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Some Thoughts On the Icon of St. George, the Martyr

st-george-orthodox-icon
When we recall St. George, the most popular saint in Christianity, the first image that comes to mind is that of a brave young soldier riding a horse over a dragon (snake) and trying to thwart (kill) the dragon with a spear. The icon of St. George (picture) commonly seen throughout the world is written (drawn) based on this theme. It speaks volumes. It has a plethora of symbolic meanings. This imagery has, in a sense, an implication of an evolutionary process or a transition or in other words, a transformation that undergoes in the animal kingdom from the crawling reptile to the limbic animal and finally to the intellectual human. It is a modest attempt on the part of this author to correlate Anatomy and Spirituality and allegorically and hypothetically interpret it in the language of Psychology and Theology.

The brain is our most mysterious and mighty organ, the command and communication centre of the body which controls the nervous system, an intricate network receiving messages from the senses, processing them and then co-ordinating and directing all our actions and reactions. The home of our thoughts, feelings, sensations, perceptions, creative imagination and talents, as well as the instruction headquarters for all our body functions, the brain’s power comes from electrical energy carried in the chemical substance known as neurotransmitters.

Medical scientists say that we have actually three cerebral units in the single human brain, namely, the primitive brain, the limbic system and neocortex.

Júlio Rocha do Amaral, & Jorge Martins de Oliveira, elucidate: “Throughout its evolution, the human brain has acquired three components that progressively appeared and became superimposed, just like in an archaeological site: the oldest, located underneath and to the back; the next one, resting in an intermediate position and the most recent, situated on top and to the front. They are, respectively:
1 – The archi pallium or primitive (reptilian) brain, comprising the structures of the brain stem – medulla, Pons, cerebellum, mesencephalon, the oldest basal nuclei – the Globus pallidus and the olfactory bulbs. It corresponds to the reptile brain, also called “R-complex”, by the famous neuroscientist Paul MacLean.
2 – The Paleo pallium or intermediate (old mammalian) brain, comprising the structures of the limbic system. It corresponds to the brain of the inferiormammals.
3 – The neo pallium, also known as the superior or rational (new mammalian) brain, comprises almost the whole of the hemispheres (made up of a more recent type of cortex, called neocortex) and some subcortical neuronal groups. It corresponds to the brain of the superior mammals, thus including the primates and, consequently, the human species.

These three cerebral layers appeared, one after the other, during the development of the embryo and the foetus (ontogenesis), recapitulating, chronologically, the evolution of animal species (phylogenesis), from the lizards up to the Homo-sapiens”.

According to Maclean, they are three biological computers, which, although interconnected, retained, each one, “their peculiar types of intelligence, subjectivity, the sense of time and space, memory, mobility and other less specific functions.

In 1878, the French neurologist Paul Broca called attention to the fact that, on the medial surface of the mammalian brain, right underneath the cortex, there exists an area containing several nuclei of grey matter (neurons) which he denominated limbic lobe (from the Latin word “limbus” that implies the idea of a circle, ring, surrounding, etc.), since it forms a kind of border around the brain stem.

The three characters in the icon, namely the snake, the horse, and the man (Saint George) represent, respectively the three anatomical classification of what is mentioned above and that show a continuum of traits such as diabolic, savage, humane and divine which can be seen latent in every human. St. George here, in a sense, is seen trying to subdue and tame the dragon by using the horse and he might have used the dragon to fight enemies of external temptations. Thus, the spiritual man is able to command both the limbic and reptilian instincts and to sublimate and use their God given gifts without being dominated by them. The horse and dragon are internal conflicts. St. George on the top of both dragon and horse here is indicative of the human potential in overcoming the internal conflicts that one has to face in one’s life. The victory of sanity over insanity. Dragon, the one in reference, is seen trying to devour a virgin woman. This betokens of the sexual urge in every man in wooing a woman. Precisely, the dragon here symbolizes the surge seen commonly in men who run after women with the aim of seducing the weaker sex (womanizing).

The life of a reptile is still in the preliminary stage of evolution whose basic instinct is to eat and to mate. It has an excessive craving for food and an exceeding sexual drive at this stage for its survival and procreation. In reptiles, according to the scholars of medicine, the primitive brain is so strong that it determines its character and is responsible for its self-preservation. It is there that the mechanisms of aggression and repetitive behaviors are developed. It is there that occur the instinctive reactions of the so-called reflex arcs and the commands which allow some involuntary actions and the control of certain visceral functions (cardiac, pulmonary, intestinal, etc.), indispensable to the preservation of life. The development of the olfactory bulbs and their connections made possible an accurate analysis of olfactory stimuli and the improvement of answers oriented by odors, such as approach, attack, flight and mating. Throughout evolution, some of these reptilian functions were lost or minimized (in humans, the amygdala and the entorhinal cortex are the only limbic structures that connect with the olfactory system). It is also in the R-complex that started the first manifestations of the phenomena of ritualism, by means of which the animal tries to define its hierarchic position inside the group and to establish its own space in the ecological niche.

When this reptilian nature is predominant in us, we are prone to sin leading our life to anarchy and evil.Today’s world is mad after sexual promiscuity (voluptuary) and gluttony (over eating and that too for the sake of satiating one’s palatal taste) which invite many a disease and the rate of immorality, morbidity, and mortality is alarmingly increasing.Like water dragon, the new generation has now become more or less omnivorous consuming junk food with gusto and immensely rapacious in eating anything and everything available on earth, or rather inclined to orgies.

Over the period, man, the so called crown of creation, has learnt to misuse and abuse his innate potential of sexuality. Sex ought to be expressed within the wedlock of marriage and sex outside the wedlock is supposed be suppressed or repressed. The epicurean lifestyle (living exclusively for eating, drinking and merry-making) seen in the modern society is the result of the triggering off of the primitive brain. When the primitive brain is prominent in a person, criminal traits like aggressiveness and selfishness will be all the more rampant and it is such a person who expresses the erotic love.

The next stage of evolution is to rise from the crawling stage to the limbic stage. The entirety of these structures, that, years later, would receive the name of “limbic system”, developed with the emergence of the inferior (primitive) mammals. This system commands certain behaviors that are necessary for the survival of all mammals. It gives rise and modulates specific functions that allow the animal to distinguish between the agreeable and the disagreeable. Here specific affective functions are developed, such as the one that induces the females to nurse and protect their toddlers, or the one which induces these animals to develop ludic behaviours (playful moods). Emotions and feelings, like wrath, fright, passion, love, hate, joy and sadness, are mammalian inventions, which originated in the limbic system. This system is also responsible for some aspects of personal identity and for important functions related to memory. When we grow to the limbic stage, we acquire the qualities said supra. Here we tend to express a particular kind of fraternal love called in Greek “Philia and Storgee.”

