Saturday, April 4, 2009

The Hidden History of Christianity in Asia- John C. England

Book Review: The Hidden History of Christianity in Asia- John C. England

The Hidden History of Christianity in Asia: The Churches of the East Before 1500 gives a brief but thorough history of Christianity along the Silk Road, from Central Asia through Mongolia to China, Japan, and Korea, southwards to India and Java. Primarily, this book discusses the far reach of the Church of the East in Persia throughout all of Asia which primarily goes unnoticed by mainstream Christian historians in the West. Christianity has traditionally been divided between West, meaning Latin, and East, meaning Greek. Even if Syriac Christianity has been discussed, focus (in my experience, of course) has been limited to West Syrian Christianity centered on Antioch. The Persian Church’s history, as it has usually been discarded as Nestorian and therefore heretical, has typically been ignored on the whole. However, as Indian Christians the history of this “Far Eastern” type of Christian is critical to our own history as the unique Saint Thomas Christians, or nazranis, of India.

John C. England, a scholar on Eastern Christianity affiliated with Christian institutions of the Pacific Rim, characterizes Christianity in the “East” by its culture, liturgy, and theology. An in depth analysis of all the regions covered will not be given here. What was most interesting perhaps was that East Syrian Christianity was spread by Persian and Armenian laymen and monastics across the existing trade routes, and lasted for centuries before any contact with the “West” was established. The gospel was preached successfully, even to the court of Ghengis Khan, and beyond, using Buddhist and Confucian terminology. For hundreds of years in the Middle Ages, Bishops and monasteries existed in Tang Dynasty China, as a minority to be sure, remaining Christian without syncretism.

Of personal relevance was the chapter on India. Details on the history of the Indian, particularly Kerala, Church were provided, yet to my dismay still remaining sparse. This is not really the author’s fault, as much of the documentation of the Pre-Portuguese era was destroyed by an Indian Inquisition. I am still interested in some conclusive history on whether the Malayalee Church was properly East Syrian Nestorian, Jacobite West Syrian, some of both, or both existing side by side. That historical analysis will have to be written at some point. I do recommend the book, though, for anyone looking to understand that Christianity can be contextual and relevant in any culture without sacrificing any bit of truth.

-Steve K.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Are we allowed to drink wine regularly?

A year ago, I had a sunday school class discussion and my teacher was asking all of us a question that "Are we allowed to drink wine regularly?" Well, as the question went around and people started to share their thoughts, the common and simple answer to that question was "No, but there are certain conditions."

In my opinion, I was thinking about how we always drink the transformed bread and wine as the blood and body of our Lord Jesus Christ every Sunday during the Holy Eucharist, so I guess it was okay.

St. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:23 that, "No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your stomach's sake and your frequent infirmities." Also, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, that our Lord taught to his apostles and followers, it says that the Samaritan put wine on the beaten Jew's wounds, and then put olive oil. In other words, wine is good for the body as a whole, as well as for life.

Adam's Apple

There are many words or phrases in the English language that is thrown around in conversation not knowing where, when, why, or how it originated. Certain words or phrases even have an important lesson behind it that is often overlooked. ‘Adam’s Apple’ is one such phrase that may not be scientifically proved for validity, but can be taken in a theological sense to teach inquirers about their relation to God.

For the readers who have never heard of an 'Adam’s Apple', Wikipedia defines and illustrates it as the following. The laryngeal prominence—commonly known as the 'Adam's Apple'—is a feature of the human neck. This lump, or protrusion, is formed by the angle of the thyroid cartilage surrounding the larynx.

In the biblical account of creation found in Genesis (Genesis 1, 2), God created Eden on Earth and gave it to Adam and Eve along with every plant and tree to eat from, except one particular tree. This tree was the tree of knowledge of good and evil. God said the day that fruit is eaten from this tree, Adam and Eve would die (Genesis 2:16-17).

With man's creativity in inventing anecdotes, it has come to be said that just as Adam was swallowing the forbidden apple that Eve brought him, God, knowing of his disobedience, called out his name. The apple went only half way down and got stuck as Adam was startled by God's voice. So the lump seen on the necks of men are said to be a reminder of that incident.

Now that we know where the term 'Adam's Apple' comes from, let's investigate what we can learn from the story and try to answer some frequently asked questions. Ever wonder why God planted such a tempting tree in the garden? What is the significance of the tree? Why a tree?

