Be a Lamplighter

By Fr. Vasken Kouzouian

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, the Mother of God. This Feast is celebrated each year to remind us of the importance of St. Mary's life within Armenian Church tradition and within Christian tradition in general.

It is a day set aside each year for respect and honor, and a day in which the Church focuses on the unique role St. Mary played in the ministry of her Son and His Apostles.

The Feast of the Assumption commemorates the eternal rest of St. Mary. It's the end of her physical life that we commemorate today because at her burial we learn how valued and deeply loved she was by God.

The events surrounding her burial offer us glimpses about who she was, and what role she played, and what her priorities were in this world.

The Holy tradition concerning the "death" and burial of St. Mary appears identical in the teachings of all the ancient churches. The events surrounding St. Mary's burial are a beautiful conclusion to her beautiful life. The respect, the love, and the veneration the Apostles had for St. Mary shed light on who she truly was.

St. Mary was the one who encouraged the Apostles and loved them. She was the voice of wisdom in their lives; the one who lifted them up when discouraged; and supported them when they were shunned by the non-Christian society. And she was the one who reminded them of their path and purpose in life.

I recently came across a simple story that describes the role she played in the lives of the Apostles until her passing.

The story is called "Be a Lamplighter," and is about several parents who were sitting on a neighbor's porch discussing their children. They were talking about the negative environment in which their kids had to grow up - an environment filled with violence and drugs, and a pervading feeling of hopelessness.

How could they, as parents, bring any light into their children's world since it seems so dark and hopeless? Could they be enough of a positive influence in their children's lives that the children would not just survive, but possibly work to change the world around them?

The discussion went on for some time. Then, one of the parents suggested they become like the lamplighters of days gone by. She explained that around the turn of the century, a lamplighter went around the streets lighting the streetlamps. He carried a long pole that had a small candle on top with which he would reach up to light the streetlamps.

You could follow the progress of the lamplighter as he went along a street. Looking back down the street, you could see that the light from the glowing streetlamps made the dark street bright as day. The darkness was held at bay. The parents, in one voice, agreed that from that day on, they would be lamplighters for their children. "We'll share," they said, "from our own flame in order to light each child's individual lamp of wisdom and, by our love, we'll provide the fuel necessary to nourish and sustain their flame. Then, we will have helped them become bright enough themselves so that they can conquer the darkness and hopelessness of their world."

It's a great story. St. Mary knew that the Apostles were great men who experienced great things. But she also knew that they were as human as everybody else, and they would face many dangers and challenges in their lives. So, her role was to help keep the Light of God ever present in their lives, and to remind them that regardless of the dangers they faced, their paths were illumined by God Himself. And they were selected to follow His path.

In other words, she was their "Lamplighter." And that's what we can be in the lives of others when we share the love of God with them.

St. Mary calls us to be "Lamplighters" in this world—to share with others what the love of God can feel like and accomplish in our lives.

On this Feast of the Assumption, may the example of St. Mary be ever present in our lives. And may we all help spread the Light of God in our corner of the world. Amen.

Baptism in a Shack

By Bishop Sebouh Tchouljian

Two years after the 1988 earthquake a man in Gyumri, Armenia invited me to perform a baptism in his house. I went with him. His house was a little shack (In Armenia they call such shacks "domik") made out of sheet metal, 6 meters deep and 3 meters wide. There were four iron beds and the mattresses were covered with very thin blankets. There was nothing at all enticing there, not even a sink, let alone a bathroom.

The family consisted of husband and wife and four small children, two of whom were twins. The godfather was also present. Under these conditions, I baptized the little children, four of them. This abode was in such a wretched state that one could hardly call it a home. The poor family was in a terrible state, yet they were determined to have the baptism service in that shack so that their "home" would also receive a blessing and assume vitality through God's grace. So great was their faith.

I performed my pastoral duty and baptized the children. They were so poor that they didn't have anything. However, they had set aside whatever they had been able to save through tremendous sacrifice, in order to make a donation to the church on this occasion. I categorically refused to accept it but they would not accede under any circumstances. I had no choice but to take it. Later on, I slipped it under the children's pillow as a gift to them.

The tremendous faith possessed by the extremely poor, wretched inhabitants of that bare shack astonished and amazed me. They believed that through baptism, their children would be spared illness. They believed that by means of that ritual their shack would be blessed. They believed that with the grace of God they would be able to recover their losses.

As I was baptizing their children, I was contrasting this humble scene with that of the baptism of children surrounded by comfortable and happy people, sitting at lavish tables groaning under the weight of fine foods and delicacies, in majestic homes. I wondered: In which case was faith stronger? I don't mean to minimize the faith of those living in such opulent surroundings; nevertheless, the faith of this humble family seemed to me to be much stronger and much firmer, such that life's cruel and bitter calamities hadn't been able to shake it, even to the slightest degree.

At that time, I had moments of much more fervent prayer, imploring God to hear and accept this prayer, if my prayer is to be heard.

His Grace Bishop Sebouh Tchouljian is the Vicar General of the Diocese of Shirak, Armenia.

The above vignette is one of many from the booklet, Points of Light, published by St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in 1993.

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