On behalf of the International Old Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Bishop emeritus Hans Gerny (Bern) and the Revd. Ioan L. Jebelean (Lucerne) recently attended the celebrations to mark the 175th anniversary of the reformation of the Mar Thoma Church in Kerala, India. On our arrival at Cochin Airport on the morning of Friday, 19 August 2011, we were warmly welcomed by Bishop Isaac Mar Philoxenos and other members of the Mar Thoma Church. Arriving at the same time was Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, who was visiting India for the first time in his capacity of the general secretary of the World Council of Churches, accompanied by his wife and Dr. Mathews George Chunakara. In the evening we were invited to a formal dinner, where we had the opportunity to meet the Revd. Dr. Henriette Hutabarat Lebang, the general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia, and other bishops and representatives of the Mar Thoma Church. The delicious meal was accompanied by a series of speeches.
The actual anniversary celebrations took place the following afternoon at the church centre in Thiruvalla. Over a cup of tea beforehand, the participants had the chance to talk to the Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Metropolitan and other bishops and clergy from the Mar Thoma Church. Numerous speeches were made during the official festivities. Among the speakers were His Grace The Valiya Metropolitan, Dr. Tveit, other members of the Mar Thoma Church, and the Syrian Orthodox Bishop of Kottayam. Between the speeches we were treated to various musical interludes. Bishop emeritus Hans Gerny conveyed the regards of Dr. Joris Vercammen, the Archbishop of Utrecht, and shared some thoughts on the relations between the Old Catholic Church and the Mar Thoma Church. He presented the Metropolitan with a red stole and two books about the Old Catholic Church.
On Sunday morning I attended the service of Eucharist at the Mar Thoma church in Thiruvalla with Bishop emeritus Hans Gerny, who gave the sermon. The Revd. Dr. Henriette Hutabarat Lebang was also welcomed. We were introduced by a member of the clergy and greeted with flowers by representatives of the congregation. The liturgy made a great impact on us. Grape juice was used instead of wine for Holy Communion. Around 200 worshippers attended the service, with the men sitting separately from the women. The hymns were inspired by the Anglican tradition. Following the service we were invited to join the Metropolitan for lunch, and to have coffee at the home of his brother. In the afternoon we visited the first church of the “reformation”, where the liturgy was celebrated in the local language for the first time.
Bishop emeritus Hans Gerny and I stayed in Kerala for another three days. A gift from Bishop Isaac Mar Philoxenos was brought to us on the evening before our departure, when we were invited to have dinner at the home of a family in Cochin. Here we had the opportunity to talk to laypeople about the Mar Thoma Church and its ecumenical activities. I would like to thank Bishop Isaac Mar Philoxenos for his hospitality, kindness and the warm reception we received. I hope that our next meeting with theologians from both Churches this coming autumn sheds light on whether we can work more closely with the Mar Thoma Church in the future. In order to do this, it is essential that we get to know each other better and that the Mar Thoma Church learns more about our history and ecclesiology. There is still a lot of information to be shared on both sides.
Revd. Ioan L. Jebelean
Lucerne, 20 September 2011