Christians or Atheists

Pastor of our church, known for his provocative witticisms, once mentioned this rejoinder in the middle of one  of his sermons.The pastor had invited an atheist to his church, which the atheist declined, saying, “they are a bunch of hypocrites”, whereupon the witty pastor retorted, “there is always room for one more”.

Ha, ha, ha, ha!! Usually the congregants erupt in polite laughter.

Pope suggests ‘better to be atheist than hypocritical Catholic’

Reuters. 23 Feb 2017. “Pope suggests ‘better to be atheist than hypocritical Catholic.'”

“There are those who say ‘I am very Catholic, I always go to Mass, I belong to this and that association’,” the head of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church said, according to a Vatican Radio transcript.

He (Pope)  said that some of these people should also say “‘my life is not Christian, I don’t pay my employees proper salaries, I exploit people, I do dirty business, I launder money, (I lead) a double life’.”

Does the Pope’s call ring a bell? Is the Pope a milder advocate of Jesus or a harder version?

“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'”(Matthew 3:1 New International Version).

Do you remember what Jesus’s first message and purpose of this ministry was?

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near'”(Matthew 4:17 New International Version).

If you ever thought that the Pope is a harder version of Jesus, here is Jesus’s view of the hypocrites.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean”(Matthew 23:27 New International Version).

Definitely, Jesus was a firebrand, and had no tolerance for religious hypocrites.The Pope is only a very milder, albeit true, advocate of Jesus, at least in this statement about hypocrites.

Now let us see another article representing the ills of Evangelical Christians of USA and elsewhere who support Mr. Trump as their champion.

The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead

New York Times 29 Nov. 2016.”The Evangelicalism of Old White Men Is Dead.”

“Evangelicalism was closely associated with the campaign of Donald J. Trump, and more than 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for the president-elect. This, despite large numbers of African-American, Latino, Asian, young and female evangelicals who were fiercely opposed to the racism, sexism and xenophobia of Mr. Trump’s campaign and the hypocrisy of a candidate who built a casino empire while flouting morality.

As a result, much of the good that went by the name “evangelicalism” has been clouded over; now a new movement is needed to replace it.”

“The words of Jesus — which are printed in red in many Bibles — could not be more relevant today. Despite the terrible things done in the name of Jesus, a Christianity that stays true to his words has survived for 2,000 years.”

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Bleeding Cross of St. Thomas at Chennai- Origin of Mar Thoma Sleeba

Near Guindy, Chennai, South India, is the hilltop church famously known after St. Thomas, but actually dedicated to Holy Mary. The hillock itself is named after St.Thomas and the nearby railway station is called St.Thomas Mount Railway Station.

st.thomas mount rly.stn.st.thomas church

Legend has it that St. Thomas used to live here and was martyred in AD 72 while praying here and clutching the cross depicted below. The church itself was founded by the Portuguese in the early 16th century. The Tamil language name on the sign post reads ‘Parangi Malai’ which is a translation of ‘Portuguese Hill’, attesting to the Portuguese connection. The Tamil language sign on the church facade reads ‘Mariye Vazhka’ or ‘Hail Mary!’

A special stone cross was found during the excavation for the church, which is preserved in this church to this day. The cross is said to have bled publicly from the year 1558 to 1704 on occasions. The ancient inscription seen here is said to translate as  “Through the Cross, the Messiah brought salvation to the world”. The design of this bleeding cross is the symbol of St. Thomas Christians, otherwise called as Mar Thoma Sleeba.

StThomasMount03-26mar2014

A Government of India postage stamp was released in 1972 to commemorate the martyrdom of St. Thomas and it is shown in the picture here.

bleeding

Here is another artifact, an ancient oil painting of Madonna with baby Jesus, believed to have been painted by St. Luke and brought here by St.Thomas himself.

virgin_child

A relic of a piece of bone, said to be of St.Thomas, is on display in a monstrance on the wall in the church.

thom-relic

Many miracles have been reported to have occurred with the efficacy of the cross, the painting and the relic.

The church was dedicated to ‘Our Lady of Expectation’ in 1523. The Church is Roman Catholic. In 2011, the then Pope Benedict XVI declared it as a National Shrine. The website of the church contains lots of other information that you may look up by clicking this link.

You may read more details about the mount and the folklore in this New World Encyclopedia article.

And lastly, this is the author’s view. I read that the scientific dating of the cross has placed its engraving around the 7th century. Hence much of the folklore may be just that – folklore.

