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Who is God? Who Is Man?

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The world around us is in a constant state of turmoil and unrest. Every day we are bombarded with graphic details of some gruesome crimes and atrocities committed around us and around the world. Thousands of innocent people are killed every year in the name of ethnic cleansing and terrorist attacks. What is happening to us? What is happening to this world? Is there a light at the end of this dark tunnel? These burning questions make me look back at the scriptures and early fathers to find a reasonable answer. One of the rational explanations that jump to my mind is that people have lost touch with reality and with God. The concept of religion and faith has undergone a drastic transformation and this in turn has negatively impacted man’s thought patterns and his attitude towards his fellow human beings.

Two Questions always come to our mind. Who is God? Who is man?

It is therefore vital to go back to our basic concept of the relation ship between God and man. In this context two important questions come to my mind. “Who is God?”, “Who Is man?” Right from the Creation man is bonded to his creator. It is similar to the bond a mother has for her baby. It is steadfast and everlasting. The role of religion in perpetuating this relationship is paramount.

Through religion man is searching for God, and through the Gospel, God is searching for man. Now let us take a minute to ponder over my basic question. “Who is man?” This will take us back to the Creation. There are two levels of creations. The first level of creation is called “noetic,” “Spiritual” or intellectual level, and the second level is called the material or bodily level. On the first level God formed the angels, who have no material body, on the second level; he formed physical universe, the galaxies, stars and planets, with various types of minerals, vegetations and animal life. What level does Mankind belong? Mankind alone exists on both levels at the same time. Through his spirit, or spiritual intellect man has connections with angels through his body. And with his soul he moves, feels, thinks, eats and drinks.

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The Absence Of Parents In The Keralite Families In America

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Problem In The Parent-Child Relationship

Our children are lacking the presence of parents because of the busy life in the United States and the demands of work on both parents. Our fathers are working more than 40 hours a week and our mothers are working almost 60 hours a week. A typical day for these parents starts before the children rise, with a hurried breakfast followed by a tedious trip to the office, either by commuter train or bus or by a tense and frustrating drive on a crowded freeway. They may arrive home, worn from work and a tiresome commute, so late. They are not in mood for family prayer and a leisurely family dinner of sharing daily experiences.

It limits the quality time spent with children and the guidance that parents are expected to provide. The impact of this phenomenon on the parent-child relationship is huge and negative. This affects the personality development of the child.

Those who become successful in life have come from homes where parental attitudes towards them were favorable and where a wholesome relationship existed between them and their parents. A wholesome relationship between parents and children produce happy, friendly children who are constructive and affectionate members of the group.

The word ‘parenthood’ implies its heavy obligations as well as its rich joys because it involves their participation in the continuing creative work of God. The couple by using God-given powers of creation brings a child into the world. The mission of parents is not ended with the generation of life but is prolonged in the care given to the child. The transmission of human life in a way adequate to its dignity demands the prolonged love and protection of the family.

Both parents are responsible to God to properly expose their children to spiritual training. The father and mother should help ground the child in firm understanding of God’s character and also in the relationship God wants to have with his people in general, the church and society.

Through the family, children are introduced into the Church. A truly Christian family is therefore vital for the life and development of God’s people. By praying with their children, by reading the word of God with them, and by introducing them deeply through Christian initiation into the Body of Christ, both the Eucharistic and ecclesiastical body, the parents fulfill the responsibility as the workers of God.

Parents are the most powerful force in child’s life, in every way. Genetics determines the child’s physical characteristics, of course, but what the parents do and how the parents do it, the parents’ attitudes and viewpoints, will influence how the child views people, events and the world as it is and can be. What the parent does or does not do will leave an impression. How much the parents are there or not there will be remembered. The interaction will serve as a framework for how the child goes about the business of living.

What the children of the Indian Orthodox immigrant parents in the United States lack is the presence of their parents. Children do not get their parents’ love through hugging, smiling and talking.

