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Let us pray, peace be with us:

"The Cross that has been the cause of our good and by which our mortal humanity was set free,
O Lord, be for us a strong fortress. And by this Cross, we shall overcome the wicked one and All his devices."

(Syro-Malabar Qurbana)

 

The 12 Apostles of our Lord, Iso' Misiha 

(Commemorated on 31 July 2011)

 

The feast of the Glorious and All-Praiseworthy Twelve Apostles of Iso'-M'siha appears to be an ancient Feast. The Church honors each of the Twelve Apostles on separate dates during the year, and has established a general commemoration for all of them.

 

The holy God-crowned Emperor Constantine the Great built a church in Constantinople in honor of the Twelve Apostles. There are instructions for celebrating this Feast which date from the fourth century.

 

For lists of the Apostles' names, see: Mt.10:2, Mark 3:14, Luke 6:12, Acts 1:13, 26.

 

Qaita, the Summer

 

This period begins on the last Sunday of the Apostles, which is the feast day of the 12 Apostles.  According to J. Mateos, this period begins only on the following Monday of this particular Sunday (J. Mateos, Lelya-Sapra..p. 264).  But the Supplementum, the Ordo and the Hudra speak of this Sunday as the last of the Apostles and the first of the Summer (Supplementum, p. 124, Ordo, p. 54).  Normally, this period consists of 7 weeks.  But in some years, the 6th and 7th Sundays are celebrated together in order to celebrate the first Sunday of Elias before the Feast of the Cross. 

 

The spirit of the period of the Apostles is continued in this period.  This is the time to commemorate the flourishing of the Church.  Summer is the time, we know, when the trees and plants flower and produce fruits.  So too the Church flourished by the works of the apostles and produced abundant fruits of 'martyrdom'.  Hence she sings: "O powerful Lord, You have exalted Your altar with glory and You have crowned the faithful of our Church with honour" (Supplementum, p. 125).

 

As we understand from the prayers, it is also a period of preparation for the last judgement. We sing in the "Anthem of the Mysteries" of the second Sunday as follows: "We stand before Your awe-inspiring tribunal, so that we may be rewarded according to Your strict justice..." (Ibid. p. 126; cf also J. Mateos, Lelya-Sapra...p.267).

 

Most of the prayers show the spirit of repentance too.  It must be because this period is a preparation for the Second coming of our Lord.  They admonish the soul to turn away from evil and to do penance that God may show His mercy on them.  In general, the periscope is the vanity and meanness of earthly life and its pleasures.  This is to induce the soul to think of eschatological realities and turn to God.  After the life on earth, penance is of no use.  So this is the time of salvation (Bedjan, 3, pp. 184-85; 195-96; 204; etc).

 

The most important Feast of this period is the Transfiguration of our Lord, which is one of the principal moments of all Oriental Liturgies.  It falls on the 6th of August.  It is symbolic of the transformation that happens in each individual and the whole creation by assimilating the salvation accomplished by Iso' M'siha.

 

Some sentences from the commentary of Brik-Isho may be a good conclusion to this period.  He writes: "Hallelain (= wash us) is the name he (Patriarch Isho-Yahb III) has given it... The Apostles went to the four quarters of the world...and washed the world out of the impurity of sin.  From that day to the end of time, the faithful cry out towards God and request for the pardon of their sins, saying 'wash me with tears..." (C. Payngot.,... in Kathiroli 12/2 (1973)8.

 

                                                                               Fr. Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

 

The 70 Apostles  

(Commemorated on 29th July, 2011)


They were sent two by two by our Lord, Iso'-M'siha to go before Him into the cities He would visit (Luke 10:1).  With the Descent of the Holy Spirit the Seventy Apostles preached in various lands. Some accompanied the Twelve Apostles, like the holy Evangelists Thoma, Mark, and Luke, or St Paul's companion Timothy, or Prochorus,the disciple of the holy Evangelist John the Theologian, and others. Many of them were thrown into prison for our Lord, Iso'-M'siha, and many received the crown of martyrdom. 

 

The Church in particular venerates and praises the Seventy Apostles because they taught us to honour the Trinity One in Essence and Undivided.

 

Marth Alphonsa

(Commemorated on 28th July)

 

Saint Alponsa was born on 19th August 1910 as the fourth child of Joseph and Mary Muttathupadath, in the parish of Kudamaloor in the state of Kerala. She was baptized on the 27th August. Her baptismal name was Anna and her pet name Annakutty. Her mother passed away immediately after her birth.

 

Annakutty started her schooling at Arpookara and left for Muttuchira Govt. School for pursuing her studies from the fourth class onwards under the immediate supervision of her maternal aunt Annamma Muricken. The aunt brought her up extremely affectionately. Her one ambition was that the child should be brought up as a respectable housewife for a deserving bridegroom. Annakutty had a vision of St. Theresa of Liseux whose life inspired her to become a religious. She therefore did not yield to any marriage proposal. Finally when she was almost compelled to be betrothed, she extricated herself from it by burning her foot placing it in the ash pit of burning husks. Against such determined resistance the aunt succumbed to her desire and permitted her to join a convent.

 

Annakutty joined Clarist convent at Bharananganam in 1927 on the feast of Pentecost. She recived the veil postulant on 2nd August 1928 with the name Alphonsa. Her vestition was on 19th May 1930. Later she joined the St. Theresa's School Chenganacherry for higher studies and on completion of which she engaged in teaching for a period of one year at Vakakkad. Sr. Alphonsa entered the novitiate on 12th August 1935. During this period, she had a sever attack of hemorrhage and it was feared that she would have to be sent back. But on the ninth day of novena held by her and the community seeking intercession of Fr. Kuriakose Elias Chavera, she was miraculously cured. She completed the novitiate and made the solemn profession of her religious vows on 12th August 1936.  

 

Sr. Alphonsa continued to have her repeated spells of sickness and pain. She was on a bed of thrones torn and tortured by pain and prolonged agony.  She was longing to suffer even more for her own sanctification and that of the world.  

 

She constantly advised her companions and novices to accept suffering cheerfully citing the biblical references to the grain of wheat which has to fall down and decay for raising new sprouts.  She also reminded them of the grapes which have to be crushed for yielding wine to become the blood of the Lord.  

 

Her death ( 28th July 1946) was unnoticed by the public. The funeral was simple and thinly attended. But soon the school children, who loved her, received favors through her intercession. Her tomb at Bharananganam turned into a great centre of pilgrimage attracting people from far and near.  

 

H.E. Cardinal Tisserant inaugurated the diocesan process for her beatification on 2nd December 1953. The Long diocesan and subsequent apostolic processes bore fruit when on 9th November 1984 the Holy Father officially declared that she had practiced the Christian virtues heroically. A miracle wrought through her intercession was also formally approved by the Pope on 6th July 1985.  

 

Providence has been pleased to bestow on this generation the grace to see a daughter of the soil, a seed of the ancient Christian community of Kerala and India, beatified (8th February 1986) in her homeland by the Supreme Pontiff during his visit to this chosen land. The Canonisation of Blessed Alphonsa took place on 12th October 2008 in Vatican.

 

Mar Quriaqos and mother Yolethe

(Commemorated on 15th July)

+++

 

Dukrana of our Father in Faith,

MAR THOMA SLIHA (July 3) 

"My Lord and My God"

 

Prayerful Dukrana Greetings !  On the occasion of the Memorial Day of our Father in Faith, The Nazrani offers its warmest greetings to all readers and well wishers. 

Our Lord and Our God, our True Master, be with us as we celebrate the Memorial of our Father, Mar Thoma Sliha, Your chosen one, who proclaimed Your Truth to our forefathers and witnessed to Your Love in this our country of India.  As he witnessed to You by his death, pierced by a lance, as were You, may we witness to You by our lives, pierced by the lance of Your Love.  By his prayers, may we enter the bliss which You have prepared for all of us together with him.  Lord of all, Father, Son and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever, Amen.

 

Slihe, the Apostles

 

This period consists of 7 weeks beginning with the feast of Pentecost. The advent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles, the proclamation of the Gospels by them, the hardships they had to encounter, and the establishment and growth of the Church in spite of all barriers, are all recalled in this Period. On the feast of 70 Disciples, the Church sings thus: "O Holy Apostles, you have been zealous to imitate the angels and you have fought against the evil and harmful spirits and have conquered them by virtue" (Supplementum, p. 123).

 

The prayers of this period clearly state that by the advent of the Holy Spirit the promise of the Father is fulfilled. It was the accomplishment of our Lord's word, "I will pray the Father, and He will give you another counselor, to be with you for ever" (Jn 14, 16). And He in His turn illumined and enlightened the Apostles to proclaim the true faith to all men (Bedjan, 3, p.54).

 

One of the hymns especially emphasizes the fact that the Holy Trinity was revealed by the work of the Holy Spirit. The same hymn speaks of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as that of prophecy, knowledge, and insight into the Divine Realities (ibid p. 95). Some of the hymns praise the wonderful providence of God in selecting the fishermen, in sending the Holy Spirit on them, and commissioning them to convert the people in darkness (ibid p. 96). Some others, however narrate the works of the Apostles; the same hymn speaks of the hardships they encountered as their Master, and the merits they gained from them (ibid. pp 126; 144; 145).

 

The first Friday of this period is known as Arubta d-Dahba, "Friday of gold".  According to tradition, this Friday got its name from Acts 3, 6 where St Peter told to the lame man at the Temple gate, "I have no silver and gold". The prayers of this day often recall this miracle, wrought by the prayer of the Apostles. It is fitting to recall it on the first Friday, because it is the first of the miracles narrated in the Acts, after the descent of the Holy Spirit.

 

The last Friday is dedicated to the commemoration of 70 disciples in the Supplementum and Ordo (Supplementum, p. 122; Ordo, p. 54); but the Hudra entitles the same feast as that of 72 disciples (Bedjan, 3, p. 159). The number depends on the variant readings of the Gospel versicle, Lk 10, 1. The Pesitta reading is 70 disciples (Revised Standard Version (Cath. Ed) of the Bible gives the number as 70; but gives a footnote indicating to other reading as 72.  The Jerusalem Bible (Engl.) gives it as 72 with a footnote of the variant reading as 70). For East Syriac Liturgy, Pesitta is always the basic text. Hence the change in the title of the feast in the Hundra must be due to other influence. It is evident from a passage in the Hundra  itself where it reads as "70 and 12 Apostles" (Bedjan, 3, 166). The prayers mention all the Apostles in general. They went on from race to race and from country to country; they sowed the seeds of the teaching of Christ in the cities; and wrote the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men (ibid. p. 164).

 

On the 29th of June comes the feast of SS. Peter and Paul.  For us the feast proper to the spirit of our liturgical year is the second Friday of the period of Epiphany. In the non-catholic Hundra, published from Trichur, the feast of June 29th is not given (Cf. Kthaba da-Qdam wad-Bathar wad-Hudra, Trichur 1960, pp. 678ff.). According to Roman calendar, the origin of this feast is in 258 A.D  (Kalendarium Romanum, p. 96). For the Thomas Christians, the feast proper to the spirit of their liturgical year is that of the period of Epiphany and that of June 29th must be the one transferred from the Roman tradition. The prayers for this feast clearly state the work and martyrdom of these apostles in Rome. Some of the hymns praise explicitly the power given to St. Peter and his primacy over others (Cf Bedjan, 3, pp. 456-58.  Note that the same prayers are seen also in the non-Catholic Hudra).

 

The feast of the Holy Trinity celebrated in the Latin Church, is taken over by the Thomas Christians in course of time.  It falls on the second Sunday of the Apostles.  The Ordo Celebrationis and the Supplementum, published by the S. Congregation for the Oriental Churches, do not mention this feast at all (Supplementum, p. 111; Ordo, p. 53). This too is a celebration out of the spirit of the Oriental Tradition. The Oriental Fathers never consider the persons of the Holy Trinity as acting separately.  Hence all the feasts of our Lord are equally the feasts of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the Holy Trinity is clearly manifested in the Feast of Epiphany, and the doctrine of the Trinity is strongly emphasized all through the period of Epiphany.

