Latin Church. After Vatican II, there was a conscious attempt to bring the liturgy closer to the people. One consequence of this move was to bring the ‘high altar’ to the people. Many consider it useful for active participation of the people. They are supported by the following arguments:

– God is present symbolically not only in the East, but also in the middle (midst). The monks who faced each other while praying experienced God in their midst.

– It brings about the symbolism of the Last Supper.

– It is not wrong that the priest who is alter Christus faces the people.

– Every celebration of the Mass is a turning to both God and the community.

– Facing the people is helpful to express better the ministerial priesthood of the celebrant and the common priesthood of the people.

2.1.18  Role of the Deacons in the Liturgical Celebration

 

The institution of permanent diaconate has never been absent in the Eastern Churches, though in practice there were only a few of them in both Orthodox and Catholic traditions of the recent past.  Today there are attempts to revive it.

The deacon has an indispensable role to play all throughout the liturgical celebration.  So much so, there are Eastern Churches that do not celebrate the holy Mass if a deacon is not available.  Some other Churches, like the Syro-Malabar Church, make use of the services of altar boys today in the place of the deacons.  Historically, the Syro-Malabar Church too had married deacons in the parishes to assist the priests in the liturgy.  It may be recalled that many Eastern Churches also had deaconesses to assist the priests, especially at the baptism of women.  The main duty of the deacon is to assist the celebrant and to help the people for active participation by means of exhortations and announcements during the liturgy.

2.1.19   Divine Office as the Prayer of the Church

According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, the Oriental clerics and religious are to celebrate the Divine Office in accordance with the prescriptions and traditions of their Church sui iuris. It is recommended also to the lay people. This is attested also by the ancient practice. Even now, many churches continue the common recitation of the Divine Office with the faithful in the parish churches and monasteries. As for the clerics, it is an obligatory prayer according to the Code of Canons (CCEO 377).

2.1.20    Liturgical Year in the Eastern Understanding

The Liturgical Year in the Christian Orient must be seen in the background of Hebrew Liturgical Year. The Jews had arranged their Liturgical Year in four cycles: Daily Cycle, Weekly Cycle, Monthly Cycle and Annual Cycle.

The Daily Cycle consists of the morning and evening prayers. The Weekly Cycle is organized around Sabbath. The Monthly Cycle is based on the twelve lunations (light of the moon around the earth) of the year. The Annual Cycle based on three feasts, is of greater importance for us since it leads to the understanding of the Christian liturgical year.

The three feasts of the Annual Cycle are the feasts of the Unleavened Bread, Harvest and Ingathering (Ex 33:14-17; 34:18-23). These three feasts were agricultural celebrations of the Jews. In course of time, they were made ‘soteriological’ with the new awareness they had in the course of history. Consequently, they changed the names of the feasts giving them new meaning. Thus the feast of the Unleavened Bread became the feast of Passover, remembering their passage from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of Canaan. The feast of Harvest was renamed the feast of Weeks and they commemorated the closing day of Exodus. The feast of Ingathering was called the feast of Tabernacles to recall their days in the desert when Yahweh lived with His people in the tents (Lev 23:4-36; Deut 16:1-17).

The Christian Liturgical Year in the East was inspired to a great extent by the Hebrew Liturgical Year. But in the Christian perspective, the only yardstick was the Lord of history, Jesus Christ. Thus for Christians, the feast of Passover became the feast of the Lamb of God and the feast of Weeks the feast of Pentecost commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Tabernacles became the final stage of the liturgical year, the Eternal Bliss (Parousia).

The following are the four pillars on which the Eastern Liturgical Year is built up: Easter, Sunday, Temporal Cycle and Sanctoral Cycle. When we examine the Temporal Cycle of the East, we come across six important ‘moments’ of the liturgical year. They are:

(i)                 Epiphany (January 6): It commemorates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Before the 25th of December became  Christmas Day, Epiphany was considered also as the day of Nativity.

(ii)               Transfiguration (August 6): As in the Epiphany, in the Transfiguration too there is the manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, it is a very important feast for the Eastern Churches.

(iii)             Exaltation of the Cross (September 14):  The veneration of the Cross is an important liturgical manifestation of the Eastern tradition. Hence the liturgical year dedicates a period for its veneration (Period of the Cross).

(iv)             Resurrection: All other ‘moments’ of the liturgical year are centred around the mystery of Resurrection. It is the mystery par excellence. It is the Day of the Lord. This mystery is commemorated on Sundays in the Weekly Cycle.

(v)               Pentecost: This may be considered as the culminating moment of the Paschal mystery. The renowned Eastern pneumatology is based on this Pentecostal theme.

(vi)             Parousia:  It is the final stage of the liturgical year. The Eastern liturgies give emphasis to this theme since all look forward to the Second Coming of the Lord – Maranatha!

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Year may be examined to understand the application of the above mentioned six ‘moments’. It consists of 9 liturgical periods, each having a name and a theme. The prayers, hymns and the scriptural readings are arranged according to the spirit of the liturgical seasons. Each season commemorates a mystery of our salvation realized in Jesus Christ. The 9 periods and the mysteries celebrated are the following:

(i)                 Annunciation:  The mystery of Incarnation. This period has four Sundays.

(ii)               Nativity:  The mystery of Incarnation is continued. It has 1 or 2 Sundays.

(iii)             Epiphany:  The mystery of the Revelation of the Holy Trinity. It can have 5 to 8 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(iv)             Lent:  The mystery of the Passion of Christ. It has always 7 Sundays.

(v)               Resurrection:  The mystery of Redemption. It has 7 Sundays.

(vi)             Apostle:  The mystery of the Power of the Holy Spirit. The period starts on the feast of Pentecost. It has 7 Sundays.

(vii)           Kaitha (Summer):  The mystery of the Growth of the Church. This period is called “summer” since, after the preaching of the apostles, there will be ‘summer’, that is, the growth of the Church. 7 Sundays.

(viii)         Elijah CrossMoses:  The mystery of the Second Coming of Christ. There is a traditional belief that Elijah and Moses would be present with Christ on the day of Judgement. That is why these two names are given along with the Cross (= Christ). It can have up to 11 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(ix)             Dedication of the Church:  The mystery of the Heavenly Bliss. It has 4 Sundays.

Thus the Syro-Malabar liturgical year begins with the period of Annunciation which culminates with the birth of Christ (Nativity). Then Christ manifests himself on the day of his baptism (Epiphany). After this he begins his public life announcing the Good News, but had to suffer, and finally he was crucified (Lent). But that was not his end. He rose from the dead (Resurrection) and sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles went about preaching the Good News (Apostle). As a result, the Church began to grow (Summer). The pilgrimage of the Church comes to an end on the day of Final Judgement (Elijah-Cross-Moses). And on the last day, the chosen ones will enjoy the eternal bliss (Dedication of the Church). In this way the liturgical year helps people to make the pilgrimage in the Church along with Christ from Annunciation to Parousia..

Besides the Temporal Cycle of the liturgical year centred on the life of Christ, there is also the Sanctoral Cycle commemorating the saints. Though there are feasts of saints on fixed dates ( June 29 for Sts. Peter and Paul, July 3 for St. Thomas etc.), the Easterners also have the tradition of celebrating the feasts of saints according to the seasons of the liturgical year. Thus the period of Annunciation is an appropriate time to recall Virgin Mary’s role in the salvation history. The period of Epiphany which recalls the public life of Christ, commemorates the great figures like St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Stephen etc. The period of Summer is the most apt time to recall the martyrs who shed their blood for the growth of the Church.

2.1.21    Eschatological dimension

 

 The liturgical prayers, especially those of the holy Mass, reveal a profound expectation of the second coming of Christ. One looks eagerly to the Lord who comes. Therefore, the final blessing of the Eucharistic celebration almost always refers to this theme. One of the final blessings of the Syro-Malabar Qurabana ends as follows: “May we, who joyfully participated in these glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries, be crowned with glory”.  And in another blessing, the celebrant prays that may Christ “make us worthy of the glory of his kingdom, eternal happiness with his holy angels, and joy in his divine presence”.

2.2               Theological Characteristics

 

Pluriformity in theology is an accepted fact, provided they are complementary, and not contradictory. In this respect, Eastern theology has some special features, which, in some cases, are different from the Western perspective. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism remarks, “[I]n the study of the revealed truth East and West have used  different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is hardly surprising, then, if sometimes one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed them better. In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting” (UR 17). Referring to this statement of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II notes: “I listen to the Churches of the East, which I know are living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve. In contemplating it, before my eyes appear elements of great significance for a fuller and more thorough understanding of the Christian experience” (Oriental Lumen, 5). Among these elements the Pope especially mentions the following:

–          An original way of living their relationship with the Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ.

–          The respect they show towards the act of worship, especially the Eucharistic liturgy.

–          Their rootedness in the culture.

 Eastern theology does not pretend to solve all the paradoxes. It is divine and human, traditional and progressive, other-worldly and this-worldly, structured and free, and systematic and mystical. The following are some of its characteristics.

2.2.1        It is Scriptural

 Eastern theology is the fruit of meditation on the Word of God. For the theologians of the East, more important is what God has done for us, than who God is in Himself. Therefore, the basis of Eastern theology is the economy of salvation. As the Bible contains what this economy reveals, theology is primarily scriptural. In other words, theology is an interpretation of the Bible. This does not however mean that the East ignores the modern tools of form criticism, exegesis etc. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism notes, ‘with regard to the authentic theological tradition of the East, we must recognize that they are admirably rooted in Holy Scripture, are fostered and are given expression in liturgical life, are nourished by the living tradition of the apostles and by the works of their Fathers and spiritual writers of the East’ (UR 17).

2.2.2        It is Liturgical

 ‘Rule of prayer is the rule of faith’. Liturgy is in fact a celebration of Revelation. Therefore, the liturgy is not simply one among many sources of theology. It is locus theologicus. Rarely do we find the Western theologians quoting liturgical texts to substantiate their arguments. On the contrary, the Eastern theologians often refer to them as they consider the liturgical texts as source books.

2.2.3        It is Doxological

 Doxology is said to be the ‘grammar’ of theology. The doxological nature of theology is a consequence of its liturgical characteristic. Precisely for this reason, the Divine Office with its psalms and hymns, and the other liturgical texts, especially the holy Mass with their praise and thanksgiving, are of great importance in the Eastern Churches. Consequently, liturgy is a main source of their devotion and spirituality than the popular devotions.

2.2.4        It is Typological

 The preferred method of interpretation of the Sacred Scripture in the East is typology. The typological exegesis of St. Ephrem is widely known. An example is the pierced side of Christ, and the blood and water pouring out of it (John 19:34). The ‘blood’ and ‘water’ point to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. Another example is Adam’s side from where Eve comes forth. As Adam’s side is to Eve, so is Christ’s side to the Church. Breathing by Jesus on the apostles in the Upper Room with the words “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22) is compared to God’s breathing of life into the nostrils of Adam (Gen 2:7). Here the aim of the exegesis is to bring out the “hidden” mystery.

 Eastern theology understands the Sacred Scripture at two levels of meaning: An ‘historical-external’ meaning and a ‘spiritual-internal’ meaning. The Eastern theologians in general prefer to bring out the spiritual-internal meaning using the language of symbols.

2.2.5        It is Symbolic

  As against the rationalistic method of definitions, Eastern theology employs the method of symbols. The problem with definitions, which has foundation in pure philosophy, is that they put ‘boundaries’ to the defined reality. They try to contain what is ‘uncontainable’. They  put limits to the ‘unlimited’. In order to avoid this risk, the East, as far as possible, tries to evade logical systematization and categorization, and uses symbols and poetry. St. Ephrem is very famous for rendering theology into poetry. As we know, images and symbols are basic to human experience, and they are prior to philosophical categorization. The mountains as abode of God, and fire as the symbol of the Divinity are examples of this understanding.

2.2.6        It is Iconic

 Eastern theology is more akin to art than science. This leads to iconic theology. The basis of this theology is Incarnation, a spirituality of conforming oneself to Christ, and thus becoming an icon (image) of Christ. Genesis 1:27 (‘God created man in His image’) is its biblical basis. Christ is Father’s icon (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:12; Heb 1:3).

The purpose of the Eastern icon is multiple: symbolic, didactic, catechetical, kerygmatic, liturgical and aesthetic. Therefore, an iconographer has to be a God-fearing and devout Christian who shares the faith of the Church.A theologian’s task is that of an iconographer. Both are engaged in proclaiming their faith. The icons make visible what is invisible. What Scripture expresses through words, the icons express through colours. Hence we can call it ‘visual theology’. The icons are said to be of great help to the less sophisticated people to deepen their faith and Christian life. As Gregory the Great says, Scripture is for the educated and the icons are for the less educated.

2.2.7        It is Ecclesial

 In the Eastern understanding, a theologian is a “person of the Church” (an ecclesial person) who shares the faith of the Church and that of the people of God. He is not ‘above’ other believers. One has to live faith not only in the Church, but also with the Church. Therefore, genuine theology is possible only in communion with the Church, the Body of Christ, because Christian faith is “faith with the Church”. Consequently, Eastern theology is also “pastoral”, that is, addressed to the faithful rather than to the scholars.

2.2.8        It is Pastoral

 In the first millennium of Christianity, especially in the pre-medieval Patristic period, theology was for life, both in the East and the West. Thus it was dogmatic as well as pastoral. But, by the second millennium, especially after scholastic theology, it became more an academic affair. It became philosophical, clear, concrete and concise. It became analytical with divisions and subdivisions, with definitions and distinctions, with objections and replies. Vatican II, however, rediscovered the pastoral dimension of theology to a certain extent. The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is by now an important aspect in theological discussions. The flexibility and diversity in the Eastern theology is due to this pastoral concern.

2.2.9        It is Apophatic

 Eastern theology is a mixture of mysticism, asceticism, monasticism etc. In the Eastern tradition, there is no sharp distinction between theology and mysticism, between the dogma affirmed by the Church and the contemplative experience of the divine mysteries. Theology is, in fact, more an experience (anubhava). It is not knowing something about God, but having God in oneself. The focus of mystical understanding is not to know that God is unchanging essence and immutable, but somehow participating in the mysteries of God. Mysticism helps to appropriate this mystery in a conscious experience.

Theology and monasticism too are closely related. The monastic life in the East is meant to be a life of radical commitment of witness to the eschatological life. In the Eastern understanding, monasticism is something inherent in the life of every Christian, and not an exclusive ‘charism’ of the monks. Fasting, penance and ascetical practices are part and parcel of this life-style. They are not merely seasonal or occasional acts of a Christian. A true theologian, therefore, has to be, to a certain degree, both a mystic and a monk.

2.2.10    It is Eschatological

 Historical criticism, legal aspects and compartmentalization are not the main concerns of Eastern theology. Even authority is understood more in terms of communion than as a legal superior. The whole Christian life is directed towards the search for the Absolute which creates an eschatological tension.

2.2.11    It is Pneumatocentric

 Eastern theology is centred on the mystery of the Holy Spirit. It is, so to say, epicletic. The deprecative or declarative formula in Baptism (‘Your are baptized’ instead of ‘I baptize you’) and Penance (‘You are forgiven’ instead of ‘I absolve you’), and epiclesis as a crucial moment in the Eucharistic anaphora are examples of this pneumatocentricism in Eastern theology.

2.2.12    It is Ecumenical

 For a long time, the Eastern Catholic Churches were de facto excluded from all direct dialogue with their Orthodox brethren. Ecumenical dialogue was considered to be a prerogative of the Western Roman Church. However, Vatican II reminded the Eastern Catholics of their special duty to enter into dialogue with the separated Eastern brethren (OE 24).

Eastern theology is more ecumenical than apologetic. Theology has to see the other not as an opponent, but as a partner. This is all the more important for the Catholic Eastern Churches as they have to hold dialogue with their separated brethren. Therefore, an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches gave the following directive to all the Catholic Eastern Churches: ‘In every effort of liturgical renewal the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together’ (1996 Instruction, No.21).

2.2.13    It is Contextual

 The Eastern Churches have always tried to identify themselves with the local culture. The praiseworthy practice of inculturation that took place in these Churches shows how they grew imbibing the culture of the place.

2.3            Spiritual Characteristics   

Christian tradition has various sources to nurture the spiritual life of its faithful. Each Individual Church has developed, besides common features of Eastern spirituality, her own means to deepen the faith experience. We shall see here below some of these features of the Eastern tradition.

2.3.1        Spiritual Life centred on Liturgy

 The liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the founding element of Eastern spirituality. For every community of believers, liturgy is the “summit and source” of Christian life. However, history shows that the Eastern Churches have maintained, in a special way, the primacy of the liturgy as the summit of Christian spirituality, remaining faithful to the apostolic period and the spirit of the Patristic period. The whole life of the Church is, in a way, summarized in the liturgy. This is the reason why the Eastern Churches have less popular devotions compared to the Western tradition.

2.3.2        A Profound Sense of the Sacred

The apophatic dimension of the liturgy which expresses the sense of unworthiness of human beings before the unfathomable nature of the Divinity is to elicit a sense of the sacred in the devotee. The expressions like awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the use of the sanctuary veil, prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant etc. are indicative of it.

2.3.3        Ascetical Practices as a Source of Spirituality

The Christian East has a rigorous discipline with regard to fasts and penance. They have a number of days during the year devoted to fasting. According to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala, almost half the days of the year were days of fasting. They abstained from meat, fish, egg and milk products on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Though some of these rigorous practices have now disappeared, they still attach great importance to these practices as a means of spiritual growth.

2.3.4        Mysticism and Monasticism

 Mysticism and monasticism are not exclusive to the monks. Every Christian is, to a certain extent, a mystic and a monk. In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord. It is, so to say, a symbolic synthesis of Christianity (cf. Orientale Lumen, 9).

2.3.5        Cult of the Icons

 The icons are not merely  reminders of some persons or events of salvation history. They are means to reflect over the mysteries of God and the Church to deepen the spirituality of the faithful. For some Easterners they are almost equal to the sacraments as they make visible the hidden mysteries to nourish their faith.

2.3.6        Importance given to the Cross

 Veneration of the Cross is an important source of Eastern spirituality. Eastern faithful make the sign of the cross on themselves on a number of occasions during the liturgical celebration. The bishops carry a hand-cross with which they bless the people, and the people express their obeisance to the bishops by showing veneration to the cross being carried by them. The feast of Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) is therefore a central one in the Eastern liturgical calendar.

2.3.7        Devotion to the Virgin Mary

 There is no Eastern church – Catholic or Orthodox – that does not have an icon or statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is highly venerated in the churches and at home. A good number of ancient churches are dedicated to her. But she is often depicted with the Child Jesus in her hands to emphazise the Christological nature of Marian devotion. There are special feasts in honour of Mary, especially among the womenfolk.

2.3.8        Popular Devotions

The Eastern Churches have their own traditional popular devotions which are more individual than communitarian. The veneration of the Cross, icons and relics, the use of candles, incensing etc. are some of them. Very often these expressions of popular piety are linked to their liturgical life. This may be the reason why many of the Western devotional practices did not develop in the Eastern Churches. However, due to close contact with the Latin Church, some Western devotions, especially the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, are freely accepted by some Catholic Eastern Churches, and they have, in fact, enriched their spirituality.

2.4            Juridical Characteristics

 

All the Catholic Eastern Churches are governed by the Roman Pontiff and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In addition, each Individual Church has her own Particular Laws. In certain matters, each eparchy is free to formulate its own local laws. The importance given to the local church is one of the fundamental reasons for this multiplicity of laws and regulations.

