REPORT OF THE SEVENTH DELHI GOSPEL CONVENTION
SEPTEMBER 28-29, 2019,
MAR GREGORIOS ORTHODOX CHURCH, JANAKPURI
Report submitted on October 28, 2019
The seventh edition of the Delhi Gospel Convention organized by the Indian Orthodox Diaspora was held from September 28-29, 2019 at Mar Gregorios Orthodox Church, Janakpuri. The theme for the Convention this year was “Dare to be Different” taken from 2 Corinthians 5:17. The main resource person for the two-day Convention was Very Rev. Philip Thomas Cor Episcopa from Malaysia.
The Convention witnessed a significant number of youngsters and families from the Orthodox churches in Delhi-NCR. Close to 140 persons registered on the opening day of the Convention despite it being a working Saturday. The report shares key aspects related to the organizing and conduct of the Convention.
1. Planning and Implementation
1.1. Planning on the Resource
The Core Committee of the Indian Orthodox Diaspora in its meeting held in March 2019 decided to have Very Rev. Philip Thomas Cor Episcopa as the resource for DGC 2019. The Core appointed Santosh K Joy and Jojo Thomas as Convenors to work towards the preparations for the event. The Vice President Rev. Fr. Ferdinand Pathrose got in touch with the resource to book his dates and then Convenors kept updating him on the preparations that were underway. As the dates got closer, the IOD Core Committee took time out on certain days of the week to connect on a phone call and pray for the success of the Convention. The Committee could even connect with the resource and join in prayers. A dedicated WhatsApp group was created involving the Convenors, office bearers (including Vice President) and resource on which regular updates leading to the preparation of the event was shared. The VP on his visits to parishes in Delhi-NCR made efforts to exhort people to attend DGC. The Core Team also made contact with key people in different parishes to try and get participation from there.
1.2. Finance and Logistics
On a rough estimation of 150 persons at DGC, the IOD Core Committee entrusted the Convenors to arrange food and logistics for the Convention. As the IOD has no source of income and is dependant solely on contributions from well-wishers, the IOD Treasurer Mr. James P John earmarked a budget of Rs.80,000 to cover expenses towards DGC. The host parish took care of the expenses of food for the two-day convention and even agreed to provide accommodation for those who may come from outstation. The Core Committee members gave their voluntary contributions for the event. But what came as welcome news was the decision by the St Thomas Orthodox Church, Ghaziabad to sponsor the cost of printing and designing of DGC booklets, publicity material and banners.
The report acknowledges the invaluable service of the Vicars and Managing Committees of the two churches – Mar Gregorios Orthodox Church, Janakpuri and St Thomas Church, Ghaziabad in providing much-needed financial and logistical support for the Convention.
1.3. Mobilizing People
The biggest challenge encountered by the IOD is to ensure good attendance for its events. As part of a gigantic effort undertaken by the Core Committee, a list of participants who attended past DGC and IOD annual events was drawn out and the names were segregated parish-wise. The parish-wise list of these participants was handed out to corresponding Core Committee members from those parishes. They were asked to engage with the participants through email, phone or WhatsApp and ensure their participation at the event. In addition, the Core Committee involved key representatives from some of the parishes who came forward to work for the IOD. Simultaneously, as a unique initiative this year, a Google form was created and circulated to the persons connected with IOD on Facebook and WhatsApp to enable online registration for DGC. A total of 168 persons registered online prior to the start of the event. In addition, due to the efforts of the Core Committee office bearers and Convenors, two buses were arranged from St Mary’s Cathedral, Hauz Khas and St Thomas Church, Ghaziabad for registered participants to attend on the first day of the Convention. No bus was available for the second day of Convention.
The report gratefully acknowledges the support shown by the Vicars of St Mary’s Cathedral, Hauz Khas and St Thomas Church, Ghaziabad for providing transport.
The programme schedule is attached as Appendix -1. The two-day Convention was planned to begin on Saturday (Sep 28) morning and end by Sunday (Sep 29) afternoon. The first day witnessed two sessions on the theme by the resource followed by a panel discussion in the afternoon and a choral session in the evening. The next day witnessed Holy Qurbana in English followed by another session on the theme by the resource. The report encapsulates the main highlights of the two-day convention.
A team of volunteers from the host Church led by two Core Committee members – Mr. James P John and MGOCSM volunteers from Jankapuri parish took care of the registration desk. Besides those who registered online, several persons registered on the spot. Not all who had registered online turned up citing personal and health grounds while some had a working day. Every participant was given a DGC booklet and a bookmark at the registration desk. Freewill contributions were also received from those desirous of contributing for the event.
