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Criteria for deciding a common date for Pascha (Easter)

pascha

Christos Aneste! Alithos Aneste!!
Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!!
We Wish You a Very Blessed and Joyful Pascha!

As we enter this Paschal Season of 2016, we intend to take the attention of our readers not to the most mystifying historical and theological truth of the Resurrection of our Lord from the dead as we used to do in the past, but to the controversy of the actual date of the Easter/ Pascha. Very often the average Christian does not worry about the date of Pascha nor is he exposed to the different approaches to decide the date of Pascha. Even if the topic is brought for discussion our Orthodox Christians react indifferently. “It does not matter; the most important concern is that the Pascha is celebrated regardless of the date”, is the general attitude towards the issue.

Can we Orthodox approach this issue without regard to the historical and biblical implications behind this issue? It is crucial that every Orthodox should have a basic idea of the criteria that determine the date of Easter/ Pascha. This awareness would deepen the true mystery of the Resurrection of Christ, who is the true Paschal Lamb, the Lamb of God prefigured by the Paschal Lamb of the Old Covenant.

Although occasionally both East and West celebrate Pascha on the same day, usually the Eastern churches celebrate Pascha one to five weeks later than the feast observed by the Western Church.

The Celebration of Pascha in the Post-Apostolic Period

The Church saw the Resurrection of our Lord as the most important event in the life of her Lord and God on earth; hence that was the only feast the Church celebrated during her post-apostolic period. Tradition says that it was celebrated in conjunction with the Jewish Passover observed in Jerusalem. However, Christian communities had different dates to observe the Resurrection of the Lord from the very beginning of Christian history. The reasons rested on the complex nature of calendars and the astronomical data available. Moreover, the biblical accounts related to Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection were somewhat confusing, which made a decision on the exact date of Pascha somewhat perplexing, because the details relating Christ’s death and resurrection to the Jewish Passover are not entirely clear. For example, Mathew, Mark and Luke identify our Lord’s Last Supper as a Jewish Passover meal. This would imply that His death on the cross took place the next day. But the Gospel of John emphasizes that Jesus became a sacrifice on the cross exactly at the same hour the paschal lambs were sacrificed on the day of the Passover. The Syriac Orthodox liturgical tradition does underscore this truth in her prayers on Great Friday to identify Christ as the Passover Lamb of the New Covenant who replaced the Jewish Passover.

These two perceptions of the biblical accounts paved way for two different practices; one group celebrated Pascha on the Jewish Passover on any day the Passover takes place, and the other group observed it on the Sunday following the Passover. By the 4th century the latter became a common practice. However, you could expect some variations in some remote pockets of Christian communities which were far away from metropolitan centers at a time when such communities existed without sufficient channels of communication.

What Did the First Ecumenical Council Held at Nicaea Decide?

Obviously the Church as a whole detected some problems on this practice and wanted to settle it universally, and the topic was brought under the agenda of the First Ecumenical Council held at Nicaea in 325 A.D. This council decided that Holy Pascha should be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Actually the vernal equinox is the starting point of spring. In case the full moon is on a Sunday, Pascha should be observed on the following Sunday. March 21 is the astronomically accepted date as the beginning date of spring. Passover was celebrated on the first full moon after the vernal equinox. Thus naturally Pascha was celebrated on the first Sunday after the Jewish Passover.

Why there is a correlation between Pascha and the Jewish Passover.

Historically, the arrest and trial of Our Lord and His salvific sacrificial death on the cross occurred in connection with the Jewish Passover. For the Aramaic-based Semitic Christians it has more significance as a theological and soteriological requirement. The Passover of the Old Testament was the commemoration of the emancipation of a nation under bondage; the bible is clear that it was symbolic, not only of a political struggle and liberation of a people, but also of their spiritual and ethical freedom which was realized on the day of Pentecost on Mount Sinai when they were brought under the discipline of God through the instrumentality of the Ten Commandments written by God’s own hand and inscribed on their hearts. Pascha is the event that comprises not only the resurrection of the Lord, but also of His Sacrificial death on the cross, and it is culminated and perfected with the descent of the His Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost; rather than binding the hearts of men with the uncompromising binding power of a set of Laws given on the first Pentecost, the second Pentecost, as a new Pentecost, bound them with the forgiving and gracious power of the Holy Spirit Who grants them ultimate freedom from their inner enemies of pride, lust, covetousness, gluttony, thievery, sensuality and all other vices through the acceptance of the Redeemer realized in the Risen Christ and through repentance and grace. In Christian East this connection is crucial.

The Passover of the Old Covenant was only a shadow of the real Passover, a prefiguration of the Eternal Passover which is Christ Himself as the Passover victim, as the Offeror of the Passover victim, and as the Passover meal which was divided among His redeemed for eternal life. The First Ecumenical Council must have absorbed this truth, and demanded that the real Passover, the Pascha, should take place only after its prefiguration, which is the Jewish Passover. In other words, the Christian Passover or Pascha can be observed only after the Jewish Passover which prefigured the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Lamb of God. Again the Eternal Passover must never precede its symbolic prefiguration; the true Passover, the death and resurrection of Lamb of God should be observed only after its symbolic representation prior to the reality. Hence the Council of Nicaea stipulated that the Christian Pascha should be observed only after the Jewish Passover.

The Church had encountered some problems in this area. The Jews who were scattered as a result of the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, and were living in Diaspora away from their ancestral cultural background began to observe their Passover at different dates, particularly on a date before the vernal equinox. This is the result of changes in the calendars they followed. This definitely affected the Christian observance of the Pascha. In order to correct this condition, the Council stipulated that the Pascha should be observed based on the Passover and calendar in force during the time of Christ in Jerusalem, and not any other calendar. In one of the later regional councils (for example, the Council of Antioch) we see that Christians, who celebrated Pascha with the Jews were anathematized. Traditionally the Church always wanted the Pascha to be celebrated on a Sunday after the Jewish Passover observed in Jerusalem according to the calendar followed at the time of Jesus. In other words, in order to set a date for Pascha the Church had always wanted to link the criteria with the norms for observing Jewish Passover during the time of our Lord.

How did the East and the West Go into two different directions?

Currently both East and West recognize that Pasha should be celebrated after the full moon following the vernal equinox. But the problem really rests somewhere else, i.e. on the different calendars the East and West began to follow since the 16th century. Rome developed a new calendar under Pope Gregory (hence it is called the Gregorian calendar) and began to calculate the date of Easter based on this calendar.

When Pope Gregory set the date of vernal equinox it was a fixed date, which has its practical convenience. However the East always followed the astronomical path to decide on vernal equinox, in other words the science of astronomy determines the date of vernal equinox. Thus fixing the date of Pascha on a particular date has become a complex issue. Thus defining vernal equinox has become two processes which led to different dates for full moons. The Eastern churches followed the actual vernal equinox and full moon based on the science of astronomy as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, the location of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In addition, the East particularly emphasized the connection between Jewish Passover and the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem and His passion, death and resurrection; hence the commemoration of the resurrection should take place only after the Jewish Passover. The West has no such regard for this intrinsic mystical affinity between them, which itself is a point of serious deviation.

Moreover, the West just fixed vernal equinox on a fixed date, which is on March 21, and a date for full moon which does not have to be on the day of the astronomical full moon. This date of the full moon is determined based on “ecclesiastical full moon cycles” created by the Roman Church, and is more predictable in advance, because it has been programmed for that kind of convenience.

To make it further simple for our understanding, the difference in dates to observe the Pascha rises from different vernal equinox days in both Gregorian and Julian calendars and from the unwillingness of the Roman Catholic Church to take the Jewish Passover date into consideration for determining the date of Pascha as stipulated by the Council of Nicaea.

Is Reconciliation Possible?

Can we reconcile both East and West on this important issue of the date of Pascha without compromising fundamental issues which are basic to its calculation? The honest opinion of this writer is that it is not possible. The West, if it is led by Rome, will enter into negotiations, but it is for converting the other side into its side; it will never give up what it has been practicing although it was only for less than five centuries. This is the Roman megalomania to assert that Rome was, is, and will be always right, and will never change!

Recent Efforts of Reconciliation

It was a serious concern among all Christians that they lose witness for what they preach and stand for among the pagans and heathens and among the Moslems. When the Roman Catholic Christ died and rose from the dead, the Christ of the Eastern churches was still preaching in their churches! These Christians did not have a convincing answer to a Hindu or Muslim if they were confronted with a question regarding the different dates of the celebration of Pascha in the same region. Christians in the Middle East and India faced this situation regularly as Roman Catholic and Protestant Christians and the Orthodox celebrated Easter on different dates. To do away with the confusion among non-Christians one group within the Church of the East (who follow the Nestorian doctrine on the personhood of Christ) adopted the Western Easter calculations, which divided that Church as Old-Calendarists and New-Calendarists. In India in the 1950’s the Orthodox Church of India (also called the Orthodox Syrian Church of the East in Malankara) similarly accepted the Western calendar through a Synodal decision to avoid a scandal among the larger population of Hindus. It is to be observed that the Finnish Orthodox Church (a Church in the Byzantine tradition) also follows the Western Gregorian Calendar to celebrate its Pascha.

In the 1960’s the Second Vatican Council of the Roman Catholic Church thought about a common date and proposed the second Sunday in April to be a permanent day of Pascha, but it never received acceptance especially among the Eastern Churches.

A few years ago under the efforts of the World Council of Churches there was an attempt to set a common date for Easter (Pascha). There was a meeting of representatives from East and West in Aleppo, Syria (March 5-10, 1997), which proposed a solution believed to be favorable to both East and West. The proposal suggested to replace the old methods of calculating vernal equinox and full moon, and to use a more scientifically accurate and advanced astronomical method to calculate the vernal equinox and full moon which was accepted by the participants. Since then no progress was made on this accepted proposal.

The Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches discussed the possibility of celebrating Easter on several occasions, but the idea was never materialized.

Pope John Paul II came up with his proposal for a fixed single date for Pascha, but was not agreeable to the Orthodox.

More recently Pope Francis has shown openness for greater ecumenical cooperation in this matter and renewed discussions on this topic. He also suggested that he would change the date of Easter in the West to accommodate the wishes of other Christians, so that a common date for Pascha could be fixed. Speaking at the World Retreat of Priests at his official Cathedral of St. John Lateran in Rome on June 12, 2015 he said: “We have to come to an agreement “for a common date for Easter, and he said this disunity is a scandal. Of course it is a scandal; but who deviated from the original norms set by the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea required for the calculation of the date of Pascha?

Having been pastorally sensitive to a global issue such as this, some Orthodox leaders also had come forward with their reflections. In May 2015 Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria wrote to the Papal Nuncio in Egypt suggesting a common date for Pascha. A week after the Retreat of Priests at the Lateran in Rome, The Patriarch of Antioch, Ignatius Ephraim II, of the Syrian Orthodox Church met with Pope Francis and discussed the possibility of having a single date for Easter for all Christians. He noted that motivated by the Second Vatican Council the Holy Synod of Antioch adopted a resolution in 1981 expressing the “eagerness” of his Church to observe Pascha on a fixed Sunday in April which would be agreed upon by all Christians. He also thanked the Pope for his latest initiative to reopen discussion on this matter.

Historian Lucetta Scaraffia wrote in L’Osservatore Romano that the Pope is offering a “gift of unity” to the rest of Christendom with his willingness to change the date of Easter. She also observed that this would encourage “reconciliation between Christian Churches and … a sort of making sense out of the calendar”. She wrote that a common date would magnify “the importance of the central feast of the faith in a moment when changes seems to be suddenly coming throughout the world” (Sophia, Fall 2015).