2.4.1        Synod of Bishops and its Functioning

 The Eastern Synod of Bishops is different in structure and functioning from the Bishops’ Conference of the Latin Church. It is different also from the Synod of Bishops occasionally convened in Rome by the Pope. The Synod of the Eastern Churches is a juridical body, and the bishops are bound by the serious obligation to attend the same whenever it is convoked. If a bishop is unable to participate in it for a just impediment, he is to submit his reasons to the synod. The synod is to decide upon the legitimacy of the impediment. After the opening of the synod no bishop is allowed to leave the sessions of the synod unless it is for a just reason approved by the synod. The synod has the authority to elect and transfer bishops, bifurcate eparchies, and approve liturgical texts. But their decisions need the recognitio (approval) of the Holy See. The decisions of the synod are binding on all the bishops and the eparchies.

2.4.2        Four Categories of the Catholic Eastern Churches

 The 22 Catholic Eastern Churches are divided into four categories. The Churches having a Patriarch as its head, are called “Patriarchal Churches”. There are 6 Patriarchal Churches. They are the following: Coptic (1824), West Syrian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean (1553) and Armenian (1742).

The second category is called “Major Archiepiscopal Churches” of which the head is called Major Archbishop. There are 4 Churches under this category. They are: Ukranian (1963), Syro-Malabar (1992), Syro-Malankara (2005) and Romanian (2005).

The third is “Metropolitan Churches” having one archdiocese and other dioceses. The archbishop of the archdiocese will be head of that Church, and he is called Metropolitan. The 2 Metropolitan Churches are the Ethiopean and the Ruthanian.

The rest of the Individual Churches – 10 of them – are called “Other sui iuris Churches”. These are Churches having no proper hierarchy, and hence are unable to convoke a synod as other Eastern Churches. They come under the direct pastoral guidance of the Pope.

There are a couple of differences between a Patriarch and a Major Archbishop, though both have equal rights and obligations in their respective Churches as their heads. One difference is with regard to the honour given to them. Between the two, the Patriarch has precedence of honour in relation to the Major Archbishop. The other difference is more serious. When the Synod of Bishops of a Major Archiepiscopal Church elects their head – the Major Archbishop -, he requires “confirmation’ of the Pope to become the Major Archbishop. In other words, the Pope can ask the synod to elect another person if he is not ready to confirm the person elected. On the other hand, in the election of a Patriarch, all that is required is “ecclesiastical communion” with the Roman Pontiff by means of a letter signed in Patriarch’s own hand.

2.4.3        Respect for Customs

 Custom is said to be the best interpreter of law (CCEO 1508). Normally a custom obtains the force of law only when it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. This is so because the Church wants to respect the practices rooted in the life of the people. This again shows the importance given to the local church.

2.4.4        Pragmatism and Flexibility

 The Eastern Churches have Common Laws (CCEO), Particular Laws (enacted by the Synods) and Eparchial Laws. Besides these laws, there are also local customs. Consequently, in the application of the laws, there is room for flexibility depending upon the local traditions. This pragmatic approach is to respond to the concrete pastoral needs.

2.4.5        Religious ‘Obligations’

 The ‘obligation’ as understood in the West, generally speaking, is not an Eastern feature. Even ‘Sunday obligation’ to attend Mass was not strictly practised by many Eastern Churches in the past. Of course, Sunday, the Day of the Lord, is a ‘Holy Day’, a day of sanctification. It can be sanctified not only by attending Mass, but also by praying the Divine Office. In one of the documents of the Greek Catholic Church, we read something as follows: ‘The precept of divine worship on Sundays and feast days is to be observed. Those who neglect it sins more or less gravely according to the degree of negligence. However, this precept can be fulfilled also by participating in the Divine Office’. As of today, most of the Catholic Eastern Churches practise ‘Sunday obligation’ by participating in the Eucharistic celebration.

CHAPTER THREE

 EASTERN THEOLOGY

 

In this Chapter we shall deal with the sources of Eastern theology, the method of theologizing in the East and some selected themes of theology.

3.1 The Sources of Eastern Theology

 

The East has a variety of sources which influence its theology.

3.1.1 Scared Scripture: The Bible is considered to be the most sublime expression of God’s revelation. Hence it is the primary source of theology.

3.1.2 Liturgy: The rule of prayer is the rule of faith (Lex orandi lex credendi). Faith is expressed not in dogmatic terms, but in liturgical celebrations. The uninterrupted continuity of the Church is manifested in her liturgy.

3.1.3 Ecumenical Councils and Creeds: In a broad sense, we may call it Tradition. The Councils and Creeds are expressions of the faith of the Church in history and tradition.[ The Orthodox accept only the first seven Councils, namely Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-681) and Nicaea II (787)].

3.1.4 Fathers of the Church: The Fathers of the Church are guardians of the mind of the apostles and the ancient Church. Though the Fathers did not have the charism of “inspiration”, they had the charism of “interpretation”. Their writings are an inexhaustible spring, faithful and true, that irrigate the Christian imagination with the life-giving water flowing from the biblical and spiritual sources of the faith. [The Western Catholic tradition has restricted the Fathers to the period of Isidore of Seville (+636) and the Eastern Catholic tradition to John of Damascus (+749). But the Orthodox believe that such a restriction would be tantamount to saying that the Holy Spirit  has deserted the Church].

3.1.5 Canons: Canons are the norms drawn up by the ecumenical and local Councils on the discipline and organization of the Church. The East sees a relationship between the dogmas and the canons. Accordingly, the canons apply the dogmas to practical Christian life.

3.1.6 Icons: Icons are considered to be a way of God’s revelation to man. The spiritual world is exteriorized through the icons. Therefore, the Easterners expect a practising Christian to paint the icons.

3.1.7 Other Sources: To the above mentioned sources we may add also other elements like monasticism, asceticism, mysticism, martyrology, spiritual writers, and practices of fasting, penance and abstinence which have some influence on the theological thinking of the East.

 

3.2 Theologizing in the Eastern Tradition

 

The Easterners make a distinction between theology and theological teaching. Theology is existential experience of God, whereas theological teaching is the scientific exposition of the experiential knowledge of God. In this sense, every practising Christian is a ‘theologian’. A ‘professional’ theologian is one who is capable of articulating the faith of the Church, and also who helps others to live it.

The eternal bliss in heaven, as understood in the East, is not the vision of the Essence of God, but “deification”, the “union” with the Holy Trinity. This union with God is not in his “Essence”, but in his “Energy”, that is ‘Grace’. What Western theology calls ‘supernatural’ is understood as ‘divine energy’ in the East. In short, theology in the East is not an academic exercise, but the outcome of a lived experience of God. Their theological method is more doxological than intellectual; it is more poetical than logical; it is more apophatic than cataphatic.

In theologizing, therefore, the East employs the so-called ‘apophatic way’ or the ‘negative way’. They try to know God in what He is not. It is very similar to the Indian way of ‘neti, neti’. Since God is a transcendent reality, man with his limitedness is incapable of fully comprehending Him. Therefore, philosophizing on the concept of God is not very effective. Precisely for this reason, God is called the ‘Invisible’, the ‘Incomprehensible’, the ‘Unfathomable’, the ‘Indescribable’, the ‘Beyond’, and the ‘Other’. As Pseudo-Dionisius (AD 500) says, the knowledge about God can be described as “knowing through unknowing”. The more man grows in the knowledge of God, the more he perceives him as an inaccessible mystery. This should not be confused with an obscure mysticism in which man loses himself in enigmatic, impersonal realities. On the contrary, the Christians of the East turn to God uttering a solemn, humble and majestic doxology (cf. Orientale Lumen, 17). They look at theology in its synthetical content, as a spiritual experience. This type of theology is called ‘apophatic theology’.

Apophatism’ literally means ‘negation’. In the Old Testament the Jews were afraid of using the name of God, and thus for them God was YHWH (= I am Who am). As St. John says, ‘no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known’ (John 1:18). According to Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386), the nature of God is known to God alone. Man can know it in so far as it is made known to man by God Himself. For Gregory Nazianzen (329-389) God is a relationship. The nature and essence of God are like an ocean – an ocean whose depth and limits cannot be determined. In this regard, there is a famous saying of Karl Rahner. It runs as follows: ‘My aim is not to teach about a God who can be fully understood by all. Instead, my aim is to teach that it is not possible to fully comprehend God with our intellect. God whom we are searching for is the same God who is looking at us’.

But, if this principle of apophatic theology is not properly understood and applied, one could be led to a denial of God Himself. Against this danger the Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa turned to mysticism  where one meets God in a personal relationship, that is, in the realm of “I-Thou” relationship. In this understanding, God is “known” to me “personally”. This approach is not ‘negative’, but positive or affirmative, and hence is called ‘cataphatic’. Here the invisible and unfathomable becomes ‘close’ to me. The ultimate consequence of this approach is a “mystical union” with God.

This way of ‘union’ takes us to the very meaning of Incarnation. In Incarnation the divinity takes human nature. The transcendent is made immanent. Revelation becomes an encounter and a communion.

The Eastern theology makes a distinction between  ‘Essence’ and ‘Energy’ in God. The apophatic approach is applied to the Essence of God because the Essence of God is unknowable to humans. Energy is the “acts” of God or His “grace”. In the mystical union, one comes into communion with God in His Energy (grace) and not in His Essence.

Here there is another danger. The knowledge of God depends upon one’s ‘personal encounter’. It is more of a ‘subjective’ nature, and not objective. If the encounter with God does not take place in one’s life, God does not exist ‘for’ him/her. Here we need to note that the ‘personal’ encounter is not an ‘individualistic’ encounter. A Christian is not an ‘island’. Being a member of the Church and an organ of a Body, a Christian is in a ‘sacramental fellowship’ with his/her brothers and sisters. Thus the ‘personal’ encounter with God takes place as a member of the Body of the Church and not simply as an individual.As St. Paul says, the true progress in faith is not coming to know God, but rather to be known by him (Gal 3:9). Though the transcendent God became immanent in Creation, in His presence in the history of Israel, and finally in Incarnation, he remains beyond all human knowing and beyond all human discourse.

The East has a two-directional way of speaking about God. An example is the Holy Spirit having two functions in the Church: He brings the Church to Christ, and Christ to the Church. This insight is the underlying principle of consecratory and communion epiclesis in the holy Mass. The Spirit is invoked to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (that is, to bring Christ to the Church – consecratory epiclesis), and on the congregation (that is, to bring the Church to Christ – communion epiclesis).

Theology in the East, therefore, is not dogmatic assertions imposed on the people of God, rather it is truth gradually revealed in the Church through the personal encounter of the members of the Church. A true theologian is one who has a genuine experience of God and who helps the people to live their faith without falling into errors.

3.3    Some Themes of Eastern Theology

 

3.3.1        Creation

 

Creation of the world is out of nothing (ex nihilo). It is a free and gratuitous act of God. The analysis of the Creed reminds us of the role of the Holy Trinity in Creation. Thus the Father is the ‘Creator of Haven and Earth’; the Son is the one ‘Through whom all things were created’ and the Holy Spirit is the ‘Creator of life’.

In the East Syrian anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari we have a reference to the

Holy Trinity as the Creator. It reads: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit! The adorable name of Your most blessed Trinity is worthy of honour from every mouth, thanksgiving from every tongue, and praise from every creature. For, in Your great kindness You created the world and everything in it”. In this Eastern perspective, the Son and the Holy Spirit are “co-Creators” with the Father.

3.3.2        Original Sin

Misusing freedom Adam disobeyed God. Consequently, a new form of existence appeared in the world –  of disease and death. This is extended to Adam’s descendants. The members of the Church too inherit the consequences of Adam’s Fall. As the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, and the baptized persons are the organs of this Body, when one suffers all others also suffer. The Catholics and the Orthodox agree up to this point.

The Orthodox theology goes further. Adam sinned, they hold, not from the height of his full knowledge, but out of his simplicity and not so perfect knowledge of things. They also hold that the descendants of Adam automatically got his corruption and mortality, but not his guilt. They become guilty only when they imitate Adam with their free will. According to them, after the Fall, the ‘image’ of God in man is distorted and not destroyed. They admit, however, that the sin has created a barrier between God and man. This barrier can be broken only with the grace of God and not simply by man’s own efforts. Hence they too admit the need of God’s grace to be saved.

3.3.3        Incarnation and Deification

 

Despite the sin of man, the divine philanthropy is not withdrawn by God. The eternal plan of God – the salvation of man through the Incarnation of Christ – continues to invite man to get united with Him because the ultimate aim of man is ‘to become’ God, that is, Deification or Divinization. As St. Athanasius says, ‘God became man so that man may become God’. This concept is based on the understanding that man is created in the ‘image’ of God.

In the Western thinking, man is free to sin, but he will be punished. Only grace can save him. Hence he looks forward to his “justification”. The East, on the other hand, thinks in terms of reunion or communion with God (Deification). Therefore, the Church is seen not merely as a mediator of grace which has authority over the faithful to give guarantee on doctrines, but more as a place where man experiences this divine communion.

Deification is not pantheism. As we have already noted, the Eastern theology makes a distinction between Essence and Energy in God. Communion of man with God is in His Energy (grace) and not in Essence.  In other words, man does not become “God” by nature but by grace.

Deification is a process to be accomplished through love of God and neighbour. The full deification will take place on the Last Day.

3.3.4        Holy Trinity

 

The whole frame of Eastern theology is Trinitarian. There is a difference in the approaches of the East and the West in the understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The West presupposes God’s unity in three Persons whereas the East begins from the three Persons to reach unity in Godhead. Thus in the Western approach, oneness in nature is primary and difference in Persons is only secondary. The East reaches unity of the Godhead from the distinction of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The Eastern approach is in conformity with the Bible. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, ‘the Word was with God’ and ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:1,14). And again, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever’ (John 14:16). And ‘when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15:26). Though the three Persons in the Godhead are related among themselves, in the unfolding of the Salvation History they are distinct. Thus the Father is the source, Son the procreated  (by the Father) and the Holy Spirit is the One who proceeds (from the Father). As St. Basil says, Father is the source, Son the manifestation and Holy Spirit the force that manifests.

When the Western theology emphasizes the concept of one Essence for the Persons of the Trinity, the East places empahsis on the Tri-Personality. Hence the East prefers to speak about God in concrete: God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; God of Jesus Christ etc.

One of the contributions of the twentieth century theology is the Trinity as the foundation of the theology of the communion of Churches – Trinity as the foundation of ecclesiology. From a theological point of view, the Church is more a communion than an institution governed by the hierarchy. The communion in the Trinity is ontological . The terms like consubstantiality, hypostatic union etc. are used to make this idea clear. Unlike ontological communion in the Trinity, the communion among the Churches is vital and dynamic. This vitality originates from the communion of different persons inspired by the Spirit of the Lord.

Vatican II sees the Church as a result of Trinitarian procession. The Church shines forth as a ‘people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (LG 4). In the words of J. Tillard, the Universal Church is a ‘Communion of communions’.

The structure of the Bishops’ Synod in the Eastern tradition is based on the Trinitarian theology. The Bishops “walk together” (= synod) as a body. Even the head of the synod (Patriarch, Major Archbishop, Metropolitan) cannot take decisions for the Church independent of the members of the synod.

The theology of the communion of Churches does not harm the Petrine ministry. In fact, it emphasizes it. The Roman Pontiff is the guardian of this communion.

3.3.5        Filioque (And from  the Son)

 

The ‘Filioque controversy’ is practically the consequence of the Trinitarian theology. It was added to the Nicene Creed for the first time in the Council Toledo (AD 589). By this addition the West wanted to fight the Arian heresy and affirm the divinity of Christ. In Rome it was added to the Creed by Pope Benedict VIII in AD 1014.

The objection of the East to the addition of Filioque is that it reduces the divine Persons of the Father and the Son to a mere relation, that is, the Father and the Son are two in relation to each other, but one in relation to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the East holds that the Father is to be considered as the only source of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the concept of Tri-Personality – three distinct persons in Trinity – will be destroyed. In other words, while the West emphasizes the unity of Essence in the three Persons of the Trinity, the East places emphasis on the Person of the Father from whom the other Persons originate. The East objects to its addition also on the ground that the West changed the decision of the ecumenical council of Nicaea (AD 325) unilaterally without consulting the Eastern Churches.

The West quotes St. Augustine: ‘Why then should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son since he is the Spirit of the Son? If he did not proceed from him, after his resurrection, he would not have breathed on his apostles saying: Receive the Holy Spirit. What then does breathing mean, but that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him too’? The West argues that if there are three Persons in the Trinity, then there should be some relationship among them. Thus there is paternity between the Father and the Son, and procession between the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as between the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Essence all three Persons are equal. The difference is only in their relationship.

Some Orthodox theologians are prepared to admit Filioque as an opinion, but reject it as a theological principle because it would mean that there are two sources (originating principles) in Godhead.

The Council of Florence (1438-45) tried to mitigate the expression saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Council based its arguments on Gal 4:6, Rom 8:9 (Spirit of the Son); Mt 10:20 (Spirit of the Father); John 16:13-15 (All that Father has is mine); John 15:26, John 16:17 (The Counsellor whom I shall send to you from the Father) etc. Later the Council of Trent (AD 1545 – 63) made it obligatory for the Latin Church to confess the Creed with the addition of Filioque. However, this obligatory nature was not binding on the Eastern Churches.

 

There are some Orthodox theologians who subscribe to the expression ‘Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through or after the Son’, considering the whole issue as a question of language and not of content. The Syro-Malabar Church has put Filioque in brackets, and has left it optional.

3.3.6        Christology

 

Trinity is one Nature and three Persons. Christ is a single Person with two Natures. The divinity and humanity are united in Christ.

The Christology of Eastern thought is characterized by the following elements:

(i)                 Christ is the Saviour of the world. Its basis is the confession of Peter in Mt 16:16: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God’. The fallen humanity is saved not through any intermediary created by God, but by God Himself, becoming man.

(ii)               Christ is Emmanuel (=God with us). The Eastern Fathers see two supreme moments in the ‘human’ (incarnated) life of Christ: His incarnation and death on the cross.

(iii)             Christ is fully God and fully Man. Christ is consubstantial with the Father by his divinity and is consubstantial with man in his humanity. Thus in Christ there are two consubstantialities making him true God and true man. One does not absorb the other. They are not ‘mixed up’. But there is an inter-penetration between them.

(iv)             The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ restored unity of all humanity with himself. This restoration is not ‘automatic’. It requires free human cooperation and communion of the believers within the assembly of the Church. This assembly is realized most meaningfully in the Eucharistic celebration.

3.3.7        Pneumatology

 

The Holy Spirit is understood as the Person of the Godhead who restores the original status of innocence to humans. Therefore, the role of the Holy Spirit is very important in the celebration of the sacraments, and the life and activities of the Church.

In the Eastern perspective, the Holy Spirit is not only a Gift but also a Giver. The role of  God’s Spirit in Creation (Gen 1:2), in the ‘new creation’ when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35) and at Pentecost as an anticipation of Parousia (Acts 2:17) are important pneumatological themes in the Eastern theology.

The works of Christ and the Holy Spirit are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. As St. Athanasius says, ‘The Word took flesh that we might receive the Spirit’.

 

 

3.3.8        Eschatology

 

The Catholic Eastern view on eschatology is practically similar to that of Western Catholic theology. It has the same understanding on Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Prayer for the dead, Particular Judgement and Final Judgement.