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Sunday Before Pentecost

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Reading: From the Gospel according to St.John 17:13-26

The basic reason of the incarnation of our redeemer was the replacement of the entire mankind in God Almighty. As the humanity is living on the earth, where the Satan could play his tricks every now and often and trap as many of the children of God as he could. It would be easy for the evil powers to take control of the people who are spiritually weak and tired. That is why the faithful are often exhorted to keep vigil against the attacks from the evil forces and to keep up the fullness of spiritual growth always. When one is in God and with God, his or her spirituality would be growing to the fullness as desired by God Almighty.

Today’s reading is often revered in the Orthodox contexts as the prayer of our Lord as the High Priest. Hence this Biblical portion is respectfully called as the prayer of the High Priest. (Mahaa Purohitha Prarthana). Our Lord prays for the following:

a) For the fullness of His joy in us
b) For our sanctification through His truth
c) For the oneness of all of us
d) For our perfect stay in God Almighty.

Let us think what His joy is. The selfless love which compelled our Lord to offer His life on the cross for our salvation is his joy. Our Lord’s joy is the net result of His sacrifice on the cross for the redemption of our sins and our freedom from the bondage of Satan. Are we grateful or concerned about it? Let us think and try to find out an ideal answer. Our Lord offered His life giving blood as a ransom for our freedom and salvation. While watching the freedom enjoyed by the mankind, the joy in our Lord is bubbling up like anything. Presently when we could think about our sins with true repentance and confess them before God with genuine repentance, our Lord would enjoy and His joy will increase from nothing to the fullness.

We should not forget that the sanctification is often brought in by the Holy Spirit. So we all must seek for the abundant supply of Holy Spirit in us. When we are weak in the matter of the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we must replace the vacuum of the Holy Spirit without much delay by constant prayer, meditation and longing. Let us be guided by the Holy Spirit in our day to day affairs. Holy Spirit is willing to guide us through the paths of God. But we will have to seek His guidance and blessing. He will guide us to the truth and real love. He will always sanctify us from the filth and dirt of this world.

God desires to be united with us all. He wants us to love one another. Loving one another is the significance of the Holy Trinity. In Trinity love is flowing from one another. It is desired that we must maintain such a flowing love from us to our family, society and to everyone. Selfishness is the factor which often blocks the love to other person or society. Let us try to achieve complete freedom from the selfishness.

May God enable us all to stay in Him permanently and solidly. As and when we are sanctified, we could remain in Him perfectly.

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Fasting In The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Tradition

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It is widely known that the Orthodox Churches give much importance to fasting, following the example of Jesus Christ and of the apostolic community. The noun fasting means non-eating and non-feeding.  But every non-eater is by no means a faster and everyone who is an eater and restrains himself by an interior dedication from nourishment because of heavenly things is a faster.

In our materialistic society we learn to identify ourselves through self-indulgence and we tend to see the fasting only as a time of deprivation and penance. But this is not at all the view of the Orthodox Church on fasting and abstinence and it is clearly explained by the Fathers in their spiritual discourses. For them, fasting is the feast of the soul and good fasts are like medicine which cures our soul and mind, and, along with other virtuous works, it leads us to the eternal life.

In our spiritual battle, fasting protects us from the evil one. It not only resists the attack but also trains our body and mind for the battle. According to Mar Aprem (4th Century Church Father) fasting is a great weapon against the evil one. Through fasting Christ defeated the Satan and has given us this weapon to overcome the evil. For Philixenus of Maboug (6th century Church Father), fasting and abstinence are the two virtous weapons for cultivating the field of Christian life.

‘Fasting must be undertaken voluntarily and it must be of divine dispensation’. This is the primary teaching of our Church on Fasting.  Fast is of free will and it is the voluntary fast which is accessible and permanent. Fasting becomes highly acceptable when it is joined with humility of hearts, charity towards all men and continuous prayers. The Lenten prayers and liturgy of our Church extols this kind of fasting by giving the Old Testament figures as good examples (Moses, Daniel, Elijah etc.).

