Prayer and Spirituality: Christianity
Great Lent: A Faithful Pilgrim's Progress
Christian is one who is in Christ. And to be in Christ means, to be in the body of Christ which is none other than the Holy Church. The faithful is always in a journey. This journey has been likened to the journey of the Israel to the promised land from the crutches of Pharaoh. The Church in this mortal world is only shadow of the one that is above which is the real Holy Church. And the Church in this world serves the role of a maiden who prepares us to be part of the Heavenly Church. The entry of Heavenly Church necessitates a journey which all faithful has to traverse and it is more or less a pilgrimís progress in his spiritual journey. The road map to this journey has been beautifully portrayed allegorically by the Holy Fathers of Syrian Christian Church by means of theologically preparing the prayers, readings and concepts concerning the Great Lent. Needless to say, the theological craftwork done by these doctors and visionaries is meticulous and stuns even the medical world in knowing the intricacies of science and its principles.
Our Holy Church has an Ecclesiastical Calendar which is divided into many seasons. The calendar starts from Qudos Etho , goes around the year to the next to be followed by another year again starting on the next Qudos Etho. Of the many seasons, the Sowmo season (Sowmo Syr. Means Lent) is the season which includes the Great Lent and comprises of seven weeks with seven Sundays. The Holy Fathers have conceptualized the Lectionary in a divine manner which calls in for deep thinking.
It has been aptly said that ĎA fast in the flesh is a feast in the soulí. Fasting purifies and enlightens the soul. And in this context the Great Lent purifies the soul and prepares the faithful for a pilgrimage which leads him from mortality to immortality and transforms him from earthly creature into a spiritual being. This transition is possible only by purifying him of his deadly sins in his flesh and is a graded process. This transition can be cited in the Lectionary readings of the Sundays of Great Lent which is as follows
Kothine Sunday ( John 2:1-11) The Feast at Cana
The miracle at marriage feast of Cana is the first sign in Gospels. In OT, marriage feast symbolizes union of God with his bride Israel. So the setting of marriage itself signifies the union of human being with God. We are to be united with our Savior. The pots at the wedding site symbolizes two things Ėone , there were six pots which was short of one for being seven the divine number and two, the pots were empty. The pilgrim is deficient of being divine and at the same time empty. Christ orders them to be filled which signifies the importance of Godís wish for us to be filled with the Holy Spirit. And the presence and intercession of St. Mary, Mother of God is essential in the transformation and signals the importance of Saints whose Queen is Mother of God. When Jesus orders the pots to be filled it transforms to wine. When knowledge is filled by God, it turns out into superior quality. The beginning of wisdom is devotion to God. So the miracle at Cana shows the transformation of an empty soul and heart into a spiritual and wise being.
Garbo Sunday ( Luke 5:12-16): The cure of Leper
From being filled inside the spirit and heart, the wise pilgrim starts his journey to meet the Savior. The rest of the deficiencies has to be dealt with and the sinful body need to be cleansed of dirt from all its organs. The reading of Second Sunday tells us the story of leper. Leprosy in the olden times was an uncurable disease which affected the skin. It made a person both sick and at the same time a social outcast. We are also lepers in a spiritual sense- both sick and outcast from Godís divine society. Our outer covering has to be treated and it should be done by Christ himself. Jesus touched the leper and cured him. By curing, he brought him back to the society from where he was banished. The touch of Christ brings the pilgrim back to the divine society and puts him on the correct trail to salvation. Two more things to note are:
1. Jesus asks him not to tell anyone and to show him to Priests inorder that he can continue to live in that society. Healing is not a matter of business or advertisement but Jesus did it out of compassion for the sick.
2. Jesus asks him for an offering for cleansing to be done at temple in accordance to the law. That which is to be given to the Church has to be given when we receive blessings in day-to-day life.
With the cure of the spiritual skin, the pilgrim gets upgraded as a member of the divine society.
Mísharyo Sunday (Mark 2;1-12, John 5:1-18)The cure of the Paralyzed
The pilgrim after being rejuvenated with filling and cleansing, finds hard to walk. Then only he notes the paralysis of his limbs and hands. Christ comes to rescue again and cures the paralyzed who was being carried to him. After being enlightened initially, we all find this spiritual paralysis which incapacitate us in continuing the journey. The faith in Jesus makes us come to Jesus again to cure our incapability. Again, one more point to note is that the paralyzed was taken to Jesus by his friends. Likewise the pilgrim should gather others also to come to Jesus.