Among the Orthodox there are diverse opinions about the Last Things. Though they do not follow the Catholic understanding of Purgatory, they seem to think that all the dead await in a middle state till the day of Final Judgement. This applies also to the saints (unlike the Catholic position). However, they do pray for the dead. So also, they do request the intercession of the saints.

There are also Orthodox theologians who refuse to discuss eschatological questions saying that it is not for humans to know about God’s plan on after-life.

3.3.9        Grace and Will

 

There is a special union between the grace of God and the free will of man. The term used to explain this union is “synergy” (=cooperation). This means that the grace of God and the will of man have to work together. Of course, God’s cooperation is far superior to man’s. A classical example of this synergy is Mary’s Fiat (Lk 1:38). This idea of synergy is expressed in I Cor 3:9 where St. Paul says that we are God’s “fellow workers”. Another example is Rev 3:20: ‘If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’.

According to Cyril of Jerusalem, it is for God to shower His grace and it is up to man to receive it and guard it. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence.

3.3.10    Man

 

The concept of man in Orthodox theology is not the same as the Catholic understanding. According to the Orthodox, as do Catholics, man is created ‘in the image of God’. But they make a distinction between “image” and “likeness”. ‘Image’ indicates rationality and freedom, whereas ‘likeness’ means assimilation to God through virtues. The image  enables man to know God and to be in communion with him. It is a gift of God. ‘Likeness’ is achieved through man’s own efforts assisted by grace. By committing sin Adam lost his ‘likeness’ and not the ‘image’.

The Orthodox hold that man was perfect at creation not in actual sense, but only in potentia. He will become perfect only when he acquires the likeness through his own choices assisted by God’s grace. This position contradicts St. Augustine’s according to which Adam had reached the point of perfection.

3.3.11    Ecclesiology

In ecclesiology the Eastern theology has always given emphasis to the community nature of the Church rather than to its juridical aspect. The ecclesiological aspects are in fact presupposed  in the theological reflection. The Church, being a ‘worshipping community’, is the place where a Christian experiences his/her ‘life in Christ’. Foremost among the ecclesiological presuppositions is the awareness they have about the apostolic foundation of their individual Churches. The Church is apostolic in more than one sense. The apostolicity is related to the Christocentricity of the Church because Christ is the only true head of the Church. Therefore, ecclesiology is not merely an appendix to Christology. The diversity of the Individual Churches has also basis in the apostolicity. The diversity of Christic experience of the apostles is carried down to the ecclesial traditions.

Another ecclesiological presupposition is, as mentioned above, the perception of the Church as a communion (koinonia) rather than as an institution. The communion of the Trinity is the foundation of this ecclesial communion.

In the early Patristic thought, the Church is cosmic and eschatological. That is, the  Church is the ‘mystery of new creation’ and also the ‘mystery of the kingdom’. Therefore, more than the aspect of institution, emphasis is on the ‘sacramentality’ of the Church. In other words, the Church is the ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of the kingdom in this world. The liturgy is one of the principal means to become aware of this cosmic and eschatological dimension of the Church.

.

On the hierarchical structure of the Church, apostolic succession, intercession of the saints, episcopate and priesthood, infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern Catholics have the same views as that of the Western Catholic Church. As for the Orthodox, they disagree on the infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff.

The Eastern ecclesiology has various images about the Church:

(i)                 Church is the image of the Holy Trinity: As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united into one Godhead, the baptized believers are united into one Body, the Church. And, as there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity, there are various Individual Churches in the universal Church.

(ii)               Church is the Body of Christ:  The Church is the extension of Christ in space and time. As various organs are united into one body, we are all untied into the Body of Christ, the Church. This communion reaches its climax in the Eucharist since the Church is a ‘sacramental community of worship’. The Church is the mystical body in so far as she is the Eucharistic body.

(iii)             Church is a continued Pentecost: Where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is, there is also the Church. Jesus has in fact promised that he would send the Spirit who would be with us always (John 14:15 ff.)

Regarding the nature and the characteristics of the Church, the Eastern theology has the following to say:

(i)                 Unity and Infallibility: Unity in God justifies the unity in the Church. But his unity is not manifested in a juridical organization, but in the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, one who is not in communion with the Church is outside the Church. Unity of the Bishops in the synod too has the same basis. Hence a Bishop who is not in communion with his fellow Bishops too is ‘outside’ the synod! The Church is infallible because of her relationship with God. Since the Church is the image of the Holy Trinity, Body of Christ and a continued Pentecost she is infallible.

(ii)               Church as an Ark of Salvation: Extra ecclesia nulla salus. The Church as an image of the ‘Ark of Noah’ is guided by ‘Christ the steersman’ is an expression of St. Ephrem. St. Cyprian says that a man cannot have God as his Father, if he does not have the Church as his Mother. This does not mean that everyone who is visibly in the Church is necessarily saved. As St. Augustine asks: ‘How many seeps there are without and how many wolves within’?

(iii)             Apostolic Succession: St. Cyprian says that the Church is the people of God united with the Bishop. He also says that if one is not with the Bishop, he ceases to be in the Church. However, the Orthodox understanding of the role of the Bishop is slightly different from that of the Catholics. Accordingly, the Bishop is not placed over the people. His authority is fundamentally the authority of the Church. Practically he is a holder of an office in the Church for the people. Regarding the teaching authority, though the traditional Orthodox believe that it rests with the hierarchy, there are modern thinkers who consider that every Christian is duty-bound to teach. However, for practical reasons this power is transferred to the Bishops.

What is more important from an Eastern perspective is to understand the Church as a charismatic community rather than as a juridical organization. Though there are ordained ministers like bishops, priests and deacons, the people of God too are priests who exercise their common priesthood. In the Orthodox understanding, the bishop is the divinely appointed teacher of faith, but the guardian of faith is every baptized Christian because proclamation of the faith is not the same as its possession. They also hold that all believers possess the Truth, but it is the duty of the bishops to formally and officially proclaim it.

3.3.12    Sacraments

 

Both Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches accept seven sacraments. However, among the Orthodox there is no formal decision in any Council determining the number of the sacraments. Since the Protestant reformation, number seven is generally accepted by them.

The Orthodox do not make a clear distinction between the sacraments and the sacramentals. Though, as a rule, they do not repeat the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Order, there is no clear teaching among them about the ‘indelible character’ of these three sacraments.

A basic concept in the Eastern sacramental theology is that the Church is a mystery of which the sacraments are the normal expressions. Here again, the emphasis is not on ‘validity’ and ‘liceity’, but on the Church community gathered around the bishop on which God sends His Spirit. The concept of ‘ex opere operato’ therefore, is not a serious concern of the Easterners.

(i) Baptism:  Baptism is administered either by immersion, infusion or pouring water over the head of the candidate. The formula used is deprecative or declarative, and not indicative. The oil used for Baptism is blessed  by the priest himself mixing it with the sacred oil (holy Muron) blessed by the bishop.

Baptism is considered to be an ‘ecclesial act’. Therefore, according to CCEO 683, ‘Baptism must be celebrated according to the liturgical prescriptions of the Church sui iuris in which the person to be baptized is to be enrolled’.

 

               Normally, Baptism is administered along with Confirmation and the Eucharist in order to emphasize the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation. The Eastern Churches continue to uphold the doctrine behind this unity not only in theory, but also in practice. The Eastern thinking on this is the following: Initiation is the one and the indivisible celebration of the entrance into the life of Christ and into the community that lives in him. This entrance, initiated with the first call to the faith, reaches its culminating point in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We are thus rendered fit to participate in the banquet of the kingdom. In Baptism one is ‘reborn’ to a new life and is incorporated into the Church, in Confirmation is signed with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit and with the reception of the Eucharist becomes in ‘full’ communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

The ordinary minister of Baptism is a bishop or a priest (not a deacon). In case of urgent necessity, Baptism can be administered by any Christian faithful (but not by any person who has the requisite intention as in the Latin tradition) (cf. CCEO 677; CIC 861).

The rites of Baptism in the Eastern tradition consist of renunciation of Satan and profession of faith, laying on of hands, blessing of oil and water, pre-baptismal anointing, baptismal anointing and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In the present understanding, the renunciation of Satan is oriented more towards the future life rather than to the past slavery to sin of the baptized. That is, it is meant more as a preparation for future fight against evil tendencies than as an exorcism. Therefore, renunciation of Satan and profession of faith go together. As the East Syrian commentator Narsai writes: ‘By renunciation and profession one is made sharer in the victory of Christ who conquered Satan’. According to Theodore of Mopsuestia, while renouncing evil, the candidates should kneel down as a sign of man’s fall and servitude, and while professing the faith, he stands up as a sign of one’s participation in the redemptive work of Christ.

The laying on of hands in Baptism is associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It can also mean ‘setting apart a person for the service of God’.

The blessing of oil and water has an epicletic prayer. The baptismal water is a prefiguration of the water of Jordan in which Jesus was baptized. The baptismal font is described as the “new womb” of spiritual birth into the family of the Church.

The pre-baptismal anointing is meant as a preparatory rite of purification. The baptismal anointing is for the conferring of the Holy Spirit and as a sign of life.

The giving of the lighted candle recalling Christ, the light of the world, and the giving of the white dress symbolizing the robe of purity, are later additions in the baptismal rite.

(ii)) Confirmation: The Eastern Code of Canons calls it “Chrismation”. According to CCEO 695 #1, it has to be administered along with Baptism except in a case of true necessity, in which case, however, it is to be administered as soon as possible.

The ordinary minister of Chrismation is the priest who administers it together with Baptism. The oil used is holy Muron blessed by the bishop. The holy Muron is made from the oil of olives or other plants and from aromatics. It is the right of the bishop to prepare it, and in some Churches, it is the privilege of the Patriarch or the head of the Church. Through this anointing with holy Muron, the baptized is signed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and is made witness and co-builder of the kingdom of God.

(iii) Eucharist:  The Eucharist has various names in the Christian East. Qurbana (= Offering), Qudasa (=Sanctification), Raze (=Mysteries) etc are some among them. Some Churches call it “The Divine Liturgy” since it is the focal point of Christian celebration of the faith.

 

The Easterners give greater emphasis to the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist than to its meal aspect. It is offered to the Father, Christ or Holy Trinity as the prayers of various Churches testify. The fermented bread is preferred though some Churches use the unfermented bread. Holy communion under both species is the norm, rather than an exception.

The general order of the Eucharistic liturgy is the following: Enarxis or the introductory rites, liturgy of the Word, pre-anaphoral rites, anaphora, post-anaphoral rites and the final prayers.

The introductory rite has preparatory prayers, opening chants, entry of the Gospel and Trisagion. The readings vary according the Churches. The East Syrian tradition has four readings – two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Among the Old Testament readings, the first is from the Pentateuch and the other from any other Book of the Old Testament. The New Testament readings consist of the Epistle and the Gospel. In between the readings, there are hymns and halleluias. It concludes with the dismissal of the catechumens. The pre-anaphoral part has the preparation of the gifts, their deposition on the altar, the formal entry of the celebrant into the sanctuary, the washing of the hands, the creed and the kiss of peace.

The anaphora, which is consecratory, has mainly three parts: the prologue with Sanctus, the consecration with the Institution Narrative and the Epiclesis, and the prayers of Intercession.

The post-anaphoral part consists of elevation, fraction, rite of reconciliation, confession of faith before holy communion (sancta sanctis) and holy communion.

The holy Qurbana concludes with the prayers of thanksgiving, the final blessing and the farewell prayer.

The Eucharist, in the first place, is understood as a mystery. The Syriac tradition prefers the term “Mysteries” (Raze) for the Eucharistic celebration. The East looks at the Eucharist as “mystery” in which the faithful united with the bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For them the Eucharist is the ‘seed of immortality’ (Gregory of Nyssa).

The Church is basically the people of God who are gathered together to listen to the Word and to break the Bread. There are three elements here: Assembly, Eucharist and Church. They are inseparable. There is no Eucharist without the Church and vice versa.

A close examination of the Eastern Eucharistic theology will reveal that it is mostly a theology “prayed in the Church”. That is, the very celebration of the Eucharist and an active participation in it forned the core of Eucharistic theology. It is an “experience” celebrated in the Church and lived in the world. Therefore, the Eucharist has to be understood as the sacrament of the Church. To reduce the Eucharist to a multiplicity of artificially isolated elements like sacrifice, sacrament, communion etc is not an Eastern perspective. Since the Eucharist is the anamnesis of the whole salvific action of God celebrated with praise and thanksgiving, any theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure is basically defective.

The anaphora or the Eucharistic prayer is said to be the “main” part of the Eucharistic celebration. It was first in the West through Scholastic theology, and by imitation also in the East, that the anaphora became the “main” part of the Eucharist. Soon it was reduced to just one single moment of “Consecration” or “Transubstantiation”. This approach gradually deprived the Eucharistic celebration of its coherence as a comprehensive celebration of various parts. To put it bluntly, the question was: “How” does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ., rather than “What” happens to the Eucharistic species. The difference between these two approaches is important. Here the basic thrust changes from an eschatological dimension to an ecclesiological one. Consequently, the whole question gets centred on Transubstantiation, the moment of consecration. In this regard the West turned more towards the Words of Institution and the East towards the Epiclesis. From an Eastern perspective, however, the understanding of the Eucharist cannot be narrowed down to one or two moments. All parts are essential, but not equal, since each is related to the others organically in one sacramental structure. In fact, one part makes the next possible and meaningful. (For example, the Syro-Malabar Qurbana which begins with an invitation to celebrate the mystery as commanded by the Lord, goes on to commemorate his birth, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the second coming).

The Eastern tradition in general considers the whole of the anaphora comprising the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis as consecratory. But there is the case of the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, used by the Chaldeans, the Syro-Malabarians and the Assyrians, that did not have the Words of Institution in its original. Though the Catholic Chaldeans and the Syro-Malabarians use this anaphora with the Words of Institution, the non-Catholic Assyrians continue to use it without them. It has been a stumbling block in the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church. In an historical agreement (October 2001) between these Churches, the Catholic Church accepted the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari without the Words of Institution as a valid Anaphora. The question that immediately arises here is the following: Can there be an anaphora without “consecration”? The obvious answer is an emphatic ‘NO’. But, here the basic question to be answered is: What is meant by “consecration”? Is it the Words of  Institution” Or, Epiclesis? Or, both?

One of the first considerations of Rome to accept this anaphora without the Words of Institution was that it was one of the most ancient anaphorae of Christian tradition, and hence it is part of the common Tradition of Christendom. Secondly, the content of the anaphora has virtual links to the Words of Institution of the Eucharist, the Last Supper, the sacrifice of Christ and the oblation of the Church. Thirdly, the Assyrian Church is a ‘sister-Church’ with apostolic succession and she has been consistently following the true nature of the Eucharist as a sacrifice and the Eucharistic bread and wine as the true Body and Blood of Christ. And finally, though the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari has not reproduced the Words of Institution ad litteram, the content of the Institution is found in the euchological prayers.

In this context it is useful to recall the distinction between the theologia prima and theologia secunda. The former is the lex orandi – the faith expressed in the liturgy of the Church antecedent to the speculative questioning and dogmatic systematization. The latter is the systematic reflection on the lived mystery in the Church. The Words of Institution as a moment of consecration is a systematic and dogmatic expression of the faith. On the contrary, the language of theologia prima is more typological and metaphysical than scholastic and systematic. In other words, it is symbolic and evocative, and not philosophical and ontological.

The transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is definitely an integral part of the understanding of the Eucharist in both Western and Eastern theology. But the approach in its interpretation is not the same. While the West is concerned more about substance and accident, matter and form, validity and liceity, and Transubstantiation, the concern of the East is the “reality” of Christ’s Body and Blood. The philosophical questions can only lead to disputes, and eventually take us away from the essentials of the Eucharist. What St. Paul says is true: ‘The cup we bless is a participation in the Blood of Christ and the bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ’ (I Cor 10:16).

The Orthodox prefer to use the term “sacramental change” (metabole) in the place of Transubstantiation.  And some modern theologians in the West use terms like Transignification and Transfinalization for the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

(iv)  Penance:   The practice of sacramental absolution of sins in the Catholic Eastern Churches is regulated by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which is similar to that of the Latin Code, except in some details. The individual confession and absolution is the ordinary means to obtain the forgiveness of sins though general absolution is allowed in particular situations as enunciated in the Code of Canons. The rules governing the confessional seal, reservation of sins, faculty to administer the sacrament of penance etc are almost the same as in the Latin Code.

Regarding the ‘obligation’ of confession, the rule is that the one who is aware of serious sins is to receive the sacrament of penance as soon as possible. It is strongly recommended that the faithful receive this sacrament frequently, especially during the times of fasts and penance observed in their own Church sui iuris.

The formula used for absolution is deprecative or declarative, thereby emphasizing the role of God in forgiving the sins.

Among the Orthodox this sacrament is understood more as a spiritual healing than as a ‘juridical absolution’.

(v) Anointing of the Sick:  Already from the 4th century we have evidence of some sort of a healing ceremony in the Christian East. The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) has a prayer for blessing the oil for the sick. However, this sacrament does not seem to have developed  into a full-fledged ceremony in the East as in the West.

It is practically a prayer of healing for the Orthodox. In some Orthodox Churches it is administered also as a preparation for great liturgical feasts (eg. Wednesday of the Holy Week).

It is reported that the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala had an indigenous form of anointing the sick before the arrival of the Latin missionaries in the 16th century. They used to take some soil from the tomb of St. Thomas in Madras-Mylapore, and mix it with water for anointing the sick.

(vi) Holy Orders:  The Eastern Churches have various grades and practices with regard to the sacrament of Holy Orders. Still we do find certain basic rites in all the Churches.

A primary symbol used in the ordination service has been the imposition of hands on the candidates. It is considered to be an epicletic gesture. The Eastern liturgy of Ordination owes much to the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century). According to this document, the ordained are to minister at the altar of the Lord, thereby emphasizing their priestly duty. Symbolically the bishop occupies the place of the Father, the priest that of Christ, and the deacons of the apostles. The ceremony of placing the open Gospel book upon the head or the shoulders of the bishop-elect too appears in this document. This is to show that the bishop is the official bearer and proclaimer of the Gospel. The anointing with the sacred oil is not necessarily an integral part of the Eastern practice, though some traditions have it.

In the Eastern Churches there is a distinction between Ordination and the ecclesiastical dignity such as Chorepiscopus and Archdeacon. So also, there is a distinction between the Major and Minor Orders. From a liturgical point of view, the latter distinction is not very clear although the imposition of hands is generally excluded from the Minor Orders. Still we find the imposition of hands in the Minor Orders of the East Syrian, Armenian, Maronite and Coptic rituals. It is actually the formula of prayer that clarifies the Order conferred, and not the gesture of imposition. The liturgical solemnity is higher according to the grade of Order conferred. The basic structure of Ordination, namely the imposition of hands with the accompanying prayers, the putting on of the sacred vestments and the kiss of peace, is still being continued in all the Churches.

All Churches have three Major Orders: Diaconate, Priesthood and Episcopate. The Minor Orders vary according to the Rites. The Byzantines have Lectorate and Sub-diaconate; the Antiochians (Syro-Malankarites) Singer, Lectorate and Sub-diaconate; the East Syrians (Syro-Malabarians) Lectorate and Sub-diaconate.

