OCP News Service – 17/01/21
An exclusive interview with Fr. Clement Nehamaiyah of the Russian Orthodox Church in India.
Please provide us with your background. What motivated you to enter the Russian Orthodox Church?
Well, I am the rector of the Life-Giving Holy Trinity Russian Orthodox Church in Chandrapur, Maharashtra. In 2018, by the blessing of H.H. Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia I was appointed for this task.
I am also looking after the Orthodox communities around Chandrapur and in Mumbai. The quest for the true faith and the Church was very long, and this journey provided us with a lot of experiences.
It was primarily the study of Church history and Church Fathers which inspired us to embrace Orthodoxy. We weren’t seeking any particular Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction; we just wanted to be Orthodox no matter what jurisdiction, but it was divine providence, I must say, that we ended up in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Can you brief your experience in Russia?
My experience in Russia was very delightful. For 5 years I studied in the St. Petersburg Orthodoxy Theological Seminary and Academy. During this time I visited various cities, churches, monasteries and people and developed a robust relationship. As an Indian, I was always received and greeted cordially. My stay in Russia gave me a good spiritual experience. It also gave me my spiritual father.
Please provide an outline of the Russian Orthodox Church in India, her history and structure? What are the major activities of the Church?
At present Moscow Patriarchate’s communities are located in Chandrapur, Mumbai and Andhra Pradesh (not to be confused with ROCOR), as well as there, are individuals in different parts of the country who travel to attend Liturgies. There are about 200 believers and the church is gradually growing.
For the present, I am the only Indian origin priest of the Moscow Patriarchate in India. Our ruling bishop is H.H. Kirill, Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia. The history of the Russian Orthodox Church in India began with the conversion of a group of former Anglicans in 2012. My brother Polycarp was leading them. During his theological studies as well his ministry in the Anglican church he was attracted towards Orthodoxy more and more. He sent letters to various Eastern Orthodox bishops including Ecumenical and Moscow Patriarchate but unfortunately never received a reply. Finally Met. Hilarion (Kapral), first hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia was notified about us and in turn he, after talking to the then H.E. Archbishop Mark, then head of the External Church Institutions sent us a priest from Russia in November 2012 to receive us in the Orthodox Church. The Russian Orthodox Church in India is still in its infancy, yet it is active in evangelism but avoids aggressive forms of evangelism employed chiefly by western denominations. The Russian Church in India also takes part in social work according to its capacity. During the lockdown period, we aided 140 families in Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. We also maintain good relations with other Christian denominations in India.
What are the challenges faced by the Russian Orthodox Mission in India? What are the future prospects of the Church in India?
Well, challenges are many for eg. lack of clergy, translations of liturgical as well as theological texts, limitations in terms of resources, etc. but we are optimistic and trust in the providence of God. I believe future prospect of the Church in India is promising. The mission is growing not merely through our work but through the internet, through word of mouth, therefore, I see the direct intervention of God.
Do you face any issues with the government authorities or with any of the political parties in the country?
Not yet. However, we did encounter some problems when one of our members died and villagers boycotted her funeral and tried to provoke people because the funeral was arranged according to Orthodox Christian rite. But till not we haven’t faced any issues with government authorities or political parties.
Can you comment on the ecumenical and Pan-Orthodox relationship of the ROC in India with the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches in the Indian Sub-Continent?
Relationship of the Russian Orthodox and Syriac Orthodox Churches is a century old. The Russian Revolution paused this relationship for long. But steps were undertaken even during the Soviet era to sustain it. Presently the Russian Orthodox Church is encouraging a dialogue with the Malankara Orthodox Church in India (MOC). In the past Russian hierarchy visited Malankara Churches in India including Patriarch Pimen, Metropolitan Alexy of Tallinn and Estonia (later Patriarch 1990-2008) and Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad (present Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia). The Church in India is continuing the same work on the local level. Being the official Russian Orthodox Church in India, it has a vital role to play in the bilateral relationship between Indian Churches and the Moscow Patriarchate. In the past, MOC provided us with their Church building to celebrate Christmas and Theophany and we additionally provided individuals from MOC with spiritual guides. We hope this cooperation will grow even considerably better.
Are you optimistic about Pan-Orthodox unity (conciliar unity between Eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches)? How do you understand the role of independent Pan-Orthodox organizations like Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE?
I am optimistic about unity. Although we are divided for more than a millennium, I believe the time of reconciliation will eventually come. We require mutual respect, dialogues, will to achieve unity without compromising the truth and sincere prayers. Independent Pan-Orthodox organizations like Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE has much to contribute in this regard. Such independent organizations can bring churches on one platform to work together for a social cause as in Syria, Iraq or Ethiopia for example. They can play the role of a medium of communication between various church organizations and people. They can also raise awareness among people which can help improve understanding of each other.
Interviewed by Tibin Chacko – Delegate of Malankara and the Indian-Sub Continent of the Orthodoxy Cognate PAGE, Pan-Orthodox Christian Society.
OCP News Service