Orthodox Study Journal~~Youth Issue 9/-Jan 2020


The liturgical Calendar Year of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church is divided into six periods:

  1. From Koodos Etho Sunday to Yeldo
  2. From Yeldo (Birth) to Kothine
  3. From Kothine (water made into wine) Sunday to Kymtha
  4. From Kymtha (Resurrection) Sunday to Pentecost
  5. From Pentecost to Sleeba
  6. From Sleeba (Feast of the Cross) to Koodos Etho

As a remembrance and a means of union with Christ, the liturgical year becomes a source of grace[1]. With its succession of feasts and fasts it commemorates on the one hand events in the life of our Lord, His Mother, St. John the Baptist and also all those men, women and children who have achieved sanctity. Each feast brings into focus a special aspect and meaning of the divine order. The feasts of the saints, beginning with those of the Theotokos and ending with those of the most recently glorified members of the Church “celebrate a special grace that flows from Christ, for their sanctity is but an aspect, a shining ray of the holiness of Christ” (Fr. Lev Gillet). The festal calendar is a result of continuous development. Begun in Christian antiquity, it is always “in progress.” Each age adds to it its own significant ecclesiastical events and its own martyrs and witnesses of the faith, who in the purity of their hearts have seen the invisible God as in a mirror, and through whom divine grace has richly flowed to us.

As Father Lev Gillet has written, “In the liturgical year we are called to relive the whole life of Christ: from Christmas to Pascha, from Pascha to Pentecost, we are exhorted to unite ourselves to Christ in his birth and in his growth, to Christ suffering, to Christ dying, to Christ in triumph and to Christ inspiring His Church.  The liturgical year forms Christ in us, from His birth to full stature of the perfect man.”

We have entered the second period of the Liturgical calendar year; from Yeldo to Kothine.

Yeldo perunal can also be understood through the words of Mar Philexenos of Mabbug, as— “God who made Adam in the beginning outside his personality, has now recreated nature of man in himself. This is a mystery which we confess by faith, and not by reason.” ‘Yeldo perunal’ as known in the Indian Orthodox Church is (in the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzus), the celebration of coming of God to man that we might go forth, or rather (for this is the more proper expression) that we might go back to God -that putting off the old man, we might put on the New; and that as we died in Adam, so we might live in Christ, being born with Christ and crucified with Him and buried with Him and rising with Him.”.

But, for the world Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. Christians celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, a spiritual leader whose teachings form the basis of their religion. Popular customs include exchanging gifts, decorating Christmas trees, attending church, sharing meals with family and friends and, of course, waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.

Sadly, this kind of practice is seen in many of our Orthodox Christian households too. On the day of Christmas, we get up early in the morning and attend the church. We come back from the liturgy and have delicacy food with our family and friends because for us it a great day, a joyful occasion; to get together with our near and dear ones and have the best time and hoard up great memories rather than commemorating the day to heal our soul. The Church observes a 25 day fast before Christmas (the Nativity Fast) which has become an option for many in today’s times.  Rather than observing the fast to practice in progression to rid ourselves of the earthly needs and wants and through prayer and charity renew our faith and relationship to God and others, we chose to spend these days like any other days running behind wants and desires that never satiate. In the midst of such occupations and celebrations we fail to understand the spiritual reality that God became man, so that we become like God. We forget the actual reason for the season. To such a celebration, St. Gregory of Nazianzus counsels,

“Therefore let us keep the Feast, not after the manner of a heathen festival, but after a godly sort; not after the way of the world, but in a fashion above the world; not as our own, but as belonging to Him Who is ours, or rather as our Master’s; not as of weakness, but as of healing; not as of creation, but of re-creation.

And how shall this be? Let us not adorn our porches; nor arrange dances, nor decorate the streets; let us not feast the eye, not enchant the ear with music, nor enervate the nostrils with perfume, not prostitute the taste, nor indulge the touch, those roads that are so prone to evil and entrances for sin; let us not be effeminate in clothing soft and flowing, whose beauty consists in its uselessness, nor with the glittering of gems or the sheen of gold or the tricks of color, belying the beauty of nature, and invented to do despite unto the image of God. Not in rioting and drunkenness, with which are mingled, I know well, chambering and wantonness, since the lessons which evil teachers give are evil.

Let us not appraise the bouquet of wines, the kickshaws of cooks, the great expense of unguents; and let us not strive to outdo each other in temperance, and this while others are hungry and in want, who are made of the same clay and in the same manner.