Knanaitho Sunday ( Mathew 15:12-31) The cure of Cananiteís daughter
Now that the physically well pilgrim starts his journey, the most important aspect of his quest to salvation comes into play- his faith. The healing of the Cananite womenís daughter possessed with demons is the best example of importance of the need for faith. The faith in Jesus healed her daughterís disease in soul. The girl was possessed with demons. But her motherís faith cured her soul. The pilgrim after physically fit must be mentally fit to have faith in Jesus so that he can complete his journey. Otherwise , the trail will lead him to devil where he will be possessed.
Mid Lent Wednesday ( John 7:14-15,3:13-21)
The pilgrim continues his journey and is almost halfway. Throughout the journey , the attack of evil is anticipated. The more you are near salvation, the more the severity of the attack. So the pilgrim needs a weapon for countering the attack of Satan. Here the importance of Ash Wednesday comes. Since the journey has resemblance to the journey of Israel as initially told, the devil tries to hold its grip by sending it vicious darts just like Israel faced the venomous snakes in the desert. The devil is powerful and has to be defended. The two weapons given by Jesus for mankind to counter devil are Lent and Holy Cross. Cross helps from evil forces and thatís why we wear the cross every time in our prayers by signing on our body. Cross is the weapon given to the pilgrim and is given by Christ himself. Those who saw the bronze snake erected by Moses were protected from the venomous desert snakes. Those who wear the Holy Cross will be protected from venomous darts from the evil forces. Cross again typifies the ladder seen by Jacob in his dream through which angels descended up and down from the heaven and at the top end of which God sat.
Kípiptho Sunday (Luke 13:10-17) The cure of the hunchback
The pilgrim on continuing his journey may get tired of the continual quest for the Almighty. The wear and tear of his journey leads to the infirmity which makes him bent over. The lady with the hunch back for 18 years comes to the Synagogue on the Sabbath where Jesus was. The person who is bent over cannot see what is there at a height. Likewise , the spiritual hunchback wont be able to see the Almighty who is high up in the heaven. Jesus on seeing her loosens her infirmity. The points to note in this miracle are:
1. The lady came to Jesus and saw him while he was at the Synagogue. One has to come to the place of God for seeing Jesus and to witness miracles, and not to convention grounds.
2. The hunchback was cured of her infirmity to look up. The sins in the flesh prohibits us from looking up and deviates us from the truth. Cure is from Christ alone who helps us to look up at heaven.
The pilgrimís focus should be straightened and he should look up spiritually for the real salvation. For this , participation in Church is very important.
Semiyo Sunday (John 9:1-11) The cure of the blind
The pilgrim who is nearing his journey fails to find the end of his travail. His spiritual blindness fails him to see the light of the world. This Sunday tells us the story of the blind man. Of the miracle stories , this is the only one in which the person was blind from birth. This man is symbolic of all humanity, all need illumination by Christ who is the Light of the world. The points to note here in this parable are:
1. Jesus cures him out of his spittle and dust from the ground. It reveals His deity by restoring part of creation in the same way He had created humanity in the beginning.
2. To see the Light of the world , our blindness should pass. For that Christ himself has to cure it and open our eyes.
3. This passage was used in ancient Church to be read on Saturday night of Easter, when Christian catechumens were baptized. It reiterates the themes of washing, illumination, healing, faith, conversion and salvation.
This miracle symbolizes the baptism of the pilgrim who has came all the way in search of Salvation. He is now perfect for the receiving of the same.
Hosanna Sunday (Palm Sunday) and Easter Sunday (The Lordís arrival and resurrection)
The pilgrim in completing his journey is now made ready for the grand finale. On the Palm Sunday, we see the Christ coming on the donkey with praise and glory. The Christ is coming to the heart of the pilgrim who successfully completes the trail. Christ dies in the Cross for the sins of the humankind and to resurrect on the third day. This brought salvation to mankind. The pilgrim attains his salvation and joins the God in paradise.
This splendid concept envisioned by the Holy Fathers is truly divine and should be a matter of meditation on each Sowmo season. Our transformation into a pilgrim is really laborious. The need for attending Church, partaking of Sacraments, interceding to Saints, wearing the Cross, observing the Church rituals and traditions Ė all are essential in our way to salvation. By simply saying, ĎI believe in Christí as taught by neo-Christian fellowships, won't entitle us salvation. So let us transform into a pilgrim and keep our track on the spiritual path to salvation.
Source: Shroro, The Syriac Orthodox Christian Digest, January 2008
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