By Dushyanthi Hoole –
The Colombo Diocese of the Anglican Church of Ceylon commenced its 133rd Diocesan Council sessions and celebrations on the 25th of October, 2018. Metropolitan Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, an Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church in Kerala, India, and formerly of the diocese of Niranam – one of the seven and a half churches founded between 52-72 AD by Apostle Thomas – is the Chief Guest.
The church appears to have come a long way in honoring a male monastic so. Why do I say that? The Christian Church has a rich monastic tradition from the ancient desert fathers who grew out of the communities of hermit monks in Egypt from early in the Christian years. The Roman Catholics have their celebrated monks who make sacramental wine at Tholagatti and Nelli Crish.
The choice for Chief Guest is surprising only because the Anglican Church of Ceylon has no male monastic community, not even a lay brotherhood that bypasses perpetual vows. It however has a long standing yet hardly known female Anglican Society at Polwatte, called the Society of St. Margaret’s which follows a purely Anglican Rule. Many mistakenly take them to be Roman Catholic sisters, not realizing that the Anglicans are catholic but not Roman Catholic. I got to know of the St. Margaret’s Sisters only because my mother used to grow trails of aathavaraya greens all around our house to make the daily kolakandha for the school run by these nuns. Almost invisibly they run a Retreat House, the St John’s Home for Children in Moratuwa, a Hostel for young working women, a home for elderly ladies and many Church and community related activities.
This situation in the Anglican Church of Ceylon of having no male monastic society but only a female one, smacks of the popular excuse in the Anglican (English) and Episcopal (American) Churches in the days of the Oxford revival and Tractarianism that “chastity is unnatural for men,” but natural for women. This lack would even appear to be caused by a popular kink of the male mind or gender bias against men. Yet we in the Church of Ceylon are planning a third Bishopric for us amidst little support from the laity with no contemplative base to stand upon or cleanse our faith. Contemplation is thought to be too advanced a topic for our seminary. With all humility, and mindful that as a woman I cannot advice my Lord Bishop on religious matters, however non-officious he is, I would urge for modules in the seminary curriculum on Anglican contemplation which avoid the medieval errors, and a study of the Anglican Liturgies for all Anglicans at the appropriate levels.
Anglicanism in England and America was strengthened because of monastic revivals including that caused by the Oxford Movement in England and Tractarianism (synchronous with the evangelical movement) in America. They inspired in some men and women a flaming devotion exceeding that required of a priest, a self-surrender that chose celibacy towards service, mainly through a looking back to the Church Fathers’ teachings and the apostles’ way of life. This tendency caused many Anglican Bishops to erroneously fear for their authority within the Church and as a result they did not encourage the revival or the formation of male orders or the rising high church tendencies, even in Sri Lanka. The history of the Western Church in Sri Lanka shows a fear of all ritualism after Dutch Rule. Thus the later local Anglicans and even the American Mission in Jaffna saw the Pope behind the lights, the chants, the chasubles and the incense, so dear to the Orthodox heart and Edward VI Anglicans. Such things draw the Asian mind to devotion. The use of the Liturgy too came to be viewed as less important leading to the ultra-Protestant, low-church and evangelical dominance. The pure and uncompromised Liturgy is witnessed at and derives from the beatific vision. Yet the contemplative is not catered to in the Church of Ceylon. The mystical works including those of the ancient Fathers are feared as something associated with Saint worship or even inspired by the devil. Yet there may not have been Samuel had Eli not been a contemplative or mystic to explain to that small child the nature and significance of his audio encounter.
Therefore one’s hope for monastic vocations and a return to an uncompromised Liturgy rises at the invitation of Bishop Geevarghese Mor Coorilos, a celibate, monastic, Orthodox Bishop from one of the first Christian churches established in the world. His presence encourages spiritual vocations in a church steadily bleeding young members and our Lord Bishop’s invitation whispers a strong hope of soon singing an undiminished Anglican Liturgy which is the right of every Christian. We are fortunate that our Bishop understands.