Saturday, June 11, 2016

Why does Heaven Remain Heaven?

It is common knowledge that heaven is a place is love, joy, and peace. It is a perfect world which has no evil at all. This raises a question in our mind -- why/how does heaven remain heaven? Was heaven created that way?

We read in the first two chapters in the Bible that our world was created good in the beginning. However, it did not remain so for long. Soon it was filled with problems. There were all sorts of evil. People hated each other, and soon they began to murder others. Our world continues so.

This is the context in which we ask the question about heaven. How does it remain a place of love, joy, and peace? Why doesn’t it change as our world changed?  The answer to this question was discovered by Isaiah, the prophet. Once when he was praying inside the temple, he had a vision. He saw the angels of God flying around the throne of God glorifying God for His holiness. “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God almighty, by whose glory the heaven and the earth are filled!” This is what they sang flying around the throne of God. The angels of God were voicing their conviction that God is holy. It is this conviction of the citizens of heaven that keeps it heaven. 

What does it mean to say that God is holy? It means that God alone is holy. It means that no angel or human being is holy. Angels and humans can err. It is human to err. But God cannot do any mistakes.

As soon as Isaiah heard the angels singing that God is holy, he was aware of his own sins. He confessed that he had unclean lips and the people around also had unclean lips. If God alone is holy, people must have to be unholy.

Why is it that God alone is holy? Why can’t there be anyone holy among angels or humans? There is a simple reason: God alone is all-knowing. As God knows everything, God does everything right. Angels and humans cannot do everything right because their knowledge is limited. Whatever they think, say or do can be wrong. There is no guarantee that their actions are always right.

Jesus said that God alone is good. Paul claimed that God alone is righteous. We assert in Holy Qurbana that there there none holy except the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The reason behind is that God alone is omniscient.

Isaiah saw in his vision that Angels in heaven knew this truth. They also knew that they have only limited knowledge, and so they can do mistakes any time. As a result, they never justify themselves. They always apologize for their mistakes as soon as any mistakes occur. They also forgive others for their mistakes. This willingness to forgive and seek forgiveness keep their relationships strong. Relationships at all levels stay intact. Thus heaven remains heaven. 

This is directly in contrast to what happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve did a mistake by eating the forbidden fruit. They did this mistake because it is human to err. But unlike the angels of heaven, they did not know this. They did not know that God alone is holy. Therefore, when they came face to face with God, they justified themselves and blamed God. If they had known what the angels knew, they would have sought the forgiveness of God. They would have said, “God, we are sorry, we did a mistake.” Their children continue even today what they did in the Garden. We don’t forgive, we don’t seek forgiveness.

Isaiah had this vision in the year in which King Uzziah passed away of leprosy. This context explains why Isaiah confessed of having unclean lips and living among people with unclean lips. He and the people around him must have been doing the opposite of what the angels were doing. The angels were praising God for His holiness, but he and the people around must have been blaming God. It seems that they were blaming God for the death of the king. King Uzziah was a great king, during whose time Israel was very prosperous. It was widely believed that he caught leprosy as a punishment from God for offering incense in the temple, which only the priests were supposed to do. (2 Chron 26:16). As soon as Isaiah confessed that he was wrong for having unclean lips, that is speaking ill of God, an angel flew down to him with a coal and touched his tongue with it, and asserted that his lips have been purified. Then he was sent out as a messenger of God to tell the people about the great vision he had. 

It seems that it was this vision of the angels of God praising God that prompted the present kind of worship style in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In these religions, people assemble in a house of God and sing praises of God just as the angels were seen by Isaiah.

A temple is also a recreation of the Garden of Eden. People gather in a temple in the presence of God, and do what Adam and Eve didn’t do. They admit that God is right and they are wrong-- the opposite of what Adam and Eve did. In a Christian church, they also eat from the tree of life-- a privilege that Adam and Eve lost.

We pray and long for the kingdom of Heaven to come on earth. It happens when God’s name is hallowed. When human beings realize that God alone is holy-- that is when our world becomes heaven.  

In conclusion, heaven remains heaven because the citizens of heaven know that God alone is holy. If we, the inhabitants of earth, also realize this, earth also will become like heaven.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Ortheo Meet 2016

The Orthodox Church of India is entering a new age-- that is how I felt while participating in the Ortheo Meet 2016 held at the Sopana Academy attached to Mar Baselios Dayara, Njaliyakuzhy, Kottayam during the last week of May. It was primarily a meeting of the professors and selected students of the two seminaries in Kottayam and Nagpur, and it was jointly organized by the two seminaries together with the Sopana Academy. A good number of interested lay persons and clergy also participated full time.

