Sevika Sangham Centennial At Carmel MarThoma Church Boston

One summer day this past July, I got an email from Thankam George, Carmel’s tireless Sevika Sangham secretary. ‘Vinu George’s’ email ID shows up in our in-boxes at least once a week, sometimes more.

But this time was different, the subject line was left blank, and it was addressed only to me.

Thankam wanted to know if I’d be willing to give the Church Calendar’s Annual Sevika Sangham Day message, in September of this year.

Surprised by the request/offer, and even more so honoured, and even flattered by it, I said I’ll get back. It didn’t take me long to think. Just had to run it by one ‘important constituency’. 😉

24 hours later, I accepted it.

Given two whole months to ponder and prepare, and pray incessantly, below is what I delivered, to an unexpectedly generous and warm audience.

A few came just to support, and here’s where my heart thanks all.

Thankam had allotted 25 minutes, 5 for the history of the ‘Sangham’ and 20 for the message. I took 20 total.

After you stop laughing at the ‘what’s a girl like that doing in a place like this’ (not a joke) line, taken from a 1970’s commercial, and get past it, (warning: it is long!) and any meaning touches you, or if any part speaks to you in any special way, I welcome feedback and critique.

Meant every word.

Key admission: Some of the thoughts were ‘lifted’ from our previous Achens’ and Thirumenis’ sermons and Bible studies, and many more of them my own, one seriously from my very own Dad.

Thank you, Papaji. hope i made you proud.

matters not, all God’s Words. Source of infinite comfort.

As always, a good evening…

mercy


halleluiah, padi-dum jnan,

yeshu-vinte, sannidhi-yil,

jeeva kalam, aradhikum, unnathane

athama-vilum, sathya-thilum, nithya kalam  —- 1994 Maramon

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Good Sunday morning, everyone!,

If any of you is wondering what a person like that is doing in a place like this, believe me, I understand, I’m wondering the same.

Just the same, I’m requesting for your earnest prayers radiating my way, for the next 20 minutes.

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On this, the eve of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Suvishesha Sevika Sankham of the MarThoma Church, I feel uniquely privileged to stand here, and speak to you briefly from the Word Of God as IT speaks to me.

The Malankara MarThoma Syrian Church is known in the Indian subcontinent, for being extraordinarily innovative, on a range of persuasive matters that pertain to the issues of the society at large, none more poignant than the idea of empowering women in their own world, and the world outside of it.

Out of this progressive vision of the founders of the church, was born an organization set up explicitly for women, to provide them with a chance to go out of their limited spaces of mostly mundane household duties and chores, and make no mistake – they were mostly chores, and enable them to realize their full and God-given potential, to perform service to the larger community, as well as to their nuclear and extended families, with whatever individual skills they possessed.

Thus started the Sevika sangham.

What is most important to note on this Platinum Jubilee occasion is, this was singularly the brainchild of one Kandamma Varghese, who lived from 1876-1964.

Known as the Traveling Secretary, she hailed from a CMS family in Kollakadavu, near Mavelikara, was a studious student at CMS school, before marrying at age 20, one Varughese Vadhyar, from a MarThoma family in Thumpamon.

Three children and 10 years later, Kandama was subsequently widowed, an event which paved the way for the rest of her life.

A woman of immense faith, she saw this major setback, as God’s Calling and followed it as such.

Sevika Sangham was a product of her tireless efforts and evangelistic fervor, which were then confluenced by the nurturing of a saintly and benevolent Metropolitan, Abraham MarThoma, who shared in equal measure, Kandama’s passion for evangelization.

The organization was inaugurated in February of 1919, literally at the Maramon Convention Pandal.

We owe the both of them an enormous debt of gratitude.

Under the Sevika Sangham banner were also established, the Vanitha Mandiram, a refuge for single older women, Shalem Agathi Mandiram, both of Thiruvalla, the Vanitha Bodhini a print publication, counseling and job training for the needy, and Deppy Pirive, a one-of-a-kind, home-based offertory, these among some of the most notable ones. Many of these initiatives were significantly ahead of their time. Women-centric Bible studies took on great importance, as well.

A Suvishesha Sevika is one who spreads the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, by serving others.

