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An Angelic Herald

Luke 2:10: And the Angel said unto them “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great Joy, which shall be to all people.

Another Season of Christmas is fast approaching along with all the rigmaroles of the season: frenzied shopping, gift wrapping, guest listing and the anxiety to get the season completed without regret and remorse.

This Season is anxiously awaited by the whole country to check the telltale signs of economic recovery and to usher in the next economic expansion.

The few days after Thanksgiving till Christmas marks the shopping season for the whole year when most merchandise is purchased, consumed and discarded. The aftermath of the season is most often: increased debt and doubt about the declining relationship with kith and kin resulting in decreased mental health. To most people the season is a nightmare to begin with and a perennial problem that cannot be unburdened. Why Such desperation and frustration over the birth of Jesus- heralded by Angles to Mary, then to Joseph and to the shepherds- as “good tidings of great Joy” to all the people of the world? How this epoch making event-much awaited, prophesized-descend into this current state of decay? A brief look into this event is much warranted and merits attention at this season when millions of people in this affluent society- often proclaimed as the greatest ever in the history of mankind-goes hungry and penniless gnawing at the fabric of the society? Where is the notion of the savior when every greenback loudly proclaims the motto “in God we trust” and rejoices at the marvel of its currency and savors the goods and services it offers while paying mere lip service to the almighty savior.

A historical perspective of Christmas is well neigh impossible and mostly fraught with imperfections or inconsistencies as the bible offers no such clue to the celebration. The Christians themselves celebrate this Holy day in two different months- December and January- establishing the fact that the date was set later by decree rather than history. Early Mesopotamians-two thousand years before Christ- had celebrations to welcome the winter Solstice. The Scandinavians celebrated winter solstice in the month of December to usher in the ‘dawn of light’ in their life after months of darkness. The Birth of Jesus was celebrated in the Christian conclaves since 98 A.D. The Bishop of Rome, in 157 A.D celebrated the birth of Christ and in 380 A.D. the Bishop Julius Chose December 25th as the day of “cristes maesse’-Christ’s Mass which became Christmas.

The Birth of Jesus as the savior-savior for all mankind-not for Jews alone was well narrated in the Bible starting with Genesis. Genesis 49: 10: The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be. The deathbed scenario of Jacob prophesizing the Kingdom of God- Sceptre appearing in Judea in the House of Judah-son of Jacob is worth mentioning. Numbers 24:17; I shall see him, but not now: I shall behold him, but not nigh: there shall come a Star out of Jacob, and a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth. The Books of prophets are mired in the prophecies of the birth of the savior that gave a messianic fervor to the Jews and to surpass and surmount every persecution and subjugation with longing and hope. Numbers 18;8 I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. Prophet Isaiah “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us- narrates the birth of Jesus in such exacting detail. All prophetic books offer similar visions of the savior-savior for the whole mankind.

Matthew 1;21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins. The Name Jesus is Greek for the Hebrew name “Joshua’ or Jeshua a name first appears in Numbers 13;16; These are the names of the men which Moses sent to spy out the land. And Moses called Oshea the son of Nun Jehoshua. Moses thus changes the name of Hosea to Joshua. The name Joshua is a compilation of two names- YHWH- Jehovah and Hebrew ‘ Yesha’ meaning saved or delivered. In another form it is ‘to cry for help”. So the name Joshua means “ Jehovah is help” “or the deliverer or the savior. By a simple act of changing name Moses changed the Mosaic laws-ten commandments- to the law of Joshua- the law of Love offered for their salvation from privations, deprivations and destruction.

The angels appeared to Zacharias- the father of John the Baptist and delivered the message which he was seeking for ages Luke 1’13, Fear not, Zacharias: for thy prayer is heard; and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. Zacharias was doubtful and questioned the word of the Almighty-a priest inside the sanctum sanctorum- gave a penalty as he was ‘dumbfounded’ by the news became dumb for the entire period of Elisabeth’s pregnancy. A message that is worth pondering- who carry the holy vest of God and adorn the vestibule of the almighty God. The Angelic message again offers the same message to Mary, Luke 1:30; And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. In announcing the birth of savior to the shepherds Luke 2;10; And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. In these three angelic messages “Fear Not” is the theme. The nation of Israel was subjugated by foreign rule and lived in fear- a nation in fear. The fear was palpable; the yoke that subjugated the body doused the inner spirit and spread doom and gloom. Hope and salvation was anathema to the people- the people in darkness. They saw the light- the message of peace.

