Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Heroic Virtues and Vattasseril Thirumeni

Article on Vattasseril Thirumeni by C.K. Kochukoshy I.A.S 

 Note: The article appeared in the magazine The Star of the East in 1984. Vattasseril Thirumeni was declared a Saint by the Holy Church in 2003, 19 years after this article was published. The Star of the East was an ecumenical journal dealing specially with the oriental and eastern orthodox churches.

Heroic Virtues and Vattasseril Thirumeni

Whenever the memory of the late Mar Dionysius flashes through my mind, the first idea that strikes me is the concept of heroic virtues associated with some of the Christian saints of the hoary past. We normally imagine that a saint of any religion is one secluded from the hurry-skurry of mundane life, sequestered in a hermitage, praying and meditating and blessing people who flock to get his darshan. A different type of a saint may be a theological Pundit with knowledge as his forte, all the time studying and interpreting the scriptures, making profound statement on the faith, morals and discipline of his religion and consciously leading a puritanical life. We may also visualize a still different holy man, a live-wire organizer who always runs to the succor of the oppressed, who extends a helping hand to all those who need it. He exudes the image of a good Samaritan doing some social good every day as a philosophy of his life. Holy in their own way, what distinguished some of them from the early saints of Christendom however, was the predominance of heroism in the virtues the latter which gave a new glittering dimension to their sacrifices, personality and image. These heroic virtues arise from an extraordinarily deep commitment to the causes they espouse and an unflinching faith in God which make them bold to suffer any privation for His sake. To present day tacticians, it might appear that such heroism had not been quite warranted and their causes could have been served more economically with much less sacrifice. Take for example the case of St. Peter. He told his captors to crucify him with his head down, a much less convenient posture for execution than the normal one if only he had just kept quiet, he would have been crucified in the normal way as his Lord. But Peter heroically asked for a more cruel form of death inviting more trouble for himself. Heroic virtue therefore, is not merely facing challenges with courage and conviction, but doing so with a bang and without any regard for consequences. There is no scope for any doubt about the depth of commitment involved. The ideas of maximum returns with minimum necessary expenses which guide modern business administration do not exist in the realm of heroic virtues.

Perhaps with a tinge of filial affection, I believe that if Mar Dionysius had been born in some earlier centuries in a different geographical context, his name would have already adorned the list of saints who are believed to be constantly interceding before God on behalf of sinful mortals like us. Even so, the really great souls of the past have left behind them vivid shadows of their lives which have an invincible tendency to appear longer and longer as decades and centuries pass by, very much like the steadily elongating shadows created by the afternoon sun. It is under the influence of this elongating shadow that we are forced to think of Mar Dionysius every year and to assign to him the sobriquet “SUN OF THE MALANKARA CHURCH”. It is he who persuaded the Patriarch of Antioch to transplant the old Catholicate from Tigris to Kerala. This was no doubt an overdue recognition of the autocephaly of the Indian Church as in the case of any other Orthodox Church. All these churches have national bases and are autocephalous. In any case, this would have been inevitable when India became free in 1947, despite the desire of a small section of our brethren to preserve the anachronistic umbilical cord with Antioch.

One of the most distinguished historians of the current century, Z. M. Paret, has graphically describe the trials and tribulations of Mar Dionysius, in his efforts to uphold the dignity of the Malankara Church. The image of Mar Dionysius  which emerges from the pages of Paret’s history is that of an extraordinary Knight of the Garter in the realm of church and endowed with an intellect far superior to any of the Knights: A native Bishop, resisting all pressures to wrest agreements surrendering their temporal rights to foreign authority, naturally exasperated the Patriarch who had believed that such agreements were necessary after the Royal Court decision ruling out any such powers for him in Malankara. The intense desire of the Patriarch to secure temporal powers and the equally intense opposition to it spearheaded by Mar Dionysius collided, resulting in the excommunication of the latter. For half a century, the atmosphere in Malankara was surcharged with emotion. All patriotic elements lined up behind Mar Dionysius giving him solid support. The late O.M. Cheriyan offered the first prototype of present day gherao against the Patriarch and thwarted for the time being, all designs against the Malankara Metropolitan. But events were moving fast and Mar Dionysius was finally excommunicated, alienating from Antioch, the sympathies of a large section of the church. This eventually led to the traumatic split in the church.

