H.G.Yuhanon Mor Meletius
Diocesan Metropolitan of Trissur Diocese of Malankara Orthodox Church.
Apostle Paul exhorts his readers in Rom. 12:21 that they should not be overcome by evil, rather they should overcome evil by good. This is a very common advice any ethical person would give to others. But when we go to the specifics of the advice we are tempted to reduce evil to certain set of things which may not have much of a relevance to our day to day life. We have a long list of good and bad things available in the commandments of the Church and in the confession preparation prayers.
The problem is that even they do not represent many of the concerns we have today. More over, economic and social evils are totally avoided in those lists. This is where we should explore once again about the kind of evil that exists in our society today. It is not easy to list all of them in a brief note like this. My attempt is just to mention a few of them.
Most serious form of evil is slavery. Hence God and good are to be experienced in the effort for liberation. The question of liberation has been distorted and misinterpreted in the Church and so much watering has occurred. When we talk about liberation the first thing we say would be liberation from sin. Then we reduce the relevance of the term sin to a few things the Church has given. We have limited it to just what is called "spiritual liberation" or "internal salvation". I am not saying that those things are not at all important. Rather we have to widen the horizon to other evil tendencies seen in our society. What is needed is become more specific and concrete in naming the evil tendencies in our society and then talk about God's liberative work in those areas.
God was first experienced by Israel as a liberator. He is said to have liberated them from political bondage in Egypt (Deut. 26:6,8). When Jesus started to proclaim his Gospel he also presented himself as a liberator in the form that is described in the book of Isaiah (Isa. 61:1; cf. Lk. 4:18). There the liberation is from socio-political evil powers. This is evident from the last part of the verse where it is said that he was to proclaim the Jubilee year of Yahweh. Proclamation of it is only in the context of socio-political justice.
This liberation is to happen in all the areas of human life along with the life of the rest of the creation. For humans it has to occur first in the area of understanding. Many of us like to be told what we should be doing in a particular situation. It is easy to be a slave because you do not have to think and do not have to take the responsibility of what you are doing. But it is a challenge to start thinking of self and others and about situations and what one should be doing about a particular situation. God has provided humans with this ability. But we see people flocking behind their leaders blindly and repeating slogans meaning of which they never care to understand, but do so simply because their leaders have said that. Much of the fundamentalism in politics and religion would vanish if people would start using their head that God has graciously granted them filled with useful stuff. Peter was so afraid when the boat was tossed due to rough weather while he was travelling with Jesus in the Sea of Galilee. He cried out to Jesus asking for help. Jesus asked him "Peter, don't you have faith". Here faith is primarily a relationship and secondly an ability to analyze the situation on the basis of that relationship so that he would know what his response should be. We should be liberated from lack of understanding and ability to judge.
Another area where we should be liberated is the area of equality. Our society is a hierarchical structured society. Women and children are many times set in a lower grade than of men. Take for example our Church. If we look to the Sunday Service attendance, we see women in majority. This will be the case with any other religious activity in the Church. But when it comes to the question of their participation in the decision-making bodies such as General Body meeting and Managing Committee their participation is not made use of. This is a clear example of discrimination against women.
In many churches young people are also sidelined by senior people. This is quite contrary to the principle of justice we see in Jesus Christ's attitude. We are most of the time short of accepting the identity and individuality of children too. Adults make decisions for children claiming that they are better informed and have better knowledge about things. But many times they do not care to ask of the dreams and aspirations of their kids. This is a clear example of slavery from which we need to be liberated.
Many of us have problem in accepting new converts especially from those basic communities as equal partners in salvation. We are not ready to give them equal privilege and position to them. We forget the fact that Jesus always accepted people of Galilee and other gentile parts of Palestine equal and some tome better in status to his own people in Judah. We are enslaved by the traditionally handed down pattern of classification in the society. We are being enslaved by social evil.
Another area of evil in the society is that of financial transaction. We have developed a notion that we can acquire wealth by any means no matter how many people we are hurting in our attempt. We have wrongly interpreted the advice of Jesus to use the opportunity wisely. When there is economic crisis in the society we open money-lending business, which demand high rate interest as high as even 100 percent. We do not care how the economy of the country is going to be affected by that and how we are using the financial crisis of a person to bring unjust money in to our pocket. This is a clear form of economic evil that has to be overcome by us.
Many times our projects and plans of development in our Churches are not examples of good works. We spend millions of rupees on church buildings and parish hall construction. Most of the time the money spent on them comes from average working people in Gulf countries and in North America. We spend the money with no sense of public accountability and Christian principles. Most of the time we put up ugly structures spending millions. Later it becomes a burden to members of the congregation that they do not have the resource even to paint the building once in a decade. Much of the money given through offertory goes either for construction projects or maintenance of the existing building. We do not see people living in the neighborhood without even a decent house for them to spend the night. This is another example of we being overcome by economic evil in the community.
Many times the church makes laws and ordinances with out any regard of the people who are affected by such legislation. We also do not care for individual needs of people. We make square boxes and try to fit people in them without regard for their problems and concerns. This is true in the case of inter denominational marriages. People are not at fault for being a member of a particular denomination. But when it comes to the question of marrying a person of another denomination, which also believes in the same God, the authorities have problem in letting it happen. There are instances of the whole family being excommunicated by the authorities for a member of the family getting married to a person of another denomination. We are placing, as Jesus once said, heavy burdens on believers.
I can go on like this quoting examples of evil tendencies existing in our society and churches. The sad reality is that none of these is counted as a sin or evil in the sight of most of the church authorities. It is time that we sit down and think again about the terms evil and sin. Our traditional understanding of them may not be enough under the changed situation. We need to continuously analyze the socio-politico-religious life of people and try to see what is evil and what is good in a given situation so that we can avoid we being influenced by evil.
I send my sincere greetings to all the subscribers of "Light of Life". May God bless you and keep you safe and sound.
Yuhanon Mor Meletius Metropolitan, Thrissur Diocese