The current state of gloom and the prevailing notion of a country in decline sow seeds of discontent that permeates every fabric of the society. The people are looking for sign-any sign of hope- in a society where self-rules and trumps kindness and brotherhood. The Christmas season thus brings false joy by means of amassing materials – objects of desire. Consumerisms replaces Christianity as the new religion and greed its new currency. Objectification and fixation on materials of wealth has brought the faithful and the not so faithful to question the shifting paradigms of worship that accommodates the demands of the wealthy in ever increasing measure. Money is the new deity replacing Christ the savior from the manger of love- a Love that transcends time and proclaims the innocence of Child as the harbinger of a new dawn. The dawn that ushers in the rays of hope-the good tiding of Joy- that can dispel the darkness from the lives of humanity and bring eternal peace. The shopping frenzy boosts up dopamine levels and provide a heightened sense of joy- a joy that wears away easily and often seeks for more and more. Thus this perpetual need for boosting the self-image is an addiction that affects the same part of the brain as in any other addiction. This culture of replacing the baby Jesus, born in a manger, covered in swaddling clothes, and witnessed by the shepherds and the sheep and adored by the angels is the theme of Christmas. “Fear Not” as the message delivered by the Angel to the world in darkness- the Angelic herald is the same message that must transcend our hearts to receive the sheer simple pure and everlasting Joy of Christmas -that is the Angelic Herald for this nation in darkness.

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On a Saintly Pursuit

“Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints” Ephesians 6; 18

The month of November brings joy, happiness and harmony as the Church celebrates the great remembrance of the saint –The Gregorios of Parumala-mostly remembered as Parumala Thirumeni

The Catholic church celebrates ‘All saints Day’ on November 1st and has declared patron saints for ills, illnesses, afflictions and all human follies and frailties neatly assembled in alphabetical order for one’s perusal. For The Malankara Orthodox Christians it is a deserving tribute to our venerated Church to have a saint of our own-lived among us, preached to us, prayed for us- and exalted himself to the throne of heaven by following the path of Christ. The Commemoration and celebration of the Thirumen’s life is a worldwide affair as the Christian Diaspora has extended to the far corners of the world. We believe in celebrations and ritualistic exhortations without understanding the underlying meaning of the saint’s life and mission which was exemplified in the short period of fifty two years on this earthly abode.

Who is a saint?

How can one attain sainthood- some of the questions that prop up in people’s mind when they take a pilgrimage to the saint’s earthly abode-Parumala? The Pilgrims ritualistically enjoy the festivities and purchase a few merchandise in memory of that pursuit. The term “saint’ is widely accepted as a Christian term and the usage common in the lingua franca of the Christian community and has received wider acceptance. The dictionary meaning of “saint” refers to any believer who is “in Christ”, and in whom Christ dwells, whether in heaven or in earth (2Corinthians 5:17; Ephesians 3:14-19; 2Corinthians 13:5) In Orthodox and Catholic teachings, all Christians in heaven are considered to be saints, but some are considered to be worthy of higher honor, emulation, or veneration. In the Christian Bible, only one person is expressly called a saint: “They envied Moses also in the camp, and Aaron the saint of the Lord.” (Psalms 106:16-18) The apostle Paul declared himself to be “less than the least of all saints” in Ephesians 3:8

The life history of Parumala Thirumeni is worth exploring and in the light of the increasing materialistic view point of the Christian faithful and the deepening schism in the Orthodox Church is the reference point of our departure from the values of the past. The steadfast adherence to the spiritual way of life involving, constant prayer, meditation, fasting and the simple life of an ascetic enabled Thirumeni to be the true disciple of Jesus Christ. His famous verse “Prayer brings truth, religious faith, honesty and respect among the people” shows his conviction of the power of prayer as the strong weapon against evil.

The Life history of this saint begins in the priestly family of “Chathuruthy” in the village of Mulunthuruthy near Cochin on 15th June 1848. He was baptized by the name Geevarghese. He studied theology and Syriac at a very young age and showed exceptional talent in biblical scholarship. The destiny of such a life is very well revealed when he was entrusted with the title of deacon at a young age of ten. His early life resembles that of Prophet Daniel whom the Lord called to his side at a younger age and bestowed on him the power of the spirit. The amazing power of the Holy Spirit was evident in the young Thirumeni as he was led to a life of challenges and severe hardships of earthly lore which he surmounted with ease and dignity. The young deacon was made a priest at the tender age of eighteen, begins to show the clear signs of a spiritual life- remarkably peculiar and distinct from other priests and spiritual leaders of the times- elevated him to the spiritual position of Ramban. His mastery of the language Syriac led him to be the interpreter for the Patriarch of Antioch at the Mulunthuruthy Synod in June and July of 1876. He was appointed as the private secretary of the patriarch who found the young Ramban talented and spiritually superior.

