Saturday, February 25, 2012

First Satuday of Holy Lent - St. Ephraim -5

We celebrate the first Saturday of the Lent Memory of St Theodore and St Ephraim. This is the fifth and concluding part of this short article on St. Ephraim by my friend Jacob Varghese of Sharjah

Mar Aprem - 'Harp of the Holy Spirit' - 1st Sat of Great Lent

In spite of the gifts, which God so lavishly bestowed upon him, St. Ephraim remained deeply humble. He even feigned madness so as to avoid being consecrated bishop and the glory that attends that position. Doubtless, his humility was guarded by the remembrance of the sins of his youth and by his contrite spirit, which followed upon this remembrance. But while tears of repentance constantly flowed from his eyes, Ephraim's face was bright and shone with joy. As St. Gregory writes: "Where Ephraim speaks of contrition, he lifts our thought to the Divine goodness and pours cut thanksgiving and praise to the Most High."

On January 28, 373, after a brief illness, St. Ephraim reposed from his labors and was received into the heavenly habitations. He died as a "solitary" in a cell on a Rock Hill. After a life of good works, preaching, religious writings and ascetical exercises, he died when he was 67 in 373. His death occurred in the same year as that of St. Athanasius, another glorious Doctor of the Church. St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote his life history. Our Church remembers St. Ephraim on the first Saturday of the Great Lent, along with St. Theodorus. A major part of the hymns used in our liturgy is authored by Mar Aprem, who is considered as a fortune and treasure of our Church.

First Saturday of Holy Lent - St. Ephraim-4

We celebrate the first Saturday of the Lent Memory of St Theodore and St Ephraim. This is the fourth part of this short article on St. Ephraim by my friend Jacob Varghese of Sharjah

Mar Aprem - ‘HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ - 1st Sat of Great Lent

When the heretic Apollinaris was creating havoc in the Church with his erroneous teaching concerning the nature of Christ at His Incarnation, St. Ephraim tricked Apollinaris' servant into lending him the two books in which these teachings were set forth. After gluing all the pages together, he returned the books to the unsuspecting servant and then challenged Apollinaris to a public debate. When Apollinaris found himself unable to open his books to quote from them, he became thoroughly confused and retired in shame. His heresy soon died out.

He served the Nisibian community during several Roman and Persian sieges. A story is often related that on one such siege he cursed the Persian attackers from the city walls and a cloud of flies and mosquitoes settled on the army of Shapur II and compelled it to withdraw. To escape the cruel Persian persecution of the Christians, Assyrian populations of the Bet-Nahrain communities abandoned their homes. Mar Aphrem, too, accompanied his flock from Nisibin and finally settled at Edessa (Urhai), the capital of Osrhoene (Atouriya or Little Assyria). Living as a monk and a prolific writer, he spend the remaining years of his life defending his theology against the heresies of his time.

Not only was St. Ephraim en eloquent and powerful teacher, he was also a prolific writer. Although he lacked a formal education, he comprehended with ease the most abstruse problems of philosophy, and his commentaries on the Old Testament books of Moses impressed even the most scholarly men of Ms time. But if his writings spoke to the mind, they were more greatly to be praised for the effect they had on the soul. As St. Gregory of Nyssa writes: “Who that is proud would not become the humblest of men, reading his discourse on humility? Who would not be influenced with a divine fire, reading his discourse on charity? Who would not wish to be chaste in heart and soul by reading the praise he has lavished on virginity? Who would not be frightened by hearing his discourse on the Last Judgment, which he has depicted so vividly that nothing can be added to it?"

To be Continueed...

First Saturday of Holy Lent St. Ephraim -3

We celebrate the first Saturday of the Lent Memory of St Theodore and St Ephraim. This is the third part of this short article on St. Ephraim by my friend Jacob Varghese of Sharjah

Mar Aprem - ‘HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ - 1st Sat of Great Lent

St. Ephraim once had a revelation regarding St. Basil the Great. He saw in a vision a pillar of fire reaching to heaven, and he heard a voice: "Ephraim, Ephraim! Such as you see this pillar of fire, so, too, is Basil!" The vision inspired Ephraim with the desire to see this great Teacher of the Church, and, taking with him an interpreter (for he spoke no Greek), he journeyed to Caesarea in Cappadocia. There the holy hierarch greeted the desert-dweller with a corresponding enthusiasm and admiration: "I now see that what I heard about you is true. It is written in the Prophet David: Ephraim is the strength of my head (Ps. 59:9). These prophetic words refer truly to you, for you have led many to [he way of virtue and strengthened them in it. And your meekness and dispassion of heart shin e for all, like the light."
Then Basil the Great asked: "Why, venerable father, do you not receive consecration to the order of priesthood, as befits you?" "Because I am a sinner, my lord!" answered Ephraim through the interpreter. "O, if only I had your sins!" said Basil, and added: "Let us make a prostration to the ground."
But when they were bowed to the ground, St. Basil laid his hand on St. Ephraim's head and recited the prayer of consecration to the diaconate. That is how St. Ephraim was made a deacon and ordained to the diaconate and was a lecturer in the newly-established school at Nisibis He was at that time about sixty years old. It was the Saint's desire to continue in the hermetic life, but such was his talent as a preacher that the Lord would not have his light hidden under a bushel. Obedient to the Lord's will as revealed to him by an angel, Ephraim returned to Edessa where he began again to instruct people in the Faith. There he also established a college, which later produced many famous teachers of the Syrian Church

To be Continued....

