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The Feast of the Transfiguration

  • Jesus’ revelation of divinity
    • Jesus went to Mount Tabor with Peter, James and John to pray.
    • Jesus transfigured himself in front of them while praying there.
    • Peter, James and John also saw the glory of God in a shadow of cloud, together they saw
    • Moses and Elijah walking with Jesus, as they heard the voice from heaven, “This is my Son”.
    • Their clothes were brightened and felt an unnatural experience of the company of Moses and Elijah with them.
  • Need of a spiritual revitalization in our life.
    • Retreat from worldly thoughts and take a timeout to regain our spiritual strength.
    • Make your home or your room for a Tabor experience.
    • Spent some time alone with Jesus and meditate on the above passage.
    • Contemplate on the various spiritual interventions in your own life.
  • Personal Realization of heavenly reality
    • This above Bible passage connects us to the past.
    • We feel connected to the Biblical history of the people of God, their struggle, pain and suffering and God’s mighty hand in every situation.
    • Protection by the divine shadow over them, which is still a reality in our own life too.
    • We feel the presence of all the Old Testament people of God like Moses who represents the Law, and Elijah represents the divine prophetic messengers, with us in prayer. We are all one in the heavenly realm.
    • The mantle of Glory would encompass us under God while we pray to feel His bliss which would make us transfigured.

PREVIOUS WEEK

Remember all the Faithful Departed

Today’s reading reminds us three important things:
Be Watchful and alert
This is about Jesus’s second coming. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of a little flock”. This is a matter of enough preparation in our spiritual life. We should be aware of this temporary life in this world. This is not our permanent residence. As we are eager about our worldly investment, which may parish one day due to the unstable conditions, but need to concentrate more into our spiritual growth in our life. Our Master Lord Jesus will come any time, even in the middle of the night. Our accountability is most important about; what we do, and how we do in our spiritual life. People always complain that there is not enough time:
No time to go to church, no time for family pray, no time to look after the children’s spiritual
growth, no time to look after family’s spiritual health, no time to listen to other’s cry for help,
The list goes on and on…
Jesus says, invest in our spiritual life. That will count forever, that will reflect in our children and grandchildren and for generations.
Why do we remember our Departed?
This includes our departed parents, grandparents and all our loved ones. When we look at Our Faith, it was given to us by our forefathers, not by books, but by oral transfer to the next generation, as it has been continued for the last two thousand years without much change, even though the outfit had changed but the content remained the same. Our forefathers kept their faith alive and sometimes paid heavy price by their own life, in order to pass it to the next generation. Each parish has its own story on this voyage. Many of the parishes of the Malankara Orthodox Church have a history of more than 1000 years of their existence and their churches were built one thousand years ago, and they had survived by the unceasing prayer and dedication of our forefathers.

Let us not forget our parents and grandparents who brought us up in this faith. They are the one who taught the first lessons of our faith, they are the one who told us the bedtime stories from the bible. When we slept, we had sweet dreams about Jesus, the biblical figures, and about heavenly images. We, their children grew up strong in our faith everyday by their tears and prayers.

Don’t forget our parish members who are departed from us. Our Saint Stephen’s parish started as a small group of 12 members and the hard work and dedication of the initial members made this parish grow as a stronger and bigger one with the enormous grace of God, as we see today. We remember all our departed members of this parish at this time.

What is our legacy to our next generation?
We have to teach our children our faith. We may complain that we have no time, but remember; what we do today for children will count for tomorrow. Bring them to church on time, bring them to the Sunday school on time, teach them prayer, pray with them every day, read the bible with them every day. Let them understand what our faith means to them, what is holy Qurbana to them. It is the sign of the Love of God towards us, toward all mankind.

It is his Body and Blood given to us for our salvation. We pray everyday in our evening prayer, “Thy love for us brought yourself down from heaven, that by Thy death our death is abolished”. This love needs to be shared with our family, our children and to others. This is the love that made us immortal by the Holy Qurbana.

Our departed ones are spiritually active, strong immortal in the heavenly abode, though they are physically in a different realm. They are inseparable part of the Church, being in the Body of Christ. By Holy communion we are become one in His Mystical Body. One day we also will meet our loved ones on his second coming. That is what we are reminding us today, that we are prepared and alert in our daily life.
Babu Achen.

