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  Greetings to all our readers and patrons
Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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New Year's Prayer
  By Susan Helene Kramer  
  "In the New Year may we remember
Today's decisions shape tomorrow's outcomes
That living each moment the best we can
Creates a harmonious life.

May we remember
By holding fast to integrity
Others see we are trustworthy.

When times are rough
May we remember to turn in
To our close and ready Source of comfort.

On New Year's and every day
May we remember that each new moment
Can be a fresh beginning.

And may we especially remember that
Personal peace preserved leads to
World peace, well deserved."

Courtesy: BellaOnline
The writer is BellaOnline's meditation editor
Christmas in Afghanistan
  By Leigh C. Bishop  
  Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. Christmas Eve 2008.

HOW strange, lord, is your timing. Why, of all evenings, this evening?

It has been over a month since we stood at attention along the sides of this road, each waiting quietly, thoughtfully. Until tonight, one could almost imagine that peace had broken out somehow, and we were simply too busy to heed the good news, pack up, and go home. Now, the snow-covered mountain peaks that surround us are barely visible in the gathering gloom.

In the dusky dimness far to our right, the procession of military vehicles emerges onto the road and slowly approaches, passing between the ranks of a thousand or more soldiers, sailors, and airmen drawn up on either side of the asphalt strip for the Fallen Comrade Ceremony. The flag-draped steel casket is just visible from behind, as the open Humvee glides by and turns toward the tarmac to deliver its burden to a westbound C-17. Without command or signal, all salute as it passes.

Somewhere, a family has just learned that a son, a brother, is coming home from the war. A Christmas homecoming. Out not as they had hoped.

Why, Lord, do you allow this time, of all times, to become for some a memorial of searing pain? To touch all future Christmas celebrations with a sadness that can never in a lifetime be entirely wiped away?

How often I have heard from patients and acquaintances, "I can't enjoy Christmas. Too many bad memories. "for many, those memories are sullied by family conflicts, personal betrayals, alcohol-fueled rage. Or perhaps by nothing more than petty arguments about presents—gifts laid aside and forgotten long before the resentment died.

But this? This is something of an entirely different order: the cost of freedom and duty all lovingly bound up in the wrapping of solemn military honors, and delivered on the night when angels sang to shepherds. Except tonight, the angels surrounding Bagram are silent.
Or is it just that we are too dull of heart to hear them?

For if the hope of Christmas is not sufficient for this, it is sufficient for nothing. Surely it is those who mourn -- the wounded and the downtrodden -- for whom Christmas is especially intended. And for those for whom the holidays are a reminder of grief and poverty, for those who would just as soon do without it -- if anything, we need more Christmas, not less. Not to drown our sorrows in contrived cheer, but to redeem and transform them.

We would be as those described by the prophet Isaiah: "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned" (9:2).
Jesus didn't come just to provide an occasion to sing carols, feast, and exchange gifts. But we are right to do these things, even as soldiers die, because he came.

An hour later, I find myself walking along the same stretch of Disney Drive, the main avenue of Bagram Airfield. All is different. At the crossing known as Four Corners, soldiers holding candles are belting out Christmas carols with gusto. Down the street, luminarias brighten the walkway into the clamshell-shaped auditorium, where cheerful groups of uniformed men and women enter for a Christmas concert. Two blocks away, the chapel is filling for the six o'clock Christmas Eve service.

War, writes C. S. Lewis in the essay "Learning in War-Time," reveals a hunger in human beings for joy and meaning that will not be set aside for even the most difficult of circumstances. "They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature."
Jesus did not come just to provide an occasion to sing carols, drink toasts, feast, and exchange gifts. But we are right to do these things, even as soldiers die and families grieve, because he came. And in his coming, he brought joy and peace—the joy that overcomes our sorrows, and the only kind of peace that ultimately matters. It's the peace of which the end of all wars, terrible as they are, is merely one token. It's the peace that means the long war between the heart and its Maker is over. It's a peace treaty offered in Bethlehem and signed, in blood, on Calvary.

So, joy to the world, and to every celebrating or grieving or hurting soul in it. The Lord has come. Let heaven and nature --and even those who stand watch with lighted candles in the land of the shadow of death -- sing. (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
Leigh C. Bishop is a psychiatrist and military reservist who served in Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. As a civilian, he specializes in treating mental health conditions in veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Month of Christmas
  By Dr Chanchal Gayen  
  ALL through my childhood, I eagerly waited for the month of December; not because the year was coming to an end, but because it was the festive Christmas season. December 25 is believed to be the birth date of Lord Jesus Christ. Christians, as well as several non-Christians, celebrate this day with good cheer. But is this the exact date of Jesus' birth?

Neither the New Testament nor any historical document substantiates this date. How did it come into existence? Why did the early church accept it?

In the Gospel according to Luke, there is a faint reference to a time period. It is mentioned that when Jesus was born, the shepherds were out in the fields, sitting around a fire. Shepherds in Palestine usually roamed about with their sheep from March to November. The severe cold climate soon after made it impossible to stay out at night. Based on this passage, it can be said that December was probably not the month of Christmas.

The gospel writers wrote neither a historical account nor a biography of Jesus. To them, the messages of Jesus were more important. However, when the church emphasized on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the foundation of theological reflection, the question of 'when' he came to the earth became an issue and the church had to find an answer. The heretical sect Gnostic Basilidians believed that Jesus, the ordinary human being, became divine at his baptism. Therefore, for them, his baptism was the real time of his birth. This gave a theological justification for Christmas to be celebrated on January 6.

January 6 was widely accepted as the Christian festival called 'Epiphany' or 'Theophany'. The Eastern Church, in due course of time, accepted this date as Christ's nativity. The Armenian Church, the first officially recognized church, did not know any other date for Christ's birth. In spite of wide acknowledgement of the date, its origin does not have clear historical substation.

It is difficult to say how January 6 changed to December 25. December 25 was first recognized as an official holiday by Emperor Justinian in AD 354. Some scholars suggest that Christmas was celebrated by the end of the third century. Different cities started celebrating Christmas during different periods. For example, Rome started around the middle of the fourth century, Antioch and Constantinople around the end of the fourth century and Alexandria and Jerusalem around the first half of the fifth century. Within a time span of three centuries, December 25 was accepted as the date for Christmas. But, how did the church arrive at this date?

There are two areas of consideration here. The first is the calculation of the early church fathers. Fathers like Augustin assumed that the passion of Jesus occurred on the anniversary of his conception. Others calculated the date based on Zachariah's visit to the temple. However, several modern scholars do not accept these theories.

The second area of consideration is pagan influence. According to pagans, December 25 was the day to honour the unconquered Sun god. Emperor Constantine was a worshipper of the Sun. His becoming Christian was for political reasons. In AD 321, he declared Sunday as the Lord's Day, which coincided with the weekly day of the Sun god. Thus, he might have influenced the celebration of December 25 as the birth day of Christ, while actually commemorating it as the festival of the Sun. Apart from this, several other races also celebrated the birth of their gods on December 25.

The need for a birth festival of Christ may have allowed the early church to develop a syncretistic festival -- Christmas -- on December 25. Over a period of time, it became the official date for Christmas.

There is no Biblical, historical or theological support for December 25 as the birth date of Jesus Christ. However, it is an undisputed fact that Christ was born on the earth and that day had a date, which is now lost. Christianity talks about baptism, the Lord's Supper, the cross and other symbols as reminders of Christ's sacrifice. Is December 25 such a symbol for us? A symbol to remind us that Christ was born to 'seek and save the lost' (Luke 19:10), 'to serve and not to be served'(Matthew 20:28) and to 'give life in abundance' (John 10:10). I believe that such acknowledgement of Christmas makes it more meaningful than it already is.
The writer is Associate Professor and Dean of Men at Spicer Memorial College, Pune
Make Copenhagen a Hopenhagen
  By Hector Welgampola  
  THE vagaries of the climate debate initially seemed only a spat between climate dogmatists and climate heretics. But rumors of a climate "conspiracy" fan flames already lit by the East Anglia University email scam.

They erode public confidence and raise fears the 12-year trail from Kyoto to Copenhagen may end up next week with little more than a peak carbon trail of jetsetters and their powwows.

