Categories
Columns Features Opinions

Letter of congratulation to Patriarch Elect Mar Aphrem Karim Coorilos

b_aphrem_karim1

From Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Senior Director of the Office of Strategic Planning, United States Department of State, United States Government, Washington D.C., United States of America

Your Beatitude the Patriarch of Antioch and All East Mar Ignatius Aphrem II Karim, I extend my warm congratulations and wish you every strength and joy in the fulfillment of the great task which lies before you as you guide the Syrian Orthodox Church along the path of spiritual growth and unity. In prayer, I ask the Lord to grant Your Beatitude an abundance of wisdom to discern His will, to persevere in loving service of the people entrusted to your patriarchal ministry, and to sustain them in faithfulness to the gospel and the great traditions of Orthodoxy.

As Christ prepared for His Gethsemane experience, He prayed for unity which is recorded in the Gospel of St. John 17: 11: “ … keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” Through the centuries we have, indeed, been kept in the power and love of Christ, and in the proper moment in history the Holy Spirit moved upon us and we began the long journey towards the visible unity that Christ desires.

During your years as the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of the Syrian Orthodox Church for the Eastern United States, you have distinguished yourself as an ecumenist focused on Christian unity. You have served on both the Executive and Central Committees of the World Council of Churches, attending the 1991 WCC General Assembly in Canberra, the 1998 WCC General Assembly in Harare, and the 2006 Assembly in Porto Alegre. Moreover, you have been an active member of the Executive and Governing Boards of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA and serves as a Vice Chairman of the Standing Conference of Oriental Orthodox Churches in America, where I had the distinct honor of working with you on couple of occasion. Interestingly, in recent years, you have been instrumental in the establishment of a new ecumenical body, Christian Churches Together in the United States of America, of which the Syrian Orthodox Church is a founding member. In all your ecumenical vision and activities, you have most capably represented the Holy Church and have won the admiration and respect of your colleagues and confreres, clearly revealed in choosing you as the Supreme Head of the Church. I am certain that Your Beatitude’s leadership vision has been inspired by the fundamental reality that the Son and incarnate Logos of God is “ … where two or three are gathered in his name” (St. Mathew 18: 20) and that the Spirit, who proceeds from the Father, “ … will guide us into the whole truth” (St. John 16: 13).

The journey for Church Unity has not always been easy or without pain and challenges, for as we know “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way” (St. Matthew 7:14). The essential theology and principal themes – the mystery of the Holy Church and the sacredness of the Liturgy – are difficult to apply in earnest practice, and constitute a life-long and church-wide labor to assimilate. The door, then, must remain open for deeper reception and willing engagement for our Unity for building a stronger unified Church for His Glory.

As we move forward, we the unconditional supporters for Unity offer thanks and glory to the living God Father, Son and Holy Spirit – that Your Beatitude have recognized the importance of reflection and sincere dialogue between our churches. I join in the hope that the barrier dividing our two churches will be removed, and that – at last – there may be but the one dwelling, firmly established on Christ Jesus, the cornerstone, who will make both one. With Christ as our cornerstone and the traditions we share, we shall be able or, rather, enabled by the gift and grace of God – to reach a better appreciation and fuller expression of the Body of Christ. With our continued efforts in accordance with the spirit of the tradition of the early Church, we will experience the visible Unity that lies just beyond us today. The Church always excels in its uniquely prophetic and pastoral dimension, embraces its characteristic meekness and spirituality, and serves with humble sensitivity the “least of these My brethren” (St. Mathew 25:40).

Let us begin with prayers for peace and healing for our Christian brothers and sisters living in the Middle East. I had a blessed opportunity to visit our suffering Christian brothers and sisters in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. In the current turmoil of violence, separation, and brokenness that is globaly escalating between peoples and nations, may the love and desire for harmony we profess here, and the understanding we seek through dialogue and mutual respect between our two Churches, serve as a model for our world. May all humanity reach out to ‘the other’ and work together to overcome the suffering of people everywhere, particularly in the face of famine, natural disasters, disease, and war that ultimately touches all of our lives.

May God grant Your Beatitude good health and abundant of spiritual gifts so that you, strengthened by His power, may in peace, unity, and love nourish the Church.

Asking Your Beatitude’s blessing,
I am, Yours respectfully in Christ,

Fr. Alexander
Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, MA, MSc, MBA, M.Div., CFA, MAI, CBV, FRICS
Senior Priest of the Indian Orthodox Church
Director of the Office of Strategic Planning
United States Department of State
United States Government
Washington D.C.
United States of America

Categories
Columns Opinions

A food for thought on the Holy Week Services in the Orthodox Churches

Holy-week
The holy Week is again the round the corner. The people around the world are getting ready for long liturgical services with great zeal and fasting. Why do we observe this ‘particular week’ with so much solemnity? We all know its significance is solely because of its connection with the passion of Christ, the sum total of the traumas that our Lord had to endure for a new world order. During this solemn season, we specifically commemorate and celebrate the episodes of those past events happened in the life of Christ the incarnate. Every liturgy in the holy Orthodox Church is fashioned as a spiritual exercise for the edification of the faithful. The pious observance of the holy week gives us an opportunity to identify ourselves with the incarnation of Christ whereby we show our solidarity with his salvific work and we are particularly bestowed with the vital energy for our ‘deification’.

The Passion Week service in the Orthodox Syrian Church is packed with a plethora of rites and rituals. Each rubric has its own meaning attached to the activity of Christ. The liturgy in the holy Church is the means of living along the life of Christ, to be precise, a re-living with the Lord. The Old Testament liturgies were the shadow of the Christ’s incarnation where as the New Testament liturgies are its reflection. Moreover, it is the copy and shadow of what is in heaven (Hebrews 8:5). In other words, it is a foretaste of eschatological life in heaven. Orthodox liturgy is as vast and as deep as an Ocean in terms of its theological meaning. No one can fathom the depths of it. Nevertheless, let us glance through some of the symbolic activity that is being done during the holy week and prayerfully try to ponder over and meditate upon its meaning based on biblical references.