A permanent solution to the problem of foreign domination was to obviate the very necessity of depending upon Antioch for all ecclesiastical purposes, once and for all. It may be recalled that this dependence had started only in the seventeenth century for the consecration of our bishops fully in conformity with canonical law for which benediction of an episcopal authority was deemed essential. H.H. Abdul Messiah the senior Patriarch of Antioch was kind enough to acceded to the request of Mar Dionysius and bestowed on us the heritage of the old Catholicate of the East at Tigris which had become defunct a few decades ago. This background will help us in understanding the intensity of the agony suffered by Mar Dionysius before and after his excommunication. When he was told that his excommunication was in the offing, he is reported to have quipped that he would as it were a gold necklace. He was right in this metaphor because the subsequent invalidation of the excommunication by the judiciary and also by the establishment of the Catholicate in Malankara shows that it was nothing but a blessing in disguise. Even some of our own people who had reservation about the Catholicate at the time are today rallying round the very same institution with a reduced weight and luster compromising with canonical law. It was the sheer boldness intellectual honesty and other heroic virtues of Mar Dionysius which have secured for our Church the stature of an independent entity and ensured its phenomenal growth in the twentieth century. If Mar Dionysius had succumbed to the temptations and signed the agreement aforesaid, even today we would have been under the tutelage of a foreign hierarchy, creating more problems and suffocating our initiative and self-respect.

Mar Dionysius was an intellectual giant with a penetrating theological mind. He was a Jnana Yogi. His brief and juicy dissertations on the fundamentals of Orthodox faith are very famous. He challenged the validity of his excommunication on grounds of natural justice and canonical law. His detractors grilled him in court, trotting out uncanny aspects of biblical legends to confound him. As a Bishop he could not afford to question the sanctity of any of the allusions nor their relevance. On the question of natural justice, they asked him whether God Almighty had obtained the explanation of Adam and Eve before they were expelled from the Garden of Eden. A lesser genius would have floundered miserably. His opponents were trying to prove that the Patriarch was right in excommunicating him arbitrarily. When many eyes and ears were glued on to him inquisitively, he astonished the Court and the advocates by saying that while Adam had confessed his guilt, he was totally denying it. He also added that according to canon law, only the Holy Synod had the right to punish him and not the Patriarch all by himself. They asked him whether there was any session of a Synod before expelling Adam from Eden. He cut short the glee of the questioner by pointing out that the authority involved in the case of Adam was God Himself  and in any case the decision to expel Adam was taken by God in His Trinity consisting of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, a virtual synod of the three members in unanimity. Those who questioned him must have given him up unable to get anything out of him. His examination, cross examination, etc. took a very long time, running two weeks. But Mar Dionysius was never rattled. If any question was repeated to him, he reminded the advocate the exact earlier date on which he had answered the same and the accuracy of his memory was always found to be phenomenal.

The spiritual and saintly aspect of his personality has been almost entirely obscured by his heroic and intellectual image. The superhuman halo of his Karma Yoga is noted by all his admirers though a few of them also know the strength of his Bhakti Yoga. He had an unflinching faith in God which he did not like to exhibit. But he was a saint par excellence. The Malankara Church has yet to consider more seriously the question of his canonization. I have experienced his blessings on a few occasions which were definitely miraculous by any standards. My recently published book INTO AN HOUR GLASS contains references to these mystic experiences. The book itself is dedicated to his sanctified memory. During the tumultuous days of the summary case regarding the possession of the Old Seminary in 1911, an enemy agent set upon to do away with his life, one night climbed up a ladder stealthily placed behind his room in the upper story of the Seminary building. The mercenary fell down twice from the ladder on seeing the Metropolitan deeply engrossed in his midnight prayers and kneeling before God, unaware of the diabolic designs against him in operation. The murder mission having thus failed, Mar Dionysius continued to be in possession of the Old Seminary. Fear was not his weakness. Once, when he saw one of his priests being rough-handled by a muscle man trespassing into the seminary compound, he was so annoyed that he reacted like Christ in the temple of Jerusalem. He promptly administered, with the help of his walking stick, an argumentum ad baculum, to one of the priests of the opposite party who was stage managing the whole ugly operation. Attention of everybody was distracted from the business of trespass and the situation was saved for him. The coldblooded murder of one of his body guards in the very vicinity of the Old Seminary could not unnerve him, neither could a loaded pistol help point blank to his chest. He was made of sterner stuff. The question naturally arises as to what was the motivation that sustained him from succumbing to such severe onslaughts. On the spiritual side he was excommunicated, on the physical side he was under constant threat of liquidation and on the social side at least a section of his own church was ranged against him. Why did he brave all this and fight to the bitter end? No personal gain could have compensated an ascetic like him. These were his infinite faith in the destiny of his Church, in divine justice and the convictions imbibed from his predecessors like the Saint of Parumala and Mar Joseph Dionysius of Pulikkotil. He was determined to see that the poor, simple and ancient church established by St. Thomas was not allowed to wither away. He was inspired by the purity and righteousness of his faith and believed that it ought to be nurtured and allowed to flower in its own oriental environment in this country itself. He believed that this was his mission and he should protect his Church both from its internal and external detractors alike. Once convinced of this mission, he was willing to pay any price for its consummation and undergo any suffering for its sake. His heroic virtues arise from this situation. He suffered for this Church and the poignancy of his suffering, like that of Christ was that at least some people for whom he borne the cross not only disowned him but even belighted (sp?) in mortifying him.

