Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church
FOUNDATIONS OF OUR FAITH
Faith, in the Orthodox Christian perspective, is something better to be experienced than to be explained. Orthodox Church accepts Holy Bible as the Word of God; the basis of our faith and practices. At the same time our faith is a living testimony of the Holy Apostolic Tradition within which Bible took shape. The three conspicuous characteristics of Orthodox faith are: Infant baptism, Intercession to saints and Remembrance prayers for departed souls.
The celebration of Holy Liturgy-the sacrament of sacraments-is a unique event in the life of the Orthodox Church. The Holy Liturgy is the commemoration of our Lord's incarnation, ministry, suffering, sacrifice, resurrection and second coming based upon historical facts, and it connects with what is going on in the inward and heavenly sphere. This celebration helps the faithful to have experiences beyond time and space limitations and are assured of the call to deification-thesis. The liturgy is the time of celebration in which the faithful partake in the great events of the life of our Lord along with the company of great and many Saints. The liturgy is the time to receive blessing, peace, grace and to develop the spirit of sharing with others. Prayers and praises in the Holy Liturgy are used in both poems and prose, so that people can fully take part in the whole worship whole heartedly and in unison. The role of the congregation in the Holy Eucharist of the Malankara Orthodox Church is so vital, that we can say that, the whole church celebrates the Holy Eucharist under the leadership of the priest or bishop. According to the teachings of the church, we cannot have live without the Holy Eucharist. "Jesus said to them; I am telling you the truth; if you do not eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will not have life in yourselves. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him to life on the last day." (John 6:53-54)The Eucharist worship is one through which the worshipper attains deeper and richer state of experiencing Christ than what is obtained through any other form of worship.
Does your church practice "Open Communion?"
In the strictest sense the Communion of the Orthodox Church is open to all repentant believers. That means we are glad to receive new members in the Orthodox Church. The Orthodox concept of "Communion" is totally holistic, and radically different from that of most other Christian groups. We do not separate the idea of "Holy Communion" from "Being in Communion," "Full Communion," "Inter-Communion" and total "Communion in the Faith."
In the Orthodox Church therefore, to receive Holy Communion, or any other Sacrament (Mystery), is taken to be a declaration of total commitment to the Orthodox Faith. While we warmly welcome visitors to our services, it is understood that only those communicant members of the Orthodox Church who are prepared by confession and fasting will approach the Holy Mysteries.
We believe that in a mysterious way the bread becomes the body and wine becomes the blood of our Lord. It was after blessing the bread and wine that our Lord said, "This is my body" and "This is my blood". Just as our Lord was perfect God and perfect man, without any change in the godhood and man-hood, after the blessing, the bread is, both bread and the body of our Lord. Also after blessing, the wine is both wine and blood of our Lord. Protestant churches say that the bread and wine are only the symbols of the body and blood of our Lord.
Eastern churches give primary importance to worship. The heart beats of the church are manifested in worship. The Holy Eucharist is the crown of all other worships. It is performed 'in spirit and in truth" (John. 4:24).f) The term "Qurbana" is a derivated form of "Qurbono". Following the tradition of the Antiochian Syrian Orthodox Church, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church uses the Syriac term "Ourbono" which means sacrifice or offering (that which is offered to God). Through the sacrifice of our Lord, we offer ourselves and the whole universe as a sacrifice to the heavenly Father.. This holy sacrifice was instituted and entrusted with His disciples, by our Lord. The church celebrates this holy sacrifice as the continuation of the sacrifice on Calvary. Man, made as little less than God and crowned with glory and honor, (Ps. 8:5) is basically a worshipping creature. The infirmities and gratitude of the creation, bring man to the creator. He stands with a humble heart, bowed head and eyes yearning for God's vision, before the Almighty God who is the Creator and Sustainer of all. Man often enjoys fellowship with God in silence also reminding us of the verse "Be still and know that I am God" (Ps. 46:10).
