Friday, September 3, 2010

Is St. Mary our model of protest?

‘Ettu nombu’ (eight day lent from Sep 1- 8) is being observed by the Jacobite Syrian Church and several other churches for several decades now. Even though it is not an official lent of the church, the people have adopted it and made it their own lent whereby they faithfully abstain from meat and milk products and meditate in the mornings and participate in Qurbana. The culmination is celebrated with ‘pachor’ (a sweet preparation made with rice on the 7th evening) on the 8th morning.

The lent is supposed to have started as a result of the faith of the people in the intercessory powers of Mother Mary. Such is the belief in St. Mary that the church has accepted the wishes of the people and by now almost all churches in Kerala and other parts of India and the diaspora observe the eight day lent.

But what is the eight day lent really? For me the lent is a mass protest against injustices in society. The magnificat (Luke 1:46-56) of St. Mary includes these words of protest when she says, “For God has been mindful of the humble state of God’s servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the mighty one has done great things for me. Holy is God’s name. God’s mercy extends to those who fear God, from generation to generation. God has performed mighty deeds with his arm, God has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. God has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. God has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” What inspiring words?

In this regard the sainthood of Mary does not just come because she gave birth to Jesus but also because she held the beacon of protest in her womb and exclaimed so when she met Elizabeth. I wonder whether in the lent and celebration that follows, we as a church have forgotten that we are celebrating the birthday of the torch bearer of protest in our society? Every day during this eight day lent thus becomes not just a time to be quiet and submissive but a time to take stock of what needs to be done in our society and country. Our lent in that sense should be for thinking of how God turns the tables on the proud and the rich and will fill the hungry.

We are losing people and figures we can look up to during this era of corruption and injustice. But we also forget that some of these people are right before us, it is just that we have never chosen to see them that way. As we lose our energy to fight against all odds, this lent should remind us that St. Mary invites us to protest. She bore witness to the greatness that followed, but she also bore protest as her legitimate right of existence. Shouldn’t we then get all excited and energised during this ettu nombu (eight day lent)? It is indeed our mother and her life of protest that we celebrate.


Anonymous said...

Dear Jerry Achen,
A good posting. I would like to say that there is no doubt about the sainthood of Parishudha Kanyaka Mariyam and the lent we observe during these 8 days will bring blessings to us. On the other side I would like to ask you why do we celebrate with so much importance about the death of Martha Shumni, her children and teacher? But why not her husband? Are we leading our faithful away from Jesus Christ and the saints we have. I don't even remeber such observations in our church when I was young. Please enlighten me.

Fr Jerry said...

Thanks for the comment. Let me make one thing clear. I have no doubt in the power of the intercession of our saints and St. Mary holds even more importance for us. But if the younger generation has to make sense of this, we have to re-read and re-visit what our mothers and fathers did. This way they will identify with the traditions of our church even more. It is in this line that I try to identify how St. Mary is also a model of not just one who kept quiet but one who spoke and did. This way she becomes a strong inspiration for all of us who usually remain quiet. Can you make the question about Martha Shmuni a bit more clear? Thanks.

kunnampally said...

Dear Acha excellent posting. Lent is supposed to be the time of retrospection and repentance but people around us observe lent to obtain blessings from God, which mirrors their self centeredness and selfishness. Nobody wants to imitate Jesus and other saints but search for blessings in their names. In other words our believers are far away form the very purpose and the meaning behind each lent, observed by the church. The time has come for us to teach them to observe lent meaningfully.

Fr Jerry said...

Good observation achen. I suppose we will always attach this sense of receiving something whenever we pray. But even this can be qualified and differentiated into what is received, by whom, and to what end? This is when we will start praying qualitatively than quantitatively.

Anonymous said...

Dear Achen,
Why do we celebrate the martyrdom of Martha Shumni in our church with so much importance? As Jacobites we trust without doubt in the intercession power of St. Mary, St. George, St. Thomas etc. If we are to teach our children the history and tradition, let us do it through the Sunday School. Let us not lead them into praying to Martha Shumni also, because I have heard our children (including mine) praying to them instead of asking for their intercession. Our forefathers included such prayers with a good intention. They did not ask us to pray to the saints, and the church also is not asking us to pray to the saints but asking us to seek the intercession of all these saints. Lately many of our Achen's lead and ask people to pray to them and trust in the healing or deliverance power of these saints. So let us not bring in another one and mislead our children. Let our children pray to the one and only God Jesus Christ and through the intercession of St. Mary, St. George etc.

Fr Jerry said...

I think the main issue here is that many people in the church pray and do not intercede to our saints. This is indeed a flaw in the church that has also been perpetuated at times by priests also. But in essence this is only a misunderstanding. The church only intercedes to the saints, St. Mary included. If you feel otherwise, it should be brought to the notice of church leaders wherever this may happen.

I feel this may be also because of the confusion between prayer and intercession and the role both have in enriching our spiritual life.

Our church mothers and fathers should be an inspiration to all of us. It is a re-living and re-visiting of their lives of sacrifice and faith that we should understand and try to emulate. But your concern is well expressed and well taken. I suppose this should also bring about a larger discussion of the role of saints in our church and the younger generation should not be confused to understanding who is who.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much Jerry Achen,
I appreciate your truthful answer. Could you please initiate a healthy discussion or write an article so as to generate a healthy discussion on this. I don't want to start this so that I can remain anonymous. As you know I will be branded as an outcast or pentacost believer/supporter. These days people jump into conclusion very soon.

As you mentioned this is happening due to misunderstanding. I remember how my parents (staunch Jacobites, even now) taught us children to pray. Everyday evening when we had our Sandhya Namaskaram & Family prayer, they used to remind us that we are not praying to the saints but seeking their intercession. Thank God for our Fathers and Forefathers who taught us wisely. These days due to ignorance and out of hatred towards the pentecostal and independent churches this is happening in our church, I believe.

Let us uphold our morals and values and lead our future generations as true Jacobites, those who worship the Lord alone. May God bless you in all your ways.


Anonymous said...

George Zachariah commenting in facebook on Sep 3, 3:43 P.M.- 'Great reflection.'

Anonymous said...

Tom Kodiattu commenting in facebook on Sep 12, 12:06 A.M.- 'Beautiful article, indeed!'