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 :(

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Do not fear, little flock!

Had the honor to write a short devotional for the MGOCSM of North America .. very humbled, and learned so much about the beauty of Christianity!  This was re-posted on the Diocese of South-West America website.  Copied below for convenience, but please visit both websites often!

DSWA Link:  http://www.ds-wa.org/do-not-fear-little-flock.html
MGOCSM Link: http://www.mgocsmamerica.com/index.php/worship/devotionals/141-mr-joe-varghese-do-not-fear-little-flock
Luke 12:32-48 (Gospel Reading for February 3rd, 2013) 

A visit to an Emergency Room is scary particularly when the doctor takes out a sharp and pointy needle.  We suppress that impulse to run and rather listen to the explanation why the medicine will make us healthy once again.  We do so with the understanding we are sick, and trust the doctor’s wisdom to bring us back to health.

The Church often uses comparisons to medicine to teach doctrine, particularly when it comes to Salvation and the strong connection to spiritual healing.  To put simply, for Orthodox Christians being “saved” means being healed.  Being “saved” is to be Holy (1 Peter 2:9).  In our Faith, Salvation is a person, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, as well as a process where we constantly make choices to become like Him.

This understanding is important when reflecting on this passage from the Gospel of St. Luke.  At first glance, we may see a contradiction – a God who is a loving Father, good and kind, One whom we need not fear … but later a slave-master, punishing and beating those who ignore His commands.  We often skip these troublesome verses as they confuse us … but by doing so we unknowingly miss important lessons (yes, life-saving!) about the Holy Trinity.  The purpose of Holy Scripture is to help us know God (John 20:30-31). 

The good news? God is love.  As we see, for example, in the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) the father gives everything to his children and yet allows his prodigal son the freedom to waste away the gifts that have been given.  However after the son “came to himself“ (Luke 15: 17) and the son remembered who he was and where he had come from, he repented and began his journey home … only to return to the embrace of a joyous and happy father who ran out to meet and kiss him even before the son could utter a word!

Love exists only when there is freedom.  Our Almighty and all-powerful God loves us so much that He blesses us with free-will and the ability to make our own choices.  In the parable, the prodigal son could have chosen to stay in the far-away land and the story would have had a much different ending … but even this narration of the tale would not have changed that the Father is loving, generous and humble. 

Sin also exists, and as the Church teaches Sin should be thought of as sickness.  Choosing to Sin has devastating effects on us, and the most dangerous type is subtle ... where we think and justify actions not of God as being “OK”, or when we look and see everybody doing something and fool ourselves into thinking it must not be a big deal.  But illness not treated gets worse and destroys the body even if the patient initially feels good.  Over time, the body grows weaker and may get sick with something else … reaching a point where even the strongest medicine may not be enough.  At this stage, rather than enjoy the benefits and rewards of good health the patient feels the pain and agony of sickness.

Christ says, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes” (v 43)… but doing what? Being a Christian!  Our Faith must be active, a constant effort to be like Christ.  The judgment will be whether we are followers of Christ in all our thoughts, words and deeds (1 Corinthians 9:27).  We approach this with fear and trembling, as the more we know God the more we realize how utterly frail and weak are we, and how easy we fall. Just like a person can become sick again, we too can succumb to temptations and temporary riches of this world … but it’s never too late to repent.  It’s never too late to start working to be spiritual healthy!  Especially when we know the love our God has for His children.

This is why our Lord reminds us, “do not fear, little flock” (v 32).  Do not be afraid!  God is ready to shower His love and blessings, but it is and always remains our choice.  Let us get ready.  Let us follow wisdom.  Let us remember our Faith. 

Christ is our Doctor and the Church is our hospital – both essential to curing the unhealthy and destructive effects of Sin on our body.  In the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), Christ (the Samaritan) is the healer, the Great Physician, who rescues us, man who is wounded.  Man is given bandages, oil and wine - images of the Sacraments (Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Qurbana or Eucharist) and taken to heal to the inn, an image of the Church.  The goal of everything we do - every ministry, every prayer , every sermon or every devotional - is to bring us closer to the Church, which is the Body of Christ.  It’s all about Christ.

But as Fr. Seraphim Rose warns - “we constantly rebel, try to make life easier, try to be half-Christian, try to make the best of both worlds”. And as Fr. Anthony Messeh reminds, “Christ loved us so much He died on the Cross … this is true.  But he also loved us so much He spent 33 years without sinning. Why can’t we make it through even one day?”

“But if one chooses to continue and to sin perpetually in pleasures, and values indulgence here above eternal life, and turns away from the Savior, who gives forgiveness; let him no more blame either God, or riches, or his having fallen, but his own soul, which voluntarily perishes. But to him who directs his eye to salvation and desires it, and asks with boldness and vehemence for its bestowal, the good Father who is in heaven will give the true purification and the changeless life. To whom, by His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord of the living and dead, and by the Holy Spirit, be glory, honor, power, eternal majesty, both now and ever, from generation to generation, and from eternity to eternity. Amen.”  (St Clement of Alexandria)

Questions for Meditation 
  1. “A handful of sand, thrown into the sea, is what sinning is, when compared to God’s Providence and mercy. Just like an abundant source of water is not impeded by a handful of dust, so does the Creator’s mercy not defeated by the sins of His creations.” – have you ever felt you did something so bad, so terrible, that you were embarrassed to come to Church?  What is the message that St. Isaac the Syrian is giving for anyone who feels this way?
  2. Meditate on Luke 12: 34 i.e., “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be”.   Look back on how your time, money, and energy was spent this past week - what do you think about most? What got you most excited? Where did you spend your money compared to the offering you gave at Church? Reflect on how you could change the way you use your resources in order to reflect Kingdom values more accurately.
A Prayer 

Let my heart be strengthened and fortified by the grace of Baptism which I have received, so that I am seen as light in the world.  Let me be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit from above.  Let me hate and turn away my face from the old man who is corrupted by the pleasure and desire to sin.  Let me be the bearer of the Word of Life to unbelievers.  Let me continue to hasten to new life, which is promised to the faithful, and may I be worthy to reign with Christ by the abundance of His great mercy.

*The above is based on the prayer of the priest after the anointing of Holy Chrism during the Liturgical Sacrament of Baptism.   It is a reminder to all who are participating in the Baptism that the Sacrament is only a beginning of our walk with Christ and that our Salvation is both a person, our Lord Jesus Christ, and a process (theosis) where we grow strengthened through Sacramental Life to become like Christ.