Remembering all the departed Priests of the Church

I want to start with a historic and most tragic event that happened to one of the parishes of our church at the end of the 18th Century. This happened at the Kunnamkulam, Arthat church during the siege of Tippu Sultan. According to the history it was a Sunday morning during the holy Qurbana, Tippu’s army surrounded the church and he demanded the priest to accept Islam. The priest in his vestment refused his order. As a result, the priest was killed at the altar, followed by bloody massacre of worshipers at the church. When Claudius Buchanan, a British chaplain from Calcutta visited Kunnamkulam in 1806, he saw the burnt down Arthat church. Our priests were great spiritual leaders who led the church during many crises like this, even at the cost of their own life. This is one of the examples of our Church’s past history.
Today we remember all the departed priests of our Church. We have heard from today’s reading about the responsibility and moral duty of all the shepherds of his Church and their accountability towards their spiritual vocation. Church is compared to the household of God in which Jesus is the Master who went away for a temporary journey by making his servant in- charge over it, while his master is away. He gave certain clear directives to this charge person:
Give them food; means spiritual food to each and every one of the households to keep them spiritually healthy.
Make them aware of the watchfulness and readiness in their life about the Lord’s second coming any time without warning.
Be accountable on everything he does, because there is a day of judgement.
Priesthood is a divine call in our life to take care of His people and His Church. Jesus called his apostles to take care of his Church and subsequently, the apostolic community organized itself followed by the Pentecost; as the Holy Spirit came down upon them and empowered them. By the power of the holy spirit the apostolic community increased in number day by day and as a result more and more spiritual leaders were appointed by the apostles. In the Pauline epistles we see a clear active three-fold ministry in the early Church, namely; bishop, elders and deacons. Church was organized in this pattern everywhere; both in and outside the Roman Empire.
Let us look at the definition of the Priesthood. As we have heard in today’s reading, priesthood is established in this world by God Himself, in order to keep a constant communication between God and His people. They worked according to the directives received from God, as Moses always prayed to God for direction while he was leading Israelites from the bondage of Egypt through the wilderness of Sinai into the promised land. The absence of priesthood means; the world would be in darkness without having any proper guidance and direction, and may end in complete chaos and destruction. The absence of proper priestly guidance causes chaos and destruction, as says prophet Ezekiel, “They were scattered because there were no shepherd and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals” (Ezekiel 34:5). He was talking about the people of Israel.
During the early Hebrew history, the Patriarchs; Abraham, Isaac and Jacob themselves acted as priests, as they followed a covenant relationship with God, and the God was revealed to them as the God of Hosts, later he known as YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. From the time of Jacob, who was also known as “Israel”. Israel was called by God for a priestly function to the world, purport to make YHWH the Holy one, to be known to the gentile world of idol worship. Israel failed in their function to bear witness to the Almighty God outside their community either by actions or by their indifference attitude. Jesus, the Son of God came down into the World to reconnect this priestly function through the foundation of the Church, the prototype of the Kingdom of God on this earth. As saint Paul says about the Church, “You are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19). Church is a divine originated entity with priestly foundation, in terms of its function to the world. Besides, Church is the new Covenant community in the world to spread the holiness of God to others by our witness; in word and deed and life.
The primary duty of the priest being a shepherd is to provide its people with spiritual food; means spiritual nourishments which includes sacramental communion as well as moral and ethical instructions on the basis of Jesus’s teachings. It implies; the liturgical aspect of the Church attributes to the primary priestly function. It is by the sacramental communion we experience the mystical fellowship with the Lord. Jesus said, “Be holy as my heavenly father is holy”. A priest is a spiritual shepherd as well as a source of holiness for others because he celebrates the holy Body and Blood of Jesus Christ at Eucharistic table.
The other important function of a priest is to create readiness among the people about the future. This means the thought of eschatology; the end; the second coming of Christ in his triumphant glory. This eschatological dimension of the Church is to be understood in every worship, as it proclaims at the end as the last part of every eucharistic worship. This is not intended to create fear, rather to create awareness of the end of the age reality and prepare ourselves accordingly. This preparation involves discipline in our daily life, to stay with the holiness of Christ.
The last part is the accountability in priestly call. There is a certain code of conduct to follow for the priestly vocation and that has to be strictly reinforced on a daily basis. Beyond his personal life, his responsibility is not limited to his congregation, but rather, extended towards the society as well, which means; his role being a beacon of change in the society.
At this point I want to invoke the names of two of our great spiritual fathers who recently entered into eternity, namely: Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews ii , the late Catholicos and Geevarghese Mar Osththeos Metropolitan of the Niranam diocese, who worked very hard in serving the Church as well as the community at large. The Mission Society of Malankara Orthodox Church was established by our dear Osthatheos thirumeni for the purpose of serving the poor; the neglected; and the destitute; including the children of the lepers. Baselios Mar Thoma Mathews ii, our late bava thirumeni, was a Social Reformer and a source of light of knowledge for thousands of people, including young men and women, in providing higher education by establishing schools, colleges, ITCs and Teachers training colleges in southern Kerala through his hard work and dedication. Thirumeni being a spiritual leader and an ideal shepherd who took his divine call very seriously with accountability towards his Master, Lord Jesus Christ and also towards the society; irrespective of caste, color or creed. Those institutions still remain as perpetual memory of their spiritual as well as social leadership. Let us remember them and their spiritual leadership in leading us in proper guidance and discipline, to spread the holiness of God with His divine love within ourselves and also towards others with our presence in our word as well as in our deed.