And when the superior mammals (humans) arrived on the Earth, the third cerebral unit was finally developed: the neopallium or rational brain, a highly complex net of neural cells capable of producing symbolic language thus enabling man to exercise skillful intellectual tasks such as reading, writing and performing mathematical calculations. The neopallium is the great generator of ideas or as expressed by Paul MacLean, “it is the mother of invention and the father of abstractive thought.”

We, as Christians, are supposed to attain a balanced life of spirituality. When the third unit becomes stronger in us as St. George is depicted in the icon above the horse and the dragon, we will be able to transform ourselves and evolve into mature human beings full of divine grace and glory and will be able to surmount all the stumbling blocks on our way to the glorious world of spirituality. Here we express divine love called ‘Agape’ in Greek. Virtues, like compassion, patience, humility, endurance, gentleness and self-control will reflect in our life. ‘Yogis’ or ‘Saints’ can be said to have a fully developed and active “neo pallium” for they have learned to live a life of purity by frugal food, high thoughts and good deeds. We have to climb up the ladder of life from the lower rung of inferior mammalian nature to the superior mammalian nature. The spirituality of a person is directly proportional to the development of his/her brain. Oriental Orthodox Worship involves several symbolic languages, abstract thoughts and religious activities like rituals attached to it. It is a sign of mental development that we, the Orthodox Christians, indulge in worship throughout our life. It is the sublime stage in the process of personality development.

There is a widening trend seen in modern society especially among youngsters in exposing themselves indecently in public. It seems that they have lost their shame of nakedness just like the snake and horse. This exhibitionism reveals the fact that their primitive brain and intermediate brain dominate their superior brain. St. George in the picture is seen well-armored pointing to the perfection of human development.

In tandem with the life of St George and with the words of St. Paul in Ephesians 6:10-20, let us be strong in the Lord and in the power of God’s might. Let us put on the whole Armor of God that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, let’s take up the whole Armor of God that we may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

Let us stand, therefore, having girded our waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod our feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which we will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And let’s take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.

In brief, what happens here is a sea-change from the stage of sensitivity of a snake to the stage of the sensibility of a saint. Although there is only a subtle change in their physical traits, there is a drastic change in their behavioral traits or rather from a raw state of life to a refined one which even the angels would be jealous of.

It is a pity that we, humans, who claim that we are superior to other animals, often behave in a way rather inferior to them. Therefore we should not let the reptilian nature in us take control of our lives, instead, we should rise up and try to attain the qualities of the super mammalian nature. It can be seen that the vegans and vegetarians are generally benign when compared with those who are carnivores.

A similar comparison is possible with the thoughts of the world renowned Austrian psychologist Sigmund Freud.

Sigmund Freud saw the human mind or psyche as consisting of three domains, which he named the ego, the super-ego and the id. The id is the domain of instinctive drives (pleasure principle) which aims at pleasure. The super-ego corresponds roughly to what we commonly call ‘conscience’ (moral principle). It represents prohibitions and taboos as well as the values and ideals – the norms- of society. These norms are presented to the child first by its parents and later by other authority figures- teachers, for example, or just other grown –ups. These social pressures become internalized in the child and start to function as part of his or her individual personality or psyche.

Id and super-ego may clash. What id demands may be prohibited by the super-ego, and the result is conflict or tension ‘in the depths of the self’ because both Id and super-ego function largely at the unconscious level. Resolving the tension and acting as referee between the rival claims of id and super-ego are the functions of the ego. The ego is the conscious self (reality principle) because it is the part of the mind that takes account of external reality. The ego therefore has the daunting task of holding in balance the claims of id, super-ego and outside world. Here super-ego plays the role of St. George when the Id plays the role of dragon and the ego that of the horse respectively.

The environment conditions our behavior. Our thoughts, words and deeds are fashioned by what we experience through our senses. We become what we eat, what we see, and what we hear. We have to be judicious in choosing our means of life. Good companionship, good thoughts, good food, all play a vital role in our lives. Listening to a piece of music, spiritual sermon, and reciting of Holy Scriptures, and partaking in the prayer with meditation, all enhance our well being.

As we contemplate on the meaning of the Holy Icon of St. George especially on these days of commemoration and celebration of the feast of that great saintly warrior and martyr of our Lord, let us imitate him and grow to the stature of Christ, our head. Let us be as perfect as Jesus, who grew and became strong, filled with wisdom and increased in stature and in favor of God and man. (St. Luke 2:40, 52) Although the historicity of St. George is disputed among certain quarters, the love for this man of God is increasing day by day as a spiritual guide and guardian among the hearts of millions of people all over the world. A close observation on the holy icon of St. George would augment the philosophical understanding of our life on earth and would help us to lead a better spiritual life. What we need today is not just living a life of religiosity but to live by the principles of religion. The icon of St. George is a perpetual learning lesson for every human and St George, as a follower of Christ, sets before us a living example for us to emulate.

Sources referred:-

1. Júlio Rocha do Amaral, MD & Jorge Martins de Oliveira, MD, PhDLimbic system: The centre of emotions, Link- http://www.healing-arts.org/n-r-limbic.htm
2.Ackroyd, Eric. A dictionary of dreams symbols, with an introduction to dream psychology, Bounty Books, Great Britain 1993.
3. Simester, Lisha, The Natural Health Bible stay well, live longer, Quadrille Publishing Limited, London 2001

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A Food for thought on the Holy Week Services

holy-week
The holy Week is again the round the corner. The people around the world are getting ready for long liturgical services with great zeal and fasting. Why do we observe this ‘particular week’ with so much solemnity?

We all know its significance is solely because of its connection with the passion of Christ, the sum total of the traumas that our Lord had to endure for a new world order. During this solemn season, we specifically commemorate and celebrate the episodes of those past events happened in the life of Christ the incarnate. Liturgy is a recreated and reactivated reality. Every liturgy in the holy Orthodox Church is fashioned as a spiritual exercise for the edification of the faithful. The pious observance of the holy week gives us an opportunity to identify ourselves with the incarnation of Christ whereby we show our solidarity with his salvific work and we are particularly bestowed with the vital energy for our ‘deification’.

