Apr 232017
 

Today is the first Sunday after Easter, which goes by a wide variety of names depending on ecclesiastical tradition. In Catholic and some Eastern traditions it marks the end of Bright Week during which the resurrection of Jesus is constantly celebrated. In some of those traditions it is called Renewal Sunday, referring to the continual affirmation of the Easter message. It is also called Quasimodo Sunday in some denominations, especially in parts of France and Germany, the name being taken from the day’s introit: — “Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite” (“In the same way that newborn babies long for pure milk”).

In the early church, catechumens were baptized on the Eve of Easter, and on the Sunday following Easter they cast off their white baptismal robes – yet they were still spiritual newborns (needing spiritual milk). In the Anglican tradition it is commonly called Low Sunday which is how I referred to it in church bulletins when I was a pastor. No one knows quite what “Low” refers to – possibly the feeling that the feeling of the celebration of the resurrection is not as great as it was on Easter Sunday. Pastors in general suggest that it refers to church attendance on that Sunday, which is always very low.

In many churches today is called Thomas Sunday following a standard reading of the day John 20:19-31. Here’s the relevant part of the reading:

24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

I always preached on this passage because there is much more to it than meets the casual reader. First there are a few simple things to elucidate. The name Thomas (Koine Greek: Θωμᾶς) given for the apostle in the Greek Bible is derived from the Aramaic or Syriac: ܬܐܘܡܐ‎ Toma, equivalent to the Hebrew Teom, meaning “twin.” The equivalent term for twin in Greek is Δίδυμος Didymos. So verse 24 is a gloss, not an extension of his name. That is, he was not known as Thomas Didymos, but simply Thomas. A better translation of the verse would be, “Now Thomas . . . which means ‘Twin’ . . .” Giving glosses for Aramaic terms in Greek is very common in the gospels. Verse 26 says that “eight days later” the apostles were gathered again. This uses a standard method of counting days in Aramaic whereby the first and last days are counted. So, Sunday to Sunday is eight days, not seven as we normally count in English.

The crux of the passage for me lies in verses 27 and 28, and, I believe, is mistakenly represented in classic iconography.  Jesus says “Put your finger here . . . etc.” in verse 27 but verse 28 does NOT begin, “So Thomas put his finger in the wounds, and believed . . .” Thomas IMMEDIATELY answers “My Lord and my God.” He not only believes without touching Jesus, but he goes on to assert that Jesus is both his Lord and is God, going beyond the obvious inference that Jesus died and has returned alive. The resurrection was miraculous enough, but one need go no farther than accepting it as proof that Jesus, AS A MAN (only), was killed by the Romans but the grave could not hold him. That’s quite extraordinary enough, and is enough for the other gospel writers. John’s gospel goes a step beyond that inference because of John’s author’s basic belief that Jesus was the Word of God incarnate, setting up the doctrine of the Trinity. Thus, in this gospel, Thomas is the first apostle to get the whole story straight. In many traditions, therefore, he is not referred to as “doubting” Thomas, even though at the outset he doubts the testimony of his fellow apostles. Rather, he is seen as a man of extraordinary insight and faith because he goes well beyond what his senses tell him.

Thomas is traditionally believed to have sailed to India in 52 CE to spread the Christian faith, and is believed to have landed at the port of Muziris, (modern-day North Paravur and Kodungalloor in modern-day Kerala state) where there was a Jewish community at the time.He is believed by the St Thomas Christian tradition to have established Ezharappallikal or Seven and Half Churches in Kerala. These churches are at Kodungallur, Palayoor, Kottakkavu (Paravur), Kokkamangalam, Niranam, Nilackal (Chayal), Kollam, and Thiruvithamcode (half church). The 4th century Syriac Christian poet and scholar St Ephrem wrote:

It was to a land of dark people he was sent, to clothe them by Baptism in white robes. His grateful dawn dispelled India’s painful darkness. It was his mission to espouse India to the One-Begotten. The merchant is blessed for having so great a treasure. Edessa thus became the blessed city by possessing the greatest pearl India could yield. Thomas works miracles in India, and at Edessa Thomas is destined to baptize peoples perverse and steeped in darkness, and that in the land of India.