The Palm Sunday service: – The special service in addition to Holy Eucharist on the day is the blessing of the ‘tender palm leaves’ and offering of flowers taken out from the products of the Nature. It is, in a sense, God’s acceptance of the offerings from the faithful and His reciprocal love of giving it back as a blessed gift. This shows that the earth and its fullness are for God as said in Psalm 24:1. Bible makes a picturesque reference on the triumphal entry of Jesus, the king and saviour, into the city of Jerusalem (Mat 21). The people gathered there to receive him began shouting the slogan “Hosanna” (Save Lord, Praise). It is both a word of praise and prayer. They spread their clothing and branches from the tree on the pathways. In tandem with this historical event, we use the articles such as palm leaves and flowers for the procession around the church during the liturgy. In the Bible, we see a multitude of God’s people clad in white robes worshiping God and His lamb with palm leaves in their hands(Revelation 7:9). The procession in the holy Church on Palm Sunday is a prelude to the triumphal entry of the King of kings and Lord of lords and his bride into the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 19, 21). The blessed leaves, after the holy service, are given out to the faithful for their healing and absolution from every curse as has been promised in Revelation 22:2-3. The Bible exhorts everyone to raise praises to God emphasizing the importance of this celebration(Genesis 49:8-12,Zachariah 9:9-12,Isaiah 51:9-11,1 John 2:7-15,Romans 11:3-24,Psalm 118:24-29, 92:12-14, 8,80). The faithful takes away the blessed leaves to their homes for their blessing. Thus, by partaking in the orthodox liturgy; one is able to experience the ecstasy of the worships of both past and future in the present time.

Pesaha service: – The annual and elaborate ‘Passover’ feast of the people of Israel came into vogue in Old Testament period as their mode of commemoration and celebration of the Passing over of the angel of destruction (Exodus 12:14). They celebrated this feast by sacrificing a lamb and eating of it. The death of Christ on the mount Calvary, according to the holy Bible, was a new sacrifice of the Paschal Lamb replacing the old paschal lamb. (1 Corinthians 5:7). At the time of our Lord’s death on the Cross, the Jews were killing the paschal lamb in commemoration of the first Passover. Our Lord knowing that he would be sacrificed at the same time when the Jews would kill their paschal lamb instituted the New Testament Passover a day earlier. He took the leavened bread (lahamo) and fermented wine and said “This is my body…and this is my blood”. Thus, in the bloodless sacrifice of the holy Eucharist, the bloodshed sacrifice of the Old Testament Passover comes to an end. The changed bread and wine continue to give us the benefit of forgiveness from sins and the release from Captivity of Satan. The modern Passover meal, Holy Communion, is also a foretaste of the heavenly banquet as said in Revelation 19:17 and the participation in the eschatological worship in advance as narrated in Rev. 5:9 ff.

The Service on Good Friday: – There are two processions on this day. The first one is the procession around the Church in memory of the Christ’s way of Cross to Mount Calvary. When we do this procession, we travel in time-machine to that past event in history. We know that when Christ was bearing the Cross on his way, Simon the Cyrene was blessed to have joined in carrying the Cross of Christ. (Luke 23:26-31). So also, on every Good Friday, we too are given a chance to partake in Christ’s economy of salvation. The second ceremonial procession on the day gives us, by virtue of being his children and disciples, a chance to participate in the burial service of our Lord along with Joseph of Arimathea, Nichodemus. A deep reading of the Bible reveals the fact that Mary of Bethany, and the Magi from the East too were privileged to offer homage to the Lord. Their offering of myrrh betokens of this truth. Since Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow (Heb 13:8), and he, being the pre-existent Word of God(John 1: 1-18,8: 58) and lives forever(Heb 7:25), transcends the time-space continuum to interact with and save all people of all time. The ritualistic liturgy is the only realistic means by which we get the benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus which took place in history once and for all. Another ritual on Good Friday is the washing of the holy Cross, made of wood, and dipping its horns into the bitter water, the concoction. It is, in a sense, an empathic and vicarious way of joining Christ in receiving the bitter juice that was given to him while on the Cross (Mat 27:34). We see in the Exodus 14-15, that Moses, Aaron and the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea after having been released from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt. This crossing implies the Christian Baptism and their walking for three days in the desert points to the Christian life of sufferings. We see Moses throwing a “piece of wood” to the bitter water in Marah after saying a prayer. The use of a piece of wood by Moses here was a prophetic symbolism of the Cross of Christ, the universal saviour. The bitter water served to the fasting faithful at the end of the service on the day can be said of as the merciful caring of God of his people today just as He cared His old people at Marah. After that, we see them coming to Elim where they camped by the side of 12 springs and 70 palm trees. The twelve springs and 70 palm trees prefigure the 12 apostles and 70 evangelists of the New Testament Church respectively. (Ref:-Matthew 10 and Luke 10). Their arrival in Elim is indicative of the new and inexplicable experience of Christian Church with the risen Christ.