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

The Palm Sunday service:

The special service in addition to Holy Eucharist on the day is the blessing of the ‘tender palm leaves’ and offering of flowers taken out from the products of the Nature. It is, in a sense, God’s acceptance of the offerings from the faithful and His reciprocal love of giving it back as a blessed gift. This shows that the earth and its fullness are for God as said in Psalm 24:1. Bible makes a picturesque reference on the triumphal entry of Jesus, the king and saviour, into the city of Jerusalem (Mat 21). The people gathered there to receive him began shouting the slogan “Hosanna” (Save Lord, Praise). It is both a word of praise and prayer. They spread their clothing and branches from the tree on the pathways. In tandem with this historical event, we use the articles such as palm leaves and flowers for the procession around the church during the liturgy. In the Bible, we see a multitude of God’s people clad in white robes worshipping God and His lamb with palm leaves in their hands(Revelation 7:9). The procession in the holy Church on Palm Sunday is a prelude to the triumphal entry of the King of kings and Lord of lords and his bride into the heavenly Jerusalem (Rev 19, 21). The blessed leaves, after the holy service, are given out to the faithful for their healing and absolution from every curse as has been promised in Revelation 22:2-3. The Bible exhorts everyone to raise praises to God emphasising the importance of this celebration(Genesis 49:8-12,Zachariah 9:9-12,Isaiah 51:9-11,1John2:7-15,Romans 11:3-24,Psalm 118:24-29, 92:12-14, 8,80). The faithful takes away the blessed leaves to their homes for their blessing. Thus, by partaking in the orthodox liturgy; one is able to experience the ecstasy of the worship of both past and future in the present time.

Pesaha service:

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

The Service on Good Friday:

There are two processions on this day. The first one is the procession around the Church in memory of the Christ’s way of Cross to Mount Calvary. When we do this procession, we travel in time-machine to that past event in history. We know that when Christ was bearing the Cross on his way, Simon the Cyrene was blessed to have joined in carrying the Cross of Christ. (Luke 23:26-31). So also, on every Good Friday, we too are given a chance to partake in Christ’s economy of salvation. In Luke 23: 27, we read of a large number of people including wailing and weeping women following Jesus. They were bearing witness to this heart-rending incident and were asked to weep for them and for their children. By attending to this liturgy on Good Friday, we get a chance to bear witness to Christ’s passion and to regret of our iniquities just as the women were asked to do. Each time we make a sign of Cross during the liturgy, we get a sense belonging to Christ and we, ourselves, crucify all our self-indulgent passions, and desires for we are asked by St. Paul to do so. In Galatians 5:24, St. Paul says, “You cannot belong to Christ, unless you crucify all self-indulgent passions and desires”.

The second ceremonial procession on the day gives us, by virtue of being his children and disciples, a chance to participate in the burial service of our Lord along with Joseph of Arimathea, and Nichodemus. A deep reading of the Bible reveals the fact that Mary of Bethany, and the Magi from the East too were privileged to offer homage to the Lord(Mathew 2:11,John 12:7). Their offering of myrrh betokens of this truth. Myrrh was one of the articles used for embalming the dead body (John 19:39). Since Christ is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow (Heb 13:8), and he, being the pre-existent Word of God(John 1: 1-18,8: 58) and lives forever(Heb 7:25), transcends the time-space continuum to interact with and save all people of all time. The ritualistic liturgy is the only realistic means by which we get the benefits of the sacrifice of Jesus which took place in history once and for all. Another ritual on Good Friday is the washing of the holy Cross, made of wood, and dipping its horns into the bitter water, the concoction. It is, in a sense, an empathic and vicarious way of joining Christ in receiving the bitter juice that was given to him while on the Cross (Mat 27:34). We see in the Exodus 14-15, that Moses, Aaron and the people of Israel crossing the Red Sea after having been released from the bondage of Pharaoh in Egypt. This crossing implies the Christian Baptism and their walking for three days in the desert points to the Christian life of sufferings. We see Moses throwing a “piece of wood” to the bitter water in Marah after saying a prayer. The water in Marah turns to be sweet and potable. People of God are seen getting a promise of healing from God following this event. The using of a piece of wood by Moses here was a prophetic symbolism of the Cross of Christ, the universal saviour. The bitter water served to the fasting faithful at the end of the service on the day can be said of as the merciful caring of God of his people today just as He cared His old people at Marah. Although the bitter juice tastes hard to drink, those who drink it in all faith, hope and love, will be able to imbibe the taste of spiritual flavour. If we comply with the commandment of God, we will get everything that we need. One who attends the holy service of the Church with all seriousness and sincerity would get what one needs.

After that, we see the people of Israel under the leadership of Moses coming to Elim where they camped by the side of 12 springs and 70 palm trees. The twelve springs and 70 palm trees prefigure the 12 apostles and 70 evangelists of the New Testament Church respectively. (Ref:-Matthew 10 and Luke 10). Their arrival in Elim is indicative of the new and inexplicable experience of Christian Church with the risen Christ.

Gospel Saturday:

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

The Easter Sunday:

‘Easter’ is the most important feast for the people of Orthodoxy. Its importance is mainly because of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. It is in tune with the resurrection of Christ that the Church began observing Sunday as the New Sabbath day replacing the old Sabbath of Saturday. Lord Jesus rested on gospel Saturday in Hades fulfilling the old Sabbath as he did at the beginning of creation in his capacity as God, and began his new creation on the very next day, 1st or the 8th in the cycle of week, providing new phase of life for humanity. This is the reason why St. Paul said, “When one is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). As St. Paul said, “And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Doubting Thomas


This author has often heard many a people, especially in the West, using the pejorative phrase ‘Doubting Thomas’ to address St. Thomas, one of the twelve Disciples of Christ. This sarcasm has often pained me for it refers to my forefather. The case in point is the outcome of the encounter of Christ with his well-beloved disciple St. Thomas after the resurrection. It seems to be a deliberate attempt on the part of the Western church to belittle St. Thomas, the patron saint of the Indian Church and the apostle of Christ to India. Was he a doubting person? Was he a kind of person with all sorts of negativity? Did Jesus Christ disdain or reprimand St. Thomas on his genuine doubt? To me, in fact, he was not so. He was indeed, I must say, a man of courage and quixotic. He can best be qualified for the title ‘Daring Thomas’ rather than ‘Doubting Thomas’.

