Thursday, October 9, 2014

Something about Mary: The worship order


Prayer
Leader: In the name of God and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, one true God.
People: Glory be to God; and may God’s grace and mercy be upon us for ever. Amen.
Leader: Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, by whose glory, the heaven and the earth are filled; Hosanna in the highest.
People: Blessed is God who has come, and is to come in the name of the Lord; glory be to God in the highest.

Trisagion
Leader: Holy art Thou, O God.
People:
Holy art Thou, Almighty;
Holy art Thou, Immortal;
+ Crucified for us, have mercy on us. (Thrice)

Leader: Lord, have mercy upon us,
People: Lord, be kind and have mercy;
Lord, accept our prayers and worship and have mercy on us.
Leader: Glory be to Thee, O God;
People: Glory be to Thee, O creator;
Glory be to Thee, O Christ, the King who does pity sinners, Thy servants.

The Lord's Prayer
Leader: Our God, who art in Heaven,
People: Hallowed be Thy name. Thy Kingdom come; Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread: and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one; for Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory for ever and ever. Amen.

Hail Mary
Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace,
People: Our Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, our Lord, Jesus Christ. O Virgin Saint Mary, O Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at all times, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Opening prayer
Gracious God, we come into your presence knowing fully well that we are imperfect in our thoughts, actions and deeds. Accept us into your presence and give us the assurance of your timely interventions and grace. We come together as a community of the living and the departed and give praise and thanks to you now and forever. Amen.


Hymn: For the beauty of the earth

1. For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

2. For the beauty of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale, and tree and flower,
sun and moon, and stars of light;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

3. For the joy of ear and eye,
for the heart and mind's delight,
for the mystic harmony,
linking sense to sound and sight;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

4. For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

5. For thy church, that evermore
lifteth holy hands above,
offering up on every shore
her pure sacrifice of love;
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

6. For thyself, best Gift Divine,
to the world so freely given,
for that great, great love of thine,
peace on earth, and joy in heaven:
Lord of all, to thee we raise
this our hymn of grateful praise.

Bible reading: Luke 1:26-38


Skit based on an adaptation of Luke 1:26-38


Sermon: Something about Mary


Special song: MTh I

Intercessory prayers
God of our forefathers and foremothers, we seek your soothing intervention in our lives. Help us to overcome fear, be steadfast in our faith in you and build our devotion to you, O God, through the intercession of St. Mary and all your blessed saints. May those close to you be an inspiration to us so that we may also strive to be close to you by emulating your acts of love and sacrifice. Help us to be modest in our personal ambitions but enthusiastic to help others and the community in which we live in. Kyrie eleison. (Sung by the choir)

Lord Jesus, you have guided the UTC community in various ways. Educators, administrators, learners, workers, individuals and families have all benefited from this theological college. We pray that you grace the grounds of this institution by your mercy and care and that we may continue to serve the church, society, our country, the world and its people and God’s creation. We are in need of buildings, equipments, people, ideas and concerted team work from all corners. Help us to work for the present and future of the UTC while cherishing those gone by and those who contributed immensely. We pray for our principal, his team of teaching and administrative staff, maintenance and care giving staff, the students and all family members. We remember with great affection all the contributors to the college and pray that they think and act for the welfare of the college in their own different ways. Kyrie eleison.

Liberating God, your sense of justice and peace is what we need in a world being torn apart by hatred and conflict. People are dying in the thousands in Iraq and Syria, children and women along with men are trying to rebuild their homes and dreams in Palestine, the Ebola virus is wrecking havoc in parts of Africa creating fear in the minds of people, the government is struggling to put up a plan of action in Jammu and Kashmir post floods and grieving families in Bihar are trying to make sense of why death came during a festival and celebration. God we pray that we may ultimately work for life and life in abundance. Let there be no untimely death and instead life and love. Kyrie eleison.

Living God, we ask for your healing touch for those in our community and outside who are afflicted with body ailments and diseases. We seek timely and effective medical care and wise decisions by medical care givers that those in pain may recover and continue with their lives. Let us pause for a moment and remember all those in college and in our families, friend and church circles. Let us remember their names and pray for them. Kyrie eleison
Resurrected God, we pray for all the departed in UTC. We pray that our teachers, colleagues, student friends, parents, siblings, extended family members and friends be in the warm and comforting presence and lap of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. May they have comfort in the heavenly paradise and may we meet and share happiness with them during the second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let us spend a couple of minutes remembering those close to us who are no more but who nevertheless live in the assurance of the resurrected Christ. May the peace of God that passes all understanding be with those who are grieving on losing a loved one. Kyrie eleison.

Confession (Together)
God our family, friend and spirit, we bow our heads knowing fully well that we have been lethargic in reaching out to our brothers and sisters and knowing their needs and acting accordingly. At times we have wanted to but were prevented from doing good and performing acts of empathy and solidarity. We haven’t been able to make credible voices in favour of the poor and those at the margins. Others have yearned for a look, a handshake, a smile and a hug. But we looked away and wore a grim face and feared touching others. Help us to help ourselves and by that to be of help to others. Those gone by have provided inspiration for us. May we and our departed bare our souls and selves before you O God. Amen.

Assurance of pardon
Leader: We have been called as servants of God to offer solace to the poor, the hungry and those who feel guilty because of having too much of anything. We have been sent to the villages, gullies, cities and houses to preach forgiveness and love to all. We join others in ministry and in the service of our Lord Jesus Christ, in offering God’s pardon and peace of mind to all those who have truly come and confessed through words, gestures, and prayers. Amen.


