Tuesday 29 November 2022

Synodality of Catholic Church and Eastern Churches: European Perspective


Enlarge the space of your tent Is 54:2


The tent is a space of communion, participation and mission.

Europe as a continent is the cradle of many Eastern Churches, especially of the Greek tradition. Many Eastern Churches of Syriac origin are also prominently present in Europe as migrants either due to war and persecution or from economic perspectives. Syro Malabar Church in Europe is an example of a Syriac Church that migrated to Europe from an economic perspective in terms of quality of life, economic stability, and educational and job opportunities.

The native Church in Europe always welcomed the Eastern Churches. The Catholic Church through its numerous magisterial documents and exhortations appreciated the importance of Eastern Churches and their heritage especially the richness of their liturgico theological rituals and rubrics.

For Catholic Church, enlarging the space of the tent is widening the acceptance, appreciation and promotion of Eastern Churches in Europe to contribute, complement and collaborate. Through this collaboration, the revealed mysteries in different perspectives manifested in different individual particular churches complement together to make the Catholic Church more Catholic.

Catholic- Universal inclusiveness.

The term Catholic was first used by Saint Ignatius of Rome who was a disciple of Saint John, the Evangelist. Saint Ignatius of Rome in his Epistles to Smyrneans wrote in AD 110 that the Catholic Church is the Universal Church[1]. In a letter of the Church of Smyrna on the occasion of the martyrdom of Saint Polycarp (69-155 AD) the term ‘catholic’ again appears with a meaning that the catholic church is the aggregation of all local churches and congregations[2]. Saint Cyril of Jerusalem of the fourth century wrote ‘the Church is Catholic not just because it spread all over the World, but it teaches all the doctrines completely and without defect[3]. The term Catholic is not just the universal presence of the Church but the universal inclusiveness of all traditions and cultures.

In this perspective, the Synodality of the Catholic Church is a synodality of all Christian traditions. People of God of all traditions should walk together contributing and complementing the revealed mysteries of salvation. Therefore, this synodality should be aimed at supporting and promoting the Eastern Churches. There needs to be a lot of formation needed for both the native Churches of Europe and the migrant churches in Europe. There have to be efforts to create an increased awareness among the native churches about the different streams of Christianity, different traditions and rituals and their theological base. Similarly, there have to be efforts to increase the awareness of the rich liturgical traditions and spirituality of Eastern Churches, their contributory role and the importance of preserving and promoting them among the migrant eastern Churches.  Most of the rituals and traditions manifested in Eastern Churches are ancient and apostolic and sub-apostolic in origin and therefore they are more Fidel to the Church in its origins and sources of salvation[4]. There are eastern Churches in communion with Rome and their respective counterparts not in communion with Rome cohabiting in Europe. The cohabitation and promotion of these individual churches in Catholic communion and out of Catholic communion in Europe should be taken in principle, supporting and respecting each other and also hampering any activities widening the separation between them. Therefore, any parallel or hybrid spirituality evolving in the Catholic Eastern Churches due to their long-term relations with Rome should be prohibited to allow reconciliation with their non-catholic counterparts.

A synodality without accepting and respecting the non-catholic Eastern Churches in Europe is a counter-witness of Jesus Christ. The existence of non-catholic Eastern Churches is a scandal for the Synodality of the Catholic Church. Catholic Church should do all efforts to reconcile with the Eastern Churches to widen the tent. It is actually

 (….)making room for their diversity. It entails a willingness to die to self out of love, finding oneself again in and through a relationship with Christ(….)[5].

This action needs a mentality of Christ as seen in Phil 2:5-7 as narrated in the Anaphora of Theodore of the Syro Malabar Qurbana.

(….) though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness[6].

The dignity of Eastern Churches and Ecumenism.

The Catholic Church historically chipped some of the members of the Eastern Churches into the communion in an Imperial way creating parallel churches and they are the Eastern Catholic Churches. This action created division in those churches and they are not walking together. These Eastern Catholic Churches tried to become carbon copies of the Roman Church[7]. They are considered junior partners in Catholic communion. Some of the heads of these Churches were given membership in the College of Cardinals. In fact, as heads of these Eastern Catholic Churches, they have much higher dignity than mere membership in the council of the Roman Church. They should be considered equal to the head of the Roman Church in the Catholic communion with the Pope of Rome as primus inter pares. There has to be an upper council in the Catholic communion above the college of Cardinals consisting of the Pope of Rome and the 23 heads of the Eastern Catholic Churches to uphold the dignity of the Eastern Catholic Churches.  This compromise of the dignity of the Eastern Catholic Churches could be the reason their counterparts would not want to join the Catholic communion. The catholic church should empty her imperial face and ‘take the form of a servant as Jesus did, to reconcile with those Eastern Churches in Europe to make the Synodality a walking together of all people of God in different traditions and heritage. As all Apostles walked together with Jesus, all these Churches should walk together in Christ.