Let us leave all these to the Greeks[2] and to the pomp and festivals of the Greeks. But we, the object of whose adoration is the Word, if we must in some way have luxury, let us seek it in word, and in the Divine Law, and in histories; especially such as are the origin of this Feast; that our luxury may be akin to and not far remove from Him Who has called us together. Or do you desire (for today I am your entertainer) that I should set before you, my good guests, the story of these things as abundantly and as nobly as I can, that you may know how a foreigner can feed the natives of the land, and a rustic the people of the town, and one who cares not for luxury those who delight in it, and one who is poor and homeless those who are eminent for wealth?

We will begin from this point; and let me ask of you who delight in such matters to cleanse your mind and your ears and your thoughts, since our discourse is to be of God and Divine; that when you depart, you may fade not away. And this same discourse shall be at once both very full and very concise, that you may neither be displeased at its deficiencies, nor find it unpleasant through wearisomeness.”.

So true to the words of St. Gregory which was said centuries ago is very relevant even today in the 21st century. The reason for the season is forgotten and we spend our life having a good time.

The reason for this season is the Word’s becoming Man and His divine Appearing in our midst; the Incarnation.

God made all things out of nothing, and He reserved especial mercy to the race of man.

St. Athanasius[3] quotes,

“He bestowed a grace which other creatures lacked—namely the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) Himself, so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does, though in limited degree they might continue for ever in the blessed and only true life of the saints in paradise”.

Referring to Ephesians 4:11-16[4], the above quote means that, what we are all expected to do is to be true in love, so that all grow towards him and in him; for he, Christ is the Head. It is from Him as controlling element that the whole body is coordinated and linked together in harmony, through the mutual connecting joints provided in the body, and through each part fulfilling the function assigned to it. The same Head ensures that the whole body grows and builds itself through love.

Further referring to Mathew 4:19, Christ says “Come, follow me.”. St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:1 says, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ”. And in 1 Corinthians 4:16 says, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me”.

He secured this grace to man by making it ‘conditional’ from the first with two things—a law and a place.

“If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, “Of every tree that is in the garden thou shalt surely eat, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil ye shall not eat, but in the day that ye do eat, ye shall surely die.”. “Ye shall surely die”—not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption.”.

Through our (man’s) own devising’s, we chose to turn to evil and set ourselves to the law of death. We lost our existence by turning away from God, Who alone Exists and Who alone is all good. We were called to ‘being’, but we chose to return to ‘non-being’ by choosing evil which is the negation and antithesis of good. We were creatures brought out of nothing, but bore the Likeness of God, and

“and if man preserves that Likeness through constant contemplation, then his nature is deprived of its power and he remains incorrupt.”

Keeping of the law was the assurance of man being incorrupt.

But man,

“turning from eternal things to things corruptible, by counsel of the devil, they had become the cause of their own corruption in death; for, as I said before, though they were by nature subject to corruption, the grace of their union with the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) made them capable of escaping from the natural law, provided that they retained the beauty of innocence with which they were created. That is to say, the presence of the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) with them shielded them even from natural corruption, as also Wisdom says: God created man for incorruption and as an image of His own eternity; but by envy of the devil death entered into the world.”

“When this happened, men began to die, and corruption ran riot among them and held sway over them to an even more than natural degree, because it was the penalty of which God had forewarned them for transgressing the commandment. Indeed, they had in their sinning surpassed all limits; for, having invented wickedness in the beginning and so involved themselves in death and corruption, they had gone on gradually from bad to worse, not stopping at any one kind of evil, but continually, as with insatiable appetite, devising new kinds of sins. Adulteries and thefts were everywhere, murder and rapine filled the earth, law was disregarded in corruption and injustice, all kinds of iniquities were perpetrated by all, both singly and in common. Cities were warring with cities, nations were rising against nations, and the whole earth was rent with factions and battles, while each strove to outdo the other in wickedness. Even crimes contrary to nature were not unknown, but as the martyr-apostle of Christ says: “Their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature; and the men also, leaving the natural use of the woman, flamed out in lust towards each other, perpetrating shameless acts with their own sex, and receiving in their own persons the due recompense of their pervertedness.”

“The thing that was happening was in truth both monstrous and unfitting. It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word (The Second Person in the Trinity) should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption”

“As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning?”.

“What—or rather Who was it that was needed for such grace and such recall as we required?