And even in a patriarchal society such as arguably ours, folks would have a hard time resisting a church-mandated ordinance, especially if the promotion was coming from the vicar and the church hierarchy.

This mile marker date is particularly remarkable, because it took place exactly one year before the 19th amendment was ratified and added to the United States Constitution, giving, for the first time, American women The Right To Vote.

Imagine that.

And that’s not all, it came nine years at the heels of The Church dedicating a school, just for girls, under the charge of 2 British Protestant missionaries, Mrs Nicholson and Miss Maccabin.

Nicholson Syrian Girls’ High School in Thiruvalla, founded on February 2 of 1910, was devoted to educating young women, with the highest academic standards, in an explicitly Christian, and distinctly MarThoma setting.

A reading of Kandama Varghese’s biography shows, that she was influenced and inspired greatly by the missionary zeal and revivalist style church preaching of these two women.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, women generally didn’t take part in mission activities, nor did they preach in churches. Kandama did both.

I’m a proud graduate of this institution, as are my mother and my sister.

Needless to say, this training, in part, led me to today.

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I thank:

The Almighty for affording me this once-in-a-lifetime honour,

The Church for facilitating it, through Thankam George, who placed her confidence in me, and entrusted me with this task on this date,

-Jeslin Achen for his gentle, spiritual guidance along the way,

-Most profusely and unequivocally my supremely engaged parents, both of them really, who set me on a path of firm persuasion that, our Scripture, from beginning to end is the inspired Word Of God, all Connected and Eternal. The Alpha and the Omega. This is for you!,

-Three girls named Nisha, Yamini, Mekhala, who live on the Continent’s two coasts and in the middle, who resolutely remain the front and center of God’s Plan for me,

-and lastly, and with my heart and forever, my husband, who always keeps my back.

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Let us pray….

Dear Heavenly Father, give us the wisdom to discern Your Word and Your Will for us, so that we may use them for the purpose of advancing Your Kingdom on earth.

This, we ask in the name of Your Son, our Redeemer. Amen.

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The church has designated four passages as this Sunday’s lectionary.

We’re focusing on just two of them today, one from the Old Testament, and one from the New.

They’re both linked by a recurring theme. I’ll condense them into five parts.

1.       Following God’s Plan, and What Happens When We Do.Exodus 1: 15-22 (Sheena)

The midwives were a huge and essential part of the ancient child bearing experience, when death during childbirth, of the mother orthe baby, was an unfortunate and frequent outcome.

A midwife’s job was to protect the life of the mother and that of the baby with the tools available to her, when not too many of them existed.

Their task was not to see to it that the government’s directive was fulfilled.

As a separate thread, this reading could play into certain national debates on ‘Right To Life’ and such, however that’s not the awareness I’d like to underscore here.

This passage is also not about government, versus, private citizens.

It is about God’s plan in human life, versus, human plans at odds with God’s plan.

And this particular verse goes on to claim that, as a result of the midwives’ moral decisiveness, God multiplied the Hebrew nation.

It further tells us, that the women feared God, which provided them with the vital courage needed to stand down a brutal Head of State, and they were given, by God, families of their own. Not just children, but families.

This theme of God blessing a whole people because of the actions of a few is displayed throughout the Bible.

Our individual actions can be a source of blessing for a community, but also may have harsh consequences.

Moses, who gave the world the Ten Commandments, the bedrock of human civilization, a blueprint for how to create a lawful and prosperous society, one principally centered on worshiping God, was an infant thus spared from the malevolent decree of a monarch, by the sheer disobeying of it by 2 women, in this case the mother and sister of the said child.

We now move on to 1500 years later in Biblical chronology, but God’s Words still resonate with the same theme. Which brings us to the next point.

2.       The women followed Him around.          Mark 15:38-41 (Mareen)

Here we see women in a different role, but the message that remains, is of them doing the right thing, often at great risk to themselves.

The women were the last ones at the Foot Of The Cross. And they were the first ones at the Empty Tomb.

By calculation, this led to the shortest duration of mourning period ever known.

This is in precise contrast to the men who had been handpicked by Jesus, who perhaps spent even more time with Him, and who nonetheless had abandoned Him in His hour of aloneness and agony.