His scholarship of the Syriac language and theology, his ability to understand and interpret the law of the land, his impregnable logic and incisive intellect and above all his devotion to God and his saintly life have made him a unique soul, still hovering over Malankara and his people, always ready to help them. More and more people are seeking his intercession and witnessing to its efficacy. I have experienced that often his intercessions are decisive and immediate and hence highly dependable, provided it is invoked with faith. He is already a saint for a large number of people like me and our number is bound to swell as time lengthens the shadow of his memory. If and when he is declared as a Saint, the like of him even in the saintly fraternity will be rare. The Hindu Scripture Bhagavad Gita, mentions three Yogas for self-perfection which is the goal of life according to its philosophy. These are Karma, Bhakti and Jnana i.e., action, devotion and cognition. Realization of God, they say is possible through any of the three paths indicated by these yogas. The soul is endowed with two wings, viz, Bhakti and Jnana with Karma Yoga to serve as the tail to maintain balance. This analogy of a bird projects the relationship between the three Yogas and the Soul. Despite his great devotion to God, it would not be proper to describe Mar Dionysius exclusively Bhakti Yogi. He himself had taken care not to exhibit his devotion to God, in any conspicuous way. Though a great scholar in Theology, he did not claim superiority over other on the basis of his erudition. Though a man of action willing to strike or help people as the occasion demanded it, he never pretended to be a Karma Yogi. But if we study the annals of religious history, there will be few men who have combined themselves so admirably the virtues of devotion, cognition and action as the late Mar Dionysius. Such a combination of heroic virtues is symbolized by the lofty bird to which the Bhagavad Gita commentators have alluded. Malankara Church should move now to honor the soul that had made the church what it is today.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos (Puthencavil Kochu Thirumeni)

Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos (Puthencavil Kochu Thirumeni)

April 17 – 65th Dukrono of Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos (Puthencavil Kochu Thirumeni)
Just as Parumala Thirumeni, Puthencavil Kochu Thirumeni was called to his heavenly abode at a young age, Thirumeni passed away at age 54 and is entombed at St. Mary’s Orthodox Cathedral, Puthencavu, Chengannoor, Kerala.  

Holy Church honored Thirumeni by conferring the title Catholicatinte Rathna Deepam (Rathnam = Jewel; Deepam = Lamp). He is known as the Gaanakokilam (gaanam=song; kokilam=cuckoo bird) of the Church. The description by Vattakkunel Mathews Achen (later Catholicos Mathews I) of Kochu Thirumeni are inscribed on his tomb:

“His presence was joyful
His voice sweet
His words inspiring
His manners endearing
His smile unforgettable”

He was chosen by God from his mother’s womb just as stated in Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” [Jeremiah 1:5]. Thirumeni was born prematurely and for the first two days of his life, he did not move, nor produced any sound. But God had great plans for him; saving from the brink of death.
In the early 20th century when Mar Ivanios deceived holy fathers, abandoned his vows and left the Orthodox Church for greener pastures (and formed today’s Malankara Catholic church), Vattaseril Thirumeni handpicked Dn. K.T. Geevarghese (later Mar Philoexnos) to guard the Catholicate. Dn. K.T. Geevarghese earned his MA and B.Ed from Serampore University, Calcutta. Dn. K.T. Geevarghese was ordained a priest by Vattasseril Thirumeni and consecrated as a bishop in 1930 by Catholicos Baselios Geevarghese II. As he was the youngest of the living Metropolitans in those days (33 years old), he was affectionately called "Kochu Thirumeni".

