Here are my answers to some of the questions I received recently
Q. 1 I think in the Catholic Church, priests are allowed to conduct Feet Washing. Is there a tradition like that in our church, or has it been always the bishops? Would it be a nice idea to rethink the current practice, so that more people can experience it?
A.1. Yes the priests also can do feet washing. For some reason it is not practiced in our Church. In the Syrian Orthodox Church of Antioch, the priests also do this liturgy. There is no reason either theological or canonical, why priests should not.
Q. 2 During our Good Friday service, we sing ‘Nin Vidhi Cheythor Vidhiyelkkumbol Vidhi Cheyyaruthe Njanagale Eesha’. I find this hard to comprehend because Jesus on the cross said “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Considering the fact that Jesus voluntarily died for the salvation of the creation, would the Jews and Romans get judged for crucifying Him?
A. 2. Yes we have no right to accuse the Jews for the killing of Jesus (it is another fact that we, on a daily basis, with our anti Christian behavior, are crucifying Him). We can of course accuse them for not listening to him and taking his advice to go back to a better relation with God and one another, while they claimed themselves to be the guardians of the Law of God and His will. The song you mentioned is not a good Christian song. This comes from those hardcore monks who were primarily anti-Jew in their attitude. Our Church has changed some of them. But our Syrian mania does not allow us to completely revise the liturgy.
Q.1. We read in St. Mathew’s gospel (only in it) that the tomb of our Lord was sealed by the Governor. On the 3rd day, women go there to anoint perfume on His body. How can they do it as it is sealed? Can the soldiers break the seal without the permission from the top officials?
A.1.According to Matthew’s Gospel Ch. 27 the tomb was guarded by the temple guards. Seal was set by them and not by the governor. Read verses 65 and 66. Pilate said to them (to the chief priests and the Pharisees – see verse 62), “You have a guard; go, make it as secure as you know how.” And they went and made the grave secure, and along with the guard they set a seal on the stone. The ladies went to offer incense. The guards were there to prevent the body being taken away not to prevent devotees who come in the presence of the guards. Why should they prevent the ladies? Probably by the time the ladies went to the tomb, the guards must have gone to tell the priests that the tomb was empty.
Q. 2. Should the curtain in front of the Madbaha be closed always? At …. church, it is drawn aside but the other churches that I’ve gone, it is closed.
A. 2. The curtain of the Madbaha should be closed all the time. They can be opened during the mid night payer when hallelujah is sung. It will be opened during the evening prayer after the 9th hour prayer. Then for the Holy Qurbana when the public worship begins. Again when a bishop or Catholicos or Patriarch enters the Church it has to be oponed. These are some of the important times the Madbaha curtain is to be opened
Q.3. The correct place for burying Bishops in Syrian tradition. I’ve seen some inside the madbaha, some at the sides of steps to madbaha and some at rooms near to madbaha.
A.3.No burial is done inside the Madbaha. It is done either inside the Church hall or in a room beside the Church. Some are also buried in public cemetery.
Q.4. Last time I had a chance to go to Kothamangalam Marthoman Church where Eldho bava is emtombed. But to my surprise, I couldn’t find a single portrait of Bava inside the church or at the shops in the church compoud. I could see only the photos of the tomb. I got a calander from ….. Seminary and could find his photo on it. Is it a genuine one? More over, the tomb in rectangular in shape but the tombs of other bishops (in my humble experience) are square shaped since we bury them in sitting position. Do we follow it from the 1st Century or from the beginning of 18th Century?
A. 4. There is no picture of Mar Baselus Yeldho ever made. Recently some artist has made a picture and is printed in calendars. When Yeldho Mar Baselius came to India, the Church was not familiar with the West Syrian tradition (it is not sure whether he was from West Syrian tradition or not). In the East Syrian tradition bishops are buried in lying down posture. Only in West Syrian tradition, bishops are buried in sitting position.
Q. 1. Once again thanking you for your answers. Now few more questions. Does the word ‘yada’ mean to have sex relation? (I think that word is from Greek or Aramic) The pentacostal groups creates much problems by pointing this among others.