The Inaugural Session was compared by IOD Core Committee member Santosh K Joy along with Ms Soumya Mathew. Along with Diocesan Metropolitan H.G. Dr Youhanon Mar Demetrios, Diocesan Secretary Rev. Fr. Saji Yohannan and 12 other priests from sister parishes within the Diocese were present at the inaugural session. The session began with an opening prayer and Bible reading followed by a Welcome Speech by Assistant Vicar of Janakpuri Church, Rev Fr. Binu Thomas. Thirumeni gave the Presidential Address focussing on the objectives of IOD as a spiritual organization and theme of the Convention. IOD Vice President introduced the resource of DGC 2019 and said that the unique experience of Very Rev Philip Thomas Cor Episcopa of being a Diaspora priest settled in Malaysia for nearly four decades makes him the perfect speaker at DGC to address the Diaspora community.
There were three theme-based sessions, two on Day 1 followed by the third session on Day 2.
Very Rev. Philip Thomas introduced the theme “Dare to be Different” by focussing on the need and purpose to be different as a new creation in Christ. Following were highlights of his speech
Jesus represents humanity that will go back to Paradise. Live with this belief
Celebration of Holy Qurbana has a universal and cosmic impact – so praise and worship cannot replace Qurbana as essence of former is to please us while that of latter is to please God.
Since man is made out of creation, his actions impact the creation
Untill we are spiritually strong, we cannot understand fullness of Qurbana
Use your five senses for good things. Everyday we must reject Satan and accept Christ – then only our Baptism becomes meaningful
Take 100 per cent responsibility for your life – give up excuses
Be the presence of God in this creation – confession, absolution helps us do that
Church is the body of Christ – we are the living stones in the body of Christ. Through us Christ has to permeate to the entire creation
This session focussed on the greater experience of Church and worship within the Church. Following were the highlights:
Be seekers of Christ at a young age
Don’t be bothered by choir, priest language. Instead focus on Christ in Church
Church should be a place where you experience eternity when you enter
Church is new creation in the Creation – Dispenser of Good Gifts
Believe in Christ – putting your trust in Christ
Our induction in God is through sacramental participation in Church
Creed is a declaration of our trust in God and Church
The third session focussed on how to renew ourselves than being conformed to this world. Following were the highlights
We are supposed to be in this world but not of this world
Examples of Daniel and Paul who kept themselves from being defiled by this world – hide the Word of God in you by which you are kept away from sin
Paul says we are to receive milk when young and proceed to eat solid food in the Word of God but we continue to still drink milk. As a church we still struggle on basic issues of faith – if you elders are still on baby food how will you spiritually feed your children.
Do not water down confession by keeping on sinning
If you wish to be different, don’t conform to this world. You need to experience metamorphosis – change in matter not form
Don’t forfeit your prayers – be faithful to God in prayers
God wants us to transform this imperfect world. So be like Christ in compassion and love
2.4. Panel Discussion: Called to Serve
Moderator: Mr. Sanjay Raphael Varghese, IOD Founder Member
Panelists: H.G. Dr Youhanon Mar Demetrios; Very Rev Philip Thomas Cor Episcopa; Prof Dr. John Varghese, Principal St. Stephen’s College; Dr. Priya Mathew, Educationist
The panellists were asked to share their thoughts on four aspects of their lives, namely
How relevant was Christ till your teens
When did you encounter Christ
How you overcame peer pressure, temptation of alcohol, sex, drugs, etc.
Have you served your Master well or are you scared of death
Following is the summary of the views expressed
How relevant was Christ till your teens
Prof John spoke of the good fortune he had to be born in a family where his parents trained him in prayer and regular Sunday worship. He was born and brought up in Madras and his house had regular access to preachers. There was no time he got weaned away from prayer or Church as it became a habit. Although he grumbled when he was a child on being made to sit for prayers, this habit gave him immense strength in his teenage years and the time he stayed away from home for work and studies.
Dr Priya had a different take on going to Church. She saw it as a means of socializing. She had a crush on a boy whom she eventually married and used to wait to see and meet him in Church every Sunday. According to her, Church was a social club and it was her association with MGOCSM that helped her learn Christian songs. However, she was frank to admit that Christ was not the centre of her life.
Cor-Episcopa said that during his teens, they had Holy Qurbana twice a year in rural Malaysia where he was brought up. His mother encouraged him to read the Bible and spend time in personal pray. He was told that Christ would help them in their life’s path if they continued to pray and read the Bible. There was no means to go to any Bible study circles or to understand the Qurbana. At the age of 16, while attending the first Youth Camp for Christians, he saw a larger dimension of who Christ was.
Thirumeni due to his father’s transferrable job spent his childhood at boarding schools. He relatively spent more time with his grandparents and his exposure was to churches other than the Orthodox Church. It was though his grandfather he came to know and learn about the Orthodox Church and its history. Before dinner, prayer was mandatory. Having not learnt Malayalam much of what was said during prayers was not understood. But Thirumeni memorized the words gradually. Same was his experience with the liturgy on Sunday. The understanding part followed later.
