GREGORIAN VISION: A Short Review

by George Joseph Enchakkattil

 

Mr John D Kunnathu, an Indian living in USA has thought it a mission to introduce the vision of L/L HG Dr Paulose Mar Greegoriose on various aspects of human life, which indeed is a real treatise on what should be our attitude to life, particularly in our sojourn to reclaim the distorted ‘Godliness’.

The book has a Foreward from none other than Fr Dr KM George, himself an authority on Gregorian Thoughts, who has summed up the core message in a matter-of-fact style and has rightly pinpointed that the occasional intermingling of the interpretations of the author with the thought process of HG Greegoriose may cause some confusion to the readers, particularly to those who attempt to study him as a beginner in as much as that it may not be easy to distinguish one from the other.

The book also carries worthy comments from HG Dr Yuhanon Mar Diascoros, Fr Dr Bijesh Philip, Fr Thomas Ninan, Prof MP Mathai, Dr C. Alexander and Dr. Joseph E. Thomas.

The book has been divided into two parts of ten chapters each namely Part I: Taking a Look at the Gregorian Vision and Part II: Reflecting on the Gregorian Vision. As these titles indicate, the author on one hand looks at what HG Greegoriose says and on the other, he makes his own reflections on such thoughts. Why such a treatment has been taken is briefly explained in the Introduction by the author.

The first three chapters discuss certain issues directly related to the personal life of a believer as well as one’s personal relationship with Jesus Christ through the Church. The subjects being covered are Suffering, Gospel of the Kingdom and Faith. Based on various published works and papers of HG Greegoriose, the author systematically attempts to find solutions which are of practical utility in one’s life. Regarding the mystery of sufferings, HG Greegoriose answers the issues highlighting his own personal experiences at different stages of his life so systematically that the reader finds them really useful to be adopted in his life. His Grace views this purely in a spiritual angle and it goes without saying that this is the only way to face sufferings. That is precisely why he has rewritten the dictum of Descartes “I think, therefore I am” as “I suffer, therefore, I am”. To be part and parcel of Gospel of the Kingdom, HG Greegoriose advocates that Eucharist must be the center of our prayer life; and the binding forces shall be honesty, integrity and love. The author has quite effectively explained the true faith that sustains Orthodoxy in the third chapter. Relying on His Grace’s book, ‘Introducing the Orthodox Churches’ the author has given a good and simple explanation to standing truths such as Holy Trinity, Church, Theotokos, Salvation, Holy Mysteries and Icons.

The fourth chapter on Church fathers and their teachings too relates to personal life and learning points, though in a different dimension. The base for this treat is three works of His Grace on similar topics. He introduces Church fathers in our traditional classifying system and their contributions stand reasonably well explained.  Apart from the wonderful efforts of those three Cappadocian fathers towards admonishing heretics and sustaining the believers in true faith, there are a few other lessons too. It is really thought provoking that the continuous twelve years preaching by Mar Ivaniose, also known as the ‘Golden tongued’, indeed changed the life style of the then community. If Mar Ivaniose could do it during those days, can’t our present day fathers do it today? This is a point our Church leadership needs to look into. However, the author should have, perhaps exercised a little more care in chronological matters, such as the life period of fathers to ensure that a beginner does not get confused.

Surely, the name L/L HG Dr Paulose Mar Greegoriose is synonymous with World Council of Churches, where he has been engaged in various activities in different capacities and has contributed immensely towards providing them the right orientation. His Grace advocates the task of WCC as a mission of up building the Church which is the Body of Christ. And the Ministry of Church has to be the very same as the Ministry of Christ. Ministry of Church is threefold: Prophetic, Royal and Priestly. Such a ministry is effective only if the Church becomes one in Christ. Christ’s ministry was to unite this world with God, but we people engage in this ministry with selfish interests and are concerned only about our individual salvation. Indeed, there are many who preach in this direction of individual salvation, whereas Christ has been preaching to look after our fellow beings, to serve the poor and oppressed, take up the role of a suffering servant and the like. The thinking of His Grace as how the WCC should work is well brought out in this fifth chapter. Perhaps, the author can take care to rectify a couple of printing errors, though minute, in the next edition.

