Theology scholar from India visiting St. Matthew’s

by Neville Nankivell

CT Anish Joy
Anish Joy, a theology scholar from India, has been visiting and studying at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church, his designated “home parish” during his scholarship. Photo: Kevin Flynn

This winter St. Matthew’s, the Anglican Church in the Glebe, was designated as the “home parish” for Anish Joy, a theology scholarship recipient from India who spent time here studying at Saint Paul University.

He arrived in January when temperatures here were near minus 30C, a big swing from the 30C-plus weather he had left in his port city home of Kochi, Kerala. But outfitted with boots and a winter jacket by St. Matthew’s Rev. Professor Kevin Flynn, the frigid weather didn’t bother him. “I love snow and was given such a warm welcome,” he said.

Joy lived in residence as guest of the Anglican Studies Program in Saint Paul University’s faculty of theology under the auspices of an Anglican Foundation of Canada scholarship. His focus here was on how Canadian Anglicans worship and serve their community, and he met with St. Matthew’s parishioners and families.

The goal of the St. Basil the Great scholarship, which was established in 1991 by the late Bishop Henry Hill, a former bishop of Ontario, is to deepen relations between Canadian Anglicans and the Oriental Orthodox churches and the Assyrian Church of the East. These churches are distinct from the better known Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches in that they parted ways theologically from the rest of the churches over definitions of the person of Christ at the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. There are some 60 million Oriental Orthodox Christians worldwide.

Joy is completing a candidacy he started at the Pontifical University of St. Anthony in Rome. While in Italy he also taught English and mathematics at technical schools in the area and was able to meet Pope Francis a couple of times personally.

His studies in Ottawa included exploring Anglican spirituality and the way Anglicans live it. “I come from a fairly orthodox family background and culture,” he said. “You can learn a lot from another denomination.” He said he found Canadian Anglican churches more liberal and open than his own church and noted there was more variety in Canada in the liturgies.

“The backbone of our liturgies is the same,” he said, “but there’s a different kind of spirituality [in Canada’s Anglican churches] that can help attract younger generations and make them more active in the church.”

Joy said that in his home state of Kerala, which has a very high literacy rate, people have the liberty and freedom to practice their own religion and beliefs, but this is not as common in other parts of India. Christianity in Kerala goes back many centuries to when the disciple St. Thomas was said to have landed there in AD52 and later Syrian Christians became established through trade connections.

Joy’s PhD thesis on cultural anthropology is focused on gender equality issues, which are a serious problem in India. “It’s a big challenge for me,” he said. He’s had to face negative comments from other priests in his church, such as why does he think he can make a difference. “I’m not trying to start a revolution,” Joy said, “but I do want to bring some sparks to young people and help change the thinking about gender discrimination.” For example, in his church, where he’s a sub-deacon, baptism services are different between boys and girls and ordination is closed to women.

Joy and his wife Maya have a young daughter and are working with others to establish a new rural primary school in Kerala open to children of all faiths and offering courses with more gender balance.

As for his wintry stay in Ottawa, Joy said that with Father Flynn’s support he felt very comfortable here. Their relationship goes back several years. They first met when Father Flynn, as a recipient of the same scholarship in 2003, spent time in Kerala with the Syrian Orthodox Christians when Anish Joy was just beginning his theological studies.

Neville Nankivell is a longtime parishioner at St. Matthew’s and a member of its communications committee.

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