Passover was the memorial of the flight of the Israelites from Egypt. Moreover, the blood of the Passover lamb was smeared on the two door posts and lintel of the houses, to allow the inhabitants to escape from the plague of destruction (Ex. 12:13). The eternal sacrifice of our Lord marked the end of the bloody sacrifice. This was the end of the Jewish Passover and the beginning of the Christian Passover also. When "the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world" (Jn. 1:29) was sacrificed, the new Passover was established. The bread used by our Lord for the institution of the Eucharist was leavened bread ("lahmo" - in Syriac and "artos" - in Greek). Hence the Orthodox Churches use leavened bread for Holy Eucharist from the very early days. There is a tradition that, a part of the dough used for making the bread was set apart and kept as leaven when the bread was made for the Last Supper. This leaven is mixed with the dough when the bread is made for the next Eucharist. This tradition is continued even today.
"Do this in remembrance of me" (Lk. 22:19) was the command of our Lord who instituted Holy Eucharist. We read in the book of Acts, how Holy Eucharist was celebrated in the early church (Act. 2:42,46; 20:7). Orthodox Churches, unlike Protestant Churches, give great importance to Holy Eucharist. Holy Eucharist is celebrated on all Sundays, and other feast days except Good Friday. All the other sacraments are perfected by Holy Eucharist. eg. Baptism, Confession, Ordination, Marriage and Anointing of the sick. Also, consecration of the church and Holy Myron are perfected by Holy Eucharist. The church teaches that all who participate in the service should receive Holy Communion. The hymns and prayers in the Holy Eucharist bear witness to this. There is no teaching in the Orthodox Church that there need not be Holy Eucharist when there is none to receive Holy Communion. Administering the Ministry of the Word alone, instead of Holy Eucharist is against Orthodox tradition.
"In remembrance of me" Holy Eucharist is not a mere intellectual calling back to memory of something that happened in the past. It is the calling back to experience in the present tense that which happened in the past. Through worship, and participation in the body and blood of our Lord, we bring to our present experience, our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and His saving acts. We become one with our Lord in Holy Eucharist. The whole account of our Lord's incarnation is brought to remembrance in every Holy Eucharist. In a prayer of the preparatory service of the Holy Eucharist, it is said "we celebrate the memorial of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ, and all His saving acts on our behalf, especially the annunciation by the angel, His glorious conception, His bodily birth, His baptism in the River Jordan, His fasting for forty days, His atoning passion, His crucifixion, His life-giving death, His burial in honor, His glorious resurrection, His ascension into heaven and His sitting on the right-hand side of the Father". (Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church. Mar Julius Press, Pampakuda - 1986,~Page - 272).
FOUNDATIONS OF OUR FAITH
Our Church recognizes written and unwritten foundations for faith, order, and disciplines of the Church.
Holy Bible (Old and New Testament), decisions of Ecumenical Synods, Writings of the Fathers, and Apocryphal Books.
Traditions - the living transmission of the Word of God which has
been entrusted to the Apostles by Christ and made complete in the
Holy Spirit and lived by the Christian Communities.
1. Luke 1:2: From the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers delivered to us.
2. John 16:12-13: Many things revealed by the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were not recoded in the Bible.
3. John 21:25: There are many things that Jesus did were not written.
4. Acts 1:21-22: Witness of Jesus' ministry, death and resurrection
5. 1 Corinthians 11:2: Keep the traditions
6. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26: "I received from the Lord........
7. 1 Corinthians 11:34: "I will set in order when I come.....
8. Galatians 1:8: Any other gospel to you than we have preached
9. Galatians 1:13: Heard of former conduct
10. 2 Thessalonians 2:1: By word or by letter
11. 2 Thessalonians 2:15: Stand fast and hold the traditions
12. 2 Thessalonians 3:6: The tradition which we received
13. Philippians 4:9: The things learned, received, heard and saw
14. Titus 1:5: Set in order the things that are lacking
15. Colossians 4:16: Epistle to be read in the Church of Laodicea and vice versa
16. 2 Timothy 1:13: Hold fast the patterns of sound words heard
17. 2 Timothy 2:2: Things that heard to be committed to faithful men.