The next four chapters discuss His Grace’s vision on certain general topics such as a New Civilization, a New World View, our Health Care System and our Education System. On the New Civilization, His Grace brings out the lacunae associated with the famous European Enlightenment, particularly in the spiritual angle and compares it with the Buddhist philosophy whereby, the salient features of Buddhism is also brought out. He advocates that the goodness in Buddhism can be accepted to an extent that there is no contradiction with our faith. Further, he attempts to introduce a New Enlightenment which should contain the best among the above two and expresses his confidence that perception of reality will lead to earth shaking consequences in Politics, Religion, Education, Healing and Economics.

 
The thoughts put forward by His Grace on Health care makes the reader look to him with great awe as well as even with jealousy. Such is his knowledge on a topic considered too specialized or technical, but he seems quite at home on this subject as much as with theology. And it is really interesting and quite surprising that umpteen innovative suggestions are put forward. All these suggestions are too valuable that our experts on health care must look into them and see how best they can be implemented. At least, such experts who are members of our Church must have a close look on these and see how they can be made workable for the benefit of the community.

Similar is his approach on Education. His Grace narrates very briefly the three schools on education namely the Gandhi Vision, the Nehru Vision and the Tagore Vision and expresses his disappointment that the Government has been following the Nehru system which is not ideal for a developing nation with an agrarian back ground like ours. On the contrary, the Tagore system links environment with life and the students learn direct from nature. This is more suited to us according to His Grace.  Even now there is scope for us to re examinee the education scenario and adopt or re align our system as best suited to our environment. The explanations and vision of His Grace is meticulously explained by the author and is a really good learning exercise for those who are serious about the sustenance of our nation’s integrity. Still, the reader may expect from the author a little more clarity of thought on the ideas contained in this chapter. May be, this is worth examining when a re print comes up.

The chapter on creation of a New World View is dealt with an abundance of philosophical insights which may find many readers a little tough to comprehend. The author has made this chapter based on three published works of His Grace related to Science and Nature as well as the Orthodox view on them. Though a bit hard to assimilate, there are some very valuable learning points in this. A seven day conference on “Faith, Science and Future of Humanity” was organized by WCC in 1979 which was chaired by His Grace. An essay by His Grace “Mastery and Mystery” served the purpose of a background paper at this conference attended by over 1,000 renowned scientists and a three point situation on the existential issues mooted by him was deliberated at length. The three points are: 1. Poverty due to exploitation and lack of economic justice, 2.Wayward movement of consumerism and civilization and 3. Resources depletion and pollution caused by science and technology. His Grace attributes the root cause of these to the faulty world view propagated by St Augustine and later by Thomas Aquinas. As a result, the importance of a God centered world view gets pushed back.

The tenth and last chapter in Part I is a peep into understanding or realizing truth. One’s thoughts go back to the scenario of the trial of Jesus when the Roman Governor Pilate was struggling to distinguish truth. Based on a book by His Grace ‘Quest for Certainty’, the author attempts to link Eastern Philosophical instincts with that of the West. The theories of some thirty five philosophers are looked into and sophisticated terms such as Epistemology, Phenomenology, Existentialism, Structuralism, Modern Empiricism and Pragmatism find a place in the treatment with a tinge of Marxian Thought. Sure, a reader not having a background in Philosophy is bound to get scared, yet it must be appreciated that the author has taken pain to cover these complexities to such a level that one gets a feeling that there is much more in this world than whatever one can dream of.

Getting into Part II, it needs to be accepted at the very beginning that these ten chapters carry the reflections of the author on Gregorian Vision and therefore, what Fr Dr KM George has commented in his Forward shall be kept in mind. Yet, for the learner, a good challenge is offered in as much as that he gets an opportunity to weigh his reflections with those of the author.

The eleventh chapter is on Christian View of God and is one providing excellent thoughts to the reader to carry out a self introspection as to how he looks at God. The author uses His Grace’s ‘Cosmic Man’ as the base and comments quite effectively on the need of a God View and presents the salient features of God View within Judaism as well as within Christianity. Then the four types of God View is presented, and it is a plane truth that each one of would be aligned to one of these views depending on our attitudes to God. The presented view are: God – in – World view, God – and – World view, God – is – World view and World – in – God view.

