Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
St. Mary
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
(Luke 1:50)

Ettu Nombu Special - 1

Volume 3 No. 161 September 1, 2013

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TABLE OF CONTENTS
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Foreword

Inspiration for Today: Faith Is More Than Believing Something

Faith is more than believing something; faith is believing Someone. Faith is not committing yourself to an idea, but to a person. Faith is responding to the present-tense Voice of the Father. ...

Featured: The Holy Virgin Mary in the Syrian Orthodox Church

Ever since its existence, our Syrian Orthodox Church has incessantly extolled the Virgin Mary's virtues and canonized her as a patron saint of the church, repeating her Holy name in church prayers day and night. Our church has set commemorative days for the Virgin Mary to be celebrated all the year round.

It was a common practice in the church to celebrate commemorations of saints and martyrs after their departure to heavenly abodes following the termination of their spiritual struggle on earth. The Holy Virgin Mary and St. John, however, were excepted.

The Syrian Orthodox Church usually celebrates the nativity of the Virgin Mary on Sept. 8. It used to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin Mary's presentation in the temple, in addition to three others; the Feast of the Virgin Mary for the blessing of the crops, the Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing and the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing of the vineyards. ....

Saint Clare of Assisi: Our Guide in the Garden of Prayer

It is tempting to imagine that in the garden of prayer, the saints and mystics moved from ecstasy to ecstasy. Actually, they used the same sturdy Tools for Prayer available to us. They understood that even the simplest vocal prayer can lead to deep contemplative prayer....

Prayer - You are God, we praise you

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you. ...

HYMN: O Christ Who Art The Light And Day

O Christ, Who art the Light and Day,
Thou drivest darksome night away!
We know Thee as the Light of light
Illuminating mortal sight. ...

Devotion: Come, all you faithful, let us hasten to the Virgin

Forgiving Others

In a perfect world, Christians would be people without any disagreements. Unfortunately this isn't a perfect world, it's a fallen one, and even the Church sees its share of conflict between members. ...

More Resources For Study and Reflection

Malankara World Supplement on St. Mary plus other publications of interest.

About Malankara World

Foreword
This is the first of 8 special editions of Malankara World Journal to celebrate the Eight Day Lent (ettu nombu) from September 1-8. Ettu nombu is a lent that is exclusively followed by Malankara Christians worldwide. We hope that the contents of these specials along with other resources in Malankara World will help you spiritually rejuvenated and blessed during these special days. Please pray for us also.
Today's Features

Inspiration for Today: Faith Is More Than Believing Something

by Jennifer Kennedy Dean, Author of 'Live a Praying Life'

Faith is more than believing something; faith is believing Someone. Faith is not committing yourself to an idea, but to a person. Faith is responding to the present-tense Voice of the Father.

"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going" (Heb. 11:8).

The One who promised is faithful. How has He proved Himself faithful in your life?

Featured: The Holy Virgin Mary in the Syrian Orthodox Church

by His Holiness Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka I Iwas

Introduction

How greatly appealing the discourse about the Mother of God, the Holy Virgin Mary is! Our Holy Church fathers had had extensive scrutinizing studies of her biography; inspired ecclesiastical poets wrote beautiful poems in glorification of her; celebrated artists sculpted the most beautiful statues of her and skillful painters filled the world with her splendid portraits. The Virgin Mary is the Patron Saint of the most magnificent Cathedrals the faithful have erected for her worldwide.

The Virgin Mary's Feasts

Ever since its existence, our Syrian Orthodox Church has incessantly extolled the Virgin Mary's virtues and canonized her as a patron saint of the church, repeating her Holy name in church prayers day and night. Our church has set commemorative days for the Virgin Mary to be celebrated all the year round.

It was a common practice in the church to celebrate commemorations of saints and martyrs after their departure to heavenly abodes following the termination of their spiritual struggle on earth. The Holy Virgin Mary and St. John, however, were excepted.

The Syrian Orthodox Church usually celebrates the nativity of the Virgin Mary on Sept. 8. It used to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin Mary's presentation in the temple, in addition to three others; the Feast of the Virgin Mary for the blessing of the crops, the Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing and the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing of the vineyards.

Syrian poets called the Potters attribute setting these feasts of the Virgin Mary to John, the Evangelist. Those poets are quoted saying: "With dew and drizzle the land of Ephesus was sprinkled when St. John brought to it the messages of the Virgin Mary commanding that the blessed Feasts of the Virgin be celebrated three times a year. The Feast of the Virgin Mary of the sowing is in January. In May is the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing the crops and in August is her Feast of the blessing of the vineyards, which are the symbol of the mystery of life".

These three Feasts are on the fifteenth day of the three aforementioned months. Assumption of the Virgin Mary replaced the Feast of the Virgin Mary for blessing the Vineyards, which falls on August 15th. Due to the sacredness of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the church instituted that the faithful should go on a fast in preparation for the celebration of this fast. It is called the Virgin Mary's Fast. In the past this fast used to last for fourteen days starting on August the first, during which the faithful used to have one Meal a day. This meal was free of meat, eggs or dairy product. It consisted mainly of vegetables and beans usually taken in the evening.