But the reaction from the Russian Orthodox Church was negative. The criteria for determining the date of Pasha were set at a time when the Church was one, and setting a common date should follow the norms set by the Council of Nicaea in the fourth century. In other words, Moscow would stick with the traditional norms followed by the Orthodox churches. Father Nikolai Balashov, Deputy Chairman of the Department of External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, did not make any direct comment on the Pope’s proposal, but warned against “any radical change of our common traditions from the first millennium of Christianity” (Sophia, Fall 20115).

Fr. Balashov further observed: “If the Church of Rome intends to celebrate Easter as calculated when the Church of the East and West were united… then this intention is welcome”. On the other hand if the agendum is to “have a fixed date for Easter and not tie it to the first full moon after the spring equinox, as established in the East and in the West by the Council of Nicaea in 325, then this proposal is totally unacceptable to the Orthodox Church” (Sophia Fall 2015).

Another famous Russian theologian, Protodeacon Andrey Kurayev, according to Interfax, called the Pope’s proposal “unrealistic and prospectless”. He reiterated that the Orthodox Christians are tied to the decision of the First Ecumenical Council and establishing a permanent fixed date is contrary to the mind of Nicaea.

Rome, Go Back to the Nicaean Canon and Tradition!

This writer has a question to the Pope of Rome: Why don’t go back to the canons of the Council of Nicaea and stick with them, like the Eastern churches? If you do so the problem is over. We are sure the entire West including the Protestants will be responsive to the call of the Bishop of Rome if it is according to the stipulation of the First Ecumenical Council, although they do not attach sacredness or canonicity to any Council; however they might absorb its historical credibility. Thus the entire Christendom will have a common date as it had been before the innovation on this matter was introduced by your predecessor Pope Gregory in the 16th century. Would it be suggestive of the Papal megalomania that the Pope is above an Ecumenical Council that he does not have to observe the canons of any Councils or that the practice of the East is simply unfounded, without canonical foundation or theological justification? Why is the Pope showing particular interest for a fixed date now? Again, we feel that the Church of Rome has to show the world that it is under its initiative that a new Easter date is fixed, which is to show that the Pope has certain prerogative and universal jurisdictional role in settling a current dispute. Do not forget that this dispute was created by Rome in the 16th century.

Rome is the most cunning institution, excelling even the Soviet Communist regime, in its tactics. A few years ago, parenthetically, Pope Benedict XVI, whom this writer highly regards as a towering intellect, committed a most audacious fallibility by denouncing his own title “the Patriarch of Rome”! Why? Every Christian thought that it was because he was very humble and he was not interested in any ornamental or honorific title. No, that was not the reason. He cannot strip himself off an ancient ecclesiastical rank, as it was conferred on the Bishop of Rome by an ecumenically convened conciliar action. If he ever wanted to remain as the Bishop of Rome, this rank of “patriarch” is intrinsic to his pastoral role, as determined by the First Ecumenical Council. If he did not want to carry this rank with other patriarchs of the East, he should have petitioned to an Ecumenical Council to take it away from him. Then again, the motives were ulterior: It was to show that the Pope is above any ecumenical council and to show that he is not one among the patriarchs, but above them as the Papa! Smart! Did any Eastern patriarchs question Benedict’s action, did any of them consider to enthrone a Patriarch of Rome to continue the Patriarchate of the West to honor the decision of the First Ecumenical Council since Benedict denounced it? No! The Orthodox were not courageous or were not concerned about it.

Similarly the actions of Pope Francis seem to be very popular, but they are insidious. The Left love him because his actions and teachings support their master plan; they just got an advocate promoting their agenda. How many Orthodox prelates have detected the dangers hidden in his writing? A true scientist cannot relate to his latest encyclical Laudato Si (On Care of our Common Home). He was supporting a leftist agendum behind the Global Warming campaign which many famous scientists consider as not scientifically founded. Global Warming is a recent theory to explain the phenomenon of climate changes around the globe. It is the discovery of some politically motivated scientists who are said to be leading the researches according to the wishes of some political moguls who reap millions for them and for their researchers in the guise of advanced studies on climate change. The Pope has touched on topics like Economics and Climate Science, in which he has no expertise, in order to unveil a “thinly veiled political manifesto” and stamped it with the seal of the Roman Catholic Church (Dr. Michael Savage: Government Zero, New York: Center Street, 2015; p. 219). Again to become a leader of the profane world!

Recently Popes and their local representatives even have become champions of the Ecumenical Movement started by the Protestants, and later accompanied by the Orthodox Churches! Make no mistake; Rome has not changed an iota of their teachings against other Christians while being so ecumenically-minded. But our patriarchs, our bishops and priests with their laity are slowly moving towards validating the hegemony of papacy in the world by sharing stage with the Pope and his soldiers and by being part of their audience!

Why did this writer bring in these overtures from the Roman Catholic side? To prove that one fixed Easter/ Pascha date championed by Pope Francis is another such attempt to underscore the Papal role again for a decision affecting entire Christendom! We know that some Orthodox patriarchs also have caught up with this mess; but unfortunately they do not really comprehend the snares behind this new proposal by the Pope. The purpose of the Roman Church is to basically impose its will on the rest of the Christendom and to dismantle a decision of an Ecumenical Council. Thus Rome would be the ultimate winner again. The heads of other churches may have some role in the deliberation process, but it would be the Roman Catholic periti (experts) who are going to lead the discussions and lead to a decision. The participants from other churches will affirm that decision and would not oppose it for many reasons.

What is the solutions now?

Let all Christians follow the decision on a movable Easter date as stipulated by the First Ecumenical Council. In the earlier part of this editorial this writer has clearly exposed the criteria recognized by the Council. Accept the authority of the Council and we will have no issues on the date of Pascha; there is nothing wrong with a movable date for Pascha. We lived with it for two millennia, and can still move forward with it for many millennia to come. Let the secular world follow the Gregorian calendar for its convenience.

This writer makes an earnest plea to those Eastern Churches that have recently adopted the western calendar for reasons which are uncanonical. We urge them to reinstate the Julian calendar in their churches at least for the observance of their Pascha and join the fellowship of their brethren in the larger Orthodox world.

We wish you a blessed Pascha and the Paschal Season!

+Chor-Episcopos Kuriakos Thottupuram, Ph.D., D.D., Chief Editor

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Editorial Features

Christmas: Peace or Sword?.

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The Orthodox Churches generally start their Nativity Fast about forty days before the celebration of the Nativity of the Lord, which is on December 25 or on January 7. However, we do realize that the Syrian churches have only 25 days of fast before the Feast of the Nativity for the laity. As a rule nothing is heard about such a Nativity Fast in the Western Churches, either in Roman Catholicism or in High Churches of Protestantism.

Fasting has a twofold purpose in eastern theology. First, it is a spiritual tune up or disciplining of body, mind and soul through prayer, self-inflicted suffering of hunger and thirst and other acts of mortifications, which should direct a believer into deep meditation and prayer, and appreciation of the reality towards which fasting is meant to proceed. For a soul that has reached high levels of spiritual intuition, this would lead to deeper union with his/ her raison d’etre, his/ her source of being. And thus fasting will lead the believer into a deeper experience with the reality of the Feast for which the fasting has been stipulated by the Church.

The other purpose is not often discussed by the preacher. This subtle purpose of fasting is not very much highlighted in any sermons in conjunction with the fast; and it is not mentioned as a theme on the day of the celebration of the Feast, because a Feast by its very nature is an occasion of joy, wherein any mention of pain or suffering is out of place. Joy is measured against the intensity of pain caused by the suffering or torture experienced before or after the cause of joy; and it is thus the true nature of joy is appreciated. Thus fasting has another objective, which is to prepare a good Christian for the sufferings and unfavorable conditions which he will be confronted with in a normal life. One could say that fasting also implies the foretaste of this anticipated suffering or torture attached to every occasion of a Feast.

In Orthodox theology this twofold purpose attached to every major Dominical feast is highlighted. Hence we have fasts attached to all major feasts of the Church, such as the Great Lent before Resurrection, Nativity Fast before Christmas, Assumption Fast before the Assumption of the Theotokos, and Apostles’ Fast that culminates with the Feast of the apostles. In certain churches there is an Eight-day fast before the Nativity of the Holy Theotokos (of course this is not recognized as canonical).

The Feast of the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ, which in western countries is called Christmas, is the convergence of all the spiritual and sacrificial activities of the fasting period prior to it. More than any other Dominical Feast, Christmas particularly conveys this dual truth, the truth of ecstatic joy and the truth of tormenting sword; thus there is a problem to Christmas. Christmas is a paradox! What is a paradox? There is a paradox whenever two contradictions meet in confrontation with each other in one and the same reality or event. Christmas is such a reality or event.

During the period Christ was born, Palestine was in turmoil. There was not peace in that region, because the Jewish people were under the oppressive imperial regime of the Romans. They could not freely exercise their religion. They were taxed heavily. They did not have freedom of speech; no one knew when he would be arrested by Roman soldiers for a casual slippage of tongue; it was easy to be incriminated for conspiracy. Although King Herod was partially Jewish, he was not their friend either; he was a vassal buried in his gluttonous life and cared only for himself. Fear lingered everywhere. Every Jew looked for a deliverer like their ancestors in Egypt were anxiously waiting for.

It was to these people the angel announced: “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. …. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men” (Lk. 2:10-14).

The angels announce that they do not need to fear anymore. Further it was also a greeting of peace.

This is one side of the paradox. In the same gospel in Chapter 12, Jesus, after thirty years, laid out just the opposite of what the angels had sung: “Do you suppose that I came to give peace on earth? I tell you, not at all, but rather division (sword)” (Lk 12:51). This is the other side of the paradox, and now the paradox is complete; on one side it is PEACE, and on the side it is SWORD, the antithesis of peace.

On the day of the first Christmas the angels rejoiced, and they declared peace on earth in anticipation of the arrival of the King of Peace. Jewish scriptures predicted it. The nation of Israel was eagerly waiting for a Messiah to establish lasting peace to its people who had been repeatedly subjugated by foreign occupiers who suppressed their freedoms to live according to the Law of Moses. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem the entire Judea was in turmoil; and there were agitations to overthrow the foreign rule, and the Roman occupiers in the land were tightening their grips to suppress any rebellion against them. Yes, it was a period of revolt and uprising. The Jewish people definitely needed the intervention by a predicted Messiah to sit on the throne of David to be their own King in order to restore peace as David did a thousand years earlier. However, the Messiah, the Christ who was born in Bethlehem was not an earthly king as the world has come to know about Him; His Messianic role was to redeem humanity from its burden of sin and establish peace by uniting humanity with its Creator.

Ultimately it would require a combat of the spiritual order to crush the temporal order in order to establish lasting peace. It is this battle we observe from time to time in Christian history since the first Christmas.

On the first Christmas day everything was peace. The shepherds rejoiced. The air in Bethlehem was quiet. The manger was quiet and tranquil, except for the joyful praises of Mary and Joseph and for the subtle undertones of their adoration of the Word Incarnate, and for the delicate murmurings of the animals around them.

There is peace everywhere on our Christmas day, and all Christians celebrate it with peaceful jubilations, festive cloths and sumptuous meals. Caroling children sing in neighborhood homes. Churches host caroling groups. Nations exchange messages of peace. Even the soldiers in the battlefield halt their activities, put their weapons back in their sheaths, quiet their marching band, and even forget the presence of enemies in front of them.

Go back to Bethlehem and its surroundings. Some time after the birth of Christ, one could see the entire region weeping and in tears; this is what we commemorate two days after Christmas, the Feast of the killing of the innocent babies. When the swords of the soldiers of Herod were swinging to behead the innocent babies who happened to look like Jesus, the paradox became complete. Thus the innocent infants were baptized in their blood. Two weeks after Christmas, on January 8, the Orthodox Church witnesses another martyrdom, that of Stephen, the protodeacon, full of faith and the Holy Spirit. His life was taken not by a sword; he was stoned to death. He had been “full of Holy Spirit… , saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” He identified with Jesus, which was his crime worth of a death by stoning.