Dedication of Infant Jesus in the Temple

This week we meditate on the event that infant Jesus was dedicated in the Temple of Jerusalem by Joseph and Mary. This has a lot of significance in the life of Jesus, being born into a Jewish family. In the Hebrew tradition every firstborn male child is to be dedicated to God for His service in the Temple, especially born into a priestly family. Jesus was brought up in a Jewish background with spiritual formation and instruction in Holy Scriptures during his childhood. He grew up as an ordinary child, in spite of his Divine birth and the Messianic revelation disclosed to Mary and Joseph, his parents. There are many references in the Old Testament scriptures on this above practice. Hannah is another example who dedicated her child firstborn child Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11).

   Baby dedication is a tradition followed by many Churches, and even today it is widely practiced in our parishes. Parents bring their children before the altar and prayed by the celebrant of the Holy sacraments and make offering after the prayer of dedication. This practice, adimaveippu, has been done for the children under 5 years old, mostly takes place at the tombs of the saints, reminding the child about the sanctity of our Christian life and the dedicated saintly Christian life of the saints of the Church.

   Adding to the messianic revelation at the time of infant Jesus’s dedication in the Temple, we also see two old people who were longing to see the Messiah for many years by their dedication and prayerful life at the Temple. Today Messiah the savior of mankind is seen by them as revealed by the Holy spirit.

 Simeon is one of them, who had been revealed by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26). He took the infant Jesus in his hands and said, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace”. Simeon was a prophet who prophesied about what is going to happen with the life of Jesus and Mary, his mother: 

 He said, Jesus is the Messiah who is here to bring salvation to the whole of humanity

  And to Mary, he said, “a sword will pierce through your soul”, means she would witness her own son’s crucifixion.

The other person was Anna, an old lady, a widow for 84 years who spent all these years in prayer and fasting night day and night, had the blessing of God to see the infant Jesus, the Messianic King.

Simeon and Anna could see the blessings through the eyes of Jesus at the Temple of Jerusalem.

When we come to the sanctuary of God we could see His glory here, our children too will be blessed to experience this unusual experience, when we dedicate them in the church.

 

What is the purpose of this dedication?

 

  1. Children are the gift of God. It is God’s grace in our life to enjoy their births.
  2. It is the parents’ responsibility and duty to bring them up in our faith and in Christian spiritual values.

According to Joyce Meyers, a child Psychologist and evangelist, who holds a Ph.D. in early childhood education, “It is important to minister to the babies in a spiritual environment to increase their spiritual growth”. She recommends a few things:

  • As children can learn faith by seeing the people pray, and singing; bring them to church worship and include them in worship and prayer.
  • They perceive the faith faster by seeing; rituals, symbols and images, and by touching, hearing and feeling. Let them touch, hear and feel the Faith of the church.
  • Talk often about God and Jesus; read to the little ones Bible stories.
  • Pray with the infants and toddlers at home every day.

 

In Jesus’s early childhood, his parents Mary and Joseph played a very significant role in providing a congenial spiritual environment at home for his spiritual growth. As he grew older we see Jesus, being a young man of 12 years old with lot of scriptural knowledge, arguing and discoursing with the Jewish elders at the Temple of Jerusalem.

