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St. Paul’s Mens’ League

KOHNE (SUNDAY REMEMBERING ALL THE DEPARTED CLERGY)

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Today is Kohene Sunday- A special day to remember all the departed priests. It’s good to remember at least once in a year our forefathers who helped us to sustain in true faith. Let’s take a couple of minutes to remember them. We have already attended countless holy Qurbanas. We have participated in Holy Communion numerous times. Just take a moment and try to remember the names of the priests, imagine their faces, and recollect the images of the holy altars where they offered the holy Eucharist for us. Especially, remember the priests who are deceased. You know they are with their master; participating in the worship and holy Qurbana along with their master in heaven. So they have better access and they can intercede for us.

Let this Sunday be a Thanksgiving Day to God for giving us the priests who are appointed to help us to imbibe and nurture us in faith.

Well, coming back to the today’s gospel reading. Today’s reading is from St. Matthew chapter 24 versus 42 to 51. And it’s about two metaphors regarding the second coming of Jesus and the need to stay awake. It says that no one knows what time the master comes to evaluate his servants. The parable of a master going for a long journey is similar to the parable of vineyard tenants, which is very familiar to us.

A master is going for a long journey. He is assigning duties to his servants. When he comes back he is going to evaluate what his servants did. The illustration here depicts two servants. One who is faithful and the other who thinks the master is delaying and does all wicked things. So the message is since you do not know when the master is coming you have to stay alert.

I’m not going to focus on the second coming of Jesus in today’s sermon. Rather I’m trying to elucidate why is the message stay awake is relevant in today’s context. For this I’m trying to find parallels between the gospel of Matthew and Mark. The same parable is depicted in both gospels.

In St. Mark the call to watch is replaced with a synonym- the command to “shake off sleep”. By commanding to shake off sleep Jesus is introducing a new theme. The struggle between staying awake and falling asleep.

Now I’m inviting your attention to what happened on Gethsemane. Jesus wanted his disciples to stay awake with him. But what happened, the tragedy is they will not stay awake with Jesus in Gethsemane. And they will sleep. They failed, because they do not understand the call to the cross; and the call to be awake with Jesus. We are failing to stay awake because we simply never understood the call and mission of Christian life.

I will make this theme very simple by telling a small story. Fiorello La Guardia was one of the most colorful and energetic and reformist mayor of New York City during some time after First World War. He was very active, he would ride the city fire trucks, and he takes the entire orphanages to the baseball games.

The story I am going to tell you was printed in New York Times sometime in 1935. Mayor LaGuardia turned up in a night court that served the poorest ward in the city. It was very late; so he dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. After he heard a few cases, an old woman was brought before him. She was accused of stealing a loaf of bread. She told the mayor that her daughter’s husband had deserted her; her daughter was sick; and her grandchildren were starving.

But the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, insisted on pressing charges. He said, my store is in a very bad neighborhood. Therefore, she’s got to be punished in order to teach other people a lesson. The mayor was listening. He turned to the old woman and said, I have got to punish you. The law makes no exception. $10 or 10 days in jail. Remember in 1935 $10 was like $500.

But even as he spoke, LaGuardia was reaching into his pocket and pulling out a $10 bill. Here is the woman’s fine, he said. Furthermore, I’m going to fine everyone including me in this courtroom $.50. The reason he said, this is for being insensitive, for not staying awake, for not sensing the needs of others, for living in a city where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.

Well, are you getting the link, the meaning of Jesus command to stay awake. Unfortunately, whenever we talk about staying awake it land up in the theme of the second coming of Jesus, and people think that it exclusively mean you have to keep praying all the time and be ready and alert for the second coming. But here stay awake has a different meaning. It means and commands us to be mindful, to be alert, to be vigilant, and to be sensitive to the needs of the needy. Not only the material or tangible needs, but also the psychological and spiritual needs; like for example- love, compassion, understanding and so on.

I was on a mission trip last year to India. We had a chance to participate in the community mission of Bethsada/ Guardian Angel society. The community mission team there tries to reach out, and address the needs of the community. For example, they are supporting 25 local families with rice, vegetables groceries and other essential food every month; they have a group of 25 students whose educational expenses are taken care on a monthly basis; they help homeless families to build a house and so on. I know this is not the new mission. But what I’m trying to say is, during the interaction with George achan and Julio’s thirumeni-the people behind this mission-they said, we can easily ignore these people, I mean the people who are in need in the community; and we can be busy with the parish ministry, church and diocesan administration, worship liturgy and so on. Community mission is a big burden. It’s a long-term commitment. For example, if you are supporting a student who is in a professional college like nursing, you have to support him or her for four years. Though it is a big we still want to do this, because we are supposed to be sensitive, mindful, and vigilant to the needs of the needy.

