Archive for 2014

Advent Reflection

December 31st, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the seventh and last Sunday of Advent, we read in the Gospel of Luke about true service and the reward that follows. Jesus and His disciples have just partaken of the Last Supper, where Jesus establishes the Eucharistic meal of His body and blood. Jesus then reveals that someone will betray him, and so a conversation among the disciples ensues about who it might be. Then, Luke inserts a narrative regarding another dispute among the disciples about who among them is the greatest. Jesus puts this small-minded, but all too human dispute to rest by contrasting them with Himself. Even though Jesus Christ is Lord of all, He humbled Himself and serves us (Phillippians 2:3-11), and He instructs His disciples to do likewise. To not exercise authority, but to serve humbly.

Are you one of His disciples? If so, Jesus goes on to say that His servants are and will be rewarded. What is that reward? A kingdom! Jesus said, “…that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom.” A place in God’s Kingdom is prepared for disciples of Jesus who serve as He does; for those who live and love sacrificially. Perhaps this is why Luke placed this narrative immediately after Jesus establishes the Eucharistic meal. Everytime we partake of Holy Communion during Badarak, we are celebrating the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, as well as our reward as His servants and disciples. As we eat and drink at His table during Badarak, we also look forward to the same Feast in His coming Kingdom, when Jesus is revealed in an even more real way.

The last week of Advent is also The Fast of Nativity. It is the one-week fast prior to Theophany – the celebration of the revelation of Jesus Christ through His birth and baptism, as well as who we are in relation to Him. Advent is not just a period of approximately fifty days on a calendar. We are servants and disciples of Jesus, and as such, everyday is an advent, and every Badarak is a participation and anticipation of the reward He promised His Church. Christ has already been revealed, and we have even more to anticpate.

Choose an area in which you are good at serving: family, Church, work, school, friendships, community, etc. This week, what humble act of service can you do in that area? Now choose an area in which you are not too comfortable, and make a specific goal to do an act of service during the 8 days of Theophany (January 6th – January 13th). And the next time we partake of Holy Communion, let’s remember Jesus’ instructions and promises. Together, we are at His table in His Kingdom. And there’s more to come. “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done…”

Seventh Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 51:15-52:3
  • Hebrews 13:18-25
  • Luke 22:24-30

“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in you that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ; to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” —Hebrews 13:20-21

Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ
Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի

Kreesdos dznav yev haydnetsav!
Orhnyal eh haydnootyoonn Kreesdosee!

Christ was born and revealed!
Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

Last Supper

Last Supper from the Gladzor Gospels.

What It’s All About

December 24th, 2014    |    No Comments »

There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

But the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold—I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace; good will toward men.”

As a very wise person once said, having quoted this passage from the gospel of Luke: “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

Today, in these hours before so much of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus, we wish our readers all the blessings of Christmas.

Some 12 days from now, faithful souls in Armenian sanctuaries across the world will be raising their voices in grateful praise of our Lord’s birth—and we encourage you to be a part of that joyous celebration in your local church.

And throughout the coming days, keep hold of what Christmas is all about: God’s love for mankind; His gifts of peace and good will—embodied in the birth of His precious son.

Read the Primate’s Christmas message for this year in English and Armenian.

A hilltop pasture on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

A hilltop pasture on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Photo by Garo D. Nalbandian.

Advent Reflection

December 24th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Sixth Sunday of Advent, we read about a man of royalty who gave ten of his servants a sum of money. These servants were to do business with this money until the man returned from his trip. When the man returned, he found that his servants invested the money well, gaining profit from it. But one servant did not use his gift of money. Instead, he preserved it intact, and as a result, he was rebuked for his laziness. God distributes gifts and talents to us according to our particular abilities, but any gift that we recieve from God is to be used and dispensed to others.

As the Church and as individuals what are we doing with what God has given us? Do we use our gifts, sharing them with others, or do we just bury and preserve them out of laziness or apathy? Like the nobleman in the parable, God is looking for interest; a profitable return on His investment. As we continue to approach Theophany, list your gifts and talents. Thank God for them, and create ways to use them for God. This week, the Armenian Church commemorates Saints Peter and Paul the Apostles. Read some of their letters in the New Testament. What gifts and talents did they possess and use for God? How can we imitate them in our lives?