Closing hymn: Abide with me

1. Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide;
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
2. Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see—
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.
3. I need Thy presence every passing hour;
What but Thy grace can foil the tempter’s pow’r?
Who, like Thyself, my guide and stay can be?
Through cloud and sunshine, Lord, abide with me.
4. I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me.
5. Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes;
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies;
Heav’n’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.

Closing prayer and benediction
Leader: In the ending there is a beginning, at the close there is hope of the start, in sending there is the assurance of the presence of God and in soberness there is the smile of another day, another time and another service. We go away only to assemble again as a faith community, seeking each other’s presence, understanding and prayer. Go in peace, go with your heads held high, disperse knowing that we are praying for you, as you pray for us, and preach love to those you come across. May the friendship and love of God our all, the mercy and grace of our teacher Jesus Christ and the togetherness and fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us and our dearly departed now and forever more. Amen.





(Sections of the worship order used for the Sunday evening worship in UTC on October 5, 2014.)

Pictures courtesy Mr. Calvin Sushith Ambler.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Something about Mary: The sermon


Luke 1:26-38
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, 27 to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.”[a] 29 But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30 The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”[b] 35 The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born[c] will be holy; he will be called Son of God. 36 And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.


Ecumenism has not died dear friends. Today’s worship is an effort to say that ecumenism still lives and we need it more than ever before. Misunderstanding of cultures, beliefs and systems are not inter-religious problems but inter-denominational, ecumenical problems. We need to sort out issues between ourselves inside the church before commenting on other aspects of religion and society.

So what is a Syrian Orthodox priest doing in UTC? Can the CSI and CNI come to a common understanding with the Pentecostal, Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches? Is there something more than Jesus that we can look up to for a common ground? This Sunday, these are some questions we can try to answer.


Luke 1:26-38 explains the announcement of angel Gabriel to Mary that she is going to give birth to Jesus. Mary is quite astounded and taken aback by the announcement but Gabriel reassures her. The skit that we saw took a different look at the passage and shows how Mary fears domestication as that which cannot fulfill what Gabriel announces to her. Mary’s status of a virgin is also her curse and she tries to make sense of what is happening.

“Something about Mary” is an effort to make sense of Gabriel’s announcement to Mary and how she responds to it. It is also an effort to see how Mother Mary offers a chance for unity between churches which can in turn keep the ecumenical flame burning.

Some of the traditional ways of looking at the passage is to point out the obedience of Mary, her virginity and thereby holiness and her special place in the church. While the churches belonging to the Orthodox and Catholic families have given St. Mary the status of ‘Theotokos’, the mother of God, others have questioned her virginity and her status as mother of God and also her status as someone who has to be venerated.

Our present struggles involve looking at other religions and our acceptance of them. My concern is to look within Christianity and identify common grounding through inspired reading of the Bible. Our readings are inspired and led by the Holy Spirit and one should not doubt that.

The read passage offers us hope that there is something about Mary that could bring us together. It’s not just the procession or the chanting but the inspiration of Mary’s self that offers us life in its fullness.

1. Jo dhar ghaya samjo mar gaya- This is a dialogue in the iconic Hindi movie “Sholay” in which Amjad Khan playing Gabbar Singh delivers the eternally famous dialogue to his accomplices after shooting three of them. It just means that those who get scared or have fear in them will die then and there. Mary is scared of all that could happen by this visit of Gabriel. She is perplexed. One cannot blame her. She must have thought of the stories of spirits visiting people and what came about from these visits. She must have also thought of what was this character Gabriel hanging around for and trying to do by calling her the ‘favoured one’?

What was indeed going to happen? Was her freedom going to end? Would she be cornered into submission? The relationship between churches also borders around fear. Will I become less holy or pure if I mingle with other churches, will my people flock to other churches if I appear cozy with them, are others and their practises non-Christian and non-spiritual? Fear plays an important spoiler in ecumenical relations. Mary was also bordering around fear. The fear of losing familiar ground must have weighed heavily on her mind. Gabriel was telling things strange and unheard of. Would Mary be a victim to non-religious things? Mary being a Jew was doing something sacrilegious. She did what no other person would have the courage to do. She was becoming anti-religious from within the religion she stood in and anti-societal inside the society she was part of. She was scared but she overcame fear.

Mary’s reaction which overcomes the understanding “Jo dhar gaya, samjo mar gaya” not only defeats death for her but ensures life and salvation for all people as well. Mother Mary then becomes the symbolism of life by overcoming fear and death. She becomes the bearer of the son of God not by submission but by overcoming fear. This is a good model to follow for ecumenism as well. We don’t just submit to each other but we overcome the fear of one another and favour life through the birth of Christ in each of us.

2. Aathi kya Khandala? Virginity is not conformity.
Luke 1: 26-38 is misunderstood in several respects and Mother Mary is made out into a subservient, submissive, conformist by many. Elizabeth Johnson in her book “Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints” makes the observation that several women writers have said that Mary has let down women by being a conformist and allowing Christian writers to make her the correct woman figure over and against Eve, because Mary reflects obedience over Eve’s disobedience. But this is far from the truth. Mary, as pointed out in the skit is not submissive but instead tries to prevent Gabriel from having his say. The biblical writer must have written it in a way to suggest that Mary is showcasing and questioning domestication and using virginity as an anti thesis to submission. It is not submission but questioning. It is not the oppression of women but the expression of women.

