Recently, the editors of Pravoslavie.ru received a letter from an Indian man of the Russian Orthodox Mission in India—a student of the St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy—requesting that we publish his letter, “for the benefit of the Church and the Glory of God.”
My name is Clement Nehamaiyah. I am a student in the faculty of foreign students of St. Petersburg Orthodox Theological Academy. I was born in the city of Chandrapur, Maharashtra state, India. I was born and brought up in the High Anglican Church. I was the of fourth generation of Anglican Christians in my family and in my city. It was the first mission of the Scottish Episcopal Church (part of Anglican Communion) in India and the first ever Christian mission in my city, even though British Rule at that time was against missionary work and forbade it.
My brother Polycarp was an Anglican Bishop. During his theological studies he came to know about the Orthodox Church, but he never knew any Eastern Orthodox Church except Jacobite Monophysites who call themselves Orthodox. It was the study of Ecclesiastical History and Patristic Theology which convinced him of the Truth of Orthodoxy and prompted him to persuade others to discover Orthodoxy.
When my brother still was an Anglican clergyman, before ascending to the Episcopal office, he sent request letters to the Greek Orthodox Metropolitan of Hong Kong and South East Asia, but we never got reply from them. So after a few months he sent letters to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and to the Moscow Patriarchate. And again we never got reply from them. After waiting for a few months he again sent letters to the ROCOR. And finally after waiting for a couple of months we got a reply from a representative of ROCOR. Even though this contact was established we had to wait for one more year from the time that the dialogue concerning the possibility of mission in India had begun.
Finally in August 2012, one layman from Moscow named Sergey was sent to our community in India with the blessing of Archbishop Mark. After his report to Metropolitan Hilarion [(Alfeyev), the head of the Department of External Church Relations.—ed.] and Archbishop Mark, they sent Fr. Stanislav from the diocese of Karelia to recieve our community into the Orthodox Church by Chrismation in November 2012. Before the fruitful dialogue with the Orthodox Church was accomplished we had about fifty parishes or communities, but as the transition from the Anglican Church to the Orthodox Church took a lot of time, most communities went back to the Anglican Church and only five communities faithfully followed their former Bishop, who became a simple layman in the Russian Orthodox Church.
When we decided to embark upon the Ark of Salvation—the Holy Church—many times we were told by our Anglican friends that we were making a mistake, but by the mercy of God we were happy and willing to make this mistake. One of the hardest times was when most communities decided to go back to the previous Church when they could suffer no longer to wait. It was really a time of weakness, and I had to ask myself: are we really going right way? Why is it taking so long just to take us into the Church if this is truly the Body of Christ? As I read in the instructions for the Chrismation service, converts to Orthodoxy must not be tempted to return to their heterodoxy by reason of delay; so the question that struck me was: Shouldn't the Church be more enthusiastic to take people in who desire to be part of the family of God? But as God opened my heart more, I understood that God has not forgotten us, but it is He Himself Who is calling us to Him in His Body. But this was causing great trouble for the fallen one, and that is why he was raising obstacles on our path.
Now that I am in the Church, I am content that the Son of God has trampled Satan under His foot and has embraced us. Now I see the completion of faith. It is not that the Roman Catholics or Anglicans or Protestants do not have faith—they indeed have it, but it is a fragmented, incomplete and erroneous, heterodox faith. But here in the Body of Christ I have found the complete, unerring, and Orthodox faith. I am fully convinced of this treasury of Apostolic faith and the spotless Bride of Christ, whose cornerstone is Jesus Himself, while the Prophets and Apostles are foundations and pillars of this Ark. Here I feel surrounded by a multitude of witnesses, and am in constant communion with saints of all ages. I remember a hymn from our Anglican days, "What can wash away my sins? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Oh, precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow. No other fount I know, nothing but the blood of Jesus!" and I find its fulfillment here within the Body of Christ, because it is only here that I receive life eternal when every week at the banquette of God I receive as a feast the Most Holy Lamb of God, Who was slaughtered before the foundation of the world, and Who takes away my sins and makes me whole again. There are no words and no languages I know that are sufficient to describe what I found in the House of God; for how can these defiled lips describe the indescribable true Sabbath my soul has received?
I have tasted the fountain of immortality and I earnestly desire for my people also to taste it and see that the Lord is Good. India is the most ancient civilization still existing in the world; it is a land full of diversities and yet full of simple and religious people. It is to this Land that the Most Blessed Trinity was pleased to send His Apostle to preach the Good News of Love and Forgiveness of God, the Good News of the Kingdom of God. A pagan land was blessed by God through St. Thomas, an Apostle who doubted, but when he believed went fearlessly ahead of all Apostles. India is a land cultivated by the labors of the Holy Apostle Thomas and irrigated by his own blood of martyrdom. As our Lord Jesus Christ said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." The Prime Kernel of wheat, our Lord, has already produced many seeds, and the Apostle Thomas as one of those seeds imitated his Lord and God in India, producing many seeds. Unfortunately, as Christ told us in His parable, our Enemy sowed weeds among this wheat—these weeds were the impious Nestorian heresy and the wheat was the Orthodox faithful of Apostle Thomas. These weeds grew fast as thorns and choked the wheat grown by Apostle Thomas. For about 1700 years, the Ancient Serpent thought he was Victorious. But the mighty intercessions of St. Thomas and the Mercy of God crushed him again and have grown the wheat of Orthodoxy in India. Now the light that was extinguished by the father of lies is now lit again, never more to be extinguished, but to shine like a blazing sun proclaiming the Gospel of the Sun of Righteousness.
