CHRISTIAN NEWS MAGAZINE FOR KERALA MALAYALEE CHRISTIANS FROM INDIA AROUND THE WORLD
OCTOBER 2003 DEVOTIONAL MESSAGE
VOL:2 ISSUE:5


PASTORAL CHALLENGES OF THE ORTHODOX SYRIAN COMMUNITY IN AMERICA

By Zachariahs Mar Nicholovas

A pastor without a well balance personal spirituality cannot sustain himself in the ministry. If he depends merely on his skills and for the sustainability of the ministry it is liable to fail.



H.G.ZACHARIAHS MAR NICHOLOVAS
Asst.Diocesan Metropolitan,
American Diocese,
Malankara Orthodox Church

Most of the members of the Malankara Orthodox Community in America are the first generation immigrants from India. Most of the priests have their original ministerial formation in India and almost all of them grew up in India. Their original training is to cater to the particular needs of the community in India, where the society is homogeneous and the value systems are different from that of America. Their ministry in this country is raising totally unexpected challenges in their ministerial life as well as in their personal lives.

This demographic pattern is changing very fast as the number children born and brought up in this country is increasing. As their number is increased the ministerial need of the American Orthodox Syrian Community and the skills of the available priests are put into pressure. While most of the priests of this Diocese have their ministerial formation in the seminaries in India some had only a crash course on liturgy and a few had training in this country all these along with challenges of the modern society calls for continued efforts on the part of the Church to improve the skills of the serving priests for providing a meaningful ministry to the faithful and on the part of the priests for progress of their own spiritual growth as well as to keep healthy attitude to wards their ministry. A research conducted by Rev. Dr. George Koshy into the ministerial needs of the community came up with this finding.

If the quantity of priests is more than needed, their quality is questionable for the parishes in America because of the generation gap and the unique cultural, social and linguistic problems. Of course almost all are able, educated and talented in catering to the needs of the first generation. Therefore, in most of the parishes the second generation has not been receiving services or proper attention from the clergy. Most of the priests are employed fulltime, [elsewhere] .

These kinds of situations affect the ministry from both sides. On the one side the priests who are working very hard in supporting themselves and support their ministry finds it draining on their spiritual and emotional life. They feel frustrated and dejected. On the other side the parishioners are not able to get proper pastoral care because of the problems. This situation demands a very strong support system from the Church.

On the evaluation of the pastoral situation in the Amerian Orthodox Syrian Community in general we find that the overall situation calls for lot of improvement and in almost all the aspects of the ministry we find most of the pastors are lacking. Here I will just try to briefly delineate a few of the specific ministerial challenges faced by the American Orthodox Syrian Community.

A. PERSONAL SPIRITUALITY OF THE PASTOR

A pastor without a well balance personal spirituality cannot sustain himself in the ministry. If he depends merely on his skills and for the sustainability of the ministry it is liable to fail. We are experiencing this at present. Most of the pastors begin with good spiritual grounding but it gets challenged very easily when it is tested repeatedly in the real life situations. Hard work and shortage of time prevents him from the inevitable spiritual disciplines of personal devotions, study, meditation, etc. The inner spiritual balance wanes slowly the commitment to the ministry also proportionately wanes. Pastoral functioning then becomes a profession and not a vocation. He most of the times is overwhelmed by the work load and the first causality in the process is the time set apart for his own personal or family needs. Slowly this erodes his spirituality.

B. FAILURE OF THE PASTOR TO MAKE THE CONGREGATION FEEL THE PRESENCE OF CHRIST THROUGH HIM

When pastor himself loses the spiritual characteristic of the ministry it will be soon experienced by the congregation. The congregation will experience the pastor trying respond to the challenges in a very secular way. This has come to situation where many feel that the Church has become a very secular organization and people are not getting the spiritual nourishment they expect from the Body of Christ. When the pastor fails to experience presence of the Jesus Christ in his personal life he will fail to be the Iconic presence of Jesus Christ. He cannot be what he is not. All the attempts cover up this will only deepen the deterioration.