The Word of God (The Second Person in the Trinity) Himself, Who also in the beginning had made all things out of nothing? His part it was, and His alone, both to bring again the corruptible to incorruption and to maintain for the Father His consistency of character with all. For He alone, being Word of the Father and above all, was in consequence both able to recreate all, and worthy to suffer on behalf of all and to be an ambassador for all with the Father.”

Thus, for this reason the incorporeal and incorruptible and immaterial Word of God (the Second person of the Trinity) entered our world. He was never far away from us, and filled everything while still abiding in union with the Father (refer Creed).

“But now He entered the world in a new way, stooping to our level in His love and Self-revealing to us.”

To explain the above quote further— The Incarnation of God the Word is a great grace given by God to the humanity. This is the primary affirmation of Bar Ebraya[5] regarding his faith in the Incarnation. According to him, the purpose of Incarnation is the salvation of the world. God could have accomplished it by any other means. It pleased Him, however to work it out in and through human life, because, it appeared to Him, the appropriate way for the accomplishment of the purpose of Economy (mdabronuto). Bar Ebraya says: “It is by birth of God according to the flesh, by His voluntary suffering according to the flesh, and His death according to the flesh, that you have been saved.”

Therefore God the Son the second person of the Trinity became man. God the Son accepted an incarnated state as a dispensation for the salvation of the world. This dispensation is God’s action in which the Son accepted a birth from a human mother. However, God the Son incarnate does not mean that the universe was deprived of His divine care during his lifetime on earth. In order to become incarnate God the Son accepted on Himself a self-limitation.

But why only the second person of the Holy Trinity became incarnate in Virgin Mary, rather than first or third?

According to Bar Ebraya, each one of the hypostases has the power to do every possible thing. But it is the hypostasis[6] of the Word that the union is convenient.

“He took our body, and not only so, but He took it directly from a spotless, stainless virgin, without the agency of human father—a pure body, untainted by intercourse with man. He, the Mighty One, the Artificer of all, Himself prepared this body in the virgin as a temple for Himself, and took it for His very own, as the instrument through which He was known and in which He dwelt. Thus, taking a body like our own, because all our bodies were liable to the corruption of death, He surrendered His body to death instead of all, and offered it to the Father. This He did out of sheer love for us……”

The above quote means God the word is one hypostasis. He united Himself hypostatically to the flesh endowed with a rational and intelligent soul, which was assumed from Mary. The natures, therefore, which came in to union were hypostases although manhood received its hypostatic status only in the union. The one from two is one person. Jesus Christ as a person has been formed of a union of Godhead and manhood. Thus He is one double nature (united nature) and one composite hypostasis. The concern of Bar Ebraya here is not to explain away either of the natures but to affirm the real unity.

In brief, God the Son became man. Though the Virgin was the mother of manhood alone, because manhood had come into being, and existed, only in union with God the Son, she gave birth to God incarnate, and therefore she was the Theotokos. The confession is not to minimize the reality and perfection of Christ’s manhood, but to insist to the unity of Christ.

“This great work was, indeed, supremely worthy of the goodness of God. A king who has founded a city, so far from neglecting it when through the carelessness of the inhabitants it is attacked by robbers, avenges it and saves it from destruction, having regard rather to his own honor than to the people’s neglect. Much more, then, the Word of the All-good Father was not unmindful of the human race that He had called to be; but rather, by the offering of His own body He abolished the death which they had incurred, and corrected their neglect by His own teaching. Thus by His own power He restored the whole nature of man.”

“For by the sacrifice of His own body He did two things:

  1. He put an end to the law of death which barred our way;
  2. and He made a new beginning of life for us, by giving us the hope of resurrection.

By man death has gained its power over men; by the Word made Man death has been destroyed and life raised up anew. That is what Paul says, that true servant of Christ: For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. Just as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive,” and so forth. Now, therefore, when we die we no longer do so as men condemned to death, but as those who are even now in process of rising we await the general resurrection of all, “which in its own times He shall show,” even God Who wrought it and bestowed it on us. This, then, is the first cause of the Savior’s becoming Man.


“it was our sorry case that caused the Word to come down, our transgression that called out His love for us, so that He made haste to help us and to appear among us. It is we who were the cause of His taking human form, and for our salvation that in His great love He was both born and manifested in a human body.”