Fasting is the root by which all the fruits of sanctity are sustained and on this same root grows purity, delights virginity and rejoices patience. Fasting dispels immodesty, controls the lust and offers the body as a holy temple of God. Therefore, the Church exhorts the faithful to love and practice this highly acceptable form of Christian life so that it may lead them to the great eternal fast which is going to happen in the eternal bride chamber of life. Through it, the strength of the soul is confirmed, the riches of the body are increased and good aspirations aroused in the heart.

The following are the main fasts mentioned by the Fathers of the Church according to the order in which they appear in the liturgical calendar.

The Fast before the Nativity of our Lord

This is a traditional fast observed in the Church with great enthusiasm. It seems that in the Syrian tradition this fast is of spontaneous origin and lasted forty days for to glorify and to give thanks to God the Father remembering his selfless love by giving His unique Son for the salvation of the world. The Church thinks it is right for every believer to fast this season, before the Nativity of Jesus Christ, that is designed for the Father for having given us His Son, for forty days. At present, however, in the Malankara Church, this fast lasts for 25 days, from the first of December till the Christmas day, and all the faithful are bound to observe it with great vigour.

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Expectation And Pentecost

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We read in the first chapter of the Acts of Apostles about the Ascension of our Lord Jesus on the 40th day after the blessed Resurrection. Before Ascension, our Lord exhorted His beloved followers and the Apostles to wait for His Father’s promise. Our Lord also informed them that they would be strengthened to witness risen Christ not only in all Judea and Jerusalem, but also in every nook and corner of the world (Acts 1:8) So they waited with prayer and one accord. There were 120 persons altogether including the Apostles, who remained in one prayer and one accord to inherit Holy Spirit. As mentioned in Acts 2: 1-12, they all received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost in the form of tongues of fire. As a token of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, they all talked in other languages. They all received the Holy Spirit’s power in abundance.

In all our Sacraments, there is a solemn occasion when and where the Holy Spirit will descend from High above and will brood upon the submitted mysteries. The Holy Church teaches that whenever the Holy Spirit would descend during any one of the Sacraments (Sacraments are the visible symbols of the invisible graces of God Almighty) the participants/ congregation also would be blessed with the renewal of the Holy Spirit. We all have received the Holy Spirit initially during our Baptism as well as anointment of Holy Chrism. As we all are living in the world, the Holy Spirit in us might not grow into the perfection and hence we have to renew the Holy Spirit every now and often.  The Holy Church advises us to follow a strict sacramental life so that we could retain the fullness of the Holy Spirit in us. We could achieve this through our sacramental lives, but we must strictly follow a system of having one prayer and one accord. So also we must long for the arrival of the Holy Spirit during the Sacrament in which we are attending. And we must expect for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. In the Holy Sacrament of Eucharist, the Altar Assistant cautions us the time of the arrival of the Holy Spirit.  But often we could not keep one prayer and one accord. Whenever we attend a Sacrament, let it be a baptism or a matrimony or priesthood, or a Holy Eucharist, if we could keep up one accord and one prayer to bless us with the fullness of Holy Spirit, we all would be blessed with the fullness of Holy Spirit. The Holy Church separates ten days prior to Pentecost, for the expectation of the Holy Spirit. Unless and until we keep one prayer and one accord, we would not be able to come up with power from the kneeling position, as exhorted by the celebrant then and there. Let us try to attend this years Pentecost service with one prayer and one accord.

May God bless us all and renew the Holy Spirit in each and every one of us.

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The Feast Of The Ascension Of Our Lord

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Reading: From the Gospel according to. St.Luke24:36-53

Today’s reading is the continuation of our Lord’s appearance to the two Apostles that went to Emmaus. As soon as the two realized the great and exciting experience of being with the risen Lord, they rushed back to their colleagues and shared what they saw and what they experienced. When the eleven were together our Lord appeared among them for one more time. But they were terrified and affrighted. Realizing this great truth, our Lord said “let peace be unto you”. He is the one who had offered: “I leave my peace unto you. My peace is not like the peace of the world”.

