MARY VISITS ELIZABETH: A True Spiritual friendship

MARY VISITS ELIZABETH_001_001Aelred of Rievaulx, the 12th century monk wrote in Spiritual Friendship; “what happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self”. This is truly an apt description of Mary and Elizabeth’s spiritual kinship. Both women faced unusual, yet joyous, and miraculous circumstances! While reading this gospel passage, can we recall some of our special friendships, current or past, we have experienced during our lifetime. Certainly you may need to call a friend or share a meal together, and reminisce about your friendship. Wholeheartedly tell you friend the ways in which you consider her or him as a blessing.

Annunciation to Zechariah

Annunciation to Zechariah_001_001_001

 

Like Abraham and Sarah, Zechariah expresses doubt when God promises that a child will be born to him and his wife in their old age. Since he doubted, God silences Zechariah until the child is born.
What if we were to receive the most precious desire of our heart today?
How would we respond?
Can we reflect on this, in a journal or notebook using our own words?
Also try to reflect on the times when we experienced periods of doubt, silence, listening or waiting.
This Sunday’s Gospel depicts that such periods of ‘spiritual stillness’ can be a prelude to some new birth in our life, as it was for Zechariah and Elizabeth.

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

Hoodosh Eetho_001

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

calendar

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.

 

 

 

Seven Periods in the Church Calendar

Calendar NEW_001_001The 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. Again, the entire church calendar is divided into 7 cycles.
I. Sanctification of the Church* to Christmas (Yeldho)
II. Yeldho to Epiphany (Dan’ho)
III. Dan’ho to the Beginning Sunday of Great Lent (Kothine)
IV. Kothine to Easter Sunday (Kymtha)
V. Kymtha to Pentecost
VI. Pentecost to the Transfiguration
VII. Sleebo to Sanctification of Church (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.
A Note on the correction: Earlier we published the cycles as SIX instead of SEVEN. 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 date of are fixed.
There are different categorizations of the periods in the Church. Many books published refer to six periods; some refer to generally two periods; most of the other books 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. We are updating the periods to seven as this is an accepted categorization of the Church Lectionary.
Thanks a lot Mor Theethose Thirumeni for the timely suggestions regaring the necessary corrections.

Sermon on the Koodosh Eetho Sunday (Sanctification of the Church): Mark 8:27-33

who do you say that I am

Glory be to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit!

Happy New Year! Am I nuts! Greeting Happy New Year on the first Sunday of November, then really I must be crazy. But some of you may know why we wished happy New Year today. Because today is the first Sunday of the Church Calendar year; we call this Sunday Koodosh Eetho, which means sanctification of the church. We are also commemorating the perunnal of St. Gregorios of Parumala.

Unfortunately we do not realize the purpose and meaning of many of the arrangements, many of the important days, rituals, feasts that are important for us. And that’s the unfortunate part; we do not know when we are celebrating the all saints day / all apostles day. But we do know when and how to celebrate Halloween; that’s again “the all saints day”. We make deliberate efforts to celebrate Halloween, we throw parties, we dress up, we invite friends and family- because it’s fun; but is it appropriate to commemorate the feast days of the Church. Of course yes! What I’m trying to say; it has nothing to do with Halloween celebration, please; but I’m trying to present how this Sunday is important to us; and how the Sundays are arranged in the Church Calendar.

How many Sunday’s are there in a year? 52/53 Sundays depending on the day a year starts. As I said the Church Calendar starts on the Sunday that falls between October 30th and November 5th, which is called Koodosh Eetho. The Sundays are arranged beginning from Koodosh Eetho to the 7/8th Sunday after Sleebo. Again, we need to know that the entire church calendar is divided into 6 / 7 cycles; just like the seasons in a year..

  • I. Sanctification of the Church* to Christmas (Yeldho)
    II. Yeldho to Epiphany (Dan’ho)
    III. Dan’ho to the Beginning Sunday of Great Lent (Kothine)
    IV. Kothine to Easter Sunday (Kymtha)
    V. Kymtha to Pentecost
    VI. Pentecost to the Transfiguration
    VII. Sleebo to Sanctification of Church (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.
    (IMP******A Note on the correction: Earlier we published the cycles as SIX instead of SEVEN. 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 date of are fixed.
    There are different categorizations of the periods in the Church. Many books published refer to six periods; some refer to generally two periods; most of the other books 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. We are updating the periods to seven as this is an accepted categorization of the Church Lectionary.)******

I’m not sure whether we teach this in the Sunday school. But the bottom line is, this needs to be on your fingertips. Otherwise, you won’t be able to appreciate or understand the logical connection between different feasts/ days of the church, gospel readings and what the gospel messages are intended to be.

Coming back to the Gospel reading for today, from ST Mark 8: 27-33. The first part depicts St. Peter’s declaration; and on the way to a village Jesus “asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”  

If he asks the same question today in 2013, there will be millions of different responses. I was going through a blog that describes what people say about Jesus today.