C. SACRAMENTAL VERSUS THE RITUALISTIC NATURE OF THE MINISTRY

Orthodox ministry by nature is sacramental. The sacramental nature of the orthodox ministry is not limited to the ritualistic performance of the rituals. On close observation we understand that the ritual aspect of the ministry forms only a miniscule part of the sacramental life. In the Orthodox understanding the sacramentality is a way of life and not the performance of the rituals. Rituals are only an aspect of the sacramental lifestyle that helps us to mystically experience the presence of Jesus Christ in the different stages of our life. While certain rituals fulfill the sacramental aspect of the rites of passage an individual go through in life. They in the proper sense help the individual and community relate the stages in their personal life to the life of Jesus Christ. The malady here is when the Pastor loses his personal spiritual balance consequently he ceases to be the iconic presence of Jesus Christ and his sacramental life becomes ritualistic. He is more concerned with the performance of the rituals instead of the mystical experience of Jesus that is expected to happen through the sacraments.

D. FAILURES TO LEAD THE CONGREGATION IN A CHRIST LIKE MANNER

Whether the pastor likes it or not he is the leader of the congregation. He does not have a choice in this role. The only choice he has is in the manner in which he wants to do it. Many situations the poor leadership is not a mater of his choice but an outcome of his ignorance and lack of sense of the call to which he is called. He can become very abusive and authoritarian. This is a reality in many situations. The pastor's inability to lead the congregation properly ends up in the congregation dwindling in personal and other resources. The ethnic nature of the Orthodox Church may help the pastor to survive for some time despite his inability to lead properly but in the long term it is detrimental for the parish as well as the pastor himself. Even now we already see the symptoms of the problems that necessitates an intervention to improve the Christian quality of the congregational leadership.

E. FORGOTTEN ROLE OF THE PROPHETIC MINISTRY

The prophetic role of the minister is rarely acknowledged in the Orthodox Churches. Though there are several genuine reasons for this lapse it is not appropriate for the pastors to undervalue the prophetic role. A minister by his call is called to take stand on justice related issues. Whether it is in within the community or in the society at large he being the icon of Christ has no choice but take his stand along with the poor, oppressed or wherever and to whomever justice is denied. He has to remind his congregation about the need for a justice based spirituality. As pointed out earlier the ritualistic approach along with the fact that their immediate life situation does not call for such a stand this role is rarely recognized as necessary characteristic of the ministry by the congregations, pastor or even at the Church hierarchy. Here a thorough reorientation is needed for the pastors about their own prophetic vocation.

F. PREACHING/TEACHING MINISTRY

The preaching/ teaching characteristic of the minister is one of the most widely recognized by the Pastors themselves as well as the congregation. The word preacher has become a synonym for pastor. In spite of the recognition widely held for this role we still see that there is a lot of scope for improvement. One of the greatest drawbacks of many preachers is that they tend to forget that they are preaching Jesus Christ who is the word of God and the preaching end up as a performance of their oratorical skills and scholarship in various subjects. The greatest danger that has taken place in this context is that because of the continued abuse of this part of the ministry people vision of preaching ministry itself has got distorted. Now people do not look to the sermons to be edified but to enjoy the oratorical skills of the pastor. In this process the word of God has become the causality. We need education to recapture the proper understanding of the word of God.

G. MEDIATOR AND INTERCESSORY ROLE OF THE PASTOR

The pastor's role as a mediator and intercessor is widely recognized by both the pastors and the congregation. As in the case of the other key characteristics of the ministry this role also has to recapture its proper understanding. Most of the times we perceive this role as the role of an errand boy. The congregation thinks of a pastor as person who will get things from God. The role of mediation is understood distorted. We have to understand that intercession and mediation are parts of a relationship between God and individuals and communities. It is not a matter of setting a shop of divine blessings where everything can be had at a proper price. We have to recapture the idea that the intercession is for the whole creation and mediation is between the whole creation and God. Here the pastor is called to fulfill his particular call to bring his congregation to the journey of Christ likeness through his intercessions and mediations.

It is a necessity that we as a Church address these issues very seriously and work hard to find solutions. Only when we are able to deal with the reality that confronts us we will be able to become the Church that is truly the body of Jesus Christ.


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