The doubt of St.Thomas is described in the eastern orthodox tradition as “blessed”, for it was not a doubt of resistance to truth, but one that desperately desired a truthful answer –a “ doubt which gave birth to faith” –when the answer was revealed. In a hymn of the Orthodox Church, Christ says to Thomas, “Your doubt will teach my Passion and Resurrection to all,” and we affirm that his doubt “brought the hearts of believers to knowledge”. The conversion of Thomas’ doubt into faith led him to the clearest confession of Christ’s divinity, addressing Jesus as my Lord and my God. (St. John 20:28). Jesus’ meeting with St .Thomas happened to be a milestone in the history of Christianity. But for this glorious event, the world would not have known completely of the truth revealed to humanity through the incarnate Christ. The statement, “My Lord and My God”, from St. Thomas was so revealing. The Christian understanding of Christ’s divinity finds its fullness in this great proclamation of St. Thomas having looked at the risen Christ and hence it happens to be the tap-root of Christology. This profession of faith by St. Thomas turned out to be the key-phrase for the Nicene Creed formulated in 325 CE. On comparison, we can see that there is a degree of depth on theological understanding of the Person Christ in the proclamation made by St. Thomas (“My Lord and My God”)rather than the proclamation made by St. Peter(“You are the Christ, the Son of the living God”) as recorded on Mathew 16:16.

We read from the holy Bible that St. Thomas dared to be outside when all other disciples hid themselves inside a closed room for fear of the Jews following the death of Christ(John 20: 19). He was, in fact, longing to have a deep and direct knowledge of his master by touching the nail prints on the palms of Jesus Christ for the reason that he might have been more kinaesthetic than auditory and visual.( In terms of Neuro- Linguistic Programming[NLP]). We all know that senses are the gateway to knowledge. Each person differs in their sense of perceptions. Some people comprehend something profoundly by way of touching rather than by merely seeing or hearing. The importance of using all senses is clear in the verses of St.John, the evangelist. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and declare to you that eternal life which was with the father and was manifested to us –that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his son Jesus Christ . And these things we write to you that your joy may be full” (1 John 1: 1-4).

By this very act of touching the wounds of Christ, St. Thomas got the complete healing for his whole being just like the woman who with the issue of blood had been healed( St.Luke 8: 43-48). It was to redeem us from the punishment of our sins that Christ, our Lord and Saviour, came to the world and bore our sins. “Christ himself carried all our sins in his body to the Cross, so that we might die to sin and live for righteousness. It is by his wounds that we have been healed”. (Isaiah 53:5, St.Matt8:17, I Peter 2: 24) But one must be receptive and must accept this Salvation of God. (Romans10:9). St. Thomas, in fact, was receiving that Salvation rendered by God by way of touching the crucified and risen Christ. Thus, he was giving us an example how we too can be healed by touching the body of Christ. And this is possible in the present time by touching in faith the holy things like the Altar, Cross, Oil, Priestly Vestments, Relics of Saints, etc in the Church.

With the analytical mind of a scientist, St.Thomas, after having made the observation and experiment, came to the inference that Christ was both full man and full God. This proves beyond doubt that the Christian faith on the resurrection of Christ is based not just on hearsay but a scientific truth leaving not even an iota of falsehood. But at the same time, it was with the innocence and inquisitiveness of an infant that St. Thomas approached the resurrected Christ. The ‘infant’ in him or his ‘child nature’, in terms of Transactional analysis, was curious of knowing the truth and exploring his surroundings. It was also the fulfilment of his prayer: “Send forth your light and you truth; let them guide me and bring me to your holy mountain and to the place where you dwell. Then I will come to the altar of God, to the God who makes glad my youth; I will give thanks to you with the lyre, O God, my God”(Psalm 43:3-4). Moreover, he might have believed that it was “in Him (Christ) dwells all the fullness of Godhead bodily” (Colossians 2: 9) and that it was necessary to go near Him to obtain mercy and grace. (Hebrews 4:16).

This event was, of course, an enrichment of the spirit of the human (Thomas) when the Spirit of the divine (the resurrected Christ) met him in the upper room at Jerusalem and melted into him. This episode obviously speaks of the nature of sensitivity of St.Thomas and the nature of tangibility or palpability (Tactus) of the resurrected body of Christ. In other words, this meeting was the reflection of a deep devotion of a devotee to the Divine. St. Thomas, as an ardent believer, aspired for a personal nexus with God so as to make their relationship stronger, perfect and lively. It is worth mentioning that the appearance of the risen Christ to His disciples for the second time was mainly and exclusively for St. Thomas proving that St.Thomas was so precious in the sight of the Lord Jesus and that He treated everyone equally. What the testimony of the women or the other disciples could not accomplish, the radiant presence of the Risen Christ must certainly have sufficed to do in an instant. St.Thomas was no longer the sceptic, the waverer (Jn14:5), the troubled man (Jn. 11:6). It was an entirely different man who confessed the divinity of Christ, and so wholeheartedly! His cry: “My Lord and my God!” was to be on the lips and hearts of countless future Christians in the presence of the Eucharist, the hidden but living God. St. Thomas’ words were the occasion for Jesus to give reassuring praise to the faith of those who ask for no tangible sign.

If we take these verses from the gospel of St.John chapter 20 for granted, there arises a question whether just he alone was a doubting disciple of Christ or was there someone else? What about St.Peter? How about St.John and the rest of all? (Read Luke 24:11, 38, John20:8). Even the priest Zechariah doubted (Luke1:18-20).

St. Thomas deserves to be respected for his faith. He may seem to be a doubter but his doubt had a purpose –he wanted to know the truth and to affirm his faith. He did not idolise his doubts; but gladly believed when given a reason to do so. He expressed his doubts fully and had them answered completely. Doubting was only his way of responding, not his way of life.

His commitment to his vocation is vivid in his venturing a voyage to the Far East. He came all the way from Jerusalem down to India for disseminating the gospel of Christ, and that too at a time when transportation facilities was not so advanced as that of today. It is worth mentioning that he has covered a vast geographical area as part of his mission work with the sole and noble intention of establishing the holy Church for and on behalf of our Lord Jesus. It is a notable fact that there was no one to accompany him or to assist him except the Spirit of God and that too he was having his herculean and tiresome journey all by himself. It is an astonishing fact that he made his marathon missionary journey covering a vast area starting from Jerusalem to Persia, to North India, then to South India and even to the shore of China. This was more than what St.Paul had done. And finally he became a martyr in South India for the sake of his Lord and God Jesus Christ. It is believed that St. Thomas during his missionary work in Persia happened to see the Magi (the wise men from the east who came to see baby Jesus) and baptised them into Christianity.

It is a pity that there is no one in the Christendom to acknowledge his great service rendered for the extension of the Kingdom of God. He is indeed worthy to be called the ‘Patron Saint of the Diaspora or the Immigrants’.

As an ardent disciple and a true follower of Christ, he paid the cost of discipleship by relinquishing his personal and earthly security like family and homestead. He even sacrificed the honour due to his parents which he was supposed to render to them. Luke 9:57-62, 14: 25ff speak in detail of the cost of discipleship.