Our Lord is present among all of us during the times of sorrows as well as happiness. But we often do not realize Him or His magnificent presence. The Apostles could experience the presence of our Lord, though they suspected Him to be a spirit. It is a pity that we neither realize His presence nor even as a spirit. We often forget or ignore about the presence of God among us. Unless we do not submit ourselves to Him at every moment, our prayers and worships will be of no use.

In verse 38 we listen the kind verses of our Lord and Savior. “Why are you troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your mind?

We all know and believe that Lord Jesus is the truth, way and light. Still at times of troubles we often get upset and worried. Instead of seeking the compassion of our Lord God, we often think of many other sources to get peace and comfort. At such occasions our Lord is asking to each and every one of us so gently: why are you troubled and why are you thinking so much in your hearts? At times of difficulties, worries and tensions, let us seek His mercy and compassion, instead of getting much tensed and depressed. We must try to listen and to identify the voice of our Lord God, who often speaks to us. We must give heed to the soft, loving, caring and sweet voice of our Lord in our daily lives. He is there with the offer “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee”. Let us follow Him and His soft and touching voice.

In verse 41 we read: “And when they yet believed not for joy, he said unto them, have you here any meat?”

He is asking us the same question. He is still continuing the same to us all who claim that we are his true followers. Our Lord is not asking for himself, but for the ones who are longing for a piece of bread among us. Our Lord is asking to feed the hungry and thirsty around us. If we feed the needy around us, it is as good as feeding our Lord God. We often close our eyes against the ones who are in need. Our prayers during the Lenten season remind us to go after the poor and needy to feed them, instead of the poor or needy might ask us. Let us take a decision to take care of the poor and needy among or around us. If we could love them as our brethren, it would be easy to care them.

May this day of Ascension of our Lord grant us more peace and comfort. Let His everlasting peace be with us all. May God bless us all.

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St. Mary The Mother Of God

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Among all the saints of the Church, St. Mary occupies a preeminent position. This prominence is the consequence of her role as the Mother of God (Theotokos), a title that was underscored by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431) and firmly establishing it in the spirituality of the Church. St. Mary thus appears not only as the person who was favoured to bear the Son of God, but because of her acquiescence to God’s offer, she represents the pinnacle of synergy, the process by which human beings cooperate with God for the advancement of the salvific plan. Thus, she represents the reversal of the fatal fall of Eve in the Garden of Eden, and so is also given the designation “the second Eve.” The concept and role of St. Mary in the Malankara Orthodox Church can be appreciated only in the connection with its Christology and ecclesiology.

While the Holy Scriptures do not contain this information, the Church tradition names St.Mary’s parents as Joachim and Anna, information contained in the Protevangelium of St.James. Her early years are shrouded in silence, except for the generalized picture that she was resident in the Jerusalem Temple. From this point the New Testament informs us that she received the annunciation of the birth of the Son of God (Lk 1: 2ff ), a point obliquely stated in St. Matthew’s infancy narrative (Mt.1:20) St.Luke very succinctly suggests that many of St.Mary’s experiences went past her comprehension, and it was only the passage of time that unpacked their significance for her (Lk 2:19, 50-51). Both St.Matthew and St.Luke record that she was affianced to Joseph who belonged to David’s family. It is in this way that Jesus’ ancestry is ultimately traced to the Davidic line.  St.Matthew’s narrative St.Mt 2:1ff) has King Herod making an attempt on the life of the young Jesus, occasioned by the arrival and query of the Wise Men. Operating through a divine revelation, St.Joseph takes the mother Mary and the little Jesus and flees to Egypt. A revelation in a dream at a later stage conveys the death of those who sought the life of  Jesus and so St.Joseph returns with St.Mary and the child to their native country and opt to settle in Nazareth for fear of Herod’s son who now controlled Judea. St.Luke alone records the event of St.Joseph and St.Mary taking the young Jesus to Jerusalem to attend the Passover and is somehow lost. After three days the parents return to find Jesus discussing with the teachers.

