Archive for May, 2015

Feasts of St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, and St. Gregory

May 29th, 2015    |    No Comments »

This week the Armenian Church honors three saints: St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, and St. Gregory the Illuminator. The stories of these saints are intertwined, each telling a part of the larger tale about Armenia’s conversion to Christianity. Perhaps this is why these feasts fall in the same week–and why the series concludes on Sunday with the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin. Below is a brief retelling of these saintly lives, as told in Fr. Krikor Maksoudian’s book “The Holy Feasts of Saint Gregory the Illuminator.”

In order to preserve their virtue, St. Hripsime and St. Gayane both refused the physical advances of Armenia’s pagan King Drtad, who had become enflamed by their beauty and purity. They were tortured and eventually killed on the king’s orders; but even so, the women never lost their Christian faith. In his book, Fr. Maksoudian observes how “Armenian women over the centuries looked up to [St. Hripsime] as the embodiment of female modesty and chastity” for continuously living by Christian ideals.

St. Gregory was also tortured by King Drtad. Enraged by Gregory’s unshakeable Christian beliefs, the king sent Gregory to a pit where “lead was melted [and] poured over [Gregory’s] entire body, so that his flesh was completely burned.” Yet Gregory did not fear torture or death, because he “believed in eternal life through Christ.” Incredibly, Gregory endured life in the pit for 13 years, beginning sometime after A.D. 293.

Years had passed since Gregory’s transference to the pit when King Drtad martyred Hripsime and Gayane. As a result, Drtad “fell into deep grief for six days” and was “stricken with a strange sickness”; he is said to have “raved like a beast, and [acted] like a wild pig [where] he began to graze grass.”

At the same time, King Drtad’s sister Khosrovitukhd began having a recurring dream where she saw “a man in the likeness of light” who told her that there was one person who could cure her brother: namely, the imprisoned Gregory. She ordered that Gregory be released from the pit; he was immediately given clothes and taken to the outskirts of the city where Drtad had been staying. Gregory prayed to God, and the mad king was finally cured. Drtad then begged forgiveness for the martyrs, and started listening attentively to Gregory’s Christian teachings.

Soon, Gregory had many followers. In A.D. 301, Drtad accepted baptism, and Armenia became the world’s first Christian nation—an event the Armenian Church celebrates through the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin, held on the Sunday following the feast honoring St. Gregory’s deliverance from the pit.

This week, try to think about St. Hripsime, St. Gayane, and St. Gregory, and the lessons you can take from their stories: lessons about keeping faith in times of adversity; about hope emerging from trial and tribulation; and about God’s power to transform the life of an individual, a family—or even an entire nation.

—Written by Melanie Panosian, who served as a summer intern in the Diocesan Communications Department.

 

Detail of a painting at Holy Etchmiadzin depicting St. Hripsime’s moral victory over King Drtad.

 

 

Memorials and Memory

May 21st, 2015    |    No Comments »

In the Armenian Church, memorial days of one kind or another are quite common: we observe merelots after the major feast days; we remember our departed loved ones on the karasoonk of their passing, and thereafter through annual hokehankisd services. Here in America, Memorial Day—inaugurated in the wake of the Civil War, and later extended to honor all who have fallen in the defense of our country—gives us yet another opportunity to reflect, with gratitude and admiration, on the departed souls who have shaped our lives.

In anticipation of Memorial Day, here’s a Bible verse to reflect on, from the book of Proverbs:

“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Proverbs 10:7 NRSV)

Leave aside for a moment the second part of the verse, about “the name of the wicked,” and consider the first clause: “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Surely that is what we all desire at the end of our lives: to be remembered, to be praised. Our material success, even our worldly accomplishments and talents, do not seem all that important from the perspective of the end of life. Our bodies must, by their very nature, decay and turn to dust: we have no control over that. But to leave memories after us—and more importantly, to leave good, praiseworthy memories, memories that can be seen as blessings—this is one thing we do have some control over. And we should take advantage of that fact during our lifetimes.

The Bible’s “how-to” advice on the matter is simple: Lead a righteous life. That answer, though, merely directs us to another question, namely, “What constitutes the righteous life?”—and that is a subject for a dissertation, not a blog post. However, the simplest answer to the question is also the most profound: living a righteous life means to live in harmony with God.

It’s not hard to find examples of such people, who lived in harmony with God. We might begin with the great figures of the Bible, and the sainted men and women who built the church, and preserved it in our homeland for centuries—often at the cost of their lives. We may move on to the exemplary people from prior generations, who inspired us as children, or impressed us in some deep way. And there are such people living among us today, men and women who astonish us with their clarity of conviction, their inner peace, their ability to bear up under adversity.

Accomplishing this in our lives is not a simple task. There is no twelve-step program for achieving harmony with God. It requires that dramatic change of heart—that turn towards God—which our Lord Jesus Christ called “repentance.” We must pray for the grace, and summon the courage, to move in this direction; and our memory of the exemplary figures in our lives can help to carry us forward.

Perhaps this is why the proverb stresses “the memory of the righteous.” Memory itself is a gift from God. It is a uniquely human faculty: the lower animals are incapable of anything like the human experience of memory. And memory is powerfully tied to life. In the proverb, the contrast with the wicked is instructive. All that the wicked person leaves behind—all he or she can leave behind, really—is a name. And that name is dead: as dead as stone. But the righteous leave behind a memory, and that memory requires a living mind, plus the will of a living person, to preserve it.

The difference between a memory and a name—the difference between the righteous and the wicked—is therefore analogous to the difference between life and death. As a kind of living thing, the memory can be conveyed from person to person. It can be transported across generations. It becomes renewed each time someone grasps it for the first time.

Think about that, this Memorial Day. If you find yourself in a cemetery—and even if you don’t—summon up those memories of the righteous souls in your life, and give someone else the blessing of encountering that soul through your recollection. And never forget that the life they achieve through memory is but a shadow of the genuine new life awaiting all of our Lord’s true servants, in God’s kingdom.

A gravestone at St. Haroutune Armenian Cemetery in South Milwaukee, WI.

From Victims to Victors

May 13th, 2015    |    No Comments »

By decision of the synod of bishops of the Armenian Apostolic Church, under the auspices of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, and His Holiness Aram I Catholicos, of the Great House of Cilicia, the countless martyrs of the Genocide of the Armenians will be formally recognized as martyrs and canonized as saints of the Armenian Church on April 23, 2015.

For the first time in hundreds of years the Armenian Church will officially add saints to her register of holy men and women. The Church believes that, unlike the dead who are asleep until the second coming of Jesus Christ, the saints are alive, enjoying God’s eternal presence in heaven. Faithful Christians look to the saints and martyrs with hope and joy because by the unshakable faith that they manifested during their earthly lives, they become witnesses to the truth of the Gospel and to the eternal promises Jesus Christ has made to those who follow him.

After 100 years, the recognition by the Armenian Church, through our faith in the Cross of Jesus Christ, that a glimmer of divine light shines forth from that unforgettable atrocity marks a major turning point in the history of the Armenian Church, and the source of enormous hope and abundant blessings for her people.

Click here to continue reading the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan’s essay, “From Victims to Victors: The Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide.”