[1] J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html

St Igantius argues that the Bishop is the centre of each individual church as Jesus Christ is the centre of the Universal Church.

[2]   H B Swete, The Apostolic creed, its relation to primitive Christianity, 1894 p 75

[3] J H Srawley The Epistles of saint Ignatius, London 1900, online version accessed on 22/7/22 p 97 foot note 1 http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/srawley/index.html

[4] Instructions for applying the Liturgical principles for the code of canons of the Eastern Churches No 9

[5] Enlarge the space of your tent, Working document or the continental stage, Secretaria Generalis  Synod,  No  28

[6] Enlarge the space of your tent, Working document or the continental stage, Secretaria Generalis  Synod,  No  28

[7]   Xavier Koodapuzha, Congregation for the Eastern Churches Instructions, in Antony G Kollamparampil, Joseph Perumthottam, (Eds) Bride at the feet of the bridegroom, HIRS Publications, 1997, p 17

Saturday 14 May 2022

Synodality in the context of Syro Malabar Church: an inherently Synodal Church

 Synodality in the context of Syro Malabar Church: an inherently Synodal Church

Dr Martin Thomas Antony

The Universal Church is journeying together as a communion of different individual churches of various traditions and rites. It is beautiful that this communion of churches travelling together complemented each other in their diverse traditions and spirituality in partnership. 

Pope Francis’ call for a Synodal Church.

Pope Francis has called for a synodal Church in the context of the Synod 2023, the fiftieth anniversary of the institution of the Synod of Bishops. Church in the third millennium is at the crossroads due to various issues like the global pandemic, conflicts in the world, climate change, inequality and injustice across humanity due to racism, violence, persecution etc.  Within the Church, there are examples of sufferings due to sexual abuse, abuse of power and conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated people . It seems that the Church needs to find its way back to the Church of our Lord Isho Mshiha as witnessed by the Apostles and Church Fathers. This is to bring back the original mission and authentic life of the Church. Pope Francis desires to transform the Church to be synodal- walking together towards God with unity and partnership in all layers of hierarchy. 


The Word Synod came from the Greek words Syn and Hodos means same way/path. The meaning is walking together or journeying together. The Latin word os councilum. In Christian Churches, synods are local or provincial assemblies of Bishops. Governing councils of autocephalous churches and autonomous Eastern Catholic churches are also called synods. In the early Church, ecumenical synods were called by an emperor or authority to resolve questions of theology, discipline or administration to ensure Churches 'walking together'.

Synodality: Fidelity to Apostolic traditions.

Synodality is embracing the Holy tradition, revival of the oldest tradition of Church governance . Synods were standard in Church life in the early period.  The Acts of Apostles vouches for the synodality of the Apostolic period in the selection of the seven deacons  and in the Synod of Jerusalem . 

The Council of Nicaea stipulated that Bishops should hold synods twice a year and the council of Trent ordered every bishop to hold synods annually in his diocese . The Vatican Council II described the church as people of God. Lumen Gentium describes the collegial relationship between the Pope and the Bishops. Post conciliar documents further went on to hold the view that the collegial relation between Bishops to their Priests and between Priests to their people .

Church of Saint Thomas Christians: inherently Synodal- The Christian republic.

In the context of Pope Francis’ call for a Synodal Church, Syro Malabar Church is also preparing to restore the early Church’s tradition of Synodality. The Church of Saint Thomas Christians was Synodal from the very early period in such a way that the governance of the Church was like a Christian republic as narrated by the early Portuguese writers . 

Judeo Christian tradition

Syro Malabar Church is the continuation of the ancient Apostolic Church of Saint Thomas in India in the Universal Catholic Communion. The Church of Saint Thomas Christians was the continuation of the Judeo-Christian community of the Apostles and disciples. As narrated in the Holy Bible, the earliest Church was synodal in governance. The Acts of Apostles portrays synodality in the early Church. In the Jerusalem Synod and the selection of seven deacons, the whole church was involved in the decision making, not just the Apostles and elders (the clergy) . Synods are a collegial way of governance of the Church in contrast to the hierarchical governance which crept into the Church when it became more Imperial, especially in the Greco Roman Churches. The Judeo-Christian Syriac Churches continued their synodal model of governance and collegiality. Thus, the Bishops remained spiritual leaders rather than rulers. Acts of Apostles narrates about separating temporal and spiritual roles and the Apostles wanted to remain as spiritual leaders. 