18. Hebrews 2:1: Give the more earnest heed to the things heard
19. 1 John 1:1: Things we have heard and seen
20. 3 John 13: Shall speak face to face.
Our Church is very conservative in matters of Faith and very progressive in all other matters of thoughts and actions.
THE SEVEN COMMANDMENTS OF THE CHURCH
1. Take part in the Divine Liturgy (Holy Eucharist) on Sundays and
important Festival and Feast Days. Keep holy the day of
2. Observe the Fasts and Feasts prescribed by the Church.
3. Refrain from restricted food and wed-locks on Wednesdays and Fridays.
4. Refrain from wed-locks during Fast and Festival days.
5. Confess before priests appointed by the Church for the forgiveness of sins.
6. Receive Holy Eucharist on a regular basis. Lead a sacramental life ... and receive the Sacraments of Penance and Holy Communion at least once a year.
7. Give tithes, offerings, dues, and alms to the Church.
TABERNACLE AND CHURCH
A comparative study of the Jewish tabernacle and the Christian Church would prove the Biblical foundation of the Church. Exodus, especially chapters 25-30, talks about the origin and establishment of the tabernacle. It was built, as instructed by God, with invaluable materials. It is situated east to west; has several names, like Sanctuary (Exodus 25:8); House of the Lord (Exodus 23 19); and Tent of the Testimony (Numbers 9:15). It has the holy of holies and holy place with veil in between them. Holy of Holies had the Ark of the Covenant with the rod of Aaron, the tablets with the ten commandments and a casket with the Manna. Over the Ark was the mercy-seat with two cherubs on either side. Holy Place had the lamp with 7 branches, the table of incense, the table of shewbread, and the altar. Around the tabernacle there was a place of worship for the congregation. Priests used to wash their feet with water before they entered the Sanctuary. This tabernacle was kept at Shiloh (Joshua 18:1), Jerusalem, and finally in the temple built by king Solomon (1 King 8:4).
THE CHURCH BUILDING
The building in which we worship is the temple and household of God -- Bethel (Genesis 28:16-19). King Solomon built a house for God -- the Jerusalem Temple (1 Kings 9). We go to Church for fellowship, inspiration, and service. We go to meet God because it is the house of God.
1. The Church building is primarily a PLACE OF WORSHIP (Acts
2:46). We have to feel and enjoy the presence of Our Almighty God
when we are in the Church, as did Isaiah (6th chapter) and
Zechariahs (Luke 1:11-13). We have to worship Him in truth and
spirit (John 4:24).
2. Church is a LIGHT HOUSE. Jesus is the Light and we have to be enlightened by Him so we can enlighten others (Is. 60:1-3)
3. Church is a REST PLACE. We go to Church for relief as Hannah did (1 Samuel 1). Jesus is calling us to do so (Mathew 11:28).
4. Church is a PLACE FOR RENEWAL (Isaiah 40:30-31). If we go prepared and participate in the worship service whole heartedly, we return with a renewed and regenerated heart.
5. Like Gethsemane, Church is a PLACE OF PRAYER AND CONTEMPLATION for personal relationship with God (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
6. Like the Mount of Transfiguration, Church is a PLACE TO EXPERIENCE THE FELLOWSHIP WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT AND TO HAVE COMMUNION WITH THE SAINTS (Matthew 17-1-13)
7. Church is a PLACE FOR RECONCILIATION. The actual Liturgy begins with the KISS OF PEACE for reconciliation between the participants. The celebrant proclaims bestowing God's peace several times throughout the Holy Eucharist service.