Thus these innocent human beings proved the assertion of Christ who said: “ I came to bring a sword”. There was only one reason for their death: they looked like Jesus. Of the baby boys killed, one might have been Jesus; and Herod killed all of them; he did not want to take a chance of confronting a rivalry in Jesus.

In Christian history we have myriads of martyr who died for Christ; but these holy innocent babies, all less than two years, died instead of Christ. You could call them first martyrs of Christ, but the most thrilling account is that they looked like the Prince of peace, Jesus Christ. All the festivities of Christmas should halt instantaneously when you start to think that if you are Christ-like, the same swords that terminated the lives of those innocents and the stones that killed Stephen, are being sharpened to take your lives.

Yes, Christmas gives us peace, the first part of the paradox, but it becomes a paradox only when the other side is unveiled. Actually it is these innocent babies and the protodeacon Stephen, who trumpet the message of Christmas in a more cogent voice. In other words, Christmas is fundamentally the message not only of peace but also of sword; one complements the other!

The message of Christmas is about a gift; in theological language every gift is grace. Grace is always something given to human being freely, not based on our merits. It is this gift of grace that we receive in Christmas; but it implies sinlessness, the state of innocence acquired through genuine repentance. At this point we, our souls, resemble Christ. By His very nature Christ is what He is; when we resemble Christ it is by His grace; it is a gift. When we resemble Christ, when we become Christlike, we have already become children of God. The Fathers of the Church taught that “God became man so that we may become gods.” After your Baptism and Chrismation you have already become Christlike; you resemble Jesus, by becoming gods, by becoming children of God.

When the angels sang “peace to men of good-will”, it was not meant to men who are cheering and feasting on this day of Christmas. The peace granted is for men who are totally comminuted to Christ, totally transformed and resembled Christ. We experience this peace only when we are at peace with God and God is at peace with us. On the day God’s incarnation is celebrated , on the day the birth of the incarnate God is celebrated, man anxiously smiles at God, and God graciously smiles at him,; they are the points at which the restoration of the similitude of God, which was distorted in Eden, begins to take shape. We begin to assume the resemblance of God, which Adam had been but lost by his transgression. At this Christmas we also should assume God’s resemblance; then the peace granted at the first Christmas will be realized for us, and the sword we are going to confront will be lighter. The privilege of being Christlike, Godlike, is granted only to those who receive Him, not to anybody else. “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1: 11-13); this is the theology of Christmas, elucidated by St. John the apostle, who was very dear to his Master and who expounded true Christology. Yes, we are given the right to become His children, Christlike, Godlike, only when we receive Him. The festivities and sumptuous dinners do not have any significance if we do not shake off the old man of vengeance and sinfulness in us and receive Him as our true Savior, our true Messiah. Thus Christ becomes our peace; no one can take it from us; then we are Christlike.

The moment you become Christlike, our travail to confront the sword starts; that was exactly what the Holy Innocents experienced.

Christians are going to be hunted for being Christlike. Early centuries of Christianity witness the martyrdom of thousands who were Christlike. Since the 7th century after the eruption of and invasion by Islam, Christians, for being Christlike, were hunted and were forced to strip their resemblance of Jesus, the Incarnate Word of God. They had several options under the dhimya system enforced by militant Muslim rulers. One was to become a Muslim by rejecting Jesus, the Incarnate God, and embracing the ultimate prophethood of Mohammed; and many weak Christians gave up their faith and rejected the similitude to Christ. The other was to pay a very heavy tax for their protection in their own motherland, a tax which was enormously heavier than that of Muslim invaders. The third option was to leave the country of their ethnic origin and find asylum in a foreign land; thousands left for other countries which were gracious to receive them and they flourished in their host countries with pride; India was one of those countries. Some of the Syrian communities in South India are descendants of those Syrians/ Assyrians who escaped from persecution in the Middle East. The fourth option was to die for bearing the resemblance of Christ; and thousands perished not being able to leave their own country due to lack of resources to take a trip outside their country.

The pattern was not different in the recent past; thousands of Christians left Turabdin, Iraq and Syria for countries in Europe and the Americas. They proudly, but tearfully, ruminate over their glorious countries their fathers and forefathers naturally inherited, but lost to their invaders. Communism under Stalin banished millions of Orthodox Christians with their hierarchs to Siberia, and there most of them perished without adequate food and medicine in extreme frigid weather. In front of our own eyes we observe the atrocities committed by radical militant Islam against Christians in the Middle East, the demonic immorality practiced against their girls and the plunder that is reducing them to be penniless. Their only crime is looking like Christ, like Jesus, and living like Christ.

All for being Christlike, for resembling Christ!

There is no peace for a Christian in this world. But when he is at peace with God and God is at peace with him, he experiences genuine peace inside him despite the sharpest swords swung around him, severe persecutions that torture him. There are Herods still on the loose in this world; they will continue to hunt him down, and persecute him with their swords. Make no mistake; it is sword that is waiting for you, if you are like Jesus, if you are good Christian, a good Orthodox Christian.

When we become identified with Jesus, our swords may not always come from outside forces who oppose us; swords may come from our own family, our own church, our own community, our own superiors, our own bishops and priests. When we stand for genuine Orthodoxy, the true Gospel of Christ, sometimes by attacking phony and heretical ecumenism, we are observing Christ’s doctrines; and our Christlike image assumes more splendor. At this point those swords will come against us in ways of being ostracized, alienated, marginalized or even reprimanded. In this world it seems that we have to be team-players even when it is against Christ and the faith of the Church, otherwise we will end up paying a heavy price. A true Christian can never be politically-correct; he has to open his conscience to defend the truth revealed to him by Christ. Many priests are unable to do this according their conscience and according to the doctrines of the Church for fear of retaliation, not only by the congregants but also by their hierarchy. No one would leave us alone to live freely with the Christ we have identified.

This is the price we pay for bearing Christ. But our eternal reward for being subjected to these ordeals, whether from outside or from our community, or from our superiors, is our process of deification (theosis) through which is guaranteed our eternal life with the Savior. A good Christian who is Christlike may not be glorified by the world around him; some who are Christlike may be honored because of their position and influence. But a genuine Christian, who is like Jesus, may be persecuted by his own kinsfolk; but even if he does not get any popular acclamation or accolades, or a saint’s funeral, and even if he would seem to rot in an unmarked grave, he would go out of this world seeing the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.

Always bear in mind: No Herod is a fool; his intention is not to kill you; the ultimate purpose is to destroy Jesus. When the innocent babies were killed, Herod’s intention was to kill Jesus, his rivalry. When Stephen was stoned to death, his persecutors wanted to destroy Jesus. When Islam killed Christians in the Middle East, it was to destroy Jesus. All these martyrs would have been saved from swords if they rejected Jesus from their lives. When the Liberal Radical Left with its modern world view forces you to greet your neighbor with a seemingly innocuous, but meaningless, “Happy Holidays!“ instead of “Happy Christmas!”, the agendum behind it is the destruction of Jesus the Christ! When they kill the Jesus in you, they kill the historic Jesus. Historic Jesus is a rival to all these Herods. They fear Him!

If you bear Christ, adversities are unavoidable; they could be from outside as swords for our destruction, or temptations or sorrows from inside. We cannot enjoy the peace given to us without the swords. In other words, we cannot just accept peace and avoid the sword. If the concept of Christmas is a paradox, we are forced to accept both sides of it. In other words, if you want to look like Jesus, you have to accept the consequences of looking like Jesus.

May the celebrations of the Feast of Nativity enlighten your minds to comprehend the real significance of peace granted to us through Christ and the inevitable sword attached to it!

We wish all our readers a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year!

* The author gratefully acknowledges that some of the thoughts behind this editorial have been influenced by Patristic Theologian Walter Burghardt (All Lost in Wonder), a brilliant mind in his field.
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Incarnation: a theodicean perspective

loveofgod
Our thesis is that the incarnation of Christ our Lord, the second Person of the Holy Trinity is an ultimate act of love which continues until He reaches the sufferings of crucifixion and gives up His life for the redemption of humanity. The Triune God consisting of three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is love and He can never be but love. His salvific activities for the sake of humanity are the ultimate expression of His substance in which love is ontologically identical to Himself. The purpose of this rather lengthy treatise is to investigate the notion of Godhead in different religions and find what makes the Christian God so unique that He is concerned about the human race that He became incarnate to deal with its afflictions. Our primary focus is the essence or substance of God, and love of God, which is substantially identical with Himself. In this season it is proper to study the tremendous love that was instrumental behind His incarnation.

For several years as a professor of philosophy this writer had the opportunity to teach the science of theodicy, which is a subdivision of metaphysics, one of the three major branches of philosophy; being the holder of one of the ranks of Orthodox Christian ministry, he loved to explore the theological ramifications of theodicy and teach it.

There are three types of religions in the philosophy of religion; natural religions, artificial religions and revealed religions. All these different religious groups have different approaches to the notion of Godhead.

Natural religions are those religions that were naturally formed by the human craving for a higher being which is supposed to protect men from inclement or unfavorable climates, natural calamities, diseases, and conditions which are generally beyond their control. Thus we have all the tribal and basic religions of Africa, Native American religions, and ancient Indo-European religions from which a much more sophisticated, and sometimes flavored with metaphysical undercurrents, Hinduism developed. Hinduism is a combination of pantheism and polytheism. Modern Hindu reformers want to defend Hinduism as a one-god religion when classical Hinduism according to their books and practice tells the contrary.

Artificial religions, by their very name, are those adapted by their proponents through an eclectic approach by fusing important tenets of more than one major religion; e.g, Manichaeism, Gnosticism, Bahai, Sikhism, Scientology, Theosophy, Christian Science, etc.

Revealed religions are those that are claimed to be revealed by their founders and adherents. They are Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The members of these religions do believe that their religion is the only revealed religion, and the claims of any other revealed religion, which they do not believe in, are false. For example a Muslim believes that Islam is a revealed religion, and that it is the ultimate revelation through their prophet Mohammed. Islam, however, does accept a partially revealed nature of Judaism and Christianity, and teaches that Judaism and Christianity became corrupted. On the other hand, Judaism has no room for recognition of Christianity and Islam as revealed religions. It positively does not accord divine legitimacy to either Christianity or Islam. Christianity, which developed as the perfection of Judaism, totally accepts the revelation received by the ancient patriarch Abraham, and thereafter by the Hebrew prophets, and

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A New bright star in the Eastern Horizon: Patriarch Ignatius Ephraim II

Syriac_Patriarch-new
It was in 2004. In the month of March I was invited to deliver a speech at the World Peace Conference in Turkey organized by the Inter-cultural Dialog Platform for the Advancement of World Peace with the support of the Ministry of Culture and Religion. As soon as I accepted the invitation the news spread among my students through my Turkish students whom I had consulted about my trip, rumors also began to circulate that I was leaving for Turkey for proselytizing. In view of some past hostile incidents confronted by foreigners, particularly Americans, in Turkey, I called Istanbul and cancelled my trip. However, upon consulting two other professors who had also been invited to present their scholarly papers, I was encouraged to attend and present my speech. I notified Turkey that I was sticking with the original plan of attending the Conference and making the speech on “Patristic Contributions to the Quest for Peace”.

However I was still apprehensive about my safety in Turkey. I immediately called the Archbishop of the Syrian Orthodox Church for Eastern United States of America, Dr. Kyrillos Karim Ephraim, with whom I had established a very cordial relationship as a hierarch who possesses outgoing manners and unusually welcoming attitude with a broad and attractive smile. On a few occasions I had been with Archbishop Mor Kyrilos when he visited his parishes in the Chicago area, and enjoyed his very courteous hospitality and sincere graciousness. From our conversation I realized that he was reading the monographs and articles I had been writing and publishing. It was this pre-established confidence that led me to contact Mor Kyrillos to check if our Syrian Church in Turkey might be of some help to guarantee my safety.

