|MALANKARA CATHOLIC CHURCH & THE LITURGICAL YEAR
The Malankara Church is to be understood as part of the ancient Malankara Church that traces its origin to the preaching of St. Thomas the Apostle. Retaining its apostolicity and identity as an ecclesial community and regaining its communion with the Holy See of Rome after its rupture in the 17th century, it has established itself as an individual Church in the Catholic Communion. The Malankara Liturgy is very similar to the Jacobite (Syrian Orthodox) Liturgy in India and is a variation of the well known Syrian Rite of Antioch with divergent and supplementary practices peculiar to the Maphrianate of the East.
The liturgy is no doubt the most important way in which the church expresses her faith. Here the Church lives at full stretch and in its purest form. The Church celebrates its mysteries and expresses its faith through this celebration. This is the reason why the different individual Churches are mainly characterized by their liturgies. Though the liturgy is the culminating expression of faith, there are other expressions of faith such as theology, spirituality and discipline which all together constitute the Individual Church.
For the Syrian as well as for all Orientals, liturgy is the main spring of Christian life. The whole life of piety of the oriental faithful is centered on their liturgy. They do not have very many pious exercises as the Christians of the Western Church. Their life of prayer is lived in and through the liturgical celebrations. Any authentic liturgical outlook is so deeply interwoven with the devotional life of Syrians that they feel personally and socially involved in the liturgical actions. They may not be able always to describe and express their involvement in a reflexive way; they rather live it existentially. Thus the liturgy is so fundamental, so co-extensive to spirituality, theology and authentic life of the Church. It is such a close-knit and dynamic reality, that to change the liturgy would almost amount to change the Church.
The Crown of the Year
The liturgical year is the unfolding of the mysteries of Christ in the prayer of the Church in the course of one year. He who is beyond time willed to be born in time. The prayer of the Church is the celebration of this mystery of the Eternal Son who entered time in order to draw the whole creation to himself and to make it partake of God’s life. Time is therefore the most appropriate framework for the celebration of the prayer of the Church. The hours of the day and the watches of the night mark the time of Christ. The weekly celebration of the economy of salvation culminates on the Lord’s Day, in the common thanks giving and sharing of the believers in his Passion, Death and Resurrection, in anticipation of his coming in glory at the end of time. The course of the year provides a fuller unfolding of the economy of salvation. According to the tradition of the Syrian Church, the liturgical year is the crown of the year and the mysteries commemorated are the jewels of the crown. Through the celebration of the crown of the year the Church re-enacts and lives the mysteries of salvation in continuation of the incarnation of Christ.
Within the cycle of a year she unfolds the whole mystery of Christ, not only from his incarnation and birth until his Ascension, but also as reflected in the day of Pentecost, and the expectation of a blessed, hope – for return of the Lord. Recalling thus the mysteries of redemption, the Church opens to the faithful the riches of her Lord’s powers an merits, so that these are in some way made present of all times, and the faithful are enabled to lay hold of them and become filled with saving grace. (Vat II S.C. 102)
The purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God is nothing less than the restoration of man’s divinity, lost at the fall through sin. This restoration is described as a becoming, as a sharing in the very being of God. Through the liturgical seasons and feasts of the year, the Church provides a bountiful sharing in the mystery of the deification of not only man but of all the creation dramatically described by St. Paul (Rom 8:22-24). Thus the liturgical year is not simply a remembrance of the past events of the whole life of Christ, but it is a re-enactment of the whole mystery of Christ, by which the Church is able to share in his saving grace and the faithful to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
Church as the Bride of Christ
The liturgical calendar of the Syro-Malankara Church is different in many ways from that of other families of liturgy especially from that of the Western Church. The liturgical year of the Syro-Malankara Church begins with the Sunday of the Consecration of the Church (Qudos Etho). It is the Sunday nearest to the last day of October. Therefore, if 30th and 31st October is Sunday, it is Qudos Etho Sunday. Otherwise, the first Sunday of November is the first Sunday of the liturgical year. By celebrating the Qudos Etho the Church is presented as the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:23-32) whom Christ prepares for his marriage feast (Rev 15:6-7) by participating in the mysteries of the Christ throughout the year. Thus we have before us, from the beginning, the mystery of the Church as the Bride of Christ whom he prepares for his marriage festival by teaching her how to walk in his footsteps.