First Saturday of Holy Lent - St Ephraim -2

Born again in repentance, St. Ephraim began to train as an athlete of virtues, exercising himself in the study of the Holy Scriptures and in prayer and fasting. The passionate and wayward youth was transformed into a humble and contrite monk, weeping day and night for his sins and entirely surrendered to God. Ephraim's earnest resolve pleased the Lord, Who rewarded him with the gifts of wisdom; grace flowed from his mouth like a sweet stream, in fulfillment of his parents' dream.
St. James recognized his disciple's God given talents, and as a bishop he entrusted Ephraim with preaching the Word of God and instructing children in school. In 325 he took Ephraim with him to the First Ecumenical Council in Nicea. Returning to Nisibis, Ephraim continued with his missionary work until 363 when the Persians conquered the city and most of its Christian inhabitants departed.

St. Ephraim decided to go to the city of Edessa around which monastic life was flourishing. He prayed that there the Lord would send to meet him a man who could converse with him on the Holy Scriptures for his spiritual profit. In Edessa, Ephraim earned a humble living in the service of a bath keeper. He used his free time in preaching the Word of God to the unbelievers. Angered' by St. Ephraim's successes, the devil set his traps to catch the servant of God. Once, for example, as the Saint was preparing his dinner, a woman gazing from the window of an adjacent dwelling conceived a desire to seduce him. "Bless me, sir," she shouted at him. "The Lord bless you," replied the Saint. "What do you need for your food?" she continued. Discerning the true purpose of her conversation, Ephraim answered, "Three stones and some sand to block up your window." The shameless woman, was a harlot. The Saint said, " we ought to be ashamed of, and also fear God, Who knows all the secrets of men! For He will judge the whole world and will reward everyone according to his deeds." By God's grace his words moved the harlot to repentance and she begged him to guide her to the path of salvation. Having received from him basic instruction in the Christian Faith, she entered a convent.

After living for some time in Edessa, the Saint was advised by a Holy Elder to go into the wilderness. He settled in a cave of the nearby "Mount of Edessa," where he gave himself up to prayer, fasting and the study of Holy Scripture. There occurred an incident, which illustrates the Saint's dispassion. Once, after a long fast, his disciple was bringing him a meal, when the dish of food fell and broke. Seeing the brother's shame and consternation, the Saint said simply: "Never mind, if the food will not come to us, we shall go to the food." He sat down on the ground by the broken dish and proceeded to eat the meal as well as he could. It was said of him that although he was naturally prone to passion, he never exhibited angry feelings towards anyone from the time of his embracing the 'monastic life

To be Continued .....

Fist Saturday of Holy Lent - St Ephraim -1

We celebrate the first Saturday of the Lent Memory of St Theodore and St Ephraim. Pray this short article on St. Ephraim by my friend Jacob Varghese of Sharjah will be helpful

Mar Aprem - ‘HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT’ - 1st Sat of Great Lent

St. Ephrem (Mar Aphrem) - the Syrian, is both a Father and a Doctor of the Church. Ephrem was born in the ancient city of Nisibis, in Mesopotamia, at the beginning of the fourth century. He was born of Christian parents before the Edict of Milan (313) was issued. Through humility, he refused to become a priest, and stayed a deacon all his life. He became a monk when he was only a young boy. He was one of the great defenders of the Divinity of Jesus Christ at the Council of Nicea, in 325.

Mar Aphrem remains one of the most influential fathers of the Syrian Churches and he is revered as the "Sun of the Syrians," the "Column of the Church". Ephrem was a prolific writer and gave the Church an abundance of sermons, commentaries and hymns. According to St. Jerome: "Ephraim, deacon of the Church of Edessa, wrote many works [opuscula] in Syriac, and became so famous that his writings are publicly read in some churches after the Sacred Scriptures. If you read a volume, of his on the Holy Spirit; though it was only a translation, I recognized therein the sublime genius of the man". Because of this enormous amount of material, he was given the titles "Pillar of the Church. Saint Ephrem was a great hymn maker, and is called "Harp of the Holy Spirit" the "Lyre of the Holy Spirit". The Roman Catholic declared him as the ‘Spiritual Teacher of the Church”. Almost all the Churches of the world consider him as a saint. The body of his writing comprises a central part of the liturgical prayer life of many Churches. He was a great poet and teacher of priests. He wrote a sizeable part of our canonical prayers. He wrote countless hymns and prayers in love and praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Ephrem greeted her: “Hail, Reconciler of the whole world!”

When he was still a baby, his parents had a prophetic dream: from the boy's tongue sprang a lush vine, which produced abundant clusters of grapes. The more the birds ate the fruit, the more it multiplied. Later it was revealed that these clusters were his sermons, the leaves of the vine--his hymns.