Archbishop Mor Kyrillos was very delighted that I was going to make a speech at the World Peace Conference in Turkey, and he offered his help. He asked me if my telephone was equipped with the Conference Call system, which I did not have. The Archbishop immediately turned on his Conference Call device and connected me with Metropolitan Philexinos of Constantinople. Archbishop Mor Kyrillos introduced me to Metropolitan Philexinos of Constantinople, and asked me to give him my itinerary. Metropolitan Philexinos offered his assistance while I was in Turkey. When I reached Istanbul at midnight on May 11, 2004 a chorepiscopus representing Mor Philexinos was there at the airport with two other persons representing the Conference authorities to receive me. I was in Constantinople and Mardin and Midiat until May 18, 2004, and enjoyed the hospitality and motherly love our Syrian Church at many cities and returned home safely. The affection and welcome that I tasted from our Syrian Orthodox brethren on the streets of Midiat during a long rally organized by the Turkish authorities is memorable.

I now recall this episode with deep gratitude to Mor Kyrillos, who was instrumental to make me feel safe in Turkey. He did not have to extend such generosity to a Chor-Episcopos of the Malankara Syrian Church which has some issues of administration with the Syrian Church in the Middle East. Although the Syrian Church in Malankara and the Syrian Church in the Middle East are one Church in faith and priesthood, there exist some administrative concerns that tarnish their wholeness; this has been producing some serious scandals before the eyes of heterodox Christians and pagans. I projected this episode to highlight the greatness of a prelate who was chosen by the Holy Spirit to be at the helm of the most ancient Church of Christ on earth, the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, which alone presents the uninterrupted continuity of the faith, liturgy and priesthood of the ancient Aramaic Church of Jerusalem.

A Pure Aramaic from Turabdin, the Cradle of Aramaic Civilization

Turabdin is at the northern tip of ancient Mesopotamia, where the ancient Aramaic civilization started and flourished; it is from here that this civilization spread all over the ancient empires of Babylon, Chaldea, and Assyria at different periods of time before Christ. The people of this region are generally called “Pure Syrians (Syriacs) or Aramaics”. At present this region is within the Province of Mardin. I had the blessing of visiting this area during my visit of Turkey. It is with great pride that I reminisce the fascinating dance of the Syriac girls on the grounds inside the airport of Mardin that gave a warm and exciting welcome when the scholarly group of speakers and delegates of the Peace Conference landed at 9.00 AM. We were all without sufficient sleep in the previous night and deeply tired; however I still remember the arousal we all gathered from the heavenly and majestic choreography presented before us by those terrestrial angels.

The new Patriarch’s family is originally from this area.

During the early part of the 19th century Turkish Christians became the victims of one of the heinous brutalities in the history of the world. It is reported that millions of Armenian and Syrian Christians were butchered during this period; among them the Armenians outnumber the Syrians. There was a steady exodus of these ethnic groups to the countries south of this region to escape persecution. That is why we see a great number of Syriac and Armenian presence in many parts of the Middle East, such as Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, where they were welcomed by their own ethnic groups; and the Muslim regimes were also more accommodating.

It was during this period that the family of the new Patriarch moved from Ehwo, a small town in the Turabdin region within the Province of Mardin, and settled in Quamishli, which is in northeastern Syria. Turabdin literally means “the mountainous region of the servants of God” (mountains of the servants of God). In fact, the history of the Church testifies the fact that there had been a lot of servants of God from this mountainous region. Now we have one more illustrious servant of God originally hailing from this “mountainous region”, who is not only a servant, but a “servant of the servants of God” by his call to adorn the Petrine Throne of Antioch, one of the primordial Sees of ancient Christendom. Holy Father Moran Mor Ignatius Ephraim II: your genealogy from the cradle of the Aramaic civilization singles you out to be at the helm of our great Syrian Church. Axios, Axios, Axios!!!

The new Patriarch was born as Sa’id Karim on May 3, 1965 at Quamishli, as the youngest child of Issa and Khanema Karim. His father had passed away when he was very young, and he was raised by the rest of the family and the mother. He had his primary education at a local school in Quamishli.

Call to Religious Life and to the Service of the Church and Higher Education

From a very young age Sa’id Karim was imbued with a great passion for the service of God. Hence he chose a religious secondary school to complete his High School education. In order to achieve this goal, he moved to Atchaneh in Lebanon to purse his secondary education at St. Ephraim Theological Seminary, where he completed his High School education with a focus on religious studies in 1982. Immediately after graduating from this seminary-high school, at the very onset of his youth, he was exposed to the administrative process of the Church by becoming secretary to Metropolitan Gregorios Yohanna Ibrahim of Aleppo, Syria. He was with Mor Gregorios for two years equipping himself with initial skills in the management of affairs of the Church by assisting the Metropolitan he was serving.

In 1984 he started his post-secondary studies at the Coptic Orthodox Theological Seminary in Cairo, Egypt, and graduated in 1988 with a Bachelor’s degree in Divinity. During the seminary studies he was tonsured as monk in 1985 and received the monastic name of Ephraim (Aprem) in honor of the great Syriac Doctor of the Church, St. Ephraim the Syrian, who remained a simple ascetic deacon all his life. In the same year he was ordained to the diaconate in Cairo, and subsequently received his priesthood in his hometown (Quamishli).

Upon graduation from the Seminary Hieromonk Ephraim moved back to the Patriarchal headquarters of his Church and became one of the personal secretaries of His Holiness Patriarch Zakka I, while keeping a faculty position at St. Ephraim’s Theological Seminary near Damascus, Syria. While at the Patriarchal residence, the Holy Father identified the scholarly aptitude and thirst for higher learning in this young monk and sent him for graduate studies in theology at St. Patrick’s College at Maynooth, Ireland in 1989. After two years of studies, Hieromonk Ephraim received the degree of Licentiate in Theology, which would qualify him to be teacher in theology at the seminary and postsecondary levels.

As a monk, who possessed tremendous craving for higher learning and theological erudition, Hieromonk Ephraim did not stop his education just with a Licentiate. A young man deeply passionate in Syriac Patristics, he wanted to deepen and widen his knowledge base as a scholar. He conducted investigative studies on the Syriac roots of the theology of the Holy Cross, which no other Church in Christendom had developed like the Syriac Church. In fact, it is only in the Syriac Church that the veneration of the Holy Cross has become a predominant part of the worship both in regular liturgy and in the canonical hours of the Church. The climax of most of the feasts of the Church is with the exaltation and veneration of the Holy Cross, and with the blessing of all four quarters of the cosmos with the Holy Cross. For Hieromonk Ephraim, the Holy Cross was a mystery in itself which only the Syriac Church could expound so vividly, elegantly and elaborately, and his scholastic curiosity thrilled. For three more years he continued at St. Patrick’s College to purse his doctoral studies. His researches on the topic brought him to a dissertation on the “Symbolism of the Holy Cross in Early Syriac Christianity”, and St. Patrick’s College conferred on him the earned degree of Doctor of Divinity in 1994.

During his graduate studies in Ireland he was a diligent pastor of the Diaspora Syriac Orthodox faithful in the United Kingdom, which provided him direct experience dealing with the rank and file of Church. The pastoral skills acquired in his tenure as priest in U.K definitely helped him later as a bishop of the Church.

Call to the Rank of the Successors of the Apostles

His Holiness Patriarch Zakka easily detected the apostolic zeal and episcopal potentialities in Hieromonk Ephraim to fill the vacuum created by the demise of the late Archbishop Mor Athanasios Yeshue Samuel of America. Hieromonk Ephraim was chosen to succeed Mor Athanasios. On January 26, 1996 Hieromonk Ephraim was ordained a bishop with the episcopal name Kyrillos by Patriarch Zakka with rank of a Metropolitan at St. Mary’s Syrian Orthodox Church in Quamishli, Syria. By this time the Archdiocese of America had been already divided to create three separate eparchial jurisdictions, one for Canada, and the other two were for Eastern United States and Western United States. Metropolitan Mor Kyrillos was appointed to the See of Eastern United States of America. On March 3, 1996 Metropolitan Mor Kyrillos was enthroned to be the new Metropolitan Archbishop of his new See at St. Mark’s Orthodox Cathedral, Teaneck, NJ. Thus the new Archdiocese of Eastern United States was blessed with a new archpastor, well-qualified as a priest and erudite. It was the beginning of a new era for the Syriac communities in the Eastern United States. I have directly observed the magnificent growth of this Church which I gathered as a result of my close relationship with the Syriac communities.

A Tireless Worker in the Vineyard of Christ

Under the spiritual leadership of Archbishop Kyrillos Ephraim Karim the growth of the archdiocese was phenomenal. Compared to other ethnic Orthodox communities, the Syriac community has a smaller number in the United States; however he managed to develop more than ten parishes and granted them canonical status and appointed their pastors to take care of their spiritual needs. He set up a Sunday School Committee comprising principals and teachers of local Sunday Schools to unify the curriculum and to oversee it and monitor the progress of local Sunday schools across the archdiocese. He became a champion and supporter of the American Foundation of Syriac Studies to promote Syriac theology, Culture, History and Literature. Being a scholar in Syriac who is well-versed in classical Syriac which carries all writings and literature in that language (kthobonoyo) and the colloquial Syriac which has been spoken for centuries and still being spoken in various Aramaic communities in Turkey and the Middle East (Thuroyo), Mor Kyrillos eventually became a patron for Syriac Studies.

One of the well-noticed accomplishments of the Archbishop was the establishment of Syrian Orthodox Archdiocesan Youth Organization (SOAYO) to cater to the social and spiritual needs of the young people under his jurisdiction. SOAYO does coordinate the activities of local Youth Organizations within the archdiocese. Under this organization many other programs work to support the youth, for example, Academic Scholarship Program, Youth Retreats, Monthly Youth Liturgy, Archdiocesan Choral Society to promote Syriac Hymnology, Syriac Orthodox Scouts of America, Premarital Counseling Program, etc. Archbishop Kyrillos was not just an initiator of these programs from behind; he personally took active participation in these programs not only at the Archdiocesan level, but also at the parish level whenever possible to encourage the youth.

He was not only concerned about growing generation; he was indeed interested in the seniors of his Church. He organized Annual Elderly Liturgy Services which also have a social component. In these annual programs the seniors can bring up their concerns related to retirement, healthcare, housing and other relevant issues. These events also highlighted notable achievements and contributions of the elderly, and special recognitions are awarded to worthy seniors.

Following the same path of his predecessor, Mor Athanasios of blessed memory, he took special interest in continuing the translation and publication of certain liturgical books, which were not previously published. They include “The Book of the Order of Burial of Clergy”, and “The Book of Scripture Readings of Sundays and Feast Days”.

The Syriac Church is definitely blessed to have such a talented and God-inspired hierarch to take the responsibilities of its Patriarch. We believe it is God’s choice; actually this was not an election by the fathers of the Holy Synod; it was a selection by God.

Challenges Ahead

No leader is measured on the basis of his past achievements, not even on one’s acquired erudition; they are only his qualifications to become a leader. Every leader has to go through the test of time, the time ahead with multiple challenges which are often very difficult to deal with and very complex deterring him from making viable and long-lasting solutions. The greatness of a leader is established on his merit in setting policies and strategies to counter challenging situations and holding on the principles of propriety. If we observe the curriculum vitae of Patriarch Ephraim II, we are assured that he is quite equipped with the knowledge base and will power for meeting the challenges and complex surroundings of his patriarchate; which is indeed a blessing not only for all Syrians both in the Middle East and India, and elsewhere the Syrians have migrated to.

