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Become instruments of peace and healing in this broken world: Mar Nicholovos

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It is “cliché” to talk about the themes of peace, love, and joy during this Holy Season. In the context of the American culture, it is probably the three themes emphasized during the months of November and December, and then forgotten the rest of the year.

We speak in a triumphant and emphatic manner when it comes to these themes in every divine office of the Church. Today however, we have either accepted a shallow understanding of them, or altogether have rejected them. The only theme we have consistently been living in is fear – the fear of terrorism, the fear of religion, the fear of mass shootings, the fear of refugees. This “culture of fear” has significantly grown and trapped us.

The Feast of Nativity is the celebration of the birth of Christ born to a family who was homeless and seeking refuge in Bethlehem. The Lord preferentially opted to be identified with the poor in His birth. The early parts of His life were spent as a refugee fleeing from the threatening political rulers of that time. Today, the world is being challenged by the presence of millions of refugees who are victims of the political “super powers”. We are reminded that the Lord is not in shopping malls or mansions but among the refugees and the homeless.

This feast is a reminder for us to advocate against the social and political structures that create refugees, and human suffering. This can be done if we actively accept peace, love, and joy – which are all in found in Jesus Christ – the new born King!

May this glorious Feast be an occasion for us to recommit ourselves to the Lord and become instruments of peace and healing in this broken world. May Christ the King, and Redeemer of our souls, sustain you and your loved ones on this Holy Day and throughout the New Year!

(Content of the Kalpana sent to all parishes of the Northeast American Diocese by the Metropolitan Zachariah Mar Nicholovos on the feast of the Nativity bearing the NO. CK.No.16/2015)

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A Food for thought on the Holy Week Services

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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. Liturgy is a recreated and reactivated reality. 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 whereas 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 worshipping 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 emphasising the importance of this celebration(Genesis 49:8-12,Zachariah 9:9-12,Isaiah 51:9-11,1John2:7-15,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 worship 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. 5:9ff.

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. In Luke 23: 27, we read of a large number of people including wailing and weeping women following Jesus. They were bearing witness to this heart-rending incident and were asked to weep for them and for their children. By attending to this liturgy on Good Friday, we get a chance to bear witness to Christ’s passion and to regret of our iniquities just as the women were asked to do. Each time we make a sign of Cross during the liturgy, we get a sense belonging to Christ and we, ourselves, crucify all our self-indulgent passions, and desires for we are asked by St. Paul to do so. In Galatians 5:24, St. Paul says, “You cannot belong to Christ, unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires”.

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, and 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(Mathew 2:11,John 12:7). Their offering of myrrh betokens of this truth. Myrrh was one of the articles used for embalming the dead body (John 19:39). 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 water in Marah turns to be sweet and potable. People of God are seen getting a promise of healing from God following this event. The using 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. Although the bitter juice tastes hard to drink, those who drink it in all faith, hope and love, will be able to imbibe the taste of spiritual flavour. If we comply with the commandment of God, we will get everything that we need. One who attends the holy service of the Church with all seriousness and sincerity would get what one needs.

After that, we see the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses 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: 14ff) 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. It is in a way praising God or rather lifting up His glorious name by way of an action. 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 baptising 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.

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Secrets to Happiness in 2015!; A New Year’s Message

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Per recent events such as the Ebola, universal uprising of terrorism, multiple shootings, several major plane crashes, Cruise ships and Ferries sinking, many children went missing, it is obvious that we are living in a time of growing uncertainty and personal anxiety. A renowned researcher writes that as we have clearly in a period of global instability. I know I am speaking to people with health concerns, financial worries, career issues, marital problems, spiritual struggles, unanswered prayers, and serious concerns about what the new year will bring for you and your loved ones. Often we say “Happy New Year” rather superficially—many times without any thought at all. We should ask “will 2015 be a happy new year for us”? In every generation believers have faced moments when fear threatened to overwhelm faith. God’s word to his people is always “Fear not” – a phrase repeated 365 times in the Bible—once for every day in the year. No matter what happens in 2015—or in the years to come—God’s word to you is the same: “Fear not – Your God is with you.” As we prepare for 2015, I want us to focus on three Christian principles to be Extremely Happy in 2015.