In the Eastern tradition, the deacons do not have some of the rights enjoyed by the Latin deacons. As the term indicates, the Eastern Churches understand them as those who do “diakonia” (=service). Their basic duty, therefore, is to assist the bishops and the priests in the sanctuary. However, today many Eastern Churches allow the deacons to administer certain sacramentals like funeral, house blessing etc, but without the ‘blessing’ proper with the sign of the cross which is reserved to the bishops and the priests. Preaching the homily, which was reserved to the bishops and the priests, may now be done by the deacons also.

(vii)  Matrimony:    According to the Latin understanding, the ministers of matrimony are the bridegroom and the bride. The Eastern understanding is different. Accordingly, every sacrament is “given” to the candidate. Nobody administers any sacrament on oneself because a sacrament “confers” grace. One can confer only what he/she possesses. So the Church has to confer it through her officially appointed ministers. Therefore, the blessing of the priest is necessary for the validity of the marriage. For this reason, in the Syro-Malabar ritual of marriage, the priest prays for himself in the following words: O God,….strengthen me to administer worthily this sacrament that binds this bride and groom in love. Shower upon me your abundant graces”.

Another Eastern feature of the marriage ritual is the “crowning”. The bride and the groom are crowned to symbolize the eternal crown they would be gifted in the kingdom of God. This has however fallen into disuse in many Eastern Churches.

Marriage being a ceremony tied very much to the cultural sensibilities of the people, it has many local elements. For example, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala have the tying of Thali or Minnu around the neck of the bride. She is also given Pudava or Saree by the bridegroom.

3.3.13    Mariology

 

In the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern traditions, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most exalted among the creatures. She is the Mother of God. She is all holy and ever Virgin. There is no church in the Christian East without an icon of Mary. However, the “popular” devotions in honour of Mary as understood in the West are not common among them.

The approach of the East towards Mary is biblical in nature and liturgical in devotion. The Syriac East employs symbolic-poetic methodology to explain the different aspects of Mary’s role in the history of salvation. We may not find dogmatic assertions in this approach. What we find in it is a ‘wondering at with admiration’ depicting Mary as the most beautiful and faithful daughter of David in whom the Son of God resided.

The main Marian themes of the East are her divine Motherhood, her perpetual Virginity, her role in the redemptive work of Christ, her Assumption into heaven and her intercession. Therefore, they commemorate the feast of Annunciation (25 March), Immaculate Conception (8 December), Birth of Mary (8 September), Assumption (15 August) etc. According to a Syrian liturgical calendar of 1689, the feast of Annunciation has to be celebrated even if it falls on Good Friday because Annunciation is the beginning and the source of all other feasts.

As regards Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven, the Orthodox do agree with the “content” of them. But they have difficulties to accept them as ‘dogmas’ as the Catholics do. It is worthy of note that the Syriac East started celebrating the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven from the 5th century. This feast is known as Dormition (= falling asleep) of Mary or Transitus (= transit). In fact, in the definition of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1854) and of her Assumption into Heaven (1950), the age-old testimony of the Eastern Churches had a prominent influence.

The Western Marian devotional practices have definitely influenced the Eastern Catholics to a great extent. Therefore, the Marian devotion of Rosary, devotion to Our Lady of Dolours, Perpetual Succour, Immaculate Heart of Mary etc. have found a place in their spirituality. The most prominent among them is Rosary.

3.3.14    Laity

The lay people have always played an important role in the life of the Eastern Churches. In the non-Catholic Eastern tradition their participation even in the episcopal election has not disappeared everywhere. In the Orthodox Churches there are many lay theologians of international reputation. The ordination of married men to permanent diaconate is a common feature among them.

In the tradition of the St. Thomas Christians of India, lay people enjoyed power not only in the temporal administration of the Church, but also in spiritual matters. For example, lay people were involved in the ex-communication of an individual from the Church community. The decisions concerning the community were taken by the Church assembly called Palliyogam. The laity had a say in the choice of the parish priests also. They were chosen from among the parishioners themselves. So much so, the parish priests were selected by the people, from the people and for the people. This democratic way of life-style prompted the Western missionaries to call the St. Thomas Christian tradition a “Christian Republic”. Thus examining their socio-ecclesial life, one could say that they were practising a ‘theology of communion’. Adapting local marriage customs, the rites of birth and death, and indigenous art and architecture, they were living an implicit ‘theology of incarnation’ also.

The Vatican II understanding of Church as the “People of God” is a revered tradition in the East. History shows that the Eastern Churches of the past were “people-oriented” communities. The revival of this tradition in its full sense will help to enhance the participation of the lay people in building up the Body of Christ. While referring to the idea of a ‘participatory Church’, Pope John Paul II says that the ecclesial communion implies that each local Church becomes a community in which all live their proper vocation. There needs to have greater involvement of the laity in pastoral planning and decision making through participatory structures such as pastoral councils and parish assemblies. (Ecclesia in Asia 25). This is necessary to give the lay people their rightful place in the Church.

Conclusion

 

Asian and Indian theology will do well to imbibe Eastern theology since it goes naturally with the Asian religious ethos. Apophatism, symbolism, monasticism, experiential knowledge of God etc are some of the elements of it. The Eastern theology is helpful to quench the thirst of those who are bored with formalism and systematic categorization in theology, and can lead them to an experiential religious life. At the same time, it should not be simply tied up to the “things above” in a numinous sphere of the church architecture and awe-inspiring cultic celebrations. It has to be concerned also with the “things below”, looking at the world around it that struggles against poverty, injustice, marginalization and oppression of various sorts.

In this respect, the Western theology can be of immense help to Eastern theology. As Karl Barth said, a theologian should have the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. In other words, Eastern theology too has to be a “theology in reaction”, a theology that reacts to the living context of the people.

.

Select Bibliography

 

A. Documents

 

Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter Concerning the Studies of the Oriental Churches, in L’Osservatore Romano, English Language Edition, 6 April 1987

Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Kottayam 1996 (Indian Edition)

FABC Papers No.96, Methodology: Asian Christian Theology. Doing Theology in Asia Today, Hong Kong  2000

 

Indian Theological Association (ITA), The Issue of “Rites” in the Indian Church. A Theological Reflection, in J.PARAPILLY (ed.), Theologizing in the Context. Statements of the Indian Theological Association, Bangalore 2000.

John Paul II, Letter to the Bishops of India, in Christian Orient 2 (1987)

John Paul II, Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen”, in L’Osservatore Romano, English Language Edition, 3 May 1995

Vatican II, Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum)

 

B. Books and Articles

 

Kallarangatt J., “The Trinitarian Foundation of an Ecclesiology of Communion”, in Christian Orient 1 (1980)

Koodapuzha X., Oriental Churches.  An Introduction, Kottayam 1996

Koodapuzha X. (ed.), Eastern Theological Reflection in India, Kottayam 1999

Luke K., “Oriental Theology”, in Christian Orient 4 (1988)

Madey J., Orientalium Ecclesiarum More Than Twenty Years After, Kottayam 1987

Parappally J., “Communion Among the Individual Churches”, in Vidyajyoti, November 1995

Pathil Kuncheria, “Vatican II and the Rite Question in India”, in Kunnumpuram K. – Ferdinando L., Quest for an Indian Church, Anand 1993

Vellanickal M., “Biblical Theology of the Individual Churches”, in Christian Orient 1 (1980)

Roberson R., The Eastern Christian Churches. A Brief Survey, Bangalore 2004

Maniyattu P., East Syriac Theology. An Introduction, Satna 2007

Manakatt M. – Puthenveettil J. (ed.), Syro-Malabar Theology in Context,  Kottayam 2007

Puthur B.(ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 2005

Thottakkara A., East Syrian Spirituality, Bangalore 1990

Nedungatt G., The Spirit of the Eastern Code, Bangalore 1993

Arangassery L., A Handbook on Catholic Eastern Churches, Changanassery 1999

Alencherry I., An Eastern Theology of Priesthood, New Delhi 1994

Mannooramparampil T., Theological Dimensions of Christian Orient, Kottayam 2005

Koodapuzha X., Communion of Churches, Kottayam 1993

Pallath P. (ed.), Catholic Eastern Churches. Heritage and Identity, Rome 1994

Clendenin D.B., Eastern Orthodox Theology. A Contemporary Reader, Michigan 1995

Taft R., “Eastern Catholic Theology: Slow Rebirth after a Long and Difficult Gestation”, in Eastern Catholic Journal 8/2 (2001)

Every G., Understanding Eastern Christianity, Bangalore 1978

Liesel N., The Eastern Catholic Liturgies, London 1960

Atiya A., A History of Eastern Christianity, London 1968

Attwater D., The Christian Churches of the East (2 Volumes), Milwaukee 1961

Binns J., An Introdution to the Christian Orthodox Churches, Cambridge 2002

Lossky V., The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Cambridge 1957

Meyendorff J., Byzantine Theology. Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, New York 1974

Spislik T., The Spirituality of the Christian East. A Systematic Handbook, Kalamazoo 1986

Taft R., The Liturgy of the Hours of East and West. The Origins of the Divine Office and its Meaning for Today, Collegeville 1986

CHAPTER TWO

 

THE CHARACTERISTICS OF THE EASTERN CHURCHES

As we have already mentioned, an Individual Church is distinguished by her liturgy, theology, spirituality and discipline. This chapter is devoted to the understanding of the liturgical, theological, spiritual and juridical characteristics of the Eastern Churches.

2.1   Liturgical Characteristics

 

2.1.1.      It is Communal Worship 

 

‘Privatization’ of liturgy (eg. Private Mass, Devotional Mass etc.) is not an Eastern practice.  Since the Eastern worship system has popular and cultural roots, it is naturally community worship.  Liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is a celebration of the unity of the local Church. The Divine Office too is the ‘public worship’ of the community of the faithful.  Therefore, the tendency to reduce the time of worship to a manageable length so that many Masses can be conducted at regular intervals is not of Eastern ethos.

2.1.2.   ‘Mystery’ Dimension and  Liturgical Celebration

 

The ‘mystery’ dimension (not ‘mysterious’ dimension) is highly emphasized in the Eastern tradition.  Various means like the use of the veil, incense, prayers with  expressions like ‘awful’ and ‘fearful’, numerous prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant and the people etc. are used to underscore the mystery dimension.  Therefore, the Blessed Sacrament is not generally ‘exposed’ in the monstrance.  If at all it is exposed, a veil is put on it as in the Syro-Malankara Church. (The practice of putting a veil in front of the tabernacle, if there is Sacrament reserved, may be recalled in this context; so also, the veil of the ciborium containing the consecrated species). There are also Eastern Churches that ‘expose’ the covered ciborium with the Blessed Sacrament for adoration, instead of using the monstrance. The Eastern expressions like the mystery of baptism, the mystery of Eucharist, the mystery of matrimony etc. may be understood in this context.  The most solemn celebration of the holy Qurbana in the Syro-Malabar Church is even now called ‘Raza’ which literally means ‘mystery’.

2.1.3  Importance given to Symbols

 

A complaint about the Eastern liturgies is that they are ‘long’, ‘pompous’ and ‘complicated’.  This impression is based on an inadequate knowledge about the great importance the Easterners attach to symbolisms in worship.

The symbols are widely used in the Eastern liturgy. They include objects, places and movements.  The division of the church building into three parts – sanctuary, choir and nave – is an example thereof.  The sanctuary symbolizes the heavenly Jerusalem and the nave the earthly Jerusalem.  The choir symbolizes the angels who sing the praises of God.

In the Antiochian tradition, the thurible has a fantastic interpretation.  The upper part of the thurible represents heaven, the lower part the hell and the cup containing fire symbolizes the purgatory.  The three chains which support the lower part of the thurible are symbols of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and the single chain of the upper part symbolizes the Triune God.  Each chain has 18 rings representing the 72 (18×4) disciples and the 12 bells on the chains are the 12 apostles.

The gospel procession from the sanctuary to the ambo placed in the nave symbolizes Christ coming down from the heavenly Jerusalem to the earthly Jerusalem to announce his Good News. According to some Eastern Churches, the deacons undertaking various duties during the celebration are called Michael, Gabriel and Raphael. Of course, certain symbolisms would give the impression of allegories.  What is important, however, is the preference of the Eastern Churches for the appeal to the senses rather than for the intellect that expresses the invisible realities.

2.1.4 Postures and Gestures

 

The Eastern tradition is very particular about giving symbolic meaning to the postures and gestures used in the liturgy.  For example, standing symbolizes joy, and hence except on a few occasions, one has to stand up during the Eucharistic celebration as it recalls the joy in the Risen Lord.  One has to kneel down when prayers of penitence are said as kneeling is generally interpreted as a penitential act. One sits down ‘to listen’, and hence sitting posture is common during the scriptural readings (except gospel reading) and the homily.

In the Syro-Malabar Qurbana, the celebrant after entering the sanctuary kisses the altar at the centre, on its right and left, these places in turn symbolize the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit respectively.

2.1.5 Manner of making the Sign of the Cross

The universal practice of making the sign of the cross on oneself was from right to left.  Later some Churches began to make it from left to right.  Various interpretations are given to this practice.  Those who move their hand from right to left attach importance to the common understanding of the ‘right’ as the place of ‘goodness’ and ‘light’.  Hence one has to take the light from the right, and then to the left to dispel the ‘darkness’ of the ‘left’.  Those who move from left to right mean that at birth we are children of the ‘left’, and hence of ‘darkness’ as we are born with the ‘original sin’.  Moving to the right, we abandon the darkness and go to the light on the right. Another simple explanation is that when one blesses others with the sign of the cross, he moves his hand from the right to the left of the person blessed.  Hence it is proper that when he makes the sign of the cross on himself he does it in the same manner.

2.1.6 Continuity in the Liturgical Tradition

 

A special attachment to the liturgical tradition is very evident in the Eastern Churches.  This does not mean that their liturgy is immobile.  As a matter of fact, change and growth in their liturgy are slow, and sometimes imperceptible. One reason for this is that the changes are not dictated from above, but are part of a natural process taking place slowly.

2.1.7        Repetition of  Prayers and Hymns

 

Repetition of prayers and hymns is in fact a feature found in all Eastern Religions.  The Bhajans and Namajapas of Indian tradition are examples thereof.  Repetition is said to be helpful to concentrate on a particular idea and to underscore it.  Repeating the prayers is not entirely an Eastern tradition either.  The Kyrie Eleison and the Agnus Dei in the Latin Mass too are examples of repetition.  The Eastern liturgies, of course, use it more profusely.

 

2.1.8 Importance of Community Singing

 

‘Who sings, prays twice’ is a well-known and accepted dictum.  The Eastern tradition has always given importance to singing in the liturgy.  Even the prayers are said in a musical tone.  Therefore, the choir substituting community, found in some Eastern Churches, like  the Syro-Malabar Church, is entirely a new phenomenon.  Very often the hymns are sung alternating the stanzas between the celebrants and the choir (community) or between two groups of the choir (community) itself.  As community singing is the norm, the melodies are always simple.

2.1.9        Role of the Holy Spirit

 

The pneumatology of the East is well-known.  The importance attached to the epiclesis in the Eucharistic celebration, and in the blessing of the oil and water in baptism are concrete examples of this pneumatological emphasis.  The deprecative (declarative) formula in Baptism (‘you are baptized’) and Penance (‘you are forgiven’) are other examples.

2.1.10    Icons and Statues

 

The Eastern Churches prefer icons to statues.  In the Indian Eastern Churches, however, the statues need not be a taboo. The Indian religious culture has both statues and mural pictures. (The icons of the Eastern Churches are not the same as the pictures of the Indian tradition). Today the Syro-Malabar churches have more statues than icons.  The influence of the Western Church is evident in this development.

2.1.11    Communion of Saints and  Liturgy

 

The Church is not simply a place where the faithful worship God.  In a typical Eastern church we find the faithful going from one icon of saints to another, venerating and kissing them, and sometimes lighting a candle before them to express the ‘communion of saints’.  The icons are often the figures of the Old Testament and the Fathers of the Church.  Their great devotion to the dead too is noteworthy. The prayers and hymns in the liturgy bear ample witness to this devotion.

2.1.12    Construction of the Church Building

 

Vatican II, while referring to the construction of the churches for worship, remarks:  ‘When churches are built, let great care be taken that they be suitable for the celebration of liturgical services and for the active participation of the faithful’ (SC 124). The Eastern Churches have been always very careful in keeping the norms regarding the construction of the churches.  Each Individual Church has her own understanding of worship and worship symbols, and the churches were constructed accordingly. The setting up of the sanctuary, altar, tabernacle, ambo, choir and baptistery must be helpful to reveal this understanding.

Here below is described one model of church construction practiced in the East Syrian tradition.  Of course, this construction needs adaptations according to the needs of today and the availability of space.

The inside of the church consists of three parts, namely the sanctuary, the choir and the nave.  The choir is constructed one step above the nave, between the sanctuary and the nave.  This is to show that the choir represents the angels who sing glories of God in heaven.  The sanctuary built three steps above the choir symbolizes the Holy of Holies, the heavenly abode.

On both sides of the altar, a table each is put, one to prepare the bread and the other for the chalice. This is mainly not to allow the gifts to be prepared on the altar that represents the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.

A veil is put between the choir and the sanctuary.  It separates the Holy of Holies (the mysteries) from the rest of the church building. (As a veil is put in front of the tabernacle when the Eucharist is preserved, a veil is put before the sanctuary to recall the mysteries being celebrated inside the sanctuary).

The ambo is placed in the middle of the nave.  The ambo is not simply a lectern.  It is a fixed platform called the bema on which are arranged a table for placing the candles, the cross etc., and two lecterns for the Old Testament and the New Testament readings, and  chairs for the celebrants.  The liturgy of the Word in the midst of the people (in the nave) is interpreted as Jesus coming to the people to proclaim his Word.

The tabernacle is placed on one side of the sanctuary and the baptistery on the other side.  The closeness of the baptistery to the sanctuary is understood to emphazise the relationship between the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist as  sacraments of Christian initiation.

The symbolic set-up of the East Syrian tradition has the influence of Jerusalem temple.  As a matter of fact, it is well-known that this tradition had close contacts with, and high influence of semitic tradition.  Since the Syro-Malabar liturgy belongs to the East Syrian family, she too is supposed to follow these liturgical settings.  But, due to the demands of modern pastoral situations, some changes had to be made in this arrangement.  For example, the place of the liturgy of the Word (bema) is now arranged just in front of the nave, instead of in the middle.  Since the community singing is preferred, the role of the choir has faded away to a certain extent.  The choir occupying the place one step above the nave has almost disappeared. The custom of the Mass facing the people, now prevalent in many dioceses of the Syro-Malabar Church, has put in question the relevance of the veil between the sanctuary and the choir.

However, one thing is certain.  Whatever the structure of the church and its settings, the church building should be such that it is conducive to worship and active participation, and that it should evoke a sense of the sacred and the mysteries celebrated.

2.1.13    Altar as a Symbol of Jesus’ Sepulchre

 

There are at least two main symbolisms expressed by the altar.  According to one, the altar symbolizes the ‘table’ of the Last Supper.  The other is the symbol of the ‘sepulchre’ of Lord Jesus.  The Easterners in general prefer the latter symbolism.  The prayer in the Syro-Malabar Qurbana bidding farewell to the altar after the holy Mass clearly expresses this symbolism.  The prayer runs as follows: “Praise to the altar of sanctification. Praise to you the sepulchre of Our Lord.  May the holy Qurbana that I have received from you, be for me unto the forgiveness of my debts and the remission of my sins.  I know not whether I shall come again to offer another sacrifice”.