 

Another feast that has found place even in the Supplementum and in the Ordo, is that of the Blessed Sacrament (Supplementum, p. 112; Ordo, p. 53). In each Eucharistic sacrifice, the death and resurrection of our Lord is re-enacted and His infinite love in instituting the sacrament of Eucharist is renewed. On Thursday of Peseha, it is celebrated in a special way. Hence such a feast plucked out of the context seems to be because of the ignorance of the coherency of the structure and spirit of the Liturgical Year. Same is the case with the Feast of Sacred Heart (Supplementum, p. 115; Ordo, p. 53). The substance of this feast is recalled on Passion Friday and it is liturgically coherent. During the post sixteenth century Latin Bishops' rule, the Marthoma Nazranees also began to celebrate these feasts. However, according to the genius of Marthoma Margam, the celebration of Blessed Sacrament comes on the Thursday of Peseha and the Sacred Heart on Passion Friday. Hence there is no relevance for setting apart two other days in the Season of Apostles for these feasts.  A rethinking, therefore, of the appropriateness of these feasts in the period of the Apostles may be beneficial.

 

                                                                              Dr. Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

 

Holy Pentecost

(Commemorated on 12th June, 2011)

Pentecost is one of the most important feasts of Christianity and one that has passed through various steps of redemptive history. Pentecost is the celebration by the Church of the coming of the Ruha da-Qudsa as the end - the achievement and fulfillment - of the entire history of salvation. For the same reason, however, it is also the celebration of the beginning: it is the "birthday" of the Church as the presence among us of  Ruha da-Qudsa, of the new life in Iso'-M'siha, of grace, knowledge, adoption to God and holiness.

 

This double meaning and double joy is revealed to us, first of all, in the very name of the feast. Pentecost in Greek means fifty, and in the sacred biblical symbolism of numbers, the number fifty symbolizes both the fullness of time and that which is beyond time: the Kingdom of God itself. With the descent of  Ruha da-Qudsa upon the disciples of Iso'-M'siha, the time of salvation, the Divine work of redemption has been completed, the fullness revealed, all gifts bestowed: it belongs to us now to "appropriate" these gifts, to be that which we have become in Iso' M'siha: participants and citizens of His Kingdom.

 

According to our East Syriac tradition, on the day of Pentecost, there is a special rite in our Holy Qurbana immediately before the communion. Special prayers, incensing and a solemn kneeling are the constituent parts of this special rite, known as Kneeling Rite. It has all the characteristics of a public rite of Reconciliation.  Such a rite is seen in several Oriental Churches. This is the first kneeling after Resurrection. It signifies that after these fifty days of Paschal joy and fullness, of experiencing the Kingdom of God, the Church now is about to begin her pilgrimage through time and history.

 

With the solemn celebration of  Ramsa, we enter the Season of Slihe, the Apostles. Many documents testify to the fact that the Marthoma Nazranees observed the whole Season of Apostles as a fasting period. This observance might have been done in order to identify themselves with the Apostles, who had to encounter so many afflictions and difficulties in sharing their Christ experience. The Kneeling Rite could be considered as the beginning of this Slihe Fasting. A hymn from the Kneeling Rite is given below:

 

"The Church saw Iso' M'siha who suffered for her and is now in inexplicable glory.  When she understood that it was for her, he suffered pain on the Cross and insult at Gagulta, she ran to him, bowed and adored him, stood up, embraced and kissed him, and forgetting her own fathers began to burn with the love of Iso'. She raised her voice and proclaimed before angels and men thus: “I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate me from the love of God in Iso' M'siha (Rom 8, 38-39); for I confessed his Cross; let there be praise to him.”

 

Mar Aprem, the Father of our East Syriac Church

(Commemorated on 9th June)

 

Mar Aprem is the greatest classic writer of the Syriac Church.  A teacher of repentance, Mar Aprem was born at Nisibis c. 306, very probably of Christian parents, and educated by Mar James, the Bishop of his native city.  Mar James of Nisibis was a noted ascetic, a preacher of Christianity and denouncer of the Arians.  Mar Aprem became one of his disciples.  Under the direction of the holy hierarch, Mar Aprem attained Christian meekness, humility, submission to God's will, and the strength to undergo various temptations without complaint.  Mar James, realizing the great worth of his disciple, made use of his talents.  He trusted him to preach sermons, to instruct children in school, and he took Mar Aprem with him to the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea (in the year 325).  Mar Aprem was in obedience to Mar James for fourteen years, until the bishop's death in 338.

 

After the capture of Nisibis by the Persians in 363, Mar Aprem went to a monastery near the city of Edessa.  Here he saw many great ascetics, passing their lives in prayer and psalmody.  Their caves were solitary shelters, and they fed themselves with a certain plant.

 

He became especially close to the ascetic Julian, who was of one mind with him.  Mar Aprem combined asceticism with a ceaseless study of the Word of God, taking from it both solace and wisdom for his soul.  The Lord gave him a gift of teaching, and people began to come to him, wanting to hear his counsel, which produced compunction  in the soul, since he began with self-accusation.  Both verbally and in writing, Mar Aprem instructed everyone in repentance, faith and piety, and he denounced the Arian heresy, which at that time was causing great turmoil.  Pagans who heard the preaching of the saint were converted to Christianity.

 

He also wrote the first Syriac commentary on the 'Five Books' of Moses.  He wrote many prayers and hymns, thereby enriching the Church's liturgical services.  Famous prayers of Mar Aprem are to the Most Holy Trinity, to the Son of God and to the Most Holy Mother of Christ.  He composed hymns for the Twelve Great Feasts of the Lord (the Nativity of Christ, the Baptism, the Resurrection), and funeral hymns.  Mar Aprem's Prayer of repentance, "O Lord and Master of my life..", is recited by the Orthodox Churches even today during Great Fast, and it summons Christians to spiritual renewal.

 

From ancient times, the Church has valued the works of Mar Aprem.  His works were read publicly in certain churches after the Holy Scripture, as St Jerome tells us.  Among the prophets, St. David is the preeminent psalmodist; among the Fathers of the Church, Mar Aprem is the preeminent man of prayer.  His spiritual experience made him a guide for monastics and a help to the pastors of Edessa.  Mar Aprem wrote in Syriac, but his works were very early translated into Greek and Armenian. Translations into Latin and Slavonic were made from the Greek text.

 

In many of Mar Aprem's works we catch glimpses of the life of the Syriac ascetics, which was centered on prayer and working in various obediences for the common good of the brethren.  The outlook of all the Syrian ascetics was the same.  The monks believed that the goal of their efforts was communion with God and the acquisition of divine grace.  For them, the present life was a time of tears, fasting and toil.

 

"If the Son of God is within you, then His Kingdom is also within you.  Thus, the Kingdom of God is within you, a sinner.  Enter into yourself, search diligently and without toil you shall find it.  Outside of you is death, and the door to it is sin.  Enter into yourself, dwell within your heart, for god is there".

 

Constant spiritual sobriety, the developing of good within man's soul gives him the possibility to take upon himself a task like blessedness, and a self-constraint like sanctity.  The requital is presupposed in the earthly life of man, it is an undertaking of spiritual perfection by degrees.  Whoever grows himself wings upon the earth, says the Saint, is one who soars up into the heights; whoever purifies his mind here below, there glimpses the Glory of God.  In whatever measure each one loves God, he is, by God's love, satisfied to fullness according to that measure.  Man, cleansing himself and attaining the grace of the Holy Spirit while still here on earth, has a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.  To attain to life eternal, in the teachings of Mar Aprem, does not mean to pass over from one realm of being into another, but rather to discover 'the heavenly' spiritual condition of being.  Eternal life is not bestown on man through God's one-sided efforts, but rather, it constantly grows like a seed within him by his efforts, toils and struggles.

 

The pledge within us of 'deification' is the Baptism of Christ, and the main force that drives the Christian life is repentance. Mar Aprem was a great teacher of repentance. The forgiveness of sins in the Mystery of repentance, according to his teaching, is not an external exoneration, not a forgetting of the sins, but rather their complete undoing, their annihilation. The tears of repentance wash away and burn away the sin. Moreover, they (i.e. the tears) enliven, they transfigure sinful nature, they give the strength "to walk in the way of the Lord's commandments", encouraging hope in God.  In the fiery font of repentance, the saint wrote, "you sail yourself across, O sinner, you resurrect yourself form the dead".

 

Mar Aprem, accounting himself as the least and worst of all, went to Egypt at the end of his life to see the efforts of the great ascetics. He was accepted there as a welcome guest and received great solace from conversing with them.  On his return journey he visited at Caesarea in Cappadocia with St Basil, the Great, who wanted to ordain him a priest, but he considered himself unworthy of the priesthood.  At the insistence of St Basil, he consented only to be ordained as a deacon, in which rank he remained until his death.  LOater on, St Basil invited Mar Aprem to accept a bishop's throne, but the saint feigned madness in order to avoid this honor, humbly regarding himself as unworthy of it.

 

After his return to his own Edessa wilderness, Mar Aprem hoped to spend the rest of his life in solitude, but divine Providence again summoned him to serve his neighbor.  The inhabitants of Edesa were suffering from a devastating famine. By the influence of his word, the saint persuaded the wealthy to render aid to those in need.  From the offerings of believers he built a poor-house for the poor and sick.  Mar Aprem then withdrew to a cave near Edessa, where he remained to the end of his days.

 

Mar Aprem is a brilliant exegete, controversialist, preacher and poet.  It is almost impossible to survey the mass of writings he has left, for they have so far been neither critically edited nor have their contents been sufficiently examined and evaluated.  The moral and devotional element predominates in them.

 

His eighty hymns on the faith devoted to the struggle against Arianism show ho the Saint is influenced by the Greek Fathers and their ideas derived form Philosophy.  Hence no really clear presentation of the philosophical and theological problems of Trinitarian and Christological doctrines is to be expected.  Even in theology, the Saint remains a poet using a language rich in images.  He says about Mary:  "You alone (Iso'-M'siha) and your Mother are more beautiful than all, no stain is in you, Lord, and no blemish in your Mother" (Carm. Nisib. 27f., 44f.; EP 719).  In the Divine Liturgy 'the Living and life-giving Body is consumed' (ibid. 3, 77).

 

Mar Aprem's hymns on the apostolate of Mar Thoma Sleeha in India and the transfer of the holy relics of Mar Thoma Sleeha from Mylapur to Edessa are of particular interest to the Mar Thoma Nazranis.  To quote one stanza on the preaching of Mar Thoma Sleeha in India:

 

"Blessed art thou whom the Great King has sent,

That India to his One-Begotten thou

Shouldst espouse; above snow and linen

White, thou the dark bride didst make fair.

Blessed art thou, who the unkempt has

Adorned, that having become beautiful and

Radiant, to her Spouse she might advance"

 

On the transfer of the sacred relics of Mar Thoma Sleeha to Edessa, Mar Aprem sings:

 

"Blessed art thou, O thrice Blessed city,

That has acquired this pearl, none greater

Doth India yield; Blessed art thou

Worthy to possess the priceless gem, praise to

Thee, O gracious son, who thus Thy adores dost enrich"

*******

 

Blessed Mariam Thresia

(Commemorated on 8th June)

 

Blessed Mariam Thressia was born at Puthenchira in the Diocese of Irinjalakuda on 26 April 1876 as the third child of Chiramel Mankidiyan Thomman and Thanda. She had the great desire to love God above everything else right from her infancy. She showed great interest to go to church with her mother daily to attend Holy Qurbana.  The coming of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil as the Vicar of Puthenchira Parish was a turning point in the life of Thressia. On  November 26, 1912 she joined the Carmelite Convent at Ollur.  She was brought back to Puthenchira by Bishop John Menacherry to start a solitary home in the parish under the direction of Fr. Joseph Vithayathil. This solitary home became the first house of the new congregation founded by her, Congregation of the Holy Family. She breathed her last on 8 June 1926. She was declared blessed by Pope John Paul II in Rome on 9 April 2000. 

