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Interview with H.G. Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of California

His Grace Mar Awa Royel, Bishop of California and Secretary of the Holy Synod, speaks exclusively to news.assyrianchurch.org following the launch of his new English-speaking text, Mysteries of the Kingdom: The Sacraments of the Assyrian Church of the East. The 398-page English-language theological text is described as “a modern-day treatise on the theology of the Assyrian Church of the East regarding the seven holy sacraments.”

Assyrian Church News: What inspired you to research and write Mysteries of the Kingdom?

His Grace: First, the original motivation for me was what I felt to be a great need among our youth and English-speaking faithful (whether first-second generation Assyrians born in the West, or simply non-Assyrian speakers) to have an elementary yet foundational grounding in the understanding and theology of the seven sacraments of our holy Church. The sacraments are indeed foundational for our faith because it is through them and by our participation in these sacred Raze that we truly participate in the mysteries of our salvation, indeed in the very Paschal Mystery of Christ itself—the suffering, death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is at the heart not only of the Church’s doctrine and theology, but of the every-day lived faith of the lay faithful. Second, each of the seven sacraments (including the two introductory chapters at the beginning) were originally presented on a local Assyrian satellite station for the benefit of the international viewing audience in a series of some 12 one-hour segments. His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV, Catholicos-Patriarch, followed the television presentations and requested that I be sure to have each segment videotaped for archival purposes. Then, His Holiness came up with the beautiful idea of putting the presentations in book form, and directed me to work on that project for the benefit of the faithful (cf. His Holiness’ Imprimatur at the beginning). What is now in the hands of many of our faithful is the fruit of that directive.

ACN: What length of time and effort went into researching and writing this exposition?

H.G.: The television segments began to be aired in early January, soon after the feast of the Epiphany (Dinkha) and they continued for about three months. The research, of course, was not only laborious but also very interesting for me as well because I could go back and re-read many of the Fathers, which I had once researched in my earlier ‘school days’. In addition, much material from the various liturgies (Eucharistic, baptismal, ordination, etc.) of the Assyrian Church of the East is also included, in a fresh and modern English translation for the benefit of the reader. It took me about another three months to edit the presentations in book form, and a first edition came out in late June of 2011 just in time for the 25th Annual National Youth Conference of our Church, held in Los Angeles, California. As a gift, each youth member present was given a copy of the first edition. Then, I went back and re-edited that first edition, adding some more material, especially in Chapter Ten (‘The Holy Cross’), and I also concluded the work with the new ‘Epilogue’; the revised edition was released in September of 2011. I feel that the two appendices (the ‘List of Scripture References of the Sacraments’ and the ‘Comparative Table of the Sacraments Among the Various Apostolic Churches’) will also further help the reader to understand the sacraments. Finally, the re-edited Index will also be of aid as a quick reference guide.

ACN: What is the purpose of the book?

H.G.: The purpose is quite simple: to introduce the average layman of the Church, whose primary medium of communication is English, to have a solid grounding in the holy sacraments. In this regard, we might say that its primary purpose is catechetical, that is, to teach the faithful the faith. Secondarily, it is my sincere hope that the book will also benefit non-members of the Assyrian Church of the East who would like to learn more about our Church and her theology. The book has been forwarded to some libraries in the U.S., Kerala and Rome to be shelved as a reference work for those of other Christian traditions who would like to research the sacramental theology of our holy Church.

ACN: The book makes the Church’s theological foundations of the sacraments accessible. In your opinion, who will benefit from the book?

H.G.: It will certainly make accessible much of what our holy Fathers have written and taught in regards to the sacraments. As mentioned earlier, the average layman and the avid student of theology engaged in research will both benefit from this humble work. During the course of the writing of the book, it was challenging for me to maintain a stable and healthy balance between what one might call a simple ‘catechism’ on the one hand, and a ‘handbook’ on a theological subject on the other. However, that was the challenge that I really enjoyed engaging in as the author. Now, it is up to the readers to decide whether I have been successful in up-holding that balance or not. Be that as it may, I have always held the youth of our holy Church at heart as I authored this work, and had them in my mind as my ultimate audience. Also, I am sure that they will be much more forgiving of any mistakes I might have made in the work than the ardent student of theology coming from a purely academic background.

ACN: You write, “The holy sacraments…are the living signs and types of God’s heavenly kingdom among us.” How important is it for the faithful to know and understand the seven sacraments of the Church?