Thomas is mostly known as the missionary to India through the Acts of Thomas, an early 3rd century work of unknown provenance. The Acts of Thomas connects his Indian ministry with two kings, one in the north and the other in the south. According to one of the legends in the Acts, Thomas was at first reluctant to accept this mission, but Jesus appeared to him in a night vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go away to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” But the Apostle still demurred, so Jesus overruled the stubborn disciple by ordering circumstances so compelling that he was forced to accompany an Indian merchant, Abbanes, to his native place in northwest India, where he put himself in the service of the Indo-Parthian king Gondophares. Thomas’ ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.

According to the legend, Thomas was a skilled carpenter and was asked to build a palace for the king. However, he decided to teach the king a lesson by devoting the royal grant to acts of charity. Although little is known of the immediate growth of the church, Bar-Daisan (154–223) reports that in his time there were Christian groups in North India which claimed to have been converted by Thomas and to have books and relics to prove it. But at least by the year of the establishment of the Second Persian Empire (226), there were bishops of the Church of the East in northwest India comprising Afghanistan and Baluchistan, with laymen and clergy alike engaging in missionary activity. The Acts of Thomas identifies his second mission in India with a kingdom ruled by King Mahadeva, one of the rulers of a 1st-century dynasty in southern India.

According to the most ancient tradition of the Mar Thoma (“Church of Thomas”) congregations along the Malabar Coast of Kerala State in southwest India, Thomas evangelized this area and then crossed to the Coromandel Coast of southeast India, where, after carrying out a second mission, he was killed in Mylapore near Madras. According to local tradition, Thomas was killed at St.Thomas Mount, near Chennai, in 72 CE and his body was interred in Mylapore. Numerous churches in India claim to possess his relics, and these remains have been moved a number of times.

  

How much of all of this can be taken is legitimate history is open to question. It was certainly quite feasible for Thomas to travel to India, but whether he did or not is another matter. Churches in Cornwall in England claim that both Jesus and Joseph of Arimathea traveled to England (Joseph bringing the Holy Grail with him), but these tales stretch credulity to the breaking point. On the other hand, a trip from the Mediterranean to India was not only possible, but was a regular trade route by sea. The question remains what would have prompted Thomas to make such a trip. The canonical Acts of the Apostles, while not utterly reliable as history gives an account of early evangelizing that accords well with the letters of Paul, who knew the apostles. The narrative in Acts suggests that the apostles, who had been devout Temple-worshipping Jews, were content to remain in Judah and work on proselytizing at home to the Jews, showing that Jesus was the promised Messiah of the Jews, whereas Paul, already an itinerant Hellenized Jew, took it as his mission to travel widely outside of Judah, preaching first to Hellenized Jews throughout the Roman empire, and then to Gentiles.  All parties seemed happy with this state of affairs. It, therefore, seems unlikely that Thomas broke ranks and journeyed to India. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries numerous Christian churches sprang up across Europe and Asia and many desired bona fides that they were founded by apostles. Actually, what is astounding to me is that Christianity took firm hold so early in India – certainly by the 2nd century – whether or not Thomas was involved.

Whether or not we can trust the histories, Thomas is most decidedly linked to the region of Kerala, so a local recipe is in order. Kerala is known as the “Land of Spices” because it traded spices with Europe as well as with many ancient civilizations for millennia, the oldest historical records being trade accounts with the Sumerians from around 3000 BCE. Kerala’s cuisine is quite distinctive in India because of the large numbers of both Muslims and Christians living alongside Hindus. Hindus emphasize vegetarian dishes as well as chicken and fish, but Kerala’s large Thomas Christian population has no food restrictions, so meat dishes in the local style are common as well.

Rice and tapioca are the staple foods of Kerala. All lunches and dinners focus on them and they are served with side dishes that can be meat, fish, vegetables, or a mix of all three.A favorite festive dish of Kerala’s Thomas Christians is a well-seasoned chicken stew in coconut milk with cashews. Lamb and duck can replace chicken in the recipe. Coconuts grow in abundance in the region, and both coconut milk and grated coconut flesh are common ingredients and thickeners. Using whole, fresh spices is more traditional than using powdered ones. Sometimes I crush them a little with a mortar and pestle before the cooking process to help release the flavors. In Kerala this would normally be one side dish among many, along with condiments.

Kerala Chicken Stew

Ingredients

1 ½ lb /750 gm chicken with bones (cut into medium size pieces)
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 potato, peeled and cubed
1 carrot, peeled and cubed
1 tbsp thinly julienned, fresh ginger
1 tbsp thinly sliced, garlic
2 or 3 green chiles, cut lengthwise
3 whole black peppercorns
3 whole cardamoms
3 whole cloves
1” cinnamon
3 bay leaves
2 star anise
4 curry leaves
4 shallots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 cup thick coconut milk
2 ½ cups thin coconut milk
8 cashews
salt to taste
1 tbsp coconut oil

Instructions

Heat the coconut oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the cardamom, cloves, whole peppercorn, cinnamon, star anise and bay leaves and sauté gently for 1 minute.  Add the sliced onion, ginger, garlic, green chiles and curry leaves and sauté until the onion is translucent. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the ingredients to a heavy-bottom saucepan.

Add the chicken pieces, cubed carrots, potatoes, thin coconut milk and salt to taste to the saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer, cover, and cook until the chicken is tender (about 40 minutes).

Meanwhile cover the cashews with hot water and let soak for about 30 minutes. Place them with the water and the thick coconut milk in a food processor or blender, and blend to a smooth paste.

When the chicken is cooked add the cashew and coconut milk paste to the pot, and simmer, uncovered, for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened a little.

Heat the coconut left in the skillet over medium-high heat, add the sliced shallots and curry leaves, and sauté until they are golden. Add them to the stew, simmer an extra minute then serve in a bowl along with plain boiled basmati rice and flat bread.

 

 

Apr 132017
 

Today is Maundy Thursday, the day before Good Friday. The day goes by various names worldwide depending on local religious affiliations (and language – of course). Some include Holy Thursday, Covenant Thursday, Great and Holy Thursday, Sheer Thursday, and Thursday of Mysteries. It is the day on which Jesus celebrated the Last Supper with the apostles according to the gospels, and the day itself as well as the Last Supper celebrates a number of traditions in Christian churches. Perhaps of prime importance is the institution of the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper during the meal, but there’s also Jesus’ washing of the apostle’s feet, and his betrayal by Judas that night and the accompanying trial. There’s just way too much for me to review in any kind of detail. I’ll just hit some key points.

First let’s consider the word Maundy. The word is obscure but the majority of scholars accept the notion that the English word “maundy” is derived through Middle English from Old French mandé, from the Latin mandatum (also the origin of the English word “mandate”), the first word of the phrase “Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos” (“A new commandment I give unto you: That you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another”) in the Latin Vulgate, a statement Jesus made in the Gospel of John 13:34 to explain to the Apostles the significance of his action of washing their feet. By these lights the emphasis of the day is on humility, and many longstanding customs support this notion.

The Washing of the Feet is a traditional component of the celebration among many Christian groups, including the Armenian, Ethiopian, Eastern Catholic, Schwarzenau (German Baptist) Brethren, Church of the Brethren, Mennonite, and Roman Catholic traditions. The practice is also becoming increasingly popular as a part of the Maundy Thursday liturgy in the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches, as well as in other Protestant denominations.

In the Roman Catholic Church, the ritual washing of feet is now associated with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, which celebrates, in a special way, the Last Supper of Jesus, before which he washed the feet of his twelve apostles. Evidence for the practice on this day goes back at least to the latter half of the 12th century, when “the pope washed the feet of twelve sub-deacons after his Mass and of thirteen poor men after his dinner.” From 1570 to 1955, the Roman Missal printed, after the text of the Holy Thursday Mass, a rite of washing of feet.

In 1955 Pope Pius XII revised the ritual and inserted it into the Mass. Since then, the rite is celebrated after the homily that follows the reading of the gospel account of how Jesus washed the feet of his twelve apostles (John 13:1–15). Some persons who have been selected – usually twelve, but the Roman Missal does not specify the number – are led to chairs prepared in a suitable place. The priest goes to each and, with the help of the ministers, pours water over each one’s feet and dries them. In a notable break from the 1955 norms, Pope Francis washed the feet of two women and Muslims at a juvenile detention center in Rome in 2013. At one time, most of the European monarchs also performed the Washing of Feet in their royal courts on Maundy Thursday, a practice continued by the Austro-Hungarian Emperor and the King of Spain up to the beginning of the 20th century In 1181 Roger de Moulins, Grand Master of the Knights Hospitaller issued a statute declaring, “In Lent every Saturday, they are accustomed to celebrate maundy for thirteen poor persons, and to wash their feet, and to give to each a shirt and new breeches and new shoes, and to three chaplains, or to three clerics out of the thirteen, three deniers [coins] and to each of the others, two deniers”.

Distributing Maundy money is a key element of royal services in England that continues to this day. The first English monarch to be recorded as distributing alms at a Maundy service was John, who on 15 April 1210 donated garments, forks, food, and other gifts to the poor of Knaresborough, Yorkshire. John is also the first English monarch to be recorded as giving gifts of small silver coins to the poor when in 1213 he gave 13 pence to each of 13 poor men at a ceremony in Rochester—the number being symbolic of the Twelve Apostles together with either Jesus or an angel.

By 1363 the British monarch performed foot washing and also gave gifts: that year, fifty-year-old Edward III gave fifty pence to each of fifty poor men. It is not known, however, whether it was as yet the practice each year to have the number of pence and the number of recipients track the monarch’s age: Henry IV was the first monarch to decree that the number of pence given be determined by the monarch’s age.

Although Mary I and Elizabeth I differed religiously, both performed elaborate Maundy ceremonies. Records from 1556 show that Mary washed the feet of forty-one poor women (reflecting her age) while “ever on her knees”, and gave them forty-one pence each, as well as gifts of bread, fish, and clothing, donating her own gown to the woman said to be poorest of all. In 1572, disliking the scenes as each woman tried to secure a piece of the royal gown, Queen Elizabeth granted a sum of £1 to each recipient in lieu of the gown, giving it in a red purse.

The service was usually held somewhere near London. This was done to suit the monarch’s convenience: in medieval times, it was held in Windsor, Eton, Richmond, Greenwich, or wherever the monarch happened to be at Eastertide. In 1714, with the monarch no longer present at the ceremony, the service was moved to the Chapel Royal, Whitehall, where it remained until 1890, when the Chapel was given to the Royal United Services Institute. After 1890, by order of Queen Victoria, it was moved to Westminster Abbey, though in years when there was a coronation and the Abbey was closed for preparations, the service was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. From 1954 to 1970, it was held in even-numbered years at Westminster, and in odd-numbered years at provincial cathedrals; since then it has, in most years, been held outside London. When the service was confined to London, recipients were customarily householders who had met their financial obligations to society, but had since fallen on hard times.

Queen Elizabeth II views the service as an important part of her devotional life. It is the only occasion on which the Queen visits others to make awards, as recipients of honors usually come to her. The Queen has directed that the service not be held in London more often than once in ten years. Westminster Abbey was the site of the 2001 Royal Maundy, and again in 2011, the first ever televised. On 20 March 2008, at the Church of Ireland St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, the Queen attended the first Maundy service held outside England and Wales.

Today the recipients are pensioners, chosen on an interdenominational basis from various Christian churches for their service to their churches and communities. In most years, recipients are nominated by Christian clergy of various denominations in the diocese where the service is held. In 2011, however, as well as recipients representing Westminster Abbey, forty recipients came from the Anglican Diocese of Gibraltar  which covers continental Europe, and forty from the Diocese of Sodor and Man, which consists only of the Isle of Man. For 2012, in honor of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, recipients were selected from all 44 dioceses in the United Kingdom for the service at York Minster.

One man and one woman are chosen for each year the Queen has lived (including the year she is currently living), and they receive Maundy money equivalent in pence to that number of years. Uniquely, in 2011 and 2012 the sovereign was the same age in two successive ceremonies (the 2011 ceremony was performed on the Queen’s 85th birthday).

When I was pastor at Stony Point Presbyterian Church in New York we used to have a token Passover meal on Maundy Thursday, including a communion service, incorporating a tenebrae with appropriate readings, and with the progressive extinguishing of candles (and the lights), until the room was in complete darkness – and the congregation left in silence (sometimes in tears) as one member hammered nails into wood in the sanctuary. Very powerful. This custom symbolized Jesus’ purported actions on that evening on the assumption that the Last Supper was a Passover meal.  The Synoptics and John differ on this. John, anxious to underscore the symbolism of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb of God, dates the crucifixion to the day on which the Passover lambs were sacrificed in the Temple. Mark, followed by Luke and Matthew insist that the Last Supper was a Passover meal. I’m inclined to the latter. John is a bit heavy handed with his theologizing of history. Therefore you can emulate Passover meals today if you wish. My post on Passover is here: http://www.bookofdaystales.com/passover/ Passover started on Monday night this year (2017) which means we are still in the middle of it because it lasts a full week.

I’m intrigued by the fact that Kerala Christians (known as St Thomas Christians because of the belief that Thomas founded churches in the region) have special recipes for this day. There were a number of Kerala priests in Stony Point when I was there, for some reason,  and I liked to share their traditions with them .The day is called Pesaha (പെസഹ), in the local Malayalam language, derived from the Aramaic for Passover (Pesach). It is a statewide public holiday declared by the Government of Kerala because of the high number of Saint Thomas Christians. The tradition of consuming Pesaha appam or Indariyappam is customary after special long services. On the evening before Good Friday the Pesaha bread is made at home. It is made with unleavened flour. A sweet drink or dip made of coconut milk and jaggery is often made to be consumed along with this bread. On Pesaha night the bread is baked or steamed in a new vessel, immediately after rice flour is mixed with water and they pierce it many times with handle of the spoon to let out the steam so that the bread will not rise ( this custom is called ” juthante kannu kuthal” in the Malayalam language meaning “piercing the bread according to the custom of Jews”). This bread is cut by the head of the family and shared among the family members after prayers.

I have zero experience with this tradition, so here’s a video. Unfortunately it’s in Malayalam, but there are adequate subtitles in English to follow the visual instructions:

Jun 142013
 

Nilakantha Somayaji   Nilak Tantrasamgraha
Today is the birthday of Kellular Nilakantha Somayaji brilliant mathematician and astronomer from South Malabar in India – one of a growing number of non-Western scholars who are being “discovered” by modern academicians and accorded their due as forerunners of the so-called Enlightenment in the West (see my post on Ibn Khaldoun: May 27).  I am reminded of a much loved blogger, Pip Wilson, whose Book of Days provided me much information on anniversaries before it went belly up.  Instead of the Euro-centric expression “when Captain Cook discovered the SE coast of Australia,” he would write “when aborigines discovered Captain Cook.”

