Sunday, February 21, 2010

An Ancient Church, and a New Venture of Faith in It

By Mother Edith, O.M.S.E.

Cut off from the rest of India by a mountain range six to seven thousand feet high, lies the long narrow strip of coast-land called Malabar. It is a land of great natural beauty, with high blue mountains to the east, while on the west the sea runs inland in a chain of lagoons fringed with thick groves of coco-palms, and it is crossed by several large rivers sweeping swiftly from the mountains to the sea. The southern part down to Cape Comorin is the state of Travancore, and the northern part is Cochin, each ruled by a Maharajah of its own, under British protection.

This beautiful but secluded land is the home of the earliest Christian Church in India, the ancient Syrian Church of Malabar, founded according to local Christian tradition (and modern research is tending to confirm its very ancient origin) by the Apostle St. Thomas himself, who after his mission to King Gondophoros in northern India, is said to have visited Malabar and made converts among the Brahmins there, before passing over to the Coromandel coast to meet his death by martyrdom at Mylapore, near Madras. Tradition also tells of an influx of several hundred Christians from Syria under Thomas of Cana in 345 A.D., and of another colonist party of Syrian Christians who settled about 825 A.D. at Quilon, one of the chief trading ports; just as two colonies of Jews from Syria settled in early times in the port of Cochin. Our English King Alfred sent an embassy with gifts to the Christians of St. Thomas in Malabar, and one of the documents belonging to the embassy is preserved in the Record Office in London.

The heathen rulers of the land in early times granted various privileges to their Christian subjects, giving them the place they still hold among the aristocracy as next after Brahmins; but at other times they oppressed them, and made very stringent laws which are still in force to prevent Brahmins from becoming Christians; a Brahmin who does so loses not only all his property, but the guardianship of his own children. Yet still this little Christian community, far from Christian neighbours and support, continued to exist in India for more than a thousand years. Then in the sixteenth century, during the time of the Portuguese domination on the west coast, all the Syrian Christians, except a few who fled to the mountains, were compelled by the Portuguese to acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope, and conform in their worship to the ritual prescribed by Rome; their own original Syriac liturgies and books being taken from them, and as far as possible destroyed. But after 80 years of Portuguese dominion the Dutch gained possession of the trading-ports of Malabar, and the Portuguese were driven back northwards to their possessions at Goa; and that district has ever since been the great Indian stronghold of Roman Catholicism, and was the last place in the world where Christians were burned for heresy, the Inquisition only coming to an end there in 1818.

During the Dutch supremacy in the 17th century the fugitive Syrians came back, and such of their ancient liturgical and other books as had survived were brought out from their hiding-places, and many of the Syrians who had conformed to Rome under compulsion returned to their ancient faith and manner of worship, reestablishing connexion with their spiritual kinsfolk at Antioch and Edessa, although a still larger number remained in their new communion with the Church of Rome.

Thus the primitive Syrian Church of Malabar was reduced to being only a poor remnant of its former self, deprived of half its members, of most of its books and places of education and churches, and of almost all its resources, and unable to obtain real help from the Church at Antioch, itself then suffering under Moslem oppression. The marvellous thing is that it survived at all. How poor and oppressed yet faithful it was at the beginning of the last century we learn from the letters of the Oriental scholar, Dr. Claudius Buchanan, who in 1817 visited it from Calcutta, and brought news of its condition to Bishop Heber, who was greatly interested. And then returning to England (taking with him to Cambridge various Syriac manuscripts, and some very ancient charters inscribed on copper plates) Dr. Buchanan pleaded for help, especially educational help, to be sent to these isolated yet steadfast Christians of the east.

For nearly another century Malabar remained an isolated and almost unknown part of India, communication being cut off on the landward side by its high range of mountains, and seaward by the silting up of its harbours. But the last few decades have seen a great change; the capitals, first of Cochin and then of Travancore, have become accessible by rail from other parts of India; and right down the country the Maharajah’s highway, with its splendid new bridges over the swift river, carries a constant stream of motor traffic from one end to the other of this land, where the former mode of transit was chiefly by slowly-punted boats down the peaceful lagoons.

Meanwhile within the country itself another great change had been going slowly forward during the last century of its isolation. In response to Dr. Buchanan’s appeal to England, the C.M.S. sent out Missionaries to Malabar, by whom his hopes of raising the standard of education among the Syrian Christians have been amply fulfilled; although the type of mission-of-help to the ancient Church which he had in mind was perhaps too far in advance of the ideas of the day for its achievement to be possible at that time. Thanks, therefore, mainly to the influence of the schools started in the eighteen-twenties by the C.M.S. the Syrian Christians of Malabar are to-day a well-educated community (they were by inheritance an upper-class and intelligent one), and many of the high posts in the state are now filled by Christians; while the education thus started has gradually spread through the whole country, till the state of Travancore (which, needing no army, can devote 1/5th of its revenue to education and hospitals), has now the highest average of literacy for both men and women of any part of India; and Syrian Christians who go out from their country to study at other universities take high places in the honours lists. A Syrian Christian lady, who was one of the most brilliant students at the London School of Medicine for Women, is now State-physician in Travancore, with a seat on the Legislative Council (the first woman in India to have this), and is in charge of a splendidly-run State Hospital for women; while another Syrian Christian, an ex-fellow of Balliol, is used by the Government of India as an adviser on financial matters.

Contact with the outer world is now freely open to Malabar; the land is full of eager young students; and since high-school and college education is carried on there in English, all that can be read in English is theirs to lay hold of and discuss; and every year great conferences are held, attended by thousands of students, and addressed by people from all parts of India, and sometimes from America, and new influences of all kinds are being brought to bear upon them.

Syrian Christians form 1/7th of the total population of Travancore and Cochin, and number about 770,000; of these 403,000 (more than half) are Romo-Syrians, and 250,000 are Syrians in the direct line of spiritual descent from the earliest Christians of Malabar, who call themselves the ‘Orthodox,’ but are popularly known as the ‘Jacobite’ Syrians, both rather misleading names from a historical point of view. Another large body of 110,000 are Mar Thomites, a semi-Protestant, progressive sect, who separated themselves from the main body in 1889; there is also a small body of Syro-Chaldeans in Cochin state, and several smaller sects. A certain number of Syrians have joined the Anglican Communion through the C.M.S., but the greater number of the adherents of the C.M.S. are not Syrians but converts gained from heathendom.

The above short statement shows what deep cleavages exist within the Syrian community, but it is not of this sad side of things, but rather of a venture of faith in the “Orthodox” branch of the Syrian Church that I have been asked especially to write, in the hope of gaining the sympathy and prayers of many of the faithful for the first community of Sisters in this ancient Church.

In the Malabar Syrian Church, as in the Greek Church, the parish priests are married, but all the bishops are monks. There are, however, no monasteries, for they are monks of the Order of St. Anthony of the Desert, each living alone, as in the earliest days. The bishops have no possessions, but at each church and seminary a room, as simply furnished as the prophet’s chamber, is provided for the bishop to occupy while he is there, and this room generally communicates with a gallery at the west end of the Church, which serves the bishop as an oratory; wherever the bishop is, the faithful of that place provide him with food during his stay, and they convey him by boat or palanquin to the next place he is visiting.

The liturgy in use is the East Syrian form of the liturgy of St. James and it is said mostly in Syriac; so all priests before their ordination study Syriac in the seminaries, and bishops are required to have attained a yet higher degree of scholarship in Syriac, which is the ecclesiastical language; all the entries, for instance, that they make at the end of their “Pontificals” recording the use of the services in it for making a monk, or consecrating a church or a bishop, must be made in Syriac. Their Pontifical descends from that of St. James of Edessa; and, besides the Order for making a monk, it has also one for making a nun, which until lately had not been used for 400 years, since the time of the Portuguese ascendancy.

The Romo-Syrians of Malabar, however, have about fifty convents of Indian Sisters as well as seventeen monasteries, all connected with western Religious Orders, and a desire for religious life in community has been growing among the “Orthodox,” both in men and women, and has already reached it first expression in the foundation of the order of the “Imitation of Christ,” under the guidance and inspiration of Fr. Gevergese (George), who has lately been consecrated as the first missionary bishop of the Syrian Church with the name of Mar Ivanios. Mar Ivanios (who besides being a Syriac scholar took the M.A. degree with honours at Madras University), has gathered round him at Bethany for the past sixteen years a keen band of young men, of whom 20, after long probation, have been admitted to the Brotherhood, 6 of them having been also ordained as priests and 5 as deacons. Their aim is to follow our Blessed Lord in His two-fold life of much prayer and of active work for the coming of the Kingdom; and their work, especially among the outcasts, is already bearing fruit.

But besides the men who gathered round Fr. Gevergese to devote themselves with him to the religious life, there were those among their sisters and cousins who were feeling drawn by the same call from our Lord to the life of absolute dedication. What could be done for them? Fr. Gevergese turned, for help to the Oxford Mission to Calcutta, with whom he was already in touch through the O.M. Brothers’ coming yearly to speak at the Students’ Conferences in Travancore.

