Fr Tadros Yacoub Malaty on Worship and Mission

Proponents of Protestantizing/secularizing the Church at times label defenders of Orthodox praxis as ‘Byzantine-influenced’ and ‘un-Coptic/Indian/etc’. Appended to this article is an exploration of this phenomenon by an Indian Orthodox presbyter – and it should be noted that this attitude is also pervasive in other jurisdictions. However, many of the excuses used to justify employing Charismatic ‘praise and worship’ (and other non-Orthodox materials) in the Church are easily refuted by excerpts from Fr Tadros Yacoub Malaty’s book, ‘Tradition and Orthodoxy’. Fr Tadros, one of the foremost theologians in the Oriental Orthodox Communion today, is not ‘Byzantine’.

Fr Tadros Yacoub Malaty on Worship and Mission
Excuse #1:

None of the songs/books used contradict the Orthodox faith.

Fr Tadros says: “We have said that the church tradition, is the continuous stream of the church life in Jesus Christ, by the work of the Holy Spirit. This life is not limited into our “faith” but also embraces the church spiritual and ethical scheme, besides the church order of worship. Thus the tradition represents the “one” life of the church, which cannot be separated into faith, spiritual teaching and worship. (p. 45)

Excuse #2: All styles of worship are valid.

Fr Tadros says:


St. Paul delivered us the tradition, which contains the spiritual and ethical scheme, as he says:

“As therefore you have received (paralambano) Christ Jesus the Lord, so live in Him, rotted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught” Col. 2:6, 7.

“As you have received (paralambano) from us how you ought to live and please God” 1 Thess. 4:1.

“Keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition which you received (paralambano) from us” 2 Thess 3:6.

“What you have learned and received (paralambano) and heard and seen in me, do” Phil. 4:9.

In the Christian tradition, faith is correlated with the spiritual and ethical life. St. Mary as an archetype of the Church, “Kept the word of God in her heart, not as a passive memory, but as the living word of God acts within her life.

When the pagan Autolycus asked Theophilus of Antioch, in the second century, “show me your God,” Theophilus wisely replied, “show me your man and I will show you my God,” show me your soundness of the inner man of your heart then you will be able to see God and I will show Him to you. Thus faith is correlated with our life.


What we say concerning the ethical scheme, we repeat concerning the Church Order of Worship. Through tradition we accepted our “Church life in Jesus Christ,” not only through the Christian beliefs, doctrines, Holy Scriptures and ethical scheme, but also through the Church liturgies, rites, canons and all that belongs to our worship. We received a true life of worship in an apostolic and patristic spirit, which strengthens our true faith.


Tradition is the source of our Church liturgies of Baptism, Eucharist, Marriage etc… and at the same time these liturgies are tradition itself at its highest degree of power and solemnity(67). For the liturgies in their wholeness – are the celebration of the whole Christian mystery. They not only teach us but bring us into the real communication with the Christian Mystery.


Rite is an essential element of the liturgical, family and personal worship, for it meant the participation of the body and spirit in worshipping God.

The rites we received by Tradition are not accidental in the life of the Church. In their symbolic meaning they are more than an expression that brings the senses and mind to the realities of faith… They are real entrances to the mystery of worship, and a declaration of the living Truth, which abides in the Church.

For instance, by the church hymns, we practise the new heavenly song in Jesus Christ… By these hymns, we not only taste a musical art we also practise the heavenly life.

Through the Church Building and all its contents, we do not acknowledge merely an art of architecture or precious antiquity. but we receive living traditions. The building is a living icon of the heavenly Church, which expresses accurately the Church Faith.

Thus, in every kind of the Christian art, we meet with the spirit of Tradition. For instance, the iconology offers us the life of the Church through the Holy Spirit, and explains the life of faith in the Orthodox teaching. For we neither see icons as visible things that help us in worship nor religious decorations for the temple, but we taste in them our living faith in heavenly things and our love and unity with saints in Jesus Christ.” (pp. 45-47)

Excuse #3: Tradition is dynamic.