The faithful also refrained from having any drinks. Nowadays the church has become more tolerant by limiting the fast to five days starting on August 10th and permitting two or three meals a day and having fish and seafood. The church also celebrates a commemoration day of the Virgin Mary on the second day of Lord Jesus' Nativity, which is called the Feast of the Glorification of the Virgin Mary at the Lord's birth; and one on the day following the Resurrection of the redeemer and His rising from the dead. On June 15th the church celebrates also the feast of the first church built after the Virgin's name.

The most celebrated and greatly significant feast in Christendom is the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, which falls on March 25th.

At the beginning of the Liturgical year the Syrian Orthodox Church observes the Sundays, usually known as the Sundays before the Nativity of Christ, which include Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, the Sunday of the virgin Mary's visitation to Elizabeth, the Sunday of St. Joseph's Revelation, on which Gabriel affirmed to Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, the Virgin's innocence and revealed the divine Mystery, that the conception was of the Holy Spirit.

Church fathers praised the Virgin in poetry and prose while celebrating her feasts and set rites included in huge volumes called (Fanaquith). The book of daily offices repeated weekly and called (Shehimo) includes hymns in poetry and prose sung daily in the morning and evening. The themes of these songs are the declaration of the Orthodox doctrinal concept of the Virgin Mary and the confession of faith in her. These Hymns are meant to show the exalted position of the Virgin in the hearts of the faithful and in the church at large, in addition to manifesting the intercessory and supplicatory character of prayers addressed to her. Some excerpts are quoted from the book of daily offices and stated hereinafter: in relation to the feasts of the Virgin Mary and the aim of celebrating these feasts the prayer of the first office on Monday night reads: "Oh, Virgin Mary, Mother of God, may your name be a source of blessing. May you answer the prayers of those, close and others far away. May you heal the sick and beseech (your son) to give courage to the oppressed. May you expel the evil within those tormented. May the power of your intercessory prayers have mercy on us, hallelujah, and may your prayer support us".

The prayer said on Monday evening reads:

"May the commemoration of the blessed Virgin, the Mother of God, be eternal, because in her virginity she gave birth to Jesus, the king, the savior of the whole universe, hallelujah. May her prayer be with us".

A hymn sung on Thursday evening reads:

"Oh, blessed Virgin, who became the Mother of God in chastity and holiness and without the seed of a man, may you, on this commemoration day of yours, have mercy on us so that the dead will have rest and the living may have hope…Though you are so far away from us in the flesh, yet your prayers are always with us. So may you implore the hidden power (the Son), who descended from His throne and dwelled in you, to forgive us".

The prayer said on Friday evening includes a Litany by Mar Jacob of Serugh (+521) that reads:

"How beautiful and pleasant the commemorative day of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who became the Mother of the Son of God, is! May you, Oh God, through the intercessory prayer of hers, keep wrath away from all those who, in faith, seek refuge in her".

In the prayer of the first office, said on Saturday night St. Jacob says: " Let us venerate the day of the blessed (Mary), glorify it with extreme love, with faith, "watchfulness" and long vigil, and by going on giving alms and praying, for (the virgin) doubles the reward of those who venerate her".

May you, Oh Holy Saint, distribute, on your day, your gifts among our gathering who are thirsty for your prayers and litanies.

May the Lord be the fence that protects all those who venerate you, and may the Lord keep all blows and wrath away from them…. The power that strengthens you is that which empowers us so that we become able to praise you. This power calls on us, through your prayers, to join the abodes of light May the Lord count all those, dead and alive, who venerate your commemorative days and seek you as a refuge, among the Choir of Angels. The congregation raises to you, Oh Lord, on the day of your mother, genuine praise sung to sweet melodies. May you draw the sign of the Cross on their highly elevated gates and keep them away from distress. Glory be to you, your father and to the Holy Spirit.

The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:

" May the commemoration of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, the Holy in her virginity, whose virtues found favor with the king of kings that He descended and dwelled in her womb, be celebrated in churches and monasteries".

The Virgin Mary in the Prophecies of The Holy Scripture

Throughout our study of the biography of the Holy Virgin Mary and our elaboration on her Holy life, we have had to depend on the books of divine inspiration and on the extensive exegesis and hermeneutics of the Holy Book that our church fathers have left for us. According to the teachings of these church fathers dozens of prophecies declared by the divine inspiration and stated in prophetic books in the Old Testament have been fulfilled in the Virgin Mary. Church fathers saw as well, in some characters of the Holy Book and in some events in it symbols and signs of the Virgin Mary. She is the woman referred to in God's promise of salvation by saying: " Her seed shall bruise thy head" (Gen. 3:15). Her seed is Jesus Christ who was conceived of the Holy Spirit and not of the seed of a man. She is the new Eve and her son Jesus is the new Adam. In the same way God took a rib from Adam and created Eve, the first woman, the incarnated God, the second Adam, was in the renewal of creation, born of the virgin, who is the second Eve. She is the Virgin, Prophet Isaiah (8th century BC) referred to in his famous prophecy: " Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name (Immanuel). (Is 7-14), " which being interpreted is, (God with us) (Mat 1:23).