H.G.: It was Mar Theodore of Mopsuestia who, in writing extensively on the sacraments, drove home the point that the sacraments carry with them an innate pledge of both God’s grace to be experienced finitely here on earth, and the promise of the heavenly benefits to be experienced in their fullness in the Kingdom. In order for the faithful to be able to fully and effectively receive God’s saving grace in this life and enjoy His promises in the coming Kingdom, it is essential to have a basic knowledge of the sacramental life of the Church. Now, this does not mean that we will all become theologians; but, what is a ‘theologian’ after all, if not one who has come to a spiritual realization of the uncreated grace of God that is bestowed to us by the Father, in Christ, and made effective by the Holy Spirit? Thus, there is always a Trinitarian aspect to every sacrament. Living a Christian life that is steeped in the sacraments of God’s ordinary means of dispensing His grace to the Church, will ultimately prepare us for the realization of that blessed reality, in God’s kingdom and with all His saints. The faithful, therefore, in keeping with their Christian calling as those who have been buried, died and risen with Christ in baptism and thereby having participated sacramentally (razanaith) in the Paschal Mystery of Christ, ought to be catechized as to what the present and future reality of that Mystery, which is Christ Himself, is, means and entails.

ACN: Are there any new projects you are planning to work on in the future?

H.G.: As President of the Church’s Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Educational Development (CIRED), it is my mandate by the Church to promote the teaching of our holy Church and her theology in printed materials. Just to give one example, CIRED plans to publish theological and synodical treatises translated by able clergy of our Church by the middle of this year. Other clergy have been contacted to have their doctoral theses published with CIRED, as well. Personally, I have a few other works ‘in the pipeline,’ as the saying goes. They deal with the historical development of the rite of the Assyrian Church of the East, her liturgical books and the liturgy of the hours as they are observed in our Church. Other proposed works include a catechetical introduction to the liturgical year (from Subara to Qudash Edta) and a catechism for adult-converts. Of course, these are all proposed and a good many of them have already been begun, or are getting quite close to completion. The printing of these materials for the greater benefit of our clergy, youth and lay faithful at large will no doubt require funding for printing purposes. However, the faithful sons and daughters of our Church have always supported this noble task of promoting education (especially religious instruction), teaching and the multiplication of material on the Assyrian Church of the East; for that, we are most grateful.

ACN: Is there anything else you’d like to add about the book or the sacraments of the Church?

H.G.: Finally, I would like to thank all those who have supported the writing of this humble ‘labor of love’ Mysteries of the Kingdom. First and foremost, His Holiness Mar Dinkha IV for his support and encouragement to put everything in writing and in book form. I would also like to thank George Zia of MediusCorp. (San Jose, California) for having printed a little over 3,000 copies now, pro bono. I would also like to thank Rev. Fr. Genard Lazar for handling the distribution and Rev. Fr. Lawrance Namato for creating the cover and back designs, as well as the end-material (apparatus). I would also like to thank my brother bishops in supporting the distribution of this catechism in their dioceses, especially in the English-speaking countries. In closing, it was my joy to have had this conversation regarding Mysteries of the Kingdom with the staff and audience of news.assyrianchurch.org; may the Lord bless you and may you continue your noble task of informing our faithful of the daily activities of their Church!

About His Grace Mar Awa Royel

A native Chicagoan, His Grace graduated with a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, Mundelein, Illinois in 1999. He later undertook postgraduate theological studies in Rome graduating with a Licentiate of Sacred Theology (2001) and a Doctorate of Sacred Theology (2007) from the Pontifical Oriental Institute, specialising in Eastern Liturgy. His Grace was consecrated to the episcopacy at Mar Zaia Cathedral, Modesto, California in November 2008.

His Grace Mar Awa is the Secretary of the Holy Synod and President of Church’s Commission on Inter-Church Relations and Education Development (CIRED). He also represents the Assyrian Church of the East as a member of the Forum Syriacum (Pro Oriente Foundation, Vienna) and has been active in a wide variety of international symposia to date.

Mysteries of the Kingdom: The Sacraments of the Assyrian Church of the East, by His Grace Mar Awa Royel, has been distributed to many of the major parishes and centers of the Assyrian Church of the East. To purchase a copy, check with your diocese or at your local parish. Alternatively, the book is available to order from www.amazon.com

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