The deposition of the gifts on the altar at offertory too alludes to this symbolism.  The celebrant after raising the paten and the chalice in the form of a cross, recalling the death of Christ, places them on the altar which symbolizes the sepulchre.  He thus commemorates the ‘burial’ of the Lord, and then covers the offerings with a sacred veil to recall the ‘tombstone’.  For this reason the Eastern altars are generally covered on all four sides.

2.1.14    Fermented Bread and the Eucharistic Celebration

 

Many Eastern Churches use the fermented bread for the Eucharist.  It is a break from the Jewish tradition of unfermented bread used for their Paschal Meal.  Some Easterners interpret the fermentation as a symbol of the ‘living’ bread that gives remission of sins and eternal life.  However, some Eastern Churches, including the Syro-Malabar Church, have switched on to the unfermented bread for practical reasons.  The Syro-Malankara Church continues to use the fermented bread.

2.1.15    Structure of the Anaphoral Prayers

 

When the ancient Roman Rite was using only one anaphora (Roman Anaphora), the Eastern Churches produced a number of anaphorae. The Antiochian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malankara Church, has over 70 anaphorae, though some of them have been lost or are only fragmentary.  The East Syrian tradition, and hence the Syro-Malabar Church, is said to have had about 10 anaphorae.  At present it has only three.

There is an important difference between the Western and the Eastern anaphorae. While the West was satisfied with one anaphora, it had a number of Prefaces according to the liturgical seasons and feasts.  As the East does not have the so-called ‘Preface’, it multiplied the anaphorae.  While the Eastern anaphorae try to cover the main events of salvation history as a whole, the Western anaphora concentrates just on one particular event in its Preface.

The Syro-Malabar anaphora has four cycles of prayers, each cycle consisting of four prayers.  The first cycle of prayers is Theological in content thanking God the Father for His great mercies towards humankind.  The second cycle is Trinitarian  thanking the Holy Trinity for creation.  The third cycle of prayers is Christological recalling the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the institution of the holy Eucharist.  The fourth and  last cycle is Pneumatological or epicletic asking the Holy Spirit to come down and to sanctify and perfect the celebration.  The anaphora then concludes with a final doxology.

The Syro-Malankara anaphora has a total of 66 prayers of which 33 are fixed, symbolizing the 33 years of the life of Christ in this world. These prayers include the Institution Narrative, Epiclesis, prayers of thanksgiving, propitiation etc., and six intercessory prayers –  for the living and  the dead.

 

 

2.1.16  Concept of Concelebration

 

In general, the concept of concelebration in the East is different from that of the West.  A theological basis of the Western understanding of concelebration may be traced in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican II.  It shows the “unity of the priesthood” (SC 57).  There are Catholic Eastern Churches (eg. Syro-Malabar Church) which follows this understanding of concelebration).

In the Eastern perspective in general, the priest-celebrant represents Jesus Christ the High Priest who offers the sacrifice.  In this understanding, the other priests are only ‘assisting’ him, and not ‘concelebrating’ with him.  Hence all prayers of the anaphora are to be said by the main celebrant alone, and they are not to be distributed among the concelebrants.  In this understanding, the gospel has to be proclaimed by the main celebrant himself, and not by the concelebrants or the deacon as in the Latin West.

Co-consecration by the concelebrants is found in the West already in the 7th century Ordo Romanus III. The earliest Eastern practice is that of a Byzantine rubric book of 10th century. This text is a witness to the concelebration with only priests, without a Bishop.

Today there are various modes of concelebration in the Eastern tradition. The Armenians have it only for episcopal and priestly ordination. Among the Catholic Copts and Maronites there is verbal consecration by the concelebrants, whereas among the Orthodox Copts, the consecratory prayers are said only by the main celebrant. The Syrian Catholics and Orthodox have the so-called “synchronized” Mass, that is, each concelebrant has his own bread and chalice, and he joins the chief celebrant at the main altar by synchronizing his prayers and gestures.  In the Byzantine tradition there are various forms of concelebration.  There are those who practice verbal consecration by the concelebrants, and those who allow the main celebrant alone to utter the consecratory prayers. The Orthodox Byzantines normally have concelebration only when the bishop is present.  If only priests are present, one becomes the main celebrant, and others assist modo laico without sacred vestments.

According to the ancient East Syrian tradition, the priest who is ‘chosen’ to be the main celebrant alone says the consecratory prayers.  The other priests ‘assist’ him uttering some prayers of the pre-anaphoral and post-anaphoral parts. The Syro-Malabar liturgy which belongs to the East Syrian tradition, however, is now following verbal consecration by the concelebrants, though the main celebrant is given certain privileges.

2.1.17  Symbolism of East: Mass facing the Altar/People

 

Facing the East in prayer has been a universal tradition of Christian liturgies. Didascalia Apostolorum (3rd century) says: ‘Indeed it is required that you pray toward the East, as knowing that which is written: “Give thanks to God who rides upon the heaven of heavens toward the East”’. The symbolic significance of the East is based mainly on the rising sun. Christians considered it as a symbol of Christ. The symbolism of the East is supported also by the texts in the Bible. Paradise is said to be in the East (Gen 2:8). God’s glory comes from the East (Ezek 43:2). St. Augustine, Origen, St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Clement of Alexandria and St. John Damascene have mentioned the importance of prayer turning to the East.

For Christians, facing the East points to the eschatological hope. The East is symbolized as the place where the Lord will appear on the last day (Mt 24:30). Thus facing the East during prayers symbolizes the waiting for the Lord. It is a journey towards the heaven of the pilgrim Church. For these reasons the Eastern Churches – both Catholic and Orthodox – continue to face the East (for various reasons the ‘East’ is now symbolized also by the ‘Cross’ or the ‘Altar’) during the prayers, especially at the Eucharistic celebration.

But there are the Eastern faithful, especially in the Syro-Malabar Church, who prefer to face the congregation during the holy Qurbana. They are influenced by the Vatican II liturgical reforms and the practice in the Latin Church. After Vatican II, there was a conscious attempt to bring the liturgy closer to the people. One consequence of this move was to bring the ‘high altar’ to the people. Many consider it useful for active participation of the people. They are supported by the following arguments:

– God is present symbolically not only in the East, but also in the middle (midst). The monks who faced each other while praying experienced God in their midst.

– It brings about the symbolism of the Last Supper.

– It is not wrong that the priest who is alter Christus faces the people.

– Every celebration of the Mass is a turning to both God and the community.

– Facing the people is helpful to express better the ministerial priesthood of the celebrant and the common priesthood of the people.

2.1.18  Role of the Deacons in the Liturgical Celebration

 

The institution of permanent diaconate has never been absent in the Eastern Churches, though in practice there were only a few of them in both Orthodox and Catholic traditions of the recent past.  Today there are attempts to revive it.

The deacon has an indispensable role to play all throughout the liturgical celebration.  So much so, there are Eastern Churches that do not celebrate the holy Mass if a deacon is not available.  Some other Churches, like the Syro-Malabar Church, make use of the services of altar boys today in the place of the deacons.  Historically, the Syro-Malabar Church too had married deacons in the parishes to assist the priests in the liturgy.  It may be recalled that many Eastern Churches also had deaconesses to assist the priests, especially at the baptism of women.  The main duty of the deacon is to assist the celebrant and to help the people for active participation by means of exhortations and announcements during the liturgy.

2.1.19   Divine Office as the Prayer of the Church

According to the Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches, the Oriental clerics and religious are to celebrate the Divine Office in accordance with the prescriptions and traditions of their Church sui iuris. It is recommended also to the lay people. This is attested also by the ancient practice. Even now, many churches continue the common recitation of the Divine Office with the faithful in the parish churches and monasteries. As for the clerics, it is an obligatory prayer according to the Code of Canons (CCEO 377).

2.1.20    Liturgical Year in the Eastern Understanding

The Liturgical Year in the Christian Orient must be seen in the background of Hebrew Liturgical Year. The Jews had arranged their Liturgical Year in four cycles: Daily Cycle, Weekly Cycle, Monthly Cycle and Annual Cycle.

The Daily Cycle consists of the morning and evening prayers. The Weekly Cycle is organized around Sabbath. The Monthly Cycle is based on the twelve lunations (light of the moon around the earth) of the year. The Annual Cycle based on three feasts, is of greater importance for us since it leads to the understanding of the Christian liturgical year.

The three feasts of the Annual Cycle are the feasts of the Unleavened Bread, Harvest and Ingathering (Ex 33:14-17; 34:18-23). These three feasts were agricultural celebrations of the Jews. In course of time, they were made ‘soteriological’ with the new awareness they had in the course of history. Consequently, they changed the names of the feasts giving them new meaning. Thus the feast of the Unleavened Bread became the feast of Passover, remembering their passage from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of Canaan. The feast of Harvest was renamed the feast of Weeks and they commemorated the closing day of Exodus. The feast of Ingathering was called the feast of Tabernacles to recall their days in the desert when Yahweh lived with His people in the tents (Lev 23:4-36; Deut 16:1-17).

The Christian Liturgical Year in the East was inspired to a great extent by the Hebrew Liturgical Year. But in the Christian perspective, the only yardstick was the Lord of history, Jesus Christ. Thus for Christians, the feast of Passover became the feast of the Lamb of God and the feast of Weeks the feast of Pentecost commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit. The feast of Tabernacles became the final stage of the liturgical year, the Eternal Bliss (Parousia).

The following are the four pillars on which the Eastern Liturgical Year is built up: Easter, Sunday, Temporal Cycle and Sanctoral Cycle. When we examine the Temporal Cycle of the East, we come across six important ‘moments’ of the liturgical year. They are:

(i)                 Epiphany (January 6): It commemorates the Baptism of Christ in the Jordan and the revelation of the Holy Trinity. Before the 25th of December became  Christmas Day, Epiphany was considered also as the day of Nativity.

(ii)               Transfiguration (August 6): As in the Epiphany, in the Transfiguration too there is the manifestation of the Holy Trinity. Therefore, it is a very important feast for the Eastern Churches.

(iii)             Exaltation of the Cross (September 14):  The veneration of the Cross is an important liturgical manifestation of the Eastern tradition. Hence the liturgical year dedicates a period for its veneration (Period of the Cross).

(iv)             Resurrection: All other ‘moments’ of the liturgical year are centred around the mystery of Resurrection. It is the mystery par excellence. It is the Day of the Lord. This mystery is commemorated on Sundays in the Weekly Cycle.

(v)               Pentecost: This may be considered as the culminating moment of the Paschal mystery. The renowned Eastern pneumatology is based on this Pentecostal theme.

(vi)             Parousia:  It is the final stage of the liturgical year. The Eastern liturgies give emphasis to this theme since all look forward to the Second Coming of the Lord – Maranatha!

The Syro-Malabar Liturgical Year may be examined to understand the application of the above mentioned six ‘moments’. It consists of 9 liturgical periods, each having a name and a theme. The prayers, hymns and the scriptural readings are arranged according to the spirit of the liturgical seasons. Each season commemorates a mystery of our salvation realized in Jesus Christ. The 9 periods and the mysteries celebrated are the following:

(i)                 Annunciation:  The mystery of Incarnation. This period has four Sundays.

(ii)               Nativity:  The mystery of Incarnation is continued. It has 1 or 2 Sundays.

(iii)             Epiphany:  The mystery of the Revelation of the Holy Trinity. It can have 5 to 8 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(iv)             Lent:  The mystery of the Passion of Christ. It has always 7 Sundays.

(v)               Resurrection:  The mystery of Redemption. It has 7 Sundays.

(vi)             Apostle:  The mystery of the Power of the Holy Spirit. The period starts on the feast of Pentecost. It has 7 Sundays.

(vii)           Kaitha (Summer):  The mystery of the Growth of the Church. This period is called “summer” since, after the preaching of the apostles, there will be ‘summer’, that is, the growth of the Church. 7 Sundays.

(viii)         Elijah CrossMoses:  The mystery of the Second Coming of Christ. There is a traditional belief that Elijah and Moses would be present with Christ on the day of Judgement. That is why these two names are given along with the Cross (= Christ). It can have up to 11 Sundays depending upon the date of Easter.

(ix)             Dedication of the Church:  The mystery of the Heavenly Bliss. It has 4 Sundays.

Thus the Syro-Malabar liturgical year begins with the period of Annunciation which culminates with the birth of Christ (Nativity). Then Christ manifests himself on the day of his baptism (Epiphany). After this he begins his public life announcing the Good News, but had to suffer, and finally he was crucified (Lent). But that was not his end. He rose from the dead (Resurrection) and sent the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. After receiving the Holy Spirit, the apostles went about preaching the Good News (Apostle). As a result, the Church began to grow (Summer). The pilgrimage of the Church comes to an end on the day of Final Judgement (Elijah-Cross-Moses). And on the last day, the chosen ones will enjoy the eternal bliss (Dedication of the Church). In this way the liturgical year helps people to make the pilgrimage in the Church along with Christ from Annunciation to Parousia..

Besides the Temporal Cycle of the liturgical year centred on the life of Christ, there is also the Sanctoral Cycle commemorating the saints. Though there are feasts of saints on fixed dates ( June 29 for Sts. Peter and Paul, July 3 for St. Thomas etc.), the Easterners also have the tradition of celebrating the feasts of saints according to the seasons of the liturgical year. Thus the period of Annunciation is an appropriate time to recall Virgin Mary’s role in the salvation history. The period of Epiphany which recalls the public life of Christ, commemorates the great figures like St. John the Baptist, Sts. Peter and Paul, St. Stephen etc. The period of Summer is the most apt time to recall the martyrs who shed their blood for the growth of the Church.

2.1.21    Eschatological dimension

 

 The liturgical prayers, especially those of the holy Mass, reveal a profound expectation of the second coming of Christ. One looks eagerly to the Lord who comes. Therefore, the final blessing of the Eucharistic celebration almost always refers to this theme. One of the final blessings of the Syro-Malabar Qurabana ends as follows: “May we, who joyfully participated in these glorious, life-giving and divine mysteries, be crowned with glory”.  And in another blessing, the celebrant prays that may Christ “make us worthy of the glory of his kingdom, eternal happiness with his holy angels, and joy in his divine presence”.

2.2               Theological Characteristics

 

Pluriformity in theology is an accepted fact, provided they are complementary, and not contradictory. In this respect, Eastern theology has some special features, which, in some cases, are different from the Western perspective. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism remarks, “[I]n the study of the revealed truth East and West have used  different methods and approaches in understanding and confessing divine things. It is hardly surprising, then, if sometimes one tradition has come nearer to a full appreciation of some aspects of a mystery of revelation than the other, or has expressed them better. In such cases, these various theological formulations are often to be considered complementary rather than conflicting” (UR 17). Referring to this statement of Vatican II, Pope John Paul II notes: “I listen to the Churches of the East, which I know are living interpreters of the treasure of tradition they preserve. In contemplating it, before my eyes appear elements of great significance for a fuller and more thorough understanding of the Christian experience” (Oriental Lumen, 5). Among these elements the Pope especially mentions the following:

–          An original way of living their relationship with the Saviour, Lord Jesus Christ.

–          The respect they show towards the act of worship, especially the Eucharistic liturgy.

–          Their rootedness in the culture.

 Eastern theology does not pretend to solve all the paradoxes. It is divine and human, traditional and progressive, other-worldly and this-worldly, structured and free, and systematic and mystical. The following are some of its characteristics.

2.2.1        It is Scriptural

 Eastern theology is the fruit of meditation on the Word of God. For the theologians of the East, more important is what God has done for us, than who God is in Himself. Therefore, the basis of Eastern theology is the economy of salvation. As the Bible contains what this economy reveals, theology is primarily scriptural. In other words, theology is an interpretation of the Bible. This does not however mean that the East ignores the modern tools of form criticism, exegesis etc. As the Vatican II decree on Ecumenism notes, ‘with regard to the authentic theological tradition of the East, we must recognize that they are admirably rooted in Holy Scripture, are fostered and are given expression in liturgical life, are nourished by the living tradition of the apostles and by the works of their Fathers and spiritual writers of the East’ (UR 17).

2.2.2        It is Liturgical

 ‘Rule of prayer is the rule of faith’. Liturgy is in fact a celebration of Revelation. Therefore, the liturgy is not simply one among many sources of theology. It is locus theologicus. Rarely do we find the Western theologians quoting liturgical texts to substantiate their arguments. On the contrary, the Eastern theologians often refer to them as they consider the liturgical texts as source books.

2.2.3        It is Doxological

 Doxology is said to be the ‘grammar’ of theology. The doxological nature of theology is a consequence of its liturgical characteristic. Precisely for this reason, the Divine Office with its psalms and hymns, and the other liturgical texts, especially the holy Mass with their praise and thanksgiving, are of great importance in the Eastern Churches. Consequently, liturgy is a main source of their devotion and spirituality than the popular devotions.

2.2.4        It is Typological

 The preferred method of interpretation of the Sacred Scripture in the East is typology. The typological exegesis of St. Ephrem is widely known. An example is the pierced side of Christ, and the blood and water pouring out of it (John 19:34). The ‘blood’ and ‘water’ point to the sacraments of the Eucharist and Baptism. Another example is Adam’s side from where Eve comes forth. As Adam’s side is to Eve, so is Christ’s side to the Church. Breathing by Jesus on the apostles in the Upper Room with the words “Receive the Holy Spirit” (John 20:22) is compared to God’s breathing of life into the nostrils of Adam (Gen 2:7). Here the aim of the exegesis is to bring out the “hidden” mystery.

 Eastern theology understands the Sacred Scripture at two levels of meaning: An ‘historical-external’ meaning and a ‘spiritual-internal’ meaning. The Eastern theologians in general prefer to bring out the spiritual-internal meaning using the language of symbols.

2.2.5        It is Symbolic

  As against the rationalistic method of definitions, Eastern theology employs the method of symbols. The problem with definitions, which has foundation in pure philosophy, is that they put ‘boundaries’ to the defined reality. They try to contain what is ‘uncontainable’. They  put limits to the ‘unlimited’. In order to avoid this risk, the East, as far as possible, tries to evade logical systematization and categorization, and uses symbols and poetry. St. Ephrem is very famous for rendering theology into poetry. As we know, images and symbols are basic to human experience, and they are prior to philosophical categorization. The mountains as abode of God, and fire as the symbol of the Divinity are examples of this understanding.

2.2.6        It is Iconic

 Eastern theology is more akin to art than science. This leads to iconic theology. The basis of this theology is Incarnation, a spirituality of conforming oneself to Christ, and thus becoming an icon (image) of Christ. Genesis 1:27 (‘God created man in His image’) is its biblical basis. Christ is Father’s icon (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:12; Heb 1:3).

The purpose of the Eastern icon is multiple: symbolic, didactic, catechetical, kerygmatic, liturgical and aesthetic. Therefore, an iconographer has to be a God-fearing and devout Christian who shares the faith of the Church.A theologian’s task is that of an iconographer. Both are engaged in proclaiming their faith. The icons make visible what is invisible. What Scripture expresses through words, the icons express through colours. Hence we can call it ‘visual theology’. The icons are said to be of great help to the less sophisticated people to deepen their faith and Christian life. As Gregory the Great says, Scripture is for the educated and the icons are for the less educated.

