Archive for the ‘General Interest’ Category

Remembering Hrant Dink

January 19th, 2017    |    No Comments »

Hrant Dink

We Have Lived To See This Day: A Reminiscence, After a Year*

By Christopher H. Zakian

(From the January 19, 2008 edition of The Armenian Reporter)

Dink’s been shot?

At first hearing, the news seemed like the build-up to a joke. The name itself had never failed to amuse me, no matter the context. And pictures of the man had always shown a pleasant, expressive Armenian face, slightly ironic and confidently composed—even amid the Keystone-Coppish antics of Turkey’s legal system.

Dink’s been shot? What an improbable idea, I thought. Go on—What’s the punch line?

It turned out the punch line was rather different from what I had expected. Dink’s been shot—and he’s dead. Dink’s been shot—in broad daylight, on an open street. He was shot in the back of the head. He was shot coming out of his office. He was shot, and the punk who did it cursed him in Turkish as he ran away.

Throughout that day the details trickled into the Armenian Reporter’s offices (where I was managing editor at the time). But there was hardly time to greet them with the reverence they deserved. Energy could be spared for a sad shake of the head, an angry grinding of teeth. But what took possession of me and my colleagues in our scattered offices was the emerging news story—already developing in astonishing ways on the streets of Istanbul, and rippling outward to Armenian communities across the world.

How would we cover it? How would we do justice, not simply to the immediate event, but also to the accelerating pace of reactions and counter-developments? How would we convey it all in a timely way, with an original perspective?

In some ways the reaction was coldly forensic. But there was a touch of poignancy in the realization that the victim himself, in decidedly different circumstances, would likely have been approaching things in a similar way.