At any given moment I have everything I truly need…
True contentment means understanding that at any given moment I have everything I truly need. In Philippians 4: verse 11 he declares, “I have learned to be content” and in verse 12 he says, “I have learned the secret of being content.” Why was not everything given to us as a gift from God? The answer is that God is most glorified when we struggle through the process of being weaned from our dependence on the things of the world. To be weaned is to have something removed from your life which you thought you couldn’t live without. Most of us live on the opposite principle. In our hearts we think, “I would be happy if only I had a new car or a new job or a new dress or a new husband or a new wife.” Since life is hardly ever that simple, we stay frustrated when we ought to be happy. No wonder we are never satisfied. Instead of being weaned from the world, we are wedded to it. Or maybe I should say, welded to it. I almost certainly do not have everything I want. And I probably do not have everything I think I need. This part of the definition means that God has so ordered the universe that no matter where you are right now you have everything you truly need to be content. That is an awesome statement—and I know it’s one thing to say that on Sunday morning, it’s something else to believe that when your husband walks out on you or the doctor says, “I’m sorry. There’s nothing else we can do.”

How do we know this is true? We know it because God has said it is true. He has promised to supply our needs. He has guaranteed that he will feed and clothe us. He has promised to hear our prayers. He has given the Holy Spirit to lead and the Word of God to guide us. He has redeemed us from our sins, given us new life, placed us in Christ, endowed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, seated us with Christ in heaven, given us abundant life, filled us with his Spirit, placed us in the body of Christ, and promised us a way of escape in the moment of temptation. He sent his angels to encamp around us, translated us from the realm of darkness into the kingdom of his dear Son, sealed us with the Spirit who is the earnest of our salvation, caused us to pass from death to life, justified us while we were still ungodly, and called us his children, He adopted us into his family, sanctified us, promised never to leave us, set our feet on the road to heaven, broken Satan’s power, removed the fear of death, and guaranteed our future resurrection.

If all that is true, how can we doubt that God will give us what we need when we need it? That applies to every area of life—to our finances, our job, our health, our marriage, our friendships, our children, our parents, every relationship of life, and to all our dreams for the future. You have got everything you need to be content right now—and if you are not, please do not blame God. It is not his fault. He has not changed His love and promises for us.

Contentment comes from my confidence in God…
Paul knew that riches are not the way to contentment. So he was willing to hold material things with an open hand. He refused to become a slave to wealth. He could walk away from prosperity when service to the Lord demanded it. What about you? Are you killing yourself to get that gold medal? Let me remind you – if you’re not happy without it, you won’t be happy with it either. Verse 12 lays this out very clearly. “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.” In case we missed it he adds this phrase, “Whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” It’s easy to assume Paul means being well fed is good and going hungry is bad. But that’s not correct. Poverty and prosperity both have their good uses—and both can lead us astray spiritually. If we take the words of Jesus seriously, riches can wreck the soul much quicker than poverty – St. Matthew 19:23-26.

God has ordained every circumstance of my life…
I know of no truth more important than this. As a priest, I constantly face this question in dealing with the seeming inequities of life — why the wicked prosper while the righteous often suffer in this world! Hardly a week goes by that I do not hear about someone in one of our congregations who is battling with cancer. What I cannot explain is why it happens to one person and not to another. You can go through life asking, Why did this happen? And you will end up frustrated and disappointed because in this life there is rarely a satisfactory answer to that question. We simply do not know why some people live long and prosper while others never seem to catch a break. In the world’s terms, they are victims of bad luck. From the standpoint of Holy Scripture, we can only say that God is working out his plan in ways we cannot see from our limited vantage point. This becomes very personal when I pray and cry with members of various congregations as they face the uncertainties of life. One thing I have learned is that there are no guarantees, which is why a long time ago I stopped making promises about what God will do in a particular situation. Generally, I do not know what God is going to do, and I am content to leave matters in his hands.

