Faith and Practice of the Church

The Malankara Mar Thoma Syrian Church, one of the ancient Churches of the world, is believed to have been founded by St Thomas in AD 52. It is an Eastern Reformed Church and in the words of our late Metropolitan, Most Rev Dr Juhanon Mar Thoma, it is a Church which is a “bridge” between the East and the West. While holding the heritage of the East, it is influenced by the West in its mission mandate and ecumenical outlook. The Church defines itself as “Apostolic in origin, Universal in nature, Biblical in faith, Evangelical in principle, Ecumenical in outlook, Oriental in worship, Democratic in function and Episcopal in character”. In these are a lot of strong and specific identities, full of insights and distinctness.


The Logo of the Church consists of a shield with its mission statement and motto: ‘Lighted to Lighten’. The cross in the centre symbolises the fact that Christ is at the centre of our faith, lives, the Church and its mission. At the centre of the cross is a wheel which is an emblem in the Indian flag, symbolising life. Life finds true fulfilment and salvation only in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. The lotus on the right, is the traditional Indian symbol of holy living and as a lotus blossoms and rises above the water level, we too should rise above the sinful world we live in, and our lives should radiate God’s glory and fill the world with its splendour. The lamp to the left of the cross is an illustration of the Church’s motto. The message to us therefore, as spoken by Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount is, “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket but on the lampstand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14-16)


Our Worship combines Eastern and reformed doctrines with ancient practices and forms of worship. In order to participate more meaningfully in the worship, life, witness and mission of our Church and to make it possible for us to appreciate the layers of meaning present in our liturgy through the prayers that echo Scripture, the reflective use of idioms and metaphors and the extended use of signs and symbols that are all hallmarks of our ancient liturgy, it is important to understand the unique and distinctive characteristics of our faith and tradition. The act of worship can take many forms. Corporate worship is the most common of them, but fundamentally, worship is the act of surrendering our bodies as a holy and living sacrifice to the Lord. This reflects the truth that the very purpose of our human lives, is to glorify the Almighty. In worship, as individuals or as a larger body of Christ, we acknowledge, adore, acquiesce to and ask of the Almighty God. A fuller understanding of the meaning of the songs we sing and the prayers we say, should lead us to the realization that we have erred, and should spur us to repentance and confession, so that through His gracious mercy and forgiveness, we can be transformed.
The past should be cherished but it must also be relevant to the present and embrace the future. It is through true worship that worshippers are transformed and inspired to do the will of God. Let us submit ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit and make our lives a living embodiment of our Liturgy, as we bring the good news of salvation from the “Divine Table to the Streets in the Market Place”.

The Lectionary
The infinite value of the Scripture in worship is reflected in the fact that the first part of the order of worship involves the ‘Ministry of the Word’. An ordered lectionary system used from the 6th century AD still exists. The lectionary of our Church used to be based on this, as well as on portions that reflect contemporary issues. From 2001, the scripture portions are arranged according to the common lectionary prepared by the Commission on Worship of the Communion of Churches in India.

Liturgy
The word liturgy, derived from the ancient Greek word ‘leitourgia’ meaning ‘service’, is where we get the common English translation, ‘Order of Service’. Having a liturgy, addresses our need to glorify the Lord and provides structure, context and content. It is the response of a community of believers to a holy God, through praise, thanksgiving, supplication and repentance in a prescribed order. Prayers and songs are designed to glorify the Creator while giving us the comfort of the continuance of the testimonies, wisdom and insights of our ancestors. Liturgy draws directly from Scripture and leads us to life and power in the Word. The liturgy of the early Eastern Church was patterned after Jewish worship in the synagogues. Eastern liturgy has its roots in the Greek and Syriac linguistic and liturgical traditions of Antioch and Jerusalem. The original liturgical language used in the Malankara Church is believed to be the ancient Semitic languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke. Later this was replaced by Syriac.
There were two broad strains of liturgy in the Malankara Church. The first was a totally indigenous Order of Worship in Malayalam, which was believed to have evolved and existed up until the subjugation of the Malankara Church by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, when these were all destroyed. The second broad strain was the Syriac liturgies, some of which have been translated and is still used today.

The Liturgy of St James
This is one of the oldest complete forms of liturgy still in use and holds an important place among the other ancient liturgies because of its harmony of thought and teachings. It is supposed to go back at least to the third or fourth century and is traditionally believed to be have been originally written in Greek by James, the brother of Jesus, who later became the first Bishop of Jerusalem. He is also the author of the book of the bible that bears his name. The Liturgy of St James in Syriac was introduced to India in 1665. It is filled with expressions that evoke the richness of its origin; a melding of the language of the early Christian Church with the rich cultural and linguistic heritage of Kerala. The very Spirit that moved our ancestors through the ancient liturgies, is the same Spirit that finds its expression in our liturgy today, and moves and prepares us for the mission of the Church – to carry out the Great Commission of Christ Jesus. Drawing from the unchanging, living, divinely inspired Word of God, the frequent use of liturgy allows us to internalize God’s Word and shape our approach and actions to life around us. During the Reformation that took place in the Malankara Church in the 19th Century, the liturgy was reformed and translated into Malayalam but some Greek and Syriac terms were retained and are still in use. The Liturgy of St James that we now use, has evolved through the centuries. The Preface to the Malayalam translation of the Liturgy of St James written in 1942 by the Most Rev Titus II Mar Thoma Metropolitan, traces the history of our liturgy, its translations and reformation.
Structure of the Liturgy of St James can be divided into three parts:
1. Liturgy of the Preparation (Thooyaba): This includes prayers for the preparation of the bread and wine as well as the celebrant’s confessional, solemn re-dedication and vesting prayers to prepare him to lead the Holy Qurbana service. This may be conducted with other priests and deacons, either in private or public.

2. Liturgy of the Word (Ante-Communion): After the Old and New Testament portions for the day are read, the celebrant and the congregation sing one or two verses of an invocation of praise and the curtain opens. The celebrant, priests and deacons in the chancel become visible in the midst of fragrant incense and light. This is an awe-inspiring moment that transports us into a spiritual realm and reminds us of God’s divine presence and majesty. Our inadequacy and dependence on Him for blessings and mercy then become all the more apparent. This is followed by prayers of praise, thanksgiving, faith and trust. The readings from the Epistle and the Gospel, together with the prayers, remind us of the incarnation, baptism, public ministry and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Our faith is then affirmed by reciting the Nicene Creed. The offering of our gifts before the altar, is an important part of the liturgy. Through the sermon, the Scripture portions assigned for the day in the lectionary of the Church is expounded. Believers are challenged to repentance and they then participate in the sacrament of confession. The priest makes the declaration of absolution after the confessional prayer.
3. Liturgy of the Sacrament (Anaphora): This is the main section of the Qurbana Service which begins with the prayer for peace and reconciliation, and is followed by the First Blessing and the Words of Institution. Prayers of thankfulness and prayers of commemoration of Christ’s acts of redemption, death, resurrection, ascension and second coming follow. The Invocation of the Holy Spirit is the prayer for the consecration of the bread and wine and for the sanctification and strengthening of the believer, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Intercessory prayers are followed by the Second Blessing. After special prayers, the Third Blessing is given. The Anaphora ends with the Final Blessing and Benediction when the faithful are dismissed and sent out into the world to proclaim the message of salvation. Six other Liturgies of the Sacrament (Anaphora) are included in the Titus II Malayalam Thaksa: Anaphora of Metropolitan St Dionysius (Athens), St Xystus the Patriarch (Rome), St Peter the Apostle, St John the Patriarch, Bishop Thomas the Harclean and Metropolitan St Ivanios, together with a shorter order of service to be used in the home of a sick person. All these liturgies have a similar pattern to that of the Liturgy of St James.

VERSE OF THE DAY

My dear children, for whom I am again in the pains of childbirth until Christ is formed in you...

Galatians 4:19

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