2.2.7        It is Ecclesial

 In the Eastern understanding, a theologian is a “person of the Church” (an ecclesial person) who shares the faith of the Church and that of the people of God. He is not ‘above’ other believers. One has to live faith not only in the Church, but also with the Church. Therefore, genuine theology is possible only in communion with the Church, the Body of Christ, because Christian faith is “faith with the Church”. Consequently, Eastern theology is also “pastoral”, that is, addressed to the faithful rather than to the scholars.

2.2.8        It is Pastoral

 In the first millennium of Christianity, especially in the pre-medieval Patristic period, theology was for life, both in the East and the West. Thus it was dogmatic as well as pastoral. But, by the second millennium, especially after scholastic theology, it became more an academic affair. It became philosophical, clear, concrete and concise. It became analytical with divisions and subdivisions, with definitions and distinctions, with objections and replies. Vatican II, however, rediscovered the pastoral dimension of theology to a certain extent. The good of the faithful (‘bonum fidelium’) is by now an important aspect in theological discussions. The flexibility and diversity in the Eastern theology is due to this pastoral concern.

2.2.9        It is Apophatic

 Eastern theology is a mixture of mysticism, asceticism, monasticism etc. In the Eastern tradition, there is no sharp distinction between theology and mysticism, between the dogma affirmed by the Church and the contemplative experience of the divine mysteries. Theology is, in fact, more an experience (anubhava). It is not knowing something about God, but having God in oneself. The focus of mystical understanding is not to know that God is unchanging essence and immutable, but somehow participating in the mysteries of God. Mysticism helps to appropriate this mystery in a conscious experience.

Theology and monasticism too are closely related. The monastic life in the East is meant to be a life of radical commitment of witness to the eschatological life. In the Eastern understanding, monasticism is something inherent in the life of every Christian, and not an exclusive ‘charism’ of the monks. Fasting, penance and ascetical practices are part and parcel of this life-style. They are not merely seasonal or occasional acts of a Christian. A true theologian, therefore, has to be, to a certain degree, both a mystic and a monk.

2.2.10    It is Eschatological

 Historical criticism, legal aspects and compartmentalization are not the main concerns of Eastern theology. Even authority is understood more in terms of communion than as a legal superior. The whole Christian life is directed towards the search for the Absolute which creates an eschatological tension.

2.2.11    It is Pneumatocentric

 Eastern theology is centred on the mystery of the Holy Spirit. It is, so to say, epicletic. The deprecative or declarative formula in Baptism (‘Your are baptized’ instead of ‘I baptize you’) and Penance (‘You are forgiven’ instead of ‘I absolve you’), and epiclesis as a crucial moment in the Eucharistic anaphora are examples of this pneumatocentricism in Eastern theology.

2.2.12    It is Ecumenical

 For a long time, the Eastern Catholic Churches were de facto excluded from all direct dialogue with their Orthodox brethren. Ecumenical dialogue was considered to be a prerogative of the Western Roman Church. However, Vatican II reminded the Eastern Catholics of their special duty to enter into dialogue with the separated Eastern brethren (OE 24).

Eastern theology is more ecumenical than apologetic. Theology has to see the other not as an opponent, but as a partner. This is all the more important for the Catholic Eastern Churches as they have to hold dialogue with their separated brethren. Therefore, an Instruction of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches gave the following directive to all the Catholic Eastern Churches: ‘In every effort of liturgical renewal the practice of the Orthodox brethren should be taken into account, knowing it, respecting it and distancing from it as little as possible so as not to increase the existing separation, but rather intensifying efforts in view of eventual adaptations, maturing and working together’ (1996 Instruction, No.21).

2.2.13    It is Contextual

 The Eastern Churches have always tried to identify themselves with the local culture. The praiseworthy practice of inculturation that took place in these Churches shows how they grew imbibing the culture of the place.

2.3            Spiritual Characteristics   

Christian tradition has various sources to nurture the spiritual life of its faithful. Each Individual Church has developed, besides common features of Eastern spirituality, her own means to deepen the faith experience. We shall see here below some of these features of the Eastern tradition.

2.3.1        Spiritual Life centred on Liturgy

 The liturgy, especially the Eucharist, is the founding element of Eastern spirituality. For every community of believers, liturgy is the “summit and source” of Christian life. However, history shows that the Eastern Churches have maintained, in a special way, the primacy of the liturgy as the summit of Christian spirituality, remaining faithful to the apostolic period and the spirit of the Patristic period. The whole life of the Church is, in a way, summarized in the liturgy. This is the reason why the Eastern Churches have less popular devotions compared to the Western tradition.

2.3.2        A Profound Sense of the Sacred

The apophatic dimension of the liturgy which expresses the sense of unworthiness of human beings before the unfathomable nature of the Divinity is to elicit a sense of the sacred in the devotee. The expressions like awe-inspiring mystery (mysterium tremendum), the use of the sanctuary veil, prayers revealing the unworthiness of the celebrant etc. are indicative of it.

2.3.3        Ascetical Practices as a Source of Spirituality

The Christian East has a rigorous discipline with regard to fasts and penance. They have a number of days during the year devoted to fasting. According to the St. Thomas tradition of Kerala, almost half the days of the year were days of fasting. They abstained from meat, fish, egg and milk products on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Though some of these rigorous practices have now disappeared, they still attach great importance to these practices as a means of spiritual growth.

2.3.4        Mysticism and Monasticism

 Mysticism and monasticism are not exclusive to the monks. Every Christian is, to a certain extent, a mystic and a monk. In the East, monasticism was not seen merely as a separate condition proper to a precise category of Christians, but rather as a reference point for all the baptized according to the gifts offered to each by the Lord. It is, so to say, a symbolic synthesis of Christianity (cf. Orientale Lumen, 9).

2.3.5        Cult of the Icons

 The icons are not merely  reminders of some persons or events of salvation history. They are means to reflect over the mysteries of God and the Church to deepen the spirituality of the faithful. For some Easterners they are almost equal to the sacraments as they make visible the hidden mysteries to nourish their faith.

2.3.6        Importance given to the Cross

 Veneration of the Cross is an important source of Eastern spirituality. Eastern faithful make the sign of the cross on themselves on a number of occasions during the liturgical celebration. The bishops carry a hand-cross with which they bless the people, and the people express their obeisance to the bishops by showing veneration to the cross being carried by them. The feast of Exaltation of the Cross (September 14) is therefore a central one in the Eastern liturgical calendar.

2.3.7        Devotion to the Virgin Mary

 There is no Eastern church – Catholic or Orthodox – that does not have an icon or statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She is highly venerated in the churches and at home. A good number of ancient churches are dedicated to her. But she is often depicted with the Child Jesus in her hands to emphazise the Christological nature of Marian devotion. There are special feasts in honour of Mary, especially among the womenfolk.

2.3.8        Popular Devotions

The Eastern Churches have their own traditional popular devotions which are more individual than communitarian. The veneration of the Cross, icons and relics, the use of candles, incensing etc. are some of them. Very often these expressions of popular piety are linked to their liturgical life. This may be the reason why many of the Western devotional practices did not develop in the Eastern Churches. However, due to close contact with the Latin Church, some Western devotions, especially the Rosary and the Way of the Cross, are freely accepted by some Catholic Eastern Churches, and they have, in fact, enriched their spirituality.

2.4            Juridical Characteristics

 

All the Catholic Eastern Churches are governed by the Roman Pontiff and the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches. In addition, each Individual Church has her own Particular Laws. In certain matters, each eparchy is free to formulate its own local laws. The importance given to the local church is one of the fundamental reasons for this multiplicity of laws and regulations.

2.4.1        Synod of Bishops and its Functioning

 The Eastern Synod of Bishops is different in structure and functioning from the Bishops’ Conference of the Latin Church. It is different also from the Synod of Bishops occasionally convened in Rome by the Pope. The Synod of the Eastern Churches is a juridical body, and the bishops are bound by the serious obligation to attend the same whenever it is convoked. If a bishop is unable to participate in it for a just impediment, he is to submit his reasons to the synod. The synod is to decide upon the legitimacy of the impediment. After the opening of the synod no bishop is allowed to leave the sessions of the synod unless it is for a just reason approved by the synod. The synod has the authority to elect and transfer bishops, bifurcate eparchies, and approve liturgical texts. But their decisions need the recognitio (approval) of the Holy See. The decisions of the synod are binding on all the bishops and the eparchies.

2.4.2        Four Categories of the Catholic Eastern Churches

 The 22 Catholic Eastern Churches are divided into four categories. The Churches having a Patriarch as its head, are called “Patriarchal Churches”. There are 6 Patriarchal Churches. They are the following: Coptic (1824), West Syrian, Melkite, Maronite, Chaldean (1553) and Armenian (1742).

The second category is called “Major Archiepiscopal Churches” of which the head is called Major Archbishop. There are 4 Churches under this category. They are: Ukranian (1963), Syro-Malabar (1992), Syro-Malankara (2005) and Romanian (2005).

The third is “Metropolitan Churches” having one archdiocese and other dioceses. The archbishop of the archdiocese will be head of that Church, and he is called Metropolitan. The 2 Metropolitan Churches are the Ethiopean and the Ruthanian.

The rest of the Individual Churches – 10 of them – are called “Other sui iuris Churches”. These are Churches having no proper hierarchy, and hence are unable to convoke a synod as other Eastern Churches. They come under the direct pastoral guidance of the Pope.

There are a couple of differences between a Patriarch and a Major Archbishop, though both have equal rights and obligations in their respective Churches as their heads. One difference is with regard to the honour given to them. Between the two, the Patriarch has precedence of honour in relation to the Major Archbishop. The other difference is more serious. When the Synod of Bishops of a Major Archiepiscopal Church elects their head – the Major Archbishop -, he requires “confirmation’ of the Pope to become the Major Archbishop. In other words, the Pope can ask the synod to elect another person if he is not ready to confirm the person elected. On the other hand, in the election of a Patriarch, all that is required is “ecclesiastical communion” with the Roman Pontiff by means of a letter signed in Patriarch’s own hand.

2.4.3        Respect for Customs

 Custom is said to be the best interpreter of law (CCEO 1508). Normally a custom obtains the force of law only when it has been legitimately observed for thirty continuous and complete years. This is so because the Church wants to respect the practices rooted in the life of the people. This again shows the importance given to the local church.

2.4.4        Pragmatism and Flexibility

 The Eastern Churches have Common Laws (CCEO), Particular Laws (enacted by the Synods) and Eparchial Laws. Besides these laws, there are also local customs. Consequently, in the application of the laws, there is room for flexibility depending upon the local traditions. This pragmatic approach is to respond to the concrete pastoral needs.

2.4.5        Religious ‘Obligations’

 The ‘obligation’ as understood in the West, generally speaking, is not an Eastern feature. Even ‘Sunday obligation’ to attend Mass was not strictly practised by many Eastern Churches in the past. Of course, Sunday, the Day of the Lord, is a ‘Holy Day’, a day of sanctification. It can be sanctified not only by attending Mass, but also by praying the Divine Office. In one of the documents of the Greek Catholic Church, we read something as follows: ‘The precept of divine worship on Sundays and feast days is to be observed. Those who neglect it sins more or less gravely according to the degree of negligence. However, this precept can be fulfilled also by participating in the Divine Office’. As of today, most of the Catholic Eastern Churches practise ‘Sunday obligation’ by participating in the Eucharistic celebration.

CHAPTER THREE

 EASTERN THEOLOGY

 

In this Chapter we shall deal with the sources of Eastern theology, the method of theologizing in the East and some selected themes of theology.

3.1 The Sources of Eastern Theology

 

The East has a variety of sources which influence its theology.

3.1.1 Scared Scripture: The Bible is considered to be the most sublime expression of God’s revelation. Hence it is the primary source of theology.

3.1.2 Liturgy: The rule of prayer is the rule of faith (Lex orandi lex credendi). Faith is expressed not in dogmatic terms, but in liturgical celebrations. The uninterrupted continuity of the Church is manifested in her liturgy.

3.1.3 Ecumenical Councils and Creeds: In a broad sense, we may call it Tradition. The Councils and Creeds are expressions of the faith of the Church in history and tradition.[ The Orthodox accept only the first seven Councils, namely Nicaea (325), Constantinople I (381), Ephesus (431), Chalcedon (451), Constantinople II (553), Constantinople III (680-681) and Nicaea II (787)].

3.1.4 Fathers of the Church: The Fathers of the Church are guardians of the mind of the apostles and the ancient Church. Though the Fathers did not have the charism of “inspiration”, they had the charism of “interpretation”. Their writings are an inexhaustible spring, faithful and true, that irrigate the Christian imagination with the life-giving water flowing from the biblical and spiritual sources of the faith. [The Western Catholic tradition has restricted the Fathers to the period of Isidore of Seville (+636) and the Eastern Catholic tradition to John of Damascus (+749). But the Orthodox believe that such a restriction would be tantamount to saying that the Holy Spirit  has deserted the Church].

3.1.5 Canons: Canons are the norms drawn up by the ecumenical and local Councils on the discipline and organization of the Church. The East sees a relationship between the dogmas and the canons. Accordingly, the canons apply the dogmas to practical Christian life.

3.1.6 Icons: Icons are considered to be a way of God’s revelation to man. The spiritual world is exteriorized through the icons. Therefore, the Easterners expect a practising Christian to paint the icons.

3.1.7 Other Sources: To the above mentioned sources we may add also other elements like monasticism, asceticism, mysticism, martyrology, spiritual writers, and practices of fasting, penance and abstinence which have some influence on the theological thinking of the East.

 

3.2 Theologizing in the Eastern Tradition

 

The Easterners make a distinction between theology and theological teaching. Theology is existential experience of God, whereas theological teaching is the scientific exposition of the experiential knowledge of God. In this sense, every practising Christian is a ‘theologian’. A ‘professional’ theologian is one who is capable of articulating the faith of the Church, and also who helps others to live it.

The eternal bliss in heaven, as understood in the East, is not the vision of the Essence of God, but “deification”, the “union” with the Holy Trinity. This union with God is not in his “Essence”, but in his “Energy”, that is ‘Grace’. What Western theology calls ‘supernatural’ is understood as ‘divine energy’ in the East. In short, theology in the East is not an academic exercise, but the outcome of a lived experience of God. Their theological method is more doxological than intellectual; it is more poetical than logical; it is more apophatic than cataphatic.

In theologizing, therefore, the East employs the so-called ‘apophatic way’ or the ‘negative way’. They try to know God in what He is not. It is very similar to the Indian way of ‘neti, neti’. Since God is a transcendent reality, man with his limitedness is incapable of fully comprehending Him. Therefore, philosophizing on the concept of God is not very effective. Precisely for this reason, God is called the ‘Invisible’, the ‘Incomprehensible’, the ‘Unfathomable’, the ‘Indescribable’, the ‘Beyond’, and the ‘Other’. As Pseudo-Dionisius (AD 500) says, the knowledge about God can be described as “knowing through unknowing”. The more man grows in the knowledge of God, the more he perceives him as an inaccessible mystery. This should not be confused with an obscure mysticism in which man loses himself in enigmatic, impersonal realities. On the contrary, the Christians of the East turn to God uttering a solemn, humble and majestic doxology (cf. Orientale Lumen, 17). They look at theology in its synthetical content, as a spiritual experience. This type of theology is called ‘apophatic theology’.

Apophatism’ literally means ‘negation’. In the Old Testament the Jews were afraid of using the name of God, and thus for them God was YHWH (= I am Who am). As St. John says, ‘no one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart who has made him known’ (John 1:18). According to Cyril of Jerusalem (315-386), the nature of God is known to God alone. Man can know it in so far as it is made known to man by God Himself. For Gregory Nazianzen (329-389) God is a relationship. The nature and essence of God are like an ocean – an ocean whose depth and limits cannot be determined. In this regard, there is a famous saying of Karl Rahner. It runs as follows: ‘My aim is not to teach about a God who can be fully understood by all. Instead, my aim is to teach that it is not possible to fully comprehend God with our intellect. God whom we are searching for is the same God who is looking at us’.

But, if this principle of apophatic theology is not properly understood and applied, one could be led to a denial of God Himself. Against this danger the Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa turned to mysticism  where one meets God in a personal relationship, that is, in the realm of “I-Thou” relationship. In this understanding, God is “known” to me “personally”. This approach is not ‘negative’, but positive or affirmative, and hence is called ‘cataphatic’. Here the invisible and unfathomable becomes ‘close’ to me. The ultimate consequence of this approach is a “mystical union” with God.

This way of ‘union’ takes us to the very meaning of Incarnation. In Incarnation the divinity takes human nature. The transcendent is made immanent. Revelation becomes an encounter and a communion.

The Eastern theology makes a distinction between  ‘Essence’ and ‘Energy’ in God. The apophatic approach is applied to the Essence of God because the Essence of God is unknowable to humans. Energy is the “acts” of God or His “grace”. In the mystical union, one comes into communion with God in His Energy (grace) and not in His Essence.

Here there is another danger. The knowledge of God depends upon one’s ‘personal encounter’. It is more of a ‘subjective’ nature, and not objective. If the encounter with God does not take place in one’s life, God does not exist ‘for’ him/her. Here we need to note that the ‘personal’ encounter is not an ‘individualistic’ encounter. A Christian is not an ‘island’. Being a member of the Church and an organ of a Body, a Christian is in a ‘sacramental fellowship’ with his/her brothers and sisters. Thus the ‘personal’ encounter with God takes place as a member of the Body of the Church and not simply as an individual.As St. Paul says, the true progress in faith is not coming to know God, but rather to be known by him (Gal 3:9). Though the transcendent God became immanent in Creation, in His presence in the history of Israel, and finally in Incarnation, he remains beyond all human knowing and beyond all human discourse.

The East has a two-directional way of speaking about God. An example is the Holy Spirit having two functions in the Church: He brings the Church to Christ, and Christ to the Church. This insight is the underlying principle of consecratory and communion epiclesis in the holy Mass. The Spirit is invoked to transform the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ (that is, to bring Christ to the Church – consecratory epiclesis), and on the congregation (that is, to bring the Church to Christ – communion epiclesis).

Theology in the East, therefore, is not dogmatic assertions imposed on the people of God, rather it is truth gradually revealed in the Church through the personal encounter of the members of the Church. A true theologian is one who has a genuine experience of God and who helps the people to live their faith without falling into errors.

3.3    Some Themes of Eastern Theology

 

3.3.1        Creation

 

Creation of the world is out of nothing (ex nihilo). It is a free and gratuitous act of God. The analysis of the Creed reminds us of the role of the Holy Trinity in Creation. Thus the Father is the ‘Creator of Haven and Earth’; the Son is the one ‘Through whom all things were created’ and the Holy Spirit is the ‘Creator of life’.

In the East Syrian anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari we have a reference to the

Holy Trinity as the Creator. It reads: “Father, Son and Holy Spirit! The adorable name of Your most blessed Trinity is worthy of honour from every mouth, thanksgiving from every tongue, and praise from every creature. For, in Your great kindness You created the world and everything in it”. In this Eastern perspective, the Son and the Holy Spirit are “co-Creators” with the Father.

3.3.2        Original Sin

Misusing freedom Adam disobeyed God. Consequently, a new form of existence appeared in the world –  of disease and death. This is extended to Adam’s descendants. The members of the Church too inherit the consequences of Adam’s Fall. As the Church is the mystical Body of Christ, and the baptized persons are the organs of this Body, when one suffers all others also suffer. The Catholics and the Orthodox agree up to this point.