Gospel Saturday: – The day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday is generally known as Gospel Saturday. The holy Church began to observe this day as the day of commemoration of all the departed souls, in line with the going down of Christ into Hades after his crucifixion. Since Christ went to Hades to preach gospel to the departed souls there, it has its own place in the rites of the Church (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6). Bible speaks clearly that God has been merciful towards both living and the departed alike (Ruth 2:20). Since Christ’s redeeming mission includes even the departed souls, it is the Church’s responsibility to carry out the Lord’s mission for the salvation of all for and on His behalf in all humility, faith, hope and love. The Holy Communion celebrated on this day gives us an opportunity to have a fellowship with all the departed souls gone before us and to intercede for them so that they may get grace from the Lord. It is in a way, reaching out to the people of God on the other side of the veil of time.

The Easter Sunday: – ‘Easter’ is the most important feast for the people of Orthodoxy. Its importance is mainly because of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is in tune with the resurrection of Christ that the Church began observing Sunday as the New Sabbath day replacing the old Sabbath of Saturday. Lord Jesus rested on gospel Saturday in Hades fulfilling the old Sabbath as he did at the beginning of creation in his capacity as God, and began his new creation on the very next day, 1st or the 8th in the cycle of week, providing new phase of life for humanity. This is the reason why St. Paul said, “When one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As St. Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”

(I Corinthians 15:14. This feast gives us an opportunity to confess with our mouth that Jesus is our Lord and to believe in our heart that He was indeed raised from the dead fulfilling the biblical verse of Romans 10:9 in our lives and reassuring of our salvation. We all know that the risen Lord was seen appearing to many a people in various places and giving them all peace and Joy.

The main attraction of the day is the holy Cross clad in red clothing symbolizing the victory of Christ over death and evil. Isaiah 63 and Revelation 19: 11ff speak of this symbolism. Another main ritual attached to this feast is the elevation of the holy Cross and the blessing of the four directions, East, West, North and South. The biblical basis for this ritual is the Lords command to Abraham, “Lift up your eyes from where you are and look north and south, east and west. All the land that you see I will give to you and your offspring for ever…Go walk through the length and breadth of the land for I am giving it to you”.(Genesis 13: 14 ff) By this ritual, God renews his covenant with us and we are given the whole world for the service of God as stewards. By so doing, we are in fact, blessing the whole world in the Name of the risen Lord. The last commissioning of our Lord Jesus Christ is very relevant at this point, to go out into peoples everywhere and to make them His disciples by baptizing and teaching them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit(Mat 28:19). We are duty bound to comply with his commandments. We see Abraham afterwards going to live near the great trees of Mamre at Hebron where he is seen building an altar for God. It is indicative of the necessity of our coming closer to the holy Altar throughout our life. The active and sincere participation in every service of the holy week takes us to a blissful experience, and helps us to lead a life of repentance and righteousness.

Categories
Columns Opinions

“Significance of Symbols in Orthodox Christian Faith”

symbols1x
Symbolism is defined as the art or practice of expressing the invisible or intangible by means of visible or sensuous representation. Symbols make the communication and understanding effective and efficient in the field of Science, Art, Technology and Religion. In symbols two things are brought together, first something that is real and second something that represents that which is real. His Grace Dr. Mathews Mar Severios stated in his sermon on ‘Symbolism in Christian Worship’, “Worldly symbols are static and lifeless. But Christian symbols are dynamic and vibrant. Christian symbols are not meant for exhibition, but as a medium to reveal divine grace and experience it by means of sacraments.”

Symbols have a place in Christian worship as early as we can establish. The origin of Symbolism in Christianity can be traced to the catacombs. Catacombs were underground cemeteries, where Christians came together for fellowship in fear of persecution in the early days of our church history. There commences the earliest usage of symbols. St. Basil the great says, “Honoring the images leads to the prototype.”1Symbols used in Orthodox liturgy includes things, images, gestures and rituals with a definite meaning and purpose designed by the Holy Spirit inspired the fathers of our church. St. John Chrysostom cautions non-believers saying, “Dishonor shown to an image is dishonor shown to the original.”2 Purpose In Christianity, symbols are the medium holding the force and grace of manifesting the ineffable God to man. In other words, these signs carry us beyond the worldly realm into the true union and knowledge of things that are eternal and divine. Symbols serve to make invisible the visible. “For the invisible things of God since the creation of the world is made visible through the things that are made” (Romans 1:20). We see images in creation which remind us faintly the glory of God. (Psalm 19:1-3) A Symbol can represent something in the future, mystically shadowing forth what is to occur. For example, the ark represents the image of the mother of God; the burning bushes without being consumed prefigure the virgin birth (Exodus 3:2); the serpent brings before us him who vanquished on the cross the bite of the original serpent (John 3:14); the sea is a figure of baptism in water, the cloud represents the blessing of baptism in spirit (1 Corinthians 10:1-2). Even the law is depicted as a shadow of good things to come by St. Paul (Hebrew 10:1).

Symbols can be an expression of the past events; to help those who look upon it in after times that we may avoid evil and imitate goodness. St. Athanasius the great illustrates that, “The Jew worshipped the tablets of the law and the two golden cherubim in carved work, not because they honored gold or stone itself, but the Lord who has ordered them to be made.”3 (Jos.4:21-22, Ex.28:11-12, Ex.17:14). Leo, Bishop of Neopolis in Cyprus says, “We are worshiping Christ through the cross, not the wood of the cross.”

Our Lord Jesus used a lot of symbols during his public ministry to reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven and to teach mankind the right course of life and eternity. The parables are exclusively symbolic presentations to make things more comprehensible. (John 8:12; John 10:11, 14; John 10:7, 9; John 14:6; John 15:1, 5; Revelation 1:8,11, 17; Revelation 22:16; Mathew 5:13,14; John 1:29)

Worship is the symbol of veneration and of honor. There are different degrees of worship. St. John of Damascus had made the well-known distinction between Absolute worship and Relative worship. Absolute worship (Worship of Latria), is given to the God, who alone by nature is worthy of worship. Relative worship is the veneration given to material objects which remind us of God, to the saints who have gone before, and to our fellow Christians. For instance, Abraham bows before the sons of Heth (Gen.23: 7); Jacob bowed to the ground seven times before his brother Esau (Gen. 33:3), Brothers of Joseph bows before him (Gen.50: 18); Joshua bows before the messenger of the Gods (Jos. 5:14). It is for the sake of the God who is worshipful by nature, we honor his saints and servants (1 Sam.2:30). The creature is never to be worshipped instead of creator.

