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Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
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Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him. 1 John 4:16

Metropolitan’s Message

Dearly Beloved,  

Hope of the Hopeless: The Affirmation of the                                                                          Resurrection”

Despite the veneer of peace and prosperity that envelops our world, there is a strong and increasingly oppressive presence of evil that continues to haunt our existence and our world. Our print media daily drives home the evident of the intensifying inhumanity to humankind, not to mention the visceral abuse of women and children in our societies. Flashpoints of internecine warfare and international conflicts appear ready to once again plunge the world into a holocaust. And we merrily continue to plunder our environment oblivious of its fragile and finite character. Amidst such a scenario it virtually appears as an impossible possibility when the Church celebrates the power of the resurrection and the ultimate transformation of the whole cosmos into a new heaven and a new earth (Is 66: 22;
Rev 21:1).

But that is precisely the absolute power of the resurrection. In its solitary statement, the resurrection of Jesus Christ seems to only underscore the power of the glorified Christ but obscures the cataclysmic transformative power it has already unleashed into creation. For, the event of the resurrection has not only trampled down death, but has ushered in the dynamic power of God, which alone can transform our dismal condition into a reality, the glory of which “no eye has seen, nor ear heard , nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him” (I Cor 2:9). And Jesus Christ Himself has assured us that what has been accomplished in His incarnated state is not an isolated instance but what is potentially accessible to all humankind (St Jn 14: 12; 16: 16:33). The impact of what has been promised, therefore, can be seen in three areas: 1) The Church, 2) the Believer, and 3) the World.

1) The Impact of the Resurrection on the Church: While the origins of the Church may
said to lie in the appointment of the Twelve Apostles (St. Mk 3:13-19: St. Mt 10:1-4; St. Lk 9:12-16) and the institution of the Eucharist (St. Mk 14: 12-16; St. Mt 26: 17-29; St. Lk 22:7-23; cf. also I Cor 1123-26), it is with the Pentecost that it becomes established (Acts 2:1ff; cf. Acts 1: 8). And through the centuries of its existence, it has fallen from its pristine purity to become more of a reflection of the world’s culture. And for most people, it is this compromised situation of the Church that comes to mind rather than its potential to represent the Body of Christ. We are readily discouraged by the compromising ethics of its leaders, readiness of the Church to accommodate to the world’s demands and its increasingly acquisition of wealth and possessions.

But, for a start, let us recall that this was foretold by Jesus Himself during His ministry. In one of the parables, it was made clear that the Kingdom of God, of which the Church is apart, will contain both good and bad crops (St. Mt 13: 24-30). Even in its beginning stages, there were issues of discrimination (Acts 6:1; I Cor 11:18-21) and divisions (I Cor 1: 11-14).
Fallible human nature being what it is, it is to be expected that as the Church came to be accepted and increase, it became more like the world. Are we to be reconciled with this diluted situation of the Church? God forbid! At all times and every day, the challenge of the Church is to cleanse itself, transform and be holy, a message that is given as a clarion call by St. Peter (I Pet 2:5).
Part of the problem many of us have with the Church is because we are convinced that this is a situation that requires to be corrected by itself. However, every Christian must be reminded that righteousness is ultimately a gift given God and not the accumulated result of good deeds, St. Paul teaches this in his letter to the Ephesians, probably addressing the dispirited believers who were confronting a similar situation. We listen to him as he explains what is the reality of the Church: “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God built upon the foundations of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into the temple in the Lord” (Eph 2:19-21). We are left in no doubt then that the glory of the Church is in the future but an assured state and one that will be perfected by Christ. It is for this reason that at the end of time, the Church appears clothed in white linen, bright and pure, as the new Jerusalem prepared as a bride adorned for her husband (Rev 19: 8; 21:2).

2) The Impact on the Believer: Perhaps it is in the situation of the believer that one has
conceptualise the depth-dimensions of what the resurrection implies. When we see the tragedy of what sin has caused in the individual and its catastrophic effects on humankind, then it becomes very difficult to see a glorified existence for the believer. The ultimate threat of oblivion that is the result of sin (Rom 3:28) is the fear that haunts every human being. But the debilitating power of sin is forever obliterated by Christ on the cross, in accordance with the promises given by God in the Old Testament. For instance, we read in Isaiah: “…{T}hough your sins are as scarlet, they shall be like snow, though they red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Is 1:18). Col 1:21; Rom 8:3). So, through the work of Christ, the bondage to sin has forever been destroyed, enabling the Christian to live in the freedom that comes through the Holy Spirit.

But, even more, in the resurrection the believer is not only promised the cleansing of his/her sin but also the concomitant transformation into the likeness of the resurrected Christ (I Cor 15:17). Especially in the anthropology of the Eastern Church, the body is not something that is to be discarded or reduced forever to dust. Rather, the fact of the resurrection ensures that while Christ is its first fruit, we too are destined to be transformed into a glorified state: “Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven” (I Cor 15:49). It is in this final restoration of a Christian and all believers in the likeness of the glorified Christ that we look forward to in hope and faith.

3) The Impact on the World: Christianity can be segregated generally as two types:
those that deny the enduring nature of the world (or creation) and those that anticipate its eventual transformation. Orthodox theology is squarely located in the second, for it teaches that all creation is judged by God as “very good” (Gen 1:31). So the Orthodox envisages that all creation is not to be destroyed in a final conflagration but it will be transformed into a new heaven and new earth at the end of time. In fact, the work of the incarnated Jesus is not only the redemption of humankind, but also of all creation. He cleansed the waters by His baptism, by His steps the earth was purged of its thorns and thistles and when He was raised up on the Cross, He purified the air. In fact, all matter has been liberated from its corrupt state as a result of Christ’s incarnation (Rom 8: 20-24). Our hope, therefore, lies in the promise that God would transform all His creation so that ultimately there will be a new heaven and a new earth. Undoubtedly, this too will be the result of what the resurrection will achieve for creation as a whole.