The church is a paradise full of good things.
The Bride of Christ
In her is baptism for the new life
The holy altar and the bones of the martyrs.
In her dwell the priests who consecrate
And offer the Eucharist and distribute it
Halleluia… Halleluia the medicine of Life
(Prayer of the Harp of the Spirit Vol. II p.30)
Thus the salvific work of Christ is continued through the Church. It is only through the Church that one can attain salvation. The purpose of the incarnation of the Son of God is nothing less than the restoration of man’s divinity, lost at the fall through sin. This restoration is described as a becoming, as a sharing in the very being of God. It is the gift of the Beloved Son of the Father and the object of his prayer for us. Sealed by his Passion, Death and Resurrection, his work was accomplished once for all. Yet salvation is to be communicated to all generations down the centuries. This is the work of the Church endowed by him for this purpose with the great sacraments of life. In the Oriental Churches the sacraments are called mysteries because it is God who acts in them through the signs and symbols. During the celebration the Holy Spirit is repeatedly called to act.
The Seven Seasons of Seven weeks
The crown of the Year of the Syrian Churches is a crown of great beauty. It has a more, articulate structure, deeply theological and well preserved to this day. It consists of seven seasons of seven weeks each occasionally more, preceded by two Sundays of the Church. The figure seven is sacred in the Syrian Churches. Not only the seven days of the week but also seven weeks make up mystical units of time, often used by monks and hermits for period of greater solitude, silence and prayer. In the liturgy seven seasons of seven weeks provide the perfect framework for the celebration of the economy of salvation.
Two major cycles stand out, that of the Resurrection-Pentecost and of the Nativity-Epiphany, each one with its season of preparation in Prayer and fast. The Epiphany, known also as the Feast of Lights, comes as the Great Theophany, the revelation of the Blessed Trinity and of the Messiahship of Jesus. The whole season celebrates the mystery of God’s forgiveness of man’s sin through the humiliation of his Son in the world. The Season of the Fast of Our Lord is the touchstone of the believer’s faith and of the sincerity of his commitment to the Lord and to the Kingdom experienced in true prayer and sharing with the needy.
Week of the Life-giving Passion and Night of the Resurrection
The mysteries of the Passion, Death and Resurrection of our Lord are at the heart of the life of the Church. The Syrian Churches have left some of their most beautiful poetical writings on them. The week of the Passion is also called the week of the Great Suffering, and it is so undoubtedly. Yet it is also pregnant with a sense of victory which makes the Church burst out into praise. The halleluia is therefore never absent, it resounds throughout the week. There is only one Christian feast, the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection from among the dead. This is the feast of feasts and there is no other like it. All other feasts flow from it as it expresses very aptly the meaning of the Church’s celebration. The newness of the Church is the renewal of the believers in faith, hope and love.
The Seven Sundays of the Apostles and Seven Weeks of the Transfiguration of our Lord
With the Pentecost, the great theophany of the Holy Spirit, it is the mystery of the Church, as it was experienced by the apostles, which becomes prominent. It is the feast of the Lord’s Spirit coming to his Church to endow her with all the gifts she needs to carry out his Economy of Salvation. The Transfiguration is a prism in which are refracted all the mysteries of the economy of Salvation. It is a mirror in which the Christian Mystery is seen in its unity. Here we perceive that the old covenant and the new are inseparable, that the living and dead are one in Christ, that the Cross and glory are one, that our human race has a common destiny of glory, and that it is on Christ that the salvific will of the father rests. Finally, the celebration of the Transfiguration of our Lord by the Church is the proclamation of both the ultimate glory of his Resurrection and the potential glorification of all believers.
The Seven Sundays after the Exaltation of the Cross
The Mystery of the Cross has been present in the prayer of the Church in a very special manner from the middle of the Great fast, when the wooden Cross, clothed in red stole, was erected in the centre of the Church and constantly venerated by everyone who entered or left the Church, and with adoration and incensing during the services. When the Church now sets apart a whole season for its celebration, it is because the Cross is also the mystery of the fulfillment of all festivals and of the consummation of all things. The Exaltation of the Cross is therefore a prophetic celebration, as the Cross is the sign of the final fulfillment at the consummation of time.