This is the land of Apostle Thomas, and is made very fruitful by our God. There is a certain incomparable charisma in our faith and worship that reaches the hearts of people. I have witnessed that the Light of the World is attracting many people to Orthodoxy in India. The term “mission” is derived from Latin verb mittere, meaning, “to send,” “to foreword,” and implying “a task,” a “commission”. The apostles (literarily, “ones who are sent on”) were the first Christian missionaries to fulfill the commandment given them by the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ Himself: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Mt. 28:19-20). So in response to His command, becoming missionaries, we are reaching both non-Christians and heterodox Christians alike. The words of Christ truly fit the context of India when He said, "The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few." There is a great opportunity for missionary work in India. Indeed, the danger can not be neglected as there is always threat from the fundamentalism of which world is aware; but there has never ever been a time when there was no danger for the workers of the field of Christ. In India, Hindu fundamentalism is also reaching its peak. From time to time in the past they have demonstrated their hatred for Christians, beginning with the murder of Apostle Thomas. In the present, time there are hundreds of Hindu fundamentalist organizations in India, some of whom are engaged in Hindu terrorist activities. RSS (Rashtriya Swaynsewak Sangh) is the umbrella fundamentalist Hindu organization that also killed Mahatma Gandhi. RSS is headquartered in Nagpur, the area of our mission. RSS and hundreds of its daughter organizations like VHP, Bajrang Dal, Abhinav Bharat, etc. are literally present in every state, city and village of India. This RSS alone has about 6 million active members and fifty thousand branches all over India—more than the total number of Russian Orthodox parishes. Since the new Hindu fundamentalist government came into power in India, all these fundamentalist organizations received the strength and support to carry out their acts against Christians of all confessions. If we check the news about the situation in India we will find that these Hindu fundamentalists are openly converting Christians to Hinduism, burning churches, beating Christians and keeping watch over Christian activities all over India—and it has only been a few months since this government came into power, it has five full years to rule over India, and only God knows what is coming for us. We know the times are hard and they will get worse, as Jesus said, “The time will come when those who kill you will think they are doing God’s service” (Jn. 16:2), but we are not afraid because the same Lord promised, "These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world" (Jn. 16:32). And how can we forget, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
Today this Russian Orthodox mission in India is very small, feeble, lacks many basic things, and faces many obstacles and problems because of this lack. If the needs of this small, humble, faithful and fruitful mission are met, I am 100 percent sure of the great success of Orthodoxy in India. It is like our fingers—if we have only one finger on our hand it will be alone and unable to do much of what it could have done with the other four fingers. Right now this mission is like one finger on a hand. We need the help of all the other four fingers to function fully for the Glory of God. Furthermore, when we talk about missionary work in India we should not forget that the philosophy of ''Karma-Deeds'' is at the heart of India, and good deeds, charity, etc. are considered the highest forms of morals in India. In a document titled, ''On the external mission of the Russian Orthodox Church today'' by the Department of External Church Relations of our Moscow Patriarchate, I read that social work is a form of Evangelism and missionary work according to Gospels. It says, ''Social witness to Christ through good works, social service, charity, aid to the poor and destitute, according the Gospel call: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5:16). This is certainly true, especially in the context of India, because this is what is seen first. As St. James taught, ''What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead'' (James 2:14-17). Our faith should be reflected in our works so that we may not be called empty talkers, but rather those actively manifesting God’s love.
Right now we do not have our own priest to fulfill the spiritual needs of faithful. The fact is that we also need regular services, all holy rites and Mysteries, but since we don’t have our own local priest we are deprived of all these holy things. We have no one to perform any rites, from birth to funeral. Last year three members of our mission died—one young lady and two children. That young lady (Kavita) was the only Christian and Orthodox person in her Hindu family. When she died her family demanded we bury her according to the Christian rite in a graveyard, but because we don’t have burial ground, we could not. Because of this her family cremated her body in a Hindu crematorium according to the Hindu rite and did not allow us to stay there. When the children died they had to be buried also in a Hindu crematorium. Catholics and Protestants do not allow each other or others to bury the dead in their cemeteries, so the question of what to do with bodies of departed Orthodox faithful remains as it is. We need a permanent local priest from among us who the knows local place, culture, customs and languages very well and who can confess people, counsel them, guide them, and teach them the way that people can understand, because even God did not just talk to us from on high but became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
By the grace of God and the prayers of His saints in heaven and on earth, I am fully confident in the Lord that the Indian mission will be the most fruitful mission in the world because the Lord has already prepared my people to receive the Gospel of Salvation. I hope many people in Russia and other places will join us in our mission to bring people to the light of Christ—and truly there will be rejoicing in heaven!
For more information see the website of our mission.