Such a theology call for an active participation by every believer to make real the impact of the resurrection in all the three domains listed above. Theology becomes relevant when every believer makes evident what s/he believes and makes it real in his/her life. The tragedy of the Orthodox faith is that there are few believers who have the conviction to translate their beliefs into a reality. Participation demands that we act on the premise of our belief, in the eventual glorification of the Church, the believer and Creation. This task is not an objective that is magically realised by God’s miraculous intervention at the end of time, but also implies a process where every believer acts to realise this objective. For, this is what Jesus prays when He beseeches the Father not to take the apostles out of this world, but to send them just as the Father had sent the Son (St. Jn 17: 15, 18). Surely, then the celebration of the Easter event is not to glorify the Son’s conquest over sin and death, but also a challenge to us living in the present to make evident to the world the transforming power of the resurrection.

Therein lies the challenge to the Orthodox believer. Are we Orthodox enough to believe that there is a surety and hope in what the Church teaches about the power of the resurrected Christ? Can we convert this belief into Orthopraxy so that others can see that the Church and its teachings are vital and relevant today? If we respond positively to these questions then we are left with no doubt that this is the hour to ensure that the Church is transformed, the self is transformed, both leading to the transformation of all creation itself.

Metropolitan

Dr. Youhanon Mar Demetrios

Metropolitan's Message

Dearly Beloved,   "Hope of the Hopeless: The Affirmation of the                                                                          Resurrection" Despite the veneer of peace and prosperity…

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Thought for the Month

                                Shepherds of Significance

The Gospel of St Luke portrays a group of shepherds, who were probably the first people to learn about the birth of a Savior and who visited the new born Baby at the manger and proclaimed the divine birth in public. St. Luke “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” (Luke 1:1-4) and reported in Chapter 2: 8-20 about the specially chosen shepherds who received the great message of universal importance,

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told”.

I really wonder why the angels appeared to a group of unnamed shepherds at night outside a small village called Bethlehem to proclaim a message of universal importance.
Shepherds were poor people who watched over their flock, a job which lacked any sense of respect or dignity from the society. It was perceived to be the last resort for a jobless man. However, shepherds were tough, tough in every sense of the word. They had to stay up all night and all day in order to deal with troublesome animals, fight wolves, lions, and bears to protect his flock. Moreover, shepherds were intimidating. Bishop Craig Satterlee writes, “Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits. The religious establishment took a particularly dim view of shepherds since the regular exercise of shepherds’ duties kept them from observing the Sabbath and rendered them ritually unclean. The Pharisees classed shepherds with tax collectors and prostitutes, persons who were “sinners” by virtue of their vocation.” Hence, they belonged to the lower ranks of the society.

But the question remains: Why shepherds?
One could argue that the conception and birth of Jesus Christ was the greatest event in history. God had become a human being, was born in Bethlehem, and was named Jesus. Yet, this good news was proclaimed by angels to these shepherds. If protocol demands, the news of this importance should have been told to the highest authorities in the region, not the world. It should have been announced by the angels to Caesar Augustus in Rome? or to the Roman Governor Quirinius or King Herod? Why didn’t they appear to the Jewish high priest at the Temple? Again the question remains, why shepherds?

The Mishnah, a collection of documents recording oral traditions governing the lives of Jewish people during the period of the Pharisees, considers the possibility that these were not shepherds of ordinary sheep. Alfred Edersheim (1825-1889) provides a fascinating answer to our question in his book’ The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah. Writing about these shepherds, Edersheim referenced the Jewish Mishnah. One regulation in the Mishnah “expressly forbids the keeping of flocks throughout the land of Israel, except in the wildernesses – and the only flocks otherwise kept, would be those for the Temple-services” .Jerusalem and Bethlehem, and their surrounding fields were not in the wilderness where ordinary flocks of sheep were kept. Therefore, according to the Jewish regulations, the flocks under the care of the shepherds near Bethlehem must have been “for the Temple-services.” These shepherds watched over sheep destined as sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem.

Here lay the significance of the Shepherds of Bethlehem. If the flocks of sheeps are kept for the temple services; the shepherds watching over it are also specially chosen for the purpose and not like the nomadic ordinary shepherds of Bethlehem. Edershime wrote, “…everything points to these shepherds watching over sheep used for sacrifice. What would they have thought when they heard: ‘Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord’ ” (2:11). The message of the angels signified, among other things, that the time of animal sacrifices would soon end. The offering of Jesus Christ, the Savior would soon take place. It is no wonder that these shepherds “glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen”. This clearly resonates with the celebratory spirit of Christmas, a traditional time for celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Let’s remember why he came – not only to live but also to die – the perfect sacrifice for sin, once and for all.

Like the Shepherds of significance, we all are specially chosen for God’s purposes and are dignified enough to hear the good news from God and to proclaim to the world. As the chosen shepherds heard the good news and travelled far to see the incarnated God, let us also set for a search in our life to see the divine Child. Let us hurry and join the shepherds saying:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men and women, on whom his favor rests”.

Rev. Fr. Saji Yohannan
(DIOCESAN SECRETARY)