Far away in East Bengal a little group of Indian women in connexion with the Oxford Mission were trying to prepare for the Religious Life, and he asked that a few Syrian girls might come there too, to study and pray and wait for guidance. The first to take the long six days’ journey to Barisal were three young girls aged 11 to 16, who came in the summer of 1916; they were followed by several others, among whom was a rather older but still young widow, who under the guidance of her uncle, a hermit-monk, had been living for some years a life given to prayer and good works. Fr. Gevergese arranged that whenever possible a Syrian priest and deacon should be at Barisal, so that they might not be cut off from the ministrations of their own Church, and three other Syrian girls, who were studying in Calcutta for the B.A. degree, came to spend Christmas with them, one of whom has since joined their Sisterhood. After a time the child who came at 11 years old was sent back to finish her high-school course, but she too returned afterwards to the community. The Bengal women found the arrival of these Christian girls from another part of India deeply interesting. Here were women not western but Indian, whose families had been Christians for centuries, so that they had grown up in Christian homes, and had generations of Christian tradition and training behind them; while they in Eastern Bengal were either themselves converts or children of converts, and had all lived surrounded by a wholly heathen atmosphere. One of them expressed the difference they felt by saying, “We can’t be good even when we try; while they don’t know how to be bad even if they wanted to be.”

The Christian home-life in Travancore is often very beautiful; the women, who are held in honour and educated, have charming manners, and are very gentle and affectionate. A noticeable feature of Syrian home-life is that every household comes together three times a day for prayer and worship led by the father of the family; even among the poorest the father of the family gathers the children together for these prayers before going out to his daily work, however early he has to start. And the Syrian girls who desired to be Sisters seemed to have great natural aptitude and gifts for the prayer side of their life. The great public corporate religious service of the Syrian Church is the celebration of the Holy Liturgy, which they call ‘Qurbana,’ the Gift, every Sunday and on the twelve great festal days of the year; all are present at this and take their part in the singing and prayers, but very few make their Communion frequently, except some specially pious persons. Beyond this there are very few services in the Churches except during Holy Week, and sermons are only preached occasionally, generally by a bishop; so that, although trained in offering worship both public and private, , the ‘Orthodox’ Syrian Christians have very little public instruction in their faith, or in the Holy Scriptures. Another difficulty in the way of Bible-study has been that the printed scriptures are translated into such difficult language that people say they can understand them much better when they know enough English to read them in our version than they ever could in their own vernacular. So a good deal of the time of the Syrian candidates at Barisal was spent in the study of the Holy Scriptures, and in learning how to give religious instruction to children, as this was likely to be an important part of their future work.

When the Brotherhood of the Imitation was well established in its community life and work, and the women candidates had spent over four years in preparation at Barisal, his Grace the Metran Dionysios, with the consent of the other bishops, allowed them to come and make an experimental, beginning of community life at Tiruvalla in Travancore, under the charge of an Oxford Mission Sister; but it was another five years before any of them were actually Clothed and consecrated as Religious, for the bishops felt that each step onward must be most carefully prepared for. But several of the candidates were by this time admitted to “discipleship in Holy Religion,” which corresponds to the western noviciate, although the Religious Habit is not given until Profession.

At Tiruvalla the house and chapel of the Novices adjoined the grounds of the Syrian Church High School for girls of the “Orthodox” community, so they gave religious instruction to the girls in the High-school, and in a vernacular school close by, besides having Sunday-school classes in connexion with the Parish Church; and later on they started a very interesting and successful day-school for children of the outcastes, who are in Travancore some of the most down-trodden and degraded people in the world.

Then in 1925, on September 21st, which in the Eastern Churches is the Festival of our Lady’s Nativity, the first three Syrian Sisters were ‘Clothed’ at Tiruvalla. A description of the service may be found in the Oxford Mission Quarterly paper for January, 1926; it took place in the Qurbana, and began at dawn, lasting for four hours. For one year more an Oxford Mission Sister stayed to see the Sisters well started in their new life, and then in September, 1926, another Sister was professed, and the eldest of them, the widow-lady, became their first Superior, and the little community of four professed Sisters and six ‘disciples’ or novices, began its own independent life.

The Sisterhood has as yet no formal Constitution, but has a simple rule of daily life approved by the bishops, and a ‘Guide’ as to the principles and practices of the Religious Life compiled from the teaching of St. Basil.

After a year the Oxford Mission Sister who had trained the Syrian Sisters went back to pay them a visit; she writes, “There is a most beautiful feeling of peace and joy and prayer, and everyone looks well and very happy. The Sisters are evidently succeeding almost better than we could have hoped in making their community a happy and united family, and a home of love. They seem to be just the best material for making Sisters, for they are naturally religious-minded, affectionate and teachable, cheerful, and calm, though they may not have the originality of English women.”


Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Moment When the Prodigal Started Home

Archpastoral Homily for the Lenten Season of 2010

In this season of the Great Fast, it is the duty of all Christians to enter into the Holy Mystery of Confession. It is not the only thing that we must do in Lent to prepare for the Feast of Pascha: but it is surely a necessary preparation for that Great and Holy Feast of Feasts. There is no way for us to feel the joy and peace of the Resurrection Festival without first going through preparation of Confession: one must climb the mountain path before he can enjoy the view from the mountain top.

Confession must be done the right way, in the right manner. It cannot be easy. Confession that is done as routine is simply not Confession. By its very nature, Confession is difficult. If it were not so hard, then Confession would never have been required. It would never have been recognized as "Lenten" and "penitential" or "ascetic."

You and I both know that Confession must hurt before it makes us feel better. We both know that it is not enough to say that we ate meat on Fridays … that we did not fulfill our church obligations or missed Liturgy. We both know that it is the easiest thing to do, during Confession, to talk about other people and how they made us so angry or so depressed, or how other people keep us from prayer or going to church.

You and I both know that when we make Confession "easy," we are not confessing at all. When we talk about other people, we are trying to confess their sins, and not our own. When we take the easy path of confessing the sins of other people, we turn a blind eye to our own. We become judgmental, instead of penitential. The two attitudes cannot co-exist … not in the same heart.

Confession is a hard, hard thing, and it is about one person, and one person alone who is opening his eyes and waking up … and looking around and finding out that he is in the wrong place in life … and that he desperately needs to go home … and to go home, that one person needs to come to his senses, to return back to his soul, to change his mind.

And that person is you. And that person is me.

Every single Holy Mystery of the Orthodox Church is deeply rooted in Holy Scripture, and Confession is no exception to this rule. There are many Biblical moments of this sort of recognition of wrong, and this point of decision to turning around. There is King David, who came to grief over his adultery with Bathsheba. There is King Manasseh, who wept bitter tears over his immorality and pagan idolatry. There is the Apostle Peter, of course, who groveled for three days in the darkness after the Crucifixion, because he denied his Lord three times.

But the singular, ultimate icon of the Holy Mystery of Confession and Reconciliation is the Prodigal Son.

You know the story well, and so do I. We have heard it every year in the Orthodox Church for decades. We know all the facts by heart. We have grown almost too familiar with the story. It has become part of the surroundings, and, I wonder, just another phase of the yearly routine.

But this story is hard and dangerous, just like Confession. If you enter into it, with eyes wide open and a heart that is exposed to the heat of the sun, like ice melting on a Spring day, then you cannot help being changed. You will look up and around, and your mind willturn.

You will repent: and God knows, as we all know, that repentance is the thing that our sinful selves fear the most. At the same time, repentance is the thing that our sinful minds needthe most.

I want to look especially at the very moment when the Prodigal Son shook his head and woke up from his drunken hangover. I want to look at that instant when he opened the eyes of his mind and realized where he was, and what he had become.

You remember the story. You remember the young boy who prematurely demanded his full inheritance from his father. You remember how he took all the money and traveled as far as he could get away from his father and his home. You remember how he spent all his money in pleasure and comfort.

He left no passion untouched. He left no sin unexplored. He experimented with every form of depravity and decadence. He threw his money around and became popular among the drinkers, the dancers, the drug-takers and the adulterers, the fornicators and the celebrities, the actors and actresses, the rich and the famous. It seemed that the party would never end, and they could dance all night, and the wine flowed freely and the laughter and the lust went on and on until the morning sun rose up and revealed the polluted infestation of sin.

It was on such a morning that the famine came, and the young boy's funds dried up in the drought. A recession hit and the banks failed. The blue chip stocks took a nose dive, and the stock brokers and the accountants and all the good-time drinking buddies of the Prodigal Son took their money and ran.

No one was there to lend him a dime. No one, in the far country, gave him even a slice of bread, and the once laughing Prodigal Son now began to weep and despair.

He had squandered away the inheritance of his human nature. Once he was able to think clearly. Once, he was able to control his emotions and make good decisions. Once he was able to love and accept being loved. Once upon a time, long ago, he was friend to the animals and to the trees and fields, and he was able to look up at the sky and give thanks to the God of all. Once, he was able to speak in truth and in love. Once, he was able to pray without ceasing and to pray and move mountains.

These were the riches, the Fathers say, that the Prodigal Son squandered away, far off in the country, far from the Father and his home.

For the Fathers also say that the home that was left by the Prodigal Son was nothing other than Paradise, and the far country he ran to was this world of lamentation, sorrow, earthquakes, snowstorms, untimely death, cancer and pain. This world of sin and darkness is the far country where the riches of the created human nature are squandered and wasted.

And when the Prodigal Son hired himself out to a citizen of that far country to feed the pigs, our Lord said that the boy was so hungry, so desperate and poor, that he looked upon the slop that was given to the swine and wanted to take and eat.

How low this Prodigal Son has descended! How is it possible for a boy, fashioned in the Image of God, who belonged once to the House of the Father, who had eaten bread at the High Table – how is it possible for this boy who had been so noble, so beautiful – how is it possible that any of us Prodigal sons and daughters to ever want to eat the food of pigs?

For the secret is out: you and I play the part of the Prodigal Son, whether we'd like to admit it or not. We were once made to be noble, and to share in the glories of Paradise, but in sin and passion we descended to the place of the swine.