It’s a privilege to use what God has given us, and the reward is living a good life. Although our gifts and talents are different from one another (Romans 12:4-8, I Corinthians 12:4-11), we are all invited into the same joy when we hear the words of Jesus, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much; enter into the joy of your master.” (Matthew 25:23)

Sixth Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 41:4-14
  • Hebrews 7:11-25
  • Luke 19:12-28

Hebrews 7:25 – “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Jesus, as our High Priest, is our Mediator. The Armenian word for intercession is բարեխօս (parekhos), which is better translated as: “to speak well” or “to put in a good word”. This is exactly what Jesus does for us. He wants us to live for Him; to live well, and so He is always encouraging and speaking up for us to His Father. As we trust in Him, let’s also trust that He speaks highly of us for the sake of enduring our salvation.

The Parable of the Ten Minas

The Parable of the Ten Minas, an etching by Jan Luyken.

Advent Reflection

December 18th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Fifth Sunday of Advent, we read about the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The Pharisee goes to the temple, and in the course of his prayer, he thanks God that he is not like other people (sinners), including the Tax Collector. He boasts to God about how he gives money, fasts, and keeps the Law. In contrast, the Tax Collector, not even lifting His face toward God, pounds his chest and says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” Jesus tells us that the Tax Collector is the one who went home made right before God.

Why was the Tax Collector justfied, while the Pharisee was not? The character flaw in the Pharisee is quite clear, and Jesus explains that “every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will exalted.” Everything we do depends on the state of our heart. The Pharisee, with pride, measured his spiritual stature before God by what he fulfilled and accomplished. The Tax Collector measured his spiritual stature before God with a humble and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17).

Let’s place ourselves in this story. How are we like the Pharisee? How are we like the Tax Collector? Let’s face it. We pray and live like the Pharisee more often than we would like to admit. We are proud of our accimplishments, spiritual or otherwise. We are also uncomfortable with the feeling of self-reproach. The repentant spirit of our faith is that we are not what God is by nature – perfect and sinless. There exists a tension in that we are created by a perfect God, but tend toward sin. But through Jesus Christ, we are saved from this deficient status as we live and honestly pray,

Lord, have mercy. Der voghormya.

During this Advent, ask yourself how you measure your spiritual stature. Read Ephesians 4:13. If our measuring-stick is anything other than the “stature of the fullness of Christ”, then we are in danger of praying like the Pharisee. The Pharisee stood before others comparing himself to them. The Tax Collector stood before God acknowledging his deficiency before Him. The stature of Christ’s fullness is only found on the path of unceasing repentence; the turning of our heart toward God. Whenever you leave your place of prayer (in Church, your room, your car, on the train) your heart will determine whether or not you “go home” like the Tax Collector.

Fifth Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:
• Isaiah 40:18-31
• Hebrews 4:16-5:10
• Luke 18:9-14

Hebrews 4:14-16 – How does Jesus relate to us? Sure, Jesus took on the flesh of a human, but He is also God; perfect and sinless. St. Paul confesses this point, but he still tells us that our High Priest, Jesus the Son of God sympathizes with our weaknesses as finite human beings. But sympathizing isn’t enough for us. We need help. And Jesus Christ offers exactly that. As He sits enthroned at the right hand of the Father, His throne is one of grace, not one of uncaring and callous judgment. As He sits, He grants us mercy and grace to help in time of need. If this is the case, then at what moment is the mercy and grace of Jesus Christ not available? Our time of need is unceasing. And so is His help.

Pharisee and the Tax Collector

“The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,” an engraving printed by Emile Petithenry, Bonne Presse.

 

Advent Reflection

December 11th, 2014    |    No Comments »

During the fourth week of Advent, the Armenian Church commemorates the Feast of The Conception of Mary, the Mother of God (Յղութիւն Աստուածածնի). What significance can we draw from Mary’s conception? By remembering her conception, we remember the heredity of our salvation – her parents, and the generations of all those who went before her – the tree of human history that brought forth God’s divine plan of salvation to heal the world. Another important thing to notice is that God partnered with Mary, another human being, in His divine plan. As we find numerous times in the Bible, as well as in our Liturgy, God relies on the collaboration of human beings to bring about His divine will. Just as God included Mary, God includes us, so that through us we bring healing to the world. As we become one with Him – in the Eucharist, in our prayerful lives – we carry on His work and mission; the work and mission of the Church. Like Mary, the Bearer of God, we are bearers of God as well. We are all ministers, baptized for His work (Galatians 3:27, Ephesians 2:10). We are the hands and voice of God.