The Syrian Unrest:

We do not ignore the tolerant and benevolent attitude of some Muslim rulers towards Christians during Caliphates in the 7th, 8th and 9th centuries. However some of them did not give freedom to Christians to freely practice their religion or equal citizenship rights. A good number of Christians left the Middle East during those days and settled in other parts of the world (this writer is a descendant of such an expatriate Syrian group). According to Time Magazine, a similar situation has been occurring these days in the Middle East (TIME; April 21, 2014). We have seen that after the Iraq war, which gave power to the present regime, Iraqi Christians have been leaving their motherland in great numbers; and it is said there are only 300,000 Christian left in Iraq now.

The same situation is happening to Christians in Syria in pockets where anti-regime militants have tightened their grips. In the northern town of Raqqa, for example, 20 Christian families have been asked to pay a tax equivalent to $650.00 as a cost of protection. Christians in general face similar situation in many parts of the Middle East (Time). According to media reports the Middle East currently has only 3 % Christians left. The condition is getting worse everyday. During the regime of Saddam Hussein the protection of Christians was basically guaranteed; but Christians do not feel secure anymore. The Azad regime in Syria is protecting minorities; no one knows how long Azad will last. Christians are panic-stricken; and when a chance is open they want to get out their own country for freedom and protection.

The Syrian Orthodox Christians are scattered all over the Middle East; realizing that they are not safe anymore many of them may leave when there is an opportunity. Their number is steadily decreasing. How would the new Patriarch deal with this hostile situation? Patriarch Ephraim does have good rapport with many leaders in that region. He is skillful to go through all possible diplomatic avenues for the protection of his faithful and to develop an atmosphere for peaceful coexistence with the majority population in the Middle East. If results are not produced, the theories of coexistence would be mere academic jargon. At that point Patriarch Ephraim would go on his knees and intercede for his people so that the Almighty God may rescue them and make him stronger to defend his people. The world wants a strong Christian presence in the Middle East at least by maintaining the status quo, because they are children of that land. May the new Patriarch be a Moses to his people in the Middle East, not for expatriation, but for leading them to freedom in their own fatherland! We pray for him to have strength and divine guidance.

The Malankara Question:

The new Patriarch will be confronted with the question about Syrian Church of Malankara, India. No one presenting an answer that the Church of Malankara is with the Patriarch can be justified in view of the history of the Syrian Church of Malankara and the current ecclesiological practices in Christendom. Thus Malankara is a very serious issue before the new Patriarch of Antioch. The fact that less than one third of the Church is directly under the Patriarch and that more than two third, although do recognize the Patriarchate of Antioch, seek a different path in recognizing the role of the Antiochian Patriarchate, gives ecclesiologists enough doctrinal points to argue for the will of the majority in light of the two criteria mentioned above, i.e. history of the Syrian Church in Malankara and current orthodox ecclesiological practices.

This writer does not believe in two Syrian Churches. There is only one Church, one set of doctrines of faith, and one priesthood. As we all know the Syrians in the Middle East are at a vanishing point, although they remain as immigrant communities elsewhere in many parts of the world; still their total number is behind the Syrians in India. The Patriarchate will be strengthened manifold times if the entire Syrian Church in India totally remain with Patriarchate of Antioch with its Catholicate of the East. The ideal is the corroboration of both national churches with mutual collaboration. The Catholicate and the Patriarchate should be in a position of respecting each other; both Sees have almost the same historical and canonical legitimacy.

An impartial observer can easily realize that the 1995 Indian Supreme Court verdict was the best document for forging a viable and long-lasting unity between the two groups, one recognizing the Patriarch alone as the head of the Church and the other recognizing the Catholicos as the head of the Church of the East, and recognizing the Patriarch according to the provisions of the Constitution of Orthodox Syrian Church of the East. It was a right opportunity. But who short-circuited the union between them? Only some prelates who claimed to be subservient to the Patriarchate for their own ulterior motive of clinging to power they already had already possessed. In the event of a union they had to give up their power positions for the legitimate position of the Catholicos of the East recognized by the Supreme Court of India. The majority of the bishops in Synod obedient to the Antiochian Patriarchate wanted an immediate union with the Catholicate of East, but a few did not go for it to save their positions (some of them told this truth personally to this writer). But if the Catholicate of the East and Patriarchate of Antioch were united, keeping their national identities and autonomous and autocephalous individualities, our Church would have been the shining mystical body. One Church and two jurisdictions each having its own autonomy and autocephaly with primus inter pares status for the See of Antioch is the only solution for long-lasting peace between these churches. Keeping a smaller group under the Patriarchate and leaving the other larger group as a separate body is not canonically tenable (although there may exist such arrangements in other churches, again with selfish and imperial interests). The majority of Indian Syrians want their Church undivided, but in cordial relationship with the Patriarchate of Antioch.

We believe, the Holy Father Mor Ignatius Ephraim II, who is well-educated in oriental ecclesiology, will take the initiative to recognize the current ecclesiological practices in Orthodoxy.

The history of the Church in Malankara asserts that a formal relationship between Antioch and Malankara began to develop only by the 17th or 18th century. Historically the Church is India was attached to the Catholicate of the East headquartered in Seleucia-Ctesiphon. After the Catholicate fell into Nestorianism, the Orthodox succession of the same Catholicate was erected as a Mafrianate by Antioch, meaning, a dependent See under the Antiochian See. The Orthodox Catholicate lost its independent status as a See due to two main reasons: The majority of Syrians identified with the Nestorian Catholicate, which itself enjoyed the status of a Patriarchate (the titles Patriarch and Catholicos were interchangeable names then, such is the case with the Catholicoi of Armenia, Georgia, and Cilicia). Thus the number of the Orthodox Syrians in the East was reduced to a weak minority. Secondly, Muslim invasions considerably weakened both groups of Syrians, particularly the Orthodox Church which had suffered terribly due to Nestorian influence in those regions.

One basic truth that should be recognized is the apostolicity of the Indian Church, i.e. the Church of India (Malankara) was founded by the Apostle St. Thomas. In other words, the Church of Malankara is not the result of the evangelizing activities of any other Church which could claim parental rights over Malankara. This justifies its claim for self-determination.

Now let us come to current practices in Orthodoxy. The Church of Ethiopia was under the Coptic Church since Church history started in that region, and she had a filial relationship with Alexandria. It is modern history that when the Ethiopians demanded autocephaly and autonomy with their own Patriarchate, Alexandria had to give up all claims over Ethiopia, and subsequently gave all moral support for Ethiopia’s freedom. In the very recent past, the Eritreans had a similar claim, and succeeded, although with resistance from Ethiopia; but other Churches have already recognized their Patriarchate.

Coming to the Armenians, there are two jurisdictions, one in Armenia and other in the Middle East; for some time the Armenian Catholicate considered the Catholicate of Cilicia a schismatic group. But now look what happened! They are one Church now, but with two jurisdictions and two Catholicoi.

The Church of Malankara is the most literate among all Oriental Orthodox churches, and the largest within the Syrian communion, and possesses the most educated clergy among all Orthodox churches, runs the highest number of university colleges and secondary schools; and two accredited major seminaries, one with doctoral degree offering accreditation, and a School of Sacred Music. Its spiritual activities, such as Sunday School, Youth League, and Women’s apostolate vividly display the spiritual maturity of a fully developed Church.

With such a growth and maturity, does not the Church of Malankara deserve autonomy and autocephaly? Does she still have to be a dependency?

The new Holy Father Moran Mor Ephraim II, being a visionary, should extend his magnanimity to embrace this Church of Malankara in order to avoid a division in the Syrian Church in India.

His Holiness Moran Mor Ephraim personally knows me, and how I value and venerate the Patriarchate of Antioch. My ancestry is originally from the Middle East, a few centuries ago shooting from a Pure Syrian stock. Hence my Syrian heritage is of paramount significance to me; hence my unwavering support and adulation for the Antiochian Patriarchate. Personally speaking, I want the Syrian Church to restore its past glory prior to the period of Muslim expansion. I have highlighted in my past writing the need of supporting the Dayarul Safran ( Monastery of Kurkuma) and the Monastery of Mor Gabriel near Mardin, the spiritual centers where Syriac spirituality and liturgy developed and were perfected. When I defend the autonomy and autocephaly of Malankara it is not to implicate any reduction of honor for Antioch; on the other hand it is to give witness to Christ as one team composed of two national jurisdictions with dignity and equality for each, never implying any form of subjugation of one by the other. I believe the historical significance of the Antiochian Patriarchate would be further enhanced with this kind of relationship. The Roman doctrine of universal jurisdiction by any See over other Sees has never been, nor is, a dogma within Orthodoxy. All the Byzantine Orthodox churches are autocephalous with their own Patriarchates, but a position of preeminence always goes for the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

I urge our new Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Ephraim II to invite the Catholicos of the East for a friendly meeting, and later move towards creative dialogs for complete union. There is a dictum in English, “Charity begins at home”. Most Holy Father, we are all ONE family, ONE home; we are all waiting for the light of love (charity) in our home lighted by Your Holiness. I understand that Malankara always wanted and does want a healthy sisterly relationship with Antioch.

Most Holy Father, this is the most important challenge of your Patriarchal ministry: to bring the Patriarchate of Antioch and the Catholicate of the East together as ONE team keeping both jurisdictions independent without one encroaching the other in autonomy of administration and autocephaly.

On the 29th of May 2014 the newly elected Patriarch of the Antiochian See will be consecrated and enthroned the Patriarch of Antioch and All the East with the name Patriarch Ignatios Aprem II. We send our warmest greetings and prayers on this occasion not only to His Holiness, but also the faithful under his Patriarchal ministry.

We pray for Your Holiness’ ministry from the Chair of St. Peter at Antioch, and for your health and longevity to serve the Lord and His people with apostolic zeal. May we also be blessed! May your prayers be a fortress for us! Amin.

AXIOS, AXIOS, AXIOS,
MORAN MOR IGNATIOS APREM THRAYONO PATRIARCHO D’KURSYO SHLIHOYO D’ANTHIOKYA D’SURYOYE!!!

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Theology demands the priest to be the ruler of his people

2010-new-bishop-elected
The thesis of this editorial is that our priests are not just Pujaris (the performers of religious rites) and that they are also administrators who lead their people and that they are also custodians not only of faith, but also of the temporalities of the Church. In order to prove the essence of this thesis we have to briefly explain the theology of Orthodox Priesthood (for more details please read this writer’s book, Orthodox Christian Priesthood: A Patristic Anthology with Commentaries [Malayalam]).

Orthodox priests have a threefold function. They are Sanctification of the faithful through the sacraments (the mysteries of the Church), Preaching the Word of God (Evangelization), and Administration of the Church. All of these functions are equally important. Once the parish priesthood (Idavakapattam) became defunct, and because the priests are no more attached to a parish for life, our church generated a floating priesthood; meaning, no priests sees it important to claim his administrative function as essential to his parish priesthood. A priest who is regularly moving from parish to parish at the whims of his hierarch or parishioners, as a result of the recently adopted western transfer system for parish clergy, naturally becomes less interested in his administrative function, and sometimes altogether gives it up, and turns himself just a pujari.

Why does he do it? As he is a floating priest he lacks the needed inside financial and procedural information, and he would not try to train himself into it; because before he becomes informed in such areas, his transfer order from the bishop would be in the mail. If he gets too much involved and interested in the financial affairs of the parish, the lay trustee and the members of the committee might get jittery about it. The only thing they might want their priest to do is to go to the head of campaign to raise funds to renovate a church or to build a parish hall. The hierarch also might say: “Let them handle money; you celebrate the Liturgy and perform all the sacraments, and go home”. The tendency from the part of the hierarch generally has been to appease the majority so that he could go back to his residence after an arch pastoral visit with a fat purse. This writer is sorry to make this sad comment about our hierarchs in general; he has seen the tears of many priests because of the spinelessness of our hierarchs to resist the pressure of the laity, particularly the treasurer and the members of some churches. Very often, hierarchs look at the numbers in a parish assembly to determine his course of action rather than the truth and propriety that are at stake. There is always a tendency among bishops to placate the laity rather than to defend their coworkers in the priestly ministry.

