Greek Church Bans Yoga, Catholics Confused

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by Jules Gomes  •  ChurchMilitant.com  •  June 5, 2020   

Orthodox call Christians to shun syncretism with Hinduism

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ATHENS, Greece (ChurchMilitant.com) - The Orthodox Church of Greece has proscribed yoga as "absolutely incompatible" with Christianity and not a "kind of exercise" since "yoga is a fundamental part of the religion of Hinduism."

The Synodal Committee on Heresies under Abp. Ieronymos II of Athens and all Greece announced on Wednesday that "yoga techniques," which had "a variety of schools, disciplines, applications and trends" within Hinduism, "has no place in the lives of Christians." 

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Archbishop Ieronymos condemns yoga as syncretistic

Emphasizing the pastoral responsibility of the Church to warn against religious syncretism, it said the holy synod was compelled to discuss yoga after Greek media reports suggested that yoga techniques could help people deal with stress during the Wuhan pandemic.

"Yoga is not an exercise, but an act of worship," declared Metropolitan Nektarios of Argolis of the Greek Orthodox Church in September, 2019.

"When we have repentance in church, whether it be a small confession or a big one, we don't do it for fitness reasons. We make a confession to God. This is the same thing that people do during yoga, which is what we are trying to explain," he said. 

In 2015, the Greek Orthodox Church issued a statement against the United Nations' (U.N.'s) advocacy of yoga and the global body's 2014 decision to designate June 21 as International Day of Yoga.

"Yoga is an ancient physical, mental and spiritual practice that originated in India. The word 'yoga' derives from Sanskrit and means to join or to unite, symbolizing the union of body and consciousness," the U.N. states, affirming the Hindu roots and goal of yoga. 

"Catholics are confused and divided. A number of celebrity Catholic clerics promote yoga, claiming it has nothing to do with Hinduism, but is just an exercise and helpful for meditation," a diocesan priest from North India told Church Militant. 

Preferring to remain anonymous, the priest revealed that yoga was practiced "in most regional and national seminaries in India" and "many religious formation houses have it as part of their daily schedule."

A number of novices at various religious houses in Bangalore confirmed to Church Militant that morning yoga sessions before Holy Mass were compulsory and those who objected to it risked being asked to leave. Hindu "yoga masters" were often paid to lead the yoga sessions for seminarians and novices were even forced to chant the Hindu mantra "OM" while performing certain yoga "asanas" (postures).      

Yoga is not an exercise, but an act of worship.

"Many religious who run holistic healing centers promote yoga as part of therapeutic medicine and exercise," the North Indian priest said. "Buddhist 'dhyana' meditation is openly practiced at the National Biblical Catechetical and Liturgical Center (NBCLC) under the Catholic Bishops' Conference of India (CBCI). Only very few charismatic preachers speak against it. Otherwise, Catholics are not even aware that yoga goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church."

In 2017, the Syro-Malabar Synod of Bishops, one of the three rites of the Catholic Church in India, issued a statement clarifying that "yoga is not a means to experience the divine, although it may contribute to physical and mental health."

Father James Manjackal MSFS is one of the very few Indian priests objecting to yoga. "Yoga, as promoted among Catholics, is neither entirely a health discipline nor entirely a spiritual discipline, but sometimes one, sometimes the other, and often a mixture of both," notes Manjackal. "But in fact, yoga is primarily a spiritual discipline, and I know even priests and nuns in the seminaries and novitiates promote yoga as help to meditation and prayer."

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"It is sad that nowadays, many Catholics are losing trust in the great spiritualities and mysticisms for prayer and discipline handed over to them by great saints like Ignatius of Loyola, Francis of Assisi, Francis of Sales, Teresa of Ávila, etc., and are now going after Eastern spiritualities and mysticisms coming from Hinduism and Buddhism," he lamented. 

Manjackal explains:

Yoga means 'union.' The goal of yoga is to unite one's transitory self 'jiva' with the infinite 'Brahman' the Hindu concept of God ... Yoga has its roots in the Hindu Upanishads. ... In A.D. 150, the yogi Patanjali explained the eight ways that lead the yoga practices from ignorance to enlightenment. They are self-control (yama), religious observance (niyama), postures (asana), breathing exercises (pranayama), sense control (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), deep contemplation (dhyana) and enlightenment (samadhi).

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Fr. Joe Pereira with the Hindu symbol OM teaching yoga

"It is interesting to note, here, that postures and breathing exercises, often considered to be the whole of yoga in the West, are steps 3 and 4 towards union with Brahman! Yoga is not only an elaborate system of physical exercises, it is a spiritual discipline, purporting to lead the soul to samadhi, total union with the divine being," he asserted.

However, celebrity Catholic priest Fr. Joe Pereira dismisses "anti-yoga propaganda" as the work of "a specific lobby of fundamentalist, 'born-again' Christians," who he describes as "God addicts." 

"Jesus, for me, is the supreme yogi, because he spoke about being one with God," says Pereira, who travels around the world teaching Iyengar yoga, which he claims "transcends all ideologies and philosophies with its ability to unite people." 

But Fr. Manjackal refutes Fr. Pereira's view as "pantheistic," since "to call Jesus 'a yogi' is to deny His intrinsic divinity, holiness and perfection and suggest that He had a fallen nature subject to ignorance and illusion (maya) that He needed to be liberated from through the exercise and discipline of yoga."

To call Jesus 'a yogi' is to deny His intrinsic divinity, holiness and perfection and suggest that He had a fallen nature subject to ignorance and illusion.

"Those who call yoga a part of Hinduism and raise objections against it do not know what it actually is," objects Sr. Infant Tresa (featured in picture), a yoga instructor who manages two yoga centers in Kerala, South India. "Yoga does not belong to Hinduism or any other religion. It is completely secular."

"I will never go against the Church if it asks me to leave yoga, but I am absolutely certain that the Church will never ask me or anyone to give up yoga. It has nothing to contradict the Christian faith or teachings. Yoga makes better human beings," says the Franciscan Clarist nun. 

"My bishop, my congregation, my superiors and all my colleagues support and encourage me," she affirms. 

In 2011, Italian exorcist Fr. Gabriele Amorth called yoga "evil" and "satanic." Warning that "seemingly harmless oriental practices such as yoga are subtle and dangerous," he asserted: "You plan to do them for relaxing purposes but they lead to Hinduism. All Eastern religions are based on the false belief of reincarnation."

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