     Being parents, we often forget our role; duties and responsibilities, toward our children to bring them up in our Faith and to lead in the right direction.  We need to follow the Nazareth model; the home of Jesus. Jesus grew up as a child like every other child, and he enjoyed the spiritual experience at the Temple with his parents, which made him a true human being, besides the fact that he himself was the son of God incarnated. He learned his basic lessons of faith in God at home, together with the spiritual values: love and compassion towards fellow beings; respect and care for others; and paining with pain of the pained.

 

Babu Achen.

Jesus and Nicodemus discourse John 3:1-12

Unlike the other three Synoptic Gospels, Saint John’s Gospel is enriched with theological revelations through the words and deeds of Jesus. He is very particular in his style and content, arranged in such a way for the believers easy to understand the mystery of Incarnation of the Son of God, Lord Jesus Christ. There are many peculiarities in his presentation of Jesus to the world, as he added 7 discourses, 7 miracles and 7 I am statements by Jesus himself. Moreover, he added many dualisms in this 4th gospel: light and darkness, life and death, truth and falsehood, flesh and spirit, things above and below, etc. 

The seven discourses are: 1. Jesus and Nathanael, 2. Jesus and Nicodemus, 3. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman,4. Jesus and the sisters of Lazarus, who was raised from the dead 5. Jesus and the paralytic man at the pool of Bethesda,6. Jesus and the Woman caught in adultery, 7. Jesus and the blind man healed.

   In today’s reading we note two important points in Nicodemus discourse:

  • Nicodemus was a Pharisee, a ruler of the Jews
  • Nicodemus came to Jesus by night.

These two introductory remarks bring some pondering about Nicodemus. When we hear that he was ruler of the Pharisee, we need to understand that it was nothing to do with the civil authority, rather; it is connected to the administration of the Temple of Jerusalem, as it was ruled by a council called Sanhedrin. And the special emphasis that Nicodemus came to Jesus by night also needs some explanation. Saint john talks about the concept of Light and Darkness in many places in this gospel. He begins the 1st Chapter with a statement about the Son of God, who was the Word of God who became flesh, “In Him was life, and life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not comprehend it” (John 1:4-5). He attributes darkness to the absence of light; absence of true knowledge of God. Nicodemus’s understanding about Jesus was limited and what he had heard about Him, only as a teacher from God, like other teachers came before Him. His divinity is partially accepted by Nicodemus. Jesus reply to Nicodemus is very crucial for him to clearly understand that Jesus is the Messiah, the true Son of God. Jesus said, “Unless one is born again of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

  1. What did Jesus want in Nicodemus? 

Jesus really wants Nicodemus to understand Him better. He saw him as a potential future leader and also, he wants him to know the mystery of the Kingdom of God already initiated by Jesus through his Messianic revelation during his Baptism. Being his disciple and coming close to Him is the only way for Nicodemus to know more about his full spiritual revelation about Jesus as the Son of God. However, few things become big hurdles for Nicodemus to become Jesus’s disciples which made him fail:

  1. Pride. His pride of being a Pharisee made himself distanced away from Jesus and from the light of full knowledge of the Son of God. Even though Nicodemus accepted Jesus as a divine teacher who has extraordinary qualities, he doesn’t want to come out of his pride and ego which keeps him still in darkness.
  2. Fear of repercussion. Nicodemus thought about the negative effect on his social as well his financial gains he has been enjoying being a part of the temple authority, and also had the fear of losing his position among the Jewish leadership. 
  3. Lack of faith. His faith was limited about the revelation of God within the context of the mosaic law, and he doesn’t want to come out of that limited knowledge of God due to reasoning through the eye of the law, which kept him out of real understanding of Jesus as the Son of God.

Jesus assured that those who are born again into the Kingdom of God would experience both the earthly experience by holy baptism in water and the holy spirit as well as the heavenly experience of eternal life through the sacramental participation in the Church. But we fail to feel the heavenly experience in our worship. Why?

  1. We Fail to come fully into the Light of God

      What makes keep us away from the light of God, similar to the case of Nicodemus?