If the women had left the scene in a distraught state, or if their debilitating sorrow had prevented them from going to the tomb in the early morning hours when most would be sleeping, they would have had to mourn for longer. Their pain would have extended needlessly.

The women’s desire to be in close proximity to the Lord, and to be of service to Him, undoubtedly diminished the magnitude of that pain.

In our grief, we often tend to leave the unbearable and retreat away from the Lord.

but these women’s steadfast love for Jesus is what enabled them to follow Him all over Judea and Galilee, and subsequently stick around and be present for the Ultimate Visit and be part of The Great Commission.

According to Hebrews 11, “vishwasam enne-tho ashikunna-thinte urappum, kanatha karyangal-ude nishchaya-vum akunnu” …

It is faith that brought them to the grave. They must have convinced themselves, ‘maybe He didn’t die, may be He’ll come back the way He said He would. He did insinuate at times He’d return after three days, didn’t He?’

But they also demonstrated that faith without love is futile. And they loved the Lord.

There is a circumspect opinion in theological circles that the Hebrews Epistle was written by Priscilla, one of the leaders of the Early Church.

By most accounts, it was not one written by Paul.

Point 3: The women served the Lord’s needs by serving His people.

Not only did the women not want to leave a suffering Jesus, they were there to comfort a bereaving Mary, a mother who lost her firstborn.

Matthew and Mark’s Gospels say that they had followed him through Galilee, and cared for His needs.

And Luke says, they had used their own funds to help Jesus and His disciples. They had been through so much with Him and His mother, even taking care of their material needs when possible, now was not the time to bolt.

Any time we’re called to tangibly serve people in church or community with our funds, or food, or presence, we’re serving the Lord.

The women did all this without expecting to sit at Jesus’ right hand, or to be given any positions of authority. Either would’ve been unthinkable for the tenor of the time. Then, as now, societal norms were dictated by existing traditions.

And they were not defeated because their expectation was never about Jesus becoming the King of Judah and Israel.

They were just grieving the loss of a beloved man who had healed them in body and in spirit, comforted them with non-judgmental love, and had given them hope that something beyond what was visible in front of them was just around the corner.

Point 4: Church As A Caring Unit, and Not As An Institution.

The women were physically close enough to the Cross according to John’s Gospel, to hear a weakened Jesus whisper, to Mary and then to John (John being the only male disciple who stayed through to the end), ‘He is your son. She is your mother’. Jesus entrusted their physical care to each other.

Here was the founding of the Church. A caring and care-taking church.

Even as Jesus chose Pathrose as the one on whom the foundation of His Church would be laid, just before He cried out in His final hour, ‘It Is Finished’, before He announced his Earthly Mission completed, He turned it into an entity, where people who are not blood-related would take care of each other as though they’re family.

And let’s not lose sight of the fact that, in the end, it was two women, and not the petrified male guards at the tomb (Matthew 28:4), who were commissioned to spread the announcement to the world, of what they had heard directly from the Angel.

‘Indeed, He’s Not Here, For He Is Risen’, the proclamation on which stands Christendom.

The cost of Eve’s transgression has now been paid in full. and Sarah’s. and Rebecca’s. and Leah’s.

Final point: Equal Access

The curtain was torn from the top to bottom. Not from bottom to the top. The mandate was from Heaven.

The God of the Old Testament, who instructed Aharon, the first high priest of Israel, to set apart the Holy of Holies, where only priests from the Levi tribe were allowed to enter, away from other worshipers, gave way to a New Law and a New High Priest who just opened it up wide, so that each of us believers, is endowed with priesthood of a different kind.

And now, Levites and lepers, Jews and Gentiles, the Saved and the Lost, recent converts and AD 52 Christians, the Chosen and the Marginalized, Travancore Suriyanis and Native Americans, those from the East of the Big Blue Sea and those to the West of it, all have equal access to the Kingdom. And women have equal partnership in this invitation.

In fact, women were the first two invitees to this New Covenant of Grace.

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Thank you all for praying with me, for me, and for listening to me.

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“What’s in a name?”

“What’s in a name?”

Tomorrow, on April 27, 2018Philipose Mar Chrysostom MarThoma Valiya Metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church will turn 101 years old.