Fourth Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 38:1-8
  • Hebrews 1:1-14
  • Luke 17:1-10

Hebrews 1:1-2 – Do we sometimes wish God would speak directly to us? Maybe not, out of fear of what He might say, but perhaps there is a sense in which we want to hear and speak with God just as we do with whom we love – our friends and family. As we look forward to Theophany, the revealing of the person of Jesus Christ, the author of Hebrews, traditionally ascribed to St. Paul, opens his letter with the supreme revelation of Jesus Christ. Throughout the Old Testament, God spoke and lead people to truth through the Law and the Prophets. When Jesus was born and took on the flesh of humanity, God spoke and still speaks directly to us through a person. For Christians, truth is not found in abstract ideas or logical syllogisms, but in a person; Jesus Christ, who is God. Next time you hear the Gospel chanted during liturgical worship, listen for the words, “Aseh Asdvadz [God is speaking]”. We encounter Him and His Word over our lives through the Gospel; the Gospel revealed as a living Person. As we are called to be and live the Gospel, listen to God as He directly speaks to us through Jesus Christ, and also through us to the world.

St. Mary

Detail of an 18th-century painting of St. Mary by an unknown artist (collection of the National Gallery of Armenia).

Advent Reflection

December 3rd, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Third Sunday of Advent, we read the parable of the great banquet. A wealthy man threw an extravagent party, but everyone that was invited gave excuses as to why they could not attend. The excuses inlcluded things that are a part of everyday life; the cares of this world. The wealthy man then told his servant to invite the poor, maimed, lame, and blind, but there was still room for more. Finally, the wealthy man refused those he orginally invited, and instead compelled others to come just to fill his house.

The party in this parable is an image of the Kingdom of God, as well as an image of the Badarak. Fortunately, for us the doors to God’s banquet – His Kingdom and His Communion table – have not closed. The invitation is still open, and like the wealthy man, Jesus wants to be with us; to share Himself with us as citizens of His Kingdom. He wants us to celebrate His resurrection with a Holy Communion banquet. His desire is for all of us to put aside the cares of this world, and to say yes to His invitation (Matthew 6:31-34).

During the third week of Advent, the Armenian Church commemorates Saint Nicholas the Wonderworker and Bishop of Myra. According to tradition, in the 4th century, St. Nicholas sold all that he had and distributed his money to the poor. He then devoted himself to helping orphans, widows, prisoners, and the conversion of sinners. As he practiced hospitality and gave gifts to children, the practice caught on where others would give gifts in his name at Christmas. His name eventually evolved from St. Nicholas to Santa Claus.

What keeps us from entering the Kingdom of God, or from participating in Badarak and receiving Holy Communion? What are the excuses to which we are prone that keep us from deepening our faith, or doing charitable works for the Lord? During this period of Advent, think about what weighs you down and entangles you (Hebrews 12:1). List them out, pray about them, and ask others to pray for you. Also, think of ways we can practice your faith like St. Nicholas. How can you use your gifts and talents to work wonders for the Kingdom of God?

Third Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

  • Isaiah 37:14-38
  • II Thessalonians 1:1-12
  • Luke 14:12-24

II Thessalonians 1:3-6 – With faith that grows abundantly and love for one another that increases, we are able to endure suffering and persecution with patience. Suffering, an undesirable part of life, is promised to us, but how we handle it and appropriate it to our lives as disciples of Jesus Christ, is what makes us worthy of the Kingdom of God. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says, “I have said this to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” This week, think about your trials and be encouraged with the words of Jesus. Think of someone else that is suffering – a stranger, family member, friend, or parish member. Tell them you are praying for them. Light a candle for them. Be hospitable. Do something to bless and encourage them.

"The servant inviting the sick and the poor to the banquet" by Maarten van Heemskerck (16th century).

“The servant inviting the sick and the poor to the banquet” by Maarten van Heemskerck (16th century).

Advent Reflection

November 26th, 2014    |    No Comments »

On the Second Sunday of Advent (Յիսնակ/Heesnag), we read the parable of the fruitless fig tree. This story serves as a picture of fallen humanity in the garden, where Christ, the keeper of the vineyard, is the intercessor on our behalf. It is He who gives us the privilege and chance to serve Him and others.