Church fathers tackled these prophecies, symbols and signs in their writings and some of these symbols and signs were included in prayer books. You find hereinafter part of what has been put down in the weekly (office) prayer book (Shhimo).

The prayer of the first office, said on Wednesday night, reads:

"Sadducees of old gave Mary, the daughter of David, the Holy virgin, beautiful and glorious names. Ezekiel, the son of exile, called her a shut gate and Solomon called her a locked paradise and a sealed spring. David called her a city in which Jesus grew to be the grass without sowing and to be the meat for all the people. On his birthday Jesus freed us from curse".

The prayer said on Tuesday morning reads:

"The bush that Moses beheld on Mount Sinai, symbolizes you, oh, Holy Virgin. It represents your holy body, its leaves, which did not burn stand for your virginity Hallelujah, Hallelujah; and the fire in the bush is a symbol of God who dwelled in you".

The prayer said on Wednesday evening reads:

"The chariot, the chosen Prophet Ezekiel beheld, is way behind your beauty, for the animals, tied to it, while the cherubs are blessing, and the images of the four figures, that is the lion, the ox, the eagle and man, are different from one another. Whereas your knees, oh blessed Mother, have become a chariot for him, and your arms a wheel and your mouth, in glorification, hymns".

The prayer said on Saturday evening reads:

"Moses' bush, your father David's Ark of the Covenant, Gideon's fleece, the ladder of Jacob, the Sadducee, by means of which the human race ascended to heaven were all symbols of you Mary".

A litany by Mar Jacob in the prayer said on Wednesday morning reads:

"May you be blessed oh, Mary; for the Ark of the Covenant, made by Moses as a pattern, is an implicit symbol of you, for it included the two tables written by God and you were the dwelling of the real bread of life".

The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:

"The rock out of which the rivers in the wilderness sprang is a symbol of you oh, Holy Virgin Mary. From you the Son of God, who is the rock of righteousness, according to St. Paul, shone forth. It's you, Oh Virgin, who are full of beauty that king David predicted saying: the daughter of the king stood (to the right of the king) in glory and holiness and the king was so enchanted by her beauty that he descended and dwelled in her womb".

Some fathers discerned other symbols that stood for the Virgin such as the thicket found on Mount Moria, under which, there was a ram which delivered Isaac from being slain and Aaron's rod that bloomed and yielded almonds.

The Genealogy of The Virgin Mary

The Holy Virgin Mary descended from the tribe of Judah. She is of the house of David and a relative of Elizabeth, the mother of John, the Baptist. In the Holy Gospel Elizabeth is called "the virgin's cousin (L.1: 36). It is reported that Elizabeth is her aunt. Salome, the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John is a relative of the Virgin Mary as well (Mathew 27:56, 19:25). It is in the Holy Gospel that we read about the genealogy of Jesus Christ on the side of Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary (Mat. 1:16, Luke 3:23, Act 2:20, Rom 1:3). The Virgin and Joseph belong to one tribe. The Virgin Mary is the descendant of priests, kings and prophets. She is the daughter of David. For this reason the angel said unto her upon Annunciation of the divine conception: "Thou shalt conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son?. He shall be great, and shall be called the son of the Highest ?and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever". (Luke 1-31-32).

Joachim and Hanna, The Virgin Mary's Barren Parents

Ecclesiastic tradition, based on the teachings of the Apostles reports that the parents of the Virgin Mary are Joachim and Hanna, and that the father of Hanna is priest Mattan of the house of Levi and of the house of Aaron and the mother of Hanna is Mary of the house of Judah. Joachim and Hanna used to live in a village near Nazareth in Galilee and they were well to do. They used to donate their profits to the temple and to the poor and use the rest for their livelihood. They were barren and righteous before God, abiding by God's laws. The Jews, however, considered bareness, as a curse inflicted by God and a reproach before people. Each Jewish girl, therefore, was so eager to give birth to Jesus, the Messiah, and kept praying for achieving that. Accordingly Joachim and Hanna kept praying and beseeching God to remove this reproach from their house. They became so old without having their request answered. It is reported that Joachim once came to the Lord's temple to present an offering but the priest refused the offering because it came from a barren person.

So Joachim returned home grieved, disheartened and humiliated. He sobbed so bitterly with his wife Hanna before God that God answered their request and a daughter was born to them, they called her Mary.

Mary is a Syriac compound name consisting of two syllables (More) and (Yam) which means the sea of bitterness. Some say the meaning of "Mary" is the star of the sea and it also denotes light.

Conception and Birth of Mary

It is noteworthy to mention that the conception of Mary took place according to the natural law for she was of a man (Joachim) and a woman (Hanna).

Mary is the daughter of two barren persons just like Isaac, Samuel and John, the Baptist. She inherited, just like them, and like other people, the original sin of Adam and Eve, which is the sin of all humanity starting with Adam who represented his race when he committed sin so his descendents were charged with sin, which could not be obliterated from falling humanity except by the incarnation of the second hypothesis of the Holy Trinity. That's why the Apostle Paul says:

"Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed on all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom.5: 12), and David said:

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Ps. 51:5.). Of all those who put on flesh, it was only Jesus Christ who was excepted from the legacy of this sin. "Who took everything we have except sin" and who became the propitiator for the sins of the whole world.

"Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: whom God has set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God". (R.3: 23,24). "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world", so by one man it was obliterated (Rom.5: 12:15). Just like all other people, the Virgin Mary, who was, most probably, born in Nazareth, was not without sin.

The Virgin in the Temple

When the Virgin Mary was three years old her parents fulfilled their vows and presented her to the temple. During her stay in the temple her parents died knowing nothing of the future of their daughter. Church fathers have a different version stated in church liturgy. The payer read from the book of daily offices (Shehimo) on Friday morning reads:

" Mary became an orphan, for her parents passed away. She was left for the priests to take care of her. They took her to Jerusalem according to the command of Moses to be brought up there. The Lord of Prophets descended from high. He blessed and sanctified her. Hallelujah. May the prayer to her be a fence and protection to us".

According to both versions we notice that the Virgin Mary was brought up in the temple from childhood and was consecrated to God. She worshiped God, Almighty serving in His temple with other elderly women worshipers such as Hanna the prophetess, daughter of Phenol, who served God€ ¦’¥night and day (L. 2:37). The Virgin Mary studied the books of Divine inspiration and kept the law.

It has to be understood that the Virgin Mary did not take a vow of lifetime virginity because it was not the custom of the Jews to take such vows and because every Jewish girl was eager that she might give birth to Messiah. Every Jewish girl looked forward to her wedding day. This is manifested when the daughter of Jephtah knew about the vow taken by her father that "Whoever comes forth of the door of his house to meet him when he returns in victory he will offer it up for a burnt offering". She was the first to come forth and receive him, and her father had to keep his vow in her. Although taking vows was considered against the law (Deut.12: 31), "she said unto her father, let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows" (Judg. 11:37).

Monasticism was known among pagans. It was introduced to Judaism as well, and was practiced by the Essens. This was, however, a violation of Jewish religious traditions and of the teachings of the Pentateuch which considers marriage a necessity in fulfillment of the Command of God, Almighty.

"Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Some prophets kept celibacy such as Elijah, John, the Baptist and others. This was, however, in fulfillment of a divine end. These celibates were considered as weird and never can weirdness be the norm.

The Virgin Mary's Betrothal to Joseph, the Righteous

Being an orphan, who lost both parents, Mary was taken care of, at the age of fourteen, by the priests who acted as her parents. According to customs prevailing at the time, her closest kinsmen were summoned and the decision was taken by lot that Joseph, the Righteous, was to be considered the Virgin Mary's spouse. Some suggest that Joseph was a widower and had children of his dead wife who were later called the Lord's brethren. Some others suggest that he was a celibate. Joseph was no doubt a simple carpenter in Nazareth, stricken by abject poverty.

Annunciation

The custom of the day usually required an interval of one year of betrothal before consummating marriage union. It was during this interval that the angel of the lord, Gabriel was sent unto a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to Mary who was espoused to Joseph. The angel saluted her and annunciated the divine conception saying:

"Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women € ¦’¥thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." then said Mary unto the angel, "How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?" And the angel answered and said unto her: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God". And Mary said in humility: "behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word". (Luke 1: 26-38). The moment Mary yielded to God's Command, the Holy Ghost came upon her absolving her of sin and sanctifying her (Luke 1:35). Divinity dwelt in her womb and of her blood a full man was created initiating, thus the mystery of Divine Incarnation without the seed of a man "before they came together"(Matt 1:18).

The Lord had the complete human nature of his mother, that is a real body with articulate human soul (Luke 23:46 Matt 26:38), resembling us, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15).

So the holy thing which shall be born of the virgin shall be called Holy and the Son of God. (Luke 1:35).

The event of Annunciation of Divine Conception marks the beginning of the two mysteries of Incarnation and Redemption. In honor of the Holy Virgin Mary Syrian Church Fathers instituted that the faithful read the angel's salutation at the end of daily offices morning and evening, and even at the end of individual prayers at their will.

The Magnificent reads:

"Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women. Blessed is he, who is conceived in your womb, Holy Mary, the Mother of God. May you pray for us, we the sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen".

In reference to Annunciation, the prayer said on Tuesday reads:

"Gabriel flew with spiritual wings. He hailed Mary and conveyed the salutation forwarded to her saying, hail be to you, the Lord is with you, The savior of the universe shall shine forth from you€ ¦’¥your virginity astounded Gabriel, oh Mother of God. He folded his hands and prostrated in adoration before you and hailed you because he beheld His Lord dwelling in your womb. You were equal to the chariot carrying the bearer of mankind."

