Monday, October 31, 2016

The Living and the Departed

After Liturgy, many parishes in America have special prayers for the departed. Mourning family members come forward to pray for loved ones, and after the Church prays they receive special blessing from the priest.
Why do we do this? Why go towards the front of the Church if it's our family member who has passed away?
Orthodox parishes in India, especially in villages and smaller towns, have cemeteries that are attached to the Church. Families often live walking distance from their home parish, and generations of loved ones worship at the same Church and later are interred in the same Church cemetery.
The family routine therefore became attending Church to participate in Holy Qurbana, and then afterward go to the grave of their loved ones and wait for the priest to offer incense. I remember going to dad's home parish in Mavelikera, and as we walked to Appachan's grave seeing other families waiting by the graves as the priest went with incense from family to family to pray.
This is the solemn prayer the Church in America participates in today ... the candles and Cross are placed (usually on the step) as if on the tomb, and the priest prays with the Church.
Our parish priest, Fr. Sajeev Mathews George, uses a special mat to re-enforce this amazing teaching. The Church prays as if at the grave of the departed, and as with everything in the Church there is a deeper teaching as even at the graveside in India it is not just the family that prays but the entire Church. The Body of Christ (the Church) prays across all boundaries of time and space i.e., "May the living and the departed together cry out, ‘Blessed is He, who has come, and is to come, and give life to the dead.’"
This is the next chapter for our parishes in America i.e., to have attached cemeteries. As an elder Deacon once told me, in the olden days leaving the Church was literally leaving your family and loved ones .. but, as we wait for that blessed day, let's begin teaching ourselves and our children about why we do what we do on Sunday.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


The anniversary of 9/11 is also an opportunity to better appreciate the Greek word "anamnesis".
Fr. (John) Kaleeg Hainsworth's brilliant podcast teaches this so well, and strongly recommend everyone to listen. 
From the podcast - "No one can really grasp what happens in Holy Week or in any Orthodox Liturgy without some grasp of a very important Greek word: anamnesis. The only English equivalent for this word is ‘remembrance’. This is unfortunate, because ‘remembrance’ has almost none of the meaning in English that it has in ancient Greek."
I still remember exactly where I was when I saw the first tower in flames, and watching in horror and disbelief when the second plane hit the South tower. I know I'm not alone, and it's a memory that is so hard to describe but a memory that will stay with me as long as I live.
My oldest son Jordan was 15 months at the time, and I was holding him so close that day ... but his memories are from our stories, and he in turn will share with his children. But, as good a kid he is, he cannot really experience 9/11 like those of us who lived and remembered that day in 2001.
But, my experience will *never* be like those in New York that day, or those who were inside the tower when the planes hit and the first-responders. My shared experience with them through the television that day brought us together, but can never be as intense and personal.
We all remember 9/11 .. but, the intensity and personal connection is so different based on our age and where we were. But, in English, there's only one word "remember" for every case.
As Kaleeg Hainsworth taught, " Remembrance, therefore, cannot be understood as simply memory, however significant that memory may be; one cannot have a memory of an event that they had not been alive to witness."
But. we all must remember. Which is why we keep the stories of 9/11 alive. And, this is very much how the ancient Church operates as well.

Friday, July 03, 2015

Our Church in America

On this Feast of St Thomas, would like to make a special request to my Church-going friends for your thoughts and prayers .. this is lengthy, so bear with me.

This Sunday, St Gregorios at Elmhurst will be trialing simultaneous English and Malayalam Liturgy. This model is seen more often in the Greek and Coptic Churches, but as far as I know this is a first for the Indian Orthodox Church. For the record, no matter what happens - I love my parish and my priests so much for the courage and understanding to approve this trial, which will be for the month of July.
I'll post more thoughts later .. but it's been very thought provoking to see the response and reaction not only from the elder generation but my own. There's curiosity, concern, confusion .. the reaction that is least seen is understanding.
Why is this important? Because this is what it means to be an Orthodox Church.
As Bishop Kallistos Ware wrote in his incredible treasure, The Orthodox Way - "True Orthodox fidelity to the past must always be a creative fidelity; for true Orthodoxy can never rest satisfied with a barren ‘theology of repetition,’ which, parrot-like, repeats accepted formulae without striving to understand what lies behind them."
To really understand our Liturgy, we must celebrate in the language we think in .. and this is as important to those who experience Orthodoxy for the first time (new-comers, who may later become converts) to those of us born Orthodox. I strongly believe that anyone who really understands the Holy Qurbana would never walk away, as St. Peter had told Christ (John 6:68 i.e., "“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."). The thought that we will retain our youth with basketball games, pop-songs, and retreats is sadly laughable .. we need to focus on the Eucharist.
For the Indian Orthodox Church in America, the Great Commission demands (yes, it is a command ... look it up! Matthew 28:19-20) we have parishes of all types - 100% Malalayam, 100% English, and those that welcome both Malayalee and English speaking.
It's the last category that needs to be creative to reach their full congregation .. that's why we are doing this trial in July.
I am still a fool, but have finally learned it's best to let the Lord lead the way and not plan too far ahead .. as such, I don't know what will be the final decision beyond July or what will happen in Chicago in the years ahead.
But, it's really neat to be a part of history. 
And, no matter what happens on July 5th and 19th - each Liturgy is overflowing with the faithful, as we literally worship alongside St. Thomas and all the saints and martyrs of the Church at every Holy Qurbana. It's our own ignorance when we count success by the number of bodies we see with our human eyes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Fr. Thomas Hopko - Memory Eternal!

Fr. Thomas Hopko fell asleep in the Lord today, March 18th shortly after 3pm, as shared by a website the family put together to provide updates to all of those around the world who were impacted by this incredible and holy man. Although I never could fulfill one of my dreams of meeting Fr Hopko in person, what is amazing with technology today is that my own spiritual enlightenment will continue to grow with his special and selfless gift he left us - the podcasts, videos, books, and articles.

For those who have never listened, I strongly encourage you to start with Ancient Faith Radio and browse the Speaking the Truth in Love series. Listening to any one of these podcasts really is like sitting at the feet of this gentle man and hearing the wisdom that is emphasized by his experiences as an Orthodox priest in America. His podcast series Worship in Spirit and Truth delves into Liturgical Worship, and there are even more special podcasts on the Ancient Faith Radio website.

YouTube has a number of videos, and in addition to the books available on Amazon is the "Rainbow series" available on the Orthodox Church of America website.

Please take a moment and learn about our beautiful and loving God from Fr. Thomas Hopko .. and then take a moment to pray for Fr. Hopko and his family.  Truly been blessed by this Most Reverend and Holy Father!

Friday, October 04, 2013

Not just a burger ...

I wrote a letter to the owner of a restaurant in Chicago .. mainly for myself as I felt like doing something after reading about a decision made in very poor taste that is a great ridicule to Jesus Christ, but living in the world we have today would probably be ignored just like the persecution in Syria and Egypt.  I hope this helps even a little to anyone else who experiences the emotions I have this morning ... more and more, this world is forgetting even the basics of decency, love and kindness :(