A.1.Yes the word yada means sexual relation. It is a Hebrew word from Israelite cultural context and its Syriac equal is yoda. To the Israelite culture ‘to know’ a person well enough is through sexual relation. There is no need for any misinterpretation. If you mean to say that it has problem with the interpretation of Matthew 1:25, the issue is not with the term know, but with ‘till gave birth’ (പ്രസവിക്കും വരെ). This phrase does not mean there was a ‘knowing’ after the birth. ‘Till’ of course has the connotation after that, the opposite happens. This could mean that after the birth of Jesus, Joseph had husband and wife relation with Mary. This should be what the Pentecostals are arguing. But ‘till’ does not always mean this. Matthew 24:34 (also Mark:13:30) says, “this generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled”. Does it mean that after this the generation would pass? If so what happens to them, they go to nothingness? No. Here ‘till’ gives an emphasis to ‘these things’ and not what happens after. Again, Luke 9:29 says, “they shall not taste death till they see the Kingdom of God”. Does it mean that soon after that they will die? No. 1 Samuel 15:35 says, “Samuel did not come to see Saul till his death”. Does this mean that he saw the king after his death? No. Jeremiah 52:34 says, “There was a continual diet given him of the king of Babylon, every day a portion until the day of his death, all the days of his life”. Does this ‘till’ mean that after the death of the king, the portion was changed? No. There are similar instances where ‘till’ does not mean something opposite happened after. So there need not be any argument on this word ‘till’.
More over there is a strong tradition from the very first century itself that Jesus was the only son of Mary. Bible is the creation of Christian history and not Christianity made out of Bible. Therefore Biblical passages have to be interpreted on the basis of the tradition of the Church. Ultimately it is the Church that should interpret the Bible. Whereas Pentecostals are no Church, and has no respect for the tradition, they would say anything and will interpret the Bible out of their ignorance regarding the context. You do not have to worry about it and do not have to argue with them. They cannot be convinced with any of your argument.
Q. 2. The meaning of ‘pattangapetta Daivam Thampuraney’ and ‘selah’ in psalms.
A. 2. Pattanga petta is an old Malayalam phrase which means ‘true’. The whole phrase means, ‘O! The true Lord God’.
No Biblical interpreter has ever identified the meaning of ‘selah’ in Psalms. There are people who say, ‘it is a direction to the choir master or the singers’, there are people who say, ‘it denoted the change of tune’. Some people say, it may mean ‘pause the singing for a moment’. But no one has for sure identified the meaning. It should be remembered that even during the time of Jesus Hebrew was not a language in popular use. After the first century and the destruction of Jerusalem, Hebrew became a dead language and no one knew how it was pronounced (ancient Hebrew had no vowels) and what are the meanings of various phrases. It was from 10th to 13th century attempts were made to revive the language. However utmost care was taken in their ability to preserve the meaning. A group called ‘Masorites’ are responsible for the rewriting of the Bible.
Q.3. Jesus cures a blind man in St. Mark’s gospel in two steps. Is there any interpretation in that?
A.3. What we see in the Gospels is the testimony of the people who were with Jesus and who later learned of Jesus and his works. While Jesus was alive in this world, no one cared to take a note book with him/her and note everything as it happened. They followed Jesus, listened to him with marvel, saw what he did with wonder and were always in a blissful mood. They never thought that they had to write them down some day. But they had to, as Jesus was resurrected and ascended and they had to spread the news. As St. Luke puts it, there were several people who said different things about what happened during Jesus’ time (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3).So they picked from their memory what they heard, saw and experienced. Each person’s experience was different and each had difference in the details of the event as they remembered. That does not mean that they were not saying the truth or they wanted to give their interpretation. It simply means that this is what they remembered as it happened. It should be noted that the Biblical compilers have not tried to level up and synchronize all the information and make one statement. Their sincerity and transparency is seen in them giving all the four Gospels and Acts which has slight differences in details of the events and sayings. However you may note that there is no difference in the basics.
