Felicitation Address at the Reception to His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams

Felicitation Address at the Reception to His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Head of the Church of England, and the Head of the Anglican Communion. 24-10-2010 at Thiruvananthapuram

His Grace the Most Rev. Dr. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, Head of the Church of England, and the Head of the Anglican Communion.

Dr. Mrs. Jane Williams,

His Grace the Most Rev. Dr Philipose Mar Chrysostum, our Valia Thirumeni, the 20th Mar Thoma and our Metropolitan till recently, when he chose to retire, and presently the most precious and invaluable movable asset of the Mar Thoma Church and the Mar Thoma community everywhere,

His Grace the most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan, the 21st Mar Thoma and Supreme Head of the Mar Thoma Church,

Most Revered Bishops, Respected Achens and Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord and Master,

Moments such as these are but rare in the annals of a Church. This is an occasion for happy eloquence, an occasion to speak of a thousand things in the long and sturdy relationship between the Mar Thoma Church and the Anglican Church. But what is uppermost in our mind is that epoch making event in the history of The Syrian Christian Church in Malankara, in the context of which, the Anglican Church is always remembered by us.

We have with us today His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, our most Distinguished Guest and His Grace the Metropolitan the Host of this august and historic function. As you are aware the Mar Thoma Church is in the midst of a year-long celebration of Naveekaranam or Reformation, a distinct bench mark in the annals of this ancient Church founded by St. Thomas, in AD 52. His Grace the Metropolitan and His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury, represent the two streams of Reformation in the Malankara Syrian Church.

The spark that kindled the process of Reformation came from Abraham Malpan, the Martin Luther of the East. His name is synonymous with the Reformation. He had the backing of fellow academics like Kaithayil Gheevarghese Malpan and others and also that of a large number of distinguished members of the laity. Abraham Malpan belonged to the Palakunnathu family. The first four Metropolitans after Reformation also came from that family. It is providential that we have with us today, the 21st Mar Thoma, the Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan, a distinguished scion of the family of Abraham Malpan, as we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Reformation.

The impetus for the Reformation process in the Malankara Syrian Church is justifiably sourced to the Mission of Help from the Anglican Church. The Anglican Church generously gave us Friendship, Fellowship and Fraternity. The Missionaries sent by the Anglican Church became the leaven that enlivened and accelerated the Reformation process in this ancient Church. The Open Bible was at once an opportunity and a challenge. A large section of the Clergy and the Laity welcomed the inflow of new concepts and ideas, with open arms. Thus was initiated a process of purification, transformation and modernization in the Church. It was also a process of cleansing and restoration. We take pride in the fact that while we retained all that was good in our heritage, we welcomed and accepted much of what was offered by the Missionaries. Be it an accident of history or Grace of God, or both, the much needed fillip, stimuli, came to us through the Anglican Church.

It was a period of change in the Anglican Church as well through Keble, Newman and the Oxford movement. The Reformation let in fresh gusts of wind in to the vaulted corridors of this ancient Church and swept away the cob-webs of unwholesome practices, stale and corrupt traditions and superstitious and meaningless rituals. Therefore the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury with us today has special significance for the Mar Thoma Church.

We thank God for this happy confluence of the two streams of Reformation here today. It is no doubt a very momentous and very important occasion.

The Reformation it may be remembered was not a sudden or instant reaction or an isolated event. It was an idea whose time had come. Historians have chronicled that many areas of our Society were in ferment, and there were rumblings for change, for reforms. The Reformation in the Church gave us the further opportunity to be part of the agenda of social re-construction and to take a lead-role in the modernization process of our State and Society.

The Missionaries gave us much more than the new light and insights in to the teaching of Jesus Christ, through the Open Bible. They contributed significantly to the shaping of Christian response to societal evils and injustice. They initiated and motivated the spread of education, transcending the cruel barriers of caste and untouchability. They encouraged education for girls. They shared the benefits of available science and technology and also helped to spread western ideas of democracy and justice. The Missionaries not only influenced but also played active roles in the struggles for social justice and equality. We recall that in the fight of the lower caste women of South Travancore, for the right to clothe the upper part of their body, the Missionaries were in the forefront. Slavery was abolished in Travancore much earlier than it was abolished in England, thanks to their bold advocacy. The Missionaries contributed significantly to the development of our language and culture. Their contributions helped the social revolution that took Kerala Society to the forefront of the States in India.

An aspect that is not adequately stressed in any analyses of the Reformation is the role of the laity and the effect of the Reformation on the average men and women of the Syrian Christian Community. The Reformation gave birth and shape to what is known as the Syrian Christian Work Ethic, analogous to the Protestant Work Ethic in Europe. It helped and influenced our growth, development and spread. We have today a global presence and the reputation as a stabilizing, creative, law abiding people, thanks to the Syrian Christian Work Ethic.

In all these, the contributions of the Missionaries of the Anglican Church and Reformation are significant.

