Eighth Friday of Denha: Patron of the Church

Click play to listen the Evangalion (gospel reading) of the day.

Today the Church exhorts us to remember the Patron of the Church. In Syriac the words Had Parsopa are used to express the sense of the word Patron. The literal meaning of the Syriac expression is One Person. Who is this person? Evidently it is the person who gave origin to the Individual or Particular Church by his evangelization. That is Mar Toma Shliha, St Thomas, the Apostle, for the ancient Christian community in India. They are known as St Thomas Christians in the elite circles. But traditionally these Christians designated themselves by the word Nasrani which means the follower of Nasarene Jesus. This is an analogue for the now international word Christian. The Nasranies should remember their Father in Faith Mar Toma Shliha (St Thomas, the Apostle) today in a special way. Whatever Mar Toma Shliha has bequeathed to us also should be thankfully remembered. The Light of Christian Faith, Personal Love for Christ to the extent of even courting death with Him, and the Devotion to the Mother of God may be highlighted as the legacies bequeathed for the Nasranies by Mar Toma Shliha.

 

The word Syria was coined by the Greeks to designate the territory that is indicated by the word Aram in the Hebrew Bible and its Syriac version. So also the language of Aram called Aramaic was rendered by the word Syriac by the Greeks. But we know from history that Aramaic was the language spoken in Palestine, which was outside the political Syria, during the time of Our Lord. The Jewish exiles in Babylon (597-537 B.C.) began to speak Aramaic which was the language of the Babylonian or Chaldean empire, and they continued it even after their return to Palestine from exile. In Christian times the developed and classical form of Aramaic began to be known as Chaldean Syriac or East Syriac.

 

India was privileged to receive the Gospel from St Thomas, the Apostle. St Thomas, as St Paul in several places around Mediterranean, contacted the Jewish colonies in India and could win several Jewish families over to the Christian Faith. Along with them other non-Jewish converts formed the community of Nasranies. Now we have sufficient proof to demonstrate that the seven places where St Thomas established churches were places where Jewish traders lived in colonies. Further, archeology is bringing out evidences to prove that the apostolate of St Thomas was more extensive than hitherto believed. Several places in Tamilnadu, Coromandal coast and western coast of India including Goa, Kalyan etc. have produced archeological evidences to prove this. But this Pre-Portuguese Apostolic community of Christians suffered the onslaughts of fanatic preachers, kings and conquerors so much so that a considerable bulk of the Nasrani community in India was obliterated except in Kerala. As the local Hindu kings of Kerala were tolerant, the Nasranies were spared.

 

The personal love of St Thomas for Jesus is evident from what St John the Evangelist has recorded:” Thomas called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples: Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16).

 

With regard to the Marian devotion of Mar Toma Shliha, there is a legendary account about the visit of this Apostle to the tomb of the Blessed Mother when he heard about her death. As he was late in arriving from India, her burial was over by the time of his arrival. As soon as he arrived, he insisted that the tomb should be opened that he might have a glance of the dead body at least. But when the tomb was opened, it was empty and the Apostle and bystanders heard a joyous heavenly song from which they knew that she was assumed into heaven body and soul.

 

 

The Nasranies have inherited all the above mentioned legacies from Mar Toma Shliha. We are not sure whether the churches built as places of worship by the Nasranies of the above mentioned seven communities in Kerala were named after any heavenly Patron. Christian churches and chapels are designed like the Jewish synagogues to accommodate the faithful inside. As far as we know, the synagogues were not named after anybody. But the Christian places of worship slowly began to be named. In India the Nasranies took pride in designating the ancient churches under the title of the Mother of Jesus whom they mentioned by a favourite Syriac nomenclature Marth Maryam  (= Lady Mary, that means, Holy Mary). The age old churches of Kuravilangad, Kudavechoor, Muttom, Changanacherry, Kallorkad (Champakulam), Bharanganam and many other churches in Kerala  are dedicated to the Mother of Jesus. This shows how devoted are the Nasranies to the Mother of Jesus. Some Churches such as Mapranam, Cherpunkal and Pazhvangadi (Alapuzha) are named after the Holy Cross (Mar Sliba). St George, the Martyr (Mar Giwargis Sahda) was venerated by the Nasranies from ancient times. Some important Catholic churches such as Aruvithura, Edappally, Muthalakkodam, Edathua and Puthuppally of Separated brethren are named after this Saint. The Persian Martyrs Sapor and Proth were the Patrons of the churches at Udayamperur (Diamper) and Kothanallur. But the Portuguese missionaries substituted them with the twin Roman martyrs Gervasis and Protasis.

After the sixteenth century we see many other titles used to designate churches and chapels. Those named Sacred Heart, Infant Jesus etc. show the devotion to Incarnation. The names of saints are profusely used now as the titles of churches and chapels. This shows the desire of the people for the intercessory protection of saints.

 

Homily for this day

 

Coming to today’s Biblical readings, we see first reading from Isaiah 41:8-16. Here the prophet is consoling and encouraging the People of Israel in Babylonian exile. Yahweh speaks in the first person which the prophet records in this passage. He called Israel from the ends of the earth. Israel is Yahweh’s chosen servant. In reality Israel is only a worm. But God strengthens Israel. Yahweh the Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel. Israel will become very powerful.

 

The second reading for today is Acts 19:8-20. This passage tells us of the preaching of St Paul in the Jewish Synagogues during his missionary journey and the prodigies worked by him. Even his handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away by people to the sick and they were cured. People who practiced witchcraft brought their books and burned them in the presence of all. Some people who exorcised in the name of Jesus, but who did not believe in Him, were attacked and routed by the devil.

 

The third reading is 2 Cor.10:4-18. St Paul is comparing his evangelization efforts to warfare. He says that in this warfare the weapons of evangelization are not worldly but divine power. The evangelizers boast only about the Lord who strengthens them. St Paul hopes that he and his co-workers can preach the Gospel in lands beyond Corinth.

 

The Gospel for today is Mt. 24:45-47 + 25:14-20. The passage from chapter 24 records the words of Jesus regarding faithfulness in His service as in the case of a servant appointed by his master over his household to give them their food at the proper time. If he proves to be faithful, he will be promoted, otherwise he will be punished. The next passage from chapter 25 is the parable of the talents. The first two recipients of the talents from the master when he departed for a journey doubled what they had received. The third one was a pessimist and did not try to increase the talent he received from the master. He imagined that his master was cruel etc. On his return the master rewarded the first two ones and punished the last one who was lazy and pessimistic. This is an exhortation to all to value what they have as given by God and to try to increase their endowments working with optimism and not to remain lazy and pessimistic complaining about anything and everything.

 

May Mar Toma Shliha, our Father in Faith, and the Patron saints of our churches help us to discern the legacy that has been bequeathed to us as Nasranies and to imitate them in our commitment to Jesus Christ and the Church.

 

 

Credits: Father Thomas Kalayil, CMI <thomas 'dot' kalayil 'at' cmi 'dot' in>

 

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