  • Our pride makes us keep away to receive the Grace of God
  • Less attentive in the worship
  • Apathy towards sacramental celebrations ( lack of spiritual connection)
  • Lack of interest to listen to the word of God
  • Disobedient towards the divine call we have.
  • We are not humble in the presence of His holy altar. 

   3. What happen when we come to the Light of God?

  • When we come to the light of God we will get more brighter
  • When we come to the mercy of God, we will be more merciful to others
  • When we come to the forgiveness of God we will be more forgiving
  • When we come to the happiness of God we will be cheerful to others
  • When we honor God we will be respectful to others.

May the Good Lord help each and every one of us to come to the divine light of God by the power of his Holy spirit.

Amen.

Babu Achen.

Jesus and “The Jacob’s Ladder”

Today’s reading is about a discourse between Jesus and Nathanael (John 1:43-51), and this is one of many such discourses presented by Saint John to prove the Divinity of Jesus quoting from Jesus’ own words. When we look at this passage we see this as the beginning of Jesus’s ministry by gathering few followers from different walks of life, of them: many were fishermen and some of them were of strong Jewish religious heritage, with Hellenistic cultural background. His first disciples were Simon Peter and his brother Andrew, who were originally disciples of John the Baptist. They joined Jesus by the testimony of John the Baptist saying about Jesus, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). They followed Jesus as they were convinced that Jesus is the Messiah (Christ) whom the prophets were talking about Him hundreds of years ago (John 1:45). It was Philip who introduced Jesus to Nathanael. As the conversation was progressing, Jesus acknowledged the personality of Nathanael “being a true Israelite in whom no deceit”, which made him to open his inner eye to understand Jesus, like the other disciples, confessing; “Rabbi You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel”.

Who is this Nathanael? Jesus had recognized him earlier while he was sitting under the fig tree. What is the significance of the fig tree in this context? What was he doing under the fig tree?

Fig tree is very significant as it gives a lot of shade used as a place of prayer, for study and meditation on the Mosaic Law and Scriptures. Nathanael was seen as a devoted Jew, a man of God who was searching for the Messianic King according to the Holy Scriptures. Jesus noticed Nathanael before he met Jesus. His witness at the end of the discussion is his self-realization of the Messianic Jesus in his life. Jesus assured Nathanael that he would see greater things about Him with the glorious moment in his life, “the moment he will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:51), by which he reminded the experience of the “dream of Jacob’s Ladder” in Genesis 28:12-15. Jacob, being a man of God received the insight of God by this dream and understood that God was revealed to him and he called that place “bethel” the house of the Lord, and later this term has been used for the Temple of Jerusalem. Jesus himself used this word during his cleansing of the Temple (Matthew 21:12). God was with Israel in the presence of the Shekinah glory(cloud) hovering over the Tabernacle during their journey in the wilderness. God did manifest Himself in the Old Testament Israel Tabernacle and Temple. They were “the house of God” (Exodus 23:19, Psalms 116:19). The full manifestation of the Jacob’s Ladder in the form of worship is to be revealed by the Christ, the Son of God Himself later.

Jesus Christ is the Messianic King whose presence opened the Kingdom of God in this world. We have no way of getting to Heaven but by Christ. Being adapted into the Kingdom of God is the universal mission of Jesus, so that everyone is able to enjoy the privilege of the heavenly blessings; as happened to Jacob in the Old Testament during his dream. Jesus Christ is the only link for the humanity to enjoy the heavenly experience on earth. Church, in this world is the only heavenly entity through which this heavenly experience is transmitted to others as it is the prototype of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Each and every person who is baptized into Church, which is His mystical Body of Christ, has the grace of God to enjoy this experience through worship and the sacramental fellowship. The Son of God came down to the world to restore the broken relationship because of the sin of mankind. Roman 5:1-2 says, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand”. As we enter the main sanctuary of the Lord we dedicate ourselves to experience this heavenly blessing from the atoning altar of the Lord at the time of worship. In prayer, we communicate with God, in reading and hearing God’s word, He communicates with us, and by participating with His holy sacraments we experience the fellowship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified by the power of the Holy Spirit through remission of our sins every day. And this process is being continued until we reach the fullness of our spiritual life, and to be transformed into the state of glorification, as all the saints of the holy church have been achieved. The holy altar is symbolic of the heavenly realm where we see the Son of God is revealed to us with the angels and archangels in the heavenly worship, sitting at the right hand of the Father. We are blessed to participate in this holy worship where the celestials and terrestrials are joined together in fellowship.

