Welcome to St. Ignatious Malankara Jacobite Syrian Christian Cathedral

40 Questions Answered Part 2 - Mar Osthathios


21. Should a Christian read the Old Testament (O. T.) ?

It is very unfortunate that such a question is asked. The O. T. is the Bible of three major religions of the world namely the Jews, the Christians, and the Muslims. For the Jews it is their only Scripture. For the Christians it is the historical and theological background of the N.T. and so forms an integral part of the Holy Bible containing the O. T. and the N. T. Our Lord has quoted from it even hanging on the Cross 'My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me' (Ps. 22: 1). He defeated the temptations of Satan by quoting the passages from the Bible esp. the Book of Deuteronomy. (See Dt. 9: 9; 8:3; 6: 13; 1 Kings 19: 8 Ps. 118). St. Mathew quotes profusely from the O. T. to show that Jesus was the expected Messiah. When Our Lord. read the Bible in the Synagogue at Nazareth he was reading Is. 61: 1. St. Paul's whole theology of justification by faith is based on the faith of Abraham and the very phrase, "the righteous shall live by his faith" is from Habakkuk 2: 4. The Epistle to the Hebrews can never be understood without a thorough study of O. T. priesthood, the Tabernacle, the priesthood of Melchizedak etc. (See Ex. 25-40 for Heb. 9: 1-28). Creation of man in the image of God is basic for any Christian anthropology. The ten commandments is only fulfilled by Christ in the deeper version of it in the Sermon on the Mount and not abrogated. Those who say that the O. T. must be replaced by the Vedas and the Upanishads for the Indian Bible are not giving due value to the simple fact that Christianity is a historical religion unlike Hinduism and the Hebrew Christian Revelation has unique continuity in spite of the discontinuity. To say that Christ is the final answer for the quest of all ages and all religions is true, but there is a unique validity for the claim that the Messianic prophecies of the O. T. are fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Is not the devotional reading of the Psalter practiced in all the branches of Christendom to this very day? Is not the 23rd Psalm the most favorite passage of the whole Bible next to the Lord's prayer? Are not the stories of the O. T. more interesting to the Sunday school students than the stories of the N. T ? As the very God of very God became very man in the form of a Jew, how can we understand Him and his life and teaching without a study of the Jewish Bible ? It seems to me that those who do ignore the O. T. are trying to draw a picture without a black-board or trying to plant a tree without any roots. The O. T. gives the necessary background for the understanding of the New Israel, its sacraments and priesthood in relation to the sacrifices and priesthood of the Old Israel. It can easily be shown that if we do not read the O. T. our reading of the N. T. is partial and incomplete and even unintelligible. The lack of interest of many modern Christians in the O. T. will ultimately lead them to a lack of interest in the N. T. also. Even the phrase 'Christ our paschal lamb' (I Cor. 5: 7) is unintelligible without a study of the original paschal lamb of Ex. 12. As Jesus Christ stands between B. C. and A. D. as the center of history. He stands hidden in the O. T. and revealed in the N. T., as expected Messiah in the O. T. and as revealed Messiah in the N. T. and the whole Bible is history only as His Story. Therefore let us study the O. T. with a deep sense of dedication and expectation.

22. How can we believe in Miracles in this age of Science ?

The first thing to be noted is that Jesus refused to perform miracles as a means of having people believe in Him. At the very beginning of His public ministry he overcame the feeling to jump from the pinnacle of the temple of Jerusalem and to make the people believe in Him by such a feat. Whenever He performed any miracle he told the healed person not to tell anyone about it (Mt. 8: 4; Mk. 8: 26, 30; 9: 9; Lk. 5: 14; 8: 56). Christ chastised the people who followed Him to eat the bread that he increased miraculously. He wanted the people to know that His ability to provide is constant (Mk. 8: 14-21). The next point is that all the miracles of Jesus were miracles of overflowing Love, which He revealed as the very nature of God. Does he not supply food in the desert for His followers even today, out of His bounteous love ? Any Mother Theresa of history would still bear witness to the fact that he continues to increase five loaves and two Fishes to feed five thousands even today. The story of Dr. Ida Scudder and the Christian Medical College, Vellore, is the story of God's miraculous feeding and healing of thousands out of very little. Thirdly, science magazines are now describing miracles they see and cannot explain. Albert Einstein was right in pointing out that the more we know of the physical universe we are convinced that there is yet more to be known. After all, how limited is our knowledge of God's activities in the billions of stars and planets ? Science is not scientific when it says that there is no God or no miracles as science can only say something positive about the known facts and nothing negative about the unknown universe and mysteries. A scientist who casts a net of one inch holes in the sea and catches one inch size fish can only say that there are one inch size fishes in that sea and not that there is no smaller fishes in it because a later scientist might make a smaller sized net and catch smaller fishes. From what we know of science, it is not yet scientific to say that miracles are impossible. That which is miracles in one generation may not be miracle in the next and yet miracle as such remains as long as we are finite. Fourthly, if we believe in an Almighty God, under Whom are the laws of nature, we should not limit God under the laws He created and say He cannot end it or mend it. He who fixed the laws of nature for the good of man will have the right, freedom, and power to over-rule it at any given situation to show His love of His children. The virgin birth and the resurrection must be seen in such a light. He who fixed a modus operandi for procreation is free to enter His world through a virgin and also to rise again on the third day to His pre-existent glory. Belief in miracles is belief in the power of God over the created nature. Fifthly, Bultmann's 'demythologization' is an aid to the interpretation of the miracles of the Bible to an age of Science. There is something behind each of Christ's miracles which is more miraculous than the physical miracles. If a German mind sees the change of heart of the people to part with their hidden bread and fishes when the small boy gave all his bread, and also as a result of listening to the preaching of Christ, there is still a miracle Christ effected in the hearts of the people, which is deeper than the increase of bread and fishes by a supernatural action of Christ. I am not saying that all miracles must be demythologized, but that there are physical and psychological miracles. Finally, there is a qualitative distinction between the two incarnational miracles of virgin conception and resurrection and other miracles and that these two miracles are necessary to explain the supreme miracle of God-Man.