On a personal note, this was my favorite picnic spot in Chennai during the days I was a student at the Indian Institute of Technology many years ago. I could go all the way up the hill on my motorbike, although I have trodden the seemingly endless flight of stairs many times for fun. It used to be a calm and serene place overlooking the big city of Chennai.

The symbol of Syrian Christians and how the Kaviyoor Sleeba Church was named

Here is a Syriac- Malayalam-English statement. “Mar Thoma Sleeha brought Mar Thoma Sleeba.”

Here is what Mar Thoma purportedly brought –  small stone cross of the design in the pictures below.  Probably he also brought a small picture of Holy Mary and a copy of the bible. The picture is an actual photograph of the bleeding cross at St.Thomas Mount, which is an interesting topic and the subject of another post. 

cross

If the reader is new to Syriac and Malayalam, here is a short primer, a Syriac-Malayalam 101, if you will. Granted, it is going to be hard, but it won’t kill you, and I will keep it real short. Here you go!

Mar = Sir/ Lord

Thoma = Thomas

Sleeha = Apostle

Sleeba = Cross

So the statement actually means, ‘St. Thomas the apostle, brought St.Thomas Cross.”

I grew up speaking these words and other similar words of Syriac with effortless ease just like the mother tongue. I have even heard that St. Thomas brought a small cross of this design, a picture of Holy Mary and a bible with him! However, I personally think those are only myths. Almost the entire New Testament was written after Thomas’s landing on the shores of Kerala, if the landing was indeed in AD 52, Only the first Pauline epistle to Thessalonians predate AD 52! So if at all St.Thomas did bring any part of bible, it must have been the Jewish books.

The best explanation for the St. Thomas Cross and the legacy of St. Thomas is found in this Wikipedia article. Here is the relevant excerpt from  the article.

Saint Thomas Cross

In the 16th-century work Jornada, Antonio Gouvea writes of ornate crosses known as Saint Thomas Crosses. It is also known as Nasrani Menorah or Mar Thoma Sliba. These crosses date from the 6th century and are found in a number of churches in Kerala, Mylapore and Goa. Jornada is the oldest known written document to refer to this type of cross as a St. Thomas Cross. Gouvea also writes about the veneration of the Cross at Cranganore, referring to the cross as “Cross of Christians”. It is widely perceived as the symbol of Saint Thomas Christians. There are several interpretations of the Nasrani symbol. The interpretation based on Christian Jewish tradition assumes that its design was based on Jewish menorah, an ancient symbol of the Hebrews, which consists of seven branched lamp stand (candelabra). The interpretation based on local culture states that the Cross without the figure of Jesus and with flowery arms symbolizing “joyfulness” points to the resurrection theology of St. Paul; the Holy Spirit on the top represents the role of Holy Spirit in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The lotus symbolizing Buddhism and the Cross over it shows that Christianity was established in the land of Buddha. The 3 steps indicate Calvary and the rivulets, channels of grace flowing from the Cross.

The fact of the matter is that the following picture is the symbol of St. Thomas Christians today. It can be found in every ancient and modern St.Thomas Christian church, if not as an exact copy, at least with the important features of the floral arms and no effigy. The Kaviyoor Sleeba Church, the church of the family members from inception, is one of the very few churches that  are named after the symbol itself. 640px-Mar_Thoma_Sliva

Kaviyoor Sleeba church uses the spelling ‘Sleeba’ and that is how I used to spell it. There are alternate versions of spelling such as Sliva and Sliba, all meaning the same. However, I personally prefer the long voiced version ‘Sleeba’ for two reasons. One, ‘v’ is not pronounced in the mainstream Middle Eastern languages, so that could not have been the Syriac original, and second, the way the word is spoken by native Syrian Christians like me is with a long vowel, not the short one. It is a wonderful artistic amalgamation of Jewish, Christian and Budhist symbolism and whoever first created it deserves the praises. The artist is unknown, although there are some inscriptions that read the names of Afras and Shapper as the stone cutters, and the city of Nineveh (place in Iraq) is referenced. If the reader likes to know the nine places where the exact copy of the symbol can be found and the scholarly interpretations of the inscriptions, click this link. One of the interpretations is very apt.

Galatians 6:14 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Other References: http://marggam.blogspot.ca/2009/12/mar-thoma-sliba.html#comment-form http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suriyani_Malayalam http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christian_crosses http://www.nasrani.net/2007/01/16/ancient-stone-crosses-of-kerala-saint-thomas-cross-nazraney-sthambams-persian-crosses/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Thomas_Christian_churches http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Mary%27s_Orthodox_Church,_Kallooppara http://www.kalloopparapally.com/history.php