History says that he was first brought to North India as an architect by the merchant Habban, precisely to the place called Taxila in 45 AD, where he converted many including the King Gondaphorus by his sincere and dedicated mission work. After that, he is believed to be taken back to Jerusalem in a whirlwind to have a last glimpse of the mother of God, St.Mary, following her demise. Tradition holds that before his arrival in Jerusalem, the holy body of St. Mary was transported to heaven by the angels. Seeing that glorious event, he prayed to St.Mary to bless him. And it is said that the girdle tied around her loin fell into his hands as a shower of blessing. That girdle is still kept as a holy relic of St.Mary with all reverence in a Syrian Orthodox Church in Holms.

Let us glance through the salient features of the person – St.Thomas.

1. St.Thomas, a man of immense courage and great philanthropist:

His courage was so immense that he spent all the resources which he got from the King, Gondaphorus, to get the Royal palace built. He showed the temerity in demanding the Emperor for more and more funds amounting to what he could spend on charity for the poor and the needy as if he was spending the whole sum for the cost of construction of the regal mansion. Prima facie, it seems to anyone as a sheer example of a deceptive deed, but his good intention, his concern for the poor, his prospective approach to his true calling, and his deep faith in God, all made it possible to have a fruitful result. We see in the biography of St. Thomas that God in a mysterious and quite a miraculous way setting and offering a beautiful abode in heaven for the resented king and thus saving St. Thomas from the edge of the king’s sword. This kind of his brave commitment for the cause of Christian mission is a good example for us to emulate for which he deserves great applause. He was an honest man who used his potentials and opportunities in a prudent way to accomplish his mission. If not an exaggeration, he was indeed the greatest Christian missionary whose contribution to the Church was so unique and extraordinary. But, quite unfortunately, this great personality has been shrouded in the clouds of parochial attitude in the history of Christianity.

2. St. Thomas, an obedient man of God who yielded to the values that he upheld:

Although our glimpses of St. Thomas are brief, his character comes through with consistency. He struggled to be faithful to what he knew, despite what he felt. At one point, when it was plain to everyone that Jesus’ life was in danger, only St. Thomas put into words what most were feeling, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John11:16). And it is true that he did not hesitate to follow Jesus. This bold and inspiring statement from the unwavering mind of St. Thomas is an unwitting prophecy of his own future martyrdom. It was indeed a great revolutionary one. He was inspiring and exhorting his fellow disciples to be willing to pay off the cost of discipleship as envisaged by Christ our Lord. (Luke 14: 25-33). His later life story proves beyond doubt that it was not merely his figurative platitude, but, in fact, he lived on those words courageously; which teaches us of a fact that “A true Christian discipleship goes to the extent of martyrdom”. In simple terms, he walked on what he talked proving his identity and integrity. It also illustrates the path that all believers must take –that we die daily to the world for the sake of following Christ. (Luke 9:23-26).

“I am the way, the truth, and the life”. This perpetual word of promise from our Lord Jesus Christ was first revealed to St.Thomas. It is clear from the Bible that Christ, our Lord, had chosen 12 persons to be with Him, to be sent out for undertaking his mission of preaching, healing and exorcising (Mark 3:13) and further, in Mat 28:28, we see Christ sending the twelve out as part of His last commissioning. All of them were given equal authority on earth and in heaven, to bind and to unbind, to absolve the sin and to retain the sin. (Ref. St.John 28:18, St.Mat 20:23). The word ‘Apostle’ is a derivative of the Greek term ‘Apostolos’ which means “one who is sent for a specific purpose for and on behalf of with the same authority as that of the sender”. It was obvious that they were sent out with authority as Jesus himself was sent to this world with authority by his Father in heaven. Thus, we can be sure that St. Thomas too had the very same authority, privilege and right as that of every other apostle. There is no room for any sort of argument on the superiority or the inferiority attributed to any apostle such as the hierarchical supremacy of St. Peter on administrative matters and the intellectual supremacy of St. Paul on theological issues. To some, he may seem to be the last among the apostles, but it is a fact that he was not the least. To me, he is a coal turned into a diamond coruscating in the firmament of Christian history.

With every reverence, may I salute this great man of God who happens to be the founder and patron saint of Indian Orthodox Church! O Mother India! You are blessed for you carry on your soil the indelible foot prints of his holy man.

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Devotional Thoughts on the Nineveh Fasting (3 Day Fasting)


By the grace of God, we have once again ended the 3 days fasting popularly known as `Nineveh Fasting’, the smallest of the canonical Lents of the holy Church. “Lent is not a collection of prohibitions but it is an option for what is positive”. Fasting is one of the traditions Christians have inherited from Judaism. It was common enough at the time of Jesus for him to warn us: “When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do. They pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward”. (Mat 6:16).

There are many ways to keep a good Lent. During Lent time, a faithful believer of Christ is supposed to abstain from some particular food or pleasure, especially avoiding non-vegetarian and sex. This is what exactly St. Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:5 “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self control”.

Some people doubt whether diet regimen during Lent in our Church is biblical or not. Abstaining from the king’s rich food, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah ate vegetables (lentils) and drank water. (Daniel 1:8-12). See what Daniel says, ” In those days, I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks, I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks.”(Daniel 10:2-3). It is said in Joel 1:14; 2:12 that we have to lament and mourn for sanctifying fast. The fasting period is called the lamenting period. Daniel did not eat any delicacies, meat or wine during fasting period. According to one’s strength, power and call everyone adjusts the dietary arrangements and the duration of the fasting. We see that St. John the Baptist, the greatest of all born of women abstained from eating fish or meat. The children like Hananiah and the rest ate only lentils, and drank water. Daniel rejected the delicacies and wine. The Church takes note that the Hebrew youths were blessed by God through holy fasting. It was fasting that delivered the children from the furnace and Daniel the prophet from the jaws of the lions.

Simple food in small quantity helps creating in oneself awareness that gluttony is a sin. A scoop of simple food would help one to cherish an idea that our prayers should be need based and not greed based. Lent is, further, an opportunity for oneself to abstain from bad habits like smoking and drinking.

The Church’s commandment is that one should not eat anything until evening or 3 p.m. If one is not capable of doing it, fast till mid-day. If possible, one should avoid tasty and rich food like egg, milk, fish, meat, etc. And purify himself/her self through prayer, meditation on Bible and prostration. One is bound by moral obligations, such as giving alms and helping the needy etc, during fasting period. It is compulsory that one should participate in the Holy Qurbana after the true confession.

