I seek Your Grace's guidance on two issues.
The other day my wife attended a class where one of our priests mentioned that we offer prayers for the departed up to the 40th or 41st day with incense because we are honouring the bread and wine they would have accepted which would be live for around 40 days as per human physiology. I do not know whether this is correct because even after the 40th day, for the subsequent anniversaries we offer incense prayers. What I feel is that offering incense is our tradition we have from the OT days as we read about Aaron and others offering incense during prayers. The visions of Isaiah and John describes such prayers taking place in Heaven.Therefore, incense offering looks like an accompaniment to all our prayers. Thinking at a higher level, it may prepare us or help us to worship God in all His Omnipotence beyond time and space restrictions.
The second point is based on heated argument I had with my wife ( not a quarrel, but quite positive ) on using Nilavilakku while praying. She was a Marthomite having accepted each and everything in Orthodox Church in true spirits and living like a true Orthodox in all respects. Here, what she feels is that we are accepting some Hindu systems, which according to her is wrong. I tried to convince her that this is not Hindu, but Indian in essence. Also, OT tradition too allows this. Jews do the same. She takes a stand that this would have come up due to non invention of electricity during OT era. But now it is a pure Hindu custom and we should not do this. I took the stand that we should see it as our accepting Indian culture and that this should be seen as light, a symbolic representation of ourselves aiming to be light of the world. I also told her that singing hymns like CSI people just imitate English custom and we should be able to switch over to India style of singing, by suitable changes in our Syriac ragas. The thali too is Indian and not Hindu because there are certain Hindu sects who are not using thali for marriages.
Looking forward to guidance from Your Grace, your spiritual son,
Thank you for the mail. I am in California and enjoying the company of our people in this part of the country.
Regarding the question, in both cases you are right.
First, I have never heard this interesting explanation about dhoopam. Basically the 40 days observance of the bereavement of the departed is a cultural thing. In most of the ancient cultures people remember the departed with special acts and functions for a prescribed date. 40 days is not observed in all parts of our Church. In Kunnamkulam area people do it some times for 6 days, some times for 3 days. But there is an importance given to 40 days as this custom is seen in most of the traditions. We relate it with the days of Jesus in this world after his resurrection. Regarding dhoopam you are right, it is practiced in almost all religions of the world. In our Church, it symbolizes our prayers that go up with the dhoopam which shall be pleasing to God. Again it also symbolizes the sanctification of the community. It has a medicinal effect also. Who ever might have said that the Holy Qurbana and the bread and wine has effect only for 40 days, knows nothing about the Holy Qurbana. It has eternal effect. This is what Jesus told his disciples. He said, “Who ever eats of this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:50. There are other passages too with the same meaning).
Lighting the lamp is also seen in all cultures and therefore in almost all religion religions. It is some thing universal. It provides light of course, but then in almost all religions light is related to the divine. Jesus talked about himself as light at the lamp stand of the Jerusalem temple (John 8:12; 9:5; 12: 46 etc.). In Jerusalem temple they had oil lamps like that we have now in our Churches with seven branches. The medium you use for lighting the lamp is subject to availability and culture. In the Mediterranean world they use similar lamps with olive oil. In the western world they use candles made of wax as the medium. What we call Hinduism is a mixture of several religions. It was the British who created that word as they did not know what our religious heritage was in India. There are people in Hinduism who use different kind of lamps in worship. Nilavilakku is used predominantly in Kerala and Kerala was not a Hindu country in its strict sense. It was rather a dravidian region. The shape of the lamp has no relation to any religion. Again Thali is also not used in all parts of India among those who practice ‘Hinduism’. You can not call any of these practices as Indian too. Because our country is a big one and the customs and cultures are variant. Many of the practices are local. Religion can only be practiced in a given context adapting the customs of the local culture. There is nothing wrong in it if you believe that God is one and universal. He works among people in line with their living environment. It will be wrong on the part of any one when they say that one particular religious practice is just for one religion. As long as we say that our God is the only God and is the creator of every thing seen and unseen, we have all right to use the cultural elements of a locality in our worship.
Hope you are doing fine
With regards and prayers