We know quite a few details about Nilakantha’s life because he was, unlike his contemporaries, careful to document many autobiographical details.  So, for example, he notes in Siddhanta-darpana that he was born on Kali-day 1,660,181 which works out to 14th June 1444. His date of death is not known, but one commentator says he was at least 100 years old when he died.  Nilakantha was born into a Namputiri Brahmin family which came from South Malabar in Kerala, in the south of India. The family followed the Ashvalayana sutra which was a manual of sacrificial ceremonies in the Rigveda, a collection of Vedic hymns. He worshipped the personified deity Soma who was the “master of plants” and the healer of disease. This explains the name Somayaji which means he was from a family qualified to conduct the Soma sacrificial rituals, and probably at some time in his life went through a series of these rituals to earn the title.

In Nilakantha’s time the study of astronomy was one of the six orthodox Hindu sacred teachings, and so lay somewhere between what we would call astronomy and astrology today.  Studying the motions of the planets was not simply a scientific investigation, but a means of predicting and setting the times and dates for significant rituals and life events.  He became a member of the now famous Kerala School of Astronomy and Mathematics which flourished between the 14th and 16th centuries, and which produced a number of significant mathematical findings well before they were discovered in the West.  These findings never found their way outside of Kerala at the time, however, although there are occasional far-fetched speculations that they reached the West via traders.

In all, Nilakantha wrote 10 treatises on astronomy and mathematical computation, a few of which have survived. The most extensive is the Tantrasamgraha, completed in 1501, which consists of 432 verses in Sanskrit divided into eight chapters, and which spawned a number of commentaries, also extant.  The work, plus commentaries, shows the depths of the mathematical accomplishments of the Kerala School, including Nilakantha’s model for the motions of the planets Mercury and Venus. His equations remained the most accurate until the time of Johannes Kepler in the 17th century. He was very close to describing a heliocentric view of the solar system.  His model has Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn orbiting the sun, but has the sun orbiting the earth.  The work also includes a wealth of information on topics ranging from the prediction of lunar and solar eclipses, to accurate calculations of the solar calendar, along with descriptions of the mathematics needed to arrive at their conclusions.  Among these latter are algebraic and geometric theorems that form the basis for differential and integral calculus, although the Kerala School never got that far. Much of the mathematics in the treatise predates Western discoveries in these fields by 200 years.

Several other of Nilakantha’s works survive although they are much shorter.  Among them is the Aryabhatiyabhasya which is a commentary on the astronomical calculations of Aryabhata. In this work Nilakantha refers to two eclipses which he observed, the first on 6 March 1467 and the second on 28 July 1501 at Anantaksetra. Nilakantha also refers in the Aryabhatiyabhasya to other works which he wrote such as the Grahanirnaya on eclipses which have not survived.  The Western world of mathematics and science is finally giving credit to pioneers in their fields in the non-Western world. It is well overdue for the general public also to accept the fact that the Western world has made many significant discoveries in these fields but was by no means the first for many of them.  Nilakantha Samayaji should be as well known a name as Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton.

Kerala was the center of the spice trade for millennia and, as such, has a rich and diverse cuisine to this day, including both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.  Here is a simple vegetarian curry with spices and coconut milk. It would normally be served with anywhere up to 10 or more dishes with rice as part of a large family dinner.

Kerala Vegetable Curry

Ingredients

1lb (½ k) potatoes peeled and diced
½ cup (75 g) peas
½ cup (75 g)  carrot peeled and diced
1 large onion thinly sliced
5 green chiles cut into thin slivers
¼ tsp (1 g) powdered cloves
1 tsp (5 g) powdered cinnamon
1 tbsp (15 g) grated fresh ginger
2 tbsp coconut oil
1 cup (2.4 dl) coconut milk
ground black pepper and salt to taste

Instructions:

Put all the ingredients except the coconut milk and coconut oil into a heavy cooking pot.

Add 3/4 cup water. Bring to a boil.

Cover the pot and simmer on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.  The potatoes should be cooked but still firm.

Remove the lid and continue cooking until there is barely any liquid left.

Add the coconut milk and simmer over a low flame for 2 minutes.

Add the coconut oil, stir to mix and serve.

Serves 4 to 6 (as part of a larger set of dishes)