The 1998 Hindi movie “Ghulam” starring Aamir Khan and Rani Mukherjee was a runaway hit and had a very popular song “Aathi kya Khandala”. Khandala is a hill station and a place which is popular among the youth. The song has a young man telling the girl that they will go to Khandala and have fun.
Aey, Kya Bolti Tu
Aey, Kya Mein Bolun
Sun, Suna,
Aati Kya Khandala
Kya,Karoon, Aake Mein Khandala,
Arey Ghoomenge Phirenge Nachenge Gaaenge
Aish Karenge Aur Kya
Aey, Kya Bolti Tu
Aey, Kya Mein Bolun
But just because a girl goes there does not mean that she is morally worse than the boy who accompanied her. This pick up line “Aathi kya Khandala” was used and is still used by eve teasers and molestors on the road. An sms which went around much after the release of the movie was about a girl who had covered her face while entering the bus. An elderly man asks her “Aathi kya Khandala?” She replies “Papa, ye mein hoo” meaning father this is me your daughter.
Angel Gabriel is of course not asking Mary to go to Khandala with him. But Mary must have been petrified of having someone like him next to her, suggesting she is going to give birth to a child. Her reply that she is a virgin or that she is domesticated should be seen in two ways. One is to suggest that the angel should leave her alone and that she has nothing to do with men but is rather independent. Two is to suggest that how can a domesticated woman like her give birth to the son of the most high when she is domesticated by a patriarchal, male centric society? How can such good come out of her when she is part of the corrupt structure?

The church sees both in bits and pieces- Mary’s independence more than her virginity was at one point of time looked at as independence from the system. So the church identified with such independence. Many women in academic discourse call Mary as a domesticated saint. This means that she has been accepted, elevated and used by a patriarchal church leadership and this essentially means that she is of no use to women. But on the other hand Mary is also questioning domestication and the skewed connotation of virginity. Mary refuses to get into the patriarchal “Aathi kya Khandala” enquiry and instead deals with the angel, writer and the church on her own terms. Joseph’s role even though small is very significant. He acts as the perfect decoy in the story, making people look at him and in the process Mary gets her space and freedom.

Non-Catholic and non-Orthodox churches need not write off Mother Mary as a domesticated saint. The church may have domesticated Mary to an extent but Mary has not allowed herself to be domesticated. Taking Mariology seriously can bring churches closer to tackle the problems posed by patriarchy and kierarchy, which is power centred. Having various church festivals in an ecumenical setting helps us to realize that we are not domesticated virgins but rather children of God, inspired by the life of saints like Mother Mary.

In my church the eight day lent from Sep 1-8 is commemorated to celebrate the nativity of St. Mary. But this is not an official church lent. Yet hundreds of thousands of people, especially women observe this lent and identify with Mother Mary and intercede to her. They talk, cry, spent time with and completely immerse themselves with Mother Mary. This is not church induced but people induced. Understanding such traditions and observances gives a much needed fillip and energy for sagging ecumenical relations between churches.

3. Mere Paas Maa hai- The MOM mission
The assurance of angel Gabriel to Mary is that she will be filled with the Holy Spirit and bear a child who will be holy. It also suggests that the child bearer will be holy. In the 1975 Hindi movie Deewar, the character Vijay played by Amitabh Bachan tells his brother Ravi played by Shashi Kapoor, “Aaj mere paas paisa hai, bangla hai, gaadi hai, naukar hai, bank balance hai. Aur tumhare paas kya hai?” His brother replies “Mere paas Maa hai.” To the statement that one brother has money, a house, a car, a domestic help and a bank balance the other says that he has his mother with him!

The importance of a mother is well said and it reflects popular culture as well. The church believes that Mother Mary has the freedom and the proximity to intercede to her son Jesus. This is the special freedom of a mother. Ecumenical relations between churches are partly suffering because of an Americanised, homogenized, media style spirituality which leaves no space for the expression of local culture in our prayer and relationship with God. The neglect of the East and its spirituality is a cause of concern and a thorn in the flesh of ecumenical understanding between churches.
A New York Times cartoon reflects this refusal to accept India’s growth.


The Mangalyan Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) has been hailed as a success for a country like India. It has been cost effective and speedy and has used local elements in its research and design. Yet the cartoon shows a person with a cow knocking at the door of the Elite Space Club. It also reflects this coat and tie spirituality from the U.S., exported and marketed by a section of people there. This uni-directional, anti-culture spirituality which is against local cultures and traditions poses a grave danger to Christian traditions in India and their relationship with each other.

The Mary Orbiter Mission can give us the opportunity to taste success in relationships between churches. This is a mutually respecting, learning and growing experience which has to be encouraged more in our context. To sum up, we must overcome fear, be non-conformists to wrong approaches and try to widen our belief system so that our prayers and spirituality become more effective. UTC becomes an apt space for us. It is a place to love, embrace and learn from each other. It is a vibrant ground of acceptance and respect. May God through the intercession of Mother Mary give us the opportunity to be good and better followers of Christ. Amen.



(Excerpts from a sermon preached in UTC for the Sunday evening worship on October 5, 2014.)
Picture credits: Calvin Sushit Ambler, Sr. Shruti,indiatimes.com and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Orthodox_Church

Friday, September 19, 2014

Celebrating Onam: Why festivals and celebrations should not be shunted out of churches



The festival of Onam is an attribute of inter religious harmony and a fact that Christians exist in society with other people. This realisation brings us to the fact that traditions and celebrations have to be done together. Togetherness can be fostered only when we celebrate it together.