Thirumeni’s gifts were many.  His command over English, Malayalam and Syriac, was unparalleled; his voice mesmerizing. He was not only a spiritual giant, but an able administrator, great orator, and erudite in versatile topics. Thirumeni traveled all over Kerala and through his sermons and speeches made the faithful unite under the Catholicate flag. When Mar Ivanios, who defected to the Catholic Church, started sheep stealing from the Orthodox Church, Thirumeni worked hard, with no rest to exhort the faithful to be steadfast in Orthodoxy. Church entrusted Thirumeni with the task of reclaiming the church schools and properties that were under the illegal possession of Mar Ivanios. Thirumeni used to continuously say “My God, My Church” (Ente daivam, ente sabha) with his hands on his chest.

Though he was highly educated for the time, he did not leave his people for a lucrative assignment elsewhere. He was passionate about playing soccer (a bishop playing soccer, quite unthinkable!). He would labor along with the day laborers. He would carry bricks when he was at a construction site. At night, he would lie on the ground gazing at the skies admiring the Creator’s handiwork. He would walk miles and miles, or travel in buses to reach his people, no matter how far they were. Thirumeni maintained cordial relations with leaders of the other faction in the Church, and debated them in the hope they would realize the truth and end the feud. Thirumeni banned fireworks during the Church feast at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church, Puthencavu, and the money was redirected for organizing spiritual conventions. Thirumeni started St. Basil Monastery, and attracted many learned young men of those days to monastic life.

Fr. P. S. Samuel Cor Episcopa, vicar of St. Gregorios Cherry Lane Church, a deacon during Thirumeni’s last days, was with Thirumeni when he drew his last breath. During Thirumeni’s final moments, Dn. P.S Samuel sang Thirumeni’s favorite spiritual hymn “Karunakkadale njan nokkum” three times (access the lyrics and the song in English at Thirumeni called out “My God, My God” many times. As the priests finished reciting the Nicene Creed, Thirumeni’s soul departed to the heavenly abode.

A quote from the great Dr. K.M. Tharakan summarizes Thirumeni’s influence on the youth including himself:
“The light he kindled in my young heart
Was the Light of Heavenly Love;
The song he sang to my blithe childhood
Was a song of divine faith;
The path he showed my wavering feet
Was a path of supreme truth.”

Monday, April 11, 2016

HG Geevarghese Mar Ivanios - Former Metropolitan of Kottayam Diocese

HG Geevarghese Mar Ivanios

April 12 - Dukrono of HG Geevarghese Mar Ivanios. Thirumeni is entombed at Mar Baselios Dayara (monastery) near Kottayam, Kerala.

Thirumeni established Mar Baselios Dayara at a time when monastic tradition was becoming a relic of the past. A very unique aspect of this monastery is that after the prayers during canonical hours, the residents of the monastery spend time in #Jesus_Prayer.

God chose Thirumeni to lead Kottayam diocese of the Malankara Orthodox Church, which was previously led by holy fathers Pampady Thirumeni and Paret Mathews Mar Ivanios. Just as his saintly predecessors, Thirumeni had great compassion for anyone who approached him.

Thirumeni was a man of unceasing prayer and believed in the power of mediatory prayers. He had personal encounter with the saints of the Church including Parumala St. Gregorios and Pampady Kuriakose Mar Gregorios. Below is the story of that encounter and how Thirumeni was miraculously brought back from the brink of death, in Thirumeni’s own words:

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Significance of Mid Lent and Golgotha


We are half way through the holy lent. The Church has instituted a service for mid lent, when Golgotha (cross placed on a big decorated cross like stand covered with a red cloth) is set up in the middle of the Church during Holy Qurbana. This service – the order of adoration and exaltation of the holy cross – is rooted in the scripture where Jesus tells Nicodemus “And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life [John 3:14-15].

If anyone has been lax in their observance of the holy lent (fasting, prayers, almsgiving, etc.), then this is the time to begin. Everyone who enters the Church sees the cross erected in the middle of the Church, and is reminded of the importance of the holy lent. It is also a warning to depart from the old ways and adorn a life of repentance.