23. "Call no man father on earth...." (Mt. 23: 9) Explain:

Those who quote this verse against the practice of calling a priest as Fr. M. V. George or Fr. John do not seem to understand the meaning of the verse. The same passage says that no one should be called a teacher or a master. The implication is that all the Christians are brothers and sisters. If the verse is taken literally, our own physical fathers also cannot be called father as they are also on earth, neither can our teachers be called teacher. The uniqueness of God the Father as the only Father who has no other father and of Jesus Christ as the only Teacher who had no other teacher (Mk. 6:2) and of the Holy Spirit as the only Master or Guide without another guide must be discerned in this passage with three questions. St. Paul himself says, "I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment" (Philem. 10). Similarly, those who baptize become fathers of the baptized for whom baptismal regeneration is given (Tit. 3: 5) and the priests of the Christian church must be called 'father.' God Almighty, the Eternal Father, is the proto-type of every family on earth. "For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph. 3: 14). Hence, if God can be called 'Father' our earthly fathers who give us physical birth and spiritual fathers who give us spiritual birth must be called 'father.' The quest ion is a clear example of fundamentalist way of taking a proof-text from some passage, removing it from the context and giving it a dangerous and impracticable literal interpretation.

24. 'None is holy except the Holy Father, Holy Son and the Holy Spirit' Then why call some saints?

The Trinity is eternally holy and not made holy. The saints are not holy in the sense God is holy, they are made holy by the Holy Trinity. Thus we use the word holy in two different meanings when it is applied for God and applied for anything or any one in the created order. The Holy Bible speaks of holy mountain (Ps. 87: 1), most holy things (Nu. 4: 4), holy day (Ex. 35:2), holy covenant (Dan 11:28), holy calling (II Tim. 1:9), holy apostles and prophets (Rev. 18:20), holy flock (Ezek 36: 38), holy nation (I Pet. 2: 9), holy people (Is. 62: 12). It is significant that when the priest says, 'holy things to holy people', in the Holy Eucharist, the reply of the saints is 'None is holy except Holy Father....' If one approaches the Holy Table saying 'I am holy and worthy and so give me the Holy elements', he is certainly unworthy to receive the Holy Qurbana. Saints are the dedicated children of God who know that they are unworthy even for the least of the blessings of God. When we say that the church is one, holy, catholic and apostolic, we know that all these four notes of the church are not manifest to the world and yet these notes are that of the Head, Jesus Christ, which the body is humbly claming and aspiring to reach in the power of the Holy Spirit. Similarly the saints are those who are being sanctified through the holy sacraments, holy meditation etc., by the Holy Spirit. Saints are called saints by others and not by themselves, for they know that they are sinners as long as they live in the fallen world and have not attained the ideal set for them by God and the society. In the N. T. all the Christians, the believers, the baptized community are called saints (Rom. 1: 7; I Cor. 1: 2; II Cor. 1: 1 etc.). The church, however, has seen special sanctity in a few and even declared some as saints. Our Church has declared Mar Gregorios of Parumala as saint. The Orthodox churches do not have the tedious and long processes of canonization of saints on the basis of the number of miracles and other detailed studies. The last and ultimate Judge is, of course, God alone.

25. Why the O. T. Sabbath is changed ?

The Seventh Day Adventists are under the illusion that Christ made no difference to the O. T. Sabbath. There are many arguments in favor of the change of the seventh day observance to the first day of the week, which I shall only mention here. The mere mention of the points will suffice any open-minded student who is ready to see the truth.

