[Metropolitan ArchBishop of Trichur ArchDiocese, Syro-Malabar Catholic Church]


'Therefore, my beloved brethren whom I long to see, my joy and crown, in this way stand firm in the Lord, my beloved.' [Philippians 4:1]

The above cited Bible Verse is my salutation to you in this inaugural address of the Ecumenical Meeting of Maramon Convention-2007. In these Verses St. Paul exhorts the Philippian Church which was the joy and crown of the apostle, to be steadfast and stand firm and steady with Lord in their Christian profession.

Unity of the Church can succeed only if there is a well-defined goal and true directions to achieve the goal. The theme of the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity-2007, an annual event celebrated by many Christian denominations convened during January 2007, was 'Listen and communicate'. This year’s theme was prepared by faithful from Umlazi, South Africa, a very poor city, where AIDS has reached pandemic proportions and where there are very few human hopes. Their past experiences of differentiation between the rich and the poor, black and the white, between the man and man, gaps in the human hearts and relations; these all caused them to be deaf, dumb and excommunicated from the other world. Now they started seeing the light of the other world. Risen Christ is hope for everybody, especially for Christians. In this reference H.H. Pope Benedict XVI told, "Christians are heirs to past divisions, but Christ can do anything, He ‘makes the deaf hear and the mute speak’ (Mark 7:37), He can instill in Christians an ardent desire to listen to and communicate with one another and speak together with Him the language of mutual love."

Ecumenism is a deep dialogical experience; it is listening and talking to one another, knowing each other better. It is a task that everyone can accomplish, especially in terms of spiritual ecumenism based on prayer and sharing that is now possible between Christians.

There is a Biblical background for these deliberations. While Jesus passed through Decapolis and reached the sea shore of Galilee, many sick people were brought to Him to be healed. Jesus took aside a deaf and dumb man from the crowd, put His fingers into his ears, He spat and touched his tongue with the saliva and said to him, "Ephphatha!" which meant, "Be opened!" Suddenly his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began to speak plainly. In the contemporary world also, irrespective of our level, our ears should be opened to hear the word of God and communicate the witness of God. Then only we can experience the one-ness which Jesus prayed to His father; 'that they may all be one' [St. John 17:21] When we go through the concurrent news items, unintentionally our mind desire the fulfillment of this high priestly prayer of Lord Jesus. This is an ardent wish of all those who respect and love Jesus. Jesus attributes this one-ness with the unity of the Trinity: 'even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us'.

God is love. Love gives and accepts fully and unconditionally. Love inspire to self-burn for others. Love unites everything to live in harmony in the Lord with same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. The early Church has been of one accord and of one mind. As the Trinity has one nature, church should have one nature, parish should have one nature and family should have same nature. This is the mystery of the Trinity.

Success of unity depends on the prime three factors, which is same for our life victory: Self-consciousness, Goal-consciousness and Duty-consciousness. The first step of victory is self-realization. Who am I? That is to know ourself in perfect terms. The utmost model for this is our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Jesus made it very clear in His public mission. 'My Father and I are one. My father had sent me. He who has seen Me has seen the Father. I came forth from the Father and going to the Father.' These all reveals the clarity of the self of Jesus. St. Paul also talked in similar terms. 'It is not me who live, but Christ lives in me. Whatever I am, it is in the grace of God.' These all are the words of clarity of self-understanding. Self-realization bestows eternal existence, absolute knowledge, and perennial bliss.

Uniqueness of faith, knowledge of God and matured humanity are the face marks of ecumenism. The motivation of the ecumenism should be to reach the unity of the Spirit, fullness in the knowledge of the Son of God and to become matured human as per the measure of fullness of God.

Secondly, Jesus had definite aim. When the ripe time came, He set His eyes to Jerusalem and firmly told, let us go. He had the full information that Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death. Some of His disciples dissuaded Him from His attempt. But He was firm in His decision. Do we have a definite aim for our life? Jesus told His disciples of his own departure from them, that he should not only go away, but also go away in a cloud of sufferings. The design of Christ’s going away was to prepare a place in heaven for His disciples. Thomas expressed his ignorance about the destination and the way. Jesus clarified them that He is going to prepare a place for them in His Father's house. He will come again and receive us and take us, as He likes us to be there, where He is. So the ultimate aim of all believers is to reach the Father's house. If so, where is the reason for any distinction or separation? Jesus is the way, and the truth, and the life to reach His Father's place. So, irrespective of any denomination our aim is unique and that is nothing other than the Father's place. This is the credibility and goal of ecumenism.