We kiss the Golgotha when we enter and leave the Church. Candles on the Golgotha are lit in the same order as the candles on the altar. The same cross on the Golgotha is used on Good Friday and Easter services also.

The Brazen Serpent, as in Numbers 21:1-9, illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company
The Bronze Serpent [Numbers 21:4-9]
We often wonder if the Old Testament is relevant anymore, yet we see Jesus and the apostles referring to the Old Testament time and time again. We read in Numbers 21: 8-9 “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.’ So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.’ The cross on Golgotha signifies the serpent of brass which Moses placed on the pole for the healing of the people. That specific incident pre-figured Jesus’ crucifixion, but it was hidden from the eyes of the Israelites.

The concluding hymn in the Holy Qurbana for mid lent sums up the importance of mid lent and Golgotha:

Moses raised the serpent in the tent and gave comfort to the people who sinned.
When the faithful see the cross, the sign of victory, inside the Church, it gives life to them.
We shall confess and bow down before the cross which is the sign of life and salvation.”

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Speech by St. Dionysius Vattasseril - Conscience and Peace

Conscience and Peace

Vattasseril Thirumeni with Puthencavil Kochu Thirumeni (Geevarghese Mar Philoxenos)

Below is an excerpt from Vattasseril Thirumeni's speech when the Church was in the midst of trials and tribulations and its autocephaly was in danger. Here Thirumeni is admonishing the faithful that one should not act against his conscience and faith to attain peace, as that will only be short lived.  
Source of the speech: "Malankara Sabha Pithakkanmar" by Dr. Samuel Chandanappally.

O Blessed in the Lord,

The children of our Church are tearfully praying to God for peace in the Church due to the troubles that have happened in the Church during the past 14 years. However, if anyone thinks, ‘let peace be attained in whatever manner,’ then that is not the path for ‘true peace’. Peace should be based on truth and justice. Nobody should think that peace should be attained by compromising one’s beliefs.

You know our Alvares Methrachen (Metropolitan). It is only a few months since he passed away. He died when he was very old, 90 years or so. He was steadfast in his faith. Towards the end of his life, he lived in the city of Goa. There was no one from the Orthodox faith in that town. Most of the people who lived near him were Roman Catholics, but he did have some Hindus and high ranking officers as his friends. He told these friends before his death, “When I am on my deathbed, some Roman Catholic priests may come and advise me to renounce my faith. Due to fatigue or so I may move or veer my head. Having seen that, they will proclaim that I have accepted what they said. To ensure such things will not happen, I am saying the following with you as witness: I will never renounce my faith, even on my deathbed. If anyone says that I have renounced my faith, then you are witness to the fact that it is not true.”

You must understand how firm his faith was. No one should give up give up his faith, or act against his conscience. Be it anyone, even a Patriarch or a Metropolitan, no one can do that. Our Lord came to reconcile the world with God the Father. However, when He was seized by the Sadducees and the Pharisees, He could have done whatever they demanded, for the sake of peace, but He did not. If He had done so, it would not have been possible to obtain the greater peace that was to come i.e., the reconciliation of God the Father with the world. Hence, the Lord decided to bear all torments for that greater peace. If anyone says there can be peace only if everyone does what he says, then that is pride. However, it is commendable, after properly comprehending truth and faith, if one stands steadfast and firm in them without compromise.

If one closes the door for true peace by saying there are court verdicts, this way and that way, against the faith of the Church, then that is not in concordance with God’s will. How can there be peace with one who says that the issues will be resolved only if the 18 akkam (numbered) canon[1] is accepted. You all know that the 18 akkam canon is a false canon. If one insists that there can be peace only if the 18 akkam canon is accepted, then that is not the right path for establishing peace. Such a peace will not last. 

Our young methrachans’ (metropolitans’) ordinations are valid. No other Church will deny that. If people say that their ordinations are not valid, that they do not have the gifts of the Spirit, or that the person who ordained them does not have the gifts of the Spirit or priesthood; if they say that there will be peace only if a registered deed[2] is given and that there are court verdicts supporting this stance, then that is not acceptable to us. These things are contrary to the foundation and beliefs of the Church. Beloved, for these reasons, 'we' are not foreseeing the path for peace. However, there is nothing impossible for God. May God show us the path for peace. Pray for that with tears. May the grace and blessings of God increase in you all! Amen.