  1. Our Lord came to make everything new and any one who comes to Christ does not return the old way of Judaism or Heathenism (Mt. 9: 16; 26: 28; Jn.13: 34; Ac. 17: 19; I Cor. 5: 7; II Cor. 5: 17; Gal. 6: 15;Eph. 4: 24; Heb. 9: 15; Rev. 5: 9: 21; 5). Remember the Magi who returned a new way (Mt. 2: 12).
  2. He Himself broke the O.T. Sabbath and that was one main Jewish charge against Him that led him to crucifixion. He wanted to assert that the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath (Mk. 2:27; Jn. 5:18 etc.)
  3. The sabbath is made for man and man not for the sabbath (Mk. 2: 27 etc.) The point here is that Man's benefit is more important than sabbath.
  4. 'In the beginning God's principle enunciated in the beginning of the Bible was consummated only on the great Event of the Resurrection on the first day of the week, which inaugurated the primacy of God in the affairs of man and nature. Since the resurrection of Christ, no one can allow six days to pass on without the observance of the first day. The first six days will be without God if Sabbath is still on the last day of the week. In the O. T. the Holy of the Holies was in the Western part of the Tabernacle and Temple, facing towards the setting sun. When the Sun of righteousness rose up in the resurrection of Christ, the Holy of Holies is also changed to East, towards the rising sun.
  5. The reason attributed to the origin of the Sabbath, that God rested on the seventh day is an anthropomorphic understanding of God and not theologically justifiable. God does not get tired by the work of creation as to Him rest is work and work is rest. He is the changeless and eternal God who works all days and rests all days as to Him there is no limit. (see Isa. 40: 28; Mal. 3: 6; Ps. 121: 4; Heb. 13: 8).
  6. 'Letter killeth and the spirit giveth life' (II Cor. 3:6). Literalism which is behind the Seventh Day Adventists is a dead weight, which I hope they will throw away. The Islamic view of the Quran is not the Christian view of the Bible. (See answers to the first four questions).
  7. In the early church the breaking of the bread was on the first day of the week and so Easter became powerful to break the Sabbath and its strong-hold on the Jewish converts in the very beginning of the church (Ac. 20:7; I Cor. 16:2). All the ancient churches observe the first day of the week and not the seventh day as the Jews for worship in the church.
  8. The Seventh day Adventists are a new sectarian movement which does not recognize the tradition or ancient practice of the church and they will not be liberated to the joy of Christianity till they recognize the Lordship of Christ over the Sabbath and everything else.
  9. St. Basil has compared the Sabbath to the eternal Sabbath that awaits the redeemed. The Cycle of first day is repeated on the eighth day and so the eternal rests starts where it should start with the risen Christ.
  10. Christ changed not only the Sabbath, but every one of the ten commandments with His oft repeated 'but I say unto you' in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5-7). Deepening of other commandments into intention and thought, naturally changed the deepening of the seventh to the first.

26. What is the unpardonable sin against the Holy spirit?

Mt. 12:32 has been sources of controversy and even mental agony for so many people. 'Sin against the son of man will be forgiven, but sin against the Holy Spirit will no be forgiven.' Is the first 'son of man' any son of man or Jesus Christ? Whether it is any man or Christ, that part of the verse is not a big problem, because those who sinned against Christ were forgiven and Christ Himself prayed for their forgiveness. Sin against the Holy Spirit is not the so called mortal sin contrasted against the venial sin in the Roman Catholic theology on the basis of 1 Jn. 5: 16. Neither is it any sin about which one feels true repentance. Sin against the Holy Spirit is the blindness of the eye of the spirit in such a way that the stage of cataract operation is over. When one looks at Jesus Christ and calls His brilliance darkness, his spiritual eye must be utterly blind. When Jesus is called Beelzebub, it is sin against the Holy Spirit. There is no pardon for it in this world or in the world to come because such a person does not have any guilty conscience against anything and does not feel the need of repentance ever. Any penitential heart, which truly repents of one's sin is sure to get the pardon of Christ. The sinner who commits the sin against the Holy Spirit is already committed to Satan as he or she has sunk to the level of satan (Rom. 1: 24, 26,28). Any one who feels truly sorry for the sins committed and wants to forsake it and live a new life of purity has not committed any sin against the Holy Spirit and should not feel that one has no forgiveness.

27. 'Let the dead bury their dead' (Lk. 9:60) What does it mean?

It only means that those who are spiritually dead will remain in their own place without any sense mission to bury those who are physically dead, and those who are called to proclaim the Kingdom of God should not remain in their own homes just waiting for their old people to die and be duly buried by them. The cost of Christian discipleship is the readiness to forsake one's parents for the joy of preaching the Gospel. Father Damien left his sick mother to help the lepers of Molokai. It was in 1863 that he was sent to Sandwich islands. Ten years later he went to Molokai to nurse the 600 lepers there single-handed. Those of us who want to remain with the old parents to give them a decent burial before leaving the home to proclaim the good news of Christ are told by Jesus, 'leave the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.' Giving life to the spiritually dead is more important than giving a ceremonial burial to the physically dead.