 

The Ascension of our Lord Iso' M'siha

(Commemorated on 2nd June, 2011)


The Mar Thoma Nazrani Church ( Syro-Malabar Church) celebrates the Resurrection of our Lord during the seven weeks which begin with the Great Sunday of Resurrection. It is in fact the celebration of the victory of Iso' M'siha over death, sin, suffering and Satan. The empty TOMB, the empty CROSS, the blooming or living or flourishing or flowering or fruit bearing TREE, and so on are speaking icons or images in the Church of this unique victory of Iso'-M'siha.  The devotees are incorporated to the Risen Body of Iso'-M'siha in holy baptism and nourished through the same Body in the life-giving Eucharistic celebration until they grow to the full maturity and inherit the everlasting Kingdom. Hence, this Church considers it a privilege to begin the Resurrection celebration with solemn Baptismal rites. Ramsa, the Evening Liturgy of the day, namely, the Great Saturday evening celebrations, are marked with real Baptism of at least a few individuals. 

The most vivid expression and celebration of this reality of Resurrection is the Holy Qurbana.  It, besides transfiguring the faithful to the Risen body of Iso' - Misiha, fills them with the effects of Resurrection, namely, the new life, renewal, peace, tranquillity, satisfaction, joy and the like.  The Holy Spirit who transformed the material body of our Lord to 'Spirit-Body' is also working constantly in every faithful who receives the Body of Iso'-M'siha in the Holy Qurbana, transforming them also to 'spirit-body'(Rom 8:11).  To this effect, we pray in our celebration of Holy Qurbana: "Let us receive the Holy Qurbana and be sanctified by the Holy Spirit."

The blooming or flowering or glorious CROSS shines forth in the Church and in the world as the sign of cosmic transfiguration brought about in the Resurrection of Iso'- M'siha.  During the formative and normative period of Christianity, i.e., up to the end of the patristic age (ca. 850), CROSS without the crucified image of Iso', the Empty CROSS, in the pattern of the empty tomb, was the special sign of Christian faith. Empty CROSS, for early Christian Churches, was the supreme sign of victory of Iso'- M'siha. Thus each Church tried to express CROSS in her own way as living or flourishing or flowering or fruit bearing trees.

The feast of Ascension falls on the 40th day after Easter. On this day Christ exhibited His control over the forces of nature. It is the last scene of His successes, gained through failures.  The prayers for this day clearly narrate all these ideas.  This feast affirms the Kingship of our Lord. Once we have celebrated the period of resurrection, which culminates in Christ's glorious and victorious ascension, another feast to venerate Christ the King somewhere in October or in November, as it is the case today, is not in consonance with the spirit of the liturgical year. In the prayers for the day of Ascension, the word Malka, 'King' appears more than 13 times. Hence, we conclude that this has been the day for the ancient Church to celebrate the Kingship of our Lord.  And when we consider the history of salvation, no other day can be more apt for this particular feast.

 "I ascend unto My Father and your Father, and to My God, and Your God" (John 20:17).

 

It was in these words that the Risen Lord, Iso'-M'siha described to Mary Magdalene the mystery of His Resurrection. She had to carry this mysterious message to His disciples, "as they mourned and wept" (Mark 16:10). The disciples listened to these glad tidings with fear and amazement, with doubt and mistrust. It appears that only one of the Eleven did not doubt - St John, the disciple "whom Iso' loved." He alone grasped the mystery of the empty Tomb at once: "and he saw, and believed" (John 20:8). Even St Peter left the sepulcher in amazement, "wondering at that which was come to pass" (Luke 24:12).

It appears that the disciples did not expect the Resurrection at all. The women did not, either. They were quite certain that Iso' was dead and rested in the grave, and they went to the place "where He was laid," with the spices they had prepared, "that they might come and anoint Him." They had but one thought: "Who shall roll away the stone from the door of the sepulcher for us." (Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1). And therefore, on not finding the body, Mary Magdalene was sorrowful and complained: "They have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid Him' (John 20:13). On hearing the good news from the angel, the women fled from the sepulcher in fear and trembling: "Neither said they anything to any man, for they were afraid" (Mark 16:8). And when they spoke no one believed them, in the same way as no one 'had believed Mary, who saw the Lord, or the disciples as they walked on their way into the country, (Mark 16:13), and who recognized Him in the breaking of bread. "And afterward He appeared unto the Eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them who had seen Him after He was risen' (Mark 16:10-14).

The mystery of the Apostles' "unbelief" is partly disclosed in the narrative of the Gospel: "But we trusted that it had been He which should have redeemed Israel," with disillusionment and complaint said the two disciples to their mysterious Companion on the way to Emmaus(Luke 24:21). They meant: He was betrayed, condemned to death and crucified. The news of the Resurrection brought by the women only "astonished" them. They still wait for an earthly triumph, for an external victory. The same temptation possesses their hearts, which first prevented them from accepting "the preaching of the Cross" and made them argue every time the Saviour tried to reveal His mystery to them. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory." (Luke 24:26). It was still difficult to understand this.

 

He had the power to arise, why did He allow what that had happened to take place at all? Why did He take upon Himself disgrace, blasphemy and wounds? In the eyes of all Jerusalem, amidst the vast crowds assembled for the Great Feast, He was condemned and suffered a shameful death. And now He enters not into the Holy City, neither to the people which beheld His shame and death, nor to the High Priests and elders, nor to Pilate - so that He might make their crime obvious and smite their pride. Instead, He sends His disciples away to remote Galilee and appears to them there. Even much earlier the disciples wondered, "How is it that Thou wilt manifest Thyself unto us, and not unto the world." (John 14:22). Their wonder continues, and even on the day of His glorious Ascension the Apostles question the Lord, "Lord, wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel." (Acts 1:6). They still did not comprehend the meaning of His Resurrection, they did not understand what it meant that He was "ascending" to the Father. Their eyes were opened but later, when "the promise of the Father" had been fulfilled.

In the Ascension resides the meaning and the fullness of Christ's Resurrection. Our Lord Iso'-M'siha did not rise in order to return again to the fleshly order of life, so as to live again and commune with the disciples and the multitudes by means of preaching and miracles. Now He does not even stay with them, but only "appears" to them during the forty days, from time to time, and always in a miraculous and mysterious manner. "He was not always with them now, as He was before the Resurrection," comments St John Chrysostom. "He came and again disappeared, thus leading them on to higher conceptions. He no longer permitted them to continue in their former relationship toward Him, but took effectual measures to secure these two objects: That the fact of His Resurrection should be believed, and that He Himself should be ever after apprehended to be greater than man." There was something new and unusual in His person (cf. John 21:1-14). As St John Chrysostom says, "It was not an open presence, but a certain testimony of the fact that He was present." That is why the disciples were confused and frightened. Our Lord Iso'-M'siha arose not in the same way as those who were restored to life before Him. Theirs was a resurrection for a time, and they returned to life in the same body, which was subject to death and corruption - returned to the previous mode of life. But Iso'-M'siha arose for ever, unto eternity. He arose in a body of glory, immortal and incorruptible. He arose, never to die, for "He clothed the mortal in the splendor of incorruption." His glorified Body was already exempt from the fleshly order of existence. "It is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power. It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body" (I Cor. 15:42-44). This mysterious transformation of human bodies, of which Mar Paulose Sleeha was speaking in the case of our Lord, had been accomplished in three days. Christ's work on earth was accomplished. He had suffered, was dead and buried, and now rose to a higher mode of existence. By His Resurrection He abolished and destroyed death, abolished the law of corruption, "and raised with Himself the whole race of Adam." Iso'-M'siha has risen, and now "no dead are left in the grave" (cf. The Easter Sermon of St John Chrysostom). And now He ascends to the Father, yet He does not "go away," but abides with the faithful for ever. For He raises the very earth with Him to heaven, and even higher than any heaven. God's power, in the phrase of St John Chrysostom, "manifests itself not only in the Resurrection, but in something much stronger." For "He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God" (Mark 16:19).

And with Iso'-M'siha, man's nature ascends also. "We who seemed unworthy of the earth, are now raised to heaven," says St John Chrysostom. "We who were unworthy of earthly dominion have been raised to the Kingdom on high, have ascended higher than heaven, have come to occupy the King's throne, and the same nature from which the angels guarded Paradise, stopped not until it ascended to the throne of the Lord." By His Ascension the Lord not only opened to man the entrance to heaven, not only appeared before the face of God on our behalf and for our sake, but likewise "transferred man" to the high places. "He honored them He loved by putting them close to the Father." God quickened and raised us together with Christ, as Mar Paulose Sleeha says, "and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 2:6). Heaven received the inhabitants of the earth. "The First fruits of them that slept" sits now on high, and in Him all creation is summed up and bound together. "The earth rejoices in mystery, and the heavens are filled with joy."

 

The Ascension is the token of Pentecost, the sign of its coming, "The Lord has ascended to heaven and will send the Comforter to the world'. And the Lord Himself told the disciples, "If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you" (John 16:7). The gifts of the Spirit are "gifts of reconciliation," a seal of an accomplished salvation and of the ultimate reunion of the world with God. And this was accomplished only in the Ascension. "And one saw miracles follow miracles," says St John Chrysostom, "ten days prior to this our nature ascended to the King's throne, while today the Holy Ghost has descended on to our nature." The joy of the Ascension lies in the promise of the Spirit.' "Thou didst give joy to Thy disciples by a promise of the Holy Spirit." The victory of Christ is wrought in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. The very existence of the Church is the fruit of the Ascension. It is in the Church that man's nature is truly ascended to the Divine heights. "And gave Him to be Head over all things" (Ephesians 1:22). St John Chrysostom comments: "Amazing! Look again, whither He has raised the Church. As though He were lifting it up by some engine, He has raised it up to a vast height, and set it on yonder throne; for where the Head is, there is the body also. There is no interval of separation between the Head and the body; for were there a separation, then would the one no longer be a body, nor would the other any longer be a Head." The whole race of men is to follow Christ, even in His ultimate exaltation, "to follow in His train." Within the Church, through an acquisition of the Spirit in the fellowship of Sacraments, the Ascension continues still, and will continue until the measure is full. "Only then shall the Head be filled up, when the body is rendered perfect, when we are knit together and united," concludes St John Chrysostom.

 

The Ascension is a sign and token of the Second Coming of Iso'-M'siha. "This same Iso'-M'siha which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen Him go into heaven" (Acts 1:11).

 

New Sunday

(Commemorated on 1st May 2011)

According to the testimony of Joseph the Indian, a Thomas Christian priest, on the second Sunday of Resurrection, the Thomas Christians celebrate the feast of Marthoma Sleeha with great solemnity. It was on this day that Marthoma Sleeha, the Apostle of India, made his historic confession in the Resurrection of Iso'-Msiha. They were celebrating it in the 16th century, according to the testimonies of the western missionaries. Even today they celebrate this feast and go on pilgrimage to Malayatoor. Malayattoor is a village some 30 kms east of Kochi. The tradition is that Marthoma Sleeha spent 40 days in prayer and abstinence on the mountain in this village.  The footprint seen on the mountain is said to be of Marthoma Sleeha.  According to tradition, Marthoma Sleeha had erected a Cross too on this particular mountain. The important ideas expressed in the prayers of the Season of Resurrection are the victory over death and the new life gained by that. This new life is given to the faithful in baptism.  Another important pericope that recurs often is the victory and exaltation of the Cross. Very often Cross and Christ are identified.  Abdiso points out the gramatical emaning of Sliba as "the Crucified man". It means that Cross is greatly venerated among Christians only because of the One who died on it. 