Just as the fig tree grows, as we grow we should bear fruit. Contributing fruit to the world, to others, and to the Church, and all of these ultimately to God. In Matthew’s Gospel (7:15-20) we read, “Beware of false prophets…You will know them by their fruits…So, every sound tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears evil fruit. A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will know them by their fruits.”

Like the fig tree, we don’t always bear fruit. But God doesn’t just throw us away as being useless. He gives another chance, and more than once. But how does God help us bear fruit? Sometimes, Jesus sends others to help us grow in our faith and bear fruit. They can either challenge us, giving us the opportunity to show and grow in character, or they can offer a helping hand in our time of need. During the first week of Advent, the Armenian Church commemorates Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew. They chose to help others for the sake of the Gospel, specifically those who lived in Armenia. Serving Jesus was their priority during the time they were given by God.

From this parable we learn that God loves us, but also out of that love, He gives us chances; He understands our limitations of time and ability. This week, as we continue to take time to prepare and look forward to Theophany, be more aware of our limited time to change our lives and serve God. Just like Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, practice spreading the Gospel by helping others. Be fruitful: Take some time to help the poor and homeless. Forgive someone, and bring reconciliation to a broken relationship. And love one another.

Second Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 36:22-37:11

I Thessalonians 4:1-11

Luke 13:1-9

I Thessalonians 4:3-11 – What is God’s will for us? That we should set ourselves apart to Him to live a holy life, as we walk with Him in faith and obedience. What should be some results? To love one another more than we already do, to live quietly, mind our own business, and work hard.

The parable of the fruitless fig tree

Advent Reflections

November 19th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Յիսնակ (Heesnag) or Advent, beginning on the Monday nearest November 18th, is the seven weeks preceding Theophany, consisting of approximately 50 days. It is comprised of three ancient one-week fasts, but later they came to define the entire transition period between the season of the Cross and Theophany.

We also take this time to prepare and look forward to Theophany, the birth and baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ.  In the wilderness, John the Baptist announced the coming of Christ into the world, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.” During Advent we also prepare the way of the Lord.

Why are we waiting? Didn’t the Savior already come into the world? Today, what does it mean to prepare ourselves for the coming Savior? The hope of Christ’s birth still remains with us. We anticipate His coming, and the hope that comes from remembering His birth helps us focus our lives on the peace that brought God and humanity together through the coming of His Son.

This week, be more conscious in times of waiting, such as in traffic, waiting in line at the grocery store, or even looking forward to a holiday gathering or event. Practice patience, and think about the value of waiting and anticipating.

First Sunday of Advent Lectionary readings:

Isaiah 36:1-9
I Thessalonians 1:1-10
Luke 12:13-31

I Thessalonians 1:6-7 – How can we become better imitators of the Lord, to the point that our faith becomes known, like those of the church of the Thessalonians?

 

— Eric Vozzy is a student at St. Nersess Seminary. He works in the Diocese’s Department of Christian Education.

 

Advent

The Bodiless Powers

November 7th, 2014    |    No Comments »

Every year, a Saturday in early November brings us to one of the more unusual observances of the Armenian Church calendar: the feast day dedicated to the holy archangels Michael and Gabriel. We’ll greet it again this weekend, on November 8.

Angels in popular culture seem like benign, even childlike beings. But the Bible depicts them as something else entirely—something truly incomprehensible to the human mind. “Fear not!” is the characteristic greeting that issues from an angel when it is sent to converse with a human being—suggesting that there is something potentially terrifying in our encounters with them.

The multitude of angels make up the “heavenly hosts”—the armies of God waging an invisible war against evil forces. The archangel Michael (whose name means “Who is equal to God?”) is symbolically shown as a warrior who protects God’s people and contends with Satan; Gabriel (“God is my strength”) is best known as the messenger who announced Christ’s impending birth to St. Mary.

The Christian tradition regards the angels as “bodiless powers”: thought without physicality; will without animal substance; beings of pure spirit, who do not occupy even a single point in space. The very possibility of such creatures opens up deep questions about our experience of the material universe—and about man himself. For example: Are our thoughts just chemical reactions, or is human intelligence itself a sign of something beyond and above physical existence?

In that sense, the idea of angels enlarges our understanding of the universe that God has created, and of the place He has given to His human creations.

angels2

Sts. Constantine the Emperor and His Mother Helena

October 24th, 2014    |    No Comments »

“Poor working girl perseveres through the adversities of life and love, but finally makes it big.”

It sounds like the outline of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale—or, given a more contemporary spin, a Danielle Steel novel.  But in fact it’s the life story of one of the saints of the Armenian Church: Helena, the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, and discoverer of the Holy Cross of our Lord.  This year, her feast day (which she shares with her son) falls on July 5.

St. Helena started life as a humble tavern girl—a waitress in a remote outpost of the Roman Empire—who caught the eye of a rising officer in the imperial Roman army.  Eventually, the soldier’s ambitions caused him to set his wife aside to pursue another, more political marriage—but not before Helena had borne him a son, named Constantine.  As the father moved up to the highest levels of govern­ment, he took his son out of Helena’s care; but the boy never forgot his mother.  He became a great general himself, and then the Roman emperor.  And having risen to the most powerful position in the world, Constantine brought his mother out of obscurity, to live as an honored and—it was widely recognized at the time—an influential member of his court.

Of course, her “rags-to-riches” story is not the reason we remember Helena, let alone why we revere her today.  What captured the church’s admiration was not Helena’s imperial greatness, but rather the way she exemplified the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity.

We are told that Helena came to Christianity in the latter part of life.  In one of the most famous conversion stories of all time, her son Constantine received a vision of the Holy Cross on the eve of battle.  “Before this sign you shall conquer,” boomed an accompanying voice from the heavens.  With crosses held before his army, Constan­tine won the battle, and went on to overthrow all the Roman laws prohibiting Christi­anity.

Eventually he became a great patron of the faith, convening the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea, in A.D. 325.  Armenian clergymen were among those who traveled from all over the inhabited world to attend that council, and to this day we still recite the Nicene Creed—the Havadamk—in our liturgy.

According to the traditions, Helena was influenced by her son’s vision, and became deeply devout and learned in the Christian faith.  But this is the received story, and perhaps it has it backwards on this point.  A child is much more likely to come back to his parent’s way of thinking—even if late in life, even if begrudgingly—than the other way round.  And as Armenians, we can testify that it is hardly uncommon for men to be deeply influenced by the faith of a mother or grandmother.

Though we know very little about Helena’s early life, it seems plausible that the Christian religion would have appealed to someone with her life experiences well before she had any hopes of becoming an imperial matron.  Perhaps, then, Helena was the one who intro­duced Christianity into her family, and her son’s vision was not so much a “bolt from the blue” as it was a confirmation to Constantine to embrace his mother’s faith.

In any case, it is a fact that, following Constantine’s vision, Helena quickly became the world’s most high-profile Christian, while Constantine himself waited until his deathbed to fully convert to the faith.

Helena became beloved in her own time for her acts of charity and benevolence, and was celebrated for her simple piety and dedication to God.  At the advanced age of eighty, she took it upon herself to travel as a pilgrim to the Holy Land, and there she set about trying to identify the places where Christ had walked and preached, some 300 years earlier.

It was in Jerusalem that, after years of prayer and good works, Helena herself was witness to a miracle.  At the foot of Golgotha—the hill where Christ was crucified—workers under her sponsorship found three wooden crosses.  As the crosses were unearthed from beneath 300 years of debris, Helena is said to have thrown gold coins to the laborers, to speed their work.  Imagine her excitement as the workmen uncovered the material remains of the Crucifixion!

But how could they determine which (if any) of the crosses was the Cross of Christ?  In an ingenious solution, they brought the body of a recently-deceased man to the site.  Laying him on the first two crosses produced no result.  But when he was placed on the third, his dead body stirred to life.  This, Helena concluded, must be the True Cross—still surging with the miraculous, life-giving power of the Resurrection.

In addition to her own feast day, the Armenian Church celebrates Helena’s discovery of the True Cross every autumn, during the feast cycle of the Holy Cross.  And the sites she identified on her pilgrimage are still the ones we venerate in the Holy Land.  Some of them, like the Church of the Nativity, are under the custodianship of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

A Bulgarian icon depicting Constantine and Helena holding the Cross of Christ.