In life, there are moments of possibility that the Lord mercifully arranges for each one of us. They usually come when we hit the bottom, and find ourselves friendless, homeless, hopeless and rootless. These are the moments when we understand the truth of ourselves – that our hearts are desperately sick and deeply wounded … that our minds are darkened by the passions of pride and despondency, of lust and gluttony, of greed and self-esteem.

These are the moments of deep Confession, when we "come to ourselves" like the Prodigal Son. These are the moments when we recognize that the entire far country, from the very moment when we stepped foot outside the gates of our Father's House – that that was the moment when we first stepped foot into the place of the pigs. Confession is the moment when we recognize that all the drinking, all the carousing, all the parties and fornication and riotous living were nothing other than languishing in the pig pen of life.

Confession is also the moment when we speak the words of the Prodigal Son: "In my Father's house there was bread enough and to spare." We remember the sweetness and light of Paradise. We remember the taste of the Eucharist, which is the "daily bread" of the Lord's prayer, the "super-substantial bread" that is truly "bread and enough to spare."

We remember that God is Love, and that the Trinity, One in Essence, is the divine outpouring of love from the Father to the Son to the Holy Spirit, and this outpouring is so over-abundant that it spills out into the entire universe as Uncreated Light.

We remember that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and Good Samaritan. We remember that this world is not our home. We remember that we were made for better things, that our souls were meant to be filled with light, and not the darkness of passion and sin. We remember that there was a time in which we knew the names of animals and we tended our gardens, and there was Springtime and sunlight, and green fields and flowers that sprung up in the abundance of our homes, our families and our life in the Church.

And so, with the Prodigal Son, we make up our mind to say, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you." And like the Prodigal Son, we rise up and begin our journey home.

We walk home to Paradise these forty days of the Great Fast. We fast every day, even Sundays, with the diet of Adam and Eve who ate no meat. We give generously of our money to the poor, rejecting our once sinful prodigal lifestyle. We turn off our entertainments. We switch off our televisions. We turn down our party invitations.

Instead, we pray and pray, and with ever "Lord have mercy," we take another step along the way.

It will be, on a Bright and Glorious Day, at the end of this journey, that we will find Him waiting, our Good and Heavenly Father, Who is always looking for the return of every Prodigal Son.

Even you. Even me.



Thursday, February 18, 2010

Nicene Creed

The Ecumenical Council of Nicea and Nicene Creed

The Oriental Orthodox Churches recognize only three ecumenical councils and the council of Nicea is the first among them. The Nicene Council, also known as First Ecumenical Council, was held in 325 and is one of the most important councils in Christian history. It was originally called by Emperor Constantine in order to address the challenges posed by Arianism. The council established the foundations of orthodox Christian belief with the Nicene Creed.

Two reasons are usually cited to justify the council’s ecumenical status. Firstly, the Emperor ordered that all legitimate bishops from the whole Church shall participate and secondly, a problem that affected the whole Church, namely, the Arian controversy was discussed and decided upon in the council. It was the Emperor Constantine himself, who opened the council on 20th May 325. He affirmed that the decision of the council shall be binding to the whole Church and he promised himself as the guarantor of unity between the state and the Church so that the decision of the council shall be universally binding. Also he declared that his successors would follow his policy.

318 bishops participated in the council, who are called ‘holy fathers of Nicea’ or just ‘holy 318’. The number 318 has a biblical significance as the bishops are seen like 318 servants of Abraham (Gen 14:14). Main participants were Ossius of Cordoba, Alexander of Alexandria, his deacon and secretary Athanasius, Eusthathius of Antioch, who was consecrated to the see of Antioch shortly before the council, and Eusebius of Caesarea, who accepted the homo-ousius teaching just before the council of Nicea. Arius and Eusebius of Nicomedia and some other Arian supporters were also present in the proceedings. The council concluded on 19th of June officially, although, some records say that the council went on for some more time.

The council gave out four documents: 1. Confession of faith (Symbol), which Arius and two of his supporters declined to undersign and were thereby excommunicated and exiled to Illiricum. 2. The council decided upon the date of Easter and controversies on this issue were settled. 3. 20 Canons to the question of ecclesiastical discipline. 4. A synodal letter, which was sent to all sister Churches to explain the proceedings of the council and thereby a call to obey the decisions of the council.

Symbol of the Council of Nicea:
“We believe in one true God, the Father almighty, maker of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, begotten of the Father, that is, out of the ousia of the Father, God out of God, Light out of Light, true God out of true God, begotten, not made, of the same ousia as the Father, through whom all things were made, both those things in heaven and those on earth, who for us men and our salvation came down, took flesh, and was made human, suffered and rose up on the third day, ascended unto heaven and will come to judge both the quick and the dead; And in the Holy Spirit.

But those who say that there was a when, when He was not, and that He was made out of nothing (what did not exist), or who say that He is of another hypostasis or ousia, or that the Son of God is created or subject to change or alteration, the Catholic and Apostolic Church anathematize.”

Date of Easter:
From the time of Polycarp of Smyrna (first half of the second century), the date of Easter was a matter of dispute. Irenaeus of Lyon has also expressed his opinion on this issue, but there was no consensus about this problem among the Church as a whole and therefore, the council of Nicea decided upon this question. Alexandrine Church as well as the Western Church celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring season and this was according to the Synoptic tradition. The Church in Asia Minor celebrated Easter according to the Jewish pattern, namely, the first Sunday after Nissan 14th, which was eventually the Johannine one too. The council of Nicea decided that Easter was to be celebrated according to the Alexandrine-Western practice, namely, on the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring season.

Canons of the Council:
Council of Nicea issued 20 canons on issues that matter to the discipline of the Church. Ecclesiastical structures are dealt with in canons 4-7, 15 and 16. Dignity of ordained people is mentioned in canons 1-3, 9, 10 and 17. The problem of open confession of sins during a liturgical action is the theme in canons 11-14. The question how to reinstate the lapsed, schismatic and heretics etc. into the Church is dealt with in canons 8 and 19. Liturgical admonitions are given in canons 18 and 20. From the above narration, it is clear that there is no systematic treatment of problems in the order of canons. Yet, these canons are considered as most important and binding to the whole Christian Church even today.

The history of Nicene Creed:
As it seen above, the Nicene Creed was first adopted in 325 at the First Universal Christian Council of Nicaea. The Coptic Church has the tradition that the original creed was authored by Athanasius. There is also a strong tradition that the Nicene Creed was the local creed of Caesarea brought to the council by Eusebius of Caesarea. However, the creed was not in the full form that we see and use today! It is in the second Ecumenical Council in 381 added the section that follows the words "We believe in the Holy
Spirit" hence the creed is also known in the history as "Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed", referring to the Creed as it was after the modification in Constantinople.

The third Ecumenical Council, Ephesus in 431, reaffirmed the 381 version, and decreed that "it is unlawful for any man to bring forward, or to write, or to compose a different Faith as a rival to that established by the holy Fathers assembled with the Holy Ghost in Nic├Ža."

The Filioque controversy:
Amongst the Latin-speaking churches of Western Europe, the words "and the Son" (Filioque) were added to the description of the procession of the Holy Spirit, in what many have argued is a violation of the Canons of the Third Ecumenical Council. Those words were not included by either the Council of Nicaea or that of Constantinople, and hence Eastern Orthodox theologians consider their inclusion to be a heresy. The dispute over the Filioque clause was one of the reasons for the East-West Schism. The clause had been adopted in the west , although the Third Ecumenical Council (431) had prohibited to individuals the promulgation of any other creed. The manner of the clause's adoption was therefore controversial and in the 10th century Photius, the Patriarch of Constantinople, used this clause in his conflict with the Pope. He accused the West of having fallen into heresy and thereby turned the Filioque clause into the doctrinal issue of contention between East and West.

The Eastern Orthodox Churches those who follow the uncorrupted faith of the Three Holy Ecumenical Synods have thus the Creed in the following formula. Since it the declaration of our Faith and cream of our theological stand point, it is the duty of the Church and believers to recite it in all our liturgical prayers and keep hold its faith in their daily life.

I have also did a biblical analysis of the Nicene Creed to show that how much its words and usages are owed and quoted from the Holly Bible, the word of God and the chief resource of the Church. One could see many more quotations from the word of God, however, what I did is giving model study of it.

The Nicene Creed
We believe in one true God (Heb 11:6, 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Romans 3:29-31, Eph 4:6)
The Father Almighty (1Cor. 8:6Rev. 1:8)
Maker of heaven and earth (Ex. 20:11, Gen. Ch. 1 &2)
and of all things visible and invisible (Jer. 32:17. Col. 1:16)
And in the one Lord (Acts 10:36) Jesus (Matt. 1:21) Christ (John 4:25-26),
the only-begotten Son of God (John 1:14),
begotten of the Father before all worlds(1 John 4:9),
Light of Light, very God of very God (John 1:4, 1 John 1:5-7, John 12:35-37, John 5:18),
begotten, not made (John 8:58),
being of the same substance with the Father (John10:30);
and by whom all things were made (John 1:3);
+ who for us men and for our salvation (Mat 1:21) came down from heaven (John 3:31),
+ and was incarnate of the Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God (Luke 2:6),
by the Holy Ghost (Luke 1:35), and became man (John 1:14);
+ and was crucified for us (Mark 15:25) in the days of Pontius Pilate (Matt 27:22-26);
and suffered, and died, and was buried (Matt 27:50-60);
And the third day rose again (Matt 28:6) according to His will (1.Cor 15:4),
and ascended into heaven (Luke 24:51), and sat on the right side of the Father (Mark 16:19); and shall come again in His great glory (Matt 25:31),
to judge both the quick and the dead (2 Tim 4:1);
whose kingdom shall have no end (Luke 1:33);
And in the one living Holy Spirit (John 14:26),
the life-giving Lord of all (2cor 3:17-18, Is. 6:8, Acts 28:25 Rom 8:2, 2.Cor 3:6),
who proceeds from the Father (John 15:26):
and who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified (Rev. 4:8),
who spoke by the Prophets and Apostles (2 Peter 1:21);
And in the One (John 10:16), Holy (Eph 5:26-27, 2 Peter 2:5&9),
Catholic (Rom 10:18 "Catholic" means universal or comprehensive, as well as "relating to the ancient undivided Christian church")
and Apostolic (Eph 2:20) Church;
and we acknowledge one Baptism (Eph. 4:5) for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38),
and look for the resurrection of the dead (Rom 6:5),
and the new life in the world to come (Mat. 25:34., Rev. 21:1-7). Amen.