God – in – World viewers simply places God into the whims and fancies of this world. Most of us, all the religious cults, many of the religious leaders fall into this category. They look forward to a God who dances to their tunes. God – and – World view hints at a God who is at par with this world and there are many who preach with this formula in mind. The biggest danger is that there is no difference between the creator and the created. God – is – World view propagates that God too is flesh and is subject to all weaknesses of humans including sin. The net result is the concepts ‘Gay Relationships’ and ‘Living Together’ getting legal acceptance. If so, how far or how near are we to Sodom? The next view namely World – in- God places the whole world within God or in other words, the creator holds together the created. Do we accept this view?

Further, the author goes on to explain Holy Trinity as simple as he can. It goes without saying that the explanations stand well within Orthodoxy. However, it would have been good for the author to find a place for the treatment of Holy Trinity by the early fathers like Severiose of Antioch, Mar Ephraim and also our L/L HG Dr Geevarghese Mar Osthathiose which would have been quite helpful for the reader for comprehending the concept with more clarity. The narration in the second paragraph page 122 seems to be confusing as well as those in the succeeding page. The suggestion towards going beyond the Nicene Creed to evolve a God View seems to be a bit far fetched when we study the Gregorian Vision because this Creed can be said to be the ultimate in Orthodoxy.  

The next chapter on how our world should look like is a very bold attempt and is based on ‘Cosmic Man’ which relies heavily on the works and concepts of Gregory of Nyssa. Here, one gets to understand the Eastern Orthodoxy at its best. This is followed by a treatise on Secularism in the thirteenth chapter. The way in which the term ‘secular’ and ‘secularism’ differ from each other, perhaps not known to many, is clearly explained based on the works of His Grace. And the readers are taught in clear language that as of now, ‘secularism’ is very much a religion in as much as that it is an ideological system of concepts and values. India is a ‘secular’ state, but doesn’t follow ‘secularism’. Often, ‘secularism’ is associated with destructive and dehumanizing traits.  Similar to the Church having controlled Europe in the Middle Ages, ‘secularism’ is gaining control over the world, though slowly, these days. It might have liberated Europe from the dominance of Western Church, but can never be accepted as a viable substitute. The message contained in this chapter is loud and clear: a specific warning to take guard against the ill effects of ‘secularism’.

Chapter fourteen explains with clarity how one should move with inter religious dialogues. His Grace is adamant that one should be ‘open’ in this exercise. Those who exclusively try to convince others cannot succeed here. One must try to accept the goodness others possess. The author looks to Paul F Knitter and agrees with his ideology. The dialogues should aim at religions regaining their status lost due to the European Enlightenment. And the basic need is a willingness to listen and look into the positives others have.

Then the author gets into the Christian Mission in the next chapter. He attributes the concept “Church is the Body of Christ” as a metaphor of HG Greegoriose. But this is a truth being taught and accepted by Eastern fathers for the last two millennia. His Grace is just highlighting the concept and one cannot say that this is a metaphor introduced by His Grace. Again, the author presents Jesus as the new Moses. This too is not acceptable. Yes, Moses can be defined as a fore runner of Jesus because he was the one who took the lead in liberating Israel from Egypt, a symbol of sin, as Jesus later offered himself as a sacrifice and liberated mankind from the clutches of real sin. We can count Elijah too as a fore runner to Jesus based on his great sacrifice at Carmel. The author quite rightly brings out the mission of Church as the mission of Christ (Luke 4:18). However, the Church lost its true orientation in mission as it grew leaps and bounds materially but failed in its role as the mediator between the creator and the creation. Consequent to the efforts of Church to assimilate ‘other’ type of cultures ended up forming a special race of Christians. This was perhaps the reason why Church broke up into fragments. The major splits within the Church are briefly narrated, but the chronology too should have been taken into consideration. Unfortunately, universal love or all embracing love is lacking in religions these days. The Orthodox Churches, according to His Grace are more concerned to maintain stronger communal loyalty and maintain honor of ‘own’ community rather than honor of Christ. They are struggling towards achieving worldly glory and honor, having no love even for other Orthodox Churches. Indeed, these are all the basics of the mission of the Church.