Distinctiveness
In Orthodox faith, Symbols never reflects the reality in an absolute way. They always leave something unstated. St. John of Damascus confirms that, “An image is a likeness of the original with a certain difference, for it is not an exact reproduction of original.”4 This allows symbols to serve as the proper language for what Orthodox theology calls “mystery”. God reveals himself to us through symbols of the Church. St. Gregory of Nazianzen endorses an image as an essential representation of its original5.

The mother Orthodox Church has always used visible things to help us understand invisible realities, which is beyond the reach of our senses. The use of symbols is a mode of revelation and communion, which surpasses verbal or intellectual communication. Symbols are not directly related to the realities in a literal sense. Instead, it stands for deep and broad meanings. It is simple, profound, and unique. St. John of Damascus echoes, “The image is a memorial, just what words are to listening ear. What a book is to the literate that an image is to the illiterate. The image speaks to the sight as words to the ear; it brings us understanding.”6

Symbolism is not about technical explications, but the quintessence of spirituality. Christian symbol has its basis on divine revelations. It is not evolved from self-desire. Instead, it is the Holy Spirit inspired representations. Symbols are meant to be edifying and for the purpose of preparing mankind to attain the perfection of the heavenly father. For example, the infinite god was revealed and comprehended as one and triune. It is not meant for intellectual debate and is beyond human understanding. It can be understood only through prayer, faith and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

Understanding the Symbols
Symbols used in sacrament can be comprehended only by faith. The first step in understanding a holy symbol is to have unification between the spiritual meaning of the symbol and us, in the Holy Spirit. It is not an intellectual or theoretical study. Intellectual approach seals the door of understanding of the symbols in the sacraments. It is not to be understood by the external elements and gestures. It is to be contemplated in spirit.

The understanding of symbols in the sacraments and church is beyond sensual experience. It facilitates the exaltation of the creature in the likeness and image of the creator, through meditating unfathomable acts of the creator behind the creation. Man is destined to bear the image of the uncreated God. We have to accept this mystery with gratitude and obedience towards our creator. It is not an imaginary contemplation through prayers. The vain imagination can lead us into spiritual distress. St. John of Damascus reinstates the essence of comprehending symbols in liturgy testifying, “I do not worship matter, but I worship the Creator of matter, who for my sake became material and deigned to dwell in matter, who through matter effected my salvation.”7 The use of material objects and even images in worship enjoys a sanction in the Old Testament; for the Ark of the Covenant was adorned with the cherubim and Aaron’s staff and the tablets were placed within, and the God commanded Moses to make an image of a serpent to heal all who were bitten by snakes in the wilderness.

Holy Qurbana is not an intellectual remembrance to mediate. We should partake in it believing it is the body and blood of Christ for our internal transformation and purification. There are a lot of symbols used in the Holy Qurbana as things, gestures and rituals which can be realized and experienced only in worship with truth and the Holy Spirit. Besides, the Architecture of our Churches, virtually everything we see in an Orthodox Church symbolizes and calls to mind some aspect of our meeting with eternal Divinity.

The study we have here is pretty brief. Everything, we do in our sacraments and other rituals have its own meaning and purpose. Neither more nor less, everything is done in the exact capacity being designed by the fathers of the church inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is tedious to discuss everything in detail in a succinct analysis. In a nutshell, symbols in the Orthodox worship are not to be taken as pieces of artistic device; rather as windows or doors into spiritual world. They are designed to enhance the spiritual life of the believer through emulating the virtues of the prototype. Consequently, symbols can be a blessing in our lives if we use them in a spiritual way.

Sources:
1 St. John of Damascus, Holy Images, Translated by Mary H Allies, Thomas Baker, London, 1898, p.24.
2. Ibid. p.121.
3. Ibid. p.120.
4. Ibid. p.10
5. Ibid. p.112
6. Ibid. p.19
7. Ibid. p.16

Categories
Columns Opinions

Can a Robber be justified?

cartoon
It will be rude to yell at the human responses to a robber or any man of that kind seen in suspicious and unexpected situations. Thieves are common around the world, and they walk around with different mottos. Some are attempting to get a meal for the day while some are proving to make easy money out of avarice. Some thieves are culturally and socially unacceptable, but some are easily borne. Some are hidden and some are known. This article is some thought, you may call it crazy thoughts, after listening to a friend who had an encounter with a robber!

A robber robs! Recently, in India, at the residence of a friend of mine, a robber came around. It was around 1am on the day after Christmas. My friend came outside to turn off the light and to make sure that the doors are locked to realize a man, in the dress of a thief, hanging around the manger. The manger was specially built and embellished during the Christmas season to remind and remember the nativity of Christ. Christ came down from heaven, leaving His heavenly possessions for the human beings who were lost and were wandering around not knowing what to do. It contained shapes of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, Shepherds, Angels etc. The robber was attempting to take these little pieces!

It was God’s grace that this robber was a good one, at least in some sense, that his attempt was not to harm anyone, neither was it to grab money and other possessions from the house. The family surrounded this young man, who received an iron pole with him, but was left out. The police was called and they came later to grab him. The reason for this robber to stay calm and not attempting to resist or even escape still remains unexplainable to me. I would think that the first instinct is to run away when the robbery is caught. In that location were no police or any young, enthusiastic muscle men surrounding him.