When did you encounter Christ
Dr Priya shared a testimony from her life of how she turned to Christ. After marriage, she did not have a child as successively she had two failed pregnancies. Traumatized she turned to God and begged for a child. With the intercession of Parumala Thirumeni, she was blessed with children. Being a rebel by nature, she continued with the flow of the world not attaching much importance to prayer but desiring a good life – a house, car, slim figure and promotions in career. After getting three promotions in two years, she faced a moment when she was demoted. This was a low point in her life when she contemplated ending her life. But her colleague at work introduced her to the Bible and prayed for her. That was a turning point in her life as she surrendered to God and saw God’s grace pouring in her life.
Prof John shared a life experience back in 1990 when he was a teacher at St Stephen’s College’s Department of English. Three years as temporary lecturer he applied for a permanent vacancy. Confident of getting through, the results shocked him. His whole world crumbled as he could not face the embarrassment of failing to make it. He questioned God and felt all that he did for God was useless. He registered in a doctorate course in Hyderabad where subsequently he began to teach. In 2015, at a funeral of a friend in Delhi, the then Principal of St. Stephen’s College asked him to apply for the post of Principal. This would be a demotion as nobody comes from a University to join as Principal of a college. He opened the Bible and got the message that God is calling him. He applied and got through and this showed how God has plans for you that we cannot imagine.
Cor Episcopa compared himself to Jonah as he kept options of several careers to pursue in life of which becoming a priest was the last thing on his mind. He had a willing heart but his inability to understand Malayalam and lack of exposure to Church and tradition made him feel unfit for joining Seminary. But with time, all other doors got closed and only this option of joining God’s Ministry stayed. He had no experience of serving at the altar prior to joining the Seminary. With each passing day, his belief was re-affirmed that this was the place he was meant to be.
Thirumeni had a strong sense that God was calling him despite the weaknesses in him. This happened by chance when Thirumeni was studying Theology in New Testament at Fordham University in the US. That time, Late Dr. Paulos Mar Gregorios of Blessed Memory visited the University and there was a chance meeting. During that interaction, Gregorios Thirumeni was impressed and invited Demetrios Thirumeni to teach New Testament at Old Seminary. This was his dream come true as he wanted to teach in India. It was later he came to know that Late Gregorios Thirumeni before embarking on his US visit had prayed to God to arrange for a New Testament professor for Old Seminary.
How did you overcome peer pressure, temptation of alcohol, sex, drugs, etc
Dr Priya admitted that we all experience peer pressure and being in the corporate world, this temptation is overbearing. She came face to face with these challenges at her workplace. If you have to climb the corporate ladder, you need to socialize, drink, as not doing so can get you side-lined. Pornography is blatant in such an environment. She prayed to God to cleanse her spirit and help overcome these temptations.
Thirumeni never had a desire to make money although he had a passion to travel around the world. But alcohol and sex are temptations one has to live with in the secular world. As his father was in Navy, Thirumeni was used to seeing alcohol being served at all social gathering and family get-togethers. But his father used to say – be aware of its good and bad side. But Thirumeni never succumbed to it. As about sex, Thirumeni said that one must differentiate between sex and sexuality. As a man there is no harm in appreciating a beautiful woman but growing up in Indian culture makes women to be seen as sex objects. Due to Thirumeni’s exposure to West, he had great friends as women in his prayer circle. However, overcoming desires of flesh and dealing with your spirituality is a constant struggle that may remain till the very end of your life.
Cor Episcopa said that it is not a question whether you do something or don’t do but there should be a way to come out of it and reconcile with God. He blamed it on the consumerist culture that promotes alcohol, sex, high lifestyle when there should be emphasis to promote sports, arts and music among youth.
Prof John said that every person is susceptible to sin and it is this that makes you rely on God to help you when faced with such situations. He shared the misfortune of having friends in his late teens who succumbed to temptations they could not resist. He used to pick a verse from the Bible and honour it. We pray, God lead us in the way we should go, that gives us knowledge that there are repercussions of sin. Then you take serious lessons from it and try to come out of such situations.
Have you served your master well or are you scared of death
Dr Priya says that we are called upon by God to do His will – to love and pray for each other. She enjoys the Book of Revelation and feels the urge to be an active propagator of faith. We are chapters of a book called Christ and even the non-Christians need to be told about it. But she feels that being in the Orthodox Church is the right place where one should be while preparing for the end. ‘Anything that I could change, well I wish I hadn’t left the Orthodox Church and instead should have fought from within’, she said. There is no use going to any Church if you do not understand what your faith is. Be a praying person. A woman by her prayers can make a family and society blessed.