Synodality of Thomas Christians- The Christian republic

Until the advent of the Portuguese missionaries, the Church of Saint Thomas Christians was governed by Synods comprising of laity and clergy. The bishops who were usually monks from a remote monastery were spiritual leaders while the clergy and laity governed the Church. There were synods in three tiers. The Parish level assembly was called Edavaka palliyogam, a regional assembly called Pradeshika palliyogam and a national assembly, the Maha palliyogam. The edvaka palliyogam or parish assembly was the general council of the parish involving the vast majority of the laity.  The Edavaka palliyogam had the power and authority to approve the priests. Without the approval of the edvaka palliyogam, a priest could not be ordained. This certificate of the synod was called desakkury or the certificate of the local congregation. Those priests who were ordained by the European Missionary Bishops without the desakkury were not accepted by the community of Saint Thomas Christians and they had to join the Latin rite. All the temporal matters were governed by these assemblies or palliyogams. All the civil and criminal disputes among Christians were also dealt with by these palliyogams.

The second tier of the synod, the regional synod or pradeshika palliyogams were assemblies of representatives from at least 4 parishes. It is assumed that an external agency like the courts of the local rulers interferes only after a referral from the regional synod. Even European Missionaries had to accept this rule in the Mahapalliyogam of Angamali in 1773AD .

The national assembly was called Maha palliyogam. The Archdeacon, a priest was the president of the Maha palliyogam.  There are hints in the history that Bishops were selected by the Mahapalliyogam, the delegates of the Maha palliyogam travelled to monasteries in Babylon to select their Bishop. At all these tiers, the laity was the vast majority. It has been documented that the infamous Synod of Diamper convened by the Goan Archbishop Alexis Dom Menesis  in 1599 AD was attended by 4 laity representatives and a priest from each parish. These palliyogams held authority over all Christians in social, ecclesial, civil and even criminal matters. This is what the early European Missionaries narrated as the 'Christian Republic ’

Even after the Synod of Diamper and subsequent subjugation under the European Bishops, The Church of Saint Thomas Christians continued this synodal system. The historic journey of Kariattil Yawsep Malpan and Paremmakkal Thomman cathanar, two native priests to Rome in 1778 AD was a result of a Maha palliyogam of Angamali. The famous Angamali Padiyola- the Declaration of Angamali of 1787 AD was enacted by another Maha palliyogam which represented 84 parishes. After the period of Parammakkal Thomman Cathanar as Governodor, the Catholic Saint Thomas Christians lost this synodality partially and went into hierarchical governance under the colonial minded European Missionary rule. Even though the synodality was partially lost, there were informal synodal meetings among the clergy and laity to recapture the lost ecclesial independence and traditions which resulted in sending several delegations to the Patriarch of Chaldeans to get Bishops of the same rite. This strong synodal activity of ordinary faithful resulted in the Patriarch of Chaldeans consecrating a member of the delegation as Bishop, Mar Abraham (Paulose Panadry) in 1796 AD and sending Apostolic visitors,  Bishop Mar Thomas Rokos in 1861 AD and Bishop Mar Elia Melus in 1874 AD. These attempts resulted in minor schisms which prompted Rome to intervene. Rome recognised the Catholic Syro Chaldean community on the Malabar coast erecting separate vicariates at Kottayam and Trichur by Pope Leo XIII in 1887 AD. In 1896 native Bishops were appointed in three vicariates Kottayam, Trichur and Ernakulam. In 1923 AD, a Hierarchy was established for the Syro Chaldean rite in Malabar with the title Syro Malabar with a Metropolitan. Thus, the restoration of the Syro Malabar hierarchy in 1923 was a result of strong synodality that persisted among the Christians of Saint Thomas in India in the form of ecclesiastical assemblies of laity and clergy.

When the Syro Malabar vicariates were under Latin Bishops, they too continued some form of synodality in the form of diocesan synods . But when native Bishops took over the charge, the diocesan synods paved the way for advisory boards in the form of Pastoral councils.