28. 'Do not touch me....' Explain (Jn. 20: 17).

This is only a mistake in the Malayalam translation. The RSV translation will clear the doubt. "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father." The NEB translation is 'do not cling to me.' Mary Magdalene had already caught hold of the feet of Jesus and would not let Him go due to her mystical devotion to the Lord and Savior. Jesus was telling her that He had to ascend to the Father and should not be prevented from the glorious ascension. He also gave her a message to be carried to the brethren; 'but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." The physical presence of Jesus is not everlasting, but Mary in her utter devotion wanted it. Jesus taught her a lesson and gave her mission.

29. Are you Saved?

It is the fundamentalist brethren who are definite that they are saved and want to know whether you are saved. One of the opening questions of their conversation is this. I wish they had known from the scriptures that salvation is both past, present, and future. When Jesus was asked "Lord, will those who are saved be few? His answer was strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13: 23). Here salvation is not something static already accomplished, but dynamic and gradual. In Acts 2: 47, it is the Lord who adds those who were being saved to the church by baptism. Here also salvation is a continuous process and not that which is accomplished once for all. The past dimension of salvation is the Cross coupled with the resurrection which has happened in the center of history for the whole of humanity, once for all. The continuous process of salvation is by grace through faith and life, though close walk with the Lord, doing his will, through faith with works (James 2:17 etc), though the sacramental life, meditation, through obedience to the Word of God and above all through the power of the Holy Spirit. The future consummation of salvation is at the second coming of the Lord when new heaven and new earth will be inaugurated. The so called assurance of salvation based on the finished work of Christ is forgetting the needed response and the lack of assurance on the basis of one's own inadequacies, forgets that salvation is free and unmerited. The paradoxical situation is that we are saved by Him and yet we are not yet fully saved because we live in a sinful world participating in the unjust social and economic structures and the institutionalized injustice. The best answer would be, "He has saved me freely and I am secure under His protecting arms and yet I have not fully appropriated the riches of salvation deposited in my name in the bank."

The notion of an instantaneous and once & forever salvation is not consistent with the Holy Tradition. We can perhaps target the exact moment when we chose to quit fooling around and started cooperating seriously and actively with the saving grace bestowed on us through the Holy Baptism and Chrismation, because the truth is that God does not force His salvation down unwilling individuals.

First, "I was saved" by the passion, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christ died on the Cross for the salvation of all mankind. If not for His sacrifice, I could not now or ever be saved. Second, "I am being saved" as I live my life in union with the teachings of Jesus Christ and His Church. Conversely, we could say that, "I am not being saved" because I have departed from the teaching of Christ and His Church and am storing up earthly treasure rather than heavenly treasures. Third, "I will be saved" when I am judged at the end of my earthly life and found worthy of eternal life with the Blessed Trinity. Then, and only then, can the simple answer be said with great conviction, "Yes, I am saved!"

Biblical Basis

I was Saved
Ephesians 2: 8 – “For it is by grace that you are saved through faith; not of your doing; it is the gift of God:”

I am being Saved
Philippians 2: 12 “…but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling:”
1 Corinthians 1:18 : “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God” (NOTE: In King James Version it says ‘Who are saved’. In the Good News Bible (1927), The Gideon's International Bible, New International Version and in New King James Version it is ‘Who are being saved.’)

I will be Saved
Mark 13:13 – “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.”
Hebrews 9:28 “…So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; so that at his second coming he shall appear without our sins for the salvation of those who look for him.”

30. What about Original Sin ?

It is since Augustine that the phrase original sin has become a common usage in the church. The phrase does not appear in the Bible. Rom. 5: 12-21 is a description of the Adamic sin and not original sin. In the Pauline chapter on Resurrection, the contrast is not between original sin and salvation, but between death, and life. "For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive." (I Cor. 15: 21). In Pauline theology, all have become sinners in the sin of Adam and the free grace available in Christ is much more than what is needed to atone for the trespasses of Adam. The problem with the title original sin is that it gives the false idea that cohabitation of the married couple is a sinful act. The biblical basis for this is found in Ps. 51: 5, 'behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me,' is not a Christian idea, but an O. T. idea not in line with the sacrament of marriage and the Christian theology of the sexual coitus of the married couple as a sacred act of co-creation with God. The Christian teaching on the universality of sin, the inborn inclination towards sinning are all taken care of by the phrase Adamic sin. The question whether man commits sin because he is a sinner or whether he commits sin and become a sinner is only theoretical. The being and doing of sin go together.