“Tradition must be creative and at the same time conservative. There is no contradiction between these two elements but they are essential and are indispensable to each other. Tradition cannot be conserved unless it be continually developed. Andit cannot be developed unless it takes place on the shoulder of the past.

“Conservatism” and “Development” are two facets of the same process, which we call holy tradition.

It is worthy to note that this development of the life of the Church is realized not by the act of individuals but the act of the Church, as a witness of the Holy Spirit who lives in the Church, and without declination from her apostolic and patristic mind.” (pp. 53-54) [Needless to say, 'praise and worship' does not fit the above criteria as a legitimate development in Church Tradition].

Excuse #4: What about mission? ‘Praise and worship’ is needed to adapt Orthodox worship to the American culture.

Fr Tadros says: “We, as an Orthodox Church, ought to think seriously of what we should offer to the world in our preaching, when a French man, for instance, accepts the Orthodox faith. It is our duty to offer him how to worship in an orthodox, apostolic and patristic mind with one spirit, but in a culture that fits him.

H.G. Gregorius, the Metropolitan of New Delhi, India, in his speech to the Orthodox Church leaders in Melbourne, said that we have to sow Orthodox seeds in the Australian soil, so that tree will be an Orthodox Australian one.

As the Church of Alexandria has been opened to the outside world and thousands immigrated, the Mother Church must study her message. She must guide and help them to preach the Orthodox thought and life to others without any evading from the spirit of Tradition or Rite.” (pp. 56-57)

“If we return to the apostolic age we find “many local church traditions” that afford varieties of culture. But all these traditions have one mind, that is the mind of Christ; one spirit, i.e., the Spirit of the Lord, and one aim, i.e., our salvation. For this reason Alexandrian bishops did not hesitate in participating with Rome’s, Antioch’s and Jerusalem’s Bishops, in one service, and on one altar, even if there were some differences in the details of the rites or traditions. For all of them received but one shape for the worship with one spirit, i.e. One Tradition…

When St Mark preached in Egypt, he spoke about the one Christ; and the Egyptians worshipped through their culture but in true apostolic spirit, and with the same shape of worship of other bishoprics… For instance, the Coptic hymns were different from the Syrian and Latin ones… but all had the (quiet and modest spirit), the spirit of the heavenly new hymn, containing the deepest true dogmatic and spiritual concepts and teachings.

The (Lights) of the House of God, are another example. All the apostolic churches in the world use lights during worship by day and by night, especially during reading the Gospel… This is the spirit of Tradition, which declares that Christ is the Light of the world. The Egyptian art was evident in making the candles of the Coptic Church, while Syrian, Latin, Greek etc. arts were clearly shown in making theirs.

Thus, although the Orthodox Christians in the whole world have unity of faith and preserve tradition as a living truth, but every local church expresses this one faith by her own language, her liturgical rites, hymns, sacred vestments etc… without dismissing the unity of faith. The church locality has not hidden the universal heavenly character of the Church.

In other words, the differences of traditions, in details and not in essence do not stop the realization of the unity of the Universal Church, as long as it has been established on the basic unity of faith and life.” (pp. 54-55)

Excuse #5: Leave these questions to the clergy – preserving the Church’s tradition is not the role of the laity.

Fr Tadros says: “What about the role which the laymen must play in preserving the traditional Church life?

The decisions of the Church councils and the writings of the Church Fathers are insufficient in preserving the Church tradition.

The Laymen have an essential role in preserving tradition alive, by practising it in their daily life and their worship.

For traditional Church life cannot be transmitted by canons or through books but through practice and life.

Every true believer represents a living stone of the spiritual temple of God.

He is laid on other previous living stones, i.e., he ‘receives the traditional life Church from the past generations, and at the same time he bears other living stones, i.e., he deposits this life into the life of the future generations. Thus, he becomes a living ‘member of the Church of Christ, who transmits its traditional life by practising it daily.” (p. 51)

Excuse #6: Even if you’re right, these are technicalities for theologians that have little bearing on the average believer’s spiritual life in Christ.