[1] 18 akkam (numbered) canon – The Hudaya canon produced in the Kottayam District Court by Patriarchal faction for the vattipanam (the interest money) suit was numbered as Exhibit 18 by the court. This canon was rejected by the District Court as it was found to be forged. The Hudaya canon produced by the Orthodox Church (Exhibit A) was accepted by the District Court and the said order was upheld by the Travancore High Court.
[2] Patriarch Abdulla II (1911) issued excommunication bull to Vattasseril Thirumeni for refusing to sign a registered deed, essentially giving up the independence of Malankara Orthodox Church. The excommunication was declared invalid by Patriarch Abdul Mesiha, the District Court and the Travancore High Court.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Prayer, Fasting, Holy Qurbana and Almsgiving for the Departed - St. Dionysius Vattasseril


As we approach the Great Lent and are preparing for the spiritual warfare with the enemy, it is our tradition that we pray for the departed and seek their intercession as well. The God we worship is not just the God of Living, but the God of living and dead, as Jesus says in Luke 20:37-38 "And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now He is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive."  

St. Dionysius Vattasseril
The text below is an excerpt from the English translation of the book Matopadesha Sarangal (Basic Doctrines of the Church) by Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan, later St. Dionysius Vattasseril. References from the bible have been interspersed with the text.

About Prayers for the Departed

It was for the sake of human beings, from Adam onwards to the last, that our Lord was born as a human being, observed fasting, offered himself as a sacrifice, descended into hades and preached there, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven, sat on the right hand side of His Father, and intercedes on our behalf. 

Adam : 
a) Roman 5:18 - Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.

b) 1 Peter 3:19-20 - He was put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit, in which also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison, who in former times did not obey, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were saved through water.

He did and continues to do it that there shall be graceful and just means to save them in the fullness of His love for his creations, the human beings; also to give all humans a faultless and perfect example. Therefore, as becomes perfect love, we too, following the example given to us by our Savior and teacher, should wish and pray for the salvation of all people from the time of Adam. Just as Christ, who is the head, reckons all humans from Adam to the last as His own body and cares for them, it is becoming that all from Adam to the last who are body parts of each other shall, as parts of each other, bear burdens mutually, and pray for each other. We pray for ourselves and for our brethren, who are alive, saying, "Lord, forgive our sins", not because there is the possibility that we shall continue to live on our body and grow in righteousness, and God shall forgive our sins. Besides, when we pray for those who are on their deathbed, for their remission of sins, we do not pray that they be made to continue to live in the body and do righteous deeds, and then forgive their sins. We only pray that, whether they live or die, God may forgive their sins in his mercy. God has decreed the time upto the last judgement as the period of mercy, not only for the living and those who are on the death bed, but also for those who died with hope in God.

but also for those who died with hope in God:
c) Ruth 2:20 - "Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!”
d) Psalm 88:10-12 - Do you work wonders for the dead?  Do the shades rise up to praise you? Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

Prayer and sacrifice for the dead was a practice in the Jewish Church, and what our Lord practiced and taught His disciples, what the Apostles too practiced, and what is practiced in the Church from very early times to this day. The hope of the departed regarding their salvation is augmented through our prayers; their sins are forgiven and they get consolation. Therefore, prayer for the dead is befitting, necessary and beneficial. However, if a worldly minded person, takes life for granted thinking that others will pray for him when hie is alive, and even after his death, it amounts to one of the deadly sins. And, even if all the saints, prophets and all the people of he world pray for him, he will not become eligible for grace. Since he follows the negative reasoning that says, "let us continue in sin, so that grace shall increase", he shall be devoid of grace. Those who receive grace while alive and even after death by prayers of others, are those who become eligible for grace with their firm faith in God, even though they have committed sins, but not deadly sins.