To summarise, Man, as we already noted, is a creature of God endowed with creaturely freedom. As a creature he has a beginning and the possibility of an end. Yet, unlike other creatures, he/she is created to attain the eternal life, which God grants him. To gain this goal man is called upon to live his life in communion with Creator and follow his way, using his creaturely autonomy. However, man took advantage of his personal freedom to follow his own plan in life. This led to his fall from the Source of eternal life, to which he had to be restored. The restoration required an absolute self-surrender to God on the part of man, which was possible only by God himself helping man to do it. Therefore, the coming together of God the Son and man into union (Incarnation) was necessary, and God accomplished it in Jesus Christ. This is the Divine Economy[7].

For the full issue (for free) click the ‘download’ button below….

[1] Liturgical Calendar, Ahmedabad Diocese

[2] Greeks or referring to pagans

[3] On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius (Source: Copticchurch)

[4] The Kingdom of Diakonia- Dr. Paulose Mar Gregorios

[5] The Christology of Bar Ebraya by H.G. Dr. Yuhanon Mar Diascoros

[6] In the words of H.G Dr. Geevarghese Mar Osthathios, “Trinity means ‘one in three and three in one’. God is one and three in the same time. One ousia and three hypostases is difficult, but simple we can say one family with father, mother and a child. This relativity is to make supra-natural sharing of love, which is the very sharing of God. The number three is not ultimate in nuclear families. 360 Deg. Of a circle remains the same in bigger circles also. Therefore, ultimately whether children are one, two or many, the unity of family remains.”

Hypostases can mean ‘in particular’. This meaning is given for the understanding of all but there is theological depth to it.

[7] An Orthodox Catechism on the Faith and Life of the Church, Dr. V.C. Samuel

What is the significance of Veil/Curtain in an Orthodox Church?

Question 1:

I recently came across a blog post which questioned the relevance of the veil after the New testament. It mentioned how it was initially created to separate man from the Holy of Holies, but Christ through his crucifixion had destroyed this distance between man and God and hence the veil was no longer needed. That man did not need anyone to come between him and God now and he could reach him directly. But we still keep the old covenant and create a distance between us and God. We don’t allow ourselves to freely walk towards Him and partake in the new blessing He has left us with. Why do we still hold on to the veil? I need something concrete with respect to the New Testament specifically.

Answer 1:

“Then behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:52)

The real God of Israel was revealed the moment Jesus yielded up His spirit on the cross. While those who had their way, accomplishing their task to punish our Lord Jesus for the audacity of defying their rejection of His messiahship, hurling at Him the false accusation that He had claimed to destroy and rebuild the temple in three days, the temple veil was torn in two. The holy of holies was exposed, because the chosen people were incapable of recognizing Jesus Christ as the long-awaited Messiah; therefore, at the moment of His death on the cross, the heavenly Father sent a sign that the greatest of all mysteries, the presence of His only-begotten Son fulfilled His mission on earth even if those who had been nurtured to realize and respond to Him lost their moment in history for which they had been prepared from the time of Abraham. The splitting of the temple veil is a sign of that reality.

Those who demanded from Pilate that He be crucified as a false Messiah were made to realize they were tragically wrong. Jesus was shown to be the genuine Messiah in the holiest site of all Jerusalem. To comprehend the meaning of that revelation requires the understanding of what a veil signifies.

  1. The first and most obvious meaning is separation. The chasm dividing God from humanity—nothing greater can be conceived. Only the high priest was entitled to pass beyond the veil shutting off the outside world from the holy of holies, the sacred cube of space containing the Ark of the Covenant.


    Old Testament Tabernacle / Temple / Church

    And only that chosen person was permitted once a year on the holiest of days, only if he understood his purpose of being there, only if he wore a rope tied to his leg and bells on his vestments that would ring while he was moving about performing his assigned tasks. If the bells stopped ringing, those outside could pull him out without entering the sacred space themselves.

  2. The veil closing off the sanctuary from the nave has meaning. When closed, it is a reminder of the holiness of the temple of Jerusalem, and when opened is the evidence that Christ is the Source of all holiness, being Himself the Son of God. The curtain is shut other than the time of sacraments/prayers so that it will be opened to only the friends, sisters and brothers of Christ Jesus.

The architecture of an Orthodox church is expressed as heaven on earth. It is a model of the spiritual world—of the Heavenly Kingdom—which the Lord opened to us through the holy prophet Moses on Mt. Sinai. Then God commanded to build the Old Testament Tabernacle according to the precise pattern given by Him to Moses, down to the smallest detail.