Therefore, what is the secret of contentment in 2015? The answer is that, my God will give me strength in every circumstance to do his will. This is the true meaning of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” This takes more than positive thinking. You have got to have Jesus Christ on the inside. We have the power of the indwelling Christ who gives us the strength we need. Is Jesus Christ enough for the problems of life? Is his broken body enough? Is his shed blood sufficient? Is his intercession in heaven able to sustain us? Can his power meet the problems of life? Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, and the saints across the ages testify that Jesus Christ is enough. There is one thing I know for certain from my personal and family life. God has given us everything we need in 2015. Therefore, we can be content whatever happens, and we need not fear the future.

I am praying for the very best in life for you and your loved ones. Wishing you and your lovely family a fabulous 2015 with full of great achievements and experiences – A meaningful chapter full of contentment waiting to be written in your New Year. Thank you for your continued prayers. And may God bless us all. Amen.

happy_new_year_2015

The writer Rev. Fr. Alexander J. Kurien is the Deputy Associate Administrator at the Office of U.S. Government-Wide Policy of the United States Government

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The miracle of Christmas

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The Church waits in anticipation to celebrate the glorious Feast of the birth of our Lord, and Savior Jesus Christ. This infant Messiah, was born into this world as a poor, homeless child. This child had to leave His homeland because the political powers of that time, felt this child would topple their political regime.

As two thousand years passed we have forgotten the harsh realities surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ and what He represented. Even today while we measure the success of the Christmas celebrations in terms of dollars spent in malls and the quantity of food eaten, homelessness, displacement and poverty abounds.
In the midst of extreme affluence and abundance hopelessness, poverty, and deprivation exist. As we celebrate this festival of peace we cannot avoid the presence of violence that stares us unblinkingly whether it is the police brutality, terrorism or even violent protests against structural violence. We sadly watch the politically powerful trying to do away with minimal state support the poor receive.

All these are sufficient to make us desperately give up hope. However, our Lord identified Himself in His birth and human life with the poor, and the dejected. The miracle of Christmas is found in the coming of the Messiah, who identifies Himself with those who have lost hope, those who are dejected, those who are displaced, those who are impoverished, those who are hungry, and those who are grieving. Christ offers hope, in the person of Himself. The One Who was born in the manger, offers the might of His arms, and lifts up those who are oppressed, grief-stricken, and poor. His presence is an invitation for all of mankind to experience the presence of a God Who cares, a God Who is present, and a God Who refuses to turn away from His people.

As we approach the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord, it is our prayer that this Feast calls upon each of us, to not take the easy route of closing our eyes to the struggles of society. Rather, it is an invitation to take the narrow path, and be like Christ, and refuse to turn our back on our fellow brothers and sisters. It is an invitation to stand up to the policies that seek to minimize any kind of support to the poor.

It is our prayer, Christ our Hope, will be born not only in your hearts. May He, Christ the King, and Redeemer of our souls, sustain you and your loved ones on this Holy Day, and throughout the New Year!

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Christmas thoughts; Turning to the inner light

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From behind my glass window on the third floor of the Upasana block at the St Thomas Orthodox Theological Seminary, Nagpur, I can watch a flock of sheep grazing on a little, not so green meadow, decked with neem trees and thorny bushes beyond the campus.

It is a winter morning. Two shepherd-girls, wrapped in cheap, colorful blankets, huddle behind the sheepfold in the hazy winter sun.

There is a small pond and a narrow canal nearby . The water in it reflects the sky, and the passing clouds resemble a flock of white sheep.

In this Christmas season one is naturally reminded of a biblical, Palestinian pastoral scene at the time of the birth of Christ.. At night from behind the same window I gaze at the stars, some brighter than others, and occasionally some shooting stars as well….

