Dean's visit to India strengthens connections between SVS and the Malankara Orthodox Church
V. Rev. Dr John Behr (Dean) spent two intense but immensely rewarding weeks in October, travelling and speaking to different groups in southern and central India as the guest of the Malankara Orthodox Church. He was invited by Rev. Dr Bijesh Philip, an SVS alumnus (1994), now Professor of the St Thomas Orthodox Seminary in Nagpur, and founder of the Prerana Special School for the mentally challenged. Fr John's visit strengthened existing connections between St Vladimir's Orthodox Theology Seminary and the Malankara Orthodox Church. It also prompted both sides to begin exploring new possibilities for further collaboration.
Fr John took a camera with him and documented many aspects of the trip. This is what happened...
Fr John arrived in India on Wednesday September 30th. Almost immediately, he was granted an audience with the Catholicos of the Malankara Orthodox Church, His Holiness Baselius Mar Thoma Didymus I, and his assistant and Catholicos Designate, His Beatitude Paulose Mar Milithios. Also present were His Grace Thomas Mar Athanasios (Diocese of Chengannur) who is responsible for publications, and His Grace Gabriel Mar Gregorios (Diocese of Tiruvananthapuram) who is responsible for ecumenical affairs. The meeting was warm, friendly, and very productive.
On October 2nd, while in Kollam, Fr John met His Grace Zachariah Mar Anthonios (Diocese of Kollam).
While at St Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary in Nagpur, Fr John met the hierarchs and Board members who had gathered for St Thomas' Seminary Board meeting and convocation. Fr John had further conversations with H.B. Mar Milithios, the Catholicos Designate, as well as His Grace Dr Yakob Mar Irenius (Diocese of Kochi) and His Grace Dr Joseph Mar Dionysius (Diocese of Kolkatta).
- He began at the Orthodox Seminary in Kottayam, which has a distinguished history. It is known as the "Old Seminary" because it was founded in 1815, with the aid of British missionaries, and was the first such educational institution in India. He was warmly welcomed by the Principal, Rev. Dr K M George, and by Fr M S John (another SVS alumnus). Fr John played a DVD showing the life of St Vladimir's Seminary and spoke to the students about theological education, its demands and principles. The Kottayam students enjoyed the DVD - especially when they recognized one of SVS's current students - Ceena (Miriam) Varghese -who is featured on it!
- On October 3rd, Fr John spoke to the faculty and students from the Old Seminary and other seminaries on "The Challenge of Our Past and Challenging the Past".
- On Monday, October 5th, Fr John traveled to St Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary in Nagpur - literally the center of India - which was holding its Board meeting and Convocation. He was welcomed by the Principal, Rev. Dr Reji Mathew, spoke to the Alumni Association, and delivered the Convocation Address.
While at St Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary, Fr John spent two days teaching the students, working through two texts of two authors - the Mystical Theology of Dionysius the Areopagite and Ambiguum 41 of St Maximus the Confessor - foundational for the later Byzantine tradition.
While at the Orthodox Seminary in Kottayam, Fr John had the opportunity to visit Mt Horeb Ashram, headed by Fr V M James, near Kollam. The Ashram oversees various colleges and educational institutions. So, Fr John spoke about the Bible and how to read it, to a group of young women, studying at the St Basil Bible School and Orientation Center before going on to train as nurses.
- On Sunday, October 4th, Fr John spoke to a youth group at St George's Church in Thekkady, hosted by Fr Sanjay Geevarghese. Fr John was asked to speak to the young people on suffering and death in response to the tragedy at Thekkady, only a few days before, when thirty-nine tourists died after their boat capsized.
- On Sunday, October 11, Fr John was honored by a youth retreat at St Mary's Church in Raipur, and spoke with them on the theme "Blessed are those whose delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law they meditate day and night" (Ps 1.2)
- On Friday October 2nd, Fr John saw many old churches, several of which were founded by St Thomas himself.
- On Saturday October 3rd, Fr John was taken to the wildlife reserve at Thekkady. He was particularly intrigued by the monkeys and by an arresting sign.
- Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, October 9-11, was spent by Fr John on the trains of India, traveling to see the Taj Mahal and to the youth retreat in Raipur.