Aelred 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.
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 notknow 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 dopeople 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.