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other word would smell as sweet;”

William Shakespeare

‘Romeo and Juliet’. Act II. Scene II.

Juliet Capulet

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Padma Bhushan Philipose Mar Chrysostom MarThoma Valiya Metropolitan.

Philipose Mar Chrysostom MarThoma Valiya Metropolitan was bestowed the second highest civilian honour of The Republic Of India just 3 months ago.

Before he received this honorary title, he was Philipose Mar Thoma Metropolitan.

And before Thirumeni achieved this status as the titular head of the Mar Thoma Church, he was Philipose Mar Chrysostom, or as was commonly called, just Chrysostom Thirumeni.

And before that, a long time ago, he was one Philip Oommen Kasheesha;

Or as affectionately addressed only in familial circles, Dharmishtan Achen.

and before that, just plain old Dharmishtan. 

Less well known and perhaps lost to passage of time, nevertheless remains a substantial piece of information in all this, and that is:

Thirumeni was named Dharmishtan by his parents upon his birth.

It might just roll off the tongue as if nothing, (actually it doesn’t) and it’s not mentioned anywhere in his Wikipedia bio-data. I just happen to be aware of this piece of history.

And the name has a significant meaning. Which is what prompts me to do this post.

In Sanskrit, the word Dharm-ishtan means, One Who Loves Dharmam.

Dharmam in its element means, ‘performing one’s duty’.

However, as is the case with many Sanskrit or Vedic words, it has a more sophisticated subtext.

There, it means: ‘Duty That’s Right In The Eyes Of God’. A God-given or Divine Duty. Really.  

So let’s leave what is ‘right in the eyes of God’.

Let’s go back to ‘What’s In A Name’.

Apparently, a lot. 

Do we think Thirumeni’s parents had a forewarning of how their beloved son would turn out? If they didn’t, his Maker did.

“Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” Isaiah 49:1

I don’t wish to elaborate on how Thirumeni’s life as a whole has profoundly impacted and inspired so many from all spheres, from Malayalam film star Mammootty to Mata Amritananda-mayi, to name just two. It’s been attested to and documented well for quite some time, and a lot more of it came to light as he approached his birth centennial last year, and more recently with this honour.

In many ways, and not unlike the current Pope, he is arguably more loved by ‘non-MarThoma’ and ‘non-Christian’ folks, even more than his MarThoma kin. Much the same way as one would say, Francis is perhaps more revered by ‘non-Catholics’ than Catholics.

They both shattered conventions of institutional boundaries to simply LOVE.

This raises the curious question: if these two men had demonstrated this proclivity in their youth days, would they have been able to advance in their stations? Would the institutions have encouraged or permitted it? One for another day.

I found it somewhat amusing to have a ‘not-a-MarThoma’ close friend tell me, that her brother called all the way from India, just to tell her of Thirumeni’s honour soon after it was announced in Delhi;

as well as to witness the reaction of an Indian co-worker, Bala, who asked incredulously, ‘have you actually met this man’?

When I replied in the affirmative, he didn’t want to believe it. I guess he’s never had the chance to meet a Padma recipient.

I think we can all agree that Thirumeni lived up to a Creed driven by the Scripture.

“The Lord has told us what is good. What he requires of us is this: to do what is just, to show constant love, and to live in humble fellowship with our God.” Micah 6:8

To illustrate more, the following is cut and pasted from The Indian Express, published soon after the award announcement.

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KOTTAYAM: The oldest living bishop in the world would have ended up as a registered porter at the Jolarpettai Railway Station, if the then metropolitan of the Mar Thoma Church had consented to the request of the 29-year-old Philipose Mar Chrysostom.

Thirumeni, as he is affectionately called, was on his way to Kottarakkara to take charge as the clergyman of Kottarakkara, Mylum and Pattamala parishes after completing his Theological studies in Bengaluru.

While waiting at the Jolarpettai station for a train to Kerala, he closely watched the life and work of railway porters.

As usual he started advising them and the rude porters challenged the 29-year-old Chrysostom to stay with them and understand their miseries.

The well-built, over six-foot tall Thirumeni accepted the challenge and worked as a porter at the station for one month.

During this time he changed the lives of the porters who otherwise lead a very anarchic life.

