Three Questions and Answers

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Question 1

Dear thirumeni,

Hope thirumeni is doing fine with heavenly grace. I am writing this to clarify a practice observed by orthodox community. It is a common practice to observe 41st day remembrances of the departed ones. Recently a member of one orthodox church here passed away from cancer. Her parents and husband are alive. someone in the church is of the view that 41st day of remembrance cannot be observed in this case as she is young and parents and husband is alive. I have seen on numerous occasions this is observed when elder family members are still alive and thirumenis conduct the holy qurbana. I would like to know is there an authoritative explanation for observing the 41st day? Recently i read that 30th day is observed  for Ivanios thirmeni

It is a well known fact that for some of the practices observed by the community no authentic explanations are available. Recently some one asked me why our perunnal rasa is conducted. In these days of noise pollution and traffic jams is it not a public nuisance? I was passing through Mavelikara in January and traffic was blocked for one hour due to some rasa procession..

Recently some bishop of a sister church has issued a kalpana against observing fire works, and traffic blocking rasa. In my opinion this is a welcome progressive step.

It will be very much of a help if thirumeni can throw some light on the 41 st day observance as different people interpret different ways.

Pl. Pray for all of us.

with respectful regards

Answer 1.

Thank you for the mail.

Remembrance of the departed is part of the faith of many of the ancient cultures and religions. For traditional Christianity though remembrance of the departed is common, the practices related to it are variant. There are people who observe three day lent and then conclude it with H. Qurbana in the Church. There are people who practice it with 16 days and 30 days and 40 days and also 41 days. There are people who keep a white decorated bed in the house for 40 days in remembrance of the departed and on the 40th day remove it after a dhoopam. In Kunnamkulam region there is no white decorated bed practice. They have 3rd day or 16th day or 30th or some 40th day. Yes the 30th day of demise of Ivanios Thirumeni was observed at various churches in Kottayam diocese.

In any case there is no rule or practice that says that when a younger person dies and when the older ones are still alive these are not observed. In many places the detailed feast will be avoided as the mourning will be much intense than in the case of older people. Otherwise there is nothing wrong in having a 30th or 40th or 41st day observance of the young departed person when the older ones or parents are still alive.

Perunnal go around (rasa is not the right word to use. This word is used for go around by the Catholic Church that goes around with Holy bread in a decorated casket. What we do is not rasa, rather it is go around or pradekshinam.

This practice is very old and meant to sanctify the village/ city. This is also related to an Indian practice of the procession with the deity on some one's shoulder or on a cattle or an elephant to sanctify the village/ city. Of course it will be wise on our part to do it without causing any trouble to the traffic and public life.

Regards and prayers


Question 2.

A lot of unwanted trouble was made in Malankara due to misinterpretation of John 20:19-24, which lead to questioning the Priesthood of St. Thomas. Could you please give a clarification on this? Why do our Church fathers use these verses connecting Priesthood? Why does the Author give importance to note that St. Thomas was not present there during this time of great importance? If you could clear up this confusion, it will of great benefit to the laity. Thank you.

Answer 2.

Yes you are right, there has been so much talk about the passage in John 20:19-24. Much of it was either due to lack of proper understanding about the principles of Biblical interpretation or to prove a point they raised, which is against the principles of Biblical interpretation.

Now the principle is that any passage in the Bible can be interpreted on two basics only. One, the ceentral message of the Bible as one unit has to be considered in exploring the meaning and message of a particular passage. Two, the particular context of the author and his theological position has to be considered. You can not use any passage in aloofness or independently or as a proof text for any single argument you may have.

Now coming to the text in question, there are three things happening there. One, ‘breathed on the disciples for them to receive the Holy Spirit. Two, sending them out or commissioning of the disciples. Three, giving them authority to forgive or not to forgive sins. One primary point we need to understand is that the Gospel writers have not strictly followed the same chronology of event of the period. Each of these three matters are accounted by the Gospel writers at different point of time.

In Matthew the commissioning has nothing to do with either breathing or gift of the H. Spirit (Mtt. 28:19). Again binding and losing authority according to Matthew was given at a different time (16:19) and was given only to Peter according to this passage. This was before Jesus’ death. This again in isolation has been used by vested interest lobbies. Similar commissioning is recorded in Mark 16:15-16 as given to all the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection. Matthew again gives a similar commissioning in 18:18. This was not only to Peter but to all disciples. According to the book of Acts, the gift of Holy Spirit was given on the day of Pentecost (ch.2).