The prayer of the third hour said on Wednesday includes the following lines of poetry by Jacob of Serugh:

"With amazement and wonder I speak of the great status the daughter of mankind has attained. Was it the grace that made the son of the highest descend onto her, or was it she who desired to be the mother of her only son? It is clear that God descended to earth by Grace. Mary, who was so godly, yielded and he beheld her humbleness and innocence and dwelled in her, for it pleases the Holy to dwell in those who are humble€ ¦’¥ "Only in the humble and innocent I dwell". He saw that she was the humblest of mankind, those who are born to women. None has ever been more humble than Mary. Neither has anyone ever been more exalted than her. Glory be to the Father, who chose her for her humility and adoration be to the son who descended in humility (from high) and dwelled in her. Thanks are due to the (Holy) Spirit who is pleased to dwell in humble ones. Glory be to the one nature of the Trinity€ ¦’¥May you, oh, Son of God, through the prayer of Mary, who bore you nine months, keep wrath away from us".

The Virgin Mary Visits her Cousin Elizabeth

The Virgin Mary heard the angel saying to her:

"Behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she has also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren."(Luke 1:36), and Mary is filled with joy for the Great News and feels so happy for her cousin- a sentiment which reveals great love. Mary leaves Nazareth and heads towards the hill country of Judah to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zecharia. Elizabeth saluted her by a prophetic hymn in which she said:

"Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy…blessed is she that believed: For there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord", to which Mary replied by a more magnificent hymn with eternal prophetic words the church repeats every morning in her prayers in which she says:

"My soul doth magnify the Lord, And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and Holy is his name. And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation (Luke 1: 42-50).

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months, and some say she stayed until Elizabeth gave birth to John. Some others argue that Mary left the house of Zecharia before Elizabeth's birth of her son, John, lest the Virgin Mary, the mother of God, might be thought to have served her cousin, the mother of John, who later said that he was not worthy to bear Lord Jesus `shoes.

How beautiful the terms used by the fathers in description of the meeting of the Virgin Mary with Elizabeth are!

The prayer said on Wednesday morning reads:

"Elizabeth, the mother of John, the Baptist and Mary, the mother of Jesus are two bastions that stand for barrenness and virginity, chosen by the king. The babe leaped in Elizabeth's womb. The new encountered the old who saluted his master saying, come in peace, for your peace shall prevail in the universe".

The prayer said on Friday evening reads:

"Mary and Elizabeth are two miraculous vessels heading towards the harbor. Elizabeth gave birth to the preacher and Mary gave birth to the savior of the world Hallelujah…their prayer invigorates us".

The prayer said on Saturday morning reads:

"Who has beheld two vines planted in the vineyard of the Lord and the whole universe enjoys the wine squeezed of their clusters? The two vines are symbols of Mary and Elizabeth and the two clusters are Jesus, the bridegroom, betrothed to the holy church and John is the best man …at the betrothal.

Joseph's Suspicions and Reassurance

When the Virgin Mary returned to Nazareth, her pregnancy was apparent, It was only Joseph, who was betrothed to her, who suspected her. Their betrothal was performed according to Jewish customs, which entitled the man, within the interval of one year of betrothal to a girl to be actually married even though she might still be living with her family, and before wedding festivities after which she takes residence in her husband's house. Accordingly, no one was suspicious of Mary except Joseph who wished to divorce her privily. Others, however, thought that Mary and Joseph consummated their union and Joseph was the father. So Mary was considered as betrothed to Joseph because marriage vows were taken but without marriage festivities; and she was also his wife having been espoused to him by a marriage contract. When the angel appeared to him confirming Mary's Chastity, the angel called her his wife saying:

"Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. (Matt. 1:20).

The Virgin Gives Birth to the Incarnated God

The Virgin was espoused to Joseph, took residence in his house in Nazareth. They went together to Bethlehem (Luke 2:4-20) to be taxed according to the decree from Ceasar Augustus.

In Bethlehem Mary gave birth to her first born son in a stable annexed to the inn. She remained virgin during conception and until after birth. Due to the greatness of the Incarnation of God, the word, Mary remained a virgin before birth, at birth and until after the birth of Jesus. The miraculous virgin birth of the Lord was similar to the penetration of sun's rays through glass without fracturing or breaking it. Just as the Lord entered the upper room and appeared to his disciples while the doors were shut; and as he rose from the grave while still sealed, He was born and the seal was intact. No wonder, therefore, that the virgin kept her virginity after the birth of her first son, Lord Jesus. It was she who said of herself: "For he that is mighty hath done to me great things". She was to behold these miracles that almighty God made in her and for her. For this reason she was called the ever virgin and the mother of God because she gave birth to the incarnated God (Luke 1:49, Gal. 4: 4 Is 7:14).

The prayer of the first office said on Monday night reads:

"I know not what attribute to give you, oh, daughter of David. I know not what name to give you, oh, Mary. Shall I call you the virgin? And behold a son is suckling from you! Shall I call you a mother! And your virginity is confirmed! I shall call you the Mother of God and let contenders, who dare argue and investigate about the mystery of your son, hallelujah, be ashamed and let the one who attempts to fathom this mystery be Anathema".

The prayer of the first office said on Wednesday night reads:

"The virgin gave birth to a miraculous child. Let's go and behold the swaddled baby, who is older than ages. Behold the man of old being born of a virgin. The mighty, the great and steady as mountains held in (Mary's arm). Behold the suckling infant giving bread to the poor. The eternal son with no beginning, willed that he, the eternal, have a beginning. A beginning he had and was born. He, the eternal, who is infinite".

