St Gregorios Orthodox Church of Toronto observed Remembrance Sunday on November 13, 2022. Rev Fr Thomas P John offered special prayers after the Holy Liturgy.
Fr John had requested the parishioners to respectfully wear a Poppy at church for the Holy Mass. For those who did not have one, it was made available at the church entrance to pick up and wear. A donation box was provided for donations to the Canadian Legion. Activity books for kids were also provided.
The Syrian Orthodox Christians believe that St Thomas, Apostle of Christ, came to Kerala in 52 AD and converted local Hindus and some Jews to Christianity. A point to note that the Cochin Jews (also known as Malabar Jews or Yehudey Kochin,) are the oldest group of Jews in India, with roots that are claimed to date back to the time of King Solomon (970 – 931 BCE). St Thomas did not impose any changes to the pattern of worship, rituals, and traditions of the locals.
Portuguese colonisation of Kerala in the 16th Century with their concept of ‘the cross preceding the sword‘ resulted their aggressive efforts to bring the Malayali Syrian Christians, and others under the Catholic umbrella. Those Malayali Syrian Christians who refused to convert had to flee the coastal areas controlled by Portuguese to the hills in the interior. As a result of this and other reasons, they today are further divided into Marthoma, Jacobite and Orthodox factions. Later, British colonisation brought in the Protestant faith to the shores of Kerala.
The word Syrian in ‘Syrian Christians’ has nothing to do with ethnicity. It purely denotes the religious affiliation to the Orthodox Church of Antioch, then part of Syria and the Syriac, the liturgical language used as against Rome and Latin.
The Syriac language is a dialect of Aramaic spoken today in the Mesopotamian Plateau between Syria and Iraq, was once used widely throughout the Middle East. The Gospels were translated into Syriac early on, and Syriac studies today help document the historical relationships among Jews, Christians, and Muslims. This is believed to be closest to the dialect Jesus spoke during his ministry.
It is interesting to look at the history of Syrian Christians in Canada. With the arrival of a sizable number of Syrian Orthodox Christians to Canada from Kerala in the 1960s, Toronto became the focal point for the formation of the first Orthodox Syrian Christian Parish in Canada. The first Holy Qurbana (Mass) was offered on Christmas Day in 1969. Today, the Church conducts Sunday Holy Mass in Malayalam and English.
What is the significance of Remembrance Day? It falls on November 11 and Canadians remember the men and women who served and continue to serve the country during times of war, conflict, and peace. It coincides with the Armistice Day which marks the date when armies stopped fighting World War I on November 11 in 1918. We observe this day to remember those who gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace. On Remembrance Day, we acknowledge the courage and sacrifice of those who served their country and acknowledge our responsibility to work for the peace they had fought so hard to achieve. Canadians wear the Red Poppy for a week to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers.
Fr John conducted the Holy Mass wearing the Poppy on his Kappa – the ecclesiastical outer vestment wore over all other garments. The Acolytes also wore the poppy on their Albs (long white vestment worn over their garments during the ministry.) An Acolyte is a person assisting the leader in a religious service or procession.
Prior to the special prayers, Fr John exalted the congregation that we all must remember the soldiers, peacekeepers, those who served on the front lines, those who volunteered, those who waited anxiously at home, for those who hoped that things would get better, and those who could not stand by and wait.
He asked each one to remember them and if we did not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for their country.
Fr John then led the prayer by giving thanks to all those who believed that the world could be a better place. He in his prayers remembered those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, trusting that others could and would carry the torch. He also gave thanks for those who were once enemies and who have become friends and allies.
He concluded his prayers with a reminder to all that we often take for granted, our values and institutions, our freedom to participate in cultural and political events, and our right to live under a government of our choice, were all attained at a huge human cost. Those who fought the wars and many who laid down their lives and lost their limbs, went in the belief that the values and beliefs enjoyed by humanity were being threatened. They truly believed that without freedom there can be no enduring peace and without peace no enduring freedom.
He also urged all the members to follow such Canadian customs and traditions like Remembrance Day and amalgamate with the mainstream Canadian society.
This must be the first time any Syrian Orthodox Church in Canada conducted a special prayer to observe Remembrance Day. St Gregorios Orthodox Church in the past 20 years had not done so.
My compliments and sincere thanks to Fr John and all the office bearers, acolytes and all the parishioners who participated in the prayers for remembering the soldiers.
Post Script:- This post may suggest to some that the author is a very religious person or even some one with a Christian supremacy theory. Far from the truth. I realise that no religion is better or worse than any other. All religions began with man’s effort to bring in some value system as a guide to humanity. However as Karl Marx said, religion did evolve into “opium of the masses.” The clergy, gurus and politicians used it as a tool to exploit people and serve vested interests. So whether we are believers, atheists or agnostics, what is important is that we cherish and try to live by human values that we have set for ourselves. I am able to do this with a great level of satisfaction. Then there is this notion of one being deeply spiritual without being religious. I try this concept with hardly any success.
One thought on “Remembrance Day Holy Mass”
Practice of Remembrance should be natural , but a good collective thought to conduct Sunday mass with a nostalgic feeling for lost life and their sacrifice.
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