Onam in particular is not the festival of the other, the unknown, the infidel or the pagan. Onam is the festival of all because it talks of a king who fought injustice and encouraged equality. Mahabali’s sacrifice is a reminder that all have to stand up against injustice. It is not an option, as justice can never be an option. Justice can only be attained by fighting collectively. Justice is the precursor to peace. So for peace, we all have to strive for justice.

Further, the usage pagan is archaic, old and uncouth for our times. We cannot humiliate others by using such terms. Luke 10:27 says “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” The fight of the ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria is also against whom they term infidels, in essence, us. If we have now collectively come together against the inhuman ISIS, we also have to stop inhuman usages and terminologies in our own spaces.

The sanctity given for the church cannot be limited to the church. It only means that the sanctity is Sanctus sanctorum within prescribed limits but sanctity also extends to the outside of the church and further beyond the walls of the church. So every inch of the world is holy because it is God’s creation. We cannot behave in one way in church and in another way outside the church. If we do that, we are lying to ourselves and playing games with our conscience. So to not have festivities in church means we should not have it anywhere. The oft quoted concept of ‘liturgy after liturgy’ reminds us that goodness is not limited to the church and to a Sunday. John 10:10 says “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Purity is a very dangerous concept and has been used to keep out women and people from lower castes, using the purview of holiness. This is profoundly dangerous. One cannot associate and approach festivities with purity. Purity should be broken down to include everything into our domain of spirituality. Galatians 3:28 perhaps mentions that no one is purer than the other while saying “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Onam festivities also become a problem because we associate it with morality. Morality is one of the biggest sins of religion and Jesus rubbishes it when he says in John 8:7 “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” One should not talk of what is moral and what is not and should instead accept justice, equality and peace as the central pillars of Christianity. Whatever goes along with this can be associated with the church.

Christianity in Kerala has had its ups and downs as is the case with the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church. But the church has also managed inculturation and understanding which is reflected in the church architecture, traditional lamps and minnu or thali used by the bride. Will the church now ask all the married women to break their minnu or thali as it is un Christian? St. Paul in Acts 17 is aware and uses the language and themes of the local culture to speak to people there. It is another thing that he uses this to his advantage.

Christianity has from old adopted to and adapted local culture and has used it to their advantage and given it their own form. Indian religious beliefs have done the same with Jesus. Jesus is very wise when he tells his disciples in Mark 9:39-40 “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” One has to suspect a resurgent belief to throw everything out of the church as an Americanised, homogenized form of Christianity. Homogenization, as the media teaches us is essential for wide distribution of a message. But this message may not be relevant for all people.

One cannot be a Christian in church, hybrid at work, a Keralite in the house, an ‘anything goes’ with friends and a conservative at rallies. Faith and life go together. It is important for us to stop the ISIS-ization and US-ization of the world, which brands everyone as wrong, sinful, pagan, infidel and impure. As Jesus shows in John 4 in his interaction with the Samaritan woman, one should in the process of maintaining one’s belief respect the belief of others. One should also come together in collectives and co-operatives to root out injustice and violence and encourage justice and peace.

Onam and other festivals are an opportunity to understand each other. This time in our small church in Bangalore we are celebrating Onam and we have invited our Christian, Muslim and Hindu neighbours to come and join us and share our food. They have eagerly agreed because they also want blessings from God and want acceptence from our community of faith. In this process we will undergo a self purification and self correction and allow the real Christ to speak for himself, instead of putting words into his mouth. 1 John 4:7-8 clarifies “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

Churches outside Kerala are sometimes service centres which have services in class rooms, auditoriums and the like. What happens when the sacred steps into the so called profane? If it is a problem when the profane steps into the sacred, the same should apply in the reverse as well! If the understanding to keep the church off limits for certain things is to keep the profane away, what happens when after service one week the altar is again placed at the so called profane in the process of the following service?

Congregations outside Kerala rarely meet each other and the church becomes a conglomeration of everything put together. Birth, life, death, joy, festivities, togetherness, protests, prayer and the world itself becomes the church. The church becomes ‘everything’ for the believer rather than ‘something.’

Flowers, lights, colour and graceful dancing are all part of Christian culture as much as anything else. We think it is un-Christian and pagan because we associate it with the stranger across the road, chanting prayers in a language not understood by us. But our prayers are equally confusing for others. Festivities in church are a coming together, an in between, a strange but comforting place, a thought which says, I am a Christian, you are a non-Christian, but here is something which can bring us together to share a meal on a warm, green leaf.




Picture courtesy www.imgion.com

Monday, September 15, 2014

Black Sunday: Protest march and meeting held to show solidarity with Christians and Minorities in Iraq and Syria


The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF), the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and several like minded churches including the CSI, Methodist and Pentecostal churches held a protest march and meeting yesterday at 2:00 P.M. to protest against the atrocities, violence and genocide against Christians and minorities in Iraq and Syria.


The protest march and meeting was attended by over 10,000 people from various walks of life. The march which started from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at 2:00 P.M. ended at St. Joseph’s Indian School ground at 3 o clock. The meeting was presided over by the Catholic Arch bishop of the Bangalore diocese, Arch bishop Dr. Bernard Moras, and attended by the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church metropolitan of the Bangalore diocese, H.G. Pathros Mor Osthatheos, Sri Shanthaveera, Kolada Math Swamiji, Vicar General Msgr S. Jayanathan, CSI, Methodist and Baptist pastors, as well as Sikh representive Sri Doni, Muslim representative Mr. Agha Khan, former deputy chief minister and BJP leader Sri R. Ashok and Shanthinagar MLA and Congress leader Mr. N. A. Harris. Mr. Abraham T.J., President of FKCCA and ICU was present with a sea of priests, nuns, educators, lay leaders, church members, students and volunteers.