The prayer said on Wednesday evening reads:

"Confiding to her son Mary said: you strengthened me to bear you, and when I gave birth to you in a manger in the stable you revealed your glory to me. Behold the fire embracing the little manger and the Seraphim with their six wings fluttering over it. May you command them to stop fluttering so that I may be able to enter, kneel in adoration before you and suckle you, giving you the pure milk you favor… Mary said, I am poor; I own no house on earth, no resting place and no bed. I wrapped him, He, the oldest of all, and in a manger I placed the Lord of creation, the son whose father in heaven is one, and his mother is peerless on earth. He is the Lord betrothed to church and I am his maidservant".

The prayer of the first office said on Thursday night reads:

"When the Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, she addressed him saying: I know not, son, what to call you! Shall I call you a child and you are older than ages? Or shall I call you an old man and you are a child? I shall call you a ray, shining forth from the Father, illuminating all creations, Hallelujah. Blessed be your light, blessed be your brightness, and adoration be to your Father, who sent you for our salvation.

Mary said to her virgin friends:

"I am rejoiced and joyful because I bear the bearer of mankind, who is served by the angels. I coo to Him, who taught melodies to mankind. Ranks of illuminators surround His glory, Hallelujah, and hail Him saying, Holy, Holy is the Lord and blessed is His Sanctity".

The prayer said on Monday morning reads:

"The Lord shone forth from the Father and the daughter of David (gave birth) to the Savior and Bethlehem (granted) the bread of life to the peoples who had faith in Him. Adoration be to the Father, who sent His son, and Blessed be Mary, who gave birth to Him, Blessed be the church that embraced him, singing (hymns) of glorification to Him…

I was going through Bethlehem when I heard the voice of Mary in the stable cooing to her son and saying:

Blessed me, oh, son, because I became your mother and suckled you… Never shall I approach you unless you permit me".

Ever Virgin

Behold the virgin, the Mother of God, with everlasting virginity. The first born of first borns and the virgin of virgins, who gave birth to the Incarnated Lord. She remained virgin until after the birth of Jesus as stated before. When Mathew, the Evangelist, referred to the Virgin saying " And knew her not till she had brought forth her first born son (Matt. 1:25), he meant to confirm to us that she was a virgin before the birth of Jesus, remained a virgin during childbirth and until after the birth of Lord Jesus and that she conceived her son of the Holy Spirit without the seed of a man.

Mathew did not refer to Mary's virginity after Jesus' birth and the affirmation that Joseph did not know Mary physically and that they did not consummate their union before the birth of Jesus, does not imply the confirmation that he knew her after Jesus' birth. The term (unto) is not always used to denote inapplicability to what follows afterwards. This can be clearly understood, based on the use of the term in other contexts in the Holy Book such as: "Therefore Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child unto the day of her death" (2 Sam (6:23). Who would ever infer that she gave birth to children after her death?

The phrase "did not know her "might have meant Joseph did not know how venerable she was and how great her spiritual status in the eyes of God was until she gave birth to her first born son, and he beheld the miraculous virgin birth and the angels surrounding the manger. To sum up, Joseph did not consummate their union and Mary is ever virgin.

The First Born Son

"Her first born", the phrase stated also in the Gospel of (Luke 2: 6-7) does not mean that the virgin gave birth to other children after Jesus, and consequently, she was not ever virgin. This expression "the first born" is, however, an appellation usually given to the first child whether he had brothers after him or not. This is the concept conveyed in the Holy Book where the commandment instituted that the first born be the redeemer, and he was not expected to have had other brothers to be confirmed as the first born. It goes without saying that had Jesus had brethren he would have handed his mother over to them and would not have entrusted her to John, the disciple he loved.
Many are the connotations of the phrase "the first born" used as a descriptive term of Jesus. He is the first born of the heavenly Father, the first born of Mary, and the first born of the departed…. Etc…

The Lord's Brethren

Those, Who were called the Lord's brethren in the Holy Gospel (Matt 13:55) were his relatives, that is his cousins on both mother's and father's side, because this term "brethren" is used in the divine inspiration to denote relatives and members of one tribe (Gen. 31:37, Ex. 2:11). For that reason, Abraham called Lot, who was his nephew, his brother.

Saint Clare of Assisi: Our Guide in the Garden of Prayer
Prayer is like a secret garden, made up of silence and rest and inwardness. -- Jean Vanier

Pilgrims to San Damiano, the first monastery of the Poor Clares in Assisi, are shown a picturesque spot that tradition has christened "the garden of St. Clare." It is not difficult to imagine the Seraphic Mother working there, tending her flowers, praising God, perhaps even humming softly St. Francis' "Canticle of the Creatures."

There is another garden where St. Clare of Assisi can be found, - the garden of prayer. Here, too, she meets us as an accomplished gardener, a proficient guide who is willing to assist us in cultivating the soil in order to enjoy the flowers and savor the fruits of prayer.