The Orthodox theology goes further. Adam sinned, they hold, not from the height of his full knowledge, but out of his simplicity and not so perfect knowledge of things. They also hold that the descendants of Adam automatically got his corruption and mortality, but not his guilt. They become guilty only when they imitate Adam with their free will. According to them, after the Fall, the ‘image’ of God in man is distorted and not destroyed. They admit, however, that the sin has created a barrier between God and man. This barrier can be broken only with the grace of God and not simply by man’s own efforts. Hence they too admit the need of God’s grace to be saved.

3.3.3        Incarnation and Deification

 

Despite the sin of man, the divine philanthropy is not withdrawn by God. The eternal plan of God – the salvation of man through the Incarnation of Christ – continues to invite man to get united with Him because the ultimate aim of man is ‘to become’ God, that is, Deification or Divinization. As St. Athanasius says, ‘God became man so that man may become God’. This concept is based on the understanding that man is created in the ‘image’ of God.

In the Western thinking, man is free to sin, but he will be punished. Only grace can save him. Hence he looks forward to his “justification”. The East, on the other hand, thinks in terms of reunion or communion with God (Deification). Therefore, the Church is seen not merely as a mediator of grace which has authority over the faithful to give guarantee on doctrines, but more as a place where man experiences this divine communion.

Deification is not pantheism. As we have already noted, the Eastern theology makes a distinction between Essence and Energy in God. Communion of man with God is in His Energy (grace) and not in Essence.  In other words, man does not become “God” by nature but by grace.

Deification is a process to be accomplished through love of God and neighbour. The full deification will take place on the Last Day.

3.3.4        Holy Trinity

 

The whole frame of Eastern theology is Trinitarian. There is a difference in the approaches of the East and the West in the understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. The West presupposes God’s unity in three Persons whereas the East begins from the three Persons to reach unity in Godhead. Thus in the Western approach, oneness in nature is primary and difference in Persons is only secondary. The East reaches unity of the Godhead from the distinction of the three Persons of the Trinity.

The Eastern approach is in conformity with the Bible. ‘In the beginning was the Word’, ‘the Word was with God’ and ‘the Word became flesh’ (John 1:1,14). And again, ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever’ (John 14:16). And ‘when the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf’ (John 15:26). Though the three Persons in the Godhead are related among themselves, in the unfolding of the Salvation History they are distinct. Thus the Father is the source, Son the procreated  (by the Father) and the Holy Spirit is the One who proceeds (from the Father). As St. Basil says, Father is the source, Son the manifestation and Holy Spirit the force that manifests.

When the Western theology emphasizes the concept of one Essence for the Persons of the Trinity, the East places empahsis on the Tri-Personality. Hence the East prefers to speak about God in concrete: God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob; God of Jesus Christ etc.

One of the contributions of the twentieth century theology is the Trinity as the foundation of the theology of the communion of Churches – Trinity as the foundation of ecclesiology. From a theological point of view, the Church is more a communion than an institution governed by the hierarchy. The communion in the Trinity is ontological . The terms like consubstantiality, hypostatic union etc. are used to make this idea clear. Unlike ontological communion in the Trinity, the communion among the Churches is vital and dynamic. This vitality originates from the communion of different persons inspired by the Spirit of the Lord.

Vatican II sees the Church as a result of Trinitarian procession. The Church shines forth as a ‘people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit’ (LG 4). In the words of J. Tillard, the Universal Church is a ‘Communion of communions’.

The structure of the Bishops’ Synod in the Eastern tradition is based on the Trinitarian theology. The Bishops “walk together” (= synod) as a body. Even the head of the synod (Patriarch, Major Archbishop, Metropolitan) cannot take decisions for the Church independent of the members of the synod.

The theology of the communion of Churches does not harm the Petrine ministry. In fact, it emphasizes it. The Roman Pontiff is the guardian of this communion.

3.3.5        Filioque (And from  the Son)

 

The ‘Filioque controversy’ is practically the consequence of the Trinitarian theology. It was added to the Nicene Creed for the first time in the Council Toledo (AD 589). By this addition the West wanted to fight the Arian heresy and affirm the divinity of Christ. In Rome it was added to the Creed by Pope Benedict VIII in AD 1014.

The objection of the East to the addition of Filioque is that it reduces the divine Persons of the Father and the Son to a mere relation, that is, the Father and the Son are two in relation to each other, but one in relation to the Holy Spirit. Instead, the East holds that the Father is to be considered as the only source of both the Son and the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the concept of Tri-Personality – three distinct persons in Trinity – will be destroyed. In other words, while the West emphasizes the unity of Essence in the three Persons of the Trinity, the East places emphasis on the Person of the Father from whom the other Persons originate. The East objects to its addition also on the ground that the West changed the decision of the ecumenical council of Nicaea (AD 325) unilaterally without consulting the Eastern Churches.

The West quotes St. Augustine: ‘Why then should we not believe that the Holy Spirit proceeds also from the Son since he is the Spirit of the Son? If he did not proceed from him, after his resurrection, he would not have breathed on his apostles saying: Receive the Holy Spirit. What then does breathing mean, but that the Holy Spirit proceeds from him too’? The West argues that if there are three Persons in the Trinity, then there should be some relationship among them. Thus there is paternity between the Father and the Son, and procession between the Father and the Holy Spirit as well as between the Son and the Holy Spirit. In Essence all three Persons are equal. The difference is only in their relationship.

Some Orthodox theologians are prepared to admit Filioque as an opinion, but reject it as a theological principle because it would mean that there are two sources (originating principles) in Godhead.

The Council of Florence (1438-45) tried to mitigate the expression saying that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. The Council based its arguments on Gal 4:6, Rom 8:9 (Spirit of the Son); Mt 10:20 (Spirit of the Father); John 16:13-15 (All that Father has is mine); John 15:26, John 16:17 (The Counsellor whom I shall send to you from the Father) etc. Later the Council of Trent (AD 1545 – 63) made it obligatory for the Latin Church to confess the Creed with the addition of Filioque. However, this obligatory nature was not binding on the Eastern Churches.

 

There are some Orthodox theologians who subscribe to the expression ‘Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through or after the Son’, considering the whole issue as a question of language and not of content. The Syro-Malabar Church has put Filioque in brackets, and has left it optional.

3.3.6        Christology

 

Trinity is one Nature and three Persons. Christ is a single Person with two Natures. The divinity and humanity are united in Christ.

The Christology of Eastern thought is characterized by the following elements:

(i)                 Christ is the Saviour of the world. Its basis is the confession of Peter in Mt 16:16: ‘You are Christ, Son of the living God’. The fallen humanity is saved not through any intermediary created by God, but by God Himself, becoming man.

(ii)               Christ is Emmanuel (=God with us). The Eastern Fathers see two supreme moments in the ‘human’ (incarnated) life of Christ: His incarnation and death on the cross.

(iii)             Christ is fully God and fully Man. Christ is consubstantial with the Father by his divinity and is consubstantial with man in his humanity. Thus in Christ there are two consubstantialities making him true God and true man. One does not absorb the other. They are not ‘mixed up’. But there is an inter-penetration between them.

(iv)             The Church is the Body of Christ. Christ restored unity of all humanity with himself. This restoration is not ‘automatic’. It requires free human cooperation and communion of the believers within the assembly of the Church. This assembly is realized most meaningfully in the Eucharistic celebration.

3.3.7        Pneumatology

 

The Holy Spirit is understood as the Person of the Godhead who restores the original status of innocence to humans. Therefore, the role of the Holy Spirit is very important in the celebration of the sacraments, and the life and activities of the Church.

In the Eastern perspective, the Holy Spirit is not only a Gift but also a Giver. The role of  God’s Spirit in Creation (Gen 1:2), in the ‘new creation’ when Jesus was conceived in the womb of Virgin Mary (Lk 1:35) and at Pentecost as an anticipation of Parousia (Acts 2:17) are important pneumatological themes in the Eastern theology.

The works of Christ and the Holy Spirit are complementary and reciprocal. Christ’s work of redemption cannot be separated from the Holy Spirit’s work of sanctification. As St. Athanasius says, ‘The Word took flesh that we might receive the Spirit’.

 

 

3.3.8        Eschatology

 

The Catholic Eastern view on eschatology is practically similar to that of Western Catholic theology. It has the same understanding on Heaven, Hell, Purgatory, Prayer for the dead, Particular Judgement and Final Judgement.

Among the Orthodox there are diverse opinions about the Last Things. Though they do not follow the Catholic understanding of Purgatory, they seem to think that all the dead await in a middle state till the day of Final Judgement. This applies also to the saints (unlike the Catholic position). However, they do pray for the dead. So also, they do request the intercession of the saints.

There are also Orthodox theologians who refuse to discuss eschatological questions saying that it is not for humans to know about God’s plan on after-life.

3.3.9        Grace and Will

 

There is a special union between the grace of God and the free will of man. The term used to explain this union is “synergy” (=cooperation). This means that the grace of God and the will of man have to work together. Of course, God’s cooperation is far superior to man’s. A classical example of this synergy is Mary’s Fiat (Lk 1:38). This idea of synergy is expressed in I Cor 3:9 where St. Paul says that we are God’s “fellow workers”. Another example is Rev 3:20: ‘If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me’.

According to Cyril of Jerusalem, it is for God to shower His grace and it is up to man to receive it and guard it. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, God never draws anyone to Himself by force and violence.

3.3.10    Man

 

The concept of man in Orthodox theology is not the same as the Catholic understanding. According to the Orthodox, as do Catholics, man is created ‘in the image of God’. But they make a distinction between “image” and “likeness”. ‘Image’ indicates rationality and freedom, whereas ‘likeness’ means assimilation to God through virtues. The image  enables man to know God and to be in communion with him. It is a gift of God. ‘Likeness’ is achieved through man’s own efforts assisted by grace. By committing sin Adam lost his ‘likeness’ and not the ‘image’.

The Orthodox hold that man was perfect at creation not in actual sense, but only in potentia. He will become perfect only when he acquires the likeness through his own choices assisted by God’s grace. This position contradicts St. Augustine’s according to which Adam had reached the point of perfection.

3.3.11    Ecclesiology

In ecclesiology the Eastern theology has always given emphasis to the community nature of the Church rather than to its juridical aspect. The ecclesiological aspects are in fact presupposed  in the theological reflection. The Church, being a ‘worshipping community’, is the place where a Christian experiences his/her ‘life in Christ’. Foremost among the ecclesiological presuppositions is the awareness they have about the apostolic foundation of their individual Churches. The Church is apostolic in more than one sense. The apostolicity is related to the Christocentricity of the Church because Christ is the only true head of the Church. Therefore, ecclesiology is not merely an appendix to Christology. The diversity of the Individual Churches has also basis in the apostolicity. The diversity of Christic experience of the apostles is carried down to the ecclesial traditions.

Another ecclesiological presupposition is, as mentioned above, the perception of the Church as a communion (koinonia) rather than as an institution. The communion of the Trinity is the foundation of this ecclesial communion.

In the early Patristic thought, the Church is cosmic and eschatological. That is, the  Church is the ‘mystery of new creation’ and also the ‘mystery of the kingdom’. Therefore, more than the aspect of institution, emphasis is on the ‘sacramentality’ of the Church. In other words, the Church is the ‘epiphany’ (manifestation) of the kingdom in this world. The liturgy is one of the principal means to become aware of this cosmic and eschatological dimension of the Church.

.

On the hierarchical structure of the Church, apostolic succession, intercession of the saints, episcopate and priesthood, infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff, the Eastern Catholics have the same views as that of the Western Catholic Church. As for the Orthodox, they disagree on the infallibility and the universal jurisdiction of the Roman Pontiff.

The Eastern ecclesiology has various images about the Church:

(i)                 Church is the image of the Holy Trinity: As the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are united into one Godhead, the baptized believers are united into one Body, the Church. And, as there are three Persons in the Holy Trinity, there are various Individual Churches in the universal Church.

(ii)               Church is the Body of Christ:  The Church is the extension of Christ in space and time. As various organs are united into one body, we are all untied into the Body of Christ, the Church. This communion reaches its climax in the Eucharist since the Church is a ‘sacramental community of worship’. The Church is the mystical body in so far as she is the Eucharistic body.

(iii)             Church is a continued Pentecost: Where the Church is, there is the Holy Spirit; where the Holy Spirit is, there is also the Church. Jesus has in fact promised that he would send the Spirit who would be with us always (John 14:15 ff.)

Regarding the nature and the characteristics of the Church, the Eastern theology has the following to say:

(i)                 Unity and Infallibility: Unity in God justifies the unity in the Church. But his unity is not manifested in a juridical organization, but in the celebration of the Eucharist. Therefore, one who is not in communion with the Church is outside the Church. Unity of the Bishops in the synod too has the same basis. Hence a Bishop who is not in communion with his fellow Bishops too is ‘outside’ the synod! The Church is infallible because of her relationship with God. Since the Church is the image of the Holy Trinity, Body of Christ and a continued Pentecost she is infallible.

(ii)               Church as an Ark of Salvation: Extra ecclesia nulla salus. The Church as an image of the ‘Ark of Noah’ is guided by ‘Christ the steersman’ is an expression of St. Ephrem. St. Cyprian says that a man cannot have God as his Father, if he does not have the Church as his Mother. This does not mean that everyone who is visibly in the Church is necessarily saved. As St. Augustine asks: ‘How many seeps there are without and how many wolves within’?

(iii)             Apostolic Succession: St. Cyprian says that the Church is the people of God united with the Bishop. He also says that if one is not with the Bishop, he ceases to be in the Church. However, the Orthodox understanding of the role of the Bishop is slightly different from that of the Catholics. Accordingly, the Bishop is not placed over the people. His authority is fundamentally the authority of the Church. Practically he is a holder of an office in the Church for the people. Regarding the teaching authority, though the traditional Orthodox believe that it rests with the hierarchy, there are modern thinkers who consider that every Christian is duty-bound to teach. However, for practical reasons this power is transferred to the Bishops.

What is more important from an Eastern perspective is to understand the Church as a charismatic community rather than as a juridical organization. Though there are ordained ministers like bishops, priests and deacons, the people of God too are priests who exercise their common priesthood. In the Orthodox understanding, the bishop is the divinely appointed teacher of faith, but the guardian of faith is every baptized Christian because proclamation of the faith is not the same as its possession. They also hold that all believers possess the Truth, but it is the duty of the bishops to formally and officially proclaim it.

3.3.12    Sacraments

 

Both Catholic and Orthodox Eastern Churches accept seven sacraments. However, among the Orthodox there is no formal decision in any Council determining the number of the sacraments. Since the Protestant reformation, number seven is generally accepted by them.

The Orthodox do not make a clear distinction between the sacraments and the sacramentals. Though, as a rule, they do not repeat the sacraments of Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Order, there is no clear teaching among them about the ‘indelible character’ of these three sacraments.

A basic concept in the Eastern sacramental theology is that the Church is a mystery of which the sacraments are the normal expressions. Here again, the emphasis is not on ‘validity’ and ‘liceity’, but on the Church community gathered around the bishop on which God sends His Spirit. The concept of ‘ex opere operato’ therefore, is not a serious concern of the Easterners.

(i) Baptism:  Baptism is administered either by immersion, infusion or pouring water over the head of the candidate. The formula used is deprecative or declarative, and not indicative. The oil used for Baptism is blessed  by the priest himself mixing it with the sacred oil (holy Muron) blessed by the bishop.

Baptism is considered to be an ‘ecclesial act’. Therefore, according to CCEO 683, ‘Baptism must be celebrated according to the liturgical prescriptions of the Church sui iuris in which the person to be baptized is to be enrolled’.

 

               Normally, Baptism is administered along with Confirmation and the Eucharist in order to emphasize the unity of the Sacraments of Initiation. The Eastern Churches continue to uphold the doctrine behind this unity not only in theory, but also in practice. The Eastern thinking on this is the following: Initiation is the one and the indivisible celebration of the entrance into the life of Christ and into the community that lives in him. This entrance, initiated with the first call to the faith, reaches its culminating point in the Paschal Mystery of Christ. We are thus rendered fit to participate in the banquet of the kingdom. In Baptism one is ‘reborn’ to a new life and is incorporated into the Church, in Confirmation is signed with the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit and with the reception of the Eucharist becomes in ‘full’ communion with the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ.

The ordinary minister of Baptism is a bishop or a priest (not a deacon). In case of urgent necessity, Baptism can be administered by any Christian faithful (but not by any person who has the requisite intention as in the Latin tradition) (cf. CCEO 677; CIC 861).

The rites of Baptism in the Eastern tradition consist of renunciation of Satan and profession of faith, laying on of hands, blessing of oil and water, pre-baptismal anointing, baptismal anointing and recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. In the present understanding, the renunciation of Satan is oriented more towards the future life rather than to the past slavery to sin of the baptized. That is, it is meant more as a preparation for future fight against evil tendencies than as an exorcism. Therefore, renunciation of Satan and profession of faith go together. As the East Syrian commentator Narsai writes: ‘By renunciation and profession one is made sharer in the victory of Christ who conquered Satan’. According to Theodore of Mopsuestia, while renouncing evil, the candidates should kneel down as a sign of man’s fall and servitude, and while professing the faith, he stands up as a sign of one’s participation in the redemptive work of Christ.

The laying on of hands in Baptism is associated with the gift of the Holy Spirit. It can also mean ‘setting apart a person for the service of God’.

The blessing of oil and water has an epicletic prayer. The baptismal water is a prefiguration of the water of Jordan in which Jesus was baptized. The baptismal font is described as the “new womb” of spiritual birth into the family of the Church.

The pre-baptismal anointing is meant as a preparatory rite of purification. The baptismal anointing is for the conferring of the Holy Spirit and as a sign of life.

The giving of the lighted candle recalling Christ, the light of the world, and the giving of the white dress symbolizing the robe of purity, are later additions in the baptismal rite.

(ii)) Confirmation: The Eastern Code of Canons calls it “Chrismation”. According to CCEO 695 #1, it has to be administered along with Baptism except in a case of true necessity, in which case, however, it is to be administered as soon as possible.

The ordinary minister of Chrismation is the priest who administers it together with Baptism. The oil used is holy Muron blessed by the bishop. The holy Muron is made from the oil of olives or other plants and from aromatics. It is the right of the bishop to prepare it, and in some Churches, it is the privilege of the Patriarch or the head of the Church. Through this anointing with holy Muron, the baptized is signed with the gift of the Holy Spirit and is made witness and co-builder of the kingdom of God.

(iii) Eucharist:  The Eucharist has various names in the Christian East. Qurbana (= Offering), Qudasa (=Sanctification), Raze (=Mysteries) etc are some among them. Some Churches call it “The Divine Liturgy” since it is the focal point of Christian celebration of the faith.

 

The Easterners give greater emphasis to the sacrificial dimension of the Eucharist than to its meal aspect. It is offered to the Father, Christ or Holy Trinity as the prayers of various Churches testify. The fermented bread is preferred though some Churches use the unfermented bread. Holy communion under both species is the norm, rather than an exception.

The general order of the Eucharistic liturgy is the following: Enarxis or the introductory rites, liturgy of the Word, pre-anaphoral rites, anaphora, post-anaphoral rites and the final prayers.

The introductory rite has preparatory prayers, opening chants, entry of the Gospel and Trisagion. The readings vary according the Churches. The East Syrian tradition has four readings – two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament. Among the Old Testament readings, the first is from the Pentateuch and the other from any other Book of the Old Testament. The New Testament readings consist of the Epistle and the Gospel. In between the readings, there are hymns and halleluias. It concludes with the dismissal of the catechumens. The pre-anaphoral part has the preparation of the gifts, their deposition on the altar, the formal entry of the celebrant into the sanctuary, the washing of the hands, the creed and the kiss of peace.