We do not glimpse too many occasions when St.Mary is sighted during Jesus’ public ministry. There is the anecdote of how she, accompanied by other family members, attempt to obtain a meeting with him, which Jesus supposedly does not acquiesce to. St.John, however, has the narrative of Jesus, along with his disciples and St.Mary attending a marriage feast at Cana and during the course of which the wine runs out. St. Mary intercedes with her Son Jesus, the consequence of which leads to the transformation of the water held in six stone jars into the most qualitatively superlative wine. We then find references to St.Mary only during the last hours of Jesus when she is numbered among the women who watch his crucifixion. St.John has the poignant story of committing her to the care of his Beloved Disciple, an indication that by this time she had no family to look after her.

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Identify The True Spirituality

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In today’s world, we slowly stumble on the fact that miraculous healing is turning out to be a very inevitable part of Christian ministry. And this idea is well propagated in most of the religious TV channels. Jesus and his disciples during their life time healed many sick people. But they never had the attitude put out by today’s so called ministry healers. Spirituality propagated through miracles is being dissected here.

Mimicking the godly behavior showed by Jesus in our daily life and making reality, the authenticity of the resurrected Jesus Christ can be attributed as the real spirituality. This spirituality is not confined to a person. This is a phenomenon that has to be exhibited in the social life through human relationship. When our relationship with God starts to exhibit in our relationship with fellow human being, a true sense of mysticism can be witnessed. In other words, spirituality is all about practically demonstrating the behavior of Jesus Christ in our daily social life. This is what should be promulgated in Christian Ministerial works. But through the miracles and all other forms of extraordinary happenings, we see only a highlighted picture of Christ meant only to look upon in the time of need. Spirituality is brought down plainly as a means of getting things done. This is like going to a distinguished medical doctor who comes to the scene when a sickness appears. When his medication works, a feeling of gratitude followed by a spreading of his virtues. Spiritualism is much more than just healing, wonders and extraordinary events.

Even in the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus took great effort to win over temptation of becoming a savior catering to the simple worldly needs of the people. The reaction of Jesus towards these temptations gives a very coherent picture of his efforts and vision of work while taking the form of a human being on Earth. He never wished to attract people by giving physical wealth (the temptation of making bread from stone St. Luke 4:3), or by creating political authority through conquering Roman Empire (temptation for giving authority St. Luke 4:6), or by performing miracles (by jumping from temple St. Luke 4:9). His decision was to submit himself for God’s wish and perform Messiah’s mission as a suffering servant. Once when Peter incited Jesus to deviate from this approach, Jesus reprimanded saying “Get away from me Satan, your thoughts don’t come from God but from Man. (St. Mark 8:33)

Jesus never promised any sort of worldly riches on Earth to his disciples. “Listen, I am sending you out just like sheep to a pack of wolves…. Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No. I did not come to bring peace but a sword (St. Mathew 10:16-39). Whoever comes to me cannot be my disciple, unless he loves me more than his father and his mother…. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple (St Luke 14: 26-27). These can be considered as the core essence of following Jesus. But today, we do not see teaching that draws people to follow Jesus with its challenges.

It can be noted in the Bible that even relatives advised Jesus to make fame and acceptance through miracles. “Leave this place and go to Judea, so that your followers will see the things that you are doing. No one hides what he is doing if he wants to be well known. Since you are doing these things let the whole world knows about you”. (St. John 7:4). Jesus answered “The right time for me has not yet come” (St. John 7:6). The phrase ‘my time’ in John’s Gospel signifies crucifixion of Jesus. He wished to attract people through cross. “When I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw everyone to me”. (St. John 12:32). He never intended to be famous by any miraculous healing. Jesus sent back healed people by warning them, “Don’t tell anybody about this”. When the reality of Christ is drawn through miracles and wonders only, we are actually defaming the Almighty God’s love and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. Christian leaders should actually advocate the picture of Christ who died on the cross and repent our sins.