Fr Tadros says: “Now, we can define the “traditional believers” not as those who study accurately the Church canons and acknowledge the details of the rites or recite the church hymns etc… but rather who discover their unity with God in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit through preserving and practising the Church canons, rites, hymns etc…” (p. 52)

In summary…

“The church and Tradition are but two aspects for the life of Faith. They are inseparable; we can’t know one of them without the other.

By Tradition the church has her existence, acknowledges her Bridegroom, practises His saving deed and accepts His divine mysteries…

By Tradition we discover the church gospel, accept it, preserve it, live its rules and preach it…

By Tradition we recognize the sacramental and ecclesiastical life, the church liturgies, hymns, rites etc…

By Tradition we meet with the Church Saints and Fathers, discover their lives in Jesus Christ, their writings, take the blessings of their prayers and enjoy our fellowship with them in Jesus Christ…

By Tradition we understand the Church canons, come in touch with its holy councils and their works etc…

In brief, we say that Tradition is the core of the church, and without Tradition, the church can’t exist, can’t practise her apostolic life, her continual renewal, her unity, nor live with her genuine characteristics…” (p. 58)


Byzantine Orthodox Ethos: A threat to Our Liturgical Theology?

There are many reasons why I do not deserve to be a priest in God’s Holy Church, but ‘graduating from a Byzantine Seminary’ is not one of those reasons. I am really confused, it’s not just Fr. Shebaly (reference his editorial on Orthodox herald), but many others from India have told me that we in America who are educated at Byzantine seminaries are Byzantine influenced and lack the Malankara Syrian ethos. Let’s leave the world of theoreticals and be specific. What is it that we “do” that is so Byzantine and seems to upset so many people?

Is it because some of us wear black cassocks? When I was ordained, I was given a black cassock, that is what I wear. From now on, just think of it as, we who are from America are greater sinners than those from India and so we need to wear black. (this is manifested most especially in my lack of skill in getting fish curry stains out of a white cassock ;).

Is it because we prefer meaningful icons to protestant or catholic style portrait paintings? Icons are deeply rooted in the Syriac tradition as well.
Also, I’ve seen the same movement back to icons in Kottayam and Bombay Diocese. So, perhaps Kottayam diocese lacks this Malankara ethos too.

Is it because many of the American students prefer not to use the keyboard during worship? Or they enjoy using the traditional 8 tones instead of the
modern western tunes used all over India?

Is it because we teach the Jesus Prayer? The Philokalia and its teachings is also appreciated and taught by His Holiness Didymus I and His Grace Mar Ivanios. I guess His Holiness is Byzantine influenced as well.

Dn. Shaun mentioned something about interpreting Denaha the Syriac way versus the Byzantine way and an article by Varghese Achen. I have not read that article, perhaps you could send it to me. But, I first read St Ephrem, St Severus, and VC Samuel at a Byzantine seminary. In addition, I never understood why we put the cross in the baptismal font during Denaha until I saw what the Byzantines do in their tradition. (and no, I’m not going to share, to find out everyone will have to do the ghastly act of researching another Orthodox experience)

Our exposure to other Orthodox traditions is not a threat, it’s a blessing and helps us understand ourselves better. In seminary I got to learn about Russian, Antiochene, Greek, Ethiopian, and even Armenian traditions. It was an amazing experience. We will not lose our Malankara ethos (whatever you define that as) by opening ourselves to experience the way the Holy Spirit has worked through a people and a culture different than ours. If anything, the Byzantines have learned from us too. Several Byzantine students studied Syriac with us at the Armenian seminary.

Something I’ve noticed is that when a priest or bishop from India studies from a Catholic or Protestant school, it is to their credit. When someone from America studies at an Orthodox institution, it is our handicap. Why? Is that something in the Malankara ethos that I can’t understand?

Let me be clear, none of my comments are to demean the experience of those who go to Kottayam Seminary, a wonderful and historic institution of our Church. The worship in the chapel at Old Seminary is truly amazing. I rejoice because God is doing great things there and also here. I’ll even take it a step further and completely agree that a graduate of Kottayam Seminary will be a much better priest than me. But that’s not because I’m Byzantine influenced.

Fr. Mat Alexander
Youth Minister for the churches in Dallas, Texas