Thus, the Second Sunday of the Season of Resurrection is New Sunday in the Marthoma Margam.It is also a Feast Day, very special to the Marthoma Nazranees.  On New Sunday they celebrate the Profession of faith in the Resurrection of Iso'- M'siha by their father Marthomma Sliha as the representative of the college of Apostles (Jn 20, 24-29).  In order to express publicaly the faith they have imbibed from their father, it is their custom to go on pilgrimage on this day to holy places such as Malayatoor.  Like the Marthoma Nazranis of India, the Orthodox Churches all over the world also dedicate the Sunday after Easter to Marthomma Sleeha because it was then that Christ appeared to the apostles and told Marthoma Sleeha to put his finger in His wounds and his hand in His side, after which Marthoma Sleeha replied, "My Lord and My God", having been convinced that it was indeed the Risen Lord.

 

All Saints Day

(Commemorated on the first Friday of the Season of Resurrection ie 29th April 2011)

The first friday of the Season of Resurrection is for the commemoration of the Confessors.  This feast has its origin from the remembrance of Mar Simeon Bar-Saba and other Fathers, who courted martyrdom on Passion Friday in 341 A.D.  Gradually, it turned out to be the commemoration day of All Saints.  A celebration in connection with the Easter Solemnity appears to be the earleist tradition in Rome as well.  On May 13, 610 Pope Biniface IV transferred the relics of many martyrs from catacombs to the Pantheon in Rome.  Thereafter, its anniversary was celebrated as All Saints day.  About this feast Mar Isaac, the Doctor, comments as follows:  "The last Friday (Passion Friday), we have heard the Jews calumniating Christ and blaspheming Him. This Friday, we woudl like that the martyrs confess Christ...and proclaim His glory.  We pass from the Passion of our Saviour, crucified for the truth of His doctrine, to the solemnity of the commemoration of the Confessors whom the tortures have put to death for having taken hope in Resurrection... Christ signed a testament with His own blood (cf Heb 9, 13-16).  This Friday we come to know of th courage of the blessed martyrs who have affirmed the testament by signing with their own blood their profession of faith in their resurrection.  In instituting this feast, the Fathers had the intention of presenting to our consideration the relation between the Cross and Resurrection, between the Resurrection of Christ and our resurrection, and thereby to instigate hope in the future glory".

Saints are those, who are already filled with the New Life and have secured for themselves the Kingdom of Heaven.  Hence the Mar Thomma Nazranees celebrate their Feast on the First Friday of the Season of Resurrection.

 

Mar Geevarghese Sahadha

(Commemorated on 24th April)  

 

St.George was born in A.D.269 at Cappadochia in Asia Minor. He served as a soldier in the royal cavalry. He was an ardent and firm believer in Christ and lived his life true to the Scriptures. During the religious persecution of Emperor Diocletus, he stood up for the faith and was put to death. From that time, the soldier became St.George and thousands of churches sprang up all over the world in the name of St.George. St George is one of the great saints of the Eastern Churches and the ancient patron of soldiers. He became the patron of England in the late Middle Ages.

Qyamta : the Resurrection

Resurrection of our Lord is known to be the Feast of feasts. With this Feast we begin the Weeks of Resurrection in the Syro Malabar tradition. The special ritual of the Resurrection celebration is the Rite of Peace conducted after 3.00 am in all churches and chapels. It is celebrated by raising the Sliba buried beneath the altar on Passion Friday evening.

The church and the Cross in front of it are exceptionally decorated with lamps for Resurrection celebration. Light, we know, is the symbol of life. Inside the church they spread spicy green leaves and other decorative materials.

The celebration begins in the minimum necessary light. When the resurrection hymn is sung, the sanctuary veil is opened and the main celebrant raises the Sliba up. Simultaneously all the lights in the church are switched on, the bells of the church are rung and the crackers are exploded. The lamps in the sanctuary are lit from the sanctuary lamp and from there the candles in the hands of the faithful are all lit. The Sliba is first enthroned on the altar, incensed and then carried in procession around the church or the Cross in front of it or through the streets of the town or village according to the custom.

When the procession returns to the church, the Sliba is erected on the Bema. Then the deacon makes an announcement to exchange peace with one another. Following the announcement, all together adore the Sliba first, and then exchange peace with one another saying: Let the Risen Lord be with us and Responding: New Life and renewal be with us. The Mar Thomma Nazranikal of ancient days used to greet each other even outside the church with the same formulae all through the period of Resurrection.

The most solemn form of Eucharistic celebration is the crowning ceremony of the day. At the end of the Qurbana they used to approach the Bema, kiss the Sliba and pay respect to the celebrant, bidding farewell.

 

Passion Week

The Syriac book of the Syro Malabar Church always qualilfy this week as the "Passion Week". But today this name is mostly used by the separated brethren among the Thomas Christians of India. The Syro-Malabarians use more frequently the names of "Holy Week" or "Great Week", which are seen used by the Latin Church. This may be because of their missionary relations with the Latin Church after the 16th century.

                    

        Entry of our Lord, Iso' M'siha into Jerusalem

(Osana Sunday) 

 

The Passion Week begins with the Osana Sunday celebration where we celebrate the solemn entry of our Lord into Jerusalem(Mt 21, 1-17; Mk 11, 1-11; Lk 19, 28-40; Jn 12, 12-19). Osana Sunday is the celebration of the triumphant entrance of our Lord, Iso' M'siha into the royal city of Jerusalem. He rode on a colt for which He himself had sent, and He permitted the people to hail Him publicly as a King. A large crowd met Him in a manner befitting royalty, waving palm branches and placing their garments in His path. They greeted Him with these words: Osana ! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel ! (John 12:13). It is a day to confess that Iso'  M'siha is the Lord, the Saviour and the King, and to celebrate it liturgically. His entrance into Jerusalem is a fulfillment of the messianic prophecies about the king who will enter his holy city to establish a final kingdom: 'Behold your king is coming to you, humble and mounted on an ass, and on a colt the foal of an ass' (Zech : 9:9). The celebration proclaims that all the prophesies about Iso'  M'siha are fulfilled. Finally, the event of this triumphant day is but the passage to Passion Week: the 'hour' of suffering and death for which Iso' M'siha came. Thus the triumph in a earthly sense is extremely short-lived. Iso' M'siha enters openly into the midst of His enemies, publicly saying and doing those things which most enrage them. The people themselves will soon reject Him. They misread His brief earthly triumph as a sign of something else: His emergence as a political M'siha who will lead them to the glories of an earthly Kingdom. The Liturgy of the Church is more than meditation or praise concerning past events. It communicates to us the eternal presence and power of the events being celebrated and makes us participants in those events. Thus the liturgical celebrations on Osana Sunday bring us to our own moment of life and death and entrance into the Kingdom of God: a Kingdom not of this world, a Kingdom accessible in the Church through repentance and Baptism.

 

The special ritual of the day is the blessing of the palms and the procession carrying them. According to the genius of the Syro Malabar Church, the blessing of the palms takes place outside the church. The faithful participate in the liturgical rites holding palms in their hands. In connection with the Morning Liturgy (Sapra) and the introductory rites of the Qurbana, the palms are blessed. Before the Ressurection hymn, carrying the palms and singing Osana hymns, they all move in procession to the church. The celebrant solemnly knocks at the closed door of the church three times, singing the prescribed psalm verses. When it is opened from inside, all enter the church to continue with the solemn celebration of the Qurbana. Our Lords solemn entry into Jerusalem and the purification of the temple are proclaimed in the Gospel.

 

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday - The most important liturgical rites of the Passion Week are celebrated together with the Evening Liturgy (Ramsa) in the Syro Malabar ecclesial tradition. Besides the cosmic elements, the historical happening of the events in the life of  Iso' M'siha also must have suggested this style of celebration. Moreover, according to this tradition, the liturgical day begins in the evening. Hence it is quite natural that the important liturgical rites of the Passion Week at least be celebrated in the evening.

 

This liturgical tradition gives due importance also to the 'Divine Praises' for the spiritual formation of the faithful. Hence they celebrate the Endana, the mid-day prayer all through the weeks of Great Fast. During the Passion Week, the lay people also are encouraged to participate in all the hours of the "Divine Praises", namely, the Ramsa, Lelya, Sapra and Endana either in the neighbouring churches or chapels or at home.

 

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, there is the solemn Eucharistic celebration together with the Evening Liturgy (Ramsa) in all possible churches and chapels. In most of them they celebrate solemny the Morning Liturgy (Sapra) as well.

                                                                            

Thursday of Peseha - The Syro Malabar Church celebrates this Thursday as the feast of the Holy Qurbana. Together with the Evening Liturgy, they conduct the most solemn Eucharistic celebration, namely, the Raza itself, if possible. The foot washing ceremony, which is seen in the Gospels as related to the institution of the Eucharist, is also conducted after the Gospel and homily in the Qurbana. According to ancient records, the foot washing was conducted only in the Cathedrals by the Bishops, washing the feet of twelve priests. In monastries and religious houses, the superiors used to wash the feet of all the monks or religious during the Night Liturgy (Lelya). Otherwise in ordinary parish churches this ceremony was not conducted. Today, however, it is customary in all parish churches.

 

Peseha Meal - The Peseha meal during the night of Thursday of Peseha is a custom seen today only among the Mar Thomma Nazranikal of India. It is an adapted family celebration originated in the context of the Jewish Passover meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist. By no means should it be transferred to the churches. The Eucharistic meal itself is the communion meal of the parish community. This Peseha meal reminds us also of the Jewish presence in the origin of the Mar Thomma Nazranikal. A special bread (Kurissapam) and drink (Milk) are the items of the Peseha meal. The mother of the family leads the preparation of these items while the father of the family officiates during the meal proper. Hence, if the father or mother of the family dies, in that particular year there is no preparation or eating of the Peseha meal. They eat without any solemnity the bread and milk brought by their friends and relatives. This bread is prepared with a cross over it, which is made out of the palms blessed on Osana Sunday.

 

After a short prayer led by the father of the family in which the Jewish Passover meal and the institution of the Holy Eucharist are remembered, the father cuts the bread into 13 pieces. He then takes each of them, dips them in the milk and gives them to the members. They, according to their rank in age, approach devoutly, receive in the hands and eat it standing. Then all sit down to eat and drink the remaining bread and milk. What remains from this particular bread and milk is neither given to non Christians nor thrown out. They are eaten on the following day and that is not considered breaking of the sever fast of Passion Friday.

 

After the Peseha meal, the Mar Thomma Nazranikal of ancient times used to spend the whole night either in their own houses or in the church in prayer, reading the Bible and singing the Psalms. This is to remember the agony of the Lord in the garden, His blood shedding and capture by the soldiers, which were all the result of our sins and shortcomings. In the 16th century when the Latin missionaries introduced adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, this vigil in the houses was stopped. A few years back, when the night adoration was forbidden, the vigil itself disappeared. The healthy practice of  keeping vigil either in the church or at home ought to be revived as soon as possible. Our 'Divine Praises' in that connection are a beautiful piece for such a vigil celebration.

 

Passion Friday - On Passion Friday, we celebrate the Passion, Death and Burial of our Lord. The Mar Thomma Nazranikal used to set all kinds of work aside and spend the whole day in prayer and fasting. It is interesting to note that the Passion Friday is a public holiday for the Indian Republic. The Mar Thomma Nazranikal of old used to eat nothing at all after the Peseha meal till after the Resurrection celebration at 3.00 am in Great Saturday night.

 

The most important ritual of the day is the Ramsa, the Evening Liturgy, together with the adoration of the Sliba, the Cross, the procession with It and Its burial. The Sliba on the Bema is specially adorned with Kottina, the alb and Urara, the stole. Kottina symbolizes the person of Iso' M'siha and Urara His ministerial priesthood. This Mar Thomma Sliba, the St Thomas Cross, stands at the centre of Passion Friday celebrations.

 

During the Ramsa celebration, at due time the Passion Narrative from the Gospels according to Luke, Matthew and John is proclaimed. After the homily, the Sliba is bent to the main celebrant, who removes the Kottina and Urara from It and covers It with a neat white shroud. Then it is carried in procession to the altar together with the Gospel Lectionary. The Gospel Lectionary is placed in its usual place on the altar while the Sliba is laid on its middle. All stand in absolute silence repenting on their sins and shortcomings during this procession. Bema being the symbol of Gagultha, and the altar, our Lord's sepulchre, the liturgical action is the bringing down of the body of our Lord from the cross on Gagultha and carrying it to the sepulchre.