I hope the message is much clearer now. It’s the duty of a priest to stay alert and make sure that his parish members are staying awake, vigilant, and sensitive to the needs of the fellow beings around us. I hope today’s gospel reading and message help us to stay awake, and help us to be sensitive, open, and watch for the needs of the needy. Thanks again, May God bless.

Ma’ Altho: The presentation of infant Jesus

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Ma’ Altho is an important feast-day celebrating the presentation of infant Jesus to the Jerusalem temple. The presentation of infant Jesus is an analogy of “giving away” of children to God. They no longer simply belong to their parents, but they belong to God. In Orthodox tradition the sacrament of Baptism is a kind of a “giving away” of children to God.
This “giving away” of children in baptism implies that the parents/ god-persons are not just raising their own child, but a child of God. This is also an assurance that God will help in the complex process of child-rearing. So we have to trust that God’s hand is involved — often in ways that we can’t fully comprehend.
Acknowledging God’s mysterious involvement in human life is the crux of orthodox thought. Ma’ Altho is yet another feast-day to remind us to fully acknowledge and trust- that God is continuously involving in our lives, from birth till death and beyond.
Moreover, there can also be the comfort in knowing that we have been presented to and accepted by God as ‘God’s child’ through baptism. The world in which we live is not always kind or easy, but we are assured that we belong to God and he is well-connected with our lives.

Gospel Reading: Luke 2:36-40 (New Revised Standard Version)
36 There was also a prophet, Anna[a] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[b] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY: Nicodemus Visits Jesus

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Nicodemus was seeking Jesus under the cover of darkness because he has much to lose- his security, position and power. But Jesus asks him to be “born from above”; which was far beyond his comprehension.
We also find it difficult to understand many divine things as we are just another God’s creation. The plans and purposes of the creator are far beyond our comprehension. Orthodoxy is a way to make sense and connect with the creator God, who is beyond the human intellect and comprehension, through worship.

Gospel Reading: John 3: 1-12

Now there was a Pharisee named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. 2 He came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. 6 What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ 8 The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things?

11 “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY: A personal invitation to “Come and See”

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“Come and see” is a personal invitation by Jesus. His disciples also invite others into discipleship saying, “come and see”. This phrase, in short has become a personal invitation to God’s dwelling and into discipleship with him.

Can we invite Jesus to come and see where we are dwelling? How about inviting him to our living space, kitchen and bedroom? How about talking to him as we show him around?

The imagination goes like this; if Jesus accepts our invitation ask him to sit with us. Show him those aspects of our home, collections, valuables, achievements and our possessions that delight us.

But if he asks, “where your sprit is residing”, how might we respond. Read this gospel passage, then meditate and write a conversation with Jesus about where we are “staying”. Be truthful and trust him. Pray through the thoughts and emotions we experience during the dialogue. Talk to your loved ones and share your experience.

Reading from John 1: 43-51: Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

 

 

THE FIRST SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY

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To start his ministry Jesus left Nazareth (symbolic of leaving our old ways of living to start a new!) and began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Repentance is not only turning away from our sinful ways, but it also calls for turning towards God. As St. Paul says, a new creation is what matters!

Gospel Reading from St. Mathew 4: 12-22

Jesus Begins His Ministry in Galilee:

12 Now when Jesus[a] heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew to Galilee. 13 He left Nazareth and made his home in Capernaum by the sea, in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali, 14 so that what had been spoken through the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: 15 “Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, on the road by the sea, across the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles— 16 the people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death light has dawned.” 17 From that time Jesus began to proclaim, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus Calls the First Disciples:

18 As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.

THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

THE SUNDAY BEFORE CHRISTMAS

 

Genealogies are common in Hebrew bible and were a matter of pride.  Mathew’s portrait of the genealogy of Jesus Christ is an amazing testimony to God’s power to overcome the sin of humankind. This stylized ancestral tree consisting of roughly three groups of fourteen: from Abraham to David, from David to the deportation to Babylon; and from the deportation to Jesus. The numerical value of David’s name in Hebrew is fourteen, which may account for this arrangement.

From an Orthodox perspective, these three phases represent the three states of human life. The first phase represents the uniqueness and dignity of humanhood, and the continued fellowship with God in the Garden of Eden.  The separation and lost fellowship with God when they committed sin represents the second phase. But God never abandoned the humankind. The salvation plan by sending the Son of God for the remission of human sin and the reinstatement of the fellowship with God represents the third phase.