Fr. George Pulikkottil, D.Th.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Great Lent: ‘Restore Me To The Paradise From Which I Departed’

The center of the liturgical year in the Orthodox Church is Kymtho, the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection. It is extolled in the services as the Feast of feasts and Triumph of triumphs. Justifiably so, for as the Apostle Paul declares, if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain (I Cor. 15:14). The sense of resurrection joy forms the foundation of all the worship of the Orthodox Church; it is the one and only basis for our Christian life and hope.2 Through His redeeming Passion, Christ freed us from the tyranny of death and opened for us the door to Paradise and eternal life. This is the goal of our life-long spiritual journey, a journey from death to life, from darkness to light – a restoration to paradise from which we have departed. It is a long journey and we travelers get weary; we get distracted and wander off or even lose sight of the road. To help keep us focused, the Church every year compresses for us this journey as it prepares us to greet the Feast of Christ’s Resurrection. This preparatory time is the joyous period of Great Lent. Without this preparation, without this expectant waiting, the deeper meaning of the Easter celebration will be lost.

The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God. It is to lead us to a sense of inward brokenness and contrition; to bring to us, that is, to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement, `Without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). During the Great Lent, we have to strip ourselves from the specious assurance of the Pharisee who fasted, it is true, but not in the right spirit. Lenten abstinence gives us the saving self- dissatisfaction of the Publican (Luke 18:10-13). Such is the function of the hunger and the tiredness: to make us `poor in spirit’, aware of our helplessness and of our dependence on God’s aid. Abstinence leads to a sense of lightness, wakefulness, freedom and joy.

Lent is a time of joy. It is a time when we come back to life. It is a time when we shake off what is bad and dead in us in order to become able to live, to live with all the vastness, all the depth, and all the intensity to which we are called. We are at the threshold of the Great Lent. We have to believe the power of fasting as it relates to prayer is the spiritual weapon that our Lord has given us to destroy the strongholds of evil. Fasting might seem hard, but with each passing day, God’s call will grow stronger and clearer. Finally, we will be convinced that God has called us to fast, and He would not make such a call without a specific reason or purpose. With this conviction, enter the Great Lent with excitement and expectancy mounting in our hearts, praying, Lord, “I have walked away from You and Your precepts. But now I return, merciful Lord, and cry to You: I have sinned.”

As we begin to fast, our confidence in the Lord will help us. The longer we fast, the more we sense the presence of the Lord. The Holy Spirit refreshes our soul and spirit, and we experience the joy of the Lord as seldom before. Biblical truths leap at us from the pages of God’s Word. Our faith soars as we humble ourselves and cries out to God and rejoices in His presence. Fasting calls on the Holy Spirit and brings us to repentance, prayer and almsgiving. We need to revive our commitment to fasting and prayer and the rest of the Church will respond to this call. Spent time in reading God’s word and make your time with the Lord more spiritually rewarding. There is no point in fasting and prayer until it equips you for spiritual awakening. Hope this Great Lent will not slip by without having made a genuine effort to prepare ourselves for the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior. “Let us set out with joy upon the season of the Fast, and prepare ourselves for spiritual combat. Let us purify our soul and cleanse our flesh; and as we fast from food, let us abstain also from every passion. Rejoicing in the virtues of the Spirit may we persevere with love, and so be counted worthy to see the solemn Passion of Christ our God, and with great spiritual gladness to behold His holy Passover.”3

The whole journey into the Resurrection can become our own if we are able to stand in examination of our lives, see how far we have brought ourselves from the life God intends for us, and then long, truly long to return to our true home, to paradise. We must turn with tears toward the home from which we have sinfully departed and resolutely start our journey back, begging God’s forgiveness in our return. True repentance begins with the acknowledgement of self-imposed exile. Such knowledge pains us, but it is a pain that leads to action, and action that leads to reform. And as Christ re-forms us into His heavenly life, we begin truly to live. Apart from God, there is nothing. We have each experienced this ‘nothing,’ for we have each turned from God. But now, as we prepare to enter into Great Lent, we long for the great ‘something’ that is God’s love and sanctification. Begging His mercy we strive for true repentance, that we may receive His salvation in all joy.

“Behold, O Christ, the affliction of my heart; behold my turning back; behold my tears, O Savior, and despise me not. But embrace me once again in Your compassion and count me with the multitude of the saved, that with thanksgiving I may sing the praises of Your mercy.”4 I end with the words of Ephrem the Syrian from his hymn ‘On Fasting’: “This is the fast of the First Born, the first of His victories. Let us rejoice in His coming; for in fasting He has overcome. Though He could have overcome by any means, He revealed for us the strength hidden in fasting, Overcomer of All. For by means of it a man can overcome that one who with fruit overcame Adam; He became greedy and gobbled it. Blessed is the First-Born who encompassed our weakness with the wall of His great fasting. Blessed is the King who adorned the Holy Church with Fasting, Prayer and Vigil.”5 Rahaim ‘layn aloho abo aheed kool ethraham ‘layn.

Written by Tenny Thomas


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Of Mercy and Forgiveness

Why do we beseech the merciful Lord for mercy? what is forgiveness

Sunday of Forgiveness

Orthodox Forgiveness
(Sunday of Forgiveness)

This is a Day when younger ask the elderly for forgiveness.
But it also goes among friends.
On the plea:
Forgive me...
the custom respond is:
You are forgiven....

This feast preceding the Honourable Fast Season (Great Lent) is established to remind of the spiritual character of fasting. It is dedicated to forgiveness or more essentially to repentance, which in the Church represents the only true content of personal relationships. Bodily abstinence practiced during the fast is inseparable from the God-yearning love of the Christians. Itself it implies aspiration to live in the virtues of mercy, meekness, long-suffering, humility, and all kinds of philanthropy. The faithful, through fervour in these virtues and particularly through the practice of the Jesus prayer tend to prepare within them abode to the Holy Spirit.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

True repentance

From the 1997 Patriarchal encyclical of His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas
Translated and Published by
the Archdiocese Of
The Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch
For The Eastern USA, March 1997




“From that time on Jesus began to preach: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’.” ( Matt. 4:17 )

Man, with all his intelligence, can not fathom the depth of God’s love to mankind or to comprehend its essence. For He (God) has loved them even to death, the death on the Cross. The Holy Gospel declares: For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn. 3:16). Love was the main reason why God sent His Only-begotten Son into our world. He was incarnate by the Holy Spirit and of the Virgin Mary, and was crucified for us, and died and was buried and rose on the third day according to His will, as stated in the Nicene Creed of Faith. Thus He redeemed us who believe in Him, and forgave the original sin we inherited from our first parents, along with our personal sins committed before we were baptized in His Name and received salvation, thus fulfilling His divine promise: Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned (Mk.16:16). Because we were baptized in His name, we were born through the water and Spirit a second birth from heaven, and we were justified and sanctified to be children of God by grace, and heirs to His heavenly kingdom. This is the ultimate motive behind the mystery of incarnation and redemption. Concerning this, the Apostle Paul says: Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of whom I am the worst. (1Tim.1:15). Therefore, when the Lord Jesus publicly began His divine mission in the flesh, by announcing His noble heavenly message, the Gospel of Repentance, He said: Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near (Matt.4:17). he also said: The time has come and The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news (Mk.1:15). The Apostle Peter also told those who were troubled in their hearts, after hearing his sermon on the fiftieth day, and asked him and the other apostles: Brothers, what shall we do? Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:37-38). Hence, the message of redemption, brought by our Lord Jesus Christ, is to prepare man for eternal life, by true repentance and true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, by accepting Him as the Savior of the world, by being baptized in His Name and by obeying His divine laws. In this regard, our Lord Jesus says to His heavenly Father: Now this is eternal life: that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, Whom You have sent (Jn. 17:3).

Yes, God Almighty knows that we are weak humans, always prone to enter into hard temptations, and eventually fall into the pit of sins so long as we are in this human body. Yet, since we have been baptized in our Lord’s Holy Name, and the Holy Spirit dwells in us, God has prepared for us a way of repentance in order to return to Him after we confess our sins and are sorry for the trespasses which we have committed. Before the ascension of our Lord Jesus into heaven, He gave His pure apostles, and just disciples, the authority to bind and loose sins by saying: Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven (Jn.20:22-23). Through this divine power, the Lord grants graciously the forgiveness of sins to the believers who present to God a pure repentance, because sin is a rebellion and a transgression against the Almighty, and an alienation from Him. The Prophet Isaiah says: But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that he will not hear (Isa. 59:2). The Apostle John, describes sin also as a transgression: Everyone who sins breaks the law (I Jn. 3:4). This law-breaking is the lack of harmony between the thoughts, words and deeds of man; and the commandments of God. By sinning, he breaks the law, rebels against God and obeys Satan, the enemy of God and man at the same time. For Satan is the tempter who tries to entrap man and snare him into disobedience. Moreover, any kind of sin is deemed as breaking the law of God, His commandments and all He forbids, as if it were committed directly against the Almighty. This is what prompted the Prophet David, who committed a terrible sin, to plead with God saying: Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight (Ps. 51:4). Yet, to explain that this sin was personal, and that he also inherited the original sin, he adds: Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me (Ps.51:5).