8. Church is the PLACE TO PARTAKE THE HOLY BODY AND BLOOD OF JESUS CHRIST -- HOLY EUCHARIST AND COMMUNION (Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
9. Church is a place for EXHORTATION AND STUDY (Acts 20:7).
10. Church is the PLACE TO GIVE THANKS, GIFTS, DONATIONS AND OFFERTORIES (1 Cori. 16:2; 2 Cori. 8:9)
THE SIGN OF THE CROSS
The sign of the Cross, depicting the symbol common to Christians, is integral to Orthodox worship and common prayer. It is made with right hand. The thumb and the first two fingers are held together which signify faith in the Holy Trinity, i.e.. FATHER, SON and HOLY SPIRIT. The last two fingers are bent against the palm. In making the sign of the Cross , we start from the forehead to chest and then touch from the left to the right shoulder. Thus, we confess that the Almighty God came down to earth from heaven, suffered and died on the cross for our sins and redeemed us from Satan (from the slavery of sin to the freedom of righteousness and son ship of God).
The sign of the Cross is both unspoken and a confession of faith and the outward expression of inner prayer. In making the sign of the Cross a person prays with his whole being. With the sign of the Cross we appeal to the redeeming death of the Son of God on the Cross, and with this, the sign of victory, we banish the evil thoughts and feelings that creep in to our minds.
All the blessings are given with the sign of the Cross.
It is essential to make the sign of the Cross when we receive blessings in our liturgy at the time of blessing of the censor waving the censor to the congregation by the deacon, priest or bishop at the time of communion, while kissing the cross and the bishop's hand at the reception of blessings.
In common prayer at the outset of the prayer, thrice at the time of Trisagion thrice at the recital of the praise of Cherubim, thrice at the time of the Creed, thrice at the time of Halleluiah( morning prayer) and when we remember the Cross. The sign of Cross is always , with few exceptions, associated with a bow to the object of prayer, the invisibly present God. First we peacefully make the sign of the Cross and then we bow or do prostration. By making the sign of the Cross we abide in the protective shade of the Holy Cross.
While we believe in the general priesthood of all believers (I Pet. 2:9), we believe in the special priesthood also. This was handed down from the apostles to the bishops and priests, through apostolic succession. We believe that the bishops and priests act as the symbols and representatives of God. Our Lord says that the sins forgiven by the authorized persons, will be forgiven by God. "Receive ye the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (St.John 20:23).
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is a Episcopal church. There is the three-fold ministry of priesthood in the church, namely bishop, priest and deacon. Bishop is the symbol of unity in the church. The church's teachings on priesthood are made clear in the following passage. "Priests are the guides, making the earthly beings a heavenly beings They are the ambassadors of God. They administer the sacraments entrusted to His church. No one can receive this position by himself. This is for those who are elected according to the will of God and those who have received the ordination through the laying on of hands by the bishop. Anyone with out this laying on of hands and permission, has no authority to do any service or to preach in the church. No one is allowed to doubt the validity of the sacraments conducted by those in the priestly service, as long as they are not suspended or dismissed by the holy synod or higher authorities, however unworthy those priests may be. It is also not right to refrain from the services conducted by such priests. As the holy anointing is upon the priests as they conduct the services in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and as the effect of the service does not depend on the righteousness of the priests, those who participate in the services with good intention and true faith will receive spiritual strength. Those priests who conduct the services in their unworthiness will receive God's punishment. Those who are found to be guilty are to be dismissed and they are not to conduct any sacrament afterwards. The faithful shall not participate in the services conducted by the dismissed priests if they happen to conduct services" (Dionysus, Geevarghese Mar Vattasseril Metropolitan. Mathopadesha Saram - Teachings of the Religion - Page 29, 30).