Your Grace, Your presence with us here is very important to us. We value greatly our continuing association with the Anglican Church. As a reformed Church with Episcopal tradition, the Mar Thoma Church entered in to a dialogue with the Anglican Church quite early as 1937. Through a process of consultation and dialogue, the two Churches are today in full Communion relationship. The ministry of the two Churches is mutually accepted in full. The Lambeth Conference is attended by Bishops of the Mar Thoma Church. In recent years, when parishes of the Mar Thoma Church were organized in the United States, Canada and Australia, pastoral care for the members of the Mar Thoma Church came from their counter parts in the Anglican Communion. We remember with immense gratitude, the support and pastoral care, Your Grace extends to our small Diaspora in the United Kingdom.
The many gestures of solidarity by the Anglican Church and its presence in our midst on several important occasions are, well remembered and deeply appreciated. The relationship of the Mar Thoma Church and the Church of England is a living example of how we can become agents of change within our own culture and traditions rather than be drawn out of it, in to an alien culture. The relationship of this Reformed Church in the Eastern Tradition, with the Anglican Church, is an enduring and time tested relationship. We are confident that this happy relationship will grow from strength to strength in the years to come under the stewardship of Your Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and Your Grace the 21st Mar Thoma.

Your Grace, we are aware that the Archbishop of Canterbury is the Head of the Anglican Communion, spread over 130 countries: appointed by Her Majesty, the Queen of England as the Head of the Church in England and that His Grace is a Member of the House of Lords. His Grace, with the Holy Father at Rome, speak for Christians everywhere. Therefore Your Grace carries with him enormous responsibilities. We hasten to offer our prayers for strengthening your leadership and influence in this world, beset with divisions and conflicts.

His Grace is acknowledged internationally as an outstanding scholar and teacher, a poet, author and writer. He has written extensively on a wide range of disciplines, Philosophy, Theology and Religion. His Grace has also devoted considerable attention to contemporary cultural and inter-faith issues. Environmental issues, the need for better stewardship of God’s creation and just and sustainable development amidst poverty, disease and conflict also receive serious attention from His Grace.

His Grace is known as a builder of bridges and in the process is becoming a bridge for facilitating and mending relationship with within the nation and among the nations.

Academically His Grace built bridges between the University of Cambridge and Oxford by taking his first degree in Theology from Cambridge and then his Doctorate from Oxford. He then became a lecturer in Theology at Cambridge and later a Professor at Oxford. His Grace did his doctoral research on the Theology of Vladimir Lossky, a leading figure and thinker of the Russian Orthodox Church. His Grace has therefore a very deep understanding of the Eastern Churches.

I am tempted to mention here about another bridge building by His Grace.

Dr. Mrs. Jane Williams, his spouse, is the daughter of the late Geoffrey Paul Achen, a very distinguished Principal of the Kerala United Theological Seminary, Kannanmoola, Trivandrum. His was a long stint for about 13 years, from 1952 – 1965. As a University student at Trivandrum during this period, I wish to place on record, the deep and wholesome impact he created through his lectures and Bible classes in the Christian Student Community. I understand that Achen later became most deservingly a Bishop in the Anglican Church.

Reformation compelled the Mar Thoma Church to look outward. Abraham Mar Thoma and Juhanon Mar Thoma, two of our tallest Metropolitans were pioneers in establishing relationships with other Churches. We were also fortunate to have a crop of outstanding leaders like Dr M. M. Thomas, Prof. C. P. Mathew, and Rev. Dr. M. A. Thomas (the Founder Director of The Ecumenical Christian Centre, Bangalore). Ecumenism was one of the critical inputs that went in to the dynamics of the Mission of the Mar Thoma Church, after Reformation. Our leaders heeded to the exhortation of Isaiah in Chapter 54, verse 2. It reads:

“Enlarge the place of your tent,
Stretch your tent curtains wide,
Do not hold back;
Lengthen your cords,
Strengthen your stakes.”

Their commitment to Ecumenism helped in establishing healthy relationships with Churches all over the world and the Mar Thoma Church herself has become a worldwide Church in the process. Our commitment to Secularism in our body politic, is strengthened buy our vision of Ecumenism

Today our goal and concern aim at Wider Ecumenism. The Maramon Convention is a living testimony of our commitment to the Communion of Churches, ecclesial plurality and missionary endeavour. I recall that just about a month back the Holy Father of Rome and Your Grace reaffirmed the importance of continuing theological dialogue on the notion of the Church as a communion, local and universal and the implications of this concept for the discernment of ethical teaching. The close association of the Anglican Church and the Mar Thoma Church, it is hoped, would strengthen our ecumenical concerns and widen our search for strong links with the world wide community of Churches.

Your Grace is carrying a heavy load on his shoulders. We pray and wish that the good Lord would bestow on Your Grace sufficient strength to bear this burden with ease and Grace.

As a Church established by St. Thomas, we often hark back to his timeless affirmation of identity and declaration of steadfast allegiance, so beautifully epitomized by St. John in the 28th verse of Chapter 20 of his Gospel: ‘My Lord and My God’. These words, today, as in the long years of our existence, say it all for us.

Let the blessings of our Lord and our God be with you, to guide and strengthen you in the discharge of your onerous responsibilities.

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church

Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church

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