God planted Eden and gave us everything in it for two very specific and important reasons. Creation is meant to support our biological needs (food, water, shelter, etc.) and provide a way to commune with God. The latter is more important than the first as this is our very purpose in life. God provided creation so that we take the gift of earth and everything in it and return it back to Him in love, to commune with Him. When we were formed, he made us in His image so that we love. Love who or what? We are created to love God and all that is from God (creation, persons, etc.). Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:36- 38 ). The second greatest is to love you neighbor as you would love yourself (Matthew 22:39 ). Because we love, we commune with Him and become like Him. In a previous post, 'Why did Jesus come?', we see that Jesus came to earth to reunite us with God, to turn us back to our original purpose. How great is His love that He allows us to become like Him.

Satan knew one thing that Adam and Eve did not comprehend and which most of us often overlook. Satan in the form of a serpent came to Eve and tempted her to eat fruit off of the forbidden tree (Genesis 3:4-5 ), saying that once she does, she will become like God. Here's how Satan deceived and achieved one of his greatest triumphs over mankind. We must realize that God wants us to be like Him! So then why did Satan tell Eve to eat the apple to become like God? He wanted Eve to want to become like God without God. Please notice the importance here. God allows us to be like Him only if He is involved in the process. Eve chose to become like God without God. She placed her trust in something other than Him to become like Him - the apple.

How amazing is it when you think of the story in this light! Although the story dates back to the beginning of time, we still see the sin today. We often look to worldly things to attain happiness - money, sex, power, careers, drugs, etc. We fail to realize the fact that happiness is the ultimate reward we receive when we commune with the Holy Trinity, our original and constant purpose in life.

Praise be to God.

Carlton, C. (1997). The Faith. Massachusetts: Regina Orthodox Press.

Christian & Muslim ... what's the fuss?

This report on CNN tells of the news of an Episcopal minister defrocked after converting to Islam ... and still remaining a Christian.

Ann Holmes Redding was an ordained minister in the Episcopal Church for almost 30 years, but for the past three years Redding has been both a practicing Christian and a Muslim.

Per the article, her conversion to Islam was sparked by an imam demonstrated Muslim chants and meditation to the group, and Redding said the beauty of the moment and the imam's humbleness before God stuck with her.

May our Lord Jesus Christ illumine the heart of Ms Redding to really understand the true meaning of Christ's teachings, and learn that the One True God who was revealed to us include the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. What's worrisome is that she plans to continue speaking about and teaching on her discovery that Islam and Christianity are the same, and let's hope and pray that those who found Christ will not be swayed by a sincere but very confused ex-minister.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Sign of the Cross

A common gesture that is seen in the Orthodox Church today is the sign of the cross. It is seen before we commence our prayers, during prayers, end of a prayer, when the word "sleeba" is uttered, during specific celebrations, in liturgy, during sacraments, during benedictions, etc. Do we really understand why it is done? Most Christians, Orthodox included, do not fully appreciate the significance of the gesture. To some it may seem a meaningless act, while to others it is a confession of their faith as well a reminder of God's love towards mankind.

For those who do not know what the sign of the cross is, a description follows. It is the gesture made by taking the thumb, index, and middle finger of the right hand, bringing them together, while the ringer and little finger are pressed into the palm. This hand formation is then traced in a cross-like manner from the forehead, to the breast, and then from one shoulder to the other.

What does all this mean? To the Orthodox, the motion represents the confession of two very important doctrines in the Orthodox Church: the Trinity and the Incarnation. The three fingers that are put together symbolize the doctrine of the Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit). We confess the Trinity that exists undivided, co-eternal and co-equal. The two fingers pressed against the palm symbolize the doctrine of the Incarnation. We remind ourselves that Jesus became man while remaining God. We confess that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man. The motion that is made is in the form of the cross. The greatest symbol of love in history is when God died for us on the cross in order for mankind to be right with Him again. We confess God's love for us on the cross. The forehead, breast, and shoulders represent our mind, heart, and strength. We confess that we will dedicate our mind, heart, and strength to the precious cross.

How powerful and beautiful the sign of the cross is to those who understand its message. The message behind it is the reason we begin and end our prayers with the sign of the cross. The message of the cross is why we make the sign in liturgy. The message of the cross is why make the sign in celebrations, sacraments, and benedictions. St. Paul so profoundly says in 1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."

Carlton, C. (1997). The Faith. Massachusetts: Regina Orthodox Press.