Jesus Christ, being the Heavenly door to the Earth, His cosmic mission is clearly mentioned by Saint Paul, “in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him, to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col.1:20). Glorification is universal in which every living and nonliving Organisms are involved in the process of salvation, including the heavenly and the earthly. The Heavenly worship on earth is the center of this process of glorification in which Jesus Christ is the hope of this glory for all the living and nonliving. Let us dedicate ourselves in fullness to be a part of this glorious worship.

Babu Achen.

Martyrdom of Saint Stephen and Spread of the Early Church

This week the Church remembers the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. In Greek: Stephanos; means “crown”. He is venerated as the First Martyr of the Early Church and also, he was the first deacon. Saint Stephen is the Patron Saint of our Parish and we commemorate his Feast every second week of January, as his day of Martyrdom falls on January 8. His Feast is particularly important to us since our church was founded on the day of the Feast of Saint Stephen on January 8, 1984.
Let us look into the details of this young Martyr, Saint Stephen, who was only 29 years old when he was stoned to death in AD 34 in Jerusalem by angry Jewish elders for his fiery speech against their hypocrisy and disobedience of God. His ordination is mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts: Ch. 6). Being one of the seven deacons appointed by the Apostles for the ministry of the Lord among the gentiles, who were men of good reputation among the people and Knowledge and Wisdom of God, Stephanos was the chief among them. Saint Stephen also had a strong Hellenistic Jewish background providing him with thorough knowledge of the Mosaic Law and Old Testament Scriptures, which is clearly evident from in his speech (Acts: Ch.7). The Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox Churches venerate him as a saint. Though he was young in his age; he was well mature in faith, empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit and inspired by the preaching of the Apostles. He was very serious about his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and, “He did many wonders and signs among the people” (Acts 6:8). It was Saint Stephen who was the moral inspiration for the conversion of Saul, who later became Paul of Tarsus, who had been mentioned being the direct witness of stoning death of deacon Stephanos and the keeper of his clothes and, the one who provided moral support along with other Jewish elders, and thus being partially responsible for that terrible act.
The Martyrdom of Stephen led to severe persecution of Christians in Jerusalem which caused the spreading of the gospel to many other cities outside Jerusalem, as well as throughout the Roman Empire (Acts: Ch.8). Early history tells that almost all the Apostles, and the Apostolic Fathers had the same fate, including thousands of early Christians met with martyrdom for their Christian faith; many were maimed and severely tortured, many were thrown to the wild animals, and still Christianity became more strong and vibrant religion throughout inside and outside the Roman Empire spreading like a wildfire. The blood of the martyrs made the Roman Empire a fertile ground for the fast growth of the Church. The Church mourned every day for their martyred loved ones: fathers, mothers, brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, they kept their faith i stronger in the living Lord Jesus Christ. Saints in the Church provided them with moral strength and the spiritual courage to continue their Christian life meaningful and bear a true witness to others who follow Christ Jesus, and their intercession made them more powerful and thriving, as experienced being one in the Body of Christ, either living in the earthly body or departed into their heavenly abode.
Let the life of Saint Stephen give us meaning for our Christian life: whether in suffering and pain; in persecution and crisis; in sickness and agony; in mental stress and grief; or in loneliness and helplessness, there is the Lord who can give us hope and comfort; peace and happiness, by His constant presence with us.
Let us pray for the intercession of Saint Stephen, our Patron Saint in our daily prayers and may his prayers be with us to give us spiritual strength.
Babu Achen.