As our lives become ever busier, there is the danger that the voice of the Lord gets drowned out. Even in Jesus’ own time, it was easy to become distracted by the cares and duties of everyday life as the episode of Martha and Mary shows. As an antidote, Jesus invites us to “come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mark 6:31). In the early centuries of the Church, men and women accepted this invitation quite literally and withdrew to a solitary life in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. From this began the Christian monastic tradition. While not all of us feel a call to become monks or hermits, there are many disciplines and practices we can all undertake to help us live this season of renewal to the full.

Lent means living exclusively with God. It means making a space for God in our life. Spend time reflecting on your own baptism. Read John 4:5-42, John 9:1-41 and John 11:1-45. Ask God to renew the gifts you have already received. Do something extra, like visiting the sick. Lent is a time of not only prayer, but also for fasting and alms deeds, which Augustine called “the wings of prayer” meaning, presumably, that without the fasting and alms deeds, our prayer remains earthbound and ineffective. It is good to have a charity box for each one of us. Earmark the money thus collected by fasting for philanthropic activities. See what kind of fasting God wants from us all. “Remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor. Give clothes to those who have nothing to wear, and do not refuse to help your own relatives” (Isaiah 58: 6-7). This is not enough to fulfill a Lent. What is necessary is to have repentance.

When Jesus began his public life and preaching, his first message was not “Love one another” or even “Love your enemies”, it was “The kingdom of God is close at hand, Repent”( St. Mark 1:15). The English word `Penance’ is the translation of a Greek word `metanoia’. The root of penance is the Latin word `Peona’, meaning punishment, penalty, pain, grief. It is not surprising that Lent, time for penance, is not our favorite time of the year. Metanoia, however, does not mean punishment or pain: literally, it means a change of mind. So Lent is not meant to be a time for punishment and pain, but a time for changing our minds, changing our outlook and attitudes, a time for changing our hearts. This is vividly illustrated when Prophet Joel tells Israel, “Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn” (Joel 2:13).

Finally, apart from abstention of food and worldly pleasures, it is good to have `Mauna Vretham’ (Keeping silence all through the days of the Lent). Silence is the best way to hear the voice of God for it is written thus in Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God”.

May God give us strength and enthusiasm to observe this Lent without failure.

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The Significance of the holy Campfire(bonfire) in Christmas Service


The Orthodox liturgy on Christmas is usually conducted in the silence of night and is designed in such a way as to attract anyone to it. It often creates in the minds of the faithful an inexplicable experience of the coming down of heaven to earth. Prior to the Holy Eucharist, there is a service conducted outside the church in the open space. A special service is performed at a burning fire set in a cross- shaped pit or in a container. This spiritual campfire (bonfire) is meaningful and biblically based.

In Christian religious tradition as well as in the Indian Cultural tradition, ‘fire’ is considered to be the ‘Seat of God’, the medium and symbol of the presence of God. The light is that which eradicates darkness. Light implies the divine where as darkness, the evil.

(1) In the holy Bible, we see that God appears before Moses in the form of fire at the bush and as the flash of light on the Mount Sinai. (Ref:-Exodus 3:3-6, 19:16-20)). The fire during Christmas liturgy signifies the flash of light and the burning bush Moses witnessed which symbolically communicates to us the glory and grandeur of God.

(2) According to the Christian doctrine (Nicene Creed), Jesus Christ is “the Light of Light and very God of very God”. (Ref: – St.John 1:9,3:2-218:12,12:46, St. Mathew 17:2, Rev.21:23,Psalm 104:2,Daniel2:22.)

When the shepherds and the wise-men from the East who came to see baby Jesus in the manger at Bethlehem, they could see the very same glory of the very same God who appeared before Moses at the burning bush which prompted them to worship Him together with the band of angels (St.Mathew 2:11,
St. Luke 2:20) This very event endorses the divinity of Christ Jesus. As His ‘Incarnation’ has been a spiritual event happened in history once and for all, people of all generation must get a chance to experience it. Therefore, we too, by way of this holy ritualistic service on Christmas, are given an opportunity in the present time to see the glory of God in the physical and mental plane, for we are privileged
to have access to Him(Galatians 4:4-7). There is no other way for us to experience that spiritual event which happened some 2000 years ago. Those who whole heartedly partake in this rite in all faith, hope and love will certainly find the radiant face of our saviour Jesus Christ.

When we offer frankincense during this service by chanting the angelic hymn, “As the angels and the archangels up in the heaven….” (Melpatta uyarangalil swargeeya malakhamaar sthuthikkunnathupole balaheenarum manmayarumaya njangalum sthuthichuparayunnu…) we are, in fact, offering ourselves and our gifts to our Lord and God Jesus Christ who was born for us in the city of David like the poor shepherds and the Magi. See what the Psalmist promises to God, “I will offer you whole burnt offering full of marrow; with incense and ram,” (V 65:13-15).

In liturgy, we make a travel in time-machine from present to the past transcending the time-space continuum. The Orthodox worship is, at the same time, an earthly as well as a heavenly worship.

“Come, let us greatly rejoice in the Lord; Let us shout aloud to God our saviour; Let us come before His face with thanksgiving, and let us shout aloud to Him with psalms.”(Psalm 95:1)

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Hoodos Etho Sunday

An exposition on the gospel according to St. John 10:22-38, the reading meant for Nov 7.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen+.

As part of the cycle of seasons in the liturgical year, we have come to yet another ‘Hoodos Etho Sunday’ which falls on 7 November. The Syriac term “Hoodos Etho” meaning, “The Feast of Dedication of the Church”, has a connection with “the Feast of Dedication of the Old Testament Church”, which took place approximately three months after the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10:21). It was also called ‘Hanukkah or Chanukah’ which was of 8 days celebrations by the Jews. Like Diwali to the Hindus, it was a ‘Festival of Light’ to the Jews.

The temple of Jerusalem, though beautifully built by King Solomon, was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah it was rebuilt and preserved. Again it underwent destruction. King Herod for the third time renovated it extensively. In BC 170, the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanus, greatly influenced by the Greek culture, wanted to replace the Jewish religion with the Greek religion and custom. He decided to wage war against the kingdom of Judah and finally he invaded the city of Jerusalem. 80,000 people were massacred and an equal number of people were taken captives. It was during this time that St. Solomonia (Morth Shmooni) and her 7 children were brutally assassinated. A large quantity of wealth from the temple was looted and the booty was estimated to be 1,800 talents. The house of God was made a house of harlots. As a result the worship in the temple was obstructed. He even defiled the holy temple of Jerusalem by sacrificing a female swine on the holy altar as an offering to the Greek deity Zeus. Antiochus was permitted by God to carry out this insane desecration of the most holy temple because of the sins of the people. It was not just because Antiochus was bent on destruction, but because the Lord allowed it for the good of his people.