Now, in the Syro Malabar Church, there are Parish assemblies to elect parish councils called Prathinidhi yogam or Prathipurusha yogam. At the Eparchial level, there are Pastoral councils as advisory bodies. A Major Archiepiscopal assembly also exists at the sui iuris church level. All these bodies are just an image of the ancient glorious synodal assemblies. 

Syro Malabar Liturgy: Inherently Synodal in nature.

Synodality manifests the pilgrim nature of the Church . The liturgical theology of Syro Malabar Church is that of a pilgrim Church. The Priest and the congregation standing and facing the altar. Symbolically, this is walking together towards God and heaven. Syro Malabar liturgical theology depicts the madbha as the throne of God and heaven. The liturgy celebrates all the events of salvation history symbolically and walking toward God as a pilgrim Church.

Pope Francis when he assumed charge, asked the people assembled in Vatican square to bless him and bent his head down. This was an act of seeking God’s blessing from the people of God. In the Syro Malabar Liturgy, the celebrant, in humility accepting that he is not worthy enough to perform the divine worship, asks the people of God to pray for him several times and turn to them bending his head down. This gesture is also depicting the same principle- seeking God’s spirit in the people of God who shares the common dignity and vocation through baptism . Through this Synodal process, Pope Francis is seeking God’s will in the whole people of God by their anointing of the Holy Spirit through baptism . 


Syro Malabar Church is an inherently synodal Church. This is a precious fidelity to the sources of the Church of the Apostles and Church Fathers.  Synodality exists in the Syro Malabar Church in the form of various laity forums at different levels in partnership with the clergy and hierarchy. In the context of the call for a Synodal Church by Pope Francis, the Syro Malabar Church should take serious steps to strengthen these synodal assemblies with a definite role for the laity in the governance at various levels of the Church. 

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Instructions for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches: an appraisal.


Instructions for applying the liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches: an appraisal.

Dr Martin Thomas Antony

This is an important document published by the Holy See in 1996 where all the liturgical norms described in Orientalum Ecclesiarum, the Second Vatican Council’s decree on the Eastern Churches are gathered together systematically with further details presented to the Eastern Catholic Churches.[1]

These instructions pose the following objectives.

1 To lead to a more profound understanding of the immense richness of the authentic eastern traditions which are to be scrupulously maintained and communicated to all the faithful.

2 To arrange the liturgical norms valid for all the Catholic Eastern churches in an organic summary and to introduce recovery where necessary of the eastern liturgical authenticity according to the tradition which eastern church has inherited from the Apostles through the Church Fathers.

3 To exhort a permanent liturgical formation to be organised on a solid basis for both the clergy- beginning with the seminarians and the formation institutes- and the people of God through schools of mystagogical catechesis.

4 To list the principles in common for the elaboration of Liturgical directories for the individual churches sui iuris.

Through this, the Holy See is affirming the importance of the richness of the Eastern Churches. Saint Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic letter ‘Orientale Lumen’ states that the Christian East are the living interpreters of the treasure of the tradition they preserve and they have a unique and privileged role as the original setting where the Church was born[2].

II Vatican Council decree on ecumenism ‘Unitats Reddintegratio’ states ‘everybody should realise that it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve and foster the rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the eastern churches in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition and to bring about reconciliation between eastern and western Christians’[3].

The Holy See instructs all Eastern Catholics to carefully examine the history of the traditions and parts which have been inappropriately taken off in the course of time due to political and other reasons that should be restored. The Holy See also confirms that retaining the original traditions and spirituality is not a sign of stagnancy and backwardness but of precious fidelity to the sources of salvation. The Holy see even goes on to exhort that any attempts to distance the members of the Eastern Churches from their genuine spirituality by inducing them to join another or favouring the acquisition of forms of thought, spirituality and devotions that are not coherent with their ecclesial heritage are condemnable.

The Holy See accepts the richness of the Holy traditions of the Eastern Churches through various post-Vatican Council II documents. They use the expressions like ‘inalienable value of the heritage’, ‘the shining traditions that derived from the Apostles through the Fathers which constitutes part of the divinely revealed undivided heritage of the Universal Church’, ‘variety of manifestations of the faith leading to the fullness of the mysteries revealed’ and so on. The Universal Church respectfully observes that the Eastern Churches have jealously retained the symbolic Biblical theology developed in the early Church that is explained by the Church Fathers and thereby maintained a direct continuity with the spiritual experience of the Christian origins.