The Feast of “DANAHA”- Feast of Theophany

Church all over the world celebrates the feast of “Denaha” on January 6, corresponds to the Baptism of Jesus. The word “ Danaha “ literally means Dawn or Sunrise. It is the day that Jesus revealed himself to the world during the time of his Baptism that He is the Son of God, a new dawn in the life of mankind. In Greek, it is the feast of Epiphany or Theophany, by which God the father revealed the Mystery of the incarnation of His only begotten Son into this world. This is the public manifestation of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God, the moment of a different personality in him and his call to be the Messiah.
Prophet Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, saying; “Arise and shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord rises upon you” (Isaiah 60:1). The purpose of this divine manifestation is for the world to understand that the Savior of the World is here being the light of the World, shedding new understanding about our sinful life and how to move away into the direction of divine light with prospect of redemption and eternal salvation. Jesus is the Messianic King as it was revealed to the Wise men (the Magi) who came from the east, as today the Eastern Churches celebrates the Three Kings Day. Besides Jesus is the Messianic King, he is the light of the world who can turn away the people from the darkness and bondage of sin.
Today, when we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus; the Holy Trinity is revealed to the world by this event, as the Heavenly Father’s voice was heard during this occasion saying: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17), and also shown; the Holy Spirit descended upon the Son like a dove. This means that the Christian faith is based on this Trinitarian revelation given to us through the Baptism of Jesus Christ.
Besides Jesus is the Messianic King, who is also the eternal High Priest combined with Levite Priesthood as he got baptized by John the Baptist, who himself is a priest by virtue of being the son of a priest, and thus a connection of Levite priesthood is established by his baptism. This is for the continuation of the priestly responsibility offering prayers and sacrifices done in the Old Testament for the propitiation of the sin of the people, as in conjunction with the apostolic authority bestowed upon them by our Lord himself to absolve sins of the believers in the Church.
John the Baptist testified about Jesus, being the High Priest and the Messianic King, “He will baptize you in spirit and fire” which means; each one baptized into Christ, will have to take the challenge of leading our life in the furnace of faith and being sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Our task in this world is to keep our life sanctified every day the presence of the Lord, closeness to His light; experiencing the Theophany.

By
Babu Achen.

The plight of Joseph and Mary with infant Jesus to Egypt

Matthew 2:13-23

Sunday, December 29, 2019 To Saturday, Jan 04, 2020

Birth of Jesus is considered as the divine intervention in humanity which changed the course of human history altogether. History became His Story in transforming the life of humanity. As we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ throughout the world with happiness, much enthusiasm and hope, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas concentrating on the positive aspect; there is also suffering and chaos in the life of people in Bethlehem, where their young male children under the age of two ,were subjected to the unscrupulous and bloody massacre by the tyrant king Herod when he heard the news from Maggi that there born in Bethlehem a new infant heavenly King, which made him jealous and turned him into a murderer. Attached to this is a suffering family of Joseph and Mary with their young child fleeing 400 miles of a most stressful journey escaping for their lives.
This week’s reading is in the background of the above event and the divine intervention to avoid any harm to the infant Jesus. There are many angelic messages and visions are recorded in the gospels; especially Matthew and Luke, in connection with the Messianic arrival and protecting the young Jesus. In today’s reading; we hear about an angelic intervention to Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt for the safety of the young child Jesus from King Herod. There are eight such angelic interventions, either through dreams or private appearances, are recorded in the above two gospels: 1 About John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ (Luke 1:13),2. Announcing the virgin birth (Luke 1:26-35),3. The angelic message to Joseph, the betrothed husband of Mary to accept her with the child in order to protect the Jesus in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:20), 4. Angelic announcement to the shepherd in Bethlehem regarding the birth of Christ in the manger( Luke 2:9),5.Warning given to the magi not to go back to Herod ( Matt 2:12), 6. Warning to Joseph and Mary to escape to Egypt( Matt 2:13), 7. Angelic message to go back to Israel (Matt2:21), 8. The message to stay in the town of Nazareth in Galilee (Matt. 2:22-23).
It is to remember that Joseph, being a righteous man obeyed the message of God according to God’s command; even at the middle of the night he was ready for the most stressful, long and difficult journey to Egypt; a journey through desert and rather, did not think that he was with the Messiah, the divine child and nothing would happen to them even if they would have stayed back in Bethlehem.
There are occasions in our life that we get signals to keep away from evil; either evil people, tendencies, or actions, but in most of the time we fail to recognize those divine signals or angelic messages coming to our inner hearts. Only people with faith and obedience would understand those interventions and act accordingly. The purpose of Son of God who became man is to make God to be an objective reality in our everyday life. The God Fearing family of Joseph and Mary had the blessing of carrying the divine child Jesus with them to enjoy the peace and happiness even in the midst of turmoil and danger, suffering and stress, homelessness and helplessness. The temporary suffering and difficulties, after all, turned for their safety and wellbeing to stay in a secure place at Nazareth. Being sincere towards our faith in the Lord is very important to understand the divine directions in our life. Family prayer with children is very important factor in every family for a spiritual bond with Jesus, in order to get proper divine guidance in our family life which would enable us keep away from evil trends and aspirations.
We are living in a world where there are many Herodian trends and policies around us, advocated by the secular governments and other self-interested agencies as they are intending for their financial gains. That would lead to the destruction of the traditional families and religious institutions. Legalization of drugs and alcohol in many states in the USA is already causing millions of deaths and breaking thousands of families. We have to understand these evil Herodian forces around us, and especially our young people who are in schools and colleges should be aware of these dangerous forces of evil around you. You need to pray hard and stay with Jesus to intervene with angelic messages in our families to keep ourselves away from those evil and be safe and sound.