In 164 BC, the Jews succeeded in retrieving the temple of Jerusalem from the Greeks and they renovated and refined the temple. Judas Maccabeus took the initiative in consecrating the desecrated temple. We learn of this story from the books of Maccabees of the Holy Bible. In commemoration of this act of rededication and as a mark of their joy of freedom, the Jews began to celebrate it flamboyantly. This feast came to be known as ‘festival of light’ as there were many lights to illuminate the temple and houses of the Jews who celebrated it. It was in this background, that Christ our Lord said that He was the “Light of the world” (John8:12). It is meaningful that Christ chooses to talk to the people in a ‘winter’ season for the reason that winter has a symbolic representation of darkness or death which is always followed by ‘spring’ indicative of a renewed life and brightening of light.

Antiochus Epiphanus was the personification of all evil. Even in the present time, similar forces of evil still exist causing closing down of many a church. Factionalism, fundamentalism, cultism and secularism are the main factors for such spiritual tragedies. We see in the book of Maccabees that there were some lawless and traitorous men coming forth from the sons of Israel by persuading many to yield to the Hellenistic customs, ordinances of the gentiles and finally succumbing themselves to the authority of King Antiochus . Similarly, there are some extremist people in the present Church too who bear the yoke of evil forces.

The unwavering faith shown by the Jewish scribe Eleazar and the 7 Maccabean martyrs along with their mother Morth Shmoomi , by defying valiantly the sacrilegious commands of King Antiochus IV Ephiphanus and by just ignoring the fierce persecution from the King for the sake of God, are prototypes of all Christian martyrs. They have set a model for true witnessing which we all have to emulate.

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Articles Devotional Features

A Message For Holy Week


Lenten blessings be upon you! Nowadays many Christians prefer going for pilgrimage to the holy land and they find gratification by walking through the soil where our Lord Jesus walked on some 2000 years ago. But only the affluent people are afford to have such a pilgrimage though everyone is desirous of. Here is a God sent opportunity for each one of us to make a pilgrimage through the life- events of Christ incarnate. From Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, we are going for a pilgrimage in a peculiar way.

As we meditate upon the life stories of Christ especially his passion, crucifixion and resurrection through the liturgies on the holy week, in an experiential realm, we feel the very presence of Christ amidst us and are able to imbibe the grace of healing.

On Palm Sunday, we are called to sing Hosanna like the large multitude did on the street of Jerusalem glorifying Jesus while on His arrival mounted on a colt (Mat21:9). Let us pray Hosanna meaning ‘Save us’ so that our present world may be saved from eternal perish.

On Maundy Thursday, let us come close leaning on our master Jesus for holy supper(Holy Qurbana) and receive his holy body and blood not as Judas Iscariot did (Mark 14:20) but as his favourite disciple Saint John did (John21:20).

On Good Friday, when we participate in the procession of the way of cross around the church , let the same attitude of Simon Cyrene reign over us in carrying the Cross of Christ (Mark15:21). And while we chant lengthy prayers and hymns, let us cry aloud like the women of Jerusalem did by lamenting of our sinful lives and of our children. Let us kneel down on the floor of the Church as if we were at Calvary. Let us bring myrrh and frankincense with all devotion and sincerity to the holy altar for the burial service as a mark of paying homage to our Lord as Joseph and Nichodimus did for the burial of Christ (John 19:39).

On Gospel Saturday, let our memorial service for the departed souls go deep down into the Sheol heralding the joy of victory of our Lord over death as our out- reaching mission in tandem with that of Christ (1 Peter 3:19, 4:6).

On Easter Sunday, let us run like St.Peter and St. John to the tomb of Christ (The Holy Altar) so as to make us believe that indeed ‘Christ has risen’  (John20:3-8).

One of the greatest prophetic themes of the old testament concerning the promised Messiah is that the Father would send His son “to heal the broken hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind (Isaiah 49:8; 61:1) and we read in the gospel of St.Luke 4:18 that it was fulfilled in Christ Incarnate. The ministry of Christ was one of numerous healings of “all kinds of sicknesses and all kinds of disease” (Mat 4:23). In addition, Jesus healed darkened hearts and minds as he released people from demonic oppression.

Like their Mater before them, the early apostles participated in God’s work of healing as well, attributing their miracle to the risen and ascended Christ. “Jesus the Christ heals you, “Peter told a newly restored man who had been bedridden for eight years  (Acts9:34).St.Paul identified healing as a gift of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 12:9). Thus, the New Testament foundation was established for the healing ministry to be a part of the sacramental life of the Church (James 5:14-15). The Orthodox Church has never believed or behaved as though the gifts of the spirit or the healing miracles of Christ have somehow passed away. Did not Jesus promise, “He who believes in me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to my father (John 14:12). As we do the prayer of healing, it doesn’t mean that we are commanding God to heal nor doubting His ability to heal, but pleading for His promised mercy on all who are ill.

In the book of the Acts of the Apostles 3:1-10, we see that the apostles participate not only in preaching and teaching but in healing as well. The sacrament of healing manifests God’s presence in the Church and confirms the message of the gospel.

Let me quote some verses from the holy Bible which throws a light into the importance of having the holy service of the anointing of the sick. “My son, do not be negligent when you are sick, but pray to the Lord and He will heal you. Depart from transgression and direct your hand aright, and cleanse your heart from every sin. Offer a sweet-smelling sacrifice and a memorial of the finest wheat flour; and pour oil on your offering, as if you are soon to die. And keep in touch with your physician, for the Lord created him; and do not let him leave you, for you need him. There is a time when success is also in their hands, for they will pray to the Lord to give them success in bringing relief and healing, for the sake of preserving your life” (Wisdom of Sirach 38:9-14).

The sacrament –healing prayer and service of anointing the sick– known in Greek as evchelaion (the oil of prayer), is intended for all who suffer from any physical and mental illnesses. In many orthodox parishes and monasteries of the Eastern Orthodox Churches it is the custom to celebrate the evchelaion in Church on holy Wednesday evening or Maundy Thursday morning during holy Week, and everyone present is invited to approach for anointing, whether physically ill or not; for, even if we don’t require healing of the body, we are all of us in need of healing for our soul. All too often in orthodoxy the anointing of the sick has become a forgotten sacrament: we orthodox need to make far greater use of it.