Jesus genealogy is unusual, not simply because it includes women, but also because it features non-Israelite women, some of questionable repute (e.g., Tamar, Rahab). In short, despite Mathew’s intention to prove that Jesus is a true Israelite, this genealogy is by no means a “pure” family tree: Judah visited prostituted women; Rahab was a prostituted woman; David committed adultery and murder; Solomon flirted with idols. The inclusion of women (and/ or with questionable repute) may prefigure Mary’s own marital dilemma and the coming mission to the gentiles.

Yet through these imperfect people, God was able to preserve his promises and shape earthly events to prepare the way for the savior Messiah. Today, let’s think about what all ways in which we have departed from God’s will for us? Think about how God has called us back. Despite our spiritual dryness and (perceived) distance from God, can’t we see God’s working to keep us back on track with his purposes?

Today’s Gospel reading gives us the hope, that despite we slipped away we can come back as he came to call not the righteous but the sinners.

REVELATION TO ST. JOSEPH

St. Joseph: The ‘special’ chosen for the heavenly mission

REVELATION TO ST. JOSEPH

Joseph was a poor carpenter. He was simple, humble and lovable. Yet God choose this simple man to carry out one of the most important heavenly mission in the salvation plan. We are living in a world where everyone is ‘special’; we are proud of our ancestral family, our education, our occupation, our talents, our beauty, our skills, and the list continues. God always needs specials, but not according to human terms.

What made Joseph special? Though he thought of abandoning Mary, he does not want her to be disgraced in public. How will we cover ourselves, if we are going to be blamed in public? Aren’t we smart enough to play the ‘blame game’? But Joseph was righteous. He was extraordinary not to play the blame-game and the dream made him complete turnaround. The angel in his dream informed that the baby born in Mary is of the Holy Spirit. He took the word of the Angel as that of God. There is no doubt about the good understanding of Joseph. Neuroscience says we dream every day during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep. But do you have any dreams that made a complete 180? Let’s pray to the Almighty God to have good dreams to help us to get inspired for a purposeful life.

From today’s Gospel reading, we can see that though simple, Joseph was a man of compassion, integrity, decency and love. He honored God’s will in his life, and was totally committed to act on God’s will. He was concerned about what God wanted out of his life than about what he himself wanted. This is the ‘special’ that made him chosen for the heavenly mission.

God is still looking for special people He can use to carry out His will in the today’s world. Are we ready to be the ‘specials’ in his list?

Birth of St. John the Baptist and ‘Zechariah’s Prophecy’

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Most of the orthodox prayers are filled with praises and thanksgiving to the Trinitarian God. In addition to the traditional prayers, personal prayers and meditations are inevitable in living a meaningful Orthodox life. Although we pray a lot, most of our prayers tend to be “wish lists”. In today’s Gospel reading, Zechariah’s prayer is full of thanksgiving and acknowledgement of what God has done in the past and will do in the future. He worships God using the special name “Most High” and proclaims God’s tender mercy. Today, when we gather together for family prayers read and meditate ‘Zechariah’s Prophecy’. During our personal meditation, try finishing these sentences:
“God, I praise you because you have…”
“I look forward to the day when you will…”
“O God, I am filled with awe and wonder that you…”

HOODOSH EETHO Sunday: “The Feast of Dedication of the Church.”

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HOODOSH EETHO Sunday: ‘Hoodosh Eetho’ means “The Feast of Dedication of the Church.”

Luke 20 depicts a series of questions the Jews ask Jesus in order to trick him. They ask Jesus three questions and today’s Gospel reading is about the first one; they question about the authority of Jesus. If we continue reading the chapter, Jesus responds by asking them twice as many questions and by telling them a parable.

We might want to list the questions in this chapter of Luke and ponder why Jesus asks so many of them. Then ask ourselves, “Do we respond to people’s problems with our answers or do we try to listen to them and ask them helpful questions?” A poet once said, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves.” Are we ready to offer our own questions to God in our personal prayer life, in our community life, and in our church life?

As a church, as God’s people, let us ask these questions to ourselves. “Are we trying to listen to people’s cry, pain and sufferings? Or are we trying to respond with our myopic and selfish perspectives to the real problems of the world?”  Remember, the mother Church and her members were sanctified last week (Koodosh Eetho). Now it’s the time for renewal and re-dedication (Hoodosh Eetho). Let us pray and submit ourselves as a community, as the God’s people, as the church to renew and rededicate, to bear the beacon of light to the society that fumbles in the darkness of evil.

Various Classifications of periods in the Lectionary in Malankara tradition

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Reviewing the available literature, there are at least four to five different classifications of the periods in the Church Lectionary in the Malankara tradition. All of them have the same arrangement of Sundays, order, and themes with minor differences in the gospel readings and other readings from Old Testament and New Testament.