The next chapter on the meaning of Eucharist is very important as far as one’s faith is concerned as well as one’s proper orientation in his spiritual life. The author looks up to “Joy of Freedom: Eastern Worship and Modern Man”. Concept and meaning of Eucharist trace back to the first century Church as recorded in the Book of Acts: Prayer, Preaching, Breaking Bread and Fellowship. From here Eucharist develops as new Passover, participation in the New Covenant and the new Manna. The author, while explaining these comes out with certain inferences which need to be re examined in its true perspective. Let us look into these more specifically.

The author, while referring to Last Supper quite rightly as the commencement of Eucharist, bases his explanations on the three synoptic gospels. He links the Last Supper of Jesus with the Jewish Passover and the festival of ‘unleavened bread’. Further, he adds that some churches use unleavened bread even today. However, no explanation is given as to why our Church and other Eastern Churches barring the Armenians are using ‘leavened bread’. Again, on page 161, he states that the Gospel according to St John doesn’t include Last Supper at all. Here it needs to be noted that St John indeed mentions Last Supper in chapter 13. Verses 26 to 30 narrate the events including Judas taking bread and leaving the room. The time of this incident is mentioned as ‘night’. Again, John 19:14 says while the trial before Pilate gets on that this is the day of preparation of Passover and that it was 6th hour of the day ie noon time. Thus it is quite clear that Jesus instituted Eucharist at the meal a day prior to the festival of unleavened bread. If so, as per Jewish custom, it was not permissible to use unleavened bread. In other words, Jesus used leavened bread at the Last Supper and this is the real reason why Orthodox Churches use leavened bread for Eucharist. Along with this, the instructions on sacrifices laid down in the Book of Leviticus too shall be looked into. Again, while explaining the New Covenant in page 160, the author quotes Jeremiah 31:31 – 34, but verse 31 is not seen printed. In fact, it is this verse 31 which contains the term ‘New Covenant’.

The explanation of Holy Trinity in page 164 hints Trinity as three separate individuals, which though looks like language mix up, can cause jitters in the minds of readers. The basic differences of approach to Eucharist between the Eastern and Western Churches are really well expressed by the author. Yet, the first paragraph of page 171 seems to create confusion and seems away from truth.

Chapter eighteen is a deliberation on the scope of Christian faith contributing towards global peace. The base for this discussion is the dissertation paper of Fr Dr Bijesh Philip and therefore, the same is naturally a treatise at high level theological process. The paper introduces opposing approaches of His Grace Greegoriose and Hans Kung, but both infer that Christian faith can contribute towards global peace. This work of Fr Dr Bijesh Philip is a really fascinating contribution and the author needs to be complimented for introducing this paper to the ordinary readers.

The next chapter is an inter linking of science and faith which are really complimentary to each other and not contradictory. The 4th century hypothesis of Gregory of Nyssa contributes a lot towards this. The last chapter of the book is a revelation on European Enlightenment where we come across Brian McDonald, a protestant turned Orthodox theologian, who vehemently criticizes His Grace for the soft feelings towards the philosophies and teachings of other religions particularly those of Hinduism and Buddhism. McDonald stresses that there is no need for a Christian to look beyond the statements “I am the way”, “I am the light” and “I am the bread of life”.  This attitude of McDonald can, perhaps, be attributed to his Protestant inheritance, though he has understood the truth only after turning Orthodox.

Well, I must conclude this brief review by getting up and saluting John D Kunnathu, who has come up with a fantastic work to the envy of many. The lacunae here and there as per my thinking can be looked into positively and if found acceptable, can be rectified in the next edition. Even otherwise, no respect to the author is lost from my side. The comments of Fr Dr KM George too shall be taken care of. The book is an ideal study volume for any one who claims to belong not only to an Orthodox Church, but to any Christian denomination.