The speakers were unanimous in saying that no religion practises violence and what is now being seen is the misinterpretation of religion by certain elements in society. The Arch bishop Bernard Moras talked of the importance of expressing solidarity with those afflicted by human and natural calamities all over the world. This included floods in Kashmir over a week ago. He said that human beings and Christians have to come together to express a credible response to anything which is anti human and anti life. He explained the video of Pope Francis which was showed during the meeting and said how many more lives would it take for people to speak up. The Arch bishop ended by quoting Rev. Niemoller’s provocative poem saying
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.




Bishop H.G. Pathros Osthatheos sang a Syriac song, translated into Malayalam as well, which spoke of the prayer to God to shower grace and mercy upon his creation always and give good sense to the creation of God to act well. The bishop reiterated what other religious leaders spoke of and said that human beings are basically peace loving and the ecumenical get together to protest against the atrocities in Iraq and Syria showed that human beings care for each other. There are many regional and religious considerations which one has to take into consideration when thinking of the present crisis but above all we all have to come together for a strong response and call to peace. He informed the gathering that his church was in the direct line of conflict and that the Patriarch of the church was in talks with world leaders to bring an end to this horrendous conflict. The bishop hoped that everyone would follow the bidding of God and act according to the will of God instead of their own wills.


Sri Shantaveera Swamiji remembered the contribution of Christians in the field of education and service to the poor. He said that the Hindu way of life also calls for peace and Christians have offered so much to Hindus in India. Sri R. Ashok said that all religions are peaceful and anyone who said otherwise was not religious. Mr. N.A. Harris said that any Muslim who does not believe in Christ is not a Muslim and said that he is a public representative who tries to see everyone as human beings.


Sri Doni talked about the beatitudes and said that the message of Christ was so peaceful. He said that he was an Indian by birth, a Sikh by faith and a Christian by practise. Mr. Agha Khan stressed that he was a Muslim and a Josephite and was thankful for the contribution that his education made in his life. He urged the audience to not make the mistake of thinking that Islam is anti Christian. He talked about his own experiences in Iraq and said that the present crisis was a result of those who did not know what the Quran was all about. He then went on to promise that he was willing to give his life for the sake of others. Mr. Abraham T.J. reminded everyone that this was the time to be bold in responding against injustice in society instead of being spineless people. He repeated that silence is violence and it is time that Christians and minorities stood up and spoke instead of remaining silent saying that it is not their concern.


The meeting ended with a vote of thanks by Fr. Ronnie Prabhu who thanked the big gathering and wished that peace would replace violence in the world.







Pictures courtesy:
Benjamin Raphael

Daijiworld

Sujoy

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Black Sunday: Public Protest Rally to be held tomorrow in Bangalore


The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF), the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church and several like minded churches including the CSI, Methodist, Pentecostal and Orthodox will be holding a protest march and meeting to protest against the atrocities, violence and genocide against Christians and minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. The protest rally will start tomorrow, Sunday, September 14, 2014 at St. Patrick's Church on Museum Road, Bangalore at 2:00 P.M.and culminate at the St. Joseph's Indian School ground, near Mallya Hospital, and opposite the Sree Kanteerava stadium, Bangalore. (Google maps can be seen here)

The public meeting at St. Joseph's Indian school ground will start at 3:00 P.M. Archbishop Dr. Bernard Moras of the Catholic Church, H.G. Bishop Pathros Osthatheos, Bishop of the Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Mr. Abraham T.J., President of FKCCA and ICU and other bishops, priests and lay leaders will be present. Dharmaram seminary has produced a short video on the crisis in Iraq. It can be found here.

Following is a report of the meeting held on August 27, 2014 to plan the above meeting.