The Priesthood in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is largely connected with its foundation, and development of the church through centuries. The history of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church starts with its establishment in 52 A. D. by St. Thomas, one of the twelve apostles of the Jesus Christ. He converted the local Brahmins and ordained presbyters -bishops-, belonging to the four families of Pakalomattam, Sankarapuri, Kali and Kaliankal. St. Thomas also established seven churches in the following places, Maliankara, Paloor, Parur, Gokamangalam, Niranom, Chayal (Nilackal) and Kollam.
Eligibility for ordination and consecration Priesthood is a divine call. God calls people to priesthood through the laity and the ordained ministers. The process for selection to priesthood, in the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is as follows. Deacon/Priest "Those desiring to be ordained shall on the recommendation of the Parish Assembly or on their own, apply to the Diocesan Metropolitan and he after due inquiry, if he feels no objection, shall send them to the Malankara Metropolitan and he according to his convenience, shall send them to the Theological Seminary of the community and if, after needed theological study, the principal of the Seminary certifies that they are fit for ordination, the Diocesan Metropolitan or Malankara Metropolitan will at their discretion ordain them. But after three years of theological studies, if a certificate is issued by the principal, the ordination of "Korooyo" (Reader) may be administered" (Constitution of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church -Clause 111). Generally, a full deacon (Samsono) is not allowed to marry. Hence the decision about marriage should be taken before ordination as a full deacon. Both married and unmarried deacons can be ordained priests. Marriage of priests is not allowed. This applies also to the priest who becomes a widower. If a priest gets married, he is not allowed to continue as a priest The widow of a priest is expected to remain a widow until her death But second marriage is not forbidden to a deacon, who becomes a widower.
PRAYER FOR THE DEPARTED SOULS
We pray for the departed souls. Some Protestant churches teach that there is no use of praying for the departed souls as the departed souls are inactive. The New Testament tells that the departed souls are active. The departed souls can please God (II Cor.5:9). They are worshiping God day and night (Rev.7:15). Since they are in need of God's grace to please God and to worship Him, it is our duty to pray for them for the necessary grace. As our Lord preached the gospel to the de-parted souls, (I Pet.3: 19) we pray for the repentance and forgiveness of sins of the departed. We believe that the departed souls also can repent, if they are not hardened completely in sin. Intercession of the saints: We seek intercession of the living and departed saints. Some Protestant churches do not seek intercession of the departed saints. Since the departed are watching over us (Heb 12:1) and since they are beyond time and space, (Moses and Elijah appeared at the mount of transfiguration), it is biblical to seek the intercession of the departed saints. They are with us, wherever we are, as they are with God who is with us wherever we are. Infant baptism: We give baptism to the infants also. St. Peter says that the Holy Spirit is given to the infants also (Acts.2:39). As children grow up, they are taught our faith and they are helped to have repentance. Thus they are made to dedicate themselves, especially through the Holy Confession and Holy Qurbana.
Auricular (told privately) confession is necessary as our Lord has given the authority to the church, not only to forgive, but also to retain sins (St.John.20:21-23). Isaiah's sins were forgiven when he confessed (Isa.6:1-6). Holy Confession is also a time in which we renew our baptismal promises. When we confess our sins of commission (doing things we ought not do), we make a promise not to repeat them. When we confess the sins of omission (not doing what we ought to do ), we make a promise not to omit the things in future.
Baptism is the most important of all the Christian Sacraments. But this doesn't reduce the importance of Holy Communion. Baptism is the first step with which one is entering into the church, the body of Christ. Through the turn of centuries Christian churches began to be separated and sub-divided based on difference in faith and practices. It is true that some divisions have happened due to misunderstanding in the interpretation some theological terms.
1. Holy Baptism is a Sacrament, being the gate through which the human being enters into the Christian faith. Therefore, it should be performed with the utmost reverence and awareness by the priests, and received with true faith by the believers.
2. The Sacrament of Baptism shall be performed at the baptistery in the church, except in cases of necessity resulting from extreme sickness or forcible circumstances; then baptism shall be performed in the homes of the believers by permission of the bishop. In this case, a wide and deep basin should be made ready in which water is to be sanctified. This basin is to be used exclusively for baptism. This procedure shall also be followed in countries where we have no church or house of prayer.