Sin is very awful indeed and leads to eternal death. The Apostle James said: and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death (Jas. 1:15). For the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Therefore when sin overtakes a person, he becomes overwhelmed with apprehension, anxiety, guilt and instability. In fear and trepidation, He expects severe punishment as a consequence for what he has committed. But thanks be to God for sending His Son, Who became an atonement for us by His death on the Cross, thus abolishing sin by His resurrection from among the dead. In so doing, He reconciled us with His heavenly Father, Who wants us to be at peace with heaven in order to be worthy to inherit the kingdom of God. For we have been justified from the original sin when we were buried with Christ in Baptism, even to death, and rose with Him to a new life. Yet, we are humans, and are always susceptible to sin, but on Judgment Day the Lord shall not ask: why did you sin? but rather: why didn’t you repent?

Repentance is a return to God and an obedience to His divine laws. When a sinner searches his soul entirely, deeply, faithfully and honestly, and compares his wretched and sad state of sin, with the happy state which preceded his fall into sin and iniquity, when he was in his Father’s abode with a clear conscience and at peace; he will confess his sins, and feel sorry for his wrongdoing and transgression against God’s laws, and anxiously determine to return to God through repentance. He should not be content with simply doing so, but should also emulate the Prodigal Son who said: I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men (Lk. 15:18-19). Sure enough, he (the Prodigal Son) wearing his worn-out and soiled clothes and with his many sins, went to his father, and lo, he found him impatiently waiting for his return. So, The son said to him, Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found’. (Lk. 15:21-24).

All this signifies God’s love for the sinner and His anticipation for him to return safely to his home. Furthermore the Lord, Who is the Good Shepherd, always searches for the lost sheep. And when He finds him, He carries him upon His shoulders and brings him to the sheep’s fold. Likewise, the father restored to his prodigal son his rank and stature, and dressed him with a new robe, to become a new man with a new life. He placed on his finger the ring of the Covenant, thus renewing with him the Covenant and his trust in him. He also hosted a fancy feast for the local people that they could rejoice with him, and joyfully welcome the return of the prodigal son into their society.

The anger and sadness of the eldest son on his brother’s return, represents the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees and their lack of desire to save the tax collectors and sinners. They do not enter the kingdom of God and they do not let anybody else enter either. Those Scribes and Pharisees even objected to the Lord Jesus for He befriended tax collectors and sinners and sat with them and opened for them the door of repentance to attain salvation by saying: It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matt. 9:12-13). The Lord confirmed this when He accepted the penitents who came back to Him with solid faith, by forgiving their sins. In this manner, the Lord forgave Zacchaeus and Matthew, the tax collectors, Mary Magdalene, the adulterous woman, the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob, the apostle Peter, the remorseful thief and others. Moreover, the Lord Jesus still forgives all penitents who come to Him with a true and complete repentance. Concerning this, the apostle John says: My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atonement for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (I Jn. 2:1-2).

Oh, how great is God’s love for the world, His mercy to the sinners and His desire for their return to Him in repentance! He will surely receive them just as the father welcomed his prodigal son. And how wretched is the sinner, who is ignorant of his misery while he is in a sinful state and has no desire to return to God in repentance. The persistence of the sinner in his sin, and his creation of phony excuses to justify himself, are but an insult to the long-suffering patience of Almighty God. Whereas true repentance produces spiritual happiness which fills the heart of the penitent with joy for his salvation, by making peace and reconciliation with the Lord God. Even heaven rejoices with the penitent. The Lord Jesus says: I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent (Lk. 15:7). This joy points to the true and ultimate faith which fills the heart and the mind.

Surely, the penitent who receives forgiveness for his sins from the Lord by means of a valid priest, (authorized by the Lord Jesus to loosen sins) must continue his relationship as a son with the Heavenly Father by living virtuously, thus producing fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matt. 3:8). Likewise, John the Baptist commanded those who came to him to confess their sins, and then he baptized them with the baptism of repentance, and gave them the good news of the eminent coming of the Savior, saying: “Produce fruit befitting repentance…”.

A penitent should not simply be content with the forgiveness of his sins, but he should ask God like the Prophet David, who sinned and repented, cried and begged the Lord saying: Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions…. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will turn back to You (Ps. 51:1,10-13). A penitent is in need of renewal, renewal of the heart as well as of the conscience. He must pray to God that the Holy Spirit not be taken from him, because if the Good Spirit leaves a person, the evil spirit will replace it as in the case of Saul. David himself experienced this and prayed that the Holy Spirit not depart from him, but rather lead him into the proper paths, that he might remain firm in a state of justification and righteousness: the state which was restored to him after he came back to God through true repentance.

Truly, evil has spread wildly in this corrupt generation. We are drowning in iniquity, and are in desperate need of true repentance, reflected by sorrow and regret over the sins which we committed and are determined to avoid. Again, let us emulate the Prophet David in asking forgiveness from God and doing penance to Him. And, just like the Prodigal Son, may we return to the Father’s home, with sorrow and repentance. Moreover, let us confess our sins to a lawful priest, that he might enrich us with his spiritual advice, as a healing and protecting medicine. And by the authority of the Sacred Priesthood ascribed to him by God, he will recite the prayer of absolution. Through this, we earn the right to return to our previous state of grace, which we received from our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ. Dearly beloved,

In this evil generation, as we prepare to bid farewell to the twentieth century and usher in the twenty-first, we observe humanity marching in darkness, lost in the crooked ways of this world, enslaved by the heavy yoke of sin, and resembling the Prodigal Son in leaving his father’s house and squandering his money on a wasteful life. May the sinning believer also emulate the Prodigal Son in his true repentance and righteous return to the home of his father, that the Father may receive him joyfully. The Holy Church is in need of a goodly number of our budding youth, of both genders, who fear God and heed His commandments, produce good fruits worthy of repentance, and whose hearts are purified and souls renewed. People who make themselves good examples to others by keeping God’s laws and regulations. Who, along with us, listen to the Lord Jesus and hear His divine voice calling us today, just as He called the people twenty centuries ago and until now, through the mouths of His priests: The time has come," He said. "The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news (Mk. 1:15). If the time of our Lord Jesus Christ’s coming, twenty centuries ago, has been fulfilled, and all prophecies have come true and salvation completed, then, the time for His second coming approaches according to His true and divine promises. He also Had appointed it since the beginning. Therefore, let us repent and believe in the Holy Gospel as the Lord commands us. May we also heed the call of the Holy Spirit as He warns and cautions us saying: Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Ps. 95:7-8). Also, let us repent immediately because we do not know when the Lord will come again to judge the world, or when we are going to depart from this temporal life to eternity. If we are not in a repentant state, it will be too late for sorrow. Therefore, let us be ready, awake and anxious for our meeting with the Lord Jesus, so that He may make us worthy to be with the Good Thief in the paradise of joy.

May God accept your repentance, your fasting, your prayers and offerings. May He also be merciful to your faithful departed, and prepare you to celebrate His Glorious Resurrection with spiritual joy and happiness. After a full life, may He also make you worthy to enjoy the grace of His heavenly kingdom in the company of the repentant faithful, the just and the righteous. Amen.

Shubhkono - First Monday of Lent Service

The Shubhkono service is on the first Monday of the Great Lent after the noon prayers. This service is a preperation for lent and forgivness and is marked by 40 prostrations and the kiss of peace at the end of the service.
Shubhkono service is all about love and forgiveness. The Gospel reading for the service is the "Parable of the Unforgiving Servant." The Gospel reading reminds us that not only must we be willing to ask for mercy or forgiveness but we must be willing to practice forgiveness and mercy. The Gospel of Saint Luke further reminds us of this when our Lord says “Be you therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:36) Our Lord even reminds us of this when He teaches us to how pray in the prayer Our Father; “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” (Matthew 6:12).
When our Lord was asked by the Apostle Peter how often he should forgive sin our Lord replied “Until seventy times seven.” (Matthew 18:22) When our Lord said this he did not mean a specific number of times. He was using the biblical understanding of numbers to explain how patient we should be with the sinner or the one that trespassed against us. The number seven in biblical terms means fullness. Thus, seventy times seven means that we are to be willing to forgive forever. This truly shows the extent of God’s love for us and the extent that we must be willing to love the sinner.
The greatest example of practicing forgiveness that we have is when our Lord is on the Cross and says “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) This shows the extent that we should be willing to forgive.
[Part of the above article is taken from a sermon by Fr.Milan Medakovic of the Serbian Orthodox Church]
Articles and Essays:
True Repentence - H.H Ignatius Zakka I , Patriarch of Antioch and all the East
Some hymns from the day:
Priyare! Teekshnatha kattuka
Kalpana kappananyonyam


First Sunday of Lent - The wedding at Cana

Wedding of Cana

The Great Lent starts by commemorating the first miracle performed by Jesus i.e. turning water into wine at the wedding feast at Cana of Galilee. This is a passage that is full of symbolisms and inner meaning.

