The Babylonian Captivity of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malankara
Fr. Joseph Varghese
Adjunct. Professor- Liturgical Studies, New York
The Babylonian captivity was an important event in the history of the Jewish people. In the early 6th century BCE, the Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Jewish Temple and the Jews were taken to Babylon as captives. The Jerusalem Temple was destroyed and the corridors of power annihilated the very faith of the Jewish people. The Jewish people were forced to stay there for several decades until a Persian king, Cyrus the Great, allowed them to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their destroyed temple.
Again, in the history of the Catholic Church a similar event in the 14th century. In 1309, the Pope moved his court from Rome to Avignon in France and remained there until 1376. Francesco Petrarch, an Italian scholar, referred to this event as the ‘Babylonian captivity.’ Petrarch believed the popes during this time lost their spiritual integrity and became enslaved to the ambitions of the king of France.
Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer also wrote a treatise named “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church” in which he criticized the sacramental system of the medieval Roman Church.
A new kind of captivity is experiencing and forced up on the faithful of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Malankara, India. The age old tradition and faith of the people and their believes are attacked, destroyed and kept them out from their worship places, as did by the Babylonians, in the pretext of implementation of a unjustified order from a corrupted and miniscule bench of Supreme Court in India. As the Babylonian held Israelites captive, now the schismatic faction of the Indian Orthodox Church holding the Syrian Christians who are in allegiance to the throne of St. Peter, in bondage and refrain them from their sacramental rites. The problem is, by using a corrupt and unholy secular system in India, a Church and its faith is being held captive. The Sacraments are the “ rites “ that have the command of God and through which the Grace of the God is imparted to each faithful according to their Faith. By denying such sacraments, including the rite of burial according to one’s faith, is force them under captive as Babylonians did to Israelites. As Luther wrote in his treatise against the Catholic Church, “the tyrants were denying the laity reception of sacraments”, the Indian Orthodox faction denying the basic tenets of the Christian faith by held the original owners of their churches captive from their sacramental rites.
Furthermore, the conciliar authority given and administered over the Malankara Church by the Syrian Orthodox Church cannot negate or void in a Secular court of law other than a Conciliar Body. The anathema proclaimed a Church couldn’t be revoked through a Court order neither the priesthood can be conferred by a secular court.
Any sacraments are part of the faith and cannotbe separated from the faith. Whether it a baptism, Eucharist or burial, through which divine promise of salvation is given and according to one’s belief and faith. Any sacrament forced upon someone is against the “free will “ given to each person on his journey to salvation.
The Syrian Orthodox Church in Malankara is looking for a ruler like Cyrus who can relieve and release these people from their bondage. Currently, the priority of the faith is at stake, which is in stark contrast to the secular motifs and slogan of denying anything “foreign”. Nowhere in the world, I don’t think any true Christians can claim their Christian faith originated indigenously other than from theJewish Carpenter, who is the Lord and Savoir. The Christian faith is beyond the boundaries and limitations imposed by the Secular administration and its origin is eternal. The hollowness of suchclaim of indigenous faith and ownership of church property is nothing but a “tyrant who is denying the fundamental sacramental rites of the faithful”. Let us pray and hope for a Cyrus who can build the church again in Malankara.