Another reason for the indifference of priests in articulating their administrative role in their parish is to maintain a cordial relationship with the committee of the parish. It has many advantages. Better relationship means harmony in the parish, which looks great in their resume for better placement in the future. It would also create an advantageous impact on their prospect to generate additional revenue apart from the standardized monthly remuneration either from the diocesan center or from the parish; because the banner over their heads as “a good and humble priest” is definitely an image booster and will earn the sympathy of many people in the parish. This image can be maintained only through non-interference with a lot of administrative areas, particularly with monetary affairs. Many priests would give up their right to be the co-trustee of the parish representing the Holy Church by letting the lay-trustee operate bank accounts without their co-signature. Many priests do this not because it is permissible according to the Constitution of the Church, but because it is the smoothest way to get along with some lay-trustees. This is also important to maintain their “clean image”.

Now let us see what theology teaches regarding the administrative role of priests. In our consideration of the priesthood, we deal with priesthood of the Episcopal order and priesthood of the presbyteral order as one entity. The additional function of a bishop is the ordination of ordinary priests (presbyters) and their appointments. They also have the function of leading a larger portion of the Church. On the other hand, regular priests possesses the basic priestly functions within the basic unit of a larger portion of the Church, which is the parish, except the ordination and appointment of other priests and consecration of Holy Myron. Therefore, we would like to deal with a priesthood comprising the episcopate and the presbyter ate.

Eusebius of Alexandria says in one his sermons:
The priest should conduct himself toward the people in the following way. He ought to pray for his people with his whole heart, to preside over temporal administration until death (writer’s emphasis), and lay down his life for his sheep, according to the command of Christ, who said: “The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” (Jn 10:11). … Take care of your servants: do not humiliate one and exalt another. Do not honor one and condemn another. Do not give special attention to the rich while you spurn the beggar who cannot offer you a gift. Be careful to treat all equally (Sermon 5: PG 86A, 346).

The Didascalia says:
You (priests) are appointed the good stewards of God who will require of your hands an account of this stewardship he has entrusted to you…. So then, dispense well those things which have been delivered to you as good stewards of God, to the orphans, the widows, the needy and the strangers” (2, 25, 2).

The Didascalia is an ancient document. From the very antiquity of Christianity stewardship was a responsibility of the priesthood. How can a priest have stewardship without the function of administration of his Church? He can delegate his functions to a deacon or a layperson or a lay treasurer; but his responsibility can never be delegated. In other words, administration of the Church is ultimately one of the functions of parish priesthood. It was to counteract the abuses in the priesthood that the Holy Church later permitted the involvement of the laity in the administration of parishes. Theologically speaking, this lay participation is to help the administrative function of the priesthood, not to deny the role of administration by a priest.

According to Orthodoxy, the church is not a perfect democracy like a secular nation. Western Protestantism also embraces strict democracy in their churches. In Orthodoxy, the Church is a hierarchical organization where the hierarchy starts from priesthood and ends at the laity. However, the Church employs democratic principles in the selection of bishops and priests and other ministers, and should also keep its accounts open for all the faithful. In this area we differ from Roman Catholicism, which does not entertain such privileges to the laity, and does not open its financial books to the rest of the Church. Financial accountability to the entire Church is a required virtue in the administration of Orthodox parishes and dioceses and of the Church at large.

Now let us examine the Acts of the Apostles. The apostles were stewards of the receipts of the Church. “’… all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need” (Acts 4: 34-35). We do not see a lay board or committee to receive the proceeds of the things sold by the believers. Actually the administration of the temporal affairs of the Church was with the apostles, not with any other body. The distribution of these proceeds was also done by the apostles. Later deacons were ordained to take care of the poor and needy. Again, apostles were also responsible for the temporal affairs of the Church. Bishops and priests are successors of the apostles, and the functions of the apostles are carried on by the priests of the Church now.

Now we go to relevant parts of the ordination service of priests. The prayers of ordination reflect the theology of priesthood. We see in the Sedro of the Ordination of Priests the following prayer:

“Make him … a minister and steward of thy mysteries, a priest of the true right side, a good administrator and a spiritual pillar”.

In the ordination of Chor-bishops the same prayer is likewise emphasized:

“Make him … a minister and a steward of thy mysteries, a Chor-episcopus of the true right side, a good administrator and spiritual pillar”.

During the prayer invoking the Holy Spirit upon the new Chor-episcopus, the celebrant says:

“Having received grace and mercy, may you attain inheritance, which belongs to the faithful, wise, just, and holy administrators, through the compassion of God”.

If we examine the ordination of bishops, references to his role as an administrator are clearly evident. We would like to keep this treatise shorter.

Yes, Orthodox theology demands the priests to be the administrators of God’s Church. It was the faith of the Church, has been the faith of the Church, and is the faith of the Church. If we dismantle this function of the Orthodox priesthood, there will not be an Orthodox priesthood.

Having said this, no one should think that it is an administration without the partnership of the people of God. Our Constitution has provisions for lay participation and involvement in the administration of the Church. But the ultimate persons endowed with the responsibility of the administration of the Church of God are her bishops and priests.

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When Divinity meets Humanity…

nativity-of-our-Lord
We hear the Christmas story every year during the month of December. What we hear is the story of purely mundane things. We hear about a couple looking for a lodge in an emergency situation; the young woman was in her full term of pregnancy and was about to give birth to a baby. We hear about a manger, which was the only alternative for them without the availability of a lodge in Bethlehem. This manger happened to be very frigid; the newborn shivered and happened to be wrapped up in straw. We hear about the whispering of a girl, whose eyes were lit with astonishment and wonder. The story is also loud about the first Christmas carol of a choir of angels singing “Glory to God in the highest…!” To our admiration, there was also a moving star which led some wise men to this manger. These men offered incense, myrrh and gold at the feet of this newborn baby… This is humanly speaking a very lovely story.

The mother of this baby, thirty-three later, was entrusted to a man called John when this baby grew up and revealed the ultimate truth about Himself and was sentenced to die on the cross. Her Son asked him to take care of her as his mother after his passing away, also asked her to take him as her son. This woman must have told him the mystery of her conception, and the truth about the Person she carried in her womb. Thus the true story of Christmas unravels itself, and the picture gets clear. John many decades later had the audacity declare “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1.14). When this truth is professed in the Nicene Symbol of faith, all Christians make a deep prostration to adore this enfleshment of the Sovereign Deity. Here the Story of Christmas becomes complete; when Divinity meets humanity we have the Christmas. Any Christmas (and its feast and celebration) devoid of the Divine meeting the human is not a Christmas; because it does not meet the criterion witnessed by John.

If one studies the early part first chapter of John’s gospel, it becomes clear who this Word is. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1: 1- 4: Orthodox Study Bible). John’s description of the Word actually elevates the human beauty of the Christmas story to a higher plane and connects it to the divine to make sense of the story and to make it worthy of global celebration.

John’s preamble to the enfleshment of the Word directs our rational imagination to the primordial scenes of human origins, to the first man and woman, to the first transgression of God’s law. Adam and Eve, the first humans, who were created to be the first parents of human genealogy, were meant to transmit their original innocence, which they had received directly from the breathing of the Creator, to the generations of men and women of their species. However, they both sinned and shattered and totally disfigured the image of God in which they were fashioned.

In the strictest sense this image was not just a reflection; the first humans possessed the basic characteristics of the Godhead. God is a person, who is fully rational, capable of thinking or reasoning and of possessing the most sublime faculty of a free will which is the source of His immeasurable love. In other words, it is reason and free will in their unfathomable magnitude that make God the Person who creates and sustains all that was, all that is and all that will be. It is to this divine realm that God raised His new species of humans, although in a very limited extent as a created being that has limitations of temporality. Actually instead of qualifying man as an image or reflection of God, we must call him an icon of God. An icon is the miniature of a reality, the replica of the very reality, but not the reality itself. Similarly man is miniature God.

But this status of the first humans did not last that long. Satan, having lost all his glory as an archangel wanted to expand his kingdom, and shot his arrow of deception at this new creation of God, who has almost all his qualities with an additional dimension taken from the dust of the earth, which made him more vulnerable to temptations. This vulnerability with a free will and rationality was a feast for Satan. His arrow hit at the right spot, and it was also swallowed by the first woman, who did not want to be herself as the sole victim. She shared it with her man, as any woman would naturally do. This led to a metaphysical tragedy making not only both of them but also all the generations that erupted from them lose their original innocence and justice. Thus they lost the real love infused in them by their Creator; “love had fled from their souls”. They both became terrified. Adam cried out in despair: “I heard Your voice in paradise, and I was afraid”. Thus Satan succeeded in his plan. His plan was to demolish the most noble relationship between a rational God and His rational creature. He poisoned the human race at its root. The human race thus had fallen away from the love of God. Man could not relate to Him in the absence of a true love. Being fallen, Adam’s race acquired a habit of sinning and offending God from Cain who had killed his innocent brother to the archenemy of Christ before the end of our generation, the Antichrist. Until there is no more relevance for time and space, this deception by Satan will go on, the devil in and around us would lead us to more sins. The first victim of Eve’s sin was Abel at whose death the first tears in human history fell from the eyes of a mourning Eve, the first mother, whose first sin had brought this first tragedy on her and her man! This was the first gift our first parents presented to us, a nature susceptible to sin.

God was very much disturbed by this deplorable lot of humans. The antidote for sin is its own antonym- LOVE. God cursed Satan, but made a covenant for man’s emancipation from the deceptive grip of Satan out of His true love: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and your seed and her seed. He shall bruise your head, and you shall be on guard for His heel” Gen. #; 15). To paraphrase, (God said to Satan): “The first human beings that I have created betrayed my love. To restore that love I will raise a Son from her, and I will create a shield of grace between you and her Son, between your treachery (sin) and her Son; and finally He will crush your head”. Let me quote from the Wisdom of Solomon now: “For while gentle silence embraced everything and night at its own speed was half over, Your all-powerful Word leaped from heaven, and from the royal throne into the midst of a doomed land” (18:14-15)[*These verses of Wisdom may have other implications]. How lovely and cogent are the words of Solomon to depict the descent of the Word on earth from His royal throne in heaven! Almost a thousand years later, about this Word (Logos), John confirmed the same after having been inspired by the Holy Spirit “The Word became flesh (on earth)”.

Christmas is nothing if it is not about Love, if it is not the restoration of love. In fact we celebrate God’s benevolent and all-forgiving kiss on the sad face of humanity charred by a first degree burning inflicted by sin; it is a kiss of love to lay the foundation for reconciliation between desperate humanity and a just God who seeks propitiation from His offender. Christmas is not about a cold manger, swaddling cloths, a Mary and Joseph kneeling in front of an infant and a few cattle gazing at him, the angels and their choir, the three magi and their gifts of incense, myrrh and gold, and not even the many innocent infants killed by Herod, but about the Son of a woman who came to bruise the head of the archenemy of God, Satan. Humanity needed a Savior; and on the first Christmas day in Bethlehem He was born from a woman untainted by man’s voluptuousness. This Son born of a virgin could take away the sin of humanity and give forgiveness.