New Testament Church

New Testament Orthodox churches have the same arrangement as that of the Old Testament, but with the difference that our Lord Jesus Christ became Incarnate and completed the work of the salvation of mankind. It is namely from this monumental event that there are changes to New Testament temples in relation to that of the Old Testament.

A church building is an expression of the covenantal experience of ‘God being with us’. The Holy Eucharist is also celebrating the same nuance. The book of revelation rhetorically affirms the same expression that the dwelling place of God is within men [Rev 21:3]. It is true that God is with men in Christ through the Holy Spirit. We know that God does not dwell in house made with hands. It was conviction of Solomon [1 Kings 8:27] and we see St. Stephen [Acts 7:48] repeating the same as well. But Solomon realizes the presence of God in the temple and dedicated it as the center for worship. At the same time New Testament teaches that the human kind is the temple of the living God [Eph 2:21-22, 1Pt 2:4-5, 2Cor 6:16]. Through this architecture, the Church wishes to convey to us the immanence of Christ and the fact that each of us is the dwelling place of God. The Church building is not mere gathering place. Its architecture proclaims the unity of all things in God. The emphasis is laid on celebrating the Eucharist in the context of worship as a corporate act. According to the holy prophet Moses it includes the courtyard, the sanctuary, and the Holy of Holies. In the New Testament church it is the Portico or Narthex [a place for the Catechumens], Haikala or Nave [main hall], Kesthrumo [part inside the rails] and Altar/Sanctuary or Madbaho.

The Narthex symbolizes this world [Rev 11:2] and Nave is the place of church understood as the assembly and people of God. Any believing Orthodox Christian can be in these parts. The nave correspond to the Old Testament sanctuary. Earlier no one but priests could be found there, but today, because the Lord with His most-pure blood cleansed us all and united us in His Mystery of Baptism, the nave—the New Testament sanctuary—is open to all Orthodox Christians. Kesthrumo is the place between Altar and Haikala where deacons are to stand. So according to Syriac Church Father Mar Yuhanon of Dara [+825 AD] the main three section inside the church building Nave, Kesthrumo and Madbaho allegorically symbolize three special gifts of the Holy Spirit: perfection, illumination and purity.

The Holy of Holies of the Mosaic Temple corresponds to the altar in the New Testament Church. It symbolizes the Heavenly Kingdom. It is not without reason that it is elevated in relation to the nave and narthex. The very word “altus” in translation from Latin means “high.” The center of the altar is the altar table. It is this throne on which God Himself sits invisibly in the church. In Syriac, the term Madbaho denotes the places for sacrifice. Usually Madbaho is situated in the eastern side of the church. East is of Biblical importance as it is mentioned to be location of the Garden of Eden [Gen 2:8]. Considering all such interpretations, the Holy place is a symbol of heaven or paradise. In heaven Jesus the Son of Man continuing His priestly mediation in the midst of saints and angels along with the heavenly glory of light. Likewise in Madbaho the Holy Mysteries of our Lord are offered by the priest who is the sacramental presence of Christ, together with deacons and candle light. Madbaho is a shadow of Paradise with the fruit of the tree of life.

Thronos symbolically and mystically represents the heavenly throne and the table of the kingdom of God [Isa 6:1]. In the context of Holy Qurbana as the sacrifice Thronos is called Altar. It is called the Table of life where we find the Bread of life. So Thronos is the seat of Christ, the word of God, the Lamb and the King of the everlasting life [Rev 4:5; Rev 7:9-11]. According to Syriac Church Father, Moses Bar Kepa [+903] Thronos is Christ Himself and it is source from where the grace is flowing. St. John Chrysostom says that Thronos indicates the holy Tomb of our Lord. The bread and wine offered upon it are transformed in to the Mystical Body of glorified Christ. It recalls the worldly death of Jesus on the Cross and the burial of his earthly body in the tomb which resulted in the triumphant resurrection of His glorified body.