Thirdly, we got certain duties to be fulfilled. The first man whom God created in His image caused the loss of paradise for the whole mankind. But Jesus had regained this paradise and opened the heaven on earth. The heavenly exhortation is that the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe the Gospel. Repent our sins and believe in the Gospel are the two duties bestowed to us to reach the Father's house and acquire the lost paradise.

The restoration of unity among all Christians was one of the principal concerns of the Second Vatican Council. The Decree on Ecumenism of The Sacred Council clearly mention that the commencement of ecumenism should be from the remorse of the divided Christians over their divisions and ardent longing for unity which is fostered by the grace of the Holy Spirit of God.

There are four steps involved in believing the Gospel:

  1. Listen to the Word of God:
    Mary, mother of our Lord, listened the first Word of Gospel from the angel Gabriel, 'Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with you.' One becomes a disciple of Jesus first by listening to the Gospel.

  2. Accept and continue in the Word:
    Jesus told, "If you continue my word, you are truly my disciples and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free." [St. John 8:31] This is the character of a true disciple of Christ. It is implied that there are many who profess themselves Christ’s disciples who are not His disciples indeed. Modern man seeks for truth by his physical organs. The eternal truth is not the one, which is hypothesized through the test tube, but it is discerned by the involvement of Soul. St. Paul exhorts the Philippians to stand firm in the Lord. The visible feature of the acceptance of Word is the exposure of humility in Lord. Mary accepted the word and humiliated herself, submitted entirely to God’s will. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Lord, I am at thy service, at thy disposal, to do what thou commands me.’’

  3. Bear the Word of God:
    Involve, hold and bear the Word of God so that the world can see it and experience it. This is the true witness of Gospel to the world through our life.

  4. Proclaim the Word of God:
    The proclamation of the word of God is the mission and commission of Christianity.

The first congregation was of one mind and one heart. They considered whatever they had as common. It was an experience of God living with them and they live with God. Jesus had already told them this truth and promised to send Holy Spirit to be with them forever. "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.... But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you" [St. John 14:23-26] When the Holy Spirit came to them after waiting for forty days, they formed the new Church. The early church was constituted with attributes formulated out of the following words they themselves heard from Jesus Christ.

  • We have only one father and He is the God.

  • We have only one teacher and He is God.

  • I am the shepherd and you are my sheep.

  • I am the vine, you are the branches.

  • I am the head and you are the different parts of the body.

  • I am the corner stone and building is built upon the foundation of the saints.

    These all reveal that there can exist only one church in this world. So the first church was a unified one church. Though many faces for the modern day churches are visible, the basic characteristic remains same, that Jesus is the head of the Church and the Church is the visible bride of Jesus Christ. So, nobody can claim the ownership of the church of Christ.

    If the church and society stand joined with Jesus Christ, it cannot have any type of worldly problem or rather no worldly problem can have any effect on it.

    As a united church, our goal is to reach the Father's house. Jesus had specifically told that the assurance of the place in father’s house is the charity on earth. Jesus well demonstrated it through a judgment dialog during the day of final judgment. Jesus who will come during the second time as a judge, will say to the righteous; "For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to see the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.. Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." [St. Matthew 25:34-41] So charity is also a commissioned ministry of Church of God.

    In the papal Circular Letter-1995 about Ecumenism of H.H. Pope John Paul II, he gave stress of the importance to the culture of love, listen and communicate for the success of a practical ecumenism. It also calls for to lead a sacred life according to the Gospel and to cultivate a common universal platform of prayer.

  • [Extract from Address delivered at Ecumenical Session of Maramon Convention 2007
    Original in Malayalam : Translated for LOL by Editor Dr. Rajan Mathew Philadelphia, USA]

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