One of the remarkable achievements of Vatican II is the rediscovery of the nature of the Church as a communion of Churches. Each individual Church is not the whole Church, but nonetheless fully represents it. It is in no way to be seen as a subdivision of the real Church. Strictly speaking, the universal Church has no concrete existence outside the individual Churches. It is also true that the whole Church is not a collection or association of the individual Churches. Rather the Church of God exists in each individual Church however small or insignificant and the individual Church is a full and perfect manifestation of the Church of God.
Christ – Experience, the source of Diversity
The sharing of Apostolic Christ-Experience through the proclamation of the word, with the power of the Holy Spirit, is the basis of all individual Churches. It can take on different expressions resulting from the subject of that experience on the one hand and from the encounter with the different cultures of the world on the other. The sharing of the Church ever since its own language. The very existence of four Gospels in the New Testament is a shining example of the manifold expression of Christ- Experience and tradition by different persons. Therefore the particular Christian in a certain place has to take on a particular form of life, worship, spirituality, theology and discipline integrated into the socio-cultural milieu of the people.
The Liturgy-Expression of Church’s Faith
The liturgy is no doubt the most important way in which the Church expresses her faith. Here the Church lives at full stretch and in its purest form. The Church celebrates its mysteries and expresses its faith through this celebration. This is the reason why the different individual Churches are mainly characterized by their liturgies. Though the liturgy is culminating expression of faith, there are other expressions of faith such as theology, spirituality and discipline, which all together constitute the individual Church.
Etymologically, liturgy comes from the Greek ‘leitourgia’ which is a combination of ‘leitos’ an adjective which means pertaining to the people (laos) and ‘eragon’ a noun which means work. Hence the word meant any service for the common good. From the Acts of the Apostles we know that the life of the early Church was firmly based on two cardinal points: the celebration of the Eucharist and life of charity. These two elements gave unity to Christian existence and they represented the same Christian reality under two different aspects. The Eucharist was the climax of the life of charity. Thus liturgy is the totally of Christian life lived under the impulse of the Spirit of the risen Lord. The celebration of the Eucharist was its climax and therefore it was called ‘Leitourgia’.
The West Syrian Liturgy is an Oriental form of worship which though it owed something to the Greek world through its centre in Antioch remains rooted in the Semitic world of the Middle East. It belongs to the same world as that of the Bible itself. It sprang from the same language which was used in Palestine, expressing itself not in the metaphysical terms of Greek theology, but in the rich symbolic language of the Bible. The liturgy consists largely of long prayers of great beauty and solemnity and of songs and chants set to solemn music and composed for the most part in the golden age of the liturgy. Biblical imagery, biblical echoes and parallelisms, paraphrase of the biblical passages woven into the text abound in the prayers of the liturgy and thus the original flavour of revelation as expressed in the Bible is preserved intact. The gestures and symbolic actions in the liturgy are fundamentally oriental and an Indian for the most part will find them suited to his ethos and expressive of his genuine religious sentiments.
The Main Spring of Christian life
For the Syrians as well as for all Orientals, liturgy is the main spring of Christian life. The whole life of piety of the oriental faithful is centered on their liturgy. They do not have very many pious exercises as the Christians of the Western Church. Their life of prayer is lived in and through the liturgical celebrations. They may not be able always to describe and express their involvement in a reflexive way; they rather live it existentially. Thus the liturgy is so fundamental, so co-extensive to spirituality, theology and the authentic life of the Church. It is such a close-knit and dynamic reality that to change the liturgy would almost amount to change the Church. It understood in the right spiritual outlook such a view is really as great as fruitful. Yet it could also become bogged down in ritulism, sentimentalism and juridism, making the Church a mere cultic community.
Matter filled with the Holy Spirit
To the Syrians, everything is mystery in the sphere of faith. After the Incarnation of Christ, the ceremonies and rites of the Church have a deeper significance, than their external appearance. They are the means of the entrance into the divine world. They receive this special significance from the Spirit of God. In the mysteries of the Church the matter is filled the Holy Spirit. The word ‘mystery’ has strong salvific connotations. In the Bible the word designates the divine plan of salvation which centres upon the person of the Lord (1 Cor 2:6-3:2; Rom 16:25-27; Eph 1:9; 3:3; Col 1:26; 2:2ff; 1 Tim 3:16). The mystery indicates the transcendent character of the liturgy as well as the mystical identity is a reality which is at the same time heavenly and earthly, divine and human. It takes place at the same time on earth and in heaven since it actually transcends time by opening up to eternity, since it belongs to a new time, the time between the ascension and the second coming of Christ.