Gathering the Heart - Day One

First of all, St. Clare teaches us the need for Recollection. This "gathering of the heart" is like a wall around the garden of prayer. When you pray, go into your room, shut the door and pray to your Father in secret. Wherever our sacred, secret place may be, it is there we discover that the heart needs both silence and a certain separation from the ordinary events of daily life in order to encounter THE Reality of life which is God. This vital work of the heart requires effort, aided by grace: Place your mind before the mirror of eternity, place your soul in the brightness of glory... (3rd Letter of St. Clare to St. Agnes of Prague)

The Master of Prayer - Day Two

The Lady Clare does not delay long in introducing us to the Master in the Gardens of Prayer - the Holy Spirit. Like St. Francis, she urges her friends and followers to study closely that which they ought above all to desire: to have the Spirit of the Lord and His holy way of working. (Rule of St. Clare, X) Why? Because if we pray to Him with a pure heart, we experience that He is the Artisan of the living tradition of prayer and that it is in the communion of the Holy Spirit that Christian prayer is prayer in the Church. (CCC 2672)

Trusted Tools - Day 3

It is tempting to imagine that in the garden of prayer, the saints and mystics moved from ecstasy to ecstasy. Actually, they used the same sturdy Tools for Prayer available to us. They understood that even the simplest vocal prayer can lead to deep contemplative prayer. We know some of St. Clare's favorite vocal prayers: The Office of the Passion composed by St. Francis and a prayer to the Five Wounds of Christ. But her most favored vocal prayer was the Holy Name of JESUS, the prayer that is possible "at all times" because it is not one occupation among others but the only occupation: that of loving God, which animates and transfigures every action in Christ Jesus. (CCC 2668)

With and In the Word - Day Four

Our Lord declared: The Seed is the Word. Thus St. Clare invites us to fill our garden of prayer with the Good Seed of the Word of God. Her own prayer was deeply Scriptural. She immersed herself in the PSALMS, the masterwork of prayer in the Old Testament (CCC 2595) and prayed with depth and devotion the OUR FATHER, the summary of the whole Gospel (Tertullian) Welcoming the Word in the good soil of a recollected heart, praying WITH the Word and IN the Word, St. Clare's garden of prayer flourished.

Ask...and Receive! - Day Five

Prayers of Petition are like the annuals in the garden of prayer. They are the "needs of the day" set before our heavenly Father. Jesus said, ASK and you will receive, St. Clare took Him at His word. She asked for bread for her community, healing for her sick Sisters, guidance in making decisions. But we also know that the horizons of the Lady Clare's prayer broadened into the wide vistas of Intercession. There was no concern, suffering, anguish or discouragement of others which did not find an echo in the heart of (this) prayerful woman. (Pope John Paul II) And she invites everyone who enters the garden of prayer to become a co-worker of God Himself and a support to the weak and wavering members of His glorious Body. (3rd Letter of St. Clare to St. Agnes of Prague)

To Give Him Thanks and Praise - Day Six

If prayers of petition and intercession are the annuals in our garden of prayer, then Praise and Thanksgiving are its perennials, The Seraphic Mother summarized the need for continual praise and thanksgiving when she told her Sisters: ALWAYS and in ALL THINGS, God must be praised! (Process of Canonization) So well did she live her own advice that she died with one last act of thankful praise on her lips: May You be blessed, O Lord, for having created me!

Weeds in the Garden - Day Seven

Prayer is a battle. (CCC 2725-2728) Any seasoned cultivator of prayer has battled the Weeds of distraction. St. Clare offers us the example of her own generous efforts to eliminate the spiritual weeds that kept her from a deep and loving communion with the Lord. Aware that the Evil One is always ready to place obstacles on our path to prayer, the Seraphic Mother counsels us to face the spiritual combat with courage and faith: Pray and watch at all times! Carry out the work you have so well begun, and fulfill in true humility the service of God you have undertaken (Letter to Ermentrude)

The Prayer of Love and Silence - Day Eight

In the shade of His tree I sat and His fruit was sweet to my taste. So sang the Bride in the Song of Songs. To every worker in the garden of prayer there come those "cool-of-the-evening" experiences, when the adoring Prayer of Love and Silence is the only response to God's hidden yet manifested presence. The Seraphic Mother had but one shining word to express the joy and wonder of these gifted times of prayer: Happy the soul to whom it is given to attain this life with Christ; to cleave with all one's heart to Him whose love inflames our love, whose contemplation is our refreshment.... (4th Letter of St. Clare to St. Agnes of Prague)

The Garden's Fountain - Day Nine

What was The Foundation that watered St. Clare's garden of prayer? It was the Eucharist, the source and summit of Christian worship, life and mission. In the Eucharistic Liturgy is found every form of prayer. Here we "gather up" the heart, recollecting our whole being under the prompting of the Holy Spirit. (CCC 2711) Here we unite ourselves to Christ as He offers perfect praise and thanksgiving to the Father. Here the Good Seed of the Word is lavishly sown. The Eucharist is the food of faith which strengthens us for the spiritual combat. In the Eucharist, communion with God becomes a reality cherished in adoring silence. Is it any wonder that the Seraphic Mother did all she could to foster devotion to the Eucharistic mystery?