As Thirumeni says in his autobiography: “The one-month-stay with them inspired a wish in me. I wanted to become a registered porter. But I had to get the permission of the Metropolitan.”

Though the Metropolitan welcomed the idea, he insisted that he needed a clergyman for the parishes and Chrysostom had to half-heartedly drop the idea of becoming a porter.

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Happy One Hundred plus One, Thirumeni. Grace in Greatness. Greatness in Grace.

His Grace Philipose Mar Thoma. God’s Grace.

Happy Thursday to all…

mercy

Protestant Reformation

Today marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, a movement that was led by a Roman Catholic monk named Martin Luther, and one that profoundly altered the infrastructure of a Christian Europe.

On October 31, 1517, the day before All Saints’ Day, a solemn day on the church calendar, Luther posted what has historically arrived to be known in theological circles as the 95 Theses, on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany.

In reality, they were ‘grievances’ he had with the Roman Church, of which he was a huge part.

Luther’s grievance Number One, if it can be called that, was against the price of ‘indulgences’ the church levied on mostly poor peasants, who supposedly committed what the Church considered as sins, in their teachings and in the indoctrinated understanding of the peasants themselves, heavy drinking a chief one among them.

I guess one had to ‘pay’ to the church to have their ‘sins absolved’.

So the math works that, if the flock sin more, the church’s coffers get richer.

This penance offering was used almost entirely to construct The Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome, arguably the most breath-taking structure in all the world.

I have stood on the cobble-stoned steps of the majestic Saint Peter’s Square that houses the basilica, with the arms of the gigantic Roman columns all around me as if in an embrace.

To say, I got all goose-bumped would be an understatement.

And The Sistine Chapel. La Capella Sistina.

What is there to say about it? How can one describe it?

the Reformation in Western Europe had followed the Italian Renaissance and coexisted in close historical epoch, one enriching the other.

The famous fresco painting on the chapel’s ceiling, ‘The Creation of Adam’: where God as a dynamic figure on the right, lifting Adam up from his slumber, Adam as the lithe figure on the left, their forefingers reaching for each other’s but not touching, creating that space between them where infinite possibilities exist.

Frankly, It’s disingenuous to soak this all in to a hilt, and then disapprove of the method by which it got there.

It’s equally hard for me to fathom this was the effort of a mere Man. I have no doubt whatsoever it was Divinely inspired. God was there holding the Man’s (a devout one) hand.

So, In a strange sort of admission, I’m glad Pope Leo commissioned it. (Apparently Michelangelo didn’t come cheap. 😁)

However, I wonder what Peter would say to seeing all this. Jesus might say to His most trusted disciple: Hey, Pathrose! This is not what I had in mind. 😉

So in a more real sense, I’m glad the indulgences were done away with.

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The theology of the protestant reformers departed from the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of, at a minimum, three great principles.

  • The sole authority of the Scripture.
  • Justification by faith alone.
  • Priesthood of the believer.

There were other major and significant points as well. It’s too lengthy to elaborate on them in this space. (Each one is a separate blog.)

Christian Community may not be cognizant of these Doctrinal differences, as much as what has really ‘set us up apart’ for five centuries, which are the seminal changes that occurred after and as a result.

This tide-turning movement that happened in the 1500-year-old Church’s history ushered in (among others):

-The end of priestly celibacy (Luther got married),

-Translating the Bible into local vernacular, so that lay people could read, study, and interpret, the Word of God all on their own (Luther translated much into German),

-Incorporating sermons and hymns during worship service (‘A Mighty Fortress Is Our God’, a personal all-time favorite hymn, was written by Martin Luther himself.)

-and priests playing a significant role in parishioners’ daily lives, pastoring of sorts. Parish life became part of one’s spiritual life.

A single man single-handedly stood down the Pope, and Christendom was ruptured along its fault lines.

While the centrality of the Papal authority has enabled the Roman Church to remain as one, the schisms in the Protestant movement have led to innumerable denominations within it, each with different doctrines and core practices. Staying true to its name: as people who protest.

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Exactly 318 years after this major crack in Europe’s Christianity, a similar kind of Reformation found its way across the continent to the Malabar Coast of Southern India, to the Malankara Syrian Church of Malabar and Travancore.