31. 'Sons of God and the daughters of men' Who ?

Gen. 6: 1-4 is only an adaptation of an ancient legend. The cause that is attributed to the birth of mighty men of old before whom the Jews were like grasshoppers (Nu. 13: 33) is a mixed marriage which the Jews hated. Details cannot be pressed and none can be dogmatic as to who the sons of God and daughters of men were. The former could be either angels, or men in general or those who were the descendents of Seth and the latter women in general or daughters from the line of Cain (See Jerome Commentary or any, other good commentary). Mythological theme behind the J narrative is accepted and included in the Old Testament. The inspired author's contribution is the introduction of Jahweh in verse 3; The Jehovah said "My spirit shall not abide in man for ever, for he is flesh, but his days shall be a hundred and twenty years." Giants like Nephilim were born out of unholy alliance of the good with the evil and so the age of human being is reduced from 967 years of Methusaleh of the previous chapter to 120 years. The Deluge is also the punishment of such mixed marriages and the consequent wickedness of the off springs. The lesson for the modern student is that marriage partners should be carefully chosen from the sons of God and daughters of God and not from the wicked.

32. What is the meaning of the Lord's Prayer ?

It is the model prayer in which God is addressed as 'Our Father' and not as 'my Father' and the basic needs of all of humanity are submitted before God in solidarity with them. The three petitions for God's glory are followed by four petitions for man's needs, namely provision, pardon, protection and preservation. All these are in the first person plural and the first person singular does not appear in the whole prayer. The invocation and the doxology imply that the Father Who art in heaven has kingship over his kingdom, power over our weakness and all the glory for Himself. It is a proletarian prayer asking daily bread for all of humanity and not yearly provisions for any or daily cake for the one who prays. 'Give us this day our daily bread' means: 'Lord, divide all the bread of all the world for all the people of all the world and give all the people justly without giving any more than one's share.' This daily bread includes food, clothing, shelter, medicine, education, work, and spiritual food. No one has any right to enjoy luxury when fellowmen are deprived of these minimum necessities of life. But provision without pardon of sins will not be sufficient. Yet we must not preach pardon to the empty stomach without feeding them, but give provision and pardon their due places in the totality of human existence. The only conditional prayer in the whole prayer is the prayer for pardon; 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.' The pardon of the Lord cannot be appropriated by an un-pardoning hard heart and so we must forgive those who have offended us before praying this prayer. Preservation from the Evil One is necessary for a victorious Christian life. No selfish person can pray this prayer and so all of us are unworthy to offer this noblest of all prayers ever taught to humanity. The Name, Kingdom and Will of the Lord will be glorified if we become worthy to offer this proletarian prayer by simpler life-style and absolute trust in our Common Father who wants to provide for all without discrimination Jesus Christ, make us worthy to offer this prayer sincerely and truly.

Practical and Ethical

33. What is wrong in marrying a non-Christian?

We live at a time when the Governments are encouraging mixed marriages as a means of national integration. Rationalists say that Christians are not having a universal and cosmic outlook when they forbid inter-religious marriages. Are the Christians communalistic and narrow-minded when they say with St. Paul "be not unevenly yoked" (II Cor. 6: 14)? There are many reasons for the Christian practice of marrying only Christians.

(a) Marriage is a sacrament and sacraments are not administered to the non-Christians as long as they do not join the Church. Even the Hindus have Sudhi-karma to make a non-Hindu a Hindu. The rite of initiation is practiced by all religions in one way or other to make one a member.

(b) Marriage is the most intimate bond in one's life and there should be deep agreement in the philosophy of life of both the partners, although certain different character or traits may be mutually complementary (e.g. a miser and a spendthrift). Religion is one's philosophy of life and so the partners must be of one religion.

(c) The bringing up of the children will be a problem in mixed marriages if the couple want to bring them up in the religious nurture. The child will be lost as to weather to go-to the temple or church. Family prayer is necessary in a Christian home and in mixed marriages, this will be impossible or at least difficult.

(d) Though there may be exceptions, many of the mixed marriages are ending up in separation, alienation, or even divorce. The emotional love affair that brought the couple together will not last long when the realities of family problem are faced by the couple. They do not have the anchor of a common religious faith to hold them together without a shipwreck.

(e) Every one must be loyal to the particular discipline of the church to which one belongs. Radicals who go ahead with the idealism of their individuality will soon find out that they are ostracized by their society, family, and even intimate friends. Mixed marriage does not seems to be a step to be taken to show an example to their community, for hardly anyone will follow suit except in love marriages.

(f) The tradition and long practice of the Church for two thousand years must have a strength of its own, which must be appreciated by the youth also. If one wants to marry a non-Christian, one must teach the partner the faith to which one belongs and convert the person to that faith and then have a religious wedding.