Again a reminder of the nativity scene, more than 2000 years ago. It was in these same Advent days that one heard the heart-renting cry of innocent children and the inconsolable wailing of families from Peshawar, Pakistan. Demonic cruelty to the budding life of children again reminded us of biblical times, murder of children as ordered by Herod who was scared by the news of the birth of the Messiah: “A voice was heard in Rama, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children; and she would not be comforted because they are not.” ( Matt. 2:18 citing Prophet Jeremiah).
How does one fit these bits and pieces together in the puzzle of life?? The nature of sheep and the social condition of the shepherds in India probably remain very similar to those of Bethlehem 2000 years ago in spite of the great changes in the world. The sun and stars have not perceptibly changed in this astrologically negligible period. And human nature? Has it changed any bit? War, Violence and human cruelty tragically challenge our tall claims of progress and cultural evolution. Progress seems to be a myth. We have confidently assumed that we in the mid- second decade of the 21st century are better off than our forebears in knowledge, achievement and standard of life. Proudly counting on the developments in science and technology, on the incredible progress in communication and transportation, in global trade and commerce and the flowering of consumerist, libertarian culture of individual freedom, many in the west and those who follow them in the rest of the world simply assumed that this is the ideal condition of life that all nations aspire to. It turns out, however that, a large chunk of humanity is deprived of such “blessings”.

The poor are still the overwhelming majority in our world . They cannot simply aspire to the standard of life considered ideal by the advanced nations for various reasons including depletion of natural resources and the whole ecological crisis. A significant minority in the non-western world deliberately rejects some of what the west considers as civilization, freedom, human rights, justice, democracy, progress, equality, women’s liberation, gender justice, marriage, family, culture and so on. They operate with wholly different concepts and world views. Religion, which was expelled from the western secular civilization, is providing the backbone, albeit in radically different modes and under different names, of this emerging counter force of terrorist and fundamentalist movements. The whole scenario makes us raise questions about the future of humanity as well as about all that has humanity has “achieved” in the recent past centuries. Thus, if the past and the future of human civilization require to be radically questioned at this juncture of history, it spells a very serious crisis for humanity.

We may have to reexamine all the assumptions of our so called global culture, which is really an extension of the modern western civilization. Christmas cannot any longer be taken for granted as a romantic, sentimental festival of lights, gifts, exchange of greetings, family reunion, feasting and holidaying – something many people are used to in certain parts of the world. In fact, nothing in our present mode of life in a profligate consumerist culture can be taken for granted with any certainty for our future if we venture to perceive the other side of world reality. Well, I am not trying to strike a negative and depressing note in this season of festivities. On the contrary, I am full of hope and confidence in the power of God’s love for us as manifested in Jesus Christ.

The gospels proclaim him as the Light of the world. But it is not the external light, similar to the light of the sun. It is the inner light that illumines our path ahead from within us even when there is thick darkness all around. In fact, we are now in a situation where the external world around us is darkening deeper with religious fanaticism, hostility, violence and injustice. This trend may not easily reverse or subside, but might flare up to the point of a new world war unless humanity recognizes the fatal character of the current situation and reorders the present world in a new civilization frame work.
We need to light the interior lamp to see the way out. We need to seek the true Enlightenment. Churches and Christians must turn to the inward eye that can see the future prophetically, critically and with re-ordered hope.

One of the ancient prayers in our Orthodox liturgy of the hours sings: “When the sun sets over the face of earth, O Lord, be our light that shows us the path of truth”. May this season of Christmas be a time of repentance and reordering of our attitudes so that we may all rejoice with all the innocent children, the poor and the oppressed of the whole world, and together celebrate life in all it’s abundance in Jesus Christ our inner Light.

Courtesy: Marthoman TV

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Koodhosh Eetho (Sanctification) Feast Day: November 2

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Koodhosh Eetho (Sanctification)The Sunday that comes on of after October 30th is called Koodhosh Eetho (Sanctification of Church) Sunday. It is the beginning of the church calendar.