I gave this detailed introduction to tell you that just one reference some where in the Bible can not be taken as a proof text passage.

Coming to St. John’s passage, the key in the event is given in 20: 29. The first part of the verse “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me” is not a statement but a question. So it is not a negative comment on Thomas’ disbelief. Jesus was asking ‘having seen me have you now believed me’? It is to that question Thomas was replying “My Lord and my God”. The answer in other words, ‘yes Lord I do and you are my Lord and my God’. The second part of the verse is a general statement. This is applicable to every one since that time, including we people the ones of the present time who are asked to believe without seeing in Him person. It is also a call to every one not to insist that they should see Him in person to believe because after resurrection Jesus presence in the world was going to be of different nature. Hence any one who believes in Him without seeing Him would be blessed. This again is important in another sense. St. John was using the situation to widen the size of the faith community. If the preaching of the Gospel about resurrection had to be effective and convincing, they had to answer the question from the audience, ‘how can we believe as we do not see Him in person’? John takes this possibility seriously and answers well in advance. It does not mean that John invented this statement of Jesus. He remembered this and used the absence and presence of Thomas to present the answer to his future readers. This does not put St. Thomas in any account in a bad position.

It was not easy for any one to believe that a dead person can ever be resurrected. Of course they had seen the girl and Lazarus being raised from the dead by Jesus. But now the one who did those miracles himself is dead. So who else would do the miracle on Him? Those days only a few, the Pharisees, had any idea of a possibility of resurrection. Thomas and his fellow disciples who were from the grass root level of the society never had such profound thinking ability until they received the H. Spirit. More over there were the Sadducees who vehemently ruled out that possibility. It should also be remembered that those two disciples on the road to Emmaus, after Jesus’ resurrection also did not recognize Him even when they saw Him in person and talked to them for quite a long distance (Luke 24:13ff.). Matt. 28:17 says, “… but some of them doubted”, even after all those events after resurrection.  Mark 16:11 says that ‘the disciples did not believe what Mary Magdalene said about the resurrection’. Luke 24:11 says that ‘the report of Mary and others were like “idle talk” to the apostles and so “they did not believe them”. Some saw and believed and some even after seeing had difficulty in believing. But Thomas of course wanted to see Him in person to believe, and when he saw Jesus, believed and confessed Him with a classical and unique statement. Of course we can not find fault on any one for not believing until after the Pentecost event.

Now the question is about Jesus breathing on the disciples and asking them to receive H. Spirit. As said earlier the chronology of events in John’s Gospel is different from that of the other Gospels and Acts. The statement about Thomas being absent the first time Jesus appeared to the disciples is not part of the section on gift of the Spirit. Even if it is applied on Thomas, still we do see him receiving H. Spirit on the day of Pentecost. If we are talking about the authority to forgive or bind sins, it was given to all including Thomas according to Mark 16:15-16 and Matt. 28:19 (This happened after the resurrection and with all the eleven of them, including Thomas, present.  Also see Matt. 18:18).

To sum up as it was said earlier, taking one verse from some where in the Bible and making an argument is not a legitimate way of Biblical interpretation. Then the purpose of St. John in 20:19-24 was not to single out Thomas and say that he did not receive the Holy Spirit. Hence any of those things said in the context of Church feud in Malankara does not do justice to either the Biblical testimony of the events or to the way we should interpret Bible passage.

Question 3

Dear Thirumeni,
While reading the Old Testament, I saw that there was a lot of bloodshed that took place. There were a lot of fights and wars. Somehow I get the idea that the Old Testament is quite violent. Since it is known that all are God's creations and He is powerful, then why not just put them straight? Why should God kill His creations? For instance, the great flood, the red sea crossing scenarios could have been avoided. What was gained?

Answer 3.

The first question in this regard is what is this Old Testament? The answer would be, it is the holy scripture of Jews. When you say Jews, it is a community of just two tribes of the children of Jacob, Israel. They call what we call Old Testament TANAK with three parts in it namely Torah (the Law), Nebiim (the Prophets) and ketubim (the Writings). That means it does not represent even the history and life of majority of tribes or all of Israel. On the contrary its approach most of the time is against the other ten tribes in the North of the region not to speak Canaanites and neighboring communities. Old Testament in general and the historical books in particular comes to us from those two tribes from a time of one of their greatest crises of its life which was their time in Babylon. That was a time of community formation and self realization. But on the one hand they collected all the sayings of the prophets who criticized them, and on the other they took pride in being a community specially chosen by God. We can see both these sentiments in the Old Testament material. In general the writings in OT represent what they thought about themselves, of their neighbors and of God. This does not mean that all you see in there is just subjective stuff. In the middle of predominantly subjective material you can also see the work of God in the life of a community presented in the most open manner. This is especially true with the writings of the prophets. Even in the Psalms you will see songs of hatred and rivalry.