Q. 4. Is benches, chairs and shoes are allowed inside our churches? (both in out side Kerala and in abroad).
A.4. There is no single way of doing the prayer. People should feel comfortable while they are in worship. Uncomfortable posture will not help them concentrate in worship. Again this is a question of culture. There is nothing wrong in having benches and chairs inside the Church and people wearing shoes in Church. There are several places outside Kerala where our people rent out secular places for them to worship. Many a time those facilities may not be according to our custom or need. We make those places as much convenient as possible. If the place is not air conditioned or heated according to the weather, the congregation has to wear thick cloths and shoes. What is important is to have worship and not what posture you take. There are old people who cannot stand for long time but still wanted to join in worship. They should be allowed to sit on bench or chair. Generally in western culture seating is provided in worship places, where as in eastern culture people stand in worship. Here again it is not a rule rather a cultural practice. God is a loving God and He understands people’s genuine situations.
Q.1. Who was St. Mark? Was he one of the apostles that Jesus had sent before him?
A. 1. St. Mark is believed to be one of the seventy preachers Jesus appointed to preach the Gospel. Our fathers call him ‘Samrono’ the one who proclaims.
Q.2. Did he present at the last supper with the other 12 disciples? We see an incident which is written in his gospel only. (14:51-52).
A2.There is nothing in 14th chapter (vs. 51-52) about such an event. As a matter of 14th chapter has only 36 verses. I assume you are referring to the ascension event recorded in 24:51 and 52. Yes it is true that the only Mark and Luke has this ascension event recorded and Mark has a different way of saying it too. This does not make Luke part of the upper room table. Matthew 26: 12 says, “He sat with the twelve…” (also Mark 14:17; Luke 22:14). So it is not possible that Luke was with Jesus at the table. Luke was writing not only what he saw, but also what he heard (Luke 1:1 “… most surely believed among us …”).
Q.3. I was taught in Sunday School that the Coonan Cross Oath was against the Pope and the Portuguese. But while watching Shalom TV, a Catholic priest said that it was only against the Portuguese and the majority of the church members arrayed under the Pope. Is it true or ‘his-story’?
A.3. The Church in Malankara was, during the time, a truly Eastern Church with its faith, practices and administration. One of the main features of that Church was that the local congregation was solely administered by the parish assembly. When the Archbishop Menezis came to India, he saw this and it was something he could not take as they were practicing the pyramidal style of administration ( of course there were other things he could not accept like priests being married etc.) where everything was dictated by the Pope through the bishop and the clergy. This was a Roman style of running the administration of the Church.
The argument of the western Church is that the Church in Malankara was not against the Pope but was only against the Portuguese who implemented the Latin way of administration. But their argument itself testifies against it. They claim that the Persian Church was under the Pope during that time. If that was the case (even if that was not the case archbishop being under the Pope), under the Roman system, how can an archbishop act independently in turning upside down all the systems existed in Malankara without the consent of the Pope? This argument is further strengthened by the kind of attitude the middle age Popes had which created an atmosphere for the splitting of the Church and for the creation of several protestant Churches. Whatever they may claim, the Coonon Cross revolt was, directly or indirectly, against the Pope, his Church and the way he ran the Church those days.
Q.4. Do we have a monument of Coonan Cross Oath at Mattancherry? If yes, was it the spot of oath?
A.4.Yes we do have a monument and it is under a major remodeling to make it a pilgrim centre. Mattanchery is the original site of the coonon cross oath and any specific site will be under question as there are counter claims. It is just like what we have in Jerusalem (like in many other sites) where there are at least three sites where different people claim that Jesus had His last supper.
Q. 5. What should be the greeting word if I talk to a priest or a bishop by phone? When I had to talk with my vicar, I said “namaskaram acho”. But he didn’t say anything though I said it again.
A. 5.We Orthodox Syrian Christians in India have not created a religious salutation to be used between clergy and laity. We keep normal secular salutations. In Syrian tradition they would say “barekmor aboon” (bless me father) in the case of priests and “barekmor seydna” (bless me honorable one) in the case of bishops and “barekmor moran” (bless me lord) in the case of catholicos or patriarch. They in turn will respond saying “Alohon nbarek” (May God bless you). The catholic Church has developed similar salutations (glory be to Jesus Christ and in turn Glory be now and always) in India. Under the present circumstance, since we have not created any as our own I do not think there is any thing wrong in using a common secular salutation, like the one you used and there is no reason to be angry at any one who use it.