This is known as ‘Navee-karanam’ in Malayalam (meaning Renewal), and The Malankara MarThoma Syrian Church of Malabar was formed in 1835, and has never looked back.

And I’d say The MarThoma Church grabbed this crusade by its horns, and kind of ‘ran with it’. The structure, and The Practices.

One would expect nothing less from the ‘Syrian Chrsitians’ of Travancore, right?

-The Singing, the Memory Verses.

-Localized Prayer Groups within a parish (Prarthana Muri), Vicar’s church-mandated house visits (Bhavana Sandarshanam) to parishioners’ homes.

-The ‘Suvishesha Sevika Sankham’, the women’s arm that was solely created to empower women, in a way no one else dared in 1919 Travancore;

An event that was preceded by the founding of the Nicholson Syrian Girls High School in 1910, modeled after schools in Britain for the same great cause of educating girls in a Christian setting.

-The ‘Sannadha Suvishesha Sankham’, dedicated to the spreading of the Gospel.

-The Maramon Convention, a Western-origin ‘revivalist’ gathering, the largest of its kind in Asia.

And so much more.

I can claim without equivocation, that no denomination pays the kind of singular attention to learning the Bible the way The MarThoma Church does, not even Mainline American Protestant churches. Seriously, the best part.

At the core of it, MarThoma Church‘s foundation is and has always been The Gospel of Jesus Christ: the Four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. It used to bear that if something’s not in one of the four Gospels, we did not practice it. This may have transformed over the course of the last century, as complacency and the need to conform with outside strictures have crept in, but the core remains pretty much the same.

For better or for worse, here we are, one half of a millennium later.

Regardless of how it all turned out, we all owe much to the forerunners who brought about the positive changes; even the Roman Catholics must be pleased: after all who needs those who press for changes all the time?

And in honour of Martin Luther and one Abraham Malpan (called The Luther of the East),

Happy Reformation Day to all…

Mercy

 

“It Is Finished”: John 19:30

On my own, I chose Saying Number Six.

Here’s what I arrived at.

It is a compilation of thoughts I have absorbed over the years, but a couple of lessons from Sathi Achen and KC Achen figure prominently in this particular piece.

Once again, It was an amazing experience for me as it was last year.

Gave a little. Received back a lot.

This aside, a single blog page wouldn’t be enough to cover my gratitude to these men of God and Cloth, (many more than the ones that are mentioned here), who have given me so incalculably much along my journey and formation:

Intellectual men (sorry, for now it’s only men), with advanced educations in Biochemistry, Biology, Psychology, (boy, do they ever need that! even more than scripture perhaps), and Mathematics and Literature and Accounting, Business and Information Technology, from corners far away from the dusty hills of Judea: men who sacrificed so much relinquishing lucrative careers and more, to tell the 2000-year-old story of a Judean man’s Sacrifice.

That faith alone is the proof.

please read.

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The sixth of Jesus’ sayings on the cross was: ‘It Is Finished’. That He could talk at all at that point seems miraculous.

In order for something to be ‘finished’, it has to ‘start’ first.

So when Jesus uttered, ‘it is finished’, what was it that got started?

It is, what got started with the Creation, the Paradise, the Man, the Woman. Sin. And Punishment.

and what was finished: Redemption. Of the same man and woman. From sin and punishment.

The term ‘Original Sin’ can be assigned many interpretations.

At its base, it’s forbidden sex.

At its core however, it is man willfully turning away from God. Man had everything, he walked with God daily, heck, he even had a partner he gave up his ribs for.

And yet, he risked everything and chose an alternate path.

God, in His disappointment and sadness, (as God always is: sad and disappointed when His creation turns away from Him) ‘punished’ humankind to hard labour, painful childbearing, and with the experience of death.

Some may reject the term ‘punishment’. I understand it as, one having to face the consequences of one’s actions.

But, that is not the end. It is the beginning.

Right after issuing ‘The Curse’, in His next breath, God gave us an ‘out’. He said to the crooked creature: ‘Her Offspring shall crush your head’.

The child the woman bears in pain will save the world. Great gain is achieved only through pain.