Wonderful balance of dreadful majesty and loving compassion
One of the characteristic marks of the Syrian Liturgy is its sense of awe and wonder before the divine majesty. It is greatly influences by the scene in the vision of the prophet Isaiah (Is 6:1-9). He saw the Lord on a high and lofty throne in the temple in Jerusalem and heard the Seraphim crying ‘holy, holy, holy’. The scene is introduced many times during the liturgy and the scene of wonder and mystery which inspires it fills the whole liturgy. Together with this sense of awe in the presence of the holiness of God is a profound sense of human of human sin. As the prophet was led to cry out, ‘woe to me, for I am, a man of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.’ So the Syrian liturgy is filled with this sense of human sin and worthiness and one of the principal themes of the liturgy is that of repentance. But this sense of sin and need for repentance is accompanied by, or rather is actually an expression of the awareness of God’s infinite love and mercy which comes down to man’s aid and raises him to share in his own infinite glory. Thus there is in the Syrian liturgy a wonderful balance of dreadful majesty and loving compassion, of abasement exaltation.
Liturgy directed towards the last things
More than any other, the Syrian Liturgy is directed towards the last things intent on the second coming of Christ, which is already with us through the sacraments. In the liturgy the historical and eschatological dimensions of the divine economy are joined. So we must include in it both the evangelical affirmation of the finished work of Christ and the free working of the Holy Spirit. While the once for all Christ event is the object of an anamnesis, the free working of the Spirit is the object of the Church’s epiclesis. The great stress on the resurrection of the Lord is another noteworthy feature of the Syrian liturgy. The cross without a figure or with Christ as the victorious Lord adoms the Syrian Churches. The Johannine theology of the Spirit of the Risen Christ seems to have influenced the doctrine and worship of the Syrian Church. Thus the Holy Spirit plays a very important role in the Syrian Liturgy. It attaches great importance to the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Through the prayer of the Church ceaselessly seeking the Spirit from the Father, the energy of the Spirit transforms, vivifies, makes whole, perfects and confirms.
The liturgical year
The Liturgical Year is the unfolding of the mysteries of Christ in the prayer of the Church in the course of one year. Time is the appropriate framework for the celebration of the prayer of the Church. The hours of the day and the watches of the night mark the time of Christ. The weekly celebration of the economy of salvation culminated on the Lord’s Day, in the common thanksgiving and sharing of the believers in his Passion, Death and Resurrection in anticipation of his coming in glory at the end of time. The course of the year provides a fuller unfolding of the economy of salvation. This is the temporal cycle consisting of seven liturgical seasons of seven or eight weeks each. This cycle is centered on the mystery of Resurrection.
The prophet had already described the promised salvation in such terms as the day of deliverance, the year of grace (Is 61:1-2; Dan 9:24). Jesus himself declared the fulfillment of it in the Liturgical Year is the crown of the year and the mysteries commemorated are the jewels of the crown. Through the celebration of the crown of the year, the Church re-enacts and lives the mysteries the year, the Church provides a bountiful sharing in the mystery of the deification of not only man but of all the creation dramatically revealed by St. Paul (Rom 8: 22-24). Thus the Liturgical Year is not simply a remembrance of the past events of the whole life of Christ, but it is a re-enactment of the whole mystery of Christ, by which the Church is able to share in his saving grace and the faithful to be conformed to the likeness of Christ.