This takes me to the question: “Who is a Robber?” The literal definition might read that one who robs is called a robber. But don’t we have guidelines, the gray side and so on while we define robberies. Don’t we define the strengths of the robberies? For example, if you see a malnourished and hungry man grabbing some food from a store or from some rich person, what will the initial thoughts be? Even though our conscience tells us that it was a wrong act, the human value comes into play to forgive the mistake. But can it be justified? It more or less depends on the psychological state of the human beings. Some might get him down and some might let him live. Either way, what the robber did is wrong, but to forgive is a God given quality for humans!

There are other kinds of robberies too. There are many who rob the government through corruption, the band robberies, identity thieves and many more, whose intention is selfishness and greed. Snatching away the money of others for their own luxury is what we find out here. Some do it very cunningly that the society will support! Here, the act is the same, but a different motto. These people will have more influence too, and a better chance to escape from any legal actions. This shows a corrupted society.

Thinking about the first robber, who is robbing for food, some insights might be helpful. Do we ever look beyond the scene and think about the reason of his action? If it is hunger, we might say the person is lazy to do any work. What if the person does not have a job and is not getting one at all after multiple tries? Do we, as a society, have any concern over these people? The poverty ratios and those who do not have food to eat even once a day are higher than we think. The reason for it is usually not the laziness. It is often the past that has brought them into lower socioeconomic status, which is not improving at all. The capitalistic societies with the rich getting richer are a newer version of the slavery system in the past.

Marber stated that “the proportion of the world’s population living in poverty declined from over 80 percent in 1820 to under 15 percent in 2000” (77). Even though we claim technological advancement, higher living standards etc. Life for many still remains in the dark. Sometimes we bring up to globalization! The basic structure of globalization, being developed by the rich and developed nations, has been in favor of them, improving their economies. It has not improved the developing or underdeveloped countries, according to the promises. “The so-called global village is a world whose basic ground rules are being centrally managed to the fullest extent that grossly unequal power allows. Yes, nations have never been equal, historically speaking, but the distinctive character of modern globalization is that it has made international inequality much worse” (Ilesanmi 80).

The world of human beings is divided into multiple sects based on similarities and differences between each other. The similarities, in the present century as well as in the past centuries, are mainly based on the socioeconomic status of the people. The rich form communities with the rich while the poor stay together. The privileged stay together while those without privileges stay together. The rich and the privileged, those with a higher socioeconomic status, keep the power and rule over the rest. This classic scenario has been prevailing for centuries, even when many influential social activists attempted to change it. From Jesus Christ, who said to give everything to the poor, to Karl Marx who brought communism, to Gandhi who fought non-violently against discrimination and for freedom, the world has seen many leaders and many are even following them. But the inequality still prevails.

In Christian understanding, free will, equality and love are three essential characteristics of humans and they are both constructive and destructive. The free will can be used or abused. Equality and love can or cannot be practiced. If the free will is used for constructive and good purposes that promote equality and love, the world that we currently live in might be different. The privileged and the unprivileged, the oppressors and the oppressed etc. have always been present. The unprivileged and the oppressed always struggle with their lives and it continues from generation to generation as a tradition (Osthathious, 2004). In India, which had the caste system, the low caste people were considered untouchables by the upper castes. Even though the government assured an equal opportunity to all, the majority still lives in a lower socioeconomic status.

The environment present in these situations is very vulnerable to immorality. The ethical and moral values learned might be totally different compared to the privileged classes. Access to the services and knowledge about them are different. And the majority of the privileged will not leave their privileges for the unprivileged. Understanding the values taught by Christianity, I consider holding hands with the poor for their social and economic wellbeing as an essential duty. Supporting them with knowledge, time and money are very essential. The theology of a classless society (2004) concluded “What we need is a world family in which each member works for the whole family and the whole family takes care of the old and the sick who cannot work. The purpose of the work will be the benefit of all and not the benefit of the worker alone” (Osthathious p. 39). Even though the above mentioned statement is overwhelming, an attempt to do the least could be done.

So, shall we blame the robber who robs for food? Or shall we get together for an action plan to eliminate poverty, or at least to provide food, clothing and shelter for those who don’t have them? Easy to think, hard to practice! Lord, please guide us all.

References
Ilesanmi, Simeon O. “Leave No Poor Behind: Globalization and the Imperative of Socioeconomic and Development Rights from an African Perspective.” Journal of Religious Ethics 32.1 (2004): 71-94. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
Marber, Peter. “Globalization and Its Contents.” Annual Editions: Global Issues 10/11. Ed. Robert M. Jackson. 26. New York: McGraw-Hills, 2010.
Osthathious, G. M (2004). The sin of being rich in a poor world. Thiruvalla, India: CSS.
Osthathious, G. M (2004). Theology of a classless society. Thiruvalla, India: CSS.

Categories
Columns Features Opinions

Congratulations to and prayers for Our President Barack Obama & Vice President Joe Biden!

President Barack Obama Takes Oath of the Office
Since inauguration day – January 20 – fell on a Sunday this year, Mr. Obama was officially sworn in at a very brief ceremony just before noon in the Blue Room of the White House, taking the oath from the Chief Justice John Roberts using a family bible, ahead of Monday’s public events. During a small and succinct ceremony at the White House, Obama recited the constitutionally mandated oath of office for the third of four expected times during his time in office. Embracing his children after the oath, his younger daughter Sasha was heard to whisper “good job, Daddy!” “I did it!” he responded, before she observed “You didn’t mess up.” Sunday’s official swearing-in, administered by Chief Justice John Roberts, was the 57th inauguration of a president in American history.