Prof John will be happy to see Jesus face-to-face. He explains that our understanding of God as a fiery, angry Master is not correct. He is merciful and just. But we must try to be holy like Him. Anything that I could change, it should be my temperament as I often burst into anger.
Cor Episcopa feels he will be confident to stand in the presence of God. Although he feels that his desire to keep himself involved in community service is yet incomplete. Till the end he wishes to be in touch with the society.
Thirumeni claims that for 66 years he has walked with God and experienced God’s love. On the judgment day it shall be a happy meeting with Christ who has been my friend for so long. Heaven has to be an experience of God and not a place as such. We pray daily Your will be done. That’s what will be my response on the judgment day, Thirumeni added. About anything that His Grace wishes to change, he feels it’s his nature to take things in a light hearted manner.
The moderator summed up the panel discussion as very informative and enlightening as the panellists sportingly took up all the questions and did not hesitate to frankly express their mind. The moderator called upon Rev. Fr. Philip M Samuel, senior priest of Delhi Diocese to evaluate the panel discussion. Achen admitted this was the first time he had attended an open-hearted discussion of this nature anywhere in the Church and congratulated the IOD for organizing a programme like this. It has been the experience that people hesitate to reveal about their private lives in presence of Thirumeni but a discussion of this nature when Thirumeni shares from HG’s personal life will encourage youngsters to share from their lives too. What he liked most about the discussion was the turning points in the speakers’ lives. We often do not express it to anyone. But by sharing it, we encourage others and thus re-dedicate our lives to God.
2.5. Doubt-clearing Sessions
There were two doubt-clearing sessions, one on each day of the Convention that was answered by Thirumeni and Cor-Episcopa. A unique method was introduced this year to invite questions online, host it on a platform accessible to all who log in, and avoid repetition by asking users to vote for the questions that have already come in. The platform link was provided by Pigeonhole and the session was moderated by IOD Core member VA Varghese. This made the session lively with following questions being addressed:
On why we cannot experience God in Church:
We go to Church not to make us happy but God happy as the experience of Cain-Abel shows. People are leaving the Church but we must know God is in the Church and we come to experience Him.
On why Confession:
If through Baptism sins are forgiven and we are made holy we need confession as a sacrament if we continue to sin. This sacrament gives us grace to circumvent circumstances to sin again. You cannot confess in a state of sin and the priest mediates on your behalf to God. Studies show that where there is confession there are less cases of depression as it helps remove the guilt conscience.
Church’s attitude to LGBTQ:
Church recognizes heterosexual principle of life-giving in a sexual union. So any other sexual union may be considered of a sinful nature. Church has compassion on such individuals and understands their situation.
Church’s concern for Environment:
Theologically man is not an isolated being. When human race fell through Adam, the creation fell. So the integration of creation is an important aspect of theology. Desert fathers recognized this principle and lived in a friendly way with even the wild animals around them.
During the closing session we got feedback at various levels:
Lay leadership is lost and needs to be revived in the church as a focus of IOD
IOD has responsibility to identify the lost sheep – those young men who have married outside the Church and do not come to Church anymore. IOD must bring them into the Church through such events
Those not coming to the Church or are ‘un-churched’ need to be told that you have space within the Church through sermons and service in English/Hindi.
Bible study should be expanded to all parishes across the Diocese. We are by nature lazy people when it comes to spiritual matters. Need to explore how this can be worked out.
B. Clergy participants
Looking at the thin attendance, there is a need to freeze Hauz Khas Cathedral as permanent venue for DGC said the Diocesan Secretary Rev. Fr. Saji Yohannan.
C. Laity Participants
The panel discussion was a one-off experience that made us learn from the lives of our spiritual leaders who faced similar challenges
The sessions by Cor Episcopa were quite informative and the Q&A session was unique and interactive.
Attendance was less as more people could have benefitted from the sessions.
Involvement of other spiritual organizations as in the previous edition of DGC was lacking.
4. Action Points and Follow-up
Based on the feedback received and the discussions based on them, the IOD can certainly consider on the following action points:
The system of assigning each individual core member with the task of following up on participants from their parishes was experimented for the first time. Has it been worthwhile or were there failings at individual level needs to be seen based on parish-wise registrations.
The attendance on day 1 of Convention was respectable but on the second day was below expectations. Should DGC be a one-day event or its timings be changed should be examined.
The participation of other spiritual organizations was lacking. An attempt must be made to involve other spiritual organizations in some capacity at DGC.
The venue of DGC at Hauz Khas has been an encouraging factor as regards participation of all age groups of Diaspora including inter-cultural couples and brethren from other denominations. Follow up on making Hauz Khas as a permanent venue needs to be seriously pursued.