 

As the priest and ministers return to the Bema, they begin the Karozutha, the proclamation prayers. As a sign of repentance over sins, all kneel down during the second proclamation prayer.

 

Then they begin the Onitha d-Basalique, the Royal Anthem. After singing a few stanzas, the priests and ministers approach the altar, carry the Sliba to the BethGazza on the left side, uncover It. Wash It with a little water, dry It and bring It back to the altar. Then the incense is brought and the main celebrant incenses It many a time. After incensing, the priests and ministers carrying the Sliba amidst lit candles and incensing censer go in procession within the church, east to west and north to south in cross form. The faithful remain in their own places and sing the royal anthem.

 

At the end of the procession, the Sliba is brought to the Bema, where everyone kisses It as a sign of bidding farewell. After kissing the Sliba they taste a little of the bitter drink, prepared from bitter leaves and the water with which the Sliba was washed. It is to show the most intimate participation in the Passion and Death of the Lord.

 

Then as is the custom of the place, the procession goes around the church or the Cross in front of it or through the streets of the town or village.

 

When the procession returns to the church, the Sliba is laid on the Bema, incensed and then covered again with the neat white shroud. Then the deacons or priests carry It and bury It beneath the altar. All Syro-Malabar churches and chapels ought to have the provision for the burial of the Sliba beneath their altars. If such a provision is not there, the Sliba is laid on the altar and covered with the Soseppa, the chalice veil, which is the symbol of the Lord's tomb cover in this liturgical tradition. All return to the Bema and conclude the Evening Liturgy as usual.

 

The East Syriac tradition understands the Eucharistic communion as the culmination of the Eucharistic celebration. Since there is no Eucharistic celebration on Passion Friday, there is no possibility for communion as well.

 

The Mar Thomma Nazranikal had preserved the custom of keeping vigil through the whole night at the sepulchre of the Lord. The "Divine Praises" given in the Syriac sources for this night itself shows the relevance of this long vigil. During the colonial missionary period after the 16th century, this salvific custom was lost. Today we need a revival of it.

 

Great Saturday -  The Great Saturday rituals are all formed as a vigil celebration of the great feast of Resurrection.  Towards the evening, there is the solemn celebration of the Evening Liturgy (Ramsa), the Rite of Reconciliation, the Baptismal Rite and the Holy Qurbana. In the Evening Liturgy, the resurrectional theme is emphasized.  The Rite of Reconciliation is reminiscent of the early Church, where after the long period of repentance and penance the public sinners were officially received back to the Church during Resurrection celebration. Now it is considered to be an occasion for the repentance and reconciliation of all at the end of the long period of Great Fast.  Baptism is in fact a participation in the Death and Resurrection of our Lord; and the early Church always preferred Baptism be given in connection with the Resurrection celebration. Even today it is good that there be actual baptismal celebration during this Resurrection Vigil. Indeed, the Church always encourages the faithful to have such baptisms. All these celebrations are crowned with that of the Holy Qurbana.

                                                                            

                                                                                 Fr Varghese Pathikulangara cmi

 

The Annunciation of Most Holy Mother

(Commemorated on 25th March)

The Feast of the Annunciation is one of the earliest Christian feasts.  This refers to the Incarnation of the Son of God and the salvation He brings. The background of the Annunciation is found in the Gospel of St Luke (1:26-38).

There are two main components to the Annunciation: the message itself, and the response of the Virgin. The message fulfills God's promise to send a Redeemer (Genesis 3:15): "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; he shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for his heel." The Fathers of the Church understand "her seed" to refer to Christ. The prophets hinted at His coming, which they saw dimly, but the Archangel Gabriel now proclaims that the promise is about to be fulfilled.

 

The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to Nazareth in Galilee. There he spoke to the undefiled Virgin who was betrothed to Mar Yawsep: "Hail, thou who art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Iso'. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end."

 

In contrast to Eve, who was readily deceived by the serpent, the Virgin did not immediately accept the Angel's message. In her humility, she did not think she was deserving of such words, but was actually troubled by them. The fact that she asked for an explanation reveals her sobriety and prudence. She did not disbelieve the words of the angel, but could not understand how they would be fulfilled, for they spoke of something which was beyond nature. The salvation is not merely an act of God's will, but also involves the Virgin's free will. She could have refused, but she accepted God's will and chose to cooperate without complaint or further questions.

 

Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man." (Luke 1:34).

 

"And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: therefore also that which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible.' And Mary said, 'Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.' And the angel departed from her" (Luke 1: 35-38)."

 

Saumma Ramba, the Great Fast

 

This period begins at the midnight of the Sunday, 50 days before Easter. In all Oriental Churches it is so. The liturgical calendar of the Syro-Malabar church, published by the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches, also insists on this point (Ordo Celebrationis 'Quddasa' juxta usum Ecclesiae Syro-Malabarensis, Romae 1959, p. 47).  This is the practice upto this day in the Syro-Malabar Church (Cf. the liturgical calendars published by the Syro-Malabar Hierarchy). The Synod of Diamper too did not want to abolish this practice of the Thomas Christians (Diamperitana Synodus, Actio 8, decree 10.). But the Latin Church has a different custom.  For them, the lent begins only on Ash Wednesday (Cf. A. Jungmann, quoted in C. Payngot, 'Liturgical Year' Kathiroli 12/4 (1973) 17-18 ).

 

Although SS. Jerome and Leo (PL 22,475; 54,633) attribute the lent of 40 days to Apostolic Tradition, no document of it we have yet. In the beginning the faithful might have observed it according to their discretion. Parallel to the Paschal feast of Israelites, who were bound to eat unleavened bread for 7 days before the feast (Ex 12, 15; Deut 16,3) the Christians might have fasted for a week before their Paschal feast (E. Vacandard, art. 'Careme' in DACL 2(1910)2140). But Sunday being the day of the Lord, the day of Resurrection, they could not fast on that day. Hence naturally there were only 6 days fast.  Canon 5 of the Council of Nicea (325 A.D) is the first document we have on 40 days fast. After that there are plenty of documents on this point.

 

This Great Fast can be said to be an imitation of the 40 days fast of our Lord immediately after His baptism. The Gospel of the first Sunday (Mt 3,16-4,11) points to this fact.  40 days are related to so many events in the Old Testament. The Roman Calendar, renewed in 1965, specially mentions these events: the people of Israel spent 40 years in the desert (Deut 8,2-29,5); Moses spent 40 days on mount Sinai (Ex 24,18); Goliath challenged Israel for 40 days (1 Sam 17,16); Elias taking water and bread alone reached mount Horeb in 40 days (1 King 19,8); Jonas preached repentance in Ninive for 40 days (Jon 3,4-5).

 

Among the Thomas Christians, it is known as Ambathu Nombu (50 days Fast).  But there are only 40 days of fasting when the 7 Sundays and the two days of extra fast (of Passion Friday in remembrance of the Passion, and of Great Saturday in remembrance of the death of Christ) are excluded.  Practically, however, they used to abstain from meat, fish, etc. for the whole period of the Great Fast, 7 weeks before the Resurrection Sunday.  That is why they began to call it 50 days Fast.

 

The Great Fast is the occasion in the liturgical year specially to celebrate the Passion and Death of our Lord.  That leads the faithful naturally to the reasons behind the Passion and Death.  Thus the fasting days help us to meditate on the sin of our first parents, our inclination to sin and its consequences, separation from God, the call to repentance and return, God's infinite love and mercy and so on.

 

Death is one of the effects of sin.  Remembrance of death will naturally lead one to repentance and reconciliation. That is why the Syro-Malabar Church celebrates the memory of all the departed on the last Friday of the Weeks of Denha, so that the faithful enter becomingly into the Great Fast. Moreover, the whole period of the Great Fast is the occasion to remember their departed in a special way. According to the genius of the Syro-Malabar liturgical heritage all the departed are specially remembered during the Great Fast and not in the month of November.

 

The Great Fast begins at mid-night of Petrata Sunday. The Syriac word petrata means a looking back or reconciliation.  The whole period of the Great Fast is a time of repentance or looking back or reconciliation. It has already been shown that reconciliation is at the root of our faith living. Its ecclesial and sacramental expression is the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Hence at least once all should approach this Sacrament during the weeks of the Great Fast.

 

"If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love god whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4,20). The liturgical style of the Syro-Malabar Church always demands that this prescription of St John be faithfully observed. Emotional imbalance and its results are very common in man. The fasting will help them to come to real resurrection, fighting against enmity, contention, division and so on. We always pray: 'forgive our debts and sins as we also have forgiven our debtors'.

 

According to Mar Thomma Margam, intensive prayer, sincere renunciation and generous almsgiving are the best expressions of fasting.

 

During the days of fasting one is encouraged to pray more.  In the 'Divine Praises', there is provision for that.  Besides, one ought to spend more time in personal prayer as well. However, it is done, one ought to pray more than usual during the fasting days.

 

Since upawasa is to remain in the presence of the Lord, naturally each of the faithful becomes able to renounce several of his/her personal necessities. It includes food materials or our thinking or actions. During fasting days, the Thomas Christians used to eat anything only after Ramsa, the Evening Liturgy. Though not so strict, some kind of renunciation is always good.

 

Helping others is an important aspect of upawasa. It can be either material or intellectual or spiritual help. We must be naturally prone to help our brethren in need.  In short, the upawasa must make the faithful both God oriented and people oriented.  And that must be expressed through prayer, renunciation and almsgiving.

 

The Catholic church is a communion of Individual Churches. Each Individual Church has its own style of beginning the Great Fast. The Latin Church begins it with the ash service (Jonah 3,6). It underlines the external expression of repentance.

 

The Oriental Churches, however, give emphasis to the internal aspect of fasting. They seem to follow the instruction of our Lord. "And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward.  But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Mt 6,16-18).

 

Anointing with ashes as a sign of beginning the fast is not an Oriental custom.  The Mar Thomma Nazranikal were compelled to accept it in the so-called synod of Diamper. Now as they are trying to restore their original identity in its wholeness, they are to correct all such deviations from their identity.

 

Under the background of the baptism of Christ, this liturgical season puts forward the fasting of our Lord. It is to purify us from all impurities both corporal and spiritual, and to bring us to a more perfect union with Christ in the Paschal Mystery.  It is the time of salvation to confide in God and to receive the remission of sins in order that we may be saved from the sins and faults we have committed in this world (Supplementum, p. 53).

 

The relation between fasting of the body and interior mortification is explained in the 'Anthem of the Mysteries' of the fourth Wednesday. It is necessary that the body and the soul together fast in order that when the body abstains from bread, the soul from iniquities. Fasting from bread is useless if the soul does not abstain from odious machinations of iniquities (Ibid. p. 68).

 

As to the prayers of the 'Divine Praises', they do not much speak of the Passion of our Lord except those of the last week. They begin with the baptism of Christ and the confusion wrought by that in the mind of the devil (Bedjan, 2, p.55). There are hymns which show the fasting of Christ as a model to our fasting, and which praise the power of fasting and the power given to those who have fasted (Ibid. p. 124, 56.  The second hymn is full of biblical quotation such as, Ex 24, 8; 34,28; 1 King 2,11-12; Josh 10,13-14; Dan 7,17f; 1,8f; 3,19f).

 

Fasting is good both for the body and the soul.  the holy fasting in the Church is a tree of life. Its fruits are good for eating and the leaves for medicine. By fasting the mind is enriched in spiritual things and the body receives a heavenly oil. "His body and soul together becomes the house of living Holy Spirit" (Bedjan, 2,p.194).