First of all we need to know what the Church is and why it should be sanctified. Church, according to St. Paul, is the ‘Body of Christ’ (Romans 12:4-21; 1Cor 6:15; 12:12ff). Church is also called the ‘temple of God’ (1Cor 3:16). This Church belongs to God.

A temple is the abode of God and therefore it must be holy. Here St. Paul reminds us all that individual believers and the collective body of believers is the members of Christ’s body.
St Peter jogs our memory to be ‘living stones built into a spiritual house’ (1Peter 2:5). We proclaim in our Niceo-Constantinopolitan creed that the Church we believe in is ‘ONE, HOLY, CATHOLIC and APOSTOLIC’. Church by virtue of being a Church is, therefore, the body of sanctified and ‘called out’ people (ek-kaleon, Gk). The faithful are called out from darkness to His marvelous light to declare His wonderful deeds (1 Peter 2:9). And therefore, Church is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic.

We separate certain places/things for certain uses. We give due regards to our place of worship. It must be clean. As group or individuals this cleanliness has to be spiritual, physical, moral and ethical. This is a God-given requirement: “You shall be holy; for I the Lord your God am holy”. “Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am the Lord your God. Keep my statutes, and do them; I am the Lord who sanctifies you” (Lev.19:2; 20: 6-8; 1 Peter 1:15).

In His High-priestly prayer, our Lord prayed to His Father to sanctify His disciples and His Church: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you did send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, and they also may be consecrated in truth” (John 17: 17-19). Thus, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit are interceding for us (Heb.10; Rom 8: 26-27).

In short, Church is the body of Christ and not merely an association or incorporation of people. Christ sanctified her by His sacrifice and continues with the sanctification process. We shall maintain that sanctified status by following the word of God in our individual and collective responsibilities. In other words, we have to follow a sanctified behavior pattern. It is not merely our adherence to a faith that matters but our new behavior.

Now let us look what does this sanctification mean precisely to us? As individuals and as a body of believers, we have to examine our lives and mission. Where are we with our mission? Christ did not send us to the world to make enemies but to make friends and disciples. Our mission is not political but moral and spiritual. Historically Churches have succeeded to make followers (employing party spirit by force or by mission) but have failed to make disciples. We have been fighting for temporal and personal powers or for recognition. It is high time that we pause for a moment and contemplate on our special calling.

Our church with its long history is still in her infancy in mission. We need to be reaching out as a community. Every parish should have an active mission program, wherein all believers take active roles. Our parish committee and general body meetings should be theologically focused and mission oriented. Our individual commitment to Christian/Church life needs to go beyond our Sunday worship, learning Church history, and monthly subscription to a total dedication of Christian living because we are a ‘called out’ community to proclaim His good deeds by putting away ‘all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and slander’ (1Peter 2:2).

As individuals we need to commit ourselves to spread the Gospel by our personal deeds, by reaching out as forgiving and loving persons. As parishes we have to develop a mission plan that goes beyond Sunday ministry and as a Church we have to be a forgiving entity with wide worldview in ecumenical initiatives and putting away all quarrels to ‘declare His marvelous deeds’.

Let this Koodosh Eetho (Qddosh Eetho) Sunday be a renewed beginning for all of us, namely, as individuals, parishes and as Church as a whole. May God bless us all. Let us work closely, by putting away our differences to glorify His name through our words and deeds with the help of His Holy Spirit. Amen!

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Fear Not – Be strong to do His Will!

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Are you Ready to Face the Future, regardless of how dark things look? The days of 2012 were in many ways darkening ones – crime, immorality, corruption, and deadly violence by young and old. No informed person today will deny that the human race walks in darkness. We face dilemmas and problems that seemingly have no answer. Many observers despair of solving the problems of the world; they suspect that we are people who not only walk in darkness but who walk in darkness to our doom.

