Syrian Christians and Syrian Crisis

The purpose of this blog is to recapitulate the Syrian traditions of Orthodox Christians in Kerala and to make a call to conscience in this time of unparalleled humanitarian crisis in Syria and neighborhoods.


This picture taken on Jan. 31, 2014, and released by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA), shows residents of the besieged Palestinian camp of Yarmouk, queuing to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria (UNRWA via AP, File)

Early this month viral news spread about a three year old Syrian boy who drowned while the boat in which his family was trying to flee to Greece capsized in the Aegean sea. Here is a picture of the family before the tragedy.


The drowned boy who washed up on a Turkish beach on Wednesday, whose picture cut through the refugee debate in an instant, was three-year-old Alan Kurdi from Kobane in Syria.

Let us examine what the reference of Antioch in Bible is.


Antioch is about 15 miles inland from the Medeterranean sea, in what today is Turkey, just north of Syria. This city became home to the first Christian church outside of the land of Israel and was the first place in which followers of Jesus were referred to as Christians.

Apostle Paul’s first missionary journey passed through Syrian Antioch. It was in Antioch that the famous dispute with Peter occurred. Subsequent synod at Jerusalem purportedly approved Paul’s views about Christianity, particularly about circumcision and clean foods.

(The dispute of Paul with Peter is described in bible like this. “But when Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned.” Galatians 2.11).

Patriarch of Antioch is the Bishop of Antioch. He is the Head of the Jacobite Syrian Christians in Kerala. Referring to the chart below, the two factions Jacobite and Malankara traditions of Syrian Christians of Kerala differ in that the former group still accepts the Patriarch of Antioch as their Bishop. To reiterate, the Chathoth Vallamkulam family has always stood for the local church leadership and is part of Malakara tradition from inception. However, my point here is that all the offshoots of ancient Christians in Kerala call themselves Syrian!

St Thomas Christians divisions.svg
Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

The Syrian tradition is very deep-rooted in among ancient Keralite Christians. An account of an ancient migration of Syrian families into Kerala is a part of folklore and supported by copper plates.  Thomas of Cana is traditionally believed to have come from Syria and settled in Kerala with 72 families. This probably happened in the first millennium. It is interesting to note that Kerala was a favored destination for Jews and Syrians in the first millennium.

Those who are interested to look at a few more pictures of the current Syrian humanitarian crisis, please see the following pictures.

syria1 syria2 syria3 syria4

What is my point here of mentioning the Syrian Crisis of today, ancient Syrian migration into Kerala and the Syrian tradition of Keralite Christians? Well, I believe the Syrian Christians in Kerala have a moral duty to support the Syrian Christian refugees today. Our churches are immensely rich and can support a few hundred refugees easily and that appears to me as the right thing to do.


10 Seconds to Stardom, Israel’s greatest King!

David is the greatest King of Israel, who ruled from c. 1010 BC to c. 970 BC. He was the second king of Israel after Saul. Saul, of the tribe of Benjamin, was not succeeded by his son, but by David, of the tribe of Judah. This is an important observation to make because royalty should follow family lineage. What happened that changed the succession from Benjamin to Judah? The single most important event described in the bible is the giant slaying story of David killing Goliath.

The common version of the story seems to say that a giant challenges Israel for 40 days for a single combat, but no one takes it up, and finally David the small boy hurls his sling at the giant hitting him fatally, which event earns David the role of King. The story of David and Goliath has entered into modern language as the quintessential underdog story, of person or a corporation that wins over bigger opponents. The story is the subject of many books and famous paintings. Michael Angelo has painted the famous picture below.  A recent book by Malcolm Gladwell draws business and self improvement lessons from the story. Michelangelo,_David_and_Goliath_02 malcolm gladwell

What I am about to say in this post is about David’s strategy of defeating the giant in ten seconds or less. I am borrowing the 10 second idea from 100 meter sprint event where the current world record is just under 10 seconds. Jamaican Usain Bolt holds the record.

Aiming even higher: Jamaica's Usain Bolt defeats American Tyson Gay in world-record time in the final of the 100 metres at the world titles.
Aiming even higher: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt defeats American Tyson Gay in world-record time in the final of the 100 metres at the world titles.

I am going to say that David was a sprinter like Usain Bolt! That is the reason for my title – 10 seconds to stardom!

A couple of predispositions about David need to be addressed first. Contrary to popular belief, he was not very small! He was probably as tall as Saul (over 6 feet) and probably almost the same size as Goliath! Different measuring systems and theories have been propounded to this effect, and it is not the object of this post. Here is an interesting article that you may look up for a detailed analysis of this misconception.   I would point out a few verses.

1 Samuel 17.39 David fastened his sword to his armor and tried to walk, for he had not tested them. And David said to Saul, “I cannot walk with these, for I have not tested them.” So David took them off.

Obviously David was able to wear Saul’s armor, meaning that he was probably as tall as Saul! And Saul was a very tall man indeed.
1 Samuel 9. 1-2: Here was a man from the tribe of Benjamin named Kish. He was the son of Abiel, grandson of Zeror, great-grandson of Becorath, great-great-grandson of Aphiah—a Benjaminite of stalwart character. He had a son, Saul, a most handsome young man. There was none finer—he literally stood head and shoulders above the crowd!
A second point here is about David’s wisdom. Contrary to popular belief, David was probably even wiser than his son King Solomon!
1 Samuel 16.18 Then one of the servants answered and said, “Look, I have seen a son of Jesse the Bethlehemite, who is skillful in playing, a mighty man of valor, a man of war, prudent in speech, and a handsome person; and the Lord is with him.”
David’s victory over Goliath is a victory of brains over brawn- not just brains, but David’s superior skills as a sniper pitted against the Giant’s conventional strength. David apparently studied the Giant for days and made up his clear plan, and when it was the show time, he sprang a huge surprise on the giant. He appeared without the conventional armor and revealed his true battle strategy only in the last minute. I tend to think that, being the wise guy that he was, he would have even fooled Goliath into thinking that David would appear in conventional battle gear! However there he was, without the armor, armed only with a sling, at a 100-meter-sprint distance from the Giant! Goliath didn’t have time to change his strategies. And David didn’t let him. That is where David’s less celebrated skill as a sprinter extraordinaire came in, I think. 10 seconds or less is all that was needed for him to sprint to Goliath and strike him on the run!
1 Samuel 17:26 (CEB) David asked the soldiers standing by him, “What will be done for the person who kills that Philistine over there and removes this insult from Israel? Who is that uncircumcised Philistine, anyway, that he can get away with insulting the army of the living God?”

The take-home point here, I think, is David’s spiritual, political and tactical correctness right from the above loud boasting through to the actual slaying.

First, David boasts his faith in God loudly that the ‘uncircumcised’ Philistine will not get away, showing his inner faith.

He is actually also making a political statement to serve as a warning to all ‘uncircumcised’ enemies of Israel that their fate would be just the same – nobody is going to get away insulting the living God. And finally,

David’s wisdom in planning and executing the act was superb, drawing on his superior skills of marksmanship and speed over his enemy’s muscles, and deceiving the enemy. In deception, David was a step ahead of the principle quoted in the  ‘Art of War,’ a treatise composed much later around 6th century BC by Sun Tsu in China. ‘Art of War’ speaks of deception in war thus, “A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.”