 

Acts of repentance are plenty in the prayers of this period: O Lord, the good Physician of our souls, who called to Himself the sick and unhealthy, leaving aside the healthy ones (Mt 9,12), You know who is in need of health. Show Your mercy on the sinners and do not forsake the just. I, the greatest of sinners (1 Tim 1,15), request You: O the lover of human race, accept me as one of those who had come to work at the eleventh hour in Your vineyard and make me worthy of Your gifts (Ibid. p.91).

 

Just as prayer and sacrifices are means of approaching nearer to God, so is the love towards the poor.  "If anyone says, I love God, and hates his brother, he is a liar, for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen" (1 Jn 4,20). "Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me" (Mt 25,40). With these words of the Scriptures in mind, the Church sings in one of the hymns: 'This is the time when Christ calls all sinners to repentance through fasting. Hence let us approach Him with praises, hymns and sympathy towards the poor. For, Christ is not only the Incarnation of love and mercy, but He wills to save all men' (1 Tim 2,4). (Ibid. p. 237).

 

The last week of the Great Fast re-enacts the last step of the realization of the redemption of man. It is the salvation through blood crowned by the victory of resurrection. This is perpetuated in the sacrifice of the altar.  In the 'Anthem of the Bema' of Osana Sunday we sing: 'Receive the gifts of the Mysteries placed before us, the Body broken for our salvation, and the Blood of the covenant shed for us', and on Maundy Thursday, 'with sorrow let us take the Body and the Blood of Christ, the Son, suffered for us' (Supplementum, pp. 79;84).

 

One fact is to be specially noted here. Though the church re-enacts and realizes in itself the Passion and Death of our Lord in this week, it is always in its victorious aspect. Christ suffered and died by His own accord. It is only one phase of the Paschal Mystery. The other phase is more prominent and more emphasized 'the Resurrection of our Lord.' Rejoice and be consoled, O mortals, because the power of death is destroyed; Christ through His power has conquered death and promised life through His Resurrection (Ibid. p. 86), sing the Church on the day of Resurrection.

 

In this connection we may add a few words on the special customs of the Thomas Christians during the Great Fast, especially of the last week. Till the 17th century and in a restricted sense even to this day, they had kept the custom of fasting very scrupulously. They used to eat only once on the days of fasting and that too after sunset.  Not only they abstained from meat, but also from fish, egg and milk products. They abstained also from conjugal life. They fasted absolutely without eating anything from Thursday of Pesaha evening till Great Saturday evening. Children and old people were exempted from these fasts.

                                                      

                                                 Fr Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

 

Rememberance of All Departed Faithful

(Commemorated on last Friday of Denha)

 

The Latin Church celebrates the All Souls Day in November. Unlike the Latins, the remembrance of all Departed Faithful in the Syro-Malabar Church is on the last Friday of the Season of Denha.

 

One God - Three Persons - source of all sanctity and holiness - communication to the world only in Iso' the Messiah - everything through the work of  Ruha-da-kudisa - the believers participate in the Trinitarian holiness. And their holiness is celebrated through the Fridays of the season of Denha from Mar Yohannan Mamdana to all the departed faithful (last Friday of Denha).

 

This seems to be a magnificent arrangement that no one else can foresee. Denha signifies the manifestation of Divinity through the humanity of Iso' M'siha. Yohannan Mamdana was the first to witness to this manifestation. Mar Patros and Mar Paulose stand as the pillars of the church to whom is confided this Mystery to be manifested to generations. The Evangelists are those who recorded this revealed Mystery for the future generations. Mar Estappanos, the protomartyr, was the first to bear witness to this revelation by shedding his own blood. The Doctors of the Church are those who taught the people, interpreting this revelation authentically. The Patron Saint of each church is a constant inspiration to the local community to live and realise the Word of the Father uttered in His only begotton Son. And finally, the Departed Faithful are those who bore witness to this revelation in their daily life through the suffering and at the end by their death. Thus during the Season of Denha we remember:

 

1st Friday: Mar Yohannan Mamdana

2nd Friday: Mar Pathros and Paulose

3rd Friday: Holy Evangelists

4th Friday: Martyr Mar Estappanos

5th Friday: Fathers of the Church

6th Friday: Patron of the Church

and finally 7th Friday: All Departed Faithful.

 

In view of the period to follow i.e. the Great Fast of 50 days of the Nazranis, the remembrance of the Departed is very significant. The Church intends here, to induce us to think of the eschatological realities through the suffering and death of the departed, and thus to renew our life. The Mystery of the Holy Trinity - the Baptism of Iso' M'siha at Jordan.

 

The feast of Denha, the Epiphany

(Commemorated on 6th January)

 

This season begins on the Sunday nearest to the feast of Denha. The weeks ascribed to it are seven, but may extend even up to 10, according to the date of Easter.  Similarly, there will be only 4 or 5 or 6 weeks sometimes between the feast of Denha and the beginning of the Great Fast.

 

Denha reminds us of the Baptism of Iso' M'siha (In Kerala, this feast is also known as Rakkuli, 'the bath in the night'.  It is a reminiscence of the ancient practice of taking a ritual bath in the nearest river or pont on the eve of this feast after the Evening Liturgy in commemoration of the Baptism of our Lord Iso' M'siha in river Jordan).  The Gospel of the day contains the narration of the Baptism of Iso' M'siha (Mt 3, 1-17).  Through His baptism, Christ has purified and renewed the human nature.  He opened the gates of heaven and revealed Himself to all men, living in darkness.  What is mostly stressed in this period is the humility and humanity of Christ.  Baptism is figured as the source of all supernatural graces.  In the "Anthem of the Mysteries", the Church sings:  "The creature is renewed through its Lord; it has recognised its Saviour because He was baptised, and in Jordan, He revealed the doctrine of the Trinity" (Supplementum, p. 18).

 

The pericope, Tit 2, 11-15, is common to all Eastern Rites on the feast of Epiphany (T. Federici, Introduzione alle Liturgie Orientali, Ad instar MS in P.I.L., Roma 1971, p. 31).  The passage under consideration speaks of the manifestation of "the grace of God our Saviour".  It is striking to note that the second "Mass" of Christmas in the Latin Rite has got the same reading.  A. Baumstark, after having studied the ancient feasts of Christmas and Epiphany, says that it is a reminiscent of the ancient celebration of Christmas and epiphany as Nativity-Manifestation of our Lord.  He says:  "It must be the result of a mechanical transference to Rome of the Ritual peculiarity of a Church where the mystery proper to the feast of Christmas had not yet been separated from the ancient celebration of Epiphany" (A. Baumstark, Comparative Liturgy, London 1958, pp. 156-57)

 

The prayers of this period highly insist on the revelation of the Holy Trinity .  We may quote only a few lines from the Onitha d-Ramsa of the third Saturday to establish this fact.  It reads thus: "Those who are in the heaven and on earth grasped the Mystery of Triune Divinity, Tlithayith hada Alahutha..... in the manifesttion of Christ and they began to praise repeatedly the sanctity of Its honour" (Bedjan, 1, p. 136).

 

The central feast of this period is the Epiphany celebration on the 6th of January.  This feast appears to have had its origin in Alexandria in relation to the winter solstice, which according to the pre-Julian calendar fell on January 6th.  It was also the day on which the Alexandrians used to celebrate the virgin birth of Aeon, the god of time.  Thus it is a real case of substituting a pagan feast with a Christian feast of similar meaning.

 

In Kerala, the Thomas Christians used to call this feast as Pindipperunal or Rakkulipperunal.  In the northern parts of Kerala, where they call it Pindipperunal, they used to erect and decorate with torches the trunk of a plantain (pindi) in front of their houses on the eve of this feast, make dances and sing songs of a particular type around it in the evening in connection with the family prayer.  From the whole festivity it shows itself to be a feast of light and Denha, the epiphany, is really a feast of light.  In the southern parts of Kerala, this feast is called Rakkulipperunal.  Rakkuli in Malayalam means 'bath at night'.  In ancient days they used to have a ritual bath in the nearest river or pont on the eve of this feast after the Evening Liturgy, singing Psalms and local hymns.  It was done in remembrance of the baptism of our Lord in Jordan.  It is from this practice the name Rakkuli developed.

 

The Church celebrates the following feasts of the temporal cycle too during this period:

 

First Friday: St John the Baptist   

Second Friday: SS. Peter and Paul  

Third Friday: The Evangelists   

Fourth Friday: St. Stephen   

Fifty Friday: The Greek Doctors   

Sixth Friday: The Syrian Doctors  

Seventh Friday: The Patron Saint of each Church  

Eighth Friday: All the Departed

 

This seems to be a magnificent arrangement that no one else can foresee.  We have already noted that Epiphany signifies the manifestation of Divinity through the humanity of Iso' M'siha.  John the Baptist was the first to witness to this manifestation; SS. Peter and Paul stand as the pillars of the Church to whom is confided this Mystery to be manifested to generations.  The Evangelists are those who recorded this revealed Mystery for the future generations. St. Stephen, the protomartyr, was the first to bear witness to this revelation by shedding his own blood.  The Doctors of the Church are those who taught the people, interpreting this revelation authentically.  The Patron Saint of each church is a constant inspiration to the local community to live and realise the Word of the Father uttered in His only begotten Son.  And finally, the Departed are those who bore witness to this revelation in their daily life through suffering and at the end by their death (Abbot Odilo of Cluny (994-1048) instituted the commemoration of all Souls on the next day of all Saints day (November 2) for his monastery.  the influence of Cluny soon led to its universal extension in the Latin Church.  In Oriental church, it is always commemorated in relation with the Mystery of Christ). In view of the period to follow, the Great Fast, the remembrance of the Departed is very significant.  The Church intends here, to induce us to think of eschatological realities through the suffering and death of the departed, and thus to renew our life.

 

In addition to this, there is the Fast of the "Rogation of the Ninivites" for three days in the second week before the beginning of the Great Fast.  It is said to have been instituted by Patriarch Elias or Mar Emneh (J. Vellian, The Pre-Anaphoral of the Chaldeo-Malabar Qurbana, Doctoral Thesis, MS, Rome 1965 p. 57). Among the Thomas Christians there was the custom of an agape in the Church on all the three days after liturgical functions.  This age-old custom is still preserved in churches such as at Kaduthuruthy, Pulinkunnu, etc (J. Placid, Our Rite (Malayalam), Mannanam 1951, p. 41). The Fathers who instituted such fasts had always in mind to offer to the people an occasion to make retreats.  Thus, the period of  Epiphany, by manifesting the Divine concern for human salvation, disposes man to an intense preparation for Resurrection.

 

                                                                               Fr Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi  

 

Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias(Commemorated on 3rd January)

Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara, one of the founding fathers and the first Superior General of C.M.I. (Carmelites of Mary Immaculate) congregation of the Catholic Church, died on January 3rd, 1871 in the odor of sanctity leaving behind him the high reputation of a very holy monk. He was declared blessed on February 8, 1986 by His Holiness Pope John Paul II

 

His mortal remains, transferred from Koonammavu where he died, were piously kept in the chapel of St. Joseph's Monastery, Mannanam, Kerala, India. Because of his sanctity and his showering of blessings upon those who seek the intercession of him, Mannanam has become a pilgrim centre. Hundreds of people come to the tomb of Blessed Chavara on every Saturday. The feast of Blessed Chavara is celebrated with great devotion and solemnity every year on January 3rd.

 

Coonan Cross Oath

3rd January, 1653 

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The name 'ISO'

(Commemorated on 1st January)

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       The Nativity of our Lord, God and Saviour       Iso M'siha

(Commemorated on 25th December)

 

Our Lord Iso M'siha, the Savior of the world, was born of the Martha Mariam, the most Holy Virgin, in the city of Bethlehem during the reign of the emperor Augustus. Caesar Augustus decreed that a universal census be made throughout his Empire, which then also included Palestinian Israel. The Jews were accustomed to be counted in the city from where their family came. The Most Holy Virgin and the Righteous Joseph, since they were descended from the house and lineage of King David, had to go to Bethlehem to be counted and taxed.

 

In Bethlehem they found no room at any of the city's inns. Thus, the God-Man, the Savior of the world, was born in a cave that was used as a stable.