The beauty of Christmas lies in forgiveness; not in the manger, not in the garland decorating it, not in a Virgin Mary and her betrothed husband, and not even in the mesmerizing melody produced by the angelic choir up in the air. What Bethlehem had witnessed was the birth of this forgiveness, which was obtained from this Child of the Virgin. Christmas without the guarantee of forgiveness is just a celebratory extravaganza; it just is an entertainment without substance, without a raison d’etre. So it is with most of our Christians. Forgiveness demands many prerequisites. The conviction that we have sinned, the contrition creating genuine remorse, the unwavering resolution not to sin again, the confession of the sins committed or omitted, and readiness to repair the damage inflicted by the sin are the major prerequisites. Every Christmas is an occasion for a Christian to spiritually and emotionally prepare for God’s forgiveness; commercial interests have very little room in its celebrations. It is not primarily meant for the entrepreneurial man to dig in for more gold. In Capitalism it may be ethical, but in Christianity this mentality is spiritually and morally deceptive and destructive.

Our festivities in connection with our Christmas bypass all supernatural exhortations and preternatural considerations. We sink in more deep sins during these festivities. It is reported that on a Christmas day, the Beverages Corporation in the State of Kerala In India sells millions of liters of liquor driving thousands and thousands of families into irrevocable poverty, immorality, destitution, accidents, and diseases for many months, or years, to come. Instead of forgiveness, these festivities gather the wrath of God and His judgment. In order to become worthy of His forgiveness, it is not enough that the Christ-Child stay in His manger. The other name of this Child is Emmanuel, which means “God with us”; in other words, this Child should be “with us and within us”, not just “in the manger”. Rather than keeping this Christ-Child in a manger, we have to taste His presence “with us and in us”. There is a Christian name, Christopher, which literally means “the one who carries Christ”. Rather than letting a manger carry Christ, we should become the bearers of Christ. The truth is that one cannot bear Christ if he has driven out the Spirit of God from by becoming an obedient servant of Satan. If Christ-God lives in us, if we bear Him, we are not at all afraid of Him or His presence; on the contrary we would rejoice. Centuries ago Adam said: “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid”; however with Christ-Child in us, each of us could say: “I heard Your voice in the manger in Bethlehem; and I was very happy; I rejoice”. What a transformation Christmas has effected on our souls! We read in I Corin-thians (15:55) that death comes from sin and the victory that the Hell is joyful about; the Hell was rejoicing about death effected by our sin. But Paul emphatically declares that “Thanks be to God, who gives victory (over death and sin) through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Co. 15:56). Christmas started the combat against the reign of death. If the first Christmas was in a manger in Bethlehem, every Christmas since then must have occurred in our hearts. Imperial Rome must have recorded the birth of Christ then in Bethlehem (because it was for meeting the census requirement that Mary and Joseph had gone to Bethlehem), and it was indeed a significant birth as it recoded one more citizen within the dominion of the Roman Emperor. Every Christmas since then would be significant only after His birth is recorded in our hearts and souls as the most significant in our history. One cannot record Christ’s birth in his heart until His birth is an event for him, until it imprints a salvific seal in his soul, until he becomes equipped to fight sin which is the cause of death.

Let us go back to the area of John’s gospel we have quoted earlier and read on the most relevant portions thereafter: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name; who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” (Jn 1:12-13). The entire theology of the economy of salvation is spelled out here by John. We have to become children of God, Godlike, or divine ultimately in order to accomplish the mission of incarnation. We lost our filial relationship to God through Adam’s sin; but Christ regained our sonship through adoption by His blood. Everyday we repeat the Nicene Symbol of Faith: “We believe in the one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God…who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and was made man…” This is the act of faith required of us at every Christmas, and always as Christians.

All the celebrations of Christmas become lovely when we really comprehend spiritually and rationally (“rationally” means our rational assent to a revealed truth, not that our intellect can totally comprehend the truth of incarnation) the basic doctrine of Christianity that “The Word became flesh”.

It is this truth that connects Christmas with the divine. Thus we realize it is not just Mary’s Child who lies in the manger, and it is God Himself, Who is wrapped in swaddling cloths. Now there is significance for Mary and Joseph gazing at the stunning Reality to which the former gave birth. Now it is meaningful for Mary and Joseph to kneel around this Wonder Baby in adoration. Now it makes sense for the angelic choir to chant “Hallel… Hallel.. Halleluiah…” in the heavens. The shepherds watching their sheep now hear a much more mellifluous melody coming from the angels which is contagious to the rest of humans to start fresh stanzas of lullaby for this new miracle babe: “The Word became flesh…, and dwelt among us…” We have a striking melody that was sung by Mary herself while she was kneeling by the side of the crib of her Baby:

“You strengthened me and I carried You…and when I bore You in the cave, You showed me Your glory. Flames surround the little crib and the Seraphim with six wings fly above it. Command them to raise their wings, that I may enter, Lord, and kneel and worship you; and I will give a pure milk which shall be pleasing to Your will… I have no house on earth, nor couch, nor bed, I am deprived of all; I will wrap in swaddling bands Him who is more ancient than all, and I will lay in manger the Lord of creatures. His Father has no equal in heaven, and there is none like His mother on earth; He is the Lord and I am His handmaid and the Church is His bride” (Syrian Breviary- Evening Prayers). What an unparalleled and unmatching poetic imagery the Syrian Orthodox Book of Hours provides!

Joseph definitely was stunned at the Reality in front of him.

The guiding star of the magi did not have a clue why it was moved to a definite destination, but when it stood above the crib the prostrations of the wise men told it that they had been hastening to worship the Sovereign-Child of the cosmos! And these magi may have thought of giving their guiding star as a toy for this Lord of lords who was lying as a Child in that crib, in addition to the other gifts!!

Readers: Is the Incarnate Word of God a Reality for all of us who celebrate this Christmas like Mary, Joseph, the angels, the shepherds, the magi and the whole Judea who were blessed with His really definite divine presence in human nature? If we do not see our God coming as a human baby for our redemption, our Christmas is totally devoid of its original substance. We are deceiving ourselves. Let us not be hypocritical.

Yes, Christmas is the story of Divinity coming down and meeting humanity. Without the Lord God coming down to be spiritually born in our hearts and souls, Christmas is flavorless.

May the Incarnate Lord God be born in you and live in you, so that the peace He brought for all men of good will may remain in you during the New Year and always thereafter!

When Divinity meets humanity… we have Christmas!

We wish you a very Blessed Christmas and a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year! +TVOO

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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.

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Thoughts On Closing The Great Lent


In a week, we will have completed forty days of fasting, which we call Great Lent, as a penitential preparation for ten days of intense meditation and recollection on the passion and death of our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and for His crowning victory over death by His resurrection. It is now fitting for us to go through some relevant and pertinent thoughts as we conclude this Great Lent.

The daily Lenten prayers of all Eastern Churches, particularly the Syrian Church, clearly bring to our attention the enormity of our sinfulness and the need of penance and reparation for our sins. Those canonical prayers often remind us the sinfulness of Nineveh and how she was saved from the wrath of God. One of the areas this writer would like to highlight in this editorial is that every sin has its definite consequence.

St. Paul teaches that the wages of sin is death. Every act of sin is a rebellion against God the creator and His authority. The natural and moral consequence of rebellion against God and His authority is death of the offender. Out of His mercy, such extreme punishment may not be executed always, but other forms of less extreme punishments may be administered to give more opportunities for sinners or the sinning generation so that they may correct their path of destruction by repentance and penance.

We hear about food shortage and water shortage around the world. For example, it is said that north India would be hit by severe droughts as a result of the drying rivers, such as Indus, Ganges, Yamuna, and Brahmaputra, which flow from the ice-caps of Himalayas. There are reports that that some South Indian States will face intense shortage of water within a few years. This is not just a case in India alone. Many countries in the world are facing and about to face intense shortage of drinking water.

We often hear that food prices are going up everywhere in the world. No country is an exception in this area. America once had the reputation of being called the bread basket of the world. America exported food commodities to many countries, or sent wheat, corn, milk powder, egg powder, cheese, oil and other edible items to the poor countries as part of their philanthropic activities, because America had surplus food. Compared to the food prices in other countries around the globe, American consumers bought their food items at a much lower price.

In February we heard the report that food prices are going to go up at a much higher level. Some of the food growing states in America, (including Texas and Oklahoma) experienced severe drought during the last summer. There was little supply of grass and water even for the cattle. The cost of feeding hay went up from $80 to $200 a ton. The cattle inventory went down to its smallest size since 1952.

We can imagine how this affects the prices of grains, milk, beef, egg, vegetables and other food items. They are expected to climb about ten or more percent soon.

Scientists and meteorologist have their explanations. In India they blame global warming that melts away the ice-caps without forming additional layers of ice to replenish what was lost as water that runs in the rivers coming from the Himalayas. Some of them blame deforestation as a reason for shortage of water. In America they blame the La Nina weather pattern or a cool Pacific Ocean as culprits. Some would attribute this problem to some latest solar phenomena that are adversely affecting the weather systems on earth; some would say it is due to burning too much coal or fossil fuels. Many weather predicting scientists say that this trend will continue.

Look around the world. Is there any corner in the world that enjoys peace? There is no peace in families. Divorces take place at an alarming rate in countries where everyone considered marriage as a sacred bond between a man and woman. One could blame an economically independent wife, or infidelity of a spouse, alcoholism or an egocentric spouse as the reason behind this social evil. Children are caught up in this fight between husband and wife. There would be no one morally responsible for raising children. The sanctity of the family which is the basic unit of the society thus compromised.

Nations enjoy peace between each other only peripherally; every nation is suspicious about the intentions of the other. That is why each of them is vigilant about the spy network thrown over by others. Peace is the greatest gift of the Spirit given to the children of God. If they do not have peace, it is indicative of their alienation from their filiation with God.

Our sick population has increased although we have better medicines and the span of human longevity has been extended considerably. But our suffering due to sickness is not reduced much. We suffer more mentally and physically.

Often we blame others or the weather for the problems we encounter. This writer urges every Christian, every Orthodox Christian, to pause a moment and look for the real cause of our troubles. We seldom point the finger to ourselves. We are the culprits behind our troubles.

Go to the Israelites of the Old Testament. In almost every book of the Old Testament there are warnings and admonitions to them not to violate God’s law; and if they violate His laws there are severe punishments depending on the severity of the offense. We know how God punished the entire human race with the exception of the family of Noah, who were righteous. The history as well as the geography of the Middle East tells us about Sodom and Gomorrah that were terribly immoral and disobedient to God and His laws. Those two cities were destroyed with fire and brimstone; even now the air over and surrounding the Dead Sea cannot retain normal life due to the intense smell. How many thousands were destroyed in that divine intervention to establish God’s law!

We read in the Old Testament about the exiles of God’s chosen people from their own promised land which God had given them through God’s covenant with Abraham and later through their exodus from Egypt after several centuries of slavery and persecution by the instrumentality of Moses the high priest and prophet. Actually the stories in the Old Testament are about disobedience of God’s chosen people and its due punishment inflicted on them. In other words, God will not permit anyone to transgress Him and His ordinances. Some He would punish individually, some collectively; some punishments are lighter and some are capital. Every act of sin is punished based on its severity of offense. No one is exempted from the natural moral consequence of his offense. We read that even Moses the His high priest and prophet had to bear the consequences of his apparently negligible suspicion on God’s omnipotence in bringing about supernatural miracles for providing sustenance of the people of God in the wilderness. Although what Moses had in his mind was a silly thing in our minds when it is compared with capital offenses, the fact of doubting God’s almighty attribute and his delay in obeying God’s command were serious enough for His punishment.