The situation when a metropolitan is celebrating the Qurbana and some priests are in the Madbaha.
Q.1 When does a deacon offer incense to the metropolitan, Is it after incensing the both sides of the throne (ത്രോണോസ് ) or just after incensing right side?
A.1. The deacon/ altar boy goes to the bishop offer incense and then kiss his hand/ cross after he has offered incense on first right side of the altar and then on the left side and following towards the table of Gospel. This is the case during the Holy Qurbana. If the incense is offered during the prayers, the deacon/ altar boy offers incense only on the right side of the altar.
Q. 2. After the Thubdhen before giving peace to the people in the altar whether the deacon receive it from the metropolitan (i.e, will he kiss the sleeba of the metropolitan )
A.2. There is no peace given to the people by the deacon/ alter boy. The usual custom is that after the Tubden, the deacon/ altar boy kisses the corners of the altar, then goes to the bishop and kisses the amnikho (the one worn on the top of Cope [kappa] of the bishop. He does not kiss the hand/ cross. Then he goes to the priests and kiss their hand and further turns to the people and bow down and ask for their prayers stretching both hands.
This is because, strictly speaking the sub deacons or the altar boys are not authorized to enter the sanctuary touch the altar or the holy materials on the altar including the soosepho (ശോശപ്പ). But under the circumstance he has to do it, since the priest/ bishop who is actually the one to do it, has not done it. So he takes the blessings of the bishop/ priests and asks the prayers of the people that what he does may not become a sin on his part. He may also give peace / kaikkasuri to the fellow deacons/ alter boys. In Orthodox Church, strictly speaking, only full deacons/ semsono (ശെമ്മാശന്) is allowed to enter the altar and deal with the things on it. But in Malankara we, after the style of the Catholics, our old boss, we have permitted altar boys in to the sanctuary and have omitted permanent deacons in there.
Q.3. After the Thubdhen before giving peace to the people in the altar whether the deacon receive it from the priests in the Madbaha.
A.3. From the explanation given above you may see that it is not the peace the deacon/ altar boy is giving. He is requesting prayers from the people.
Q. 4. Is there any other matter the deacon taken into consideration in the above situation?
A. 4. I have published a hand book for the use of altar boys which is available with my office to buy.
Q.5. Is the Facebook account in your name real, Thirumeni ?
A. 5. Yes I manage the face book account that is in my name.
Q. 1. Is a marriage between a Roman Catholic and a Jacobite accepted? Does the Jacobite have to be baptized in the Catholic Church in order to be joined in Holy Matrimony to the Catholic Groom? If the Jacobite bride need not be baptized in the Catholic Church, can she receive Eucharist during the wedding ceremony or otherwise?
A.1. If you are talking about marriages between Jacobites (under the patriarch of Antioch), there is an official agreement between them and the Catholic Church that there is no joining or leaving any Church. The wedding is done as if between people of the same denomination. The only restriction is that the authorization letter has to be issued by the local bishop. If you are referring to the Orthodox Church by ‘Jacobite’ then the two Churches are in the process of coming to a similar kind of agreement, but as of now there is no agreement. The marriages between a Catholic girls and an Orthodox boys are accepted, but official letter of consent is not issued between. There is no question of a baptism what so ever, since both accept each other’s baptism. There is only a question of some of the faith affirmations. The bride has to join the groom’s Church by giving an affidavit and taking a pledge to the effect that she shall be a faithful member of the Orthodox Church. The bride, if getting married to an Orthodox boy, has to go for pre-marital counseling and then take confession and communion. Before that the bride has to give the affidavit and faith affirmation to a priest of the Orthodox Church. I am not quite sure of the proceedings the Catholic Church has if a boy of their community take a girl from the Orthodox Church. I am told that she has to join a Catholic rite before she gets married. In Catholic Church after the wedding the bride and groom have to receive communion.