The conference had its theme -- Ministry and Mission of the Church Beyond Borders. The participants thoroughly discussed the various aspects related to this theme such as theological education and alternate forms of ministry, the upbringing of the new generation, dialogue, evangelism, leadership, and ecumenical relations.   

The participants arrived on Monday the 23rd afternoon, and they had an orientation session by Fr. Dr. P.C. Thomas, and after the evening prayer there was a Bible study by Fr. Zachariah Ninan.

The next morning, on the 24th after the Holy Qurbana in the Dayara chapel, there was a grand inauguration ceremony. Fr. Dr. K.M. George, the director of the Sopana Academy, welcomed the participants. The Catholicos HH Baselios Paulose II inaugurated the conference with inspired enthusiasm for the future life of the Church, and HG Geevarghese Mar Coorilos of Mumbai presided over the function. Felicitations were given by Guru Ratnam Fr. Dr. T.J. Joshua, and by Mr. Kuruvilla M. George, formerly from the IRS, and now Director of Alwaye Fellowship House and editor of the Church Weekly. Fr George introduced the objective of the conference as a prayerful and collective reflection on alternate forms of pastoral ministry as distinguished from the ministry confined to the traditional parishes as well as exploring new  avenues of the mission of Christ to the wider world outside the conventional borders of parish, geography etc.

It was followed by three panel presentations chaired by Metropolitans Dr Thomas Mar Athanasius, Yuhanon Mar Dioscoros, and Joseph Mar Dionysius. The presenters were Fr. Dr. Reji Mathew, Prof. Mercy John, Fr. Prof. John Mathew, Fr. Thomas Varghese Chavadiyil, Fr. Dr. Koshy Vaidyan, Fr. Joshy Varghese, Fr. Dr. O. Thomas, and Fr. Philip Kuruvilla. Following the evening prayer, there was a Satsang led by Fr.K.M. George. It was called a Bamboo Meditation taking examples like the bamboo in the Dayara garden to develop a new Christian sacramental sensitivity to nature, environment, and spiritual beauty.  

The morning session of 25th was a Bible study by Fr. Dr. Varghese Varghese. It was followed by two panel presentations chaired by Fr. Dr. Abraham Oommen, and a round table on leadership moderated by HG Geevarghese Mar Coorilos. The presenters were Fr. Dr. Bijesh Philip (through video speech from Nagpur as he was prevented by some health issues), Fr. Thomas Varghese Chavadiyil, Fr. Abraham Thomas, Fr. Aswin Fernandis, and Fr. Dr. Koshy Vaidyan. The round table was animated by Prof. Dr. Varghese Punnoose, Head of the Psychiatry Department of Kottayam Medical College, and the participants included Dr. Paul Manalil, Sr. Ludhia, Dr. Kurian Thomas, Prof. Mary Mathew, Dr. John D. Kunnath, Prof. Lovely Rajan, and Dr. Jaisy Karingattil. Dr Paul Manalil was specially honoured on his new appointment as Director of Kerala Bala Sahitya Institute .

The final session, moderated by Fr. Dr. K.M. George and Fr. Abraham Thomas summed up the findings of the conference presented by Dn. Jobin and his team of note-takers, which are excellent practical suggestions to be presented to His Holiness and to the Holy Synod. Final prayer and benediction was offered by Metropolitan Mar Coorilos of Mumbai who was present throughout the conference. The organizers thanked the Indian Christian Orthodox Network (ICON) that collaborated in offsetting a substantial part of the expenses of the conference out of their commitment to assist such worthy initiatives in the Church.

The primary significance of this conference as I see it is the following: This is the very first time that our two seminaries come together for a sustained reflection on the future ministry and mission of the Church. They came together under the leadership and initiative of the Sopana Academy. When the Sopana Academy was founded about a year ago, I couldn’t imagine that it would serve such a grand purpose. This was a wonderful opportunity not only for our seminary students and the professors but also for the lay participants to seriously discuss the vision and mission of our church.

If the Holy Synod graciously takes the proposals emerging from this collective reflections for a serious discussion and necessary implementation, the Church will enter a new important stage in its pilgrimage. It will open up new forms of pastoral ministry and mission, particularly in the diaspora, as required by the changing  life-situations of our people in and outside Kerala, until now confined to a certain Malayalee mentality. The whole thrust of the conference and the intense discussions appeared to me as indeed pointing to a new age for our church.

Please more pictures and videos of this event here