The Veil of the Madbaho, as we perceive in the Jerusalem temple, separates the Holy place and the Holy of Holies. Generally the Veil which closes the Madbaho stands as the sky which hides the heaven above. Hence during Holy Qurbana, the Veil is opened when Christ is reveled to us from His birth in Bethlehem, Baptism at Jordan, Ministry and up to His death on Cross. After this, The Madbaho is closed by the Veil now, which denotes the absence of sunlight was the very characteristic mark of the creator’s suffering and the death in Golgotha, the place of His sacrifice. Hence Veiling during this time depicts the meaning of His suffering and death in the absence of the temporal light made for creation. After this the Veil is opened, symbolizing the resurrection of Christ and the appearance of the Lord to His Apostles. After this Veil is pulled to close the Madbaho, this time it represents disappearance of the Lord thereafter on the ascension. After this the removal of Veil shows the opening of heaven and the second coming of Christ [Mat 24: 30-31, Dan 7:13, 1 Cor15:52, 1Thess 4:16].  The Veil closes the Madbaho again after the Holy Qurbana, indicating us to the present situation of sky which hides the heaven above…

According to the Church Tradition the first to order the closing of the altar by a curtain was the Holy Hierarch Basil the Great in the second half of the fourth century. But even earlier there were well-known partitions between the altar and nave was already a part of the church, for example in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem.

The modern appearance of the iconostasis, which we see in Eastern Orthodox Churches was basically developed in Church art by the beginning of the fifteenth century. As you see in the below picture, the curtain still remains in the middle…



The visual separation of the altar from the nave by the Veil should motivate us to strive in that direction—to the heavenly, and this aspiration is the core of the life of every Orthodox Christian. We believe that the merciful Lord will once open to us the door to Paradise and lead us in, as a loving Father His children…

It all speaks to us about that in our Orthodox services and in the structure of the churches there is nothing superfluous, but everything is coherent, harmonious and intended to guide Orthodox Christians into the Heavenly realm.

Mostly the color of the curtain is Red. Red has come to signify victory and resurrection, as it symbolizes the Blood of Christ that was willingly shed for us. It also brings to mind the blood of the countless martyrs for Christ throughout the ages. That is why the main color used to adorn most of the Madbaho is red (along with green, white), and why many churches (especially on Mount Athos) are also painted red.

A bit more about what happens inside the Madbaho, when the Veil is closed…

… but into the second tent only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the errors of the people (Hebrews 9:7).

In the Old testament Church, Priests entered the other rooms daily to perform their duties, but only one person, the high priest, could enter the Holy of Holies and that only once each year, on the Day of Atonement. After offering special sacrifices, the high priest collected some of the blood from the animal victims in a bowl and carried it behind the curtain, into the Holy of Holies. Using a branch of hyssop, he sprinkled the blood about the chamber. The purpose of the ritual was to symbolize the people’s repentance for the sins of the previous year and to entreat God’s forgiveness.

The Apostle tells us that this ritual was a prophecy of the incarnation, death and resurrection of our Lord.

The Old Testament high priest, because he was a mere man, had to offer the expiatory sacrifice for his own sins, and he had to offer the sacrifice year after year because he continued to sin. He could bring only the blood of animal sacrifices, and he offered these sacrifices in an earthly Temple.

Our Lord’s offering was superior to the old sacrifice in every respect. He is the eternal Word of God become man; although He took to Himself everything which is human, even the consequences of sin, He is sinless Himself. By His crucifixion and resurrection, He offers the supreme and perfect sacrifice, His pure and unstained Self. His sacrifice is complete — thoroughly purging the sins of mankind – because He does not need to offer it first for His own sin. He presents this offering, not on a mundane altar, but in heaven itself, before the Throne of the Father, which He Himself shares, together with the Holy Spirit.

“But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation. Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:11-12).

Also, unlike the Jewish high priest, Christ does not complete the atonement alone.

As He enters the heavenly Temple our Lord bears with Him His humanity, which He shares with us. Thus we enter the Holy of Holies with Him, borne into the glory and peace of the Kingdom by His purity and love. Our Lord’s great sacrifice brings us remission of sins and, moreover, sanctification by the power of the Holy Spirit and entrance into the Kingdom.

The words of the prayer link our offering of the Gifts (bread and wine) with Christ’s entering “the Presence behind the Veil” (Hebrews 6:19), “by a new and living way which He consecrated for us through the Veil, that is, His flesh” (Hebrews 10:20). [This is where the New Testament speaks of the Veil, and we will know how the Orthodox Church has implemented this verse with a detail study of what happens during the Holy Qurbana]

St. Athanasius of Alexandria says, [The Lord Jesus entered heavens for our sake, though He is the Lord of heavens, and its founder. It is written that He was glorified for our sake. He Himself said, “And for their sakes, I sanctify Myself, that they also may be sanctified by the truth” (John 17:19) This does not mean that He becomes sanctified, but He sanctifies us in Him. We understand the phrase “glorify Himself,” not that He needs to be glorified, for He is above all, but that He is Righteous and we are glorified in Him, and can enter the doors of heaven which He has opened for us. Therefore, it was written, “Lift up your heads, O you gates! And be lifted up, you everlasting doors!” And the King of glory shall come in” (Ps. 24:7). The doors were never closed in front of Him, for He is the Lord and Creator of all, but this was written for us, whom the doors of Paradise were closed in front of us” [Against Arians, Discourse 1:41].