Lumen Gentium declares that ‘by divine providence, whilst safeguarding the unity of faith and the unique divine structure of the Universal Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches enjoy their own liturgical traditions, theological heritage, unique spirituality and their own discipline.

The Universal Church desires that these treasures should be flourished and contribute more efficiently to the evangelisation of the World. Orientum Ecclesiarum and other post-conciliar documents exhort that the members of the Eastern Churches have the right and duty to preserve, know and live in their traditions. The Holy See also instructs that it is the duty and obligation of the Pastors of the Latin Church to preserve and encourage the traditions and spirituality of the Eastern Catholics in their territories living as immigrant communities to express the multi-coloured richness of the Universal Church.

The Universal Church desires that the Eastern Catholic Churches return to their genuine traditions if they had made undue and inopportune modifications in the past due to various reasons. Saint Pope John Paul II in a homily during Armenian Liturgy in 1987 expressed a firm attitude of the Holy See that those Eastern catholic Churches should have the courage to rediscover the authentic traditions of their own identity and to restore them to their original purity. Pope Paul VI exhorted to the members of the commissions who were preparing the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches that any renewal should be coherent and agree with sound traditions blossoming as though spontaneously from the already existing traditions.

In the document Instructions for applying the Liturgical prescriptions of the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, the Universal Church appreciates the richness of the Liturgy and heritage of eastern Churches in terms of the sacredness, emotions developed from the poetic dimensions of the texts, rituals related to liturgy and administration of sacraments, devotions and so on.

Any Liturgical reforms even in the west would be rediscovering the full fidelity to their own liturgical traditions, benefitting from their riches and eliminating that which has altered their authenticity from external influences foreign to the traditions. If any new element is introduced due to any serious pastoral reasons, it should blend without contrast but with coherence, as it had naturally derived from it. Fidelity to own traditions has ecumenical value as well.

The Eparchial Bishop is the moderator and guardian of the entire liturgical life of the Eparchy. Therefore, the Liturgy should be celebrated in the Cathedral of the Bishop in the most exemplary way. The role of the Holy See is to promote a sense of return to the ancestral traditions of the Eastern Churches.

The Universal Church advises the eastern Churches to translate their liturgy to languages understood by the faithful in the migrant communities. The Holy See even asks some eastern Churches, if they lack their own editions of the liturgical texts, to use the texts used by the corresponding Orthodox churches. The Holy See suggests avoiding unnecessarily differentiation between liturgical books of the eastern catholic churches and those of the corresponding Orthodox churches.

In the Liturgical celebrations and feasts, the Universal Church instructs to conform to the liturgical cycle of the Eastern Churches. The Holy See also instructs to restore the liturgical calendar to its traditional structure eliminating the elements assimilated due to historical reasons that are incompatible with the spirit and features of the Eastern Churches.

If undue changes to the Liturgical vestments were introduced, the traditional rules should be reinstated. For the non-liturgical dress of the clergy, it is appropriate that the eastern Churches should return to their traditional eastern usage.

The Holy See observes that there are devotions developed in Eastern Churches due to extraneous influences which give rise to a parallel form of spirituality. The Eastern Churches should promote authentic mystagogical catechesis to allow the faithful to rediscover the riches of their own spirituality. Such popular devotions from extraneous influence should harmonise with the liturgical seasons in accord with the sacred liturgy. The II Vatican Council prescriptions confirm and approve the ancient discipline related to the sacraments in the Eastern Catholic Churches with the rituals observed with their administration and advise to restore them where there are deviations from their original traditions.

Christian initiation with Baptism, Chrismation with the Holy Myron and the Eucharist was abandoned due to historical and cultural reasons in the Western Church, if the Eastern Churches changed their practice due to the external pressure from the Latin Church, these should be reformed and restored. The Universal Church instructs the same to all the sacraments, divine praises or Liturgy of hours, liturgical space and architectural elements like altar veil, bema or ambo, icons, baptistry, prayer facing the east and so on.


The scope of these instructions is to assist the Eastern Churches which are in full communion with the Church of Rome to recover a full celebrative coherence in their liturgy, their traditions and spirituality in such a way that the whole Church is enriched by their specific heritages.




[1] George Gallaro, Rome’s Liturgical Instruction for the Eastern Catholic Churches, Logos: a Journal of Eastern Christian Studies, Vol 43-45 (2002-2004), p149

[2] Saint Pope John Paul II Orientale Lumen, 1995

[3] Vatican Council II Decree on Ecumenism Unitatis Redintegratio