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:

Friday, January 1, 2016

HH Baselios Geevarghese II - Glimpse into His Holiness' Life

Baselios Geevarghese II, Catholicos of the East

Geevarghese Dwitheeyan Bava (the second) is also fondly called as Kallasseri Bava (family name), or Kurichi Bava (place of birth) or Valiya Bava (The Great Catholicos).  

Bava Thirumeni was a disciple of two saintly fathers of the Church, Parumala St. Gregorios and Vattasseril St. Dionysius. Just as his role models, Bava Thirumeni led a pious and prayerful life. Bava Thirumeni declared Parumala Thirumeni and Yeldo Mar Baselios as saints of the Church on November 2, 1947.  
Kalapana directing Parumala Thirumeni and Yeldo Mar Baselios to be remembered in Diptychs

Bava Thirumeni presided over the unification of the Orthodox Church in India. Bava Thirumeni was the first to hold the office of Catholicos and Malankara Metropolitan simultaneously.

Important dates in the life of Bava Thirumeni:

  1. Born:16 June 1874 born to Ulah- anan and Naithi of Kallaserri family in Kurichi, Kottayam
  2. Ordained as deacon: 24 April 1892 by Kadavil Paulose Mar Athanasios 
  3. Ordained as Priest: 24 November 1898 by Parumala Thirumeni
  4. Ordained as Ramban (Monk): 27 November 1898 by Parumala Thirumeni
  5. Ordained as Bishop Geevarghese Mar Gregorios8 September 1912 by His Holiness Patriarch Abdhedh Meshiah
  6. Installed as Catholicos of the East: 15 February 1929 with Malankara Metropolitan Vattasseril Thirumeni as the Chief Priest
  7. Elected as Malankara Metropolitan: 24 December 1934
  8. Passed Away on: 3 January 1964

Excerpt of Bava Thirumeni's Last Kalpana

Dear brethren and beloved children,

We believe that all of you have known that we have been bedridden for some time. Like Psalmist had told us, man's span of life is seventy years or utmost eighty. And its glory, pain and grief. But having reached the ripe old age of ninety with all its accompanying ailments, We would not wish or desire to have our life on earth extended any further. So We have to do nothing other than give ourselves up happily to the immutable and merciful will of God. The string of pains and ailments that We endure everyday remind one that Our days have really been numbered. Our blessed children, let us go the very way everyone does at the end of his life on earth. God gave us the opportunity to lead you as shepherd and father, for sixteen years as Metropolitan and thirty four years as Catholicos, of which twenty eight were in the dual capacity of Metropolitan of Malankara as well. He had given Us very heavy and preponderant responsibilities. We don't believe that they had all been fulfilled precisely and meticulously. We are fully aware that owing to human frailty many a time We have failed. We request you that you too may pray to the compassionate Lord that they are all forgiven and peace and solace descend on the Church as well as on Us.

Dearly beloved,

We feel that the thirty four years elapsed since We were consecrated Catholicos have flown off like a fleeting shadow. Yet We know the fruits borne out of that will have a pre-eminent influence on the history of our Church, which has gone through experiences glorious and inglorious, pleasant and unpleasant. We cannot but remember with a heart filled with praise and thankfulness that it was the safe, sure, and compassionate hand of the Lord that upheld Us and guided Us through those spells of trials and vicissitudes.......

Beloved ones in Christ,

As We urgently exhorted you often, We want you to be rooted firm in true faith and steadfast in the rites and traditions of the Church. Our holy and ancient faith which was entrusted with the sages of yore are our perennial wealth. Even in the face of extreme trials, even at the cost of heavy sacrifices you should cling on to our true faith and noble tradition. It is Our feeling last breath that inform this exhortations. The Church which was founded by St. Thomas in the early years of Christian era has been built on the rock of faith. It has withstood and will withstand the heaviest of storms and thunderstorms. The precious life blood of its founding father has been shed for it. The precious memory of his faith and dedication, of the manifold tribulations he had to undergo, all these pass through Our mind like a kaleidoscope on this day when we remember his martyrdom as We write this letter to you. Follow all this for your model. "Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith" (Hebrews 13:7). "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 Cor. 4:15,16). Like St. Paul reminds the Corinthians, we should remember that St. Thomas is continually reminding us. So we who are his (St. Thomas) spiritual children, should be his followers. 

It is purely because we are followers of a Church founded by an Apostle - St. Thomas - that we as a Church have been respected by World Churches. It is because of our ancientry,apostolicity and true faith that high ranking prelates of ancient Churches like Greek, Coptic, Ethiopian, and Armenian have visited us and paid their respects to our Church. We believe that everyone of you will be particularly careful about this and faithful to it......

Beloved Children,
We pray that the Gracious Lord, our heavenly Father will receive Us unto His heavenly paradise along with all those dear ones of yours who have died in faith. May the unseen hand of God strengthen Our feeble and sinful right hand to bless you all, your families and all those good things which He has made it possible for you to accomplish. We leave Our final benediction on all of you.

May the Grace and blessings of Our Lord be with you and abound in you. May the prayers of blessed Mary, mother of our Lord, of our spiritual father St. Thomas and of all saints down the ages be with you Amen. Our father who art in heaven...

Dated 21st December 1963, the Martyr's day of St. Thomas from the Aramana of the Catholicos, Kottayam (Sd.)

Excerpt of the Kalpana taken from the book "The Saintly Shepherd of Malankara Church"

Journey through the life of Catholicos Baselios Geevarghese II