Wine in Rabbinic Judaism is a symbol of Jewish Torah or Law. At the Wedding of Cana this old wine (ie old Jewish Law), was not sufficient to satisfy the needs of the guests in the banquet. To make the guests satisfied and content, Jesus had to make new wine (ie new law). The new law that Jesus gives through pouring out of his blood is sufficient to make every one more than content and satisfied.

The six jars were used to store water for the ceremonial cleansing. There were only six jars, one short of seven the biblical number of perfection and fullness. In the Gospel we also read, Jesus instructing the servants to fill them up. So we can also infer that these jars were not full. The six jars, one short of number seven and the fact that there were not full is to show the inadequacy or incompleteness of the old Jewish customs.

There is a sacramental image in this miracle. Jesus asked the ‘servants’ to fill the jars with water. In the original Greek text of the Gospel, the word used for servant is DIAKON (Deacon) and not DULOS (meaning domestic servant or slave). Jesus asks the deacons to get water in the jars kept for the purification rite. The water is then turned to wine and nobody knows how it happens. Then He asks the deacons to serve the wine to the guests. In the Holy Qurbana the bread turns into the body of Christ and the wine turns into the blood of Christ. Nobody knows how it happens. It is a divine mystery.

In this passage we also see the presence of St. Mary the Mother of God. Jesus addresses his mother as ‘O Woman’. The Greek word used in the original text is ‘gunai’ and it does not have any tone of disrespect. Addressing someone as ‘gunai’ in those times is the equivalent of addressing someone as ‘O Madam’ or ‘O Lady’. In the entire Bible, St. Mary the Mother of God speaks very few words. In the Gospel reading on Kothine Sunday she says: "Do whatever He tells you" .In this passage we can see the role of saints; they stand with us in prayer (in this case taking a particular need of lack of wine to the Lord) and directs us to follow Jesus.

The Church requires us to read and meditate on this passage on the opening day of the great lent which prepares us to the most important event of pouring out of the cleansing wine on the cross and the glorious resurrection.

Like the bride and bridegroom of Cana, let us invite Jesus into our hearts. The presence of Christ by way of ‘being invited’ will certainly remove all our inadequacies and turn them into moments of greater joy and satisfaction. Mary and saints are always there and they pray with us and ask us to follow Jesus’ commandments.


Before Holy Qurbana

Holy Qurbana


Friday, February 12, 2010

The Great Lent - Patriarchal Encyclical -His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

The Great Lent
Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly (Joel 1:14)

We extend our apostolic benediction and greetings to our brethren, His Beatitude Mor Baselius Thomas I, Catholicos of India, and their Eminences the Metropolitans; our spiritual children the reverent priests, monks, nuns, deacons and deaconesses and out blessed Syrian Orthodox people all over the world. May the divine providence embrace all through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, and St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints. Amen.

We trust you are well and in good health and offer our apostolic benediction and benevolent prayers as we say:

Here comes the time of the Great Lent. This is a golden occasion offered by our holy mother church, at time to examine our souls. It is a time to avoid vice and cling to virtue. It sis a time to return to God in repentance: “In an acceptable time I heard you and on the day of salvation I helped you” (II Corinthians 6: 2). As the eagle trains his small children to fly high in the sky, the holy church teaches the faithful to soar in the spiritual skies. The holy church provides them with the grace to escape earth and the things that pull them downwards. The church seeks to overcome the difficulties of spiritual life so that the faithful grow in the life of virtue to the peak of evangelical perfection through the suppression of the lowly bodily desires: “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life” (John 6: 27). During Lent, the faithful fast from eating food for a certain time: then they eat light fasting food voluntarily. Thus, their hearts beat with holiness and they grow from power to power through the submission of the body to the Spirit “For the body desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the body. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5: 17) as St. Paul puts it. Through fasting, the faithful are able to avoid the desires of the body and do the good deeds they desire to do.

Indeed, God established fasting: He commanded it to the first man. When he broke this commandment, he fell into sin and deserved death. After being so close to God, man was driven far away from Him. He even hid from His holy face and could not see Him anymore (Genesis 3: 8) because he had disobeyed His divine orders and had not kept the fast commanded to him. To please God, the forefathers and prophets fasted in different ways. God ordered Moses to sanctify himself reaching Mount Sinai to receive the commandments (Exodus 19: 1-25). Moses fasted forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34: 28). He found grace in the eyes of God and was worthy to see His glory (Exodus 33: 13 and 18); he brought down the law for the people.

The prophet Elijah fasted forty days and forty nights (I Kings 19: 8); he triumphed over the pagan priests and attracted the people to the law; consequently, he merited being taken to heaven in a chariot of fire.

The prophet Daniel fasted three weeks during which he did not eat meat of drink wine (Daniel 10: 2). He was thus able to keep the jaws of the lions shut and they did not hurt him. The people of Nineveh fasted with their children and cattle (Jonas 3: 7). As a result, God accepted their repentance and their city was saved from destruction.

The forefathers and good prophets practiced the virtue of fasting as a way to please God and to avoid sins, especially during crisis and temptation.

Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us how to fast; he fasted for us forty days and forty nights, and when he finally felt hungry (Matthew 4: 2) he was tempted by Satan. He defeated Satan and gave us the secret of the victory over Satan and his powers saying: “But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17: 21). When He was asked why His disciples ignored fasting – as claimed by their enemies – He replies that His disciples should fast when He ascends to the heavens saying: “But someday the from will be taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matthew 9: 16). In another place, He ascends to the heavens saying: “But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then fasting should be, saying: “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do” (Matthew 6: 16).

Furthermore, we learn from the Acts of the Apostles that the Disciples observed fasting especially before the election of leaders and during persecutions, wars and plagues. Paul also fasted continuously (cf. II Corinthians 6: 5 and 11: 27 and Acts 27: 33).

The disciples taught the faithful how to fast. The church took this from them and ordered additional fasting. The history of the church shows that Christians observed the Great Lent since the dawn of Christianity along with fasting during the Week of Passion and Wednesdays and Fridays on a weekly basis. The laws of the church punished the clergy and faithful who broke the commandment of fasting. Exceptions were made for old people, babies, the sick, menstruating and pregnant women: these exceptions were not some sort of luxury, but were borne out of necessity. Saturdays and Sundays are not complete Eucharist, the one who fasts, breaks his fast and receives food. As a way of sanctifying Sundays, our Holy Syrian Church does not start Lent on Sundays: if it happens that Lent starts on Sunday, as a respect for the “Lord’s Day’ we start on Monday decreasing thus the number of fasting days by one.

The Holy Church does not prescribe the types of food to eat and ones to avoid on a particular day. The aim of fasting is submission of the faithful to God’s will through piety and the exercise of virtues, especially that of obedience to the commandments of God spoken through the tongues of the bishops who have been given authority to legislate laws and to bind and loose. They make rules for the benefit of the faithful and for the glory of His Holy Name. Since the church is a loving and caring mother and good teacher, she does not put heavy burdens on the faithful which they cannot life, according to the Lord’s words: “You experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them” (Luke 11: 46). Consequently, the Late Lamented Patriarch Elias III (1932) allowed the eating of fish during the Great Lent. In addition, he allowed the faithful in America to fast only the first and last week of the Great Lent, in addition to Wednesdays and Fridays. Similarly, the Late Lamented Patriarch Aphrem Barsoum (1957) allowed the same for the Indian Church, as well as decreasing the number of fasting days for all in 1946. Furthermore, the Late Lamented Patriarch Jacob III (+1980) allowed the fasting of only the first and last week of the Great Lent as well as Wednesdays and Fridays for the clergy and people. In 1966 he permitted the use of all sots of food on the rest of the days. He also allowed feasts, weddings, baptisms, the Divine Liturgy and commemorations to be celebrated on any day that falls in that period between the two aforementioned weeks. The permission of our predecessors, the holy patriarchs, allowing the decreasing of the days of the Great Lent for the faithful comes as an act of mercy and compassion so that they do not break the commandment and incur God’s wrath – God forbid. Hence, those who make use of this allowance are not sinning and are not considered among those who break the law. Al for those who fast all the days of the Great Lent and the Week of Passion, God shall multiply their rewards.

Dearly beloved, we are called to follow our righteous forefathers, abiding by the teachings of the Holy Bible: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the work of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith” (Hebrews 13: 7). We shall abide by it especially that we live in a period when faith is about to be extinguished in our hearts, love is frozen in our veins and we have neglected our duties of fasting and prayers. Nowadays, we are more materialistic; we have neglected charity work and are the concrete example of the unfaithful whose “God is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame” (Phillippians 3: 19). This is the alarm bell that rings and alerts us to the danger, that of the separation from God. Let us hear the Lord speak through the tongue of the prophet Joel: “Declare a holy fast; call a sacred assembly…Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 1: 14 and 2: 13). Let us fast and acceptable Lent, not only from food and drink, but also from evil deeds and sins. Let our thoughts fast from evil imagination, our tongues fast from meaningless utterances, our bodies from hideous desires; let our wills be submitted to God’s and our fasting be acceptable to Him in the words of the prophet Isaiah; “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter…Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I” (Isaiah 58: 6-9).

May the Lord accept your fasting, prayers, charity and repentance. May He make you worthy to celebrate the glory of His resurrection in joy, happiness and good health. May He also have mercy on our faithful departed through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and St. Peter, the chief of the apostles, and the rest of the Martyrs and Saints, and God bless you.

Issued at our Patriarchate in Damascus, Syria
On the 25th of January, in the year two thousand and ten
Which is the 30th year of our Patriarchate.