At the root of our problems is our continuing attempt to live without God. An anti-god spirit is becoming more hateful and vocal and widespread. For years, people have been seeking to organize human life without Him. They have tried to thrust Him out of the universe. Critics are attacking evangelical Christianity throughout the world because they find it hard to believe in God, they have transferred their faith to man. They have invented a creed that is the worship of humanity. “Glory to man in the highest” is their theme.

This worship of human nature feeds on our own conceit. We have been told, especially in some of our classrooms, that there is no sin and that the human race simply has a bit of selfishness that with time will correct. It flatters the egoism in us; it seems to make redemption unnecessary; it empties the cross of its meaning. People will grow better, we are told.

However, the failure to solve the problems of the world has shattered the hopes of many. We are unsure of peace and have less freedom than ever before. We have built a world of technology and spaceships, which have led to possible terrorist attacks, chemical and biological weapons, of radiation poisoning, snipers and of suicide bombers. In our brilliance without God, we have become fools.

Into this world of madness came an event that can change everything. If we allow it, it can bring peace to our hearts, heal our relationships, correct our self-image, and bring light to our darkness. We celebrated this event few days ago – “Christmas” – baby Jesus was born “to be with us”. From the lips of Jesus Himself came these words, “The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). Christ came into a world that was facing problems very much like the ones we tackle with today. We often imagine that the world Jesus came to was not complicated, that its problems were not complex. The problems of that day were similar to the problems of our day.

Jesus came to help us through our suffering and sorrow, saying, “I am with you. Let Me share your burdens.” Today, in spite of all the darkness and despair, in spite of all the headlines about murders, riots, terrorism and war, there is hope. He is alive to conquer your despair, to give you hope, to forgive your sins and to take away your loneliness. He is alive to reconcile you to God.

Face every situation with faith in God in this darkening hour face all problems in full Reliance upon god’s faithfulness. No situation, no condition, involved, unknown, untried, dark, and dangerous circumstance or combination of circumstances–is too hard for God. He knows all things. And he cares for us (1 Peter 5:7; 1 John 3:20). Nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:17). With God all Things are possible (St. Matthew 19:26). He has already shown His love and manifested his compassion for us by giving his only begotten Son to die a cruel death for us.

As we look forward to a brighter future in 2013 and beyond, accept Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord. Put your faith and trust in Him. Do not lead a life of Fear, but a life of Love for God and people. Give Him your heart, your soul, your life. The human race walks in darkness, but God offers us light. He offers every one of us eternal life if we will put our faith in Jesus Christ. Take time, make time, use time for reading and also for meditating on god’s word, that you may know His Will, and that you may be strong to do His Will!

A new year is just around the corner, and it promises more challenges, changes, and chances to make a difference in the world. As we leave 2012 behind us for a New Year 2013, please enjoy the time with your friends and family – tell them how much you love them and how valuable they are in your life.

I wish you a wonderful new year filled with abundance, joy, and treasured moments.
May 2013 be your best year yet!
Let us hold Him tight and walk with Jesus Christ into the New Year 2013.

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Welcome 2013 with new resolutions!!

Happy-New-Year
Very recently, precisely while we were caroling, one of our parishioners asked me pointing to my Accord, “Achen, did you buy a new car?”

“Yes, I did, but it was precisely seven months back though”, I answered.

After having received complements for the seven months old new car, I and my family got into the car to drive to the family, where we were next to carol.

Soon we reached the next red light, and I stopped. That was the time, I really looked at the rear-view-mirror of my new car and not just through the rear-view-mirror to the back.

What I found out was very much surprising. The rear-view-mirror of my seven month old new car needed a little cleaning activity. There were shades of oil, dust and dirt in it. I tried to clean them with my palm and that complicated the problem. I was not able to see the traffic coming from behind effectively, especially as darkness pulled itself gently over the earth. Thank God, we had some wipes with us, which were of temporary use to clean the rear-view-mirror and we carried on with the ride on the Expressway westwards to the next house.

Today, when I sit at my desk to meditate on thoughts for the Year 2013 this very incident came surprisingly into my mind screen. It might do good to analyze the event a little bit further.