Then you might ask why do you have Old Testament at all as part of the Bible. First we are not considering Bible as some conservative evangelicals or Pentecostal Protestants do. We look at it as it is and try to derive the message and do not read it literally to suit some agenda. Again we have those books because it was the sacred scripture of the community of our Lord. Jesus himself have used it often but had a realistic and critical approach to it. That is why we see Him making several corrections to the prescriptions as recorded in Matthew ch.5 in the Sermon on the Mount. He considered many of the laws said to be from Moses are there because of the hardness of the heart of the people (Matthew 19:8). He did not respect the laws regarding purity as He touched the man with leprosy and allowed the woman with bleeding to deal with Him. Again in the Old Testament irrespective of all that we see unacceptable with the present day standards, we see God at work though and in the history of a people to equip them to work for the liberation of the whole creation (Gen. 12: 3) that suffered the  consequence of the sin of Adam.

The rivalry, killing and bloodshed were all attributed on God by those who wrote or composed them. God can only be “love” as Jesus revealed and cannot kill any one rather waits patiently for return. But it should be remembered that some of us like the way it is presented in there as we also have this kind of attitude toward others. In fact what we see in the Old Testament in terms of rivalry, killing and bloodshed are either the interpretation of the writers as to what happened or about those who suffered death or suffering due to their own shortcoming. In the case of people suffering due to their own mistake, even God can not help to stop. But the OT writer who had the idea that every thing happens because of God would say that these things were also God created where as they were human created. This happens even today. Why those innocent people died in shoot out during the Boston marathon? Why so many people are being killed in Syria, Afganistan or in Iraq, or in Bihar or the infants’ death in Attappadi in Kerala? These are man made and God can not be blamed for. But a person who believes in fate these all would be labeled as God guided or known by God in advance who did not stop it.

Again the question why can’t God stop it is a question against the free will of humans which God gave and hoped will be used wisely. God on the other hand keeps on attempting to liberate human from using it in the wrong way. If human was not given this freedom, human would not have been human, but another animal on two legs. The Old Testament is there so that we will learn from history, see the salvific work of God, thank Him for that and will work with God to help us come out of our own misbehavior and wrong way of using the freedom, which is the greatest gift human has ever received from God, so that history will not be repeated.

With regard to ‘great flood’ it was not God created if you think of it in a realistic way, it was human made with their sin (read carefully and just eliminate God from the scene and think of the reason the statement in Gen. 6:5). The Old Testament writer did not know how to explain it otherwise. But if you read the words of prophets closely you will see them talking about it this way (see Isaiah 5:13. Also see Jer. 20: 4; 1 Chro. 9:1 etc). These calamities were not God created. There is also another point to explore. The created world is moving towards perfection. In that movement there will be imperfection and imperfection causes suffering and set back. This has to be explained at a later time. To sum up, God did not cause any bloodshed or bad things happening. It was the way the writers put it. But it certainly brings us lessons of God’s work in history. With God given freedom enjoyed by human, and suffering in the midst due to human error, God is not able to stop what happens in that line.



Dear Thirumeni:
You certainly make a very convincing statement when you expound on the Biblical narrations and interpretations of the various passages. Your text is indeed explicit and thoughtful. Sincere thanks for your time and patience in explaining the above "so called issues" that our Church deals with on a regular basis, most of which I think stem from our own views, beliefs and cultural practices.
Keep up the good work!

With love and prayers

Our God has gifted us the free will, for out of this freedom only can we attempt to grow into His likeness. Hence we are also obliged to practice this in our relationships. Yes, as pointed out misuse of it leads to discord and troubles.
Parts of the Old Testament are discussed occasionally at home, especially with Mummy. The challenge is to be analytical, yet accept and practice the simplistic and at times the submissive faith of our parents and grand parents. Analysis at times makes you critical of institutionalized religion
Thank you Thirumeni.
With love and prayers,

There is nothing wrong in being critical of organised religion Balan. It will only help the religion and its leaders see the other side of the matter. Being analytical of Old Testament and for that matter the whole Bible will help us understand the true message.