In tandem with the present need, I feel it necessary to have a special healing service on the eve of Maundy Thursday in our church as well. Let us pray for all the sick around us and submit ourselves before God to be healed. When we pray for others, it is true that we also get healing. We read in the book of Job42:10 ff that when Job, the righteous, did pray for his friends, he regained his health and wealth. The prayer of the erstwhile people of India had been: “Loka Samastha sukhino bhavanthu”! See what a broader outlook was it that of our forefathers! Let this same attitude reign over us! No fervent prayers remain unanswered. God bless us.

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Articles Devotional

Devotional Thought On Great Lent


By the grace of God, we are once again entering into the 50 days lent popularly known as ‘Great Lent’ -the biggest of the 5 canonical Lents of the holy Church- which leads us to commemorate the climax episode of Christ’s incarnation and to be the contemporary of those events happened in the past. “Lent is not a collection of prohibitions but it is an option for what is positive”. Fasting is one of the traditions Christians have inherited from Judaism. It was common enough at the time of Jesus for him to warn us: “When you fast do not put on a gloomy look as the hypocrites do: they pull long faces to let men know they are fasting. I tell you solemnly, they have had their reward” (Matt 6:16).

There are many ways to keep a good Lent. During Lent time, a faithful believer of Christ is supposed to abstain from some particular food or pleasure, especially avoiding non-vegetarian and sex. This is what exactly St. Paul meant when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 7:5 “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self control”. Of course, the first thing God wanted from human was to abstain from a certain food (Genesis 2:16-17). Lent involves an element of sacrifice as the observant forsakes something that he/she likes most. It is the best remedy to get rid of the lust in oneself which deviates one from the divinity. Lent is, further, an opportunity for oneself to abstain from bad habits like smoking, drinking, etc.

Some people doubt whether diet regimen during Lent in our church is biblical or not. Abstaining from the king’s rich food, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah ate vegetables (lentels) and drank water. (Daniel 1:8-12). See what Daniel says, “ In those days, I Daniel, was mourning for three weeks, I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks”.(Daniel 10:2-3). It is said in Joel 1:14; 2:12 that we have to lament and mourn for sanctifying fast. The fasting period is called the lamenting period. Daniel did not eat any delicacies, meat or wine during fasting period. According to one’s strength, power and call everyone adjusts the dietary arrangements and the duration of the fasting. We see that St. John the Baptist, the greatest of all born of women abstained from eating fish or meat. The children like Hananiah and the rest ate only lentels, and drank water. Daniel rejected the delicacies and wine. The Church takes note that the Hebrew youths were blessed by God through holy fasting. It was fasting that delivered the children from the furnace and Daniel the prophet from the jaws of the lions.

Simple food in small quantity helps creating in oneself awareness that gluttony is a sin. A scoop of simple food would help one to inculcate an idea that our prayers should be need based and not greed based. Through lent one gets to know of the depths of pain of starving people. Lent inspires one to identify oneself with the poor and to the necessity of being austere throughout one’s life. One who observes lent in all sincerity and seriousness comes to the understanding that it is a sin of being rich in a poor world.

The Church’s commandment is that one should not eat anything until evening or 3 p.m. If one is not capable of doing it, fast till mid-day. If possible, one should avoid tasty and rich food like egg, milk, fish, meat, oil, wine, etc. And purify himself/her self through prayer, meditation on Bible and prostration. One is bound by moral obligations, such as giving alms and helping the needy etc, during fasting period. It is compulsory that one should participate in the Holy Communion after the true confession.

As our lives become ever busier, there is the danger that the voice of the Lord gets drowned out. Even in Jesus’ own time, it was easy to become distracted by the cares and duties of everyday life as the

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Articles We Believe

The Healing Ministry In Our Church

miracle-healing
Introduction

“Israel, your head is already covered with wounds, and your heart and mind are sick. From head to foot there is not a healthy spot on your body. You are covered with bruises and sores and open wounds. Your wounds have not been cleaned or bandaged. No ointment has been put on them.”(Isaiah1:5).

This verse from the Bible is not only about the old Israel, but is all about the new Israel also. The world in which we live today is ailing. I think more than 90 per cent of the whole world population is morbid. And I believe the primary duty of the church is to heal this ailing world. The Bible tells us about the question: Who created the world? And it is the Science to describe how the world was created. Both religion and science are two sides of the same coin. It is God who works behind both.

Religion and Science are not to be contradictory but to be complementary. Doctors get the knowledge of medicine from the wisdom of God. It is God who infused healing power or medicinal value into the herbs. The source of all medicine is God.

We see Jesus resorting to many methods to heal the sick who sought his help. He healed many by a single touch (Mark8:25), by a simple word (St. John 5:8, and by using a mixture of saliva and soil (St.John9). He wanted his disciples to use Olive oil as a medium for imparting power of healing (Mark 6:13). I think all the holy sacraments in our church are now rather relevant to the modern humanity than it was before and I believe that it is the mission of the holy church to take this sacraments to the needy and to the deserving.

My humble attempt here is to delve deep into the theological aspects of the healing ministry in the Orthodox Church particularly on the holy healing sacraments-Anointing the sick and Holy Qurbana.

Soteriology

The purpose of the Incarnation of Christ was to redeem the whole humanity from the clutches of Satan and to set the human free from the bondage of sin, disease and death and eventually to place them in paradise by regaining the lost paradise. As part of the economy of God’s salvation, He instituted certain spiritual means to purify the weak and sinful human and to make them holy as God himself has ever been.

The reference to this is seen in Leviticus 20:26 where the Lord has said, “You shall be holy and belong to me, because I am the Lord and I am holy.” This spiritual process of purification and deification is popularly denoted by the word-Sacrament which means that which sanctifies. Though the term is not found in the New Testament, it came into use quite early to describe the visible signs or acts which are means of grace and salvation for the Christians.

‘Salvation’ is probably the most general term used in the Bible for the great gift which men receive by believing in Jesus Christ. (Romans 1:16).

It means not only Freedom from sin and God’s wrath, but also a growth in the knowledge of God (1 Timothy 1:15, Romans5:6, 1 Timothy2:4). The ultimate aim of salvation is nothing but theosis or deification. (Leviticus20:26, 1 Thessalonians 4:3).

Deification is possible only by a spiritual defecation or religious refining of the weak and sinful nature of human beings by way of ritualistic performances. A religious ritual becomes a vital activity when it is done scientifically and in all its seriousness but it becomes a meaningless perfunctory act and a farce, if done with laxity devoid of its true spirit.

In order to acquire the divine nature, one needs to be firmly attached to God. (John 15). If one has to bear spiritual fruit, one is to be filled with and guided by the Holy Spirit (St.John16:8, Galatians 5:22).