34. Why should marriage be conducted in the Church?

Though marriages are registered in the soviet Union, more and more couples are coming to the church for church-marriages for the sheer beauty and grace of it. If one agrees that marriage is a sacrament (Mt. 19: 6; Eph. 5: 31 etc.), it naturally must take place in the church in the midst of the faithful by the validly ordained priest of the church. As one goes to the theatre for cinema, to the play ground for games, to the club for secular get together, one goes to the Church for the sacred sacraments of the Church.

35. Should there be expensive party for a marriage ?

One of the most unpardonable crimes of our rich and middle class people is the superfluous show of wealth in wedding parties. Thousands of girls remain unwedded due to lack of finance and yet the few who can afford, do not help them for their minimum needs, but waste a colossal amount for weeding parties. If this evil practice is not curtailed, some model of Chinese revolution will come to India also and stop wedding parties for all people as none will be able to afford and the Government will strictly forbid it. Luxury is certainly a sin.

36. Jesus made strong wine. Can't I drink it?

Drunkards who want a basis for their drinking in the Bible always quote, (Jn. 2: 1-11) forgetting all the other anti-drink passages in the Bible (Is. 28: 1, 3; Prov. 23: 21; 26; 9; Rev. 17: 1-2; Gal. 5: 21, Rom. 13: 13; Lk. 21: 34 etc.) The miracles of the fourth Gospel are called signs. Concerning John 2: 1, Jerome Bible Commentary says, "The Wine of Cana that replaces the water of Jewish purification, the life-giving water that comes from Christ, the heavenly bread that is his flesh (6: 51) - all these signify the sacraments that are efficacious in virtue of his redemptive work, bestowing the Holy Spirit that is the life of the church" (Vol. II. p. 418). The water changed to strong wine is the sign of the change in the elements of the sacraments by the presence of Christ. Those who have Christ in them are already in the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit and they do not need the spirit of strong wine to boost them up. Even if we take it literally, we must understand the Palestinian local situation and the custom of serving only wine in the wedding parties as Palestine is a wine growing country. The first miracle of Jesus is misinterpreted if it is taken as a permission to drink strong liquor. It is the mind of Christ that is more important than a particular event in the Savior's life. The mind of Christ was certainly full of sympathy for the hungry, the sick and the bereaved. If we have such a mind, how can our conscience permit us to spend the God-given money for liquor? An incident in a particular wedding party, where the honor of the Host was protected by the Lord in response to the intercession of His mother is no excuse for wasting one's health, resources, time and talents for drinking alcoholic beverages. Christian conscience from the very early period has been against drinking wine even for medicine. Hence Timothy would not use it even as medicine. Therefore St. Paul had to plead with him and write, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments" (I Tim. 5: 23). We must remember that more families are destroyed today by liquor than any other single factor. Liquor is the greatest killer by so many means such as cancer, drunk driving, murder and what not?

Prohibition alone will not solve the habit of alcoholism as it is a negative approach. The Churches must be responsible to solve the problems of individuals who resort to drinking against their own desire by the pressure of circumstances and as an easy means of getting temporary mental peace as in consuming opium. Pastoral counseling must be one way of helping such people. Confession to the priest must also give the person all the benefits of counseling and much more. If a father is going to the toddy shop to decrease the worry about his married daughters of marriageable age, the church must have means to have those girls married through aid from Marriage Assistance Fund. All the churches must support the government's effort to impose prohibition and to make it a success. There should be no liquor advertisements. Young people must be brought to the joy of absolute self-surrender to Jesus Christ and the thrill of life and service in the power of the Holy Spirit that they will never go for the dangerous alcoholic spirit. Christian publications must have articles on the dangers of alcoholic drinks. "Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler" (Prov. 20:1).

37. Tell me something about sex-ethics of Christianity.

We live in a world where we are surrounded by the so called civilized people living in what is called a permissive society. The old immorality is now called new morality. Any one who speaks of sexual discipline is called Victorian, puritanic and even old-fashioned. There are even some psychiatrists who blame the sex ethics for much of the guilt complex, though such psychiatrists are out-weighed by those who are more learned than they who see the need of sex morality taught by religions. History itself shows that all the major cultures and civilizations have fallen after the interior weakness of the citizens in living a loose moral life. The Fall of the Roman Empire was after its fall in sex morality. Arnold J. Toynbee's Study of History is sufficient to prove my point.

The difference between animals and man is in the image of God in man alone. The sex life of animals is periodical and purely instinctive, but man's is different. Animals do not have a sense of shame when they mate in the public, but man has a God-given sense of shame and so he mates in secret. Conscience is partly God given and partly the Creation of the influence of society in each individual. The sense of guilt experienced in breaking the sex morality has a universal relevance though the gravity may differ from one person to another and from one society to another. One man for one woman is the order of creation. "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Gen. 2: 24). Monogamy and monoandry are the ideal and not polygamy and polyandry. Jesus quoted the above verse from Genesis and added, "what therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Mt. 19: 6). Mind is a photographic plate to be reserved in the matter of sex to be exposed after the marriage with the only partner of one's life. Loose sexual life and frequent divorces go together.

