Monday, March 26, 2012


            The Weeks of Annunciation begins on the Sunday that comes between the 27th of November and 3rd of December.  This season extends to five or six weeks.  Its centre is the Nativity Celebration on 25th December.  There must be four Sundays before Nativity and one or two after it.  The whole Season is set apart for Nativity Celebration, namely, for the deepening and experiential celebration of the mystery of Incarnation.  In short, the whole Season of Annunciation is considered to be an extended Christmas Celebration.

“It is a Season of Good News for Mar Toma Nazranees, namely, a Season of the Annunciation of Salvation.”
In Syriac, we call this Season Subara: It means proclamation or annunciation.  In fact, the Nativity of Jesus was a critical proclamation or annunciation of human Salvation.
            God has already become man in Jesus Christ 2000 years ago.  No more can we expect and pray for his coming.  He comes again only at the end of time and that will be to judge the living and the dead.
            Hence it is not a Season of expectation for Mar Toma Nazranees; on the other hand, it is a time for a deeper realization of the fruits of incarnation, which is unique and which happened years ago.  In fact, we celebrate the God-Man Relationship, which became a historical event in the Nativity of Jesus.
            The mystery of Incarnation leads us first to Creation itself.

            On the first day, “God created the heavens and the earth; the earth was without form and void, and darkness was upon the face of the deep; and the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters.  And God said, “Let there be light”, and there was light.  And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night.  And there was evening and there was morning” (Gen 1, 1-5).

            On the second day, God created a firmament and separated the waters which were under it from the waters above it, and he called it sky.

            On the third day, God separated the dry place from the water and he called the dry place, Land and the water, Sea.  On the same day, he created different types and kinds of trees and plants on the land.

            On the fourth day, God created Sun, Moon and Stars to determine days, seasons and years, and to separate the day from the night and to shed light on earth.  They move in the Sky.

            On the fifth day, God created all living beings in the water and varieties of birds that fly in the air, and gave them power to increase and multiply.

            On the sixth day, God created all living creatures, cattle and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.  And he saw that they were all good.
            At the end of all these God said to himself: “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth” (Gen 1, 26).
            So, God created man in his own image and likeness; male and female he created them.  He blessed them saying: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it”; and have dominion over all living beings there (Gen 1,28).  And he saw that it was very good (Gen 1,31).

            On the seventh day, God took rest.  The people of God also should take rest on the seventh day.  No one can work on that day.  This seventh day of rest developed into the Sabbath celebration of the Israelites.

“In the New Testament, the Sabbath gave way to Jesus’ Resurrection day.  Thus the Sunday, the Lord’s day, the first day of the week became holy to the believers of Jesus.  No one goes to work on that day.  On that day, the whole people of God gather together and celebrate the Holy Qurbana.”

            The second chapter of the Book of Genesis provides details of the creation of man.  God formed man out of the clay of the earth and breathed into him the breath of life.  He called him Adam.  He made the beautiful Garden of Eden and settled him there.  All the living creatures were brought to Adam and he gave suitable name to each one of them.  God saw that it was not good for man to be alone.  So he made Adam sleep, took his rib, made a woman out of it and gave her as a companion to him.  Adam called her Eve.

            Lord God commanded the man: “you may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2,16-17).


“The whole universe is the creation of God.  All the created beings in the universe, hills and mountains, forests and fields, rivers and streams, the earth and the sky and all the living beings that move on earth, birds of the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars, all praise the Lord Creator continuously.”
            Man is created as capable of knowing and experiencing this marvellous beauty of the universe.  Man is a microcosm.  Besides, he is capable of discerning things, taking decision by himself and can act accordingly.  This we call FREEDOM: the power to discern good and evil, and choose the good alone.
“Man is the Icon of God, created in God’s own image and likeness; God’s image in the material universe; the pure mirror where both the Creator and the creatures are reflected.”

            The third chapter of the Book of Genesis describes the story of man, misusing his freedom, the story of the Sin of the first Parents.
            The first Parents, having eaten the forbidden fruit, by being disobedient to the command of God and became subject to death.  Immediately, they began to fear God, who was their constant companion, who was walking with them.  They understood that they were naked.

            The first Parents became convinced of the fact that they have nothing as their own and that they have forfeited everything they got freely from God by being disobedient to him.  By becoming unworthy to stand before God, they tried to cover their nakedness with green leaves from the garden.
“The modern man, who tries to escape or evade the ever-open eyes of God, by self-justification, appears to imitate his first parents.  But, we know that he too will have to face frustration exactly as his first parents.”

            The first Parents were sent out from the Garden of Eden, to till the ground from which they were taken (Gen 3,22-24).  Adam was left to work and to hardship, to eat his daily bread out of the sweat of his brow.

            The rest of the human history is one of rejection and frustration.  Hard work and diseases became man’s constant companions.  Envy, betrayal, hatred, revenge, murder, theft, and so on deformed the human face.  This is the story we read in the Book of Genesis from chapter four onwards: the disheartening story of man, who is helpless to save himself.

            God’s promise that the one who is to be born of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent (Satan), the professed enemy of humanity, kept on enkindling the hope of salvation among the descendants of Adam and Eve.  God’s mercy, which is exhibited in his keen interest in making clothes for the first parents (Gen 3, 21), even when he was banishing them from the Paradise, is beyond description and comprehension.
            The same Mercy of God continued to touch the mankind through the mediators like the tribal fathers, judges, kings and prophets.
            The Flood, Slavery in Egypt and Exodus from there, Crossing of the Red Sea, Covenant on Mount Sinai, Wandering in the Desert, Possessing of the Land of Caanan where milk and honey flow, and so on, are all events which reveal God’s justice and mercy to his chosen people.