Church remembers HH Patriarch Saint Mor Ignatius Elias III Shakir

Church remembers HH Patriarch Saint Mor Ignatius Elias III Shakir on February 13th. Pilgrims from all over the world reached Manjinikara by end of the day. Elias III is the only Patriarch of Antioch whose remains are interred in Malankara and his tomb stands as a towering symbol of the sacrifices made by the Syriac fathers to nurture the church in Malankara. On October 20, 1987, Patriarch Mor Zakka I through encyclical E265/87 permitted the Church in Malankara to remember his name in the fifth diptych.

A Short Biography of Patriarch Saint Mor Ignatius Elias III Shakir

Patriarch Saint Mor Ignatius Elias III Shakir the second son of Chorepiscopus Abraham and Maryam, was born in Mardin, Turkey. He was called Nasri. He had 4 brothers and 3 sisters. After the death of his mother, Nasri was raised in the care of his elder sister Helena. He worked as a shoemaker in his teens and served in the government service for about three months. At the direction of Patriarch Peter IV, Nasri joined the theological school of the forty martyrs. In 1887, he joined Deir al-Za`faran and was ordained deacon by Patriarch Peter IV in 1887. He became a sharwoyo (novitiate) in 1888 and a monk in 1889 upon which he came to be known as Elias. Elias was ordained qashisho (priest; lit. presbyter) in 1892 by Patriarch Peter IV.

In the waning years of the 19th century, numerous Armenian and Syriac Christians were massacred in Turkey. Qashisho Elias endeared himself to the Armenian Christians providing refuge for about 7000 in the monastery of Mor Quryaqos. He was later appointed the reesh dayroyo (Cheif of the Monastry) of the Mor Quryaqos as well as Deir al-Za`faran. In 1908 Qashisho Elias was consecrated bishop of Amid (Diyarbakr) by Patriarch `Abded Aloho II and was named Mor Iwanius. Mor Osthasios Sleeba, the delegate of the Holy See of Antioch to India, was also ordained along with Mor Iwanius. In 1912, he was transferred to Mosul where he served until his elevation to the patriarchate in 1917. After Patriarch `Abded Aloho passed away on Nov 26, 1915, Mor Iwanius was elected Patriarch and assumed the throne in 1917. The firman (decree) was issued to Patriarch Elias III by the Ottoman sultan Muhammad Rashid. The sultan conferred the Ismania medal to the Patriarch. In 1922, when civil war broke out in Turkey and Gazi Mustafa Kemal Pasha assumed leadership of the newly formed democracy, Moran Mor Elias III spent a few months in Jerusalem. Moran laid the foundation stone of the church our lady atJerusalem on 22 March 1926. He established a printing press there and began publication of journals in Syriac and Arabic.

Mor Elias III was the last Patriarch to reign at the Kurkmo Dayro (Deir Za`faran) in Mardin, Turkey the seat of the Patriarchate for most of the second millenium. Following the massacre of the Syriac Christians in South East Turkey in the waning days of the Ottoman Empire and during World War I, the Patriarch was forced to leave Mardin. In the aftermath of the saypho massacres, Mor Elias III undertook pastoral tours to the Middle East, the first in 1919 and the second in 1925 to Aleppo and Jerusalem. Mor Elias III held a synod Dayro d-Mor Matay, Mosul, Iraq in 1930.

Lord Irwin, then British Viceroy to India, wrote to the Patriarch on December 1, 1930 requesting his intervention in person or through a delegate in resolving the schism that had erupted in the Malankara Church.

His Holiness responded to the Viceroy's letter, on December 15, 1930 accepting his invitation with certain conditions. Given his cardiac problems, his doctors attempted to dissuade him from the trip. His 75 year old sister also discouraged him from the trip. His Holiness said to her, "Death is inevitable whether here or in India; I would rather sacrifice my life for the sake of our children in Malankara."

Mor Elias III left Mosul on February 6, 1931 accompanied by Mor Clemis Yuhanon Abbachi, Rabban Quryaqos (later Mor Ostathios Quryaqos), and Rabban Yeshu` Samuel (later Mor Athanasius Samuel of North America), his secretary Zkaryo Shakir (his brother Joseph's son) and translator Adv.Elias Ghaduri. They set sail to India on February 28, 1931 from Basra on the ship "Warsova" and disembarked at the Karachi port on March 5, 1931. They were received at Karachi by the Patriarchal Delegate Mor Yulius Elias Qoro, Mor Athanasius Paulos of Alwaye and several clergymen and faithful. On March 6, 1931, the Patriarch and his entourage proceeded to Delhi by train reaching there on the 8th and visited Lord Irwin. On March 14th, the Patriarch arrived at Madras and stayed as a guest of the British Governor Sir George Staly. From there, he arrived at the Thrikkunathu Seminary in Alwaye on March 21st, and offered the divine liturgy there on March 22nd.

H.H. Mor Elias III convened conciliatory meetings at Alwaye, Karingachira, Panampady and Kuruppumpady. The Patriarch lead the passion week services at St.George Church, Karingachira. A church delegates meeting was held at Kuruppumpady on July 5, 1931. The denho (Epiphany) services in January 1932 were at the St.Thomas church, Pakkil, Kottayam.

On February 11, 1932, at the invitation of Qashisho Kuriakos Elavinamannil, the Patriarch arrived at the Manjinikkara Mor Stephanos church from Kallissery. The inability to bring about reconciliation in the church had weighed down heavily on the Patriarch; moreover, the hardships of the long travel had taken its toll on His Holiness. On arriving at Manjinikkara, the Patriarch said, "This place offers us much comfort; we desire to remain here permanently." On February 12th, His Holiness requested the priests who came to visit him not to leave for a couple of days. In the evening, the Patriarch recited many prayers of the qandilo (unction) and contemplated on the departed. On February 13th, Mor Clemis Yuhanon Abbachi offered the Holy Qurbono; His Holiness gave the sermon during the liturgy.

After the noon prayers and lunch, as was his routine, the Patriarch spent time recording events in his journal; he asked for a dictionary to get clarification for the meaning of a word. Following that, he complained of pain in his head. Soon he fainted and was placed on a cot by the monks where he slipped into eternal rest at 2:30 pm. Many eye witnesses recount the deep gloom that cast its spell in the area that evening and the wails of the monks who accompanied the Patriarch.

Different opinions arose regarding the final resting place for the Patriarch—a situation that the church in Malankara never had to confront before. The decision was in favor of interring the mortal remains in a plot of land to the north of the Mor Stephanos church, the title deed of which was transferred to the Patriarchate. On February 14th, the funeral services for His Holiness were held there. Mor Dionysius Michael consoled the gathering.

Tomb of Saint Mor Ignatius Elias III Shakir Mor Ignatios Dayro church attached to the tomb of late Patriarch was built by the Patriarchal delegate Mor Yulius Elias Qoro. The memory of the holy Patriarch is revered throughout the Syriac Orthodox Church and especially in Malankara where thousands of pilgrims reach the tomb by foot on the annual feast day, February 13, from various parts of the Kerala state.

Mor Elias III is the only Patriarch of Antioch whose remains are interred in Malankara and his tomb stands as a towering symbol of the sacrifices made by the Syriac fathers to nurture the church in Malankara. On October 20, 1987, Patriarch Mor Zakka I through encyclical E265/87 permitted the Church in Malankara to remember his name in the fifth diptych.

Source :


On the Priesthood: Saint John Chrysostom

by Rev. Fr. Prince Mannathoor, Rome

Priesthood is an institution of Christianity for which a person is ordained a priest and held the post of minister of Church. And it is a body of priests who have special religious authority or function. Priesthood is more than celebrating Mass and telling people about God. It is about knowing the central call of life and giving all for this call. Priests are called to be forthright messengers of hope, strong community leaders and spiritual guides for both the lost and the faithful. About this topic many of the early church fathers wrote as well as how to live priest and how to do priestly life. John Chrysostom is the one of the main church father wrote about the priesthood. He wrote around six books which dealt with the Christian Priesthood. In this essay I am discussing about the John Cristostom’s writings on the Priesthood and its evaluation.

John Chrysostom : A brief biography.

John Chrysostom was Patriarch of Constantinople and is considered one of the greatest Christian preachers. In the 6th Century has been attributed to him the name Chrysostom (Greek for "golden mouth"), under which he is known today. He has also known as Ivanios. He was born around 347 (according to Western sources - approximately 349) of Antioch in Syria. He led an ascetic life. In 371 he left Antioch and went into the wilderness. After six years of being a hermit returned and was ordained a priest. He was revered as an ascetic and was known for his talent in public speaking as well known for his appearance against the misuse of church and state authority. Controversial are its massive negative statements about Jews in his earliest surviving sermons. During his life he was a fearless defender of morality, branding the abuse of the faithful, even the emperors - it was dragged to his persecution. He also practiced theology - dealt with Christology, issues of original sin, repentance and the priesthood, and above all the Eucharist.

His main works

John Chrysostom preached much, much writing. While many works formerly attributed to his patronage, have been restored to their rightful owner, the number of authentic works nonetheless considerable. It divides its messages in several groups:

a) Main Homilies and speeches

Homilies were written down by the audience and subsequently circulated, revealing a style that tended to be direct and greatly personal, but was also formed by the rhetorical conventions of his time and place. [1] Homilies on the texts of the Bible (Genesis, Psalms, Isaiah, Matthew, John, Acts of the Apostles, Epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Ephesians, Galatians, Philippians, Colossians, Thessalonians, Timothy, Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews); Homilies on the incomprehensibility of God; Finally, even if not directly to him, the usual Liturgy of the Orthodox Church bears his name. Also, read the homily at the Easter Vigil, is attributed to St. John Chrysostom. In every Easter, the greatest feast of the church year the Eastern Orthodox Churches also read his Catechetical Homily.