Look at our generation. It is not just the atheists and unbelievers who, without knowing God’s purpose for the human race, violate God’s commandments and commit sins against nature. Actually Christians and Jews, who received the word of God and God’s explicit will regarding human conduct, are the violators of God’s law. There is no remorse for unlawful possession of our neighbor’s property. There is very little scruple to covet money through illegitimate and immoral means. Drug trafficking is not the only sin now; human trafficking for immoral motives is done without the guilt of conscience. The purpose is to make more money. Children are not safe anywhere, not even in their homes; a good number of them are sexually abused. Young girls are transported across national borders to become sexual commodities. Marital fidelity has no value any more due to the permissive ethics of the day that devaluates all virtues related to human sexuality as mere normal expressions of human nature. Thus chastity, purity, virginity and modesty are all worthless virtues. Even the very theological concept virtue is ill-defined.

Recently we received a report on a progressive-minded priest who is conducting graduate studies in Psychology; he counseled an Orthodox Christian young lady that she should not sublimate or control her sexual urges, but rather should yield to her desires so that she would not become a victim of repression and would not develop any abnormal behavior! Let us exhort our young people to run away from such priests like fleeing from contagious diseases. This instance is a classical example of what happened to our clergy who are supposed to uphold and defend high morals demanded by God in His Word. Since the onset of Protestant Ethics, a system of ethics that erupted from Reformation and later augmented by the Utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, pleasure has become the ultimate value in life. Hence, whatever leads one to pleasure is ethically justified. Thus morality has been redefined. The result was the expulsion of the traditional moral norms expounded by the Decalogue and evangelical precepts and Pauline moral teachings of Christianity.

As a result of this ethical relativism or alienation from traditional ethical norms, our generation is suffering from a severe moral cataract that disables us to discern what is wrong and what is right. Our generation has developed an amoral approach to life and human actions. John Dewey’s Pragmatic expediency is the key phrase that determines moral rectitude. The result? There is no concern about sin or sinfulness in our public life. Sin does not exist any more. Thus we have many new theories, such as: You can make money through any means, as long as that money can make you happy. You can practice marital infidelity as long as your partner does not know about it; and it is even more pleasurable to keep such a relationship if your partner agrees to it. It is laudable to keep a homosexual marriage; and it is legal to call it a marriage! Fornication and promiscuity are expressions of human sexuality, and therefore there are no moral implications to such behaviors; masturbation (self abuse) is just a solitary expression of one’s sexuality with no moral consequences (in contradiction to God’s command that sexuality is a gift to be shared by a man and a woman for the purpose of keeping the twofold creative and unitive purpose of human love). Lying is acceptable, as long as it does not take one to imprisonment… The list of our permissive attitude in an ethically relative environment goes on.

We are all guilty of one or more of these sins. And we complain that the weather is bad, the ice cap is melting; it is not only Sahara that burns in drought; our diseases find no cures; our food inventory has been reduced to its smallest size since many years; the number of starving stomachs is steadily rising…

There is no sudden solution for such problems no matter how we try to solve them. Humanity has become a direct enemy of its creator.

Let me quote from Leviticus: “If you walk in My ordinances and keep My commandments, and do them, then I will give you rain in its season, the lands shall yield its produce, And the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. Your threshing shall last till the time of vintage, and the vintage shall last till the time of sowing; and you shall eat your bread to the full, and dwell in your land safely. War shall not pass through your land, and I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none will make you afraid; and I will utterly destroy the bad wild animals from the land. You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by slaughter before you. Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to fight; your enemies shall fall by the sword before you. For I will look upon you and make you fruitful, and multiply and establish My covenant with you, and My soul shall not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people… (Lev. 26: 3- 12).

This is the promise given to us by our God if we are obedient to Him. Sadly we have become sinners and we deserve punishment.

During the past few weeks, the Holy Church put her children into constant prayer, fasting and penance for reparation of our sinful humanity. None of these actions will bear fruits and bring compassion from God unless we repent about out sins and resolve that we will not go back to our sins again. From top to bottom, we have sinned against God. We urge you Holy Church, whether you are a patriarch, hierarch, a priest, a deacon or layperson, to genuinely repent about your sins. Go to the mystery (sacrament) of reconciliation and confess your sins to a priest of your choice and get God’s absolution for your sins and get reinstated in the love of God so that He “will walk among you and He will be your God”. Then the Lord will fulfill His promises for you as they are mentioned above.

May you all have a rewarding Lenten Season!

God bless you our readers!

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Editorial Features

Passover is Crossover


In Orthodox Christian Theology the most meaningful word after Christ or Jesus is Pascha, which is a Greek rendering of the Aramaic word Pesacha, from which during the very apostolic times Pascha became part of the spoken Greek of the first century. Etymologically, Pesacha comes from the Hebrew word, Pesach, which literally means passing over or Passover.

There is a biblical history behind the event of Passover.

For four hundred years the Hebrews, the chosen people of God, had been in Egypt under the Pharaoh. The earlier period of their self-inflicted exile was very constructive for their growth in population and physical and material wealth. The Hebrews flourished in a foreign land, but they always retained their identity as a monotheistic ethnic group with their own unique worshipping and living customs; and their hosts were happy and comfortable with their new neighbors, who had been brought there from Canaan during a great famine and drought period long ago by one of their prime ministers who happened to be the first Hebrew to enter Egypt as a slave first and later to become their prime minister by God’s providential care. After a few centuries these new immigrants became the most prospering communities around Egypt, because they were very industrious and hardworking. Gradually, the Egyptians began to dislike these growing communities of Hebrews; they thought that their wealth and riches would finally end up in the possession of their guests. They, with their Pharaoh, began to oppress the Hebrews in many ways. They were brutally treated at work places. They were sent to forced labor and inhumane conditions. Animals began to be treated better than the Hebrews. Their children were tormented. The miseries of their slavery were unfathomable. To reduce their manpower and to impede their growth as a distinct and prospering ethnic group, the Pharaoh even ordered to kill the male babies of Hebrew women; and the order was executed and the Hebrew communities were buried in unending tears and fear.

But there was one baby that miraculously escaped this terror due to the kindness of a princess from the palace of the Pharaoh; the baby’s name was Moses. It was him that God later chose for the deliverance His chosen people out of the land of Egypt. Many years later, it took ten plagues by the hand of God to liberate the Israelites. The last one was the death of all the first-born in Egypt; an angel of death would go to all the Egyptian homes and kill the firs-born. Moses, who had escaped to the Sinai for fear of his own life, was chosen by God to be a prophet and priest to lead his people out of Egypt. Through the instrumentality of Moses, God had inflicted nine plagues one after another to change the mind of the Pharaoh so that he could let the Israelites leave the country. The pharaoh changed his mind repeatedly, and so the ultimate weapon directed by God against the Pharaoh and Egypt was the death of all the Egyptian first-born. God instructed Moses to prepare His chosen people for two emergencies, first to avert the angel of death getting into the Hebrew homes, and then to get ready for their exodus next day morning.

In order to save all the Israeli first-born from death and to get ready for the exodus out of Egypt God demanded Moses that every household should observe a Pesach. The children of Israel should sacrifice a blameless lamb. And the blood of the lamb should be sprinkled on the door posts of every Hebrew house, so that the angel of death may pass over to the Egyptian house to do his job. Thus the blood of the blameless lamb would redeem them from the imminent death. They should cook the lamb and eat a meal with five items which would signify their different sufferings in Egypt. Since there was no time to prepare the regular leavened bread, the bread that was to be used in this meal must be unleavened. Every Israeli household obeyed Moses, and sprinkled the blood of the blameless lamb on the door posts of their houses, and observed their meal in Egypt as Moses had commanded. The angel of death passed over their houses and the death of their first-born was averted. The first-born of the Egyptians were all killed by the angel of death in the same night. Next day morning the children of Israel set out for Canaan, when the entire Egyptian population was grieving over the death of their first-born. The slaughter of the lamb and the ritual consumption of that lamb in a ceremonial meal are together called the Passover event or Pesach, ort Pascha.

In this event the sacrifice of the lamb is the most crucial. It is the blood of the lamb that redeems the believer from death. In fact the liberation of the Israelites was not just a physical liberation. It was an exodus from the land of idolatry, where the Pharaoh himself was considered a god, and even an eternal being, which was the reason why the Egyptians constructed those huge pyramids to immortalize their monarchs through the sweat and blood and the slave labor of the Hebrews. The children of God had lost their freedom to worship the one and only God, Yahweh. In this sense the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt meant both physical and spiritual emancipation. Even the very crossing over the Red Sea to the Sinai Peninsula was tumultuous, because it took an unnatural event of splitting the sea and unrolling a dry land on the sea bed right in front of their eyes through the wondrous instrumentality of Moses and of crossing the bottom terrain of the sea to the desert. They were yet very fearful; for the Egyptian army was catching up with them. But once they all stepped in the desert land of Sinai, the entire Egyptian army that had entered the dry sea bed following the Israelites was swallowed up by the roaring waves of Red Sea that had been restored to their natural position!

This is the true prefiguration of our true Pascha! The very event that took place about 1500 years before Christ in Egypt is a prototype of the slaughter of the Lamb of God.

Sin has its inevitable consequence. St Paul calls it ‘death’. For the sin of the Egyptians every first-born in Egypt had to die according to God’s plan. However God decided that a lamb could die in the place of every Hebrew family that needed to avert death. The blood of the lamb could avoid death. God wanted the blood of the lamb to be sprinkled over the door posts, which indicated the household being in observance of God’s command and the angel of death could not inflict the punishment of death on that family.

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Articles We Believe Youth And Faith

Christ Is Risen, Indeed He Is Risen


The empty tomb of Christ is a historical reality for every orthodox. The four gospels were written by four different men on different occasions and for different purposes. All of them clearly certify that Jesus rose from the dead without any doubt.

Recently a United Methodist bishop was reprimanded by his church for his heretic view that Christ did not resurrect from His tomb. In recent times there were many western theologians, who had proposed that the resurrection of Christ was just a myth. We wonder why these so-called theologians and liberal clergyman are speculating against resurrection when Paul clearly says that our faith has no meaning without resurrection. If a theologian attacks the virgin birth of Christ and His resurrection what else is there for a theologian to theologize! If Christ is stripped from His virgin birth and resurrection, what else is there for us to BELIEVE in!

The apostles of Christ were terrified of what had happened in connection with the crucifixion of Christ. They were even afraid of getting out, because they thought that they lost their leader and His movement. They were a defeated group. Even after the resurrection of Christ, which was reported by some lady-disciples of Christ, they were still afraid of getting out. Jesus Himself had to appear to them in order to convince them of His resurrection when they were hiding in a basement. But it took a mighty wind blown by the Holy Spirit to power them for preaching the resurrected Jesus. All, but one, were martyred for this faith. Who is going to show his neck to the sharp edges of a sword if he does not have a convincing reason to die! Who is going to stretch his hands for crucifixion, if he does not have Master, who conquered the cross and death on it! Yes, the suffering of all apostles demands a convincing reason behind it. The reason is that unique event in the history of mankind: Christ conquered death by His resurrection. That is what gave them hope.

Our Christian life is meaningless without our resurrected Lord. It is also meaningless without a resurrected life. We are all buried under our sins, our voluptuous desires, our carnality, and our selfishness. Our resurrection takes place through true repentance. It is not enough that we are sorry about our fallen lives. It is important that we convert to Christ, by rejecting our sinful and carnal way of life. It requires determination and resolution; the determination for conversion to Christ, and resolution not to sin again. Then only can we be sure of our own resurrected life.

In our Liturgy of Resurrection, there is a moving component, which is the announcement of resurrection to the public. Immediately after the announcement the faithful attending the liturgy greet each other with the following: Christos Aneste (Christ Is Risen)! The response is also suggestive of the great joy every Orthodox experiences when listening to this glad news: Alithos Aneste (Indeed He Is Risen)!

WE WISH ALL OUR READERS A VERY BLESSED EASTER AND A JOYFUL SPRING SEASON!