The Great Transformation from Eve to Mary is now complete.                                                                                                                                                                                                              

One disobedient and the other, in complete submission.

One that caused The Fall. The other that gave us the Redeemer by answering God’s Call.

From illicit relations, to Immaculate Conception.

In Genesis 3:15, God curses the serpent, “man shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

One of my dad’s sermons that still rings in my ears as though it happened yesterday, he exclaimed, ‘the serpent can only tug at our heels. But the offspring of the woman, ‘sthreeyude sandathi’, would crush the serpent’s head’.

Note that a male is not mentioned here. The child of a maiden.

So it was the death of sinfulness. Jesus’ victory over evil.

We get to choose love over hate. Eternal life over certain death.

We’re offered a second chance. The option of a New Life.

It’s significant to take note in context, the hour at which Jesus was executed.

According to the Gospel of Mark, just at the precise time a lamb was being slaughtered, in the Jerusalem Temple on the ninth hour of Passover for the atonement of sins of the Jews, is when the crucifixion took place.

Not just any old lamb, but a chosen male, baby lamb, a lamb without blemish. In Malayalam, it is called, ‘oonam-illatha kunjadu’.

The young, and sinless one gave it up for us.

The Law was rewritten.

A new Adam and a new Jerusalem were born.

Salvation came from the Jews, but it is no longer something exclusively available to just a few. It is for mankind.

All of us now belong to the Chosen Tribe. The Chosen One from the Chosen People chose us.

Built into Jewish synagogues of old, is a section called the Holy Of Holies. Only the high priest, typically a Levite, of the priestly tribe, is allowed to enter this inner sanctum.

In the other world’s great religion, its oldest really, the Hindu temples also have a similar place in their Ampalam or Mandir, called the Sree Kovil (House of God), where God resides. Only Poojaris of Brahmin descent, again of the priestly class, have access to this space.

So that is what transpired on The Cross.

When the curtain tore in the temple, that separation between man and God was overcome. now you and I can enter the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies, the Sree Kovil, through that tear.

Found only in the Gospel of John, the Greek word for the saying it is finished translates into ‘tetelestai’, an accounting term that means paid in full.

Not coincidentally, ‘Kalah’ is the Hebrew word uttered by the rabbi as he sacrifices the baby lamb in the temple. ‘Kalah’ means, ‘it is finished’.

What started in Genesis 3:15 was finished in John 19:30.

The companionship that was lost in Eden is now restored. We have full communion with God. All we have to do is choose it. it’s free for the taking.

It is what is called Grace.

That final offering of atonement by the shed blood of the Lamb is what was finished.

Romans: Chapter 8

Today is my dad’s 101st birthday. February 13, 2017.

In Vedic thinking, odd numbers are more desirable than even ones. I wrote a tribute for his 100th birthday, but the 101st calls for it in equal measure.

Some time in approximately 1958 and 1959, my father, in his ever-activist, ever-innovative mode, embarked on a mission.

He challenged the youth members of the Chepad MarThoma Church (I don’t recall if there were any age constraints as such) to memorize Paul’s Letter To The Romans: Chapter 8. (Paul as in The Apostle and the Letter is the one he wrote to the early church in Rome.) The whole chapter. ‘Roma Lekhanam, Ettam Adhyayam’, as he called it.

In return, anybody who masters this inscrutable piece of scripture would receive from him personally, the gift of a Bible that he would purchase with his own funds, from the CLS  Book Depot in Thiruvalla.

A Bible in those days cost five rupees.

If there is anything, you have to read this narrative in the context of ‘5 rupees of 1959’. Trust me when I say, it was ‘a lot of’ money. It was roughly one twentieth of my dad’s monthly salary. And this is from someone who was reluctant to buy my sister and me any fancy clothes for fear it’d spoil us from being studious. whatever.

So the contest commenced.

To the unanticipated discovery of both my parents, a staggering number of the church youth paraded to him one by one, over the course of days, weeks, or months, and walked away with this coveted Holy Book. To the point it exhausted his funds.

We have to realize that many, if not all, of them were attempting at this unique contest for the sole purpose of owning a Bible. Such was the fervor then.