The Meeting coordinated on 27/08/2014 by Mr.Abraham T.J-President FKCCA & ICU, to discuss the genocide of Christians in Iraq, at the Palana Bhavan, in the vicinity of the Bangalore Archbishop’s House, which was benevolently provided by His Grace, Most.Rev.Dr.Bernard Moras, the Archbishop of Bangalore, had the following participants:- Fr.Jose Kumblolickal-Provincial, Missionaries of St.Francis de Sales (msfs), Sr.Alice P.T, fsi,-Superior, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (fsi), Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad (CSI), Sr.Lincy Cherian, scsc-Provincial, Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, cmi,-Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, cmi, Parish Priest, St.Thomas Florane Church, Rev.N.J.Samson,-Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation, Pastor. Rev. Robinson Paul Gen-Sec Bangalore City Pentecost, Fr.Jerry Kurian-Representing Bishop, H.G.Pathrose Orthathies, Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Fr.Ronnie Prabhu-PRO of the Bangalore Arch dioceses, Sr.Rashmi, ccst,-Superior, St.Tresa’s Convent, Gadddelahalli, Fr.Peter D’Souza-Director Sumanahalli, Sr.Victoria William-Delegate Superior, Daughters of St.Mary of Providence (Guanellians) (dsmp), Sr.Mercy Abraham, rgs,-Superior, Good Shepherd Community, Fr.John Solomon-Parish Priest, Immaculate Conception Church, Fr.Thomaiar-Parish Priest, Holy Family Church R.M.Nagar, Fr.Alwyn Dias- Vicar Provincial, Capuchin Province of Karnataka, Rev.Alfred Sudarshan–CSI, Koramangala Church, Mr.Augustine Prashanth-CSI, Shaffer Memorial Church, Sr.Mable D’Silva-Superior, Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), Sr.Maxime, scs,-Superior, Satyaseva Catechist Sisters of the Families (scs), Sr.Rosa Ittira, rmi, -Superior, Relegious pf Mary Immaculate (rmi), Fr.Herald Christopher, msfs,-Principal, St.Francis De Sales P.U.College, Mr.D.William Pratap–CSI, Hudson Memorial Church, Sr.Adeena Mary, fih,-Superior, Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (fih), Sr.Francis Xavier Mary Vedamuthu,sjl-Superior, Sisters of St.Joseph of Lyon (sjl), Sr.M.Jyotsna, ac, -Headmistress, St.Antony’s Kannada Higher Primary School, Sr. Jessilia Mendonsa O.Ss.S-Superior, Order of the Our Most Holy Saviour (Bridgettiness), Sr.Vimala Savarimuttu,fsp,-Superior, Daughters of St Paul (fsp), Rev.D.N.Samuel-Faith Tabernacle Ministries and also several priests and nuns representing the Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), St.Tresa’s Generalite, Gaddalahalli, the Society of Jesuits, Carmel Ministries, Order of Friars of Minor Capuchins (ofm cap) Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (rndm), Sisters of St.Joseph of Cluny (sjc), Missionary Sisters of the Catholic Apostolate (Pallottine Missionary Sisters) (sac), Relegious pf Mary Immaculate (rmi), Sisters of Our Lady of the Missions (rndm), Prison Ministry, Sisters of St.Charles Borromeo (scb), Order of Disabled Carmelites (ocd), Sacred Heart Congregation for Women (kerala) (sh)
The deliberations got underway with the introduction of the subject by Abraham T.J, and the commencement prayer by Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad of the CSI church, after which Fr.Jose Kumblolickal, Provincial Missionaries of St.Francis de Sales (msfs) spoke of the need to collectively take a stand immediately to demonstrate and let the world know that we the Christians in Bangalore are concerned about the happenings in Iraq against Christians, especially those Christians who have preferred to sacrifice their lives, instead of embracing Islam. Sr.Alice P.T, fsi, Superior of the Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate (fsi), expressed solidarity and offered all the help of her community that would be required in this direction and also expressing pain about the way in which those people’s lives have been cut short for upholding the faith. Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad (CSI) spoke of the need for the Christians the people of the Covenants to go into what is happening to the Palestinians in Israel also and that these holocausts were infectious and could spread into India also. Condemnation of any kind of violence and genocide was the need of the hour and we need to come together to express our disapproval of the same. Sr.Lincy Cherian, scsc Provincial of Sisters of Mercy of the Holy Cross, Holy Cross Provincialate, felt that there is a need for us to also remember the sufferings our brothers and sisters in Syria, Ukraine and so on, hence along with a protest against what is happening in Iraq against Christians we need to also send out our opinion of non-acceptance of violence. Further stated that any kind of a voice from Bangalore will be heard by the world, hence there was a need to invite the attention of world leaders, Human Rights forum and even the UNO. She also felt that along with this we need to physically demonstrate our anguish against the happenings in Iraq. Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, cmi, representing Carmelites of Mary Immaculate, cmi, Parish Priest of St.Thomas Florane Church felt that we need to firstly observe a day of prayer and fasting and secondly bring all denominations together and have a march or a rally to demonstrate that we are opposed to the inhuman genocide in Iraq and also else where. He felt the need to enlighten Christian’s at our parish and church level itself about the happenings in Iraq. Rev. N.J. Samson, Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation felt that it was easy for Samson to bring 400 foxes together but it was difficult to bring all Christians together and yet so many denominations have come together to discuss the action plan on Iraq. He suggested that everyone together as a Christian body and observe a day of prayer and also an action plan to chalk out the form of protest against the persecution in Iraq. Pastor. Rev. Robinson Pal, representing the Pentecostal Church felt that our protest in Bangalore, which has thousands of Churches and several Lakhs of Christians, some or most of whom have non-Christian names should let the entire Country know that we are not happy with what is happening in Iraq. Fr.Alwyn Dias- Vicar Provincial, Capuchin Province of Karnataka strongly felt “when we see violence our silence is also an equally condemnable violence and injustice against humanity, when we do not raise our voice against it”, and urged everyone to raise their voice or be ready to accept the blame that we are also a part of the violence by our silence. Fr.Jerry Kurian representing the Bishop, H.G.Pathros Osthathios of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, spoke about the need to understand the Israel and U.S. interference before coming to Iraq, and seeing Iraq, Syria and Palestine together. He felt that as per unofficial estimates One lakh 70 thousand people have been killed in Syria and the Indian media or the American media has not reported this because it is of no interest to them. Five percent of the population in Iraq consisted of Christians and now it is dwindling and this started in 2003 itself. He strongly felt that the problem in Iraq was caused by a “misunderstanding of Islam” and a misunderstanding of Christians in the Middle East as well. Those who propagate the holocaust were unaware of true Islam. Fr.Ronnie Prabhu-PRO of the Bangalore Arch dioceses, representing the Arch Bishop of Bangalore felt that we need to exercise the power of meditation and communicate vehemently, others may not listen yet there would be an effect on all of them when we communicate through protests and felt that there must be a reflection of the sufferings, the pain, the anguish and the brokenness of Christians in Iraq in every church and in every community, Fr.Herald Christopher, msfs,-Principal, St.Francis De Sales P.U.College, suggested the using of electronic media extensively and also suggested that Christians of all denominations should not only in Bangalore or Karnataka but all over India if possible observe a Sunday as a “BLACK SUNDAY”, by wearing black dress or a black badge or a black band to publicly express our resentment of the massacre of Christians in Iraq.
The meeting concluded with all those gathered there resolving firstly, that Christians of all denominations observe Friday the 12th of September as a day of ‘Fasting and Prayer’ for the suffering Christians in Iraq, all over Karnataka and if possible spread it across India also. Secondly, observe a ‘BLACK SUNDAY’ and also hold a public rally on Sunday the 14th of September in Bangalore, with the participation of all the denominations and finally to draw the attention of the State and the Central government, demanding them to condemn the genocide of Christians in Iraq.