Remember not O Lord the sins of my youth. (Ps. 25:7). Judging from his youth, however, one could never have guessed his future greatness. In spite of his parents' having educated him in Christian precepts, he was impetuous and even rather wild, like an unruly colt which resists the bridle: "I would quarrel over trifles, acted foolishly, gave in to bad impulses and lustful thoughts .... My youth nearly convinced me that life is ruled by chance. But God's Providence brought my impassioned youth to the light of wisdom." He relates the story of his conversion: "One day my parents sent me outer town and I found a pregnant cow feeding along the road. I took up stones and began pelting the cow, driving it into the woods. In the evening, it fell down dead and was eaten by wild beasts. On my way back, I met the poor owner of the cow. 'My son,' he asked, 'did you drive away my cow?' I not only denied it grass and drove into the woods, but heaped abuse and insult upon the poor man."
A few days later he was idling with some shepherds. When it grew too late to return home, he spent the night with them. That night some sheep were stolen and the boy was accused of being in league with the robbers. He was taken before the judge, who cast him into prison. In a dream an angel appeared to Ephraim and asked him why he was there. The boy began at once to declare that he was, innocent. "Yes," said the angel, "you are innocent of the crime imputed to you, but have you forgotten the poor man's cow?"
While in prison, when Ephraim saw the tortures to which criminals were subjected, he became terrified. He turned to God and vowed that he would become a monk if God would spare him such a cruel ordeal. The judge however, just laughed at the youth's tears and ordered that he be stretched on the rack. But just then a servant came to announce that dinner was ready. "Very well," said the magistrate, "I will examine the boy another day." And he ordered him back to prison. Although he was spared from the rack, Ephraim had learned his lesson and, like the Prophet David, he entreated the Lord to overlook his youthful folly. True to his vow, upon his release he went straightway to the hermits living in the mountains where he became a disciple of St. James (Jan. 12), who later became a great bishop of Nisibis.

To be Continued...

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Living with the Saint - Vattasheril Mar Dionysius

February 23 mark the memory of the great Saint Vattasheril Mar Dionysius of the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Church. It also is important as we honor him to take the effort to know him, know what he has done to Holy Orthodoxy and mission of the Church and what is expected for us to realize in our lives in his footsteps as individuals and collectively as Church.

For me my knowledge of Thirumeny was very limited, in fact next to nothing till knowing a great father of the Church in our own times Fr. V.C Samuel of Memory Eternal has written a book about him (Truth Triumphs -
Starting with that book, I could realize that for V.C Samuel Achen and to me that Vattasheril Thirumeny was none other than St. Severus of the Church in India who had to face hardship for defending and upholding his principles and faith of the Church against errors and wrong doings from within and outside the Church. It is my prayer that we will take the effort to read and reflect how his life can strengthen us

The mission of St. Thomas the disciple of Christ in AD 52 that stated from the midst of few families within the Malayalee community in India faced up to Protestantism, Indoctrination by Roman Catholic, merely blindly following without understanding our faith and being subject to the Syrian Church with whom we share communion in reestablishment of the Catholicate of the East in 1912.

The Church is now yet to face its greatest test amidst prosperity, amidst secularism, amidst freedom, amidst the no language barriers that was prevalent in the past, amidst the boasting of the glory of the past, amidst nationalism, amidst the busyness of this life. May the prayers of St. Dionysius be a solace and strength to us. Lord Have mercy upon us, forgive us, lead us and the Church as you have led Vattasheril Thirumeny.

George Varghese
Calgary, Canada
February 23, 2012

Saturday, February 4, 2012

February - Sunday of Departed Priests

February: Sunday of All Departed Priests - An update

Evening : St.Matthew 25:13-30 , Morning :St.Luke19:11-28

Before Holy Qurbana
Numbers 20:23-29 ,Deuteronomy 34 :1-8 ,Isaiah65:13-20

Holy Qurbana
Acts 20:26-38 ,I Thessalonians 4:13-5:11 ,St.Matthew 24:42-51

From the Nativity , we moved to Sundays of the Theophany with the last Sunday being how God does not reveal Him self if we are not cooperating with His grace and working with Him. With the Ninevah lent, we moved towards Holy Lent and Pascha (Easter) . This Sunday , May we remember in Holy Qurbana all departed Fathers and seek their prayers. Our Achen told today the the Church commemorate the two Sundays the Departed Priests amd all faithful predominantly before the Holy Lent so that we seek their solace as we go along with them to battle during Holy Lent.

Some Fathers that come to immediate mind

Saints:- Saint Severus of Antioch, St. Gregorios of Parumala , Saint Geevarghese Mar Dionysius
Departed Bishops of Malankara :Bishop Philoxenos (Delhi), Bishop Makarios, Paulos Mar Gregorios , Adding Bishop Ivanios
Departed Priests : V.C Samuel of Blessed Memory, Fr. P.C Eapen and Fr. Thomas Mundukuhy from ICON days , Our Kottathuvila Achen of Alleppey , Added Fr. Constantine