The practice of punishing the adulterer with murder was (Lev. 20: 10) perhaps stopped by Christ pur Lord Who said, 'Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her" (Jn. 8: 7). Our Lord was not being lenient to the woman caught in adultery to permit her return to a sinful life. He told her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and do not sin again." Christ wanted one to be moral not out of fear of punishment, but out of love to the Lord. He did not abrogate the seventh commandment, but made it deeper by saying, "everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Mt. 5: 28). He knew that thought proceeds action and so wanted us to harbor pure thought and keep away from tempting atmosphere.

The sanctity of sex is in keeping its sanctity. It is a God-given mighty force that can be sublimated for innumerable noble purpose like art, religion, philosophy, scientific discoveries etc. Sublimation is always better than suppression and repression of sex. When sex is expressed it must be within the wedlock of marriage. Premarital and extra marital intercourses have no Christian sanction. Sexual perversions like homosexuality and masturbation must be understood as perversions and overcome with the grace of God.

Mother Teresa has said that the most precious gift you can give to your spouse on your wedding day is the gift of your virginity. Think about that. Isn't it true that you are the only person in the whole world who can give this gift? It is such a special gift, more precious than jewels, so you want to cherish it and protect it with all your might. You can only give this gift one time, so your future husband or wife is surely the only person in all the world who deserves this total and complete gift of yourself.

If young men and women would make the decision at an early age to remain a virgin until marriage, they would not be faced with spur-of-the-moment decision making. They would know their goal and be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve that high standard. They would be cautious of the company they keep and their areas of entertainment. They would be aware of temptations and difficult situations and better prepared to avoid them. They would be free to grow and mature and learn and discover God's wonderful plan for their lives. They would not have to worry about "late" periods, pregnancy, abortion, "birth control," venereal diseases, AIDS and all the other physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional consequences of premarital sexual intercourse. They would have real respect for themselves and their friends, and they would be confident that they were living in a way that is pleasing to God. They would be protecting and saving themselves for the one and only special person God has chosen to be their lifelong husband or wife if marriage is their vocation.

Do young people think about such things? Do they ever hear the words "virginity," "chastity," "purity," "modesty" or "self-mastery?" Do these words sound as if they were part of a foreign language because no one ever uses them anymore? Is this beautiful gift of total self giving not worth saving for their one and only marriage partner? God thinks it is. He has told us this is precisely what He expects of us because He loves us. And, He gives us all the grace we need to be able to do it.

It is very important for parents and schools and churches to teach these truths clearly and to reinforce each other. Otherwise, our young people will never hear the words or learn God's truth because the TV, movies, music and the world do not love the children or care about them. So many young people have lost their virginity and self respect because they believed the lies of the world. We must offer them the hope and freedom of "secondary virginity." They can ask for God's forgiveness and be forgiven. They can "start over" and make their commitment to remain chaste until their wedding day. They need this opportunity and encouragement to begin again and to change with God's grace.

If we recognize marriage and conjugal love to be a sacred part of God's plan, then we can understand the importance of chastity. Chastity protects. It strengthens. It builds character. It encourages self control. It inspires reverence. It guarantees freedom. It guards against selfishness, and it applies to every human person. Chastity is not always easy, but it is always possible with God's help. Chastity reaffirms marriage and the sexual relationship between a husband and wife as very good, very special and very holy. The sacredness of cooperating with God in His creation of a new human life is so powerful and so awesome that this precious gift should only be shared in the security of a loving, generous and committed marriage relationship. This is God's way, and it is definitely worth waiting for because the total, complete gift of pure love that the bride and groom give to each other on their wedding day is truly a precious gift.

Source: Pamphlet - Diocese of Memphis NFP Center,Mother/Daughter & Father/Son Programs.

38. Does evil spirit have power over us ?

The Christian's not afraid of any evil spirit or stars, or angels or principalities as Christ has disarmed all of them by His death and resurrection. To quote St. Paul, "He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him. Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food or a new moon or a sabbaths. These are only shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ." (Col. 2: 15-17). It is lack of a deep faith in God that trusts in the forces of nature to control the destiny of the Child of God ! It was when the Spirit of God departed from Saul that the evil spirit came upon Soul (I Sam. 16: 14). What can the evil spirit do to the believing children of God who are in the Spirit of God ? The power of Jesus over the evil spirits is clear in the record incidents of exorcism in the N. T. Any evil spirit will flee if Christ is in us.