Jewish Church:
e) Deuteronomy 33:6 - "May Reuben live, and not die out, even though his numbers are few.
f) 2 Maccabees 12:42-43 - and they turned to supplication, praying that the sin that had been committed might be wholly blotted out. The noble Judas exhorted the people to keep themselves free from sin, for they had seen with their own eyes what had happened as the result of the sin of those who had fallen. 43 He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection

Apostles too practiced:
g) 2 Timothy 1:16-18 - May the Lord grant mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chain; when he arrived in Rome, he eagerly searched for me and found me —may the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! And you know very well how much service he rendered in Ephesus.
h) 1 Corinthians 15:29 - Otherwise, what will those people do who receive baptism on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?
i) Acts 20:10 - Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”

he will not become eligible for grace:
j) Psalm 109:14 - May the iniquity of his father be remembered before the Lord, and do not let the sin of his mother be blotted out.
k) Jeremiah 15:1, 16:6-7, 17:1 - Then the Lord said to me: Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people. Send them out of my sight, and let them go!... Both great and small shall die in this land; they shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them; there shall be no gashing, no shaving of the head for them. No one shall break bread for the mourner, to offer comfort for the dead; nor shall anyone give them the cup of consolation to drink for their fathers or their mothers… The sin of Judah is written with an iron pen; with a diamond point it is engraved on the tablet of their hearts, and on the horns of their altars

let us continue in sin, so that grace shall increase:
l) Romans 6:1 - What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?

About Fasting, Holy Qurbana, Giving Alms for the sake of the Departed

Besides, conducting prayers for parents and brethren who have slept int he Lord, fasting for their sake, offering Holy Qurbana on their memorial day, which recalls the sacrifice of our Lord, and entreats His mercy, giving alms which brings us mercy and grace from God, are good and pleasing before God. Whatever our Lord did, and also his sacrifice, are not only for the living, but also for the departed. According to the example he has showed us, we shall do everything we can, by word and deed, not only for those who are living, but also for our departed; offering Holy Qurbana daily, and spending all wealth for feeding the poor, shall bring absolutely no benefit, to those who die with no faith in Christ, and are not eligible for the grace of God. However, those who do these good works with good intention, shall reap benefit out of them.

fasting for their sake:
m). 1 Samuel 31:13 - Then they took their bones and buried them under the tamarisk tree in Jabesh, and fasted seven days

offering Holy Qurbana:
n): Acts 10:4 - He stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” He answered, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.

Note: Excerpts taken from the English translation of the book Matopadesha Srangal (Basic Doctrines of the Church) by Vattasseril Geevarghese Malpan, later St. Dionysius Vattasseril

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Coonan Cross (Leaning Cross) Oath

Fathers of the Church taking oath with the ropes tied to the leaning cross at Mattanchery near Kochi, Kerala in 1653

Vasco Da Gama, a Portuguese voyager, was the first European to reach India by the sea (1499) and established trade between India and the West. Slowly, the Portuguese tried to bring changes to the indigenous Christian practices and it culminated with the unfortunate synod of Udayamperoor (Diamper) in 1599 when St.  Thomas Christians were forced to renounce their faith, burn their religious books and were brought under the subordination of Pope of Rome. 

The fathers and faithful of the Church suffered under the Roman yoke for over 50 years. Married priests were forced to abandon their wives, worship in ways that were foreign to them. The St. Thomas Christians kept appealing to the eastern Churches for help, but often their pleas never reached the destination as the seas were controlled by the Portuguese. However, the Portuguese could not kill their spirit and longing to worship the way their forefathers did. Discontent and dissatisfaction kept simmering. The last straw that broke the camel's back was the news that one of the prelates, Mar Ahathalla, from one of the eastern churches coming to their rescue was captured and killed by the Portuguese.

On hearing this unfortunate turn of events, the St. Thomas Christians, numbering nearly 25,000 assembled near Mattanchery church on January 3, 1653 and took an oath, holding on to ropes tied to the cross, that they break free from the control of the colonial powers of Portuguese and the Roman supremacy and will obey only Arch Deacon Thomas I and follow St. Thomas Christian tradition. Archdeacon Thomas was later ordained as Marthoma I.

This was the first ever revolt against colonialism in India, long before India gained her independence in 1947. Remembering the struggles and hardships of our forefathers in keeping "the way of St. Thomas" will help us face any trials and tribulations we face in our lives at home or in foreign land where our people have migrated. As HH Baselios Geevarghese II, Catholicos of the East reminds us, through his last kalpana on his deathbed, we should remember without fail that we are the spiritual children of St. Thomas - "Even if you should have countless guides to Christ, yet you do not have many fathers, for I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel." (1 Corinthians 4:15-16).

The St. George Orthodox Church at Mattanchery, is declared as the Coonan Kurishu  (Leaning Cross) Pilgrim Center and is being renovated by the Church. See where the pilgrim center is located: