Honoring the Nestorian Christians

Sunday, September 1, 2013



Introduction: Christian Tai Chi

Filipino culture revolves around five “F’s”: family, friends, food, festival and faith. All these “F’s” are interrelated and present in this celebration of the 10th anniversary of Holy Child Filipino-American Church. But let me emphasize faith.

I believe we, Filipinos, are generally a faith-full people. We walk by faith. We live by faith.  It is a Christian faith unique in the whole world. Why do I say our faith is unique?

Let me illustrate this point in the making of a pearl. Pearl is formed when sand or a hard object intrudes into an oyster shell. The oyster suffers irritation and begins covering the uninvited visitor with layers of nacre---the mineral substance that fashions the mollusk’s shell. Layer upon layer of nacre, also known as the mother-of-pearl, coat the grain of sand until the iridescent gem is formed.
I say our Christian faith is unique because it is first a by-product of pain and suffering in Philippine history. This Filipino Christianity was the result of coping with irritation when strangers from foreign lands intruded the soft tissues of our culture. Instead of repudiating these foreign influences, Filipino spirituality embraced them and coated them in history until it produced a faith culture unique in global Christianity. In another image, this pearl of faith made Filipinos pliant and flexible like the bamboo. We sway with the wind but always spring up after the storm.  

Prior to the coming of the Spaniards, the inhabitants of what would later become “Las Islas Filipinas,” already believed in God. The lowland tribes called Him Bathala and the mountain tribes called Him Kabunian.  They had a special love for beauty, for songs and music, for dances and festivals. They were “party animals” who enjoyed life. 

Our ancestors were a gentle, hospitable and peaceful people. And so when the Spanish conquistadores came, they readily welcome them on the shores. The resistance by Lapulapu in killing Magellan was more of a blip than a normal occurrence and it was precipitated more by the deceptive intention of the colonizers. But when the Catholic missionaries introduced Jesus as Holy Child, our ancestors readily accepted the Christian faith because this Jesus image corresponded with their love of children. The “Santo Nino de Prague” eventually became the “Sto. Nino de Cebu” because our ancestors believed in the Child, the Peace Child.

In succeeding events, the Spanish colonizers proved to be dominant and oppressive but it took over 300 years before Filipinos rose up in a revolution, indicating that we are a people with extraordinary level of patience and a deep threshold of pain.

In the 1898 revolution, the Filipinos took off the yoke of slavery from Spain only to fall into the imperialistic design of the United States. Just as the Spaniards conquered the Filipinos’ heart via cruzada catolica, the Americans won it through the Protestant crusade of “manifest destiny.” Historian Renato Constantino wrote that the Filipinos came out from the convent after 300 years only to fall under the spell of Hollywood for the next 50 years.

The Filipino response to racist colonial oppression was unique. Instead of purging themselves of foreign elements, Filipino culture baptized them as their own, accepting it as God’s will. The transparent apparel called Barong Tagalog was prescribed by the Spanish colonial government for the Indio so that they can immediately see if they conceal any bolo or machete. How did the Filipino respond with this imposition? They embraced and accepted it as their “national costume.” When the Americans introduced to them American-style democracy, imposed the division of church and state, called them “little brown brothers” but prohibited the Filipinos to display the Philippine flag in public, how did the Filipino revolutionaries respond? They acquiesced in public but displayed their flags in private, that is, the church sanctuary of Philippine Independent Church. 

The image of the resurrected Christ brought by the American Protestant missionaries completed the Filipino holistic view of Christ: Christ came as Santo Nino (Holy Child), performed miracles as the Nazareno (Man from Nazarene), was crucified and became Santo Intierro (Dead Christ), and rose again as Kristong Buhay (risen Christ).

I came to understand the grace of God through the Santo Nino. I was 14 years old when I ran away from home in search of education. I left my little barrio in the Visayan Islands and ventured in the big city of Manila. There I experienced being homeless, hungry and lost. After weeks and months of being in the city’s wilderness of uncertainty and fear, I entered the Church of Santo Nino. And there I found God. The rest of history: from an uneducated youth who ran away from home, I have now become a well-educated priest of God who has traveled all over the world.

That is the reason why I chose to name the churches we planted in the U.S. as Holy Child because it is the true image of the Filipino-American faith. It is a faith that is deeply rooted in our spiritual history, a faith deeply rooted in the belief that God is the ultimate Provider, who guides our destiny as human beings, as peoples and as nations. 

Yes, we are a people of faith living by faith here in America. Like Abraham, we have left our home country and settled in this land of promise and uncertainty. Like Abraham, we must now look to the country which has a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God. That country is called “the kingdom of God, ““the reign of God,” the “City of God.” It is a country formed like pearl, a country written in the tablets of our hearts, a city built by God’s peace, by God’s love, by God’s compassion. It is a pearl country of great price, bought by the blood of Jesus, the holy Child of God.

As we gather tonight, let us always remember that God alone can truly answer our deepest needs, God alone can mend our broken hearts, God alone can truly wipe the tears from our eyes and God alone can truly give us a new and abundant life in this world--- and in the world to come--- life everlasting. This is a faith worth sharing, a faith worth spreading. May each one of us become a bearer of this faith. Amen.

Note: The Holy Child Ministries of Las Vegas was founded in 2003 by the Rev. Dr. Winfred Vergara and his wife, Angela with the help of Manny and Doris Sese. It started as an extension mission of Holy Child Episcopal Church in San Jose, California also founded by Fred and Angie on October 1991. HC Las Vegas is now an integral part of All Saints Church Las Vegas in the Diocese of Nevada.

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