Usually, we do not touch the rear-view-mirror at all. We might adjust it this way or that way, but touching the actual mirror is very seldom. Still there were shades of oil, dirt and dust on it. I do not remember having touched the rear-view-mirror and nor my wife does. I can not blame the children either for they never sit on the front seat. Dust can be understood. However, where did shades of oil and dirt come from? No answers! They just came!

Looking back to the passing 2012 the same thought is ruling over me. Am I seeing the passing year clearly?

Usually, we see the passing year through a rear-view-mirror that is dirty, which often skips our attention.

Sometimes we find it out and try to clean with our palms that would even complicate the issue.

If we really want to look back to the passing year clearly, first of all we need to clean the rear-view-mirror with real good wipes. Let us use the wipes of truthfulness, frankness, honesty, humility, humbleness and finally, the mercy of God to clean the rear-view-mirror to evaluate our lives in the passing year.

Secondly, let us realize that we always sit in the direction of travel in the car, while we look through the rear-view-mirror. We do not reverse the direction of travel to analyze and correct what had gone wrong in the rear. We learn from the mistakes that we have identified looking through the rear-view-mirror and sincerely try not to repeat them in the present or in the future. Let us resolve to drive ahead positively employing the lessons we have learned by looking through the rear-view-mirror! Let us drive safer!

Wish all the readers of Indian Orthodox Herald, a Blessed and Happy New Year!!

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The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

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“Today we celebrate the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. There has been no event in the history of the world more amazing than the Nativity of Christ. The Lord God Pantocrator, who created the visible and invisible world and all that is therein with but a single word, that Same God humbled Himself, took for Himself Flesh of the Most-blessed Virgin Mary, was born in a cave, and as a helpless Infant, was laid in a manger.

Heaven was terrified, and the ends of the earth moved. A tremendous miracle and mystery had taken place, one utterly beyond the comprehension not only of man, but of the highest of the heavenly host.

For what reason did the Lord come down to earth?

There is but one answer: in order to save man. We should recognize that if the Lord performs this act for man, man must be of some particular value [to God], for [He] would not have employed such a means to salvation for the sake of anything worthless or insignificant. One thousand years before the Nativity of Christ, the king and prophet David had exclaimed in bewilderment [in Psalm 8: 4-5]: “O Lord, what is man, that Thou art mindful of him? And the Son of man, that Thou visitest him? For Thou madest him a little lower than the Angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honor?”

We have even more cause to fall in fear and reverence before the Lord and cry out: Lord, what is man, that Thou didst not disdain a virgin womb, that Thou didst hide Thy Divinity and didst deign to become a man?”

What is man after all? The Word of God says: man is God’s finest creation. Man is the image of God.

All was created by God’s all-powerful word. God said: “Let there be light: and there was light…” [Genesis 1:3] “Let the earth bring forth grass, the herb yielding seed, and the fruit tree yielding fruit after its kind…” [Gen. 1:11] and it was so. And God said: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of Heaven…” [Gen. 1:20] And everything happened according to the word of God.

When all was arranged, God turned to the creation of man, but only after, as it were, deliberation and counsel. In what caused St Gregory of Nyssa to marvel, God [the Father] as it were invited the other Persons of the Holy Trinity to confer together. For the Lord first said: “Let Us make man in Our Image, after Our Likeness…” [Gen. 1:26] “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life…” [Gen. 3:7]

The Lord created man by a special act: He first created the body, and then breathed into it the “breath of life,” i.e. he instilled in it as it were a portion of His Divine Essence. That is why in the Psalm [Ps. 82:6 KJV/81:6 Septuagint], the Prophet David has God say about people: “ I have said, ye are gods, and all of you are sons of the Most High….” The Incarnate Lord Jesus Christ Himself confirmed the Truth of those words to the Jews who were prepared to stone him to death, accusing him of making Himself equal to God by calling God his Father. The Lord replied to them thus: “Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods…and the scripture cannot be broken….” [John 10:34-35] Thus, man is the image of invisible God, and has within him a “tiny piece” of Divinity.