Babuachen.

The Genealogy of Jesus

LUKE 3:23-38.

Sunday, December 22, 2019 To Saturday, December 28, 2019
Among the four gospels, Matthew’s and Luke’s give a descriptive genealogy of Jesus, and although with slight variance between each other, they still emphasize the same thought that Jesus Christ is the Son of God the Messiah, the Savior of the World. Saint Matthew starts with Abraham (Matt 1:1-17) while Saint Luke begins with Adam. As we read through these two genealogy accounts, we may wonder why do the gospel writers wasting our time to read all the names on the occasion of a beautiful worship? What is the relevance of reading this genealogy story and what is its significance today? When we look into this subject there are three important objectives in the mind of the Gospel writers: 1. To present historic Jesus to the audience 2. To prove the fulfilment of all the Old Testament Messianic prophecies in Jesus of Nazareth. 3. Restoration of the lost paradise of Adam by establishing the Kingdom of God through the incarnation of the Son of God in Virgin Mary, as predicted in the book of Genesis;
The Seed of the Woman crushed the serpent’s head and death has been overcome (Gen 3:15). Any historicity needs important data to determine its authenticity. Those factors include reliable documents such as: inscriptions, monuments, coins, and relics, including all original writings and primary evidences; otherwise, the story would remain as tradition or legend.

Jesus in history connects to the family of Joseph and Mary 2000 years ago, born in Bethlehem with a Jewish heredity. It was the practice among the Israelites to keep a track of their family ancestry and keep their lineage, mostly kept in male lineage. Matthew purposely avoided using the name of Joseph as the father of Jesus, and instead, Mary’s name was used in a maternal lineage. Mary herself was a Levite in the Aaronic line of priesthood, besides she had royal heritage in the Davidic line belongs to the tribe of Judah. Mary’s parents were Joachim and Anne. Joachim was a shepherd-priest and his wife Anne was a daughter of a priest. Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was the mother of John the Baptist. Mary and Elizabeth were cousins. The Gospel writers, especially Matthew and Luke are particularly interested in presenting Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfilment of all the Old Testaments’ Messianic prophecies. After giving the genealogy of Jesus, Saint Matthew gives two references to for Messiah’s birth, as he quotes; “The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” which means “ God with us”( Isaiah 7:14) and he also pinpoints the location of his birth by quoting
prophet Micah; “ But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah……out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel” (Micah 5:2). Saint Luke also narrates similar way with respect to the onset and preparation for the birth and Messianic ministry of Jesus Christ by John the Baptist, the Forerunner, quoting from the prophet Isaiah, “A voice of one calling in the desert, ‘prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him………. And all mankind will see God’s salvation’”( Isaiah 40:3-5).The arrival of the Son of God into this world is in the
‘fullness of time’, at the appropriate time. John the Baptist preached the message of preparation for the Kingdom of God, as it was near and everyone need to be purified themselves by way of repentance and turn away from sins; respect human values and lead a life in virtues, in order to get ready to accept the Messiah, the Son of God into their hearts. The third objective is to present Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came down to transform this world and the world order by way of liberation of mankind from Sin and its consequence, Death. The goal of our life in the Kingdom of God is a life without death. The actual reason for the death is sin caused by the persuasion of Satan, the ultimate enemy of mankind who is powerful in all levels of human life, and always
there to make us tempted. Incarnation of the Son of God, the Messiah, made possible the transcendent God eminent for us as Immanuel to keep his presence in our life everyday.

Sincerely,
Rev. Fr. Babu K. Mathew

Copyright 2020 The Saint Stephen's Orthodox Church.

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