  • “There’s the Republican Jesus—who is against tax increases; who argues for the family values, pro-life and at the same time owning firearms, against gun controls, against food stamps and so on.
  • “There’s Democrat Jesus—who is against Wall Street and Wal-Mart, demonstrating for minimum wages, lenient on pro-choice and so on.
  • “There’s Therapist Jesus—who helps us cope with life’s problems
  • “There’s Starbucks Jesus—who drinks fair trade coffee, loves spiritual conversations, drives a hybrid, and goes to film festivals.
  • “There’s Open-minded Jesus—who loves everyone
  • “There’s Touchdown Jesus—who helps athletes run faster and jump higher than non-Christians and determines the outcomes of Super Bowls.
  • “Martyr Jesus—a good man who died a cruel death so we can feel sorry for him.
  • “There’s Gentle Jesus –”There’s Spirituality Jesus–”There’s Revolutionary Jesus—”There’s Guru Jesus—”There’s Boyfriend Jesus—”There’s Good Example Jesus—who shows you how to help people, change the planet, and become a better you.

2000 years back Jesus asks this question to his disciples. “Who do people say I am?” They gave him ‘others’ opinion; some think you are John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets and so on!

Jesus further asks this question seeking some personalized answers from his disciples as a group; I mean he was seeking for the understanding and affirmation of Apostles as a faith community; “Who do you say I am?” He was not happy with “they say…Someone says…kind of responses; rather seeking their affirmations; looking for a “we say, we believe- kind of affirmations.

Peter, the first among the Apostles, he opened his mouth, representing the other Apostles, representing the church; declared that you are the son of God! You are the Messiah.

“Who do you say I am?” No other question will ever be as important to us, as this one question.

This kind of a situation is true for us too. We always depend on jargons, philosophies and text book definitions to answer this question. But Christ is straight away rejecting ‘second-hand’ testimonies! What is your affirmation as a faith community, as the church; this is what Jesus looking for. Remember, he is not asking for your personal opinion; Ningalkku Njan Aranu? He clearly seeking the opinion of the disciples as a Group; he is not asking for Perter’s opinion, or Mary’s opinion. But as a faith community; who do you say I am?

We have affirmed our faith in him on the Baptism day; we repeat our faith every day though reciting our Creed; but this is the time to reaffirm our faith together as a community.

“Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God. Not just another prophet. Not just another Rabbi. Not just another wonder-worker. He was the one they had been waiting for: God in the flesh, the one to heal the sick, give sight to the blind, freedom to the prisoners and proclaim good news to the poor, the Lamb of God, come to take away the sins of the world; our savior and liberator Jesus Christ.

If you further read, from verses 31-33; just after Peter’s affirmation Jesus Foretells His Death and Resurrection; But Peter do not understand what he talks about; Then Jesus rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things”. This may be confusing; therefore, I request you all to read further Mark 8 up to the last verses.

You will further understand Peter’s declaration was indeed a confession; and this declaration and confession leads to holistic purification. This kind of an affirmation, confession and purification helped St. Peter and his fellow Apostles to take up the cross and follow their master. In verses 34 Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”. And the Apostles denied themselves and took up their cross and followed their Master. Again, this is true with Parumala thirumeni. He denied his self, took up the cross and followed his master.

In Christian life; you can see the Salvation is free; but discipleship is costly. Self-denial is the cost of discipleship. We call Parumala thirumeni a saint; not because he is a wonder-maker; not because he can do miracles in people’s lives. Rather he did things, served God’s people, not in the actual estimate of others; not in the estimate of human norms; but he counted everything in the estimate of God.

Jesus Christ idea of a New Testament Saint is not the one who proclaims the Gospel merely; but one who becomes broken bread and poured out vine in the hands of Jesus Christ for others’ lives. Parumala thirumeni was indeed was a broken bread in the hands of lord for the sake of others. We are also called to be living a saintly life; deny our self and submit ourselves in the hands of God for the sake of others. But we remain as ourselves (as …) because we fail every day to pay the cost of Christian discipleship.

As I said earlier, Koodosh Eetho means sanctification of the church. But it is not about the sanctification of church buildings! Rather, this Sunday is meant to call for reaffirmation, confession and purification of ourselves; the members of the church. Only through repentance, confession, affirmation and purification one will be able to prepare to welcome God on Christmas Eve. As we read in the Beatitudes/ the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see the Lord”. I hope this year you can appreciate why the church calendar starts with purification; what it aims for; this cycle of the calendar year, constantly reminds us to purify ourselves to prepare for the birth of our lord Jesus Christ.

May the almighty father help us to re-affirm our faith as a community, and confess and purify ourselves to prepare for the birth of our lord, to see lord, to feel the real heavenly joy on the birth of Savior; may the Holy Spirit help us to ‘deny self’ and pay for the cost of discipleship; and follow the master by taking our cross and to be faithful to the Christian way of life! Amen.

Sanctification of Church: Confession and Purification Leads to Cross

Koodosh Eetho_001_001

“Who do people say that I am?”

Jesus further asks this question to his disciples. “Who do you say I am?” They mumbled and gave him ‘others’ opinion!

But he was looking for a personalized reply; “I say…” not a, “Someone says…”

This situation is true for us too. We always depend on jargons and text book definitions to answer this question. But Christ is straight away rejecting ‘second-hand’ testimonies!

“Who do you say I am?” No other question will ever be as important to us, as this one question.

Peter’s declaration was indeed a confession which leads to a holistic purification. This confession and purification helped St. Peter and his fellow Apostles to take up the cross and follow their master.

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me”

Koodosh Eetho means sanctification of the church. But sanctification of church is not about the sanctification of church buildings! Rather, this Sunday is meant to call for confession, affirmation and purification of her people. Only through repentance, confession, affirmation and purification one will be empowered in Holy Spirit to ‘deny self’ and follow the master by taking his cross. And that is the Christian way of life!