Picture courtesy www.catholic.org

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Fast and pray for the minorities in Iraq, Syria and Palestine on September 12


The Federation of Karnataka Christian and Catholic Associations (FKCCA), the Indian Christian Union (ICU), the United Christian Forum (UCF) and several like minded body's have come together and decided on a fast and prayer on Friday, September 12, 2014 to protest against the genocide against minorities and Christians in Iraq, Syria and Palestine. Churches all over Karnataka will be having prayer and fasting in churches and wherever possible on Friday. The idea is to feel the pain of the hundreds of thousands suffering and to pray to God to help those who are fleeing from the aggression of the ISIS (IS) aggressors.

The Bangalore diocese of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church under its bishop H.G. Pathros Mor Osthatheos is also passing on the message to churches in Bangalore and asking people to fast and pray wherever they are; in churches, offices, schools and public places and tell their friends as to why they are not eating. Many members of the church are directly affected by the violence in Iraq and Syria.

The press note of the press conference held on August 30, 2014 in the Bangalore Press Club is given below.

PRESS NOTE 30/08/2014
1. Five percent of the population in Iraq consisted of Christians and now it is dwindling and this has started in 2003 itself not just today. The ‘New American’ reported that- “Before the U.S. government imposed so-called “democracy” on Iraq, estimates suggested there were as many as 1.5 million Christians throughout the diverse country. They had survived centuries of invasions, persecution, and more — but in many respects, the community was still thriving. Today, experts and Christian leaders suggest the number of Christians still in Iraq is somewhere closer to 200,000. Many of those would leave if they could”.
2. As per unofficial estimates One lakh and 70 thousand people have already been killed, yet the Indian Media or the American Media has not reported this because the American Media considers it as a Middle East problem, and the Indian Media has not reported it because it’s not the OTHERS, Non-Christians who are killed or suffering in Iraq.
3. We strongly feel that the problem in Iraq is caused by a “misunderstanding of Islam”, those who propagate the holocaust are actually unaware of true Islam and Quran’s teachings.
4. The silence of Christian’s in India and also the other communities regarding the persecution of innocent children, men and women in Iraq is by itself violence in silence. When we see violence our silence is also an equally condemnable violence and injustice against humanity, if we do not raise our voice against it. Hence we urge everyone to raise their voice or be ready to accept the blame that you are also a part of the violence by your silence.
5. Today it’s us Christian’s but, tomorrow it could be you, all the others such as the Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhists & Parsi’s
6. We, Christians belonging to all denominations would be observing September 12th Friday as a day of fast.
7. We, would be observing a ‘BLACK SUNDAY’ and also hold a public demonstration of protest on September 14th Sunday, at the St.Joseph’s Indian High School grounds at 3.00 pm and later a delegation of Bishops and leaders of all denominations led by the Arch Bishop of Bangalore, His Grace. Most.Rev.Bernard Moras would submit a memorandum to the Governor of Karnataka, inviting the attention of the central government to the plight of Christian’s in Iraq and demanding a strong denouncement by India of the holocaust of Christians in Iraq.
We appeal to all right thinking people Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Jain, Buddhists and Parsi’s to condemn the execution of Christian’s in Iraq in the name of religion.
Abraham T.J
President, Federation of Karnataka Christian& Catholic Associations-FKCCA
President, Indian Christian Union-ICU

Also addressing the press are Rev.Dr.D.Manohar Chandra Prasad,CSI Pastor, Sr.Lincy Cherian,Provincial of Holy Cross Provincialate, Fr.Thomas Kallukalam, Parish Priest, St.Thomas Frlorane Church, Dharmaram College P.O, Rev.N.J.Samson, Chairman & President, Karnataka Baptist Federation, Fr.Jerry Kurian-Representing Bishop H.G.Pathros Osthatheos of the Jacobite Syrian Orthodox Church, Fr.Victor Fernandes, Capuchin Fathers & Mr.Dolphy D'Cuna, President –Carmel Kutam.





Top picture courtesy www.ibtimes.co.uk

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Ask for needs, seek forgiveness and knock on the door of justice


Luke 11:9-20
9 “So I say to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for[e] a fish, will give a snake instead of a fish? 12 Or if the child asks for an egg, will give a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit[f] to those who ask him!”
Jesus and Beelzebul
14 Now he was casting out a demon that was mute; when the demon had gone out, the one who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 Others, to test him, kept demanding from him a sign from heaven. 17 But he knew what they were thinking and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes a desert, and house falls on house. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? —for you say that I cast out the demons by Beelzebul. 19 Now if I cast out the demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your exorcists[g] cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. 20 But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out the demons, then the kingdom of God has come to you.