Cor-Episcopos Geevarghese Ramban was soon elevated to the order of metropolitan at a young age of thirty-one. His fame spread and people adored him and called him “Kochu Thirumeni”- young bishop. The Young Thirumeni traveled to the Holy land and visited the monasteries, shrines and wrote about it the first travel journal in the vernacular Malayalam. Thirumeni saw the importance of English education and started schools in Thumpamon and Thiruvalla and insisted on establishing more. Under his tutelage the The Parumala seminary flourished and grew in prominence. Thirumeni extolled the virtues of educating women and the downtrodden-the latter for witnessing the true faith in Christ and bringing them under the Church. It begs description to see an institution of higher learning established in Parumala by the Hindu community not by the ardent advocates of Thirumeni’s Piety- defies logic- says volumes about the lack of vision of our Church elders and leaders. He was a humble and simple human being and never sought any recognition, seats of admiration or adoration during his lifetime. He was well respected by the faithful and the natives of other faith as a spiritual human being and many sought his prayer for the malaise of this world. It was Thirumeni who chased the bad spirits ‘ yakshi” from the palm trees of Parumala which is a powerful testimony of his power over evil, lends a new dimension to his power. Thirumeni’s daily routine reveals a life of prayer and severe fasting which wasted his body. He took everything in his strides and bore the fruit of the cross with dignity, moral and spiritual superiority. The saint Vattasserill Thirumeni received his spiritual blessing and character training from Thirumeni. This training gave him the fortitude to fight untruth with unflinching courage. The frugal way of life and extended periods of fasting took a heavy toll on Thirumeni’s life and the glorious, blessed spiritual soul of this saint separated from his earthly body on November 2nd, 1902.

People from all walks of life, throng to his death bed – the final resting place of a great soul- to pray and seek spiritual blessings and intercession for their worldly sustenance and feel energized by such a venture. A pilgrimage to Parumala is a must for the faithful and the multitude of people who throng to his deathbed to pray and renew the faith bear witness to the amazing power of the saint’s power of intercession.

An extraordinary life- from a humble and simple beginning- to an unparalleled ending within the shortest period of fifty-two years is simply astounding. This spiritual leader stands as a testament to the power of prayer and fasting, the weapon against the power of darkness. The St. Thomas Christians of today extol his virtues and celebrates the memory in the hope of extending harmony and brotherly love to all human beings. Let this celebration be marked by the peace of brotherly love and not marred by dissension and the quest for power, supremacy and worldly possessions.

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Christian Consumerism in a Contemporary American Society

Romans 8:35 “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?”

Christian values and beliefs are constantly being tested and tried in the society we live, on a daily basis. The rapacious greed to amass wealth beyond ones’ need has delivered a blow to the Christian faith and value system.

Jesus asked his disciples to leave all possessions and follow Him. Later He sends them to the corners of the world to spread his message of love for one another and asked others to take up His cross, a cross of pain and suffering. The message to love one’s own neighbor has changed now days ‘to keep up with the present media idol, to emulate his style, own his brand possessions and if possible to outsmart him in the list of things you own’. The value of material possessions are deemed as ‘net worth’ and are prized more than the spiritual worthiness. Material possessions offer more prestige in the eyes of the world as well. The materialistic world beckons and by no fault the multitude is drawn toward it, namely, the need to expand beyond the means and the necessities. Thus, large homes with outlandish decorations, expensive cars, designer dresses and accessories have become the fashion of the day and increasingly becoming the model to emulate. It, in consequence, forces people to consume more. To live the dreams out the system provides the means also to buy them. Thus self worth and point systems are introduced to assess a person’s credit worthiness and allow them to borrow more and follow the massive debt trap that swallowed this nation and brought us to the brink of destruction. The real spiritual worthiness of a Christian and his values are constantly forgotten in this loudly proclaimed ‘One Nation under God’ country that is richly bestowed with the potential to enrich the world both spiritually and materialistically.

We find ourselves in a culture that defines our relationships and actions primarily through a ‘prism of consumption’. Consumption has assembled a value judgment for everyone based on the goods we purchase. One’s identity is now constructed by the clothes you wear, the vehicle you drive, and the rich friends- of Wall Street fame you associate with. Consumerism has become the alternative symbol of identification to the Christian gospel. It is no longer merely an economic system; consumerism has become the American worldview – the framework through which we interpret everything else, including God, the gospel and Church. Jesus Christ is relegated to a lower status- from Lord to a label – where money has become the Lord supreme. To live as a Christian no longer carries an expectation of obedience and good works, but rather the perpetual consumption of Christian merchandise and experiences – music, books, t-shirts, conferences, Christian symbols richly adorned in jewelry. Thus the pastor has become the embodiment of a salesperson and evangelism the key market strategy. Thus mega churches and cities are being built that can trump constructions of other denominations and religions which are being heralded on a daily basis. The recent attempt to build a mosque near the old world trade center has created much furor. The proposed Hindu version of mega temple with multiplex cinema in Disney style has raised many eyebrows. The ordinary Christian is indoctrinated so much that this prevailing world view has mostly been accepted without questioning its authority or historical validity.

Consumerism in itself is not to be shunned as it helps to nurture the body where the spirit itself resides; the Jewish tradition always welcomed riches foods and occasions of grandeur but never supported amassing wealth through