Vice President Joe Biden took the first official step of the inaugural weekend, swearing the oath of office as he stood among friends, family and a circle of Democratic power players of his political history – and, perhaps, future. In a brief morning ceremony at the Naval Observatory, the vice president’s official residence, Biden put a hand on his family Bible, held by his wife, and swore for the second time to uphold the duties of the vice president’s office. “It’s an honor, it’s an honor,” Biden told Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor immediately after she administered the oath, the fourth female jurist to perform that duty for a president or vice president in the country’s history. Then he turned to the crowd of 120 and explained that he was leaving immediately to join President Obama to lay a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery. Shortly afterward, in a ceremony that has become a traditional part of the inaugural proceedings, the two men stood at attention at the cemetery, saluting at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as taps played in the background.

More than million people attended the swearing-in and the inauguration celebration of President Obama’s second term on Monday on the western steps of the U.S. Capitol.

In his 2013 Inaugural address, President Barack Obama touched on climate change, partisan bickering, and the protection of rights for gays, immigrants, and women in his second inaugural address delivered before more than a million people standing on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

“Vice President Biden, Mr. Chief Justice, members of the United States Congress, distinguished guests, and fellow citizens:

Each time we gather to inaugurate a president, we bear witness to the enduring strength of our Constitution. We affirm the promise of our democracy. We recall that what binds this nation together is not the colors of our skin or the tenets of our faith or the origins of our names. What makes us exceptional — what makes us American — is our allegiance to an idea, articulated in a declaration made more than two centuries ago:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” ……………………………… My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction — and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service. But the words I spoke today are not so different from the oath that is taken each time a soldier signs up for duty, or an immigrant realizes his/her dream. My oath is not so different from the pledge we all make to the flag that waves above and that fills our hearts with pride. They are the words of citizens, and they represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. Let each of us now embrace, with solemn duty and awesome joy, what is our lasting birthright. With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history, and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom. Thank you, God blesses you, and may He forever bless these United States of America.”

The ceremony followed by an inaugural parade in front of the White House, that featured many branches of the U.S. armed services and two inaugural balls with performances by singers including Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Katy Perry, and Stevie Wonder.

Our prayers are with President Obama and the Administration. May God provide necessary guidance and wisdom to our President and the Administration to lead our nation to prosperity and stronger economic conditions. Let us join in a –

A Prayer for The President and the Administration of the United States

O Lord, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favor to behold and bless thy servants The President of the United States, Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and all others in administration; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteous with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Categories
Columns Features Opinions

Dr Mar Thimothios favours regional centres for churches in Africa; plans family get together in Kerala on Jan 4

MMTIMOTIOS-(1)

# Annual family get together planned in Kerala on January 4, 2013
# Regional centres/councils in Africa will be on similar lines in UK
# Metropolitan favours aligning these with backward dioceses
# Prefers an autonomous nature for the Diocese
# For developing OTS as a major centre of learning
# Chalks out ambitious plans for Menorah Orthodox Centre

HG Dr Mathews Mar Thimothios, Metropolitan of UK-Europe and Africa Diocese, visited Sultanate of Oman on his maiden visit as the chief guest at the Muscat Mar Gregorios Orthodox Maha Edvaka’s 40th Harvest Festival. Dr Mar Thimothios is a reputed scholar with proficiency in five foreign languages. Deeply influenced by David Livingston, a noted Scottish and one of the greatest European explorers of Africa, His Grace has a Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from Biblical Institute, Rome and a doctorate in Psalm 24 from Pontifical Institute, Rome where he was based for 7 years. In a recent interview, Mar Thimothios discusses about the future plans and visions for his Diocese.
Excerpts:

Major challenges faced since taking over:

UK-Europe and Africa Diocese which I have been shepherding since 2009 faces more of a geographical challenge. There is no free movement and to enter each country in my diocese you need to have visas. It’s a sort of a unity in diversity! The work involves small countries and the challenges itself is a blessing for the Diocese.

This faced with the vagaries of different languages between each continent which includes various currencies. All in all it’s a unique diocese with different time zones and cultural differences. I see the role of the bishop here more as a uniting force of all these varying factors for which the Metropolitan has to play an important role.

When I took charge in 2009 as the Diocesan Bishop, we had only one church as our own in London but now we have another own new church in Bristol and about 21 congregations in major cities.

St Thomas Orthodox Church at St Agnell’s Lane, Hemel Hempstead is the second church which is owned by Malankara Orthodox Church in UK and built in traditional architecture. The church was consecrated in September 2012.

We had a major family conference in September 2012 in which over 400 members took part which brought our community people from diverse background on a common platform and are looking forward to the next conference in January 4, 2013.

We recently launched Harmony, the monthly news letter for the Diocese at the St Gregorios Orthodox Church on Diocesan Day. The news letter helps in updates for the parishes and to be mutually connected.

Visions and dreams for the Diocese

At present we have UK as a complete regional centre with formation of a regional council and have major presence in the United Kingdom from North to South and in the central part of UK.

We have a major say in UK and are active in all ecumenical boards. I was elected Chairman for the Oriental Orthodox Church Council in UK for three-year tenure from 1999. The community consists of the Council of Anglican Churches and Council of Catholic Churches. The Bishop of London, Rt Revd and Rt Hon Richard Chartres, awarded me the Order of St Mellitus in recognition of our partnership in the Gospel in July 2012.

Next, our plan is to target Ireland and efforts are on to create another regional council there since about 200 Orthodox families have made their presence at present.

At a later stage, I would like to relate churches in UK to any other diocese in Kerala so that the size of the diocese is reduced and the diocese is easy to manage. This will help develop the Diocese on a autonomous nature and could take take place within a year or so. We will strive to develop such a system and place some promising young priests for ministry work.