 

Having given birth to the divine Infant without travail, the Most Holy Virgin "wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and laid Him in a manger" (Luke 2:7). In the stillness of midnight (Wisdom of Solomon 18:14-15), the proclamation of the birth of the Savior of the world was heard by three shepherds watching their flocks by night.

 

An angel of the Lord (St Cyprian says this was Gabriel) came before them and said: "Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:10-11). The humble shepherds were the first to offer worship to Him Who condescended to assume the form of a humble servant for the salvation of mankind. Besides the glad tidings to the Bethlehem shepherds, the Nativity of Iso M'siha was revealed to the Magi by a wondrous star. St John Chrysostom, commenting on St Mathew's Gospel, says that this was no ordinary star. Rather, it was "a divine and angelic power that appeared in the form of a star. Entering the house where the Infant lay, the Magi "fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented Him gifts: gold, and frankincense, and myrrh" (Mt. 2:11).

 

The present Feast, commemorating the Nativity in the flesh of our Lord  Iso' M'siha, was established by the Church. Its origin goes back to the time of the Apostles. In the Apostolic Constitutions (Section 3, 13) it says, "Brethren, observe the feastdays; and first of all the Birth of Christ, which you are to celebrate on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month." In another place it also says, "Celebrate the day of the Nativity of Christ, on which unseen grace is given man by the birth of the Word of God from the Virgin Mary for the salvation of the world."

 

In the second century St Clement of Alexandria indicates that the day of the Nativity of Christ is December 25. The Nativity of Christ is one of the greatest, most joyful and wondrous events in the history of the world. The angel said to the shepherds, "Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Then suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly hosts, glorifying God and saying: Glory to God in the Highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men." Those who heard these things were astonished at what the shepherds told them concerning the Child. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen" (Luke 2:10-20).

 

The Nativity of Christ, a most profound and extraordinary event, was accompanied by the wondrous tidings proclaimed to the shepherds and to the Magi. This is a cause of universal rejoicing for all mankind, "for the Savior is Born!" 

 

Mar Thoma Sliba

(Commemorated on 18th December) 

 

Jesus, Protector of the devotees, be with us as we celebrate the miracle of Mar Thoma Sliba, the symbol of our living faith in You, and honour our father, Mar Thoma Sliha, Your chosen one, who proclaimed the great glory of Your Cross and Your truth to our forefathers and witnessed to Your love in this our country of India. As he witnessed to You by His death, pierced by a lance, as were You, may we also witness to You by our lives, pierced by the lance of Your love. By his prayers and by the power of the holy Cross, may we overcome our enemies and enjoy the bliss, which You have prepared for us.

  

Immaculate Conception of Martha Mariam

(Commemorated on 8th December)

 

Iso, son of the Virgin, You accept our prayers and bestow Your gifts. You heard the prayers of blessed Joachim and Anne and gave them a daughter who is blessed among all women. Hear our prayers on this day when we celebrate the immaculate conception of her whom You redeemed beforehand by Your Passion, Death and Resurrection, and through her intercession, make us and all creation share His victory over sin and death. Admit us into Your presence with purity of heart and sanctity of soul; and with her, we shall glorify and praise You now and always and forever and ever.

 

Subara, the Annunciation

 

This season begins on the Sunday that comes in between November 27 and December 3, so that there may be four Sundays before Nativity. One or two Sundays between Nativity and Epiphany are also part of this season. Thus, there can be five or six weeks in the period of Annunciation. Certain authors call this season as Annunciation-Nativity.

 

The promise of God after the sin of Adam, Messianic prophecies, the misery of the fallen man and his joy in expecting the Messiah, and the beginning of the era of salvation are recalled during this period (H.-I. Dalmais, "Le temps de la preparation a Noel dans les liturgies Syrienne et Byzantine", in LMD 59(1959)25-36). The important events narrated in the Gospels as preparation for the advent of our Lord are the pericopes selected for the four Sundays before Nativity. The Annunciation to Zacharias (Lk 1, 5-26), the Annunciation to Mary (Lk 1, 27-57), the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1, 58-80), and the vision to St. Joseph (Mt 1, 18-25). 

 

On the very first Sunday of this period the eternal generation of the Son of God is put forward to give weight to His temporal generation. Thus in the "Anthem of Bema" of the first Sunday we sing: "On the first day which is the firstborn of the days (of the liturgical year), come, let us partake of the Body and Blood of Him who is the First-Born of God (Supplementum, p.4). The "Anthem of Bema" of the third Sunday clearly shows that Jesus was the one earnestly waited for by the Prophets (Ibid. p. 7).  Similarly, the angelic salutation to Mary is frequently remembered in this period.  For example, let us quote the "Anthem of the Rails" of the fourth Sunday: "...On account of the unusual things which the angel said, Mary was perturbed; since she did not know man, she conceived by the virtue of the Spirit, who crated Adam from the dust, and formed Eve from him without seed; who gave fruit to the sterile Sarah, and after her to Rebecca.." (Ibid. P.8). The same idea of the power of the Spirit overshadowing on individual representatives is clearly described in the readings from the Law and the Prophets (Cf Gen 18, 1-19 and Judg 13, 2-24 (3rd Sunday); 1 Sam 1, 1-18 (4th Sunday), etc).

 

When we turn to the 'Divine Praises', the Sunday pericopes are not very much emphasized in it. But ample references to the Annunciation to Mary can be seen there.  In general, it is filled with aspirations of love and gratitude to God for having shown His infinite mercy towards human race. In the Onitha d-Ramsa of the second Sunday we read thus: "The great Mystery that was hidden to generations is revealed to us in the fullness of time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of His Father emptied himself to receive the form of a servant. He revealed and explained to us the Mystery of the Holy Trinity" (Breviarium juxta Ritum Syrorum Orientalium id est Chaldaeorum, 1, Romae 1938, pp. 65-66. Hereafter we quote this source book in three volumes by the name of its compiler, Bedjan).

 

God's love for man exhibited in Incarnation is strongly emphasized in this season. "God so loved the world that He gave His only Son" (Jn 3, 16). Onitha d-Ramsa of the first Sunday itself gives accent to this idea. It begins by quoting the Epistle to the Hebrews (2, 16). "The Word that proceeds from the Father, and in Himself is God, received the servant's form not from the angels but from the race of Abraham. He received our nature in order to redeem our race from sin (Bedjan, 1, p.54). Thus the Church introduces us to the period of Annunciation, convincing us of the true Divinity and of the true humanity of Jesus. This is the turning point of history. Here, God enters the human history and makes it His own. Highly theological ideas can be seen all through the prayers. At present we do not enter into the details.

 

A speciality of this season is to remember the Mother of Christ very often. Her virginity is highly extolled in the Mawtba d-Lelya, the Night Anthem, of the third Sunday (Bedjan, 1, p.76). The same we notice in the propria of the Qurbana as well (Supplementum, p.8).

 

This does not seem to be a season of penance from the spirit of the prayers. But actually this season is well known among the Thomas Christians of India as Irupathanchu Nombu (25 days Fast). This fasting was an established custom even before the Synod of Diamper (Diamperitana Synodus, Actio 8, decree 10). It must have been a practice among the monks, and gradually spread to the whole Church.  According to Gabriel of Basra (9th cent.), the monks were bound to keep fast during the period of Annunciation instead of the period of Moses (A. Mai, Scriptorum Veterum Nova Collectio, Roma 1938, X, 89, quoted in C. Payngot, "Liturgical Year"... Kathiroli 12/2 (1973)14. It can also be an imitation of the Great Fast before Resurrection. Moreover, fasting and renunciation is not a novelty to the Thomas Christians. Even today it is part and parcel of the religious life of their Hindu brethren.  That is why Fr Dionysio called them "friends of fasting" in the 16th century (A.M. Mundadan, The St. Thomas Christians of Malabar under Mar Jacob (1498-1552), Doctoral Thesis, MS, Roma 1960, pp. 356-357).

 

The central feast of this season is the Nativity of our Lord on December 25th. It is a feast taken from the Roman tradition, but beautifully assimilated to the East Syriac tradition. The whole season in this tradition appears to be a Nativity celebration or extended Christmas. The biblical readings of the Sundays in this season are so arranged.

 

The period between Nativity and Epiphany is dedicated for the expression of joy at the birth of Messiah. Three important  commemorations occur during this period. On the first Sunday after Nativity the Innocent Infants are called and on the second Sunday the Presentation in the Temple (Supplementum. pp 13-17. But today the innocent Infants are remembered on December 28th as Children's day and the Presentation in the Temple is celebrated on February 2nd as the Entrance of our Lord Jesus Christ into the Temple. Cf Ordo Celebrationis "Quddasa", pp. 63-64). The second Friday is set apart to congratulate the Blessed Virgin Mary on account of the birth of Christ. "Blessed are you, O Mary, because your name is exalted and elevated on account of your Son", sings the Church in the Anthem of Bema, the Communion Hymn, of the day (Ibid.p.15). This congratulation is very significant when we consider the fact of incarnation. It is only because of the Nehwe-Li ak Melthak, 'let it be to me according to your word' (Lk 1,38) of Mary that the initial act of salvation became a reality. Mary believed the words of the angel and her faith became fruitful in Incarnation. Incarnation, therefore, is a salvific call to the human race in the person of Mary, and Mary's response to the call of God, in her consent to the design of God, and its fruitful realization in the fact of Nativity. God's salvific calls at various levels are recalled in the liturgy from the very beginning of this period (Cf Gen 17, 1-27, the first reading for the first Sunday of annunciation). Hence it is fitting that it be concluded by congratulating Mary for her decisive act of consent.

 

Several celebrations of the Sanctoral cycle also appear in this season. On Decemebr 3, they commemorate St Francis Xavier and on the 7th of December St Ambrose, one of the Fathers of the Church. On December 8th there appears the feast of Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception. There is a particular celebration on December 18th to commemorate the miraculous rock on which the St Thomas Cross is engraved. As it is the unique symbol of the St Thomas Christians of India, it is very solemnly celebrated in their Churches. The remembrance of the Innocent Infants falls on 28th of December. January first is set apart to celebrate the Holy Name of Jesus. The newly instituted commemoration of Blessed Chavara Kuriakose Elias falls on the 3rd of January. January 3rd is also otherwise memorable with the Coonan Cross Oath in 1653, with which the age old Thomas Christian community of India was divided into two. Some of these commemorations are borrowed from the Latin tradition, while the others developed properly in the East Syriac tradition.

 

 

                                                                                Fr Varghese Pathikulangara, cmi

 

Quddas-Edta (Dedication of the Church)

 

This period consists of the last 4 weeks of the Liturgical Year. Scholars are divided in opinion as to the origin of the Feast of Dedication and the period thereof. A. Baumstark attributes it to the dedication of the church of Edessa, while Maclean to that of Seleucia-Ctesiphon. According to B Botte, it is not dependent on the dedication of a particular church; but is the christianised version of the Jewish feast of Hanukkah (Cf. 1 Mac 1, 36-59). The Christian community from the early centuries might have celebrated the feast; but the period seems to have been formed only later.                      

In order to understand the spirit of this season, the commentary of Brik-Isho may be very helpful. He writes. "Isho-Yahb codified the weeks of the Dedication of the Church at the end of the Liturgical Year, after the advent of Elias (and Moses) and the defeat of the son of perdition. Then the heavenly Bridegroom will appear from the holy and glorious heavens, will resurrect all from the dust, will take the good into heaven, and will cast the evil ones out to the hell; Christ's bride, the Holy Church, saints and believers, will start to receive Him with joy, praising and glorifying Him with all honour. The real Bridegroom and our Saviour Jesus will accept His bride, the Church, and will take her up with Him to heaven. He will lead her into the eternal bride-chamber and will make her sit at His right hand. He will make her happy with His vision and will make her enjoy eternal and everlasting bliss. She will be pleased in Him and together with the heavenly hosts will sing to Him sweet songs"

 

In general this period deals with the Church. The readings of the Sundays strongly emphasize God's real presence in His house, and His great concern for it (Cf. Ex 40, 17-36; Jn 2, 12-22). The commentary of Brik-Isho clearly shows that this period celebrates the final glorification of the Church. It is a reality, yet to be fulfilled and is the ultimate goal of redemption. It is the union of each and every soul with the heavenly Bridgeroom.