Similarly, we should not believe in fate or in fatalism. Nothing happens to us without the knowledge of our Savior and all things work together for good to them that love the Lord, those called according to His purpose (Rom. 8: 28). Belief in Providence is sufficient to have no belief in fate. Lack of faith leads to doubts and fear.

Those who believe in omens, sakunam, rahu and dasa santhi are also not true believers in Christ. Even those who believe that magic or evil spirits have some powers must remember the incident of Aaron's rod swallowing the rods of the magicians of Egypt (Ex. 7: 8-13), showing thereby that the power of Jehovah is always above the power of all magicians. As God who is our Father is able to convert our sani dasato to sukra dasa why should we ask some one to write our jathakam ?

39. Should a Christian tithe ?

Tithing was an obligatory legal discipline in the O. T. (Gen. 14: 20, Lev. 27: 31; Nu. 18: 24-28: Dt. 12: 6; Neh. 10: 37; Am. 4: 4; Mal. 3: 8-10; Lk. 18: 12). Those who were not tithing were robbing God (Mal. 3:8). That which was legalistic tithing in the O. T. is a part of Christian stewardship in the N. T. According to the N. T. all are only gifts of God and so are accountable to God for all of one's possessions. A Christian who titles, but does not use one-tenth according to the will of God is not a true Christian. The trusteeship principle taught by Mahatma Gandhi is a Christian idea.

Did Jesus want us to tithe ? He did not tell the Pharisees to stop tithing. What he told them is applicable to us Christians also: "Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God; these you ought to have done, it without neglecting the others" (Lk. 11:42). The emphasis is on justice and the love of God. Christian tithing must be as part of these two Christian traits. As Christ says, 'these you ought to have done.' He is recommending tithing. Even if the verse is interpreted other way round, still He says that we should not neglect tithing. Love of God and justice to fellowmen must be our main concern. Again, when Jesus said, "Render unto Caesar the thing that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's " (Mt. 22:21), the Jews must have understood it as the need to give tithe, first-fruits etc. unto God. We know that everything we have is God's and we tithe as an expression of our gratitude for His multifarious gifts to us. The advantage of setting apart one-tenth for charity is that we will always have a fund to give to the needy without any heartache. Christian giving should not be out of compulsion, but out of the joy of giving. (Read II Cor. 8 & 9). The one verse that Jesus said that is not read in the gospels, but only in the Acts is, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). The idea is that happiness is more in giving than in receiving. If tithing is a legalism in the O.T. it is a dynamic joy in the N. T. If the Jew felt satisfied after having given the tithe, first-fruits etc., the Christian feels that he has not given as much as he should. The widow who offered all her living in the two mites that she offered in the treasury in the temple was praised by the Lord as she did not keep back anything for herself, but offered all what she had. Christ is not looking for the amount or quantity of giving, but the quality of giving. "God so loved the world that He gave......" We love our children and we give them as much as we can. "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Lk. 12: 34). It also means where your heart is, there your treasure will also be. We will give to the poor and the needy with as much joy as we give to the children if our hearts are with the Lord and the poor.

The answer then is that the least a Christian should do must be tithing. As John Wesly said, "work as hard as you can, earn as much as you can, use as little as you can, and give as much as you can." This is what the parents do for the children and we must do the same for the Church, the poor, the hungry, the sick, and the jobless.

40. Why should we pray for the dead?

We pray for the dead for the same reasons as when praying for a living person! Why can'’'t living individuals pray for themselves? Why should we pray for others? The reason is, Jesus has asked us to pray for others. (He did not say to pray only for the people alive!) The apostles also asked us to pray for others. Examples (Luke 22:32, 23:34, John 17:19-24)

We are obliged to pray for:

  • All human beings: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men” (1 Tim 2:1). This does not say that prayers should be limited to the people alive. It says all people, dead or alive.
  • For Administrators and Leaders: “For Kings and all who are in authority” (1 Tim 2:2)
  • For people who are against you: “for all had forsaken me. Do not hold this against them.” (2 Tim 4:16)
  • Pray for the people who ministers or works for Jesus Christ (2 Cori 1:11, Phil 1:19)
  • Pray for the church members (Eph 1:16, 3:14-19, Philip 1:4)
  • For the sick and those in sufferings (James 5:14)

Is it fair that one prays for a person while he is suffering and on his death bed (during the last moments of his life) and stops all prayers the moment that person dies! Which is more important, his breath or his soul? As Christians we are concerned about his soul.

We have seen from the previous questions that people who have died in Jesus Christ are blessed, conscious, and that they live with Jesus Christ and praise Him. They are invisible to us, but can see us, because they are with Him. In the Lord’s sight, we as well as the dead are alive. Thus we pray for the dead who are still alive before God.

© 2012 St. Ignatious Church: Malankara Syriac Orthodox Church is part of the Oriential Orthodox Churches.
Created by Infoplate.com