The Liturgical Year of the West Syrian Church begins on the Sunday nearest to the last day of October. It is the Sunday of the Consecration of the Church. The next Sunday is of Renewal (Dedication) of the Church. In this manner, the Church has set before the faithful from the beginning the mystery of the Church as the ‘Bride of Christ’ (Eph 5:23-32) whom he prepares for his marriage feast (Rev 15:6-7) by teaching her to follow in his footsteps. Sealed by his Passion, Death and Resurrection, the work of redemption was accomplished once and for all by Christ. Yet salvation is to be communicated to all generations down the centuries. This is the work of the Church entrusted by Christ for this purpose.
|Fenqith- Fr. Stephen Planthottam
Fenqitho- A Resource for Theologising in the Syrian Churches
Dr Stephen Plathottathil OIC
Fenqitho is the name given to the collection of liturgical texts for the entire year, according to the West Syrian rite of Antioch. The best of the two printed versions was published by the Dominican Fathers in Mosul in seven Folio volumes with some 4000 pages, 16 x 22 cm, during the period between1886 to 1896. This constitutes one vast, extended meditation on the divine economy of salvation.
Fenqitho is a Greek loanword, derived from pinakidion (pinaki,dion), and means a writing tablet, a volume, a book etc. Specifically, Fenqitho is the collection of special prayers and chants for Sundays and the major feasts of the year. The Syrian Church also uses this word to denote a special book that contains many of the valuable treasures of her faith and spirituality.
The term ‘Fenqitho’ as a specific liturgical volume for the choral book is seen for the first time in the 9th century: British Library,Add.14516 contains a collection of Choral services and Homilies for the principal festivals of the whole year . The contents are similar to those of Add.14515 and 17190. Baumstark’s Festbrevier der syrischen Jakobiten, pp.62-68 is a valuable source for the basic study of early Syrian Orthodox Fenqitho manuscripts.
The Catholic edition published by Ignatius Gurgis Shelhot (1874-1891) and Ignatius Behnan Benni (1893-1897), Patriarchs of the Syrian Catholic Church of Antioch, under the care of the Dominican Friars, at Mosul, Iraq, from 1886 to 1896, runs to seven volumes.
The Syrian Orthodox edition published in 1962-1963 by the late Catholicos Baselios Geevarghese II, at the Mar Julios Press, Pampakuda, Kerala, consists of three volumes only. It is restricted to those parts that are sung by the choir and the congregation, namely, the hymns: qole, madroshe, sughyotho, bo‘awotho with their responses: ‘enyone, qonune, kuroke, arranged for the canonical prayers on Sundays and feast days throughout the year.
There are also several photographic reproductions of modern handwritten Fenqithos produced by the Syrian Orthodox diaspora communities in Europe and North America. They have many differences in content and hence they are not taken into consideration in this paper.
A Maronite edition of the Fenqitho was published in Rome in 1625. After Vatican II, an Arabic translation of a revised monastic office was prepared , in 1973, at the Universitè Saint – Esprit in Kaslik, Lebanon, under the direction of the Monks of the Lebanese Maronite Order. This office has a reduced cursus of Nocturns, Lauds, Sext, Vespers, and Compline, with seasonal propers, and readings daily at Sapro and Ramsho. The Maronite liturgy is of West Syrian origin, but it has been influenced by the East Syrian and Latin traditions.
Feqitho has three great traditions namely Antioch, Edessa and Takrit. There are many examples of the liturgical interaction between these traditions. Because of these different traditions one can easily notice many variations among the Fenqitho manuscripts. The purpose of printing the Mosul Fenqitho was not only to serve the needs of the Church, but also to put an end to the variations between the manuscripts and to achieve uniformity of liturgical usage.
The Syrian Churches have been using Fenqithos of the yearly Cycle from the very early Middle Ages. The prayers and poetic texts for Sundays and feast days are contained in it and it is here that the full depth of the theology of the Syrian Church is displayed. It has magnificent offices for all the great festivals of the Christian year, beginning (at the end of October or the beginning of November) with the festival of the consecration of the Church(JtJN~, in which the theology of the Church, as the bride of Christ, is unfolded. Then it passes through the season of Suboro or Annunciation, which prepares for the feast of Christmas. In the feast of Epiphany, the theology of the incarnation is expressed, with marvellous insight.
During the seasons of Lent (the Great Fast) and Passion week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost, in which the central mystery of Christian revelation is re-lived, with a depth of feeling and understanding, which has never been surpassed.
The Fenqitho gives us a deeper awareness of the true meaning of the celebration of the Church’s prayer. With the prayer of the Fenqitho we are truly experiencing the Mysteries of the divine dispensation, for it makes unceasing references to them, and in the most poetic and elevating manner.