 

The prayers of this period often speak of Christ, meeting His spouse, the Church, redeemed by His precious Blood. In many of them, the Church is highly praised as a heavenly peace on earth. The Church is considered also as God's tent of the New Covenant, in the place of the tent of Moses in the Old Covenant. There are also clear statements of her foundation on St Peter.

 

About the social and practical aspect of the feast of the Dedication of the Church, the non catholic East Syrian Archbishop Mar Thoma Darmo of Trichur says: "In the Middle East this feast marks the beginning of winter. From that day the prayers and other services are held inside the church. Upto this time, on account of heat, the services were held outside the churches... It is also the custom to whitewash the walls and clean the inside of the churches... In India, we celebrate this feast ina very important manner. We whitewash not only the churches, but also our homes". In this connection it will be interesting to recall the other names by which this period is known.. Huddat-Edta = renovation of the church, and Ma-alta = entrance into the church.

 

We conclude this period by quoting a hymn from the 'Divine Praises': "The Church in this world is just like a ship in the sea. Her voyage to the eternal life is straight. Those who like to turn away from evil must receive baptism in the Church with faith, purity of heart and hope in the resurrection; and by doing so, he must confess the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit".

 

                                                                                Dr Varghese Pathikulangara cmi

 

Blessed Kunjachan

(Commemorated on 16th October)

 

Kunchachan was born on 1st April 1891 as the fifth child of Thevarparampil Itti Iype Mani and Eliswa at Ramapuram. He was given the name Augustine in baptism. After completing the primary classes at Ramapuram, Augustine joined St. Ephrem's High School at Mannanam and resided in the St. Alosyius Boarding attached to the school. He started his seminary formation at the Minor Seminary in Changanacherry and completed it at Puthenpally Seminary, Varapuzha where he was ordained priest on 17 December 1921. As he was very small of stature, he came to be called 'Kunjachan' (Little priest). After ordination, he spent more than a year in Ramapuram itself. In 1923 he was appointed Assistant parish priest in Kadanad Church where he served for three years. Persistent fever forced him to retire to Ramapuram for better treatment and rest. This was the great opportunity prepared by Providence for a great turning point in his life. There were many Dalit families in and around Ramapuram. Their conditions in those days were very pathetic. Kunjachan spent the rest of his life for the uplift of these people, intellectually, economically and spiritually. He believed that the Dalits too were children of God and their uplift was his great responsibility. After tireless service to the Dalits for more than half a century, Kunjachan became very ill for a long time. He was called to his eternal reward on 16 October 1973. Kunjachan was beatified by His Beatitude Mar Varkey Vithayathil, Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church on 30 April 2006 in the very same village Ramapuram, where he was born, worked, died and buried. The feast of Blessed  Kunjachan is celebrated on 16th October every year.

 

Feast of the Elevation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Sliba of our Lord, Iso Msiha (Commemorated on 14th September)

 

The pagan Roman emperors tried  to eradicate from human memory the holy places where our Lord Iso' Msiha suffered and was resurrected for mankind. The Emperor Hadrian (117-138) gave orders to cover over the ground of Gagultha and the Sepulchre of the Lord, and to build a temple of the pagan goddess Venus and a statue of Jupiter. Pagans gathered at this place and offered sacrifice to idols. Eventually after 300 years, by Divine Providence, the great Christian sacred remains, the Sepulchre of our Lord and the Life-Creating Sliba were again discovered and opened for veneration. This took place under the Emperor Constantine, the Great (306-337) after his victory in the year 312 over Maxentius, ruler of the Western part of the Roman empire, and over Licinius, ruler of its Eastern part. In the year 323 Constantine became the sole ruler of the vast Roman Empire. In 313 he had issued the Edict of Milan, by which the Christian religion was legalized and the persecutions against Christians in the Western half of the empire were stopped. The ruler Licinius, although he had signed the Edict of Milan to oblige Constantine, still fanatically continued the persecutions against Christians. Only after his conclusive defeat did the 313 Edict of toleration extend also to the Eastern part of the empire. The Holy Equal of the Apostles Emperor Constantine, having gained victory over his enemies in three wars with God's providence, had seen in the heavens the Sign of the Sliba, and written beneath: "By this you shall conquer." Ardently desiring to find the Sliba on which our Lord Iso' Msiha was crucified, St Constantine sent his mother, the pious Empress Helen to Jerusalem, providing her with a letter to St Macarius, Patriarch of Jerusalem. Although the holy empress Helen was already in her declining years, she set about completing the task with enthusiasm. The empress gave orders to destroy the pagan temple and the statues in Jerusalem. Searching for the Life-Creating Sliba, she made enquiry of Christians and Jews, but for a long time her search remained unsuccessful.

Finally, they directed her to a certain elderly Hebrew by the name of Jude who stated that the Sliba was buried where the temple of Venus stood. They demolished the pagan temple and, after praying, they began to excavate the ground. Soon the Tomb of our Lord was uncovered. Not far from it were three Sliba, a board with the inscription ordered by Pilate, and four nails which had pierced the Lord's Body.
In order to discern on which of the three Sliba the Savior was crucified, Patriarch Macarius alternately touched the Sliba to a corpse. When the Sliba of the Lord touched the dead one, he came to life. Having beheld the raising of the dead man, everyone was convinced that the Life-Creating Sliba was found. Christians came in a huge throng to venerate Mar Sliba, beseeching St Macarius to elevate the Sliba, so that even those far off might reverently contemplate it. Then the Patriarch and other spiritual leaders raised up Mar Sliba, and the people, saying "Lord have mercy," reverently prostrated before the Venerable Wood. This solemn event occurred in the year 326.

During the discovery of the Life-Creating Sliba another miracle took place: a grievously sick woman, beneath the shadow of Mar Sliba, was healed instantly. The elder Jude and other Jews there believed in Iso' Msiha and accepted Holy Baptism. Jude received the name Cyriacus and afterwards was consecrated Bishop of Jerusalem. The holy empress Helen journeyed to the holy places connected with the earthly life of our Lord, building more than 80 churches, at Bethlehem the birthplace of Iso' Msiha, and on the Mount of Olives where the Lord ascended to Heaven, and at Gethsemane where our Lord prayed before His sufferings and where our Holy Mother was buried after her death.

St Helen took part of the Life-Creating Wood and nails with her to Constantinople. The holy emperor Constantine gave orders to build at Jerusalem a majestic and spacious Church in honor of the Resurrection of Iso' Msiha, also including under its roof the Life-Giving Tomb of the Lord and Gagultha. The temple was constructed in about ten years. St Helen did not survive until the dedication of the temple, she died in the year 327. The Church was consecrated on September 13, 335. On the following day, September 14, the festal celebration of the Exaltation of the Venerable and Life-Creating Sliba was established.

Another event connected to the Sliba of the Lord is remembered also on this day: its return to Jerusalem from Persia after a fourteen year captivity. During the reign of the Byzantine emperor Phocas (602-610) the Persian emperor Khozroes II in a war against the Greeks defeated the Greek army, plundered Jerusalem and captured both the Life-Creating Sliba of the Lord and the Holy Patriarch Zachariah (609-633). Mar Sliba  remained in Persia for fourteen years and only under the emperor Heraclius (610-641), who with the help of God defeated Khozroes and concluded peace with his successor and son Syroes, was the Cross of the Lord returned to the Christians.

 

With great solemnity the Life-creating Sliba was transferred to Jerusalem. Emperor Heraclius in imperial crown and royal purple carried the Sliba of Christ into the temple of the Resurrection. At the gates by which they ascended Gagultha, the emperor suddenly stopped and was not able to proceed further. The holy Patriarch explained to the emperor that an angel of the Lord was blocking his way. The emperor was told to remove his royal trappings and to walk barefoot, since He Who bore the Sliba for the salvation of the world from sin had made His way to Gagultha in all humility. Then Heraclius donned plain garb, and without further hindrance, carried the Sliba of Christ into the Church.

 

Feast of the Nativity of Marth Mariam

(Commemorated on 8th September) 

The Feast of the Nativity of Martha Mariam on 8th Septembr is an important Feast for Marthoma Nazranis.  Marthoma Margam prescribes an Eight-Day Fast in preparation to this feast.  This appears to be a practice that originated in Kerala itself.  It is an observance started in connection with the Moslem invasion of Crangannore in the 9th century, in order to safeguard the chastity of Nazrani Virgins.  During that invasion, they took refuge in the churches where they spent their time in prayer and penence.  Mostly the women keep this observance.  After the Holy Qurbana in the morning, they remain in the church in prayer and meditation until the Ramsa (the Evening Liturgy of the Hours) is absolved.

We hear of an observance for three days in persia, known as "Virgins' Fast".  It is true that the Eight - Day Fast has some similarity to that. But historians affirm that the eight - Day Fast is an independent observance developed among the Marthoma Nazranis in connection with an historical event.

                                                                                 Fr Varghese Pathikulangara cmi

 

Eliya wa-Sliba (Elias and Cross)

 

According to the directions given in the Hudra, this period must begin at least on the Sunday before the Feast of the Cross (Bedjan, 3, p. 256/ Although we celebrate the feast of the Cross on the 14th of September, according to the directions given here, the feast must fall on the 13th of September. And for the non-Catholic East Syrians of Trissur it falls on the 13th), and the 4th Sunday has to follow the Feast immediately. Sometimes, the Feast of the Cross comes before the end of the Summer. Then the 6th and 7th Sundays of Summer are celebrated together and the First Sunday of Elias is celebrated before the Feast of the Cross. On some other ocassions, there can be even upto 4 Sundays before the Feast of the Cross. Whatever be the case, the 4th Sunday of Elias must immediately follow the Feast of the Cross. Hence, when there are 4 Sundays before the Feast of the Cross, the 6th Sunday of Elias is anticipated to the 4th. Prayers with the spirit of Elias and which could very well be used as a preparation to the Feast of the Cross are given as appendix to the prayers of the 6th Sunday(Bedjan 3, pp.292f). When there is only one Sunday before the Feast, the second and third are dropped. According to this arrangement, though the ideal is 7 Sundays, sometimes there may only be 5 Sundays for the period of Elias and Cross. The last 4 Sundays are known either by the name of Elias or by that of the Cross. 

 

The period of Elias symbolizes the end of time and the last judgement.  Hudra speaks of it thus; "Before the revelation of Christ, Elias will come to argue with the son of perdition and to reveal his sin.  Then there will appear the Holy Cross" (Ibid. pp. 256-57). The anonymous author of the Expositio Officiorum, also gives it the same interpretation.

 

The prayers of this period induce man to do penance in preparation to the end of time and last judgement.  The Satan is always at work in each and everyone, to lead them away from God.  So we must be vigilant to escape his ambushes. Before the tribunal of God, we will be alone. Nobody can help us then. So this is the time to think of eternal realities and renew our life (Ibid. pp. 257; 258; 285; 289).

 

The Feast of the Cross is the centre of this period.  It is the feast of the finding of the Cross. Leaving aside the history and the origin of this feast, we consider here only the spirit of it.  In the primitive Church, the faithful had expected the Second Coming of our Lord.  The Cross symbolizes the resurrection and victory of Christ, rather than His suffering.  Hence, after having recalled the spread and flourishing of the Church, it is meet and right to recall the victorious Second Coming of our Lord.  The historical events of the 4th century in relation to the Cross, must have influenced the Church to venerate it all the more.

 

The period of the Cross is the second half of Elias.  The prayers, except those of Sundays, express the spirit of repentance as they are in Elias. The glorious victory and power of the Cross are frequently recalled in this period.  It is always seen in relation to the Second Coming of Christ (Mt 24, 30).  The Church celebrates it always as a future reality, to be accomplished.