Ask and it shall be given to you, seek and you will find and knock and the door will be opened for you. This was a clear exhortation from Jesus to those who were listening to and arguing with him. On the one hand it suggests persistence and perseverance. Never let go and keep persisting with God till God relents and gives us what we want. But on the other hand it also talks about believing that God as a parent will never forsake us. The relationship God has with human beings is so special that our needs will always be taken care of.

When Jesus’ disciples ask him on how they should pray, his prayer guideline include three prominent things. One, give us each day our daily bread, two, forgive our sins as we forgive others and three, do not bring us to the time of trial. All three resonate ask and it shall be given, seek and you will find and knock and the door will be opened for you.

We are guided to ask for our basic needs which may change from time to time but which are limited to the needs that a lot of people can get and should not be limited to a few. The prayer is also a community prayer and therefore how can there be poor and rich in the same community? All get together and pray to God and therefore any disproportion should be rectified. God gives a clear path to ask and everyone who asks will be answered and there is no question about that.

Forgive our sins as we forgive others goes along with seek and you will find. Seeking is not just wandering, researching and looking but seeking also becomes seeking and searching for forgiveness from those who we have wronged. Forgiveness is a two way process of forgiving others and seeking forgiveness from others. Jesus leads us to this narrow but bright path of seeking and finding.

Do not bring us to trial and knock and the door will be opened to you is the final part of Jesus’ framework. Our hesitation to knock is not just because we are suspicious and unsure about what God will do but because we are guilt ridden of what we have done. The step taken back along with the prayer to not bring us to trial is converted by Jesus into a step taken forward and knocking on the door which will be opened for us. The imagery is wonderful. Even as we see sections 11:3-4 and 11:9-10 as different, there is a great spiritual bridge which links them together.

Luke 9:11-20 provides a great framework for Christian life. Jesus reminds everyone of the real meaning of ask, seek and knock. Ask for needs, seek forgiveness and knock on the door knowing fully well that we have rectified our wrongs. The beauty of the writer’s explanation of Jesus and God is given a true expression when the mute man speaks. Jesus’ message is so powerful that the man who remained silent is exorcised of his demons and knocks on the door of justice. This unsettles the others. They have no where to go and they immediately accuse Jesus of being the ruler of the demons. This is a classic example of how people accuse us of vague things when they know that we are nearing in on the truth.

The setting is one of euphoria on the one side and fear on the other. Jesus and the man are talking the truth. On the other hand the people are scared of the truth and false accusations are all they know to make. Jesus is not shaken by this and shows them the senselessness of what they have just said. Instead of asking for what is rightfully theirs, seeking forgiveness for what they have done and knocking on the door for absolution, they justify their acts by coming up with an absurd accusation.

The church is also filled with such examples. People who are truly close to God have the experience of asking, seeking and knocking. But this Godly experience is made difficult for them by those who refuse to accept the societal justice and truth of God. Church then becomes a place where we struggle for justice and ask, seek and knock. Jesus assures us that God will never forsake us and will love us more than a father and a mother. Whenever we are silenced by those who usurp power and practise injustice, we should be assured that God will open our mouths against injustice and answer our prayers. Amen.




Thursday, August 21, 2014

Give me my chair



Luke 14:7-11.
7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable. 8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host; 9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place. 10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. 11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Don’t go for the best seat so that if the host comes and asks us to move, we won’t be embarrassed. Rather go for the last seat or the seat with no consequence so that when the host comes and asks to sit at a higher and better seat, it will be an honour for us.Perhaps the musical chair is one of the prominent games children are made to play in public. The game cuts across ages and is therefore popular among all age groups in church.

The concept is that we keep going for the available chairs, with many falling away without chairs and the winner being the person in possession of the final chair. It is not the final chair that Jesus talks about, but the final chair achieved through competition. The game is ingrained in each and every person that we won’t even hesitate to push others and get a chair. The chair and its possession becomes a primary skill one has to acquire at a young age itself.
What this does is to turn on its head the biblical message that we should not expect places of honour. This has been turned around to mean that we should fight for the final chair to win! How then can Jesus’ advise that the first will be last and the last first work in this instance? The musical chair is perhaps the wrong name. It should rather be the ‘final chair’ or the last wo/man sitting (standing)!

But where did this concept of musical chair come from? Competition, calculation and luck are very much a business model that one is told of in a business school. But can this be a model for the church? Actually not. Competition, calculation and luck (CCL) are all not supposed to be church language. Rather they are very anti church because they lead to division and hatred rather than love and community.Can we turn around the competition and start with one chair and go to many chairs rather? The first chair will only be a beginning and will lead to several chairs and people, bringing about the thrill of community, caring and togetherness (CCT). Everyone, big and small, tall and short, gets a seat or chair. But every opportunity of not getting a chair is only going to be an excitement that the next could be mine instead of thinking that we are out and all is lost.

Perhaps this is the way of looking at the parable of Jesus today. There are chairs for everyone. The last will be first and the first last. Everyone gets a chair and everyone gets to be someone on the chair because every chair is unique. An opportunity for one today is an opportunity for someone else tomorrow.The church should definitely be the place where people feel there is a chair for them. This is not a chair of competition, calculation and luck but a chair of rights, opportunities and goodwill and a chair of community, caring and togetherness. This way everyone who walks into church will be assured of getting a chair. The last being the first and the first last. If this can be brought to fruition the musical chair will change in essence and style to what it should be! Amen.




(Picture courtesy www.rev-elution.blogspot.in)