In each Liturgy we unite ourselves with our Lord’s sacrifice and we enter heaven with Him. On the people’s behalf the priest prays over the gifts which are the bread and wine, kept on the Thronos, behind the closed curtain, in similarity to the Old Testament priest symbolizing the Passion and rising of the incarnate Christ.

But, once we are there, these symbolic gifts offered for sacrifice becomes reality (Body and Blood of Christ) by the grace of the Holy Spirit.

It was through the Spirit that Christ offered Himself (Hebrews 9:14); it is in and through the Spirit that we participate in that sacrifice in our Baptism (Romans 6:4-5).

And now, in the awesome solemnity of the Liturgy, we await the Holy Spirit, to fill our Gifts with the Savior’s power and glory.

Behind the curtain, the Old Testament priest used a sprig of hyssop to sprinkle the blood of a slaughtered creature. With the curtain of our Madbaho closed, we prepare to receive the Body and Blood of the living Christ.


Saint John Chrysostom declares, “With this Blood not Moses but Christ sprinkled us, through the word which was spoken; ‘This is the Blood of the New Testament, for the remission of sins. Mat 26:28.’ This word, instead of hyssop, having been dipped in the blood, sprinkles all.

There in the Old Testament the body was cleansed outwardly, for the purifying was bodily; but here, since the purifying is spiritual, it enters the soul and cleanses it, for it is not being simply sprinkled over, but it gushes forth in our souls … And in their case indeed one sprinkled just the surface … But in the case of the soul it is not so, but the Blood is mixed with its very substance, making it vigorous and pure, and leading it to the very unapproachable beauty.”

Closing the curtain reminds us of the ultimate sacrifice of the King of glory. We do not perform a new sacrifice, like the Jewish high priest did year by year. Rather, each Sunday and each feast day, we renew our communion in the one great Sacrifice.

We come forward to receive the spotless Body and precious Blood of Him who is “the One who offers and who is offered, the One who receives and is received.”

As once Christ entered heaven, so now He enters us, transfusing us with the Kingdom. He does not seek to become one with us, but He makes us one with Him. He does not enter us in order to remain in the world: He comes to purge us of the sin which binds us to this age. He comes to cleanse, so that He may bear us up with Him, to dwell where He dwells, in eternal light with His Father and the Holy Spirit.

Saint John Chrysostom exhorts us, “Let us no longer continue on the earth; for even now it is possible for him that wishes it, not to be on the earth.”

Now another thing that we need to understand is that, there is no New Testament without the Old Testament. Christ did not ignore the Old Testament, in fact He taught at the synagogues and spoke to His disciples and others always quoting from the Old Testament. New Testament is only the fulfillment of what was promised in Old Testament. This means that New Testament can be understood in fullness only through study of Old Testament. Apostles also spoke using the Old Testament to prove to people how in Christ everything is fulfilled. Hence the Church also in its architecture, function and purpose does not radically change from how it was in the Old Testament and this is the very reason of Orthodox Churches, as established by Apostles are still having a similarity with the Old Testament Church. We could also experience this in our Holy Qurbana – Old Testament is read first in order to testify that the New Testament is true. Then the New Testament is read in order to indicate that it is new and that which was said in the Old has been fulfilled in it.

There are a lot of symbolic representations in the Orthodox Church. In an Orthodox church there is no thing or action which does not carry meaning of spiritual weight and for sure all of these are based on Holy Scriptures and Holy Tradition. According to Orthodox theology, symbols reveal the fact that something is hidden to us. However the devotee keeps a meaningful silence against the mystery that, at the end of time all will be exposed from the hideout. This is because we, as is, are incapable of knowing the reality in full measure. This is a fundamental method of Orthodox theology in order to interpret the concept of mystery. The symbols of the Church penetrate into our senses and reveal the presence of God.

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