Even more, Clare's whole life became a Eucharist (Pope John Paul II), spent near this Fountain of living water. To all who enter the garden of prayer, she issues the same invitation: Come to the water! Learn here that if we thirst for God, it is because He has first thirsted for us. The garden of prayer is the garden of God where prayer is a response of love to the thirst of the only Son of God (CCC 2561)

Prayer - You are God, we praise you
TE DEUM

You are God: we praise you;
You are the Lord: we acclaim you;
You are the eternal Father:
All creation worships you.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,
Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:
Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.
The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.
The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:
Father, of majesty unbounded,
your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,
and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the King of glory,
the eternal Son of the Father.

When you became man to set us free
you did not spurn the Virgin's womb.

You overcame the sting of death,
and opened the kingdom of heaven to all believers.

You are seated at God's right hand in glory.
We believe that you will come, and be our judge.

Come then, Lord, and help your people,
bought with the price of your own blood,
and bring us with your saints
to glory everlasting.

Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance.
- Govern and uphold them now and always.

Day by day we bless you.
- We praise your name for ever.

Keep us today, Lord, from all sin.
- Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.

Lord, show us your love and mercy,
- for we have put our trust in you.

In you, Lord, is our hope:
- And we shall never hope in vain.

HYMN: O Christ Who Art The Light And Day
O Christ, Who art the Light and Day,
Thou drivest darksome night away!
We know Thee as the Light of light
Illuminating mortal sight.

All holy Lord, we pray to Thee,
Keep us tonight from danger free;
Grant us, dear Lord, in Thee to rest,
So be our sleep in quiet blest.

Let not the tempter round us creep
With thoughts of evil while we sleep,
Nor with his wiles the flesh allure
And make us in Thy sight impure.

And while the eyes soft slumber take,
Still be the heart to Thee awake,
Be Thy right hand upheld above
Thy servants resting in Thy love.

Yea, our defender, be Thou nigh,
To bid the powers of darkness fly;
Keep us from sin, and guide for good
Thy servants purchased by Thy blood.

Remember us, dear Lord, we pray,
While in this mortal flesh we stay:
'Tis Thou who dost the soul defend -
Be present with us to the end.

All praise to God the Father be.
All praise, eternal Son, to Thee
Whom with the Spirit we adore
Forever and forevermore.

Amen.

Words: Latin, before 800.; Translated by: William J. Copeland and others, 1906

Devotion: Come, all you faithful, let us hasten to the Virgin
Come, all you faithful, let us hasten to the Virgin: for long before her conception in the womb, the one who was to be born of the stem of Jesse was destined to be the Mother of God. The one who is the treasury of virginity, the flowering Rod of Aaron, the object of the prophecies, the child of Joachim and Anne, is born today and the world is renewed in her. Through her birth, she floods the church with her splendor. O holy Temple, Vessel of the Godhead, Model of virgins and Strength of kings: in you the wondrous union of the two natures of Christ was realized. We worship Him and glorify your most pure birth, and we magnify you. (441-442)

Source: The Byzantine Daily Worship

Forgiving Others

by Ryan Duncan, Crosswalk.com Entertainment Editor

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. – Romans 12: 17-18

In a perfect world, Christians would be people without any disagreements. Unfortunately this isn't a perfect world, it's a fallen one, and even the Church sees its share of conflict between members. Pastors argue, Churches split, and professed Christians hold grudges against their brothers and sisters. This last one is something I particularly struggle with. A few years ago I was in a really bad place; I was feeling hurt and angry because of something some other Christians had said to me.

When I finally confided this to one of my friends, I can remember saying,

"I just hate them so much."

It wasn't until later that I learned the disciple Peter had been in a similar situation. Look at what Jesus said to him,

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked,

"Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." – Matthew 18:21-22

But Jesus didn't stop there, he continued by telling the parable of the Servant and the Master. It begins with a kind man who dismisses his servant's enormous debt,

"But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii. He grabbed him and began to choke him. 'Pay back what you owe me!' he demanded. "His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, 'Be patient with me, and I will pay you back.' "But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed and went and told their master everything that had happened. "Then the master called the servant in. 'You wicked servant,' he said, 'I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed. "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart." – Matthew 18:28-35

As Christians, we are commanded to forgive those who wrong us. Not just because God wants us to love one another, but because he first loved us.

Intersecting Faith and Life:

Is there anyone in your life you are struggling to forgive? Remember the parable of the King and his servant.

Further Reading

Luke 17:3

Source: Crosswalk the Devotional

More Resources For Study and Reflection

We celebrate the Nativity of Virgin Mary on September 8. To learn more about St. Mary, her life, and her role in the Church, please visit Malankara World Supplement on St. Mary.

This supplement includes an eBook on St. Mary written by our Holy Father, His Holiness our Patriarch Moran Mor Ignatius Zakka 1, Iwas. You can also read the previous years' specials on St. Mary published by Malankara World Journal.

You can access Malankara World Supplement on St. Mary at:
http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/shunoyo/StMary.htm

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http://www.MalankaraWorld.com/Library/Default.htm

Please keep an eye for the Malankara World Journal Specials planned for the Ettu Nombu in 2013. Eight specials are planned (Issues 161-168) to be released on each of the lent starting on September 1.

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