Over the years, liturgical calendars were published in two forms- the tables of Easter and related movable feasts; and a calendar of saints. The two have separate origins. The former were a matter of controversy in the ancient church. Eventually, a single one of 532 years (taqlab in Syriac sources) was adopted as the norm. They again differed in the way in which the dates of are fixed, so do the content and classification of Lectionary.

There are different categorizations of the periods in the Church. Many books published refer to six or seven periods; some refer to generally two periods; most of the other books on Lectionary have no mention on the periods/ cycles. The book ‘Sermons based on readings of the Lectionary’ by H.G Mor Chrysostamus Mosa Salama (1958; Re-published by Mor Adai Study Center) presents seven cycles instead of six. This approach seems to be classical and more authentic.

However, other approaches are in no way inferior to the seven period approach; indeed some of them are more logical and correlates well with the themes and gospel readings.

The 52/ 53 Sundays in a calendar year has been divided to Seven Cycles in the Church Calendar. The first Sunday according to the Church Calendar is the Koodosh Eetho Sunday (Sanctification of the Church). Koodosh Eetho is the Sunday that falls between October 30th and November 5th. The following are the four major classifications commonly found in the Malankara literature (includes the literature published by both the Indian Orthodox and Jacobite Churches).

I. A Broader classification (May have little to do with the actual Lectionary)

  1. Kymto period (Starts from Easter to the feast of Cross/ Sleebo)
  2. Sleebo period (Starts from the feast of Sleebo to Easter)

The order of worship of Kymto (prayers) are meant to be followed on all Sundays. However, inclusion of Sleebo prayers, and this kind of a bifurcation has a specific meaning and purpose. The general message of this categorization is that the salvation and liberation of human race is interlinked in the Cross and Resurrection of the savior lord Jesus Christ.

II. Another bivariate approach; this is more conceptual rather than a clear-cut division or categorization. This approach presumes that the entire Lectionary is stretched from Genesis to the second coming of Lord Jesus Christ.

  1. Koodosh Eetho to Pentecost; the Lectionary includes Genesis, Prophets, Birth, death and resurrection of the savior, to ascension and Pentecost. The entire message and objective of this part of the Lectionary is the spiritual empowerment of believers and meditation in lines with the salvation plan of God the Father.
  2. Pentecost to the second coming of Christ; this period is considered the ‘growth’ period of the church and beyond the scope of written scriptures. The reason being, the widespread growth of the church triggered after the formation of bible. The fundamental dogmas/ faith that are essential for Christian life and Jesus teachings pertaining to this are included in this section. To be more precise, the Sundays after Sleebo are aimed at reminding the church about the second coming of Jesus Christ and how the church and her members should prepare for the same.

III. Six cycles classification:

  1. The first Cycle Starts with Koodosh Eetho, and ends on the Christmas day (Yeldho).
  2. 2nd is from Christmas to the first Sunday of great lend (Kothine)
  3. 3rd is from the first Sunday of Great Lend to Easter Sunday (Kymtha)
  4. 4th is from Easter to Pentecost
  5. 5th is from Pentecost to Sleebo (feast of Cross)
  6. 6th is from Sleebo to Koodosh Eetho

IV. Seven cycle classification: (Mor Mosa Salama )

  1. Sanctification of the Church to Christmas (Yeldho)
  2. Yeldho to Epiphany (Dan’ho)
  3. Dan’ho to the Beginning Sunday of Great Lent (Kothine)
  4. Kothine to Easter Sunday (Kymtha)
  5. Kymtha to Pentecost
  6. Pentecost to the Transfiguration
  7. Sleebo to Sanctification of Church (Koodosh Eetho)

V. Yet another seven periods classification (conceptually same as above; difference in setting the norms)

  1. Suboro period: seven weeks from Koodosh Eetho
  2. Yeldho- Dan’ho period: seven weeks from the Sunday before Christmas to the beginning of Great Lent
  3. Lent period: seven weeks till Easter Sunday
  4. Kymtho (Hovore) period: Seven weeks from Easter to Pentecost
  5. Pentecost period: Pentecost to August 5th
  6.  Transfiguration period: Transfiguration to September 13th (till the day before the feast of Sleebo)
  7. Sleebo period: September 14th till Koodosh Eetho

Knowing this arrangement will help us to better appreciate and understand the logical connection between different feasts, days of the church, gospel readings and what the gospel messages are intended to be. Moreover, there are general themes for each cycle; for example, theme for the first Cycle is confession, affirmation and purification, which helps us to prepare to welcome the Savior on the Christmas day.

The divine intervention in Lectionary is beyond the scope of doubt and definitely Holy Spirit driven. The actual correlation of the themes of each period, the series of scripture readings on the respective Sundays and utilization of contemporary understanding of biblical hermeneutics on Lectionary are the topics for further research.