            In the fullness of time, the birth of John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Redeemer, was announced.  This announcement came to Zechariah of the division of Abijah.  Zechariah had married Elizabeth, of the lineage of Aaron.  It happened while he was in the temple of the Lord on duty to burn incense.
            Then follows the Annunciation to Mary and the Nativity of Jesus, which we described in Chapter five.

            On the first Sunday of Subara (Annunciation) the Mar Toma Nazranees proclaim the annunciation to Zechariah (Lk 1; 1-25) in their Holy Qurbana.  On the second Sunday, they proclaim the Annunciation to Mary (Lk I, 26-56) and on the third, the birth of John the Baptist (Lk 1, 57-80).  On the fourth Sunday, they proclaim the realization of Is 7, 14 through Mt 1, 18-25.
            On Nativity day, the Syro-Malabar Church proclaims her faith in the mystery of Incarnation through the liturgical reading of Lk 2, 1-20, which is a narration of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem.
            After Nativity, on the first Sunday (5th Sunday the Annunciation), they proclaim Mt 2, 1-23 and on the Second (if there is), Lk 2, 21-52, both Gospel passages containing events that occurred after the Nativity of Jesus Christ.

“ Any one who analyse the biblical readings, special prayers and hymns of Sundays and feast days of the Season of Annunciation can easily discern the spirit behind them.  Fixing the attention on the historical fact of Nativity, the faithful is easily led to its Old Testament background and to the life of Jesus up to the beginning of his public life, through effective symbols in this special arrangement of Mar Toma Margam.  In fact, the whole Season of Annunciation is an extended Christmas or Nativity celebration for Mar Toma Nazranees.”

            Still, they call the days before Nativity in this Season as 25- day fast.  It appears to be a practice of later development in connection with their love for fasting and in relation to the 50 - day fast prior to Resurrection.  Anyhow, the background reason of Nativity, namely, the Sin of man, is a right inducement for fasting.
            Blessed Virgin Mary is one who is intimately connected with Jesus’ Nativity.  Mar Toma Nazranees discern the dignity of Blessed Virgin Mary and sing praises to her, as the Mother of Jesus., Mother of God the Son or mother of God who became man.
            We have already said that the Mar Toma Nazranees always prefer the picture or icon of Mary with child Jesus for veneration.
            The feast of our Mother’s Immaculate Conception (December 8) is celebrated during this liturgical season.
            The last Friday in this Season is set apart to congratulate our mother for having given birth to Jesus, the Son of God.  Although it is the will of God, we know that Mary’s consent was absolutely necessary for Incarnation. Hence, it is only becoming to congratulate her in co-operating decisively in human salvation.
“Most of the prerogatives of our mother, especially those of her holiness, virginity, temperance, mother of God the Son, and so on, are clearly confessed through the liturgical prayers of this season.”

            We have already explained elaborately the relevance and meaning of Mar Toma Sliba.  Its apparition on St. Thomas Mount, Madras (Chennai), is celebrated on 18th of December.  It is an important feast in the Mar Toma Margam.

            The Holy innocents, who were killed instead of Jesus by Herod (Mt 2, 16) are celebrated on 28th of December, and this is the Children’s Day in Mar Toma Margam.

            On January first, the Mar Toma Nazranees specially celebrate the name ISO’.  The name stands for the person.  Iso’ is the Aramaic pronunciation of our Lord’s name and it means “Redeemer”.  St.  Paul writes:
“ ....God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Iso’ every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Iso’-Msiha’ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2, 9-11).
            Mary and Joseph, their relatives and friends were calling our Lord Iso’ (and not “Jesus”, which is a later transformation through Greek).  Mar Toma Nazranees are really privileged to get accustomed with the original pronunciation of our Lord’s name Iso’.  There is no difficulty in using this sound also in English.  The modern scientific approach is to retain the original sound of proper names and not to change it according to the style of various languages.

“Hence, the Mar Toma Nazranees are bound to retain the original sound of our Lord’s name too – Iso’, Iso’ Iso’.  This holy name must be inscribed on the inner wall of their hearts and must be poured out according to the rhythm of their heartbeat.  Iso’ - Nama – Japam must be one of the most favourite prayers of every Mar Toma Nazranee; Hereafter we use only this sound of our Lord’s name: Iso’ and Iso’-Msiha.”

            January 3, 1871 is the day on which Blessed Kuriakose Elias Chavara left for his heavenly reward.  “This is the day which the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 11 7, 24).  Mar Toma Nazranees must celebrate this day - January 3 - becomingly.

            The Coonan Cross Oath which made a split in the age old Mar Toma Margam also happened on a January third (1653).
            Although it was a demonstration of strong protest against the forced western over- domination, it split the Mar Toma Nazranees into two groups: the Syro-Malabarians and the Jacobites as they began to be called later.
            The Jacobites, who separated themselves from Roman communion, were later divided in to several denominations such as the Jacobite Church, the Orthodox Church, the Thozhiyur Church, the Marthoma Church, and so on.  In 1930, a group of them returned to Roman Communion under Archbishop Mar Ivanios and it is the Malankara Church of today.
A small group was separated from the Syro-Malabarians under Bishop Elias Mellus, who came to Kerala from Persia in 1874 and their descendants are known today as the Nestorians or Surrayees of Trissur.

“During the Season of Annunciation, the Mar Toma Nazranees, fixing their attention on the great Event of the Nativity of God the Son, confess and deepen their faith in the mysteries of creation, sin of the first parents, helplessness of man who sinned, promise of salvation, the period of expectation, events after the birth of Iso’-Msiha and his hidden life at Nazareth.”

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