[2] Sermons on Jews are series of fourth homilies that have been circulated by many groups to foster anti- Semistism.

b) Treaties

Exhortations to Theodore; Treaty of priesthood; Apology of monastic life; comparison of solitary and King Treaty of compunction; Treaty of illicit cohabitation; Treaty of virginity; Treaties against the second marriage controversy Treaties. Other important treatises written by John include, Instructions to Catechumens, and On the Incomprehensibility of the Divine Nature. In addition, he wrote a series of letters to the deaconess Olypias, of which seventeen are extant.[3]

On the Priesthood

This Treaties’s content is his dialogue with St. Basil ‘ On the Priesthood. He was highly influenced by Gregory, and he built upon his ideas about the function of the priest as teacher and shepherd, describing in more detail the difficulties, perils and temptations he encounters in his service. But he also added new themes that were not touched in Gregory’s treatise. [4] The first book of the treatise on the Priesthood opens with a description of his friendship with Basil; how they studied the same subjects together under the same teachers, and how entirely harmonious they were in all their tastes, and inclinations. The remaining books on the Priesthood treat of the pre-eminent dignity, and sanctity of the priestly office and the peculiar difficulties and perils which beset it. They abound with wise and weighty observations instructive for all times, but they are also interesting from the light which they throw upon the condition of the Church and of society in the age when Chrysostom lived.[5]

In discussing the responsibility of the priest for the souls of his flock and his liturgical and sacramental functions, Chrysostom found in them a reason to ascribe to him an awesome dignity, a high honour, and even a character which is different from human: “When one is required to preside over the Church, and to be entrusted with the care of so many souls, the whole female sex must retire before the magnitude of the task, and the majority of men also; and we must bring forward those who to a large extent surpass all others, and soar as much above them in excellence of spirit as Saul overtopped the whole Hebrew nation in bodily stature: or rather far more. For in this case let me not take the height of shoulders as the standard of inquiry; but let the distinction between the pastor and his charge be as great as that between rational man and irrational creatures, not to say even greater, in as much as the risk is concerned with things of far greater importance.” (Book 2:2)[6]

‘For the priestly office is indeed discharged on earth, but it ranks amongst heavenly ordinances; and very naturally so: for neither man, nor angel, nor archangel, nor any other created power, but the Paraclete Himself, instituted this vocation, and persuaded men while still abiding in the flesh to represent the ministry of angels. Wherefore the consecrated priest ought to be as pure as if he were standing in the heavens themselves in the midst of those powers.” (Book 3:4)

Chrysostom sees that the role of priests in the sacraments of reconciliation, baptism and Eucharist makes our salvation dependent upon them! “For if any one will consider how great a thing it is for one, being a man, and compassed with flesh and blood, to be enabled to draw near to that blessed and pure nature, he will then clearly see what great honor the grace of the Spirit has vouchsafed to priests; since by their agency these rites are celebrated, and others nowise inferior to these both in respect of our dignity and our salvation. For they who inhabit the earth and make their abode there are entrusted with the administration of things which are in Heaven, and have received an authority that God has not given to angels or archangels. For it has not been said to them, “Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven, and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven.”.... this binding lays hold of the soul and penetrates the heavens; and what priests do here below God ratifies above, and the Master confirms the sentence of his servants. For indeed what is it but all manner of heavenly authority which He has given them when He says, “Whose sins you remit they are remitted, and whose sins you retain they are retained?” What authority could be greater than this? “The Father has committed all judgment to the Son?” But I see it all put into the hands of these men by the Son. For they have been conducted to this dignity as if they were already translated to Heaven, and had transcended human nature, and were released from the passions to which we are liable.”(Book 3:5)

“For transparent madness it is to despise so great a dignity, without which it is not possible to obtain either our own salvation, or the good things which have been promised to us. For if no one can enter into the kingdom of Heaven except he be regenerate through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious?” (Book 3:5)

John Chrysostom reaches the conclusion that the authority of the priests over the Sacraments of Baptism, Reconciliation, and Anointing is a reason for them to be more feared and honored than kings and Jewish priests and to be more loved than parents: “These verily are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed Head. Wherefore they might not only be more justly feared by us than rulers and kings, but also be more honored than parents; since these begat us of blood and the will of the flesh, but the others are the authors of our birth from God, even that blessed regeneration which is the true freedom and the sonship according to grace. The Jewish priests had authority to release the body from leprosy, or, rather, not to release it but only to examine those who were already released, and you know how much the office of priest was contended for at that time. But our priests have received authority to deal, not with bodily leprosy, but spiritual uncleanness--not to pronounce it removed after examination, but actually and absolutely to take it away. Wherefore they who despise these priests would be far more accursed than Dathan and his company, and deserve more severe punishment. ...God has bestowed a power on priests greater than that of our natural parents... For our natural parents generate us unto this life only, but the others unto that which is to come. And the former would not be able to avert death from their offspring, or to repel the assaults of disease; but these others have often saved a sick soul, or one which was on the point of perishing, For not only at the time of regeneration, but afterwards also, they have authority to forgive sins. “Is any sick among you?” it is said, “let him call for the elders of the Church and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up: and if he have committed sins they shall be forgiven him.” Again: our natural parents, should their children come into conflict with any men of high rank and great power in the world, are unable to profit them: but priests have reconciled, not rulers and kings, but God Himself when His wrath has often been provoked against them.”(Book 3: 6)[7]

Chysostom’s Theology of Priesthood

John Chrysostom’s Six books on the Priesthood shows the influence of Gregory’s ‘’ Fight to Pontus’’, and, therefore, we see developing the great tradition in pastoral theology that nearly two hundred years later would extend into the West through Gregory the Great.

Chrysostom’s personal views of the role of the pastor and preacher can be best understood by examining his own articulation of them in his treatise, On the Priesthood. He wrote this work between 390 and 391 to defend himself from accusations that in his youth he had belittled the office of the priest (presbyter) by hiding from those who would ordain him. Chrysostom replies that he escaped ordination precisely because he had such high regard for the office and did not believe he was worthy of it.[8]

The mystical nature of the priestly office, in Chrysostom’s mind, also involved a mystical bond between the pastor and his congregation, reflecting the “mystery” of Christ’s union with the Church as the Husband with His bride (Eph 5.32).

In his work on the Priesthood, St John does occasionally speak in very high terms of the priest as the liturgical officiant, but his main concern is with the priestly ministry more generally, following the example of Christ, who came to serve rather than be served. As he puts it, while the priesthood is ranked among the heavenly ordinances, it is nevertheless is enacted on earth. And the tasks of the priest are numerous: he was the teacher and moral guide of the community; he was the liturgical leader, deciding which catechumens should be admitted to baptism, and he presided at the Eucharist; he was the spiritual guide for those who wanted to lead more ascetic lives; he received guests from other churches; he maintained an elaborate system of charity for the care of strangers, the support of widows, orphans and the poor, he cared for the women who were ranked in the order of “virgins,” ordained presbyters and deacons.[9]


The contribution provides the teaching of St. John Chrysostom on the Priesthood of Christ. John touched the descendants and ascendants of view of the priestly office to run. The soteriological aspect of the priestly ministry of St. John Chrysostom reflects. Through the Incarnation of the Son of God, a New Covenant between the Creator and the creature is bound. In it, the new priesthood is established, which is essential to the person bound by the God-man who brought the heavens and the divine world of grace close to the earth. Consubstantial with the Father, the eternal High Priest, brought about by his sacrifice, the redemption of the world. His priestly ministry continues through his mystical body, the church and spread to the whole created world. His unsurpassable, unique victim initiated a very nature of communication between God and man, which are connected to heaven and earth.

None of the early church Fathers’ works is more popular than On the Priesthood. John Chrysostoms’s unique gift for linking concrete observation and theological vision is nowhere more evident than in On the Pristhood. Its presence helps to account for the work’s power to inspire and challenge Christians in all ages.

Foot Notes

[1] LEWY YOHANAN, ‘John Chrysostom’ Encyclopedia Judaica (CD-ROM Edition Version 1.0), Ed. Cecil Roth, Keter Publishing House, 1997.
[2] JASON BARKER, ‘Pascal Homily', Be Transformed. Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America, dept. of Youth Ministry. 2005.
[3] JOHANN PETER KIRSCH, ’St. Olympias’. Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 2009
[4] RODOLPH YANNEY, Priesthood between St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, CCR, New Jersey, 1999. p.137-139.
[5] w. r. w. stephens John Chrysostom: Treatise on the Priesthood, Books 1-6. Adapted from the translation of the
NPNF, first series, volume 9, 2005. p 2.
[6] Ibid. 33-83.
[7] RODOLPH YANNEY, Priesthood between St. Gregory the Theologian and St. John Chrysostom, CCR, New Jersey, 1999. p.139.
[8] J. N. D. KELLY, Golden Mouth: The Story of John Chrysostom-Ascetic, Preacher, Bishop, London, 1995. p. 25.
[9] JOHN BEHR, A lecture delivered at the parish of St John Chrysostom Orthodox Church, House Springs, Missouri, 2007.


Monastery of the Holy Martyrs - Orthodox Monastery, Syriac Orthodox

 Have you stopped the monastery's new web site?  Come on by and visit, either on line or in person.  I love meeting new folks and make n...