There are also smaller Orthodox congregations in France, Holland, Belgium and Hungary which we want to target. Also Orthodox congregations both big and small exist in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

The impact on the lives of the faithful post financial crisis:

Major migration to Europe took place from 2000 onward. Usually it is the nursing profession which is in demand. The spouses do other menial jobs and contribute much to the upliftment of the family. Initially they struggle to settle, to have a home, children’s education and such. When faced with trials in life, the natural way of the faithful is to seek help from the savoiur and rely upon Him.

What are the plans for the African continent

Our next major focus area will be the vast continent of Africa where we have 13 places of worship with about 150 families. We have parishes in South Africa, Kenya, and Ethiopia and also unorganized Orthodox faithful in Uganda, Tanzania, Namibia and Malawi. Rev Fr Joci John is in-charge of the parsonage in Pretoria and Johannesburg.

We want to concentrate in countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Ethiopia and plan to send two more experienced vicars there soon. I will be planning a visit to Africa during Passion Week in March 2013 and efforts are being made to channelize more large number of faithful. Setting up of a regional council on similar lines like UK, will be made, though it’s not that easy. But we are definitely working in that direction. Most of the countries mentioned have a stable economy. We also plan to speed up various missionary activities in the name of Late Lamented Dr Geevarghese Mar Osthathios say in about two to three years time from now.

Can you explain about the dreams, visions of Menorah Orthodox Centre

Menorah Indian Orthodox Centre is based at Venmony, Chengannoor. The Centre is primarily striving to promote Orthodox ethos. The centre is presently set up on a one acre plot. Presently we have a Remban and seminary students who are engaged in serious work. The centre conducts yearly youth orientation classes for children from UK who come to Kerala during vacation in January each year. We want to build the infrastructure further and conduct more seminars and conferences. We also conducted blood donation camps and a Pravasi Sangamma for families from the diocese last year.

Can you explain about the January 4 Family Conference:

The Diocese is planning its family get together in India on January 4 from 10 am to 1 pm at Menorah Orthodox Centre, Venmony, Kerala. Rev Dr Jacob Kurian, Principal-Orthodox Theological Seminary will be the chief guest. General meeting, seminars, love feast are being arranged at the event. Seminars on Catholicate Centenary and psychology of Diaspora community will be conducted as part of the event. Bishops, priests, ecumenical church leaders, social and political dignitaries will attend the meeting. Rev Dr Jacob Kurian will lead the seminar on the theme of this year’s meeting on ‘Bharatheeyathayum Navodhanavum.’

Your views as MOSC celebrates its Catholicate centenary, future plans:

Catholicate Centenary (1912-2012) symbolizes freedom which is generated from the people, by the people and for the people. Ours is a unique church having its own constitution. The Malankara Association is a large elected body with over 4,000 members and maintains its own fervor and democratic principles. The Episcopal congregation is binding and approved by the Holy Episcopal Synod. Eastern Orthodox churches look upon us as a beacon of hope. We have to take care not to lose our democratic principles since ours is a universal church.

This is a new set up where 3 desks have been set up. These are the Ecumenical and Spiritual which is being looked after by Elizabeth Joy. Next is the PRO who sources matters for the newsletters, websites and other office administration matter and is headed by Saji Varghese as Deputy Secretary for Public Relations. Lastly is the registration and accounts which often looks after charity related aspects and training courses.

Message to the rest of the church in relation to making women’s participation more visible in our church’s life and witness..

Women have already been playing a leading role long before empowerment.…. They have far more opportunities now and Martha Mariya Samajams in UK has been very active from long. The diocese backs women empowerment to the full though none of them have been elected to the council as yet. Even this could be a reality sooner or later. For better functioning of the Diocesan office, we have split up major jobs into different desks. One of them is ecumenical relations and spiritual organization and appointed a veteran in Mrs Elizabeth Joy as the Deputy Secretary. She will make timely consultations with the Regional Secretary of the Diocese for the smooth functioning of the Desk.

Suggestions for OTS seminary, Kottayam:

Our primary base is seminary and seminary leaders are very important. This is amplified and reflected in the church by the leaders. Present Principal of Orthodox Theological Seminary (OTS), Rev Fr Jacob Kurian, is doing a great job in leadership training and direction for the seminarians. But we need to have more professional and dedicated teachers. Through this we can develop OTS as a major centre of learning and develop it as an autonomous institute. Orthodox tradition and culture can be promoted and we need more resource persons and experts in all aspects.

What are the specific interests of your grace as a scholar

I would say my special interest is in liturgical study since our liturgy is more rich and dynamic and its expressions more archaic. But it is not translated and transmitted to the people and ours is highly Biblical. Something has to be done in this regard.Thanking you for spending your time for the interview.

Categories
Columns Features Opinions

Attappadi Mission seeking your help

attappadi-mission
History: History dates back to 1991 as the outcome of the ever burning missionary zeal of H.B.Thomas Mar Thimotheos Metropolitan (Present Valiya Bava Thirumeni) of Malabar Diocese. Few young celebate priests who had the divine call, decided to forsake everything for the noble cause of the missionary work. The outcome of this was the inception of StThomas Ashram and Mission (The Society of the Missionaries of St. Thomas)

Location: Nellippathy, Agali P.O., Attappady, Palakkad District, on the banks of river Siruvanl, hardly 2Kms from Goollkkadav Township on Chittoor Dam Road. Goolikkadav is 50 Kms away from Coimbatore (Via Thadagom•Anakkatty•Mannarkkad Road) and 36 Kms from Mannarkkad Town

Objectives

1. Spiritual empowering of mentally tormented
2. Educating economically backward
3. Helping in exigencies and disasters
4. Parenting the Orphans
5. Implementing health awareness
6. To provide home for the homeless
7. To conduct marriage of poor girls
8. To provide sponsorship tor Nursing Students
9. To open opportunities for self employment

MISSION ACTIVITIES AT A GLANCE

1. St.Gregorlos Balabhavan
2. St.Mary’s Ballkabhavan
3. Sneha Bhavan

Now the mission has dedicated people to work for it. If our faithful are interested to share their love and a little money for this mission, with their participation the mission will grow to its fullness. Please remember the mission in your daily prayers and be concerned about the little ones, those are precious in the eyes of our Lord.