Almost two years before media reported the email scam and scientists' efforts at damage control, this column cited early cracks in the climate debate. It cited Arctic researcher Derek Mueller's chilling news that ice shelves were not reintegrating from their disintegration in the last 100 years.

The column also quoted Bologna University Professor Antonio Zucchini telling a Vatican-sponsored Climate Change Conference in 2007 that the Earth's North and South poles had disappeared and later reappeared four times in a period of 500,000 years.

More recently, we have heard that global warming stopped in 1998 and the Sahara has begun to green. Yet, we also see that rising seas threaten the Maldives, Kiribati, Tuvalu and even parts of Bangladesh.

Such contradictory data about the impact of climate change confound the public. Worse still, the alleged nexus between scientists and politicians is seen as the downside of the climate debate. And big business's grip on both science and politics leads to suspicion of talkathons in which hawkish politicians lobby for a carbon tax and scheming business people seek to make a living of it.

On top of these ominous signs comes the news of a behind-the-scenes deal to thwart the Kyoto prescription and push for a climate treaty that further disadvantages already-disadvantaged developing nations.

But disadvantaged nations know how world powers abuse international confabs to enforce neo-colonialism's desperate grip through various fronts including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Fortunately, the hindsight of civilization has left humanity wiser about the fallout of talkathons.

Just over the past half-century, numerous UN confabs and world forums struck panic and blew up some issues as end-time problems. Despite all the scaremongering and panic generated about population explosion, AIDS, and various pandemics, humanity survived. More importantly, hope survived. While politicians, big business and their newly allied scientist lobby shop from one scare to another, Church groups have discerned such issues and explored the potential for a positive outcome.

Decades ago, the Church was derided for opposing chemical contraceptives and promoting Natural Family Planning (NFP). But as "Time" magazine reported on Oct. 26, environmentalists now commend NFP as "organic" and "green." The method has been lauded as a "means of avoiding both ingesting chemicals and excreting them into rivers and streams." Belated environment-friendly wisdom!

Despite the strategizing and posturing by climate sceptics and climate loonies, civil society and Church groups can contribute at two levels to help make Copenhagen a "hopenhagen" for humanity. Firstly, they should look beyond lobbies seeking to get political or business mileage of the event or to make a cult of Gaia worship. They need to push for responsible stewardship.

The leadership given by British economist Barbara Ward to the first UN Conference on the Human Environment, in 1972, can be an inspiration in this direction. Her book "Only One Earth" not only impacted the Stockholm event, it also revived social consciousness in the 1980s. Environment-related pastoral letters of the bishops of Guatemala and the Philippines became trendsetters. In more recent times, we have the repeated calls for environmental justice made by Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

The Church is at her best in the mission of witness. History records how every time the world panicked in the face of pestilence, pandemic or disaster, Church-led groups sustained hope. And as noted in the column cited earlier, such groups have been busy in small but catalytic efforts to help save the environment in various parts of Asia.

No doubt, the experience of civic and religious groups monitoring the climate summit could be a further boost for such praxis of stewardship long after the jetsetters have winged out of Copenhagen.

Today Church groups in Asia are active in environmental education and conservation. Parish-based lay groups, basic communities and groups of Religious pioneer environmental ministry through projects such as consumer education, energy saving, home gardening and motivating the young.

The upcoming Christmas season can further challenge the Christian community to proactively engage in witness to environmental justice that will enhance the joyful memorial of Jesus' birth. Such motivation can lead to creative ways of sharing Christmas fellowship, gifts and joy without capitulating to consumer culture.

But why wait for a consumerism-free Christmas? In a call to curb emissions, Paul McCartney recently proposed that meat-free Mondays could follow weekend banquets. Of course, abstaining on Monday after gorging over the weekend may make little difference other than a change of menu. Instead, perhaps, Adventide may offer an opportunity to invite lovers of the environment to follow the Christian tradition of meat-free Fridays.

After all, meat farming is reportedly responsible for 18 per cent of carbon emissions, far above the 13 per cent pollution produced by transport. And cutting down on meat protein may also help promote the use of vegetable protein from the Third World. (UCAN Commentary)
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