Man was so fine and beautiful before the Fall into sin, and even more so after his redemption by the Lord, that Saints to whom the mysteries of heaven had been revealed, e.g. Makarios of Egypt, would say: “there is nothing finer than the human soul either on earth or in heaven.” Man was predestined for blissful happiness, but because of the devil’s envy, he fell, betrayed God, went voluntarily over to the side of the slanderer, the devil, and desired to know not only the good which he had known in paradise, but also evil, which he had not theretofore known. Having fallen away from God, he fell under the sentence earlier pronounced by God: “Thou shalt die.”

Adam and Eve were spiritually devastated. Their intellect became darkened and clouded, their will perverse, their heart twisted; where they had been given a heavenly body, they now received crude matter, like unto that of cattle. Because of them, the earth was cursed, and they themselves were doomed to sorrow and to knowledge of evil – that which they, on the devil’s advice, had sought to know. The more mankind multiplied, the darker and more sullied did he become.

Lest man fall into despair and utterly perish, the Lord promised him that in time the family of the wife (not the husband) – i.e. Christ, born of a Virgin, by the Holy Spirit – would crush the head of the serpent and would save man. It is this mysterious event that we now celebrate. The Lord took pity on His creation, and came down to earth, in order to save the sheep that had been lost to predators. He came down to earth in order to raise us up to Heaven once again. He took on the form of a man, took upon Himself the sins of all mankind, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…”

Jesus Christ opened the closed gates of paradise. He rebuilt the spiritual ladder by which man may ascend to Heaven.

In taking on human flesh, the Lord raised man above the ranks of Angels, and robed him in glory greater than that of Adam in Paradise before the Fall.

If we are in fact true Christians, if we force ourselves to act on the teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ, who had came for our sake, then we will also be with the Lord, as He promised his disciples in their final talk before His Ascension. The Lord said that those who are vouchsafed the Kingdom of God will become bright as the sun.

On Mt. Tabor, the Lord revealed to man his future glory. His face was like the sun, His garments sparkled like lightning. That external beauty and glory was but a tiny hint of the enormous glory that is within, for according to the prophet “…the kings daughter is all glorious within…” (Psalm 45:13 KJV/ Ps.44: 13 Septuagint)

This homily was written and delivered in 1945 by Abbot Nikon Vorobiev (1894-1963)

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The Last Paschal Meal of Our Lord and God Jesus Christ


For Orthodox Christians the last Paschal meal of our Lord is the most crucial act of Christ, which is inseparably intertwined with His very act of self-immolation on the cross as a sacrificial Paschal Lamb, and it is the most pivotal act on which rest all the mysteries of human salvation and the rites of salvation in the Holy Church. For most of the Protestant Christendom it is just an institution of a memorial for Jesus, not any more significant than it. For us Orthodox Christians, the raison d’etre of the Holy Church, the priesthood and ministry and the channels of sanctification are all incardinated into the mystery mystically implied in that Last Supper.

We urge our readers to vividly imagine the psychological condition in which Jesus, the God-Man, was sitting at His last meal on earth with His disciples. Jesus as God clearly knew that that He was going to be turned over to His enemies by His own disciple, and in a short time He was going to be executed on the intense pressure of the Jewish priesthood and leaders who had opposed His mission on earth.

As a person who loved His disciples and a loyal group of followers, Jesus was very much mentally disturbed, particularly because He knew that He was going to leave them until He returns for the second time. Theologians have identified three problems that confronted Jesus at this painful time. Jesus’ agony has already begun in the presence of His disciples at the table, who might not realize the seriousness of the occasion. Some who might know that there was an imminent danger for Him, would have thought, as a miracle worker, Jesus would escape any adverse environment. Some may have thought that He was the Son of the “Living God”, and would be definitely rescued by His Father. For most of the apostles, there existed no imminent problem.