The anaphora, which is consecratory, has mainly three parts: the prologue with Sanctus, the consecration with the Institution Narrative and the Epiclesis, and the prayers of Intercession.

The post-anaphoral part consists of elevation, fraction, rite of reconciliation, confession of faith before holy communion (sancta sanctis) and holy communion.

The holy Qurbana concludes with the prayers of thanksgiving, the final blessing and the farewell prayer.

The Eucharist, in the first place, is understood as a mystery. The Syriac tradition prefers the term “Mysteries” (Raze) for the Eucharistic celebration. The East looks at the Eucharist as “mystery” in which the faithful united with the bishop, have access to God the Father through the Son, the Word made flesh, who suffered and was glorified, in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. For them the Eucharist is the ‘seed of immortality’ (Gregory of Nyssa).

The Church is basically the people of God who are gathered together to listen to the Word and to break the Bread. There are three elements here: Assembly, Eucharist and Church. They are inseparable. There is no Eucharist without the Church and vice versa.

A close examination of the Eastern Eucharistic theology will reveal that it is mostly a theology “prayed in the Church”. That is, the very celebration of the Eucharist and an active participation in it forned the core of Eucharistic theology. It is an “experience” celebrated in the Church and lived in the world. Therefore, the Eucharist has to be understood as the sacrament of the Church. To reduce the Eucharist to a multiplicity of artificially isolated elements like sacrifice, sacrament, communion etc is not an Eastern perspective. Since the Eucharist is the anamnesis of the whole salvific action of God celebrated with praise and thanksgiving, any theology not having the Eucharist as the foundation of its whole structure is basically defective.

The anaphora or the Eucharistic prayer is said to be the “main” part of the Eucharistic celebration. It was first in the West through Scholastic theology, and by imitation also in the East, that the anaphora became the “main” part of the Eucharist. Soon it was reduced to just one single moment of “Consecration” or “Transubstantiation”. This approach gradually deprived the Eucharistic celebration of its coherence as a comprehensive celebration of various parts. To put it bluntly, the question was: “How” does the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ., rather than “What” happens to the Eucharistic species. The difference between these two approaches is important. Here the basic thrust changes from an eschatological dimension to an ecclesiological one. Consequently, the whole question gets centred on Transubstantiation, the moment of consecration. In this regard the West turned more towards the Words of Institution and the East towards the Epiclesis. From an Eastern perspective, however, the understanding of the Eucharist cannot be narrowed down to one or two moments. All parts are essential, but not equal, since each is related to the others organically in one sacramental structure. In fact, one part makes the next possible and meaningful. (For example, the Syro-Malabar Qurbana which begins with an invitation to celebrate the mystery as commanded by the Lord, goes on to commemorate his birth, passion, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and the second coming).

The Eastern tradition in general considers the whole of the anaphora comprising the Words of Institution and the Epiclesis as consecratory. But there is the case of the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari, used by the Chaldeans, the Syro-Malabarians and the Assyrians, that did not have the Words of Institution in its original. Though the Catholic Chaldeans and the Syro-Malabarians use this anaphora with the Words of Institution, the non-Catholic Assyrians continue to use it without them. It has been a stumbling block in the ecumenical dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church. In an historical agreement (October 2001) between these Churches, the Catholic Church accepted the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari without the Words of Institution as a valid Anaphora. The question that immediately arises here is the following: Can there be an anaphora without “consecration”? The obvious answer is an emphatic ‘NO’. But, here the basic question to be answered is: What is meant by “consecration”? Is it the Words of  Institution” Or, Epiclesis? Or, both?

One of the first considerations of Rome to accept this anaphora without the Words of Institution was that it was one of the most ancient anaphorae of Christian tradition, and hence it is part of the common Tradition of Christendom. Secondly, the content of the anaphora has virtual links to the Words of Institution of the Eucharist, the Last Supper, the sacrifice of Christ and the oblation of the Church. Thirdly, the Assyrian Church is a ‘sister-Church’ with apostolic succession and she has been consistently following the true nature of the Eucharist as a sacrifice and the Eucharistic bread and wine as the true Body and Blood of Christ. And finally, though the anaphora of Mar Addai and Mar Mari has not reproduced the Words of Institution ad litteram, the content of the Institution is found in the euchological prayers.

In this context it is useful to recall the distinction between the theologia prima and theologia secunda. The former is the lex orandi – the faith expressed in the liturgy of the Church antecedent to the speculative questioning and dogmatic systematization. The latter is the systematic reflection on the lived mystery in the Church. The Words of Institution as a moment of consecration is a systematic and dogmatic expression of the faith. On the contrary, the language of theologia prima is more typological and metaphysical than scholastic and systematic. In other words, it is symbolic and evocative, and not philosophical and ontological.

The transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ is definitely an integral part of the understanding of the Eucharist in both Western and Eastern theology. But the approach in its interpretation is not the same. While the West is concerned more about substance and accident, matter and form, validity and liceity, and Transubstantiation, the concern of the East is the “reality” of Christ’s Body and Blood. The philosophical questions can only lead to disputes, and eventually take us away from the essentials of the Eucharist. What St. Paul says is true: ‘The cup we bless is a participation in the Blood of Christ and the bread we break is a sharing in the Body of Christ’ (I Cor 10:16).

The Orthodox prefer to use the term “sacramental change” (metabole) in the place of Transubstantiation.  And some modern theologians in the West use terms like Transignification and Transfinalization for the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ.

(iv)  Penance:   The practice of sacramental absolution of sins in the Catholic Eastern Churches is regulated by the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches which is similar to that of the Latin Code, except in some details. The individual confession and absolution is the ordinary means to obtain the forgiveness of sins though general absolution is allowed in particular situations as enunciated in the Code of Canons. The rules governing the confessional seal, reservation of sins, faculty to administer the sacrament of penance etc are almost the same as in the Latin Code.

Regarding the ‘obligation’ of confession, the rule is that the one who is aware of serious sins is to receive the sacrament of penance as soon as possible. It is strongly recommended that the faithful receive this sacrament frequently, especially during the times of fasts and penance observed in their own Church sui iuris.

The formula used for absolution is deprecative or declarative, thereby emphasizing the role of God in forgiving the sins.

Among the Orthodox this sacrament is understood more as a spiritual healing than as a ‘juridical absolution’.

(v) Anointing of the Sick:  Already from the 4th century we have evidence of some sort of a healing ceremony in the Christian East. The Apostolic Constitutions (4th century) has a prayer for blessing the oil for the sick. However, this sacrament does not seem to have developed  into a full-fledged ceremony in the East as in the West.

It is practically a prayer of healing for the Orthodox. In some Orthodox Churches it is administered also as a preparation for great liturgical feasts (eg. Wednesday of the Holy Week).

It is reported that the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala had an indigenous form of anointing the sick before the arrival of the Latin missionaries in the 16th century. They used to take some soil from the tomb of St. Thomas in Madras-Mylapore, and mix it with water for anointing the sick.

(vi) Holy Orders:  The Eastern Churches have various grades and practices with regard to the sacrament of Holy Orders. Still we do find certain basic rites in all the Churches.

A primary symbol used in the ordination service has been the imposition of hands on the candidates. It is considered to be an epicletic gesture. The Eastern liturgy of Ordination owes much to the Apostolic Constitutions (4th century). According to this document, the ordained are to minister at the altar of the Lord, thereby emphasizing their priestly duty. Symbolically the bishop occupies the place of the Father, the priest that of Christ, and the deacons of the apostles. The ceremony of placing the open Gospel book upon the head or the shoulders of the bishop-elect too appears in this document. This is to show that the bishop is the official bearer and proclaimer of the Gospel. The anointing with the sacred oil is not necessarily an integral part of the Eastern practice, though some traditions have it.

In the Eastern Churches there is a distinction between Ordination and the ecclesiastical dignity such as Chorepiscopus and Archdeacon. So also, there is a distinction between the Major and Minor Orders. From a liturgical point of view, the latter distinction is not very clear although the imposition of hands is generally excluded from the Minor Orders. Still we find the imposition of hands in the Minor Orders of the East Syrian, Armenian, Maronite and Coptic rituals. It is actually the formula of prayer that clarifies the Order conferred, and not the gesture of imposition. The liturgical solemnity is higher according to the grade of Order conferred. The basic structure of Ordination, namely the imposition of hands with the accompanying prayers, the putting on of the sacred vestments and the kiss of peace, is still being continued in all the Churches.

All Churches have three Major Orders: Diaconate, Priesthood and Episcopate. The Minor Orders vary according to the Rites. The Byzantines have Lectorate and Sub-diaconate; the Antiochians (Syro-Malankarites) Singer, Lectorate and Sub-diaconate; the East Syrians (Syro-Malabarians) Lectorate and Sub-diaconate.

In the Eastern tradition, the deacons do not have some of the rights enjoyed by the Latin deacons. As the term indicates, the Eastern Churches understand them as those who do “diakonia” (=service). Their basic duty, therefore, is to assist the bishops and the priests in the sanctuary. However, today many Eastern Churches allow the deacons to administer certain sacramentals like funeral, house blessing etc, but without the ‘blessing’ proper with the sign of the cross which is reserved to the bishops and the priests. Preaching the homily, which was reserved to the bishops and the priests, may now be done by the deacons also.

(vii)  Matrimony:    According to the Latin understanding, the ministers of matrimony are the bridegroom and the bride. The Eastern understanding is different. Accordingly, every sacrament is “given” to the candidate. Nobody administers any sacrament on oneself because a sacrament “confers” grace. One can confer only what he/she possesses. So the Church has to confer it through her officially appointed ministers. Therefore, the blessing of the priest is necessary for the validity of the marriage. For this reason, in the Syro-Malabar ritual of marriage, the priest prays for himself in the following words: O God,….strengthen me to administer worthily this sacrament that binds this bride and groom in love. Shower upon me your abundant graces”.

Another Eastern feature of the marriage ritual is the “crowning”. The bride and the groom are crowned to symbolize the eternal crown they would be gifted in the kingdom of God. This has however fallen into disuse in many Eastern Churches.

Marriage being a ceremony tied very much to the cultural sensibilities of the people, it has many local elements. For example, the St. Thomas Christians of Kerala have the tying of Thali or Minnu around the neck of the bride. She is also given Pudava or Saree by the bridegroom.

3.3.13    Mariology

 

In the Catholic and Orthodox Eastern traditions, the Blessed Virgin Mary is the most exalted among the creatures. She is the Mother of God. She is all holy and ever Virgin. There is no church in the Christian East without an icon of Mary. However, the “popular” devotions in honour of Mary as understood in the West are not common among them.

The approach of the East towards Mary is biblical in nature and liturgical in devotion. The Syriac East employs symbolic-poetic methodology to explain the different aspects of Mary’s role in the history of salvation. We may not find dogmatic assertions in this approach. What we find in it is a ‘wondering at with admiration’ depicting Mary as the most beautiful and faithful daughter of David in whom the Son of God resided.

The main Marian themes of the East are her divine Motherhood, her perpetual Virginity, her role in the redemptive work of Christ, her Assumption into heaven and her intercession. Therefore, they commemorate the feast of Annunciation (25 March), Immaculate Conception (8 December), Birth of Mary (8 September), Assumption (15 August) etc. According to a Syrian liturgical calendar of 1689, the feast of Annunciation has to be celebrated even if it falls on Good Friday because Annunciation is the beginning and the source of all other feasts.

As regards Immaculate Conception and her Assumption into heaven, the Orthodox do agree with the “content” of them. But they have difficulties to accept them as ‘dogmas’ as the Catholics do. It is worthy of note that the Syriac East started celebrating the feast of Mary’s Assumption into heaven from the 5th century. This feast is known as Dormition (= falling asleep) of Mary or Transitus (= transit). In fact, in the definition of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (1854) and of her Assumption into Heaven (1950), the age-old testimony of the Eastern Churches had a prominent influence.

The Western Marian devotional practices have definitely influenced the Eastern Catholics to a great extent. Therefore, the Marian devotion of Rosary, devotion to Our Lady of Dolours, Perpetual Succour, Immaculate Heart of Mary etc. have found a place in their spirituality. The most prominent among them is Rosary.

3.3.14    Laity

The lay people have always played an important role in the life of the Eastern Churches. In the non-Catholic Eastern tradition their participation even in the episcopal election has not disappeared everywhere. In the Orthodox Churches there are many lay theologians of international reputation. The ordination of married men to permanent diaconate is a common feature among them.

In the tradition of the St. Thomas Christians of India, lay people enjoyed power not only in the temporal administration of the Church, but also in spiritual matters. For example, lay people were involved in the ex-communication of an individual from the Church community. The decisions concerning the community were taken by the Church assembly called Palliyogam. The laity had a say in the choice of the parish priests also. They were chosen from among the parishioners themselves. So much so, the parish priests were selected by the people, from the people and for the people. This democratic way of life-style prompted the Western missionaries to call the St. Thomas Christian tradition a “Christian Republic”. Thus examining their socio-ecclesial life, one could say that they were practising a ‘theology of communion’. Adapting local marriage customs, the rites of birth and death, and indigenous art and architecture, they were living an implicit ‘theology of incarnation’ also.

The Vatican II understanding of Church as the “People of God” is a revered tradition in the East. History shows that the Eastern Churches of the past were “people-oriented” communities. The revival of this tradition in its full sense will help to enhance the participation of the lay people in building up the Body of Christ. While referring to the idea of a ‘participatory Church’, Pope John Paul II says that the ecclesial communion implies that each local Church becomes a community in which all live their proper vocation. There needs to have greater involvement of the laity in pastoral planning and decision making through participatory structures such as pastoral councils and parish assemblies. (Ecclesia in Asia 25). This is necessary to give the lay people their rightful place in the Church.

Conclusion

 

Asian and Indian theology will do well to imbibe Eastern theology since it goes naturally with the Asian religious ethos. Apophatism, symbolism, monasticism, experiential knowledge of God etc are some of the elements of it. The Eastern theology is helpful to quench the thirst of those who are bored with formalism and systematic categorization in theology, and can lead them to an experiential religious life. At the same time, it should not be simply tied up to the “things above” in a numinous sphere of the church architecture and awe-inspiring cultic celebrations. It has to be concerned also with the “things below”, looking at the world around it that struggles against poverty, injustice, marginalization and oppression of various sorts.

In this respect, the Western theology can be of immense help to Eastern theology. As Karl Barth said, a theologian should have the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. In other words, Eastern theology too has to be a “theology in reaction”, a theology that reacts to the living context of the people.

.

Select Bibliography

 

A. Documents

 

Congregation for Catholic Education, Circular Letter Concerning the Studies of the Oriental Churches, in L’Osservatore Romano, English Language Edition, 6 April 1987

Congregation for the Eastern Churches, Instruction for Applying the Liturgical Prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, Kottayam 1996 (Indian Edition)

FABC Papers No.96, Methodology: Asian Christian Theology. Doing Theology in Asia Today, Hong Kong  2000

 

Indian Theological Association (ITA), The Issue of “Rites” in the Indian Church. A Theological Reflection, in J.PARAPILLY (ed.), Theologizing in the Context. Statements of the Indian Theological Association, Bangalore 2000.

John Paul II, Letter to the Bishops of India, in Christian Orient 2 (1987)

John Paul II, Apostolic Letter “Orientale Lumen”, in L’Osservatore Romano, English Language Edition, 3 May 1995

Vatican II, Decree on the Catholic Eastern Churches (Orientalium Ecclesiarum)

 

B. Books and Articles

 

Kallarangatt J., “The Trinitarian Foundation of an Ecclesiology of Communion”, in Christian Orient 1 (1980)

Koodapuzha X., Oriental Churches.  An Introduction, Kottayam 1996

Koodapuzha X. (ed.), Eastern Theological Reflection in India, Kottayam 1999

Luke K., “Oriental Theology”, in Christian Orient 4 (1988)

Madey J., Orientalium Ecclesiarum More Than Twenty Years After, Kottayam 1987

Parappally J., “Communion Among the Individual Churches”, in Vidyajyoti, November 1995

Pathil Kuncheria, “Vatican II and the Rite Question in India”, in Kunnumpuram K. – Ferdinando L., Quest for an Indian Church, Anand 1993

Vellanickal M., “Biblical Theology of the Individual Churches”, in Christian Orient 1 (1980)

Roberson R., The Eastern Christian Churches. A Brief Survey, Bangalore 2004

Maniyattu P., East Syriac Theology. An Introduction, Satna 2007

Manakatt M. – Puthenveettil J. (ed.), Syro-Malabar Theology in Context,  Kottayam 2007

Puthur B.(ed.), Inculturation and the Syro-Malabar Church, Kochi 2005

Thottakkara A., East Syrian Spirituality, Bangalore 1990

Nedungatt G., The Spirit of the Eastern Code, Bangalore 1993

Arangassery L., A Handbook on Catholic Eastern Churches, Changanassery 1999

Alencherry I., An Eastern Theology of Priesthood, New Delhi 1994

Mannooramparampil T., Theological Dimensions of Christian Orient, Kottayam 2005

Koodapuzha X., Communion of Churches, Kottayam 1993

Pallath P. (ed.), Catholic Eastern Churches. Heritage and Identity, Rome 1994

Clendenin D.B., Eastern Orthodox Theology. A Contemporary Reader, Michigan 1995

Taft R., “Eastern Catholic Theology: Slow Rebirth after a Long and Difficult Gestation”, in Eastern Catholic Journal 8/2 (2001)

Every G., Understanding Eastern Christianity, Bangalore 1978

Liesel N., The Eastern Catholic Liturgies, London 1960

Atiya A., A History of Eastern Christianity, London 1968

Attwater D., The Christian Churches of the East (2 Volumes), Milwaukee 1961

Binns J., An Introdution to the Christian Orthodox Churches, Cambridge 2002

Lossky V., The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, Cambridge 1957

Meyendorff J., Byzantine Theology. Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes, New York 1974

Spislik T., The Spirituality of the Christian East. A Systematic Handbook, Kalamazoo 1986

Taft R., The Liturgy of the Hours of East and West. The Origins of the Divine Office and its Meaning for Today, Collegeville 1986

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4 replies »

  1. Assyrian church of the east(chaldean syrian church) is the real tradtional and oldest church in kerala,they can hold their pledge of coonan cross oath by thier blood.and they also under the patriach of baghdad.it is sure that in the early centuries christians in kerala is under the baghdad patriach.and they do not use statues,they use only tradtional syrian cross and they uses the east syriac.syro malabar church estabilished in 1887 and they uses latin liturgy untill 1958 and now they change their liturgy to syriac liturgy of mar mari and mar addai. (Please refer to catholic encyclopedia)

  2. Hello friends, Assyrian church of the east(chaldean syrian church) is the real tradtional and oldest church in kerala,they can hold their pledge of coonan cross oath by thier blood.and they also under the patriach of baghdad.it is sure that in the early centuries christians in kerala is under the baghdad patriach.and they do not use statues,they use only tradtional syrian cross and they uses the east syriac.syro malabar church estabilished in 1887 and they uses latin liturgy untill 1958 and now they change their liturgy to syriac liturgy of mar mari and mar addai. (Please refer to catholic encyclopedia)

  3. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am encountering problems with your
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  4. Thank you very much. Please do write more Eastern Theology comparing with the Western Counterpart. Do mention on Nestorianism and other Christological views in detail if possible. Thank you again

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