An exposition on the gospel according to St. John 10:22-38, the reading meant for Nov 7.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen+.
As part of the cycle of seasons in the liturgical year, we have come to yet another ‘Hoodos Etho Sunday’ which falls on 7 November. The Syriac term “Hoodos Etho” meaning, “The Feast of Dedication of the Church”, has a connection with “the Feast of Dedication of the Old Testament Church”, which took place approximately three months after the Feast of Tabernacles (John 7:1-10:21). It was also called ‘Hanukkah or Chanukah’ which was of 8 days celebrations by the Jews. Like Diwali to the Hindus, it was a ‘Festival of Light’ to the Jews.
The temple of Jerusalem, though beautifully built by King Solomon, was destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar. Under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah it was rebuilt and preserved. Again it underwent destruction. King Herod for the third time renovated it extensively. In BC 170, the Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanus, greatly influenced by the Greek culture, wanted to replace the Jewish religion with the Greek religion and custom. He decided to wage war against the kingdom of Judah and finally he invaded the city of Jerusalem. 80,000 people were massacred and an equal number of people were taken captives. It was during this time that St. Solomonia (Morth Shmooni) and her 7 children were brutally assassinated. A large quantity of wealth from the temple was looted and the booty was estimated to be 1,800 talents. The house of God was made a house of harlots. As a result the worship in the temple was obstructed. He even defiled the holy temple of Jerusalem by sacrificing a female swine on the holy altar as an offering to the Greek deity Zeus. Antiochus was permitted by God to carry out this insane desecration of the most holy temple because of the sins of the people. It was not just because Antiochus was bent on destruction, but because the Lord allowed it for the good of his people.
In 164 BC, the Jews succeeded in retrieving the temple of Jerusalem from the Greeks and they renovated and refined the temple. Judas Maccabeus took the initiative in consecrating the desecrated temple. We learn of this story from the books of Maccabees of the Holy Bible. In commemoration of this act of rededication and as a mark of their joy of freedom, the Jews began to celebrate it flamboyantly. This feast came to be known as ‘festival of light’ as there were many lights to illuminate the temple and houses of the Jews who celebrated it. It was in this background, that Christ our Lord said that He was the “Light of the world” (John8:12). It is meaningful that Christ chooses to talk to the people in a ‘winter’ season for the reason that winter has a symbolic representation of darkness or death which is always followed by ‘spring’ indicative of a renewed life and brightening of light.
Antiochus Epiphanus was the personification of all evil. Even in the present time, similar forces of evil still exist causing closing down of many a church. Factionalism, fundamentalism, cultism and secularism are the main factors for such spiritual tragedies. We see in the book of Maccabees that there were some lawless and traitorous men coming forth from the sons of Israel by persuading many to yield to the Hellenistic customs, ordinances of the gentiles and finally succumbing themselves to the authority of King Antiochus . Similarly, there are some extremist people in the present Church too who bear the yoke of evil forces.
The unwavering faith shown by the Jewish scribe Eleazar and the 7 Maccabean martyrs along with their mother Morth Shmoomi , by defying valiantly the sacrilegious commands of King Antiochus IV Ephiphanus and by just ignoring the fierce persecution from the King for the sake of God, are prototypes of all Christian martyrs. They have set a model for true witnessing which we all have to emulate.
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