At that point, instead of casually pulling out of the initiative altogether and leaving the kids feeling let down, he added a condition, that the passage had to be recited without a single mistake. He had not been strict about it prior. even that didn’t stop the eager learners. They kept coming.

Then out of mild desperation, Papaji stipulated a deadline by which the task had to be completed.

Meanwhile, I came home from the Nicholson (Boarding) School, finishing what was then called First Form (equivalent to today’s sixth standard), for what I anticipated would be my lazy days of summer, unaware of the ongoing undertaking. Amma mentioned it first with a great deal of admiration for the venture, and Papaji subsequently extended this most unwelcome challenge to me.

I had already owned a Bible, (a gift from the said parents), a leather-bound one with my full name, Mercy Mariam Oommen, engraved on the front. The School had mandated that we arrive with our own Bibles. This Bible is still proudly displayed on our coffee table.

So ownership of a new Bible would not be an incentive for me to memorize Romans 8.

For one, Papaji just simply wanted me to learn Romans 8.

Secondarily, he wanted to make certain that I could do what any of those youngsters were putting their hearts and souls into. I was barely ten.

extremely reluctant at first, even resistant, I eventually set about the task as if it’d be a piece of cake. After all, rote memorization was my forte, right?

Wrong. And wrong. It was anything but sweet.

A reader, I was. A reader of Paul’s long letters to a bunch of newly minted Christians in faraway Middle Eastern churches, I was not. Tedious in language and cryptic in meaning, this was also without any intrigue as in fairy tales. ‘Boring’ would be another word.

In English, we have countless Bible versions: The KJV, The Revised Standard, The Good News, The New International, The Children’s (wish we had those), to name some. In Malayalam, there was and is, still the One Version. Boy, was it ever a pain?! Torturous, actually.

Summer days were coming to a rapid close. The rains were beckoning from the moisture-swollen Western Ghats. Along with it, Second Form at Nicholson. and I went to papaji to recite. And suffered through the recitation with one or two errors. And was pretty proud of the feat. and even more so, was very sure nobody had done it better.

I mean, how could they possibly?

To my utter dismay, I saw my dad for the first time in my life that I can remember, being a tad disappointed in me as I had never seen him before. I made one or two mistakes. (It may have been more than just two, but hey, who’s counting?) What is the big deal, right? I don’t recall where and which ones. All I remember is my sadness in making him be not proud. I distinctly remember that part.

It came down to this. He considered me the recipient of some privileged schooling, (and I was), in a way most church kids were not. And he simply expected more. And this exercise meant so much to him.

Let me come to the point.

I don’t remember any longer a single verse from Romans 8.

Except this: the words that have stuck all these years: ‘maranathino jeevano, doothan-marko, vazhchakalko adhikarangalko, ippol-ullathino varuvan-ullathino, uyarathino azhathino, karthavaya kristhu-yeshu…’

“for I am certain that nothing can separate us from His love: neither death nor life, neither angels nor other heavenly rulers or powers, neither the present nor the future, neither the world above nor the world below-there is nothing in all creation that will ever be able to separate us from the love of God which is ours through Christ Jesus our Lord.” Verses 38-39

Thus, I may go astray, I may neglect to attend church regularly, I may forget to pray twice or even once daily, I may occasionally question the Eucharist for how it has evolved over the years, and for the current form in which it is practiced (for my take, I believe what Jesus intended for us was, to sit in a semi-circle, share a meal and treat each other as family, but what do I know?), I may go visit Matha Amrithanandamayi (I have – more than once), I may go to the Sri Lakshmi Temple (been there), I may visit the Shirdi Sai Baba Temple (done that), I have trod the red tiles inside the Jama Masjid, heck, I may even go to Kashi some day and set my foot in the Ganga – something I really want to do in fact,

But nothing, none of it, will separate me from the love of Jesus Christ.

I do not know if scholars will concur on the essential meaning of these lines, nor do I presume to know what Paul Apostle had in mind. It doesn’t matter. (I’ll happily entertain any alt-theories).

And this is my wish. I hope dearly that all those youth leaguers who took heart of these much-quoted verses all those years ago, (and there were so many of them), now in the golden or diamond years of their lives, will also be reminded of the same.

And that they’ll remember my dad with fondness.

Happy Monday the Thirteenth…

mercy