Call the center when you want to show your concern:
Superior: Fr. M.D. Yuhanon Ramban (Mob: 9447277690)
Manager: Fr.S.Paul. (Mob: 9446789602)

Read more
Brochure
website

Categories
Columns Opinions

A Prayer for the Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre, Newtown, CT

sandyhook

28 dead, including 20 kids, in Newtown, Conn., elementary school shooting: Gunman Adam Lanza, 20, kills teacher mom in her Newtown home, drives her car to her school and opened fire before killing self

A Prayer for the Victims of Sandy Hook Elementary School Massacre, Newtown, CT – By Fr. Alexander J. Kurien, Washington, D.C.

Heavenly Father our Benevolent Lord, Creator and Sustainer of us all, hear us, Your children, at this time of unbearable pain during this Holiday Season. We come to You because You are our Savior and Benefactor Who grants peace and solace to those who suffer. It is only You that can heal our wounds and ease our pain, especially of those crying families of those Children and Adults died in this massacre. We here by pray that you comfort the citizens of Newtown, CT at this time of terrible tragedy of trial and crisis. Shield them and us under the shadow of Your Cross. Grant to us, especially those friends and families in Newtown, Your peace, Your love and assistance. Bestow solace and strength to the families of the innocent victims of the barbaric acts of violence. Christ our eternal King and God, You have destroyed death and the devil by Your Cross and have restored man to life by Your Resurrection; give rest, Lord, to the soul of Your children who have fallen asleep in this tragedy, in Your Kingdom. Touch and heal those surviving young children of the Sandy Hook Elementary school, their siblings, parents, relatives, the teachers, and other employees. Work through the doctors, nurses, and emergency crews helping those injured and their families. We also pray for the emergency responders, the heroes of today, the school teachers protected the children, the local and federal law enforcement personnel, and the government officials responded and assisting the Victims. Help us and people throughout the world to comprehend that we are all your children. We are all brothers and sisters created in your image and likeness. Guide us to live in harmony with one another, respectful of each other’s human rights and human dignity. We ask this of you; for You are a benevolent and loving God and to You do we ascribe glory, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. Amen

Categories
Columns Opinions

Mathews Mar Barnabas : A Tribute

mar-barnabas2

A tribute to the Late Lamented Mathews Mar Barnabas (1924-2012) by Elizabeth Joy , Deputy Secretary, Desk of Spiritual Organisations in UK

I have never met you
Yet, have heard so much
About you as a teacher
A very good preacher
Who needed few words if any
As you are witnessed to by many

A caring shepherd who could lead
An inspiringleader to sow the seed
Seed of Love, humility and sincerity
Filled with deep Spirituality
I wish we could embrace and share
Even a bit of what you were

Your love for God and for people
Would ring aloud from the tallest steeple
It will be heard by generations to come
Pray that your life of simplicity
Be reflected in every home
They’re hallmarks of a great Spirituality

It is sad to say bye to a Role Model like you
We adore your saintly life & wish to renew
Our own life styles, to be simple and true
Pray for us, help us to follow you
We take note of your struggles and strife
We rejoice in your birth and your life!

You will forever live in our hearts
As generation after generation departs
As we specially observe Human Rights Day
You show the possible way
To address and wipe out poverty
To bring about true liberty

Your wooden cross, staff and simple attire
Are symbols of our faith that we admire
There within the wooden staff and cross
We find the Saintly Bishop moving across
Time and space to preach God’s love
May we commune with you from ‘here and now’.

Go in peace dear Shepherd and lead
From now on, please intercede
May we choose the simple life-style
Be willing to walk another mile
As we live out the Gospel
That you’ve lived amidst your people!

Categories
Columns Features Opinions

Mar Barnabas in Our Bold Memories


His Grace Mathews Mar Barnabas was unique in many respects. The well known simplicity, humility, sincerity, innocence, deep spirituality and purity at heart, His Grace was always jutting out in memory. His Grace’s life was that of complete surrender to the Lord and to the Malankara Orthodox Church. His Grace’s hospitality was also well-known. No one leaves the aramana without earing something. Even when His Grace comes to our churches or homes, His Grace makes sure all eat with His Grace at the same time.

Towards the end of His Grace’s life, there was a brightness of divine presence on His Grace’s face. Life in America for His Grace was a blessed time. So many changes took place and all for the positive growth of the Church and the people’s life. The various books His Grace written are all proofs of His Grace’s divine nature.

At this time it is difficult to come to terms with the loss. One thing gives me consolation is that His Grace will be a great intercessor for all. His Grace’s prayers from heaven will be a solace to many.

The Northeast American Diocese owes much to His Grace for its spiritual well-being. It was not an easy time when His Grace arrived in 1992 but somehow His Grace overcame all hurdles by His Grace’s prayer life. And I am sure His Grace’s spiritual presence will continue to nurture us. Now that His Grace has joined the Lord, let us hope that His Grace’s intercession will continue for us all. The different great qualities that we can emulate
will enrich us.

Fr. M. K. Kuriakose (North East American Diocesan Secretary)