3. The bishop as well as the priest shall perform the Sacrament of Baptism fully dressed in his vestments. Incense shall be offered as is required by the rituals of the church.
4. Baptism shall be performed in the morning after the Divine Liturgy, unless an emergency may require its performance before or at any other time.
5. For every male child there must be an Orthodox Godfather, and for every female child an Orthodox Godmother.
6. Two kinds of oils shall be used in the administration of baptism. The oil of ointment (mesh'ho), which is consecrated by the bishop, shall be administered before immersion. The Holy Chrism (myron), which is consecrated by the patriarch, confirms the baptized and shall be administered after baptism.
7. The godparents, before participating in the baptismal ceremony, shall, with due respect and purification, confess and receive Holy Communion. They should also instruct the baptized male or female in the Christian doctrine and religion.
8. The priest shall register the name of the baptized in the church baptismal registry. It is proper and commendable that the baptized be given a Christian name.
9. When the priest baptizes male and female children at the same time, he is not permitted to immerse them simultaneously in the same water. He should immerse the male children first, and after changing the water, the female children. In cases of multiple baptisms, the priest shall immerse the children in descending order with the oldest being first.
10. If a child is near death, the priest shall baptize him without immersion, by pouring water upon his (her) forehead and the rest of his (her) body if possible.
11. The Sacrament of Baptism should be fulfilled two weeks after birth, unless an emergency requires postponement. In such a case, baptism may be performed after one month but not later than two months.
12. A priest can baptize his own child only in cases of emergency or when another priest is not available.
13. If a child is near death, a high deacon (gospeller) can baptize him or her, in the absence of a priest. Later on, if the baptized lives the priest shall confirm the child by anointing him (her) with holy chrism.
14. In an emergency, the priest can baptize even after having had his meal. In an emergency of death, the priest shall use the shortened service of Baptism of Mar Severius, Patriarch of Antioch.
As to the holy water, it should be poured in the baptismal font or in a clean place, such as a field or a garden.
Orthodox Church regards infant baptism as a holy sacrament that marks the beginning of Christian life and a means of communicating divine grace. The Church inherited the practice of infant baptism from apostolic traditions and is based on the belief that even a new born baby is not free from the original sin that has fallen upon mankind. Infant baptism is administered for the remission of this original sin. The sacrament of infant baptism is accompanied by holy communion in the orthodox tradition so as to enable the infants to be united in Christ soon after them being cleansed of ancestral sin and grant them full church membership. Infant baptism involves public profession of faith by Godparents on behalf of the child and are endowed with the great responsibility of raising the child in true faith. According to St.Paul, infant baptism is the Christian equivalent of circumcision which was a Jewish tradition practiced in Old Testament period. (Colossians 2:11-12)
INTERCESSION OF SAINTS
Veneration of Virgin Mary and other saints are considered to be the soul of orthodox piety. Although we accept that Christ is the sole mediator between man and God, we also strongly uphold saints as our advocates or rather interceders in heaven. Saints are those who have showed complete obedience and absolute submission to God while on earth and the glorified saints in heaven receive a special grace of God to intercede on behalf of faithful living on earth. This tradition springs from the belief that we are joined by a cloud of witnesses and communion of saints in our worship and that we are aided by the prayers and intercessions of saints in running our race faithfully to its end.
REMEMBRANCE PRAYERS FOR THE FAITHFUL DEPARTED SOULS
Orthodox faith also believes in the communion of living and departed faithful ones in worship, i.e. the union of all who share in the life of Christ. Those who die in faith and grace do not sever the bonds of this spiritual communion even when they are physically separated and continues to be active in worshipping and praising God. We are expressing our love to our forefathers by praying for them and keeping alive their memories for us to emulate. At the same time we are preserving the unity between church on earth and church in heaven.