The hymns, especially those of St Ephrem, and Jacob of Sarug, display an astonishing perception and sensitivity. These hymns are the best examples to illustrate the revelation of New Testament, not only using the inspired language and thought patterns of the Old Testament, but also by relating simple events of the past, as prefigurations, types, symbols, and mysteries to the realities of the New Testament.
Fenqitho a source of profound theology
The edition of the Fenqitho, in particular the sedre, is a wonderful resource for gaining insight into all aspects of the Syriac theological tradition; it is, however, a resource where one needs to contemplate, rather than studying a few specific passages. The Fenqitho sedre are extraordinarily rich in theology. In what follows I simply offer a sedro and a madrosho where the Syriac tradition has something special to offer, that is less well represented in other liturgical traditions.
Syriac Poetry being an important vehicle for theology , the greatest example of the theologian-poet is St.Ephrem. In order to illustrate this aspect, I have selected a Madrosho from Hudoth Idto in the Mosul Fenqitho(Night Prayers, vol.II, p.38). This particular Madrosho is taken from a longer hymn which originally belonged to Epiphany.
The Church says to the guests: God called me to his Banquet.
I will enter with Him to the Bridal chamber.
Rejoice with me, O Peoples, because I am saved.
The Bridegroom put his hand upon my head;
His right hand embraces me,
I was born from the water of baptism by his laying on of the hand.
The Bridegroom moved from the house of his Father
To prepare the banquet for the Bride
And He decorated her the Pure One, in the womb of Baptism.
Who can comprehend His preparations?
How many are the unguents from His oil,
And His table is filled full of luxuries like the Paradise of Eden.
Jesus is to me and I am to Him.
He desired and clothed me, and I put on Him.
He kissed me much with the kisses of His mouth,
And He led me to the Bridal Chamber on high.
I ascended from the street of idols,
I was baptised in the living water,
Cleansed by the fire and water,
And joined with the glorious Bridegroom.
He anointed my head with perfumed oil,
My heart is intoxicated by His living cup,
His mercy is better than wine.
O upright people, show your love for me for He is pleased with me,
The Fire of his love is poured upon me,
And it has flamed up in me within the water.
I am fired by longing for life
And I thirst to see the Bridegroom.
(Mosul Fenqitho II, Hudoth idto, Night Prayers,p.38)
Another example, is a sedro taken from Annunciation to Zachariah , Sedro for Lilyo-1st qaumo (Mosul Fenqitho II, pp.61-2)
O Most high God, to whom all hard things are easy and difficult things are easy; the Kind One who gives hope to those who are without hope ,who finds a way out for things that are impossible, doer of great wonders and bestower of abundant gifts; O Saviour, whose conception and birth were indicated beforehand and honoured from of old by conceptions that were exceptional and by births that were beyond nature, as Adam from the virgin earth , Eve from the rib of a man , beautiful flying creatures from the water, the human race from the wooden Ark, the confused languages of the tower, the birthgiving of the rods in the water , the serpent from the staff of the prophet, the fruit from the sceptre of Aaron , the water from the hard rock, the copious speech of the ass, the old age which was renewed to youth, the oppressed barrenness which was fruitful, the wild vine which sprouted , the woman aged in days who gave birth.
You who by your ineffable wisdom, instructed our humanity beforehand through the signs that were to be believed concerning the ineffable wonders of Your condescension and through the speechlessness of the priest that was easily seen, You have indicated concerning the conception of the virgin which was too difficult to be searched out.
Again You showed that, just as You granted deadened old age and oppressed barrenness to bring forth the fruit of blessings, likewise, it is easy for You to beget Yourself from the virgin, O Child of wonder.
Therefore, we beseech You that You may grant us that, with spiritual eyes (raised) above the world, we may contemplate the mystery of Your divine economy of salvation, as You strengthen all our hearts in faith. And may we offer You up praise and thanksgiving, and to your Father and Holy Spirit now and forever Amen.
The texts in the Fenqitho are replete with biblical references and allusions. Usually these are not sustained expositions of biblical passages, but selections suitable for different occasions, especially in the sedre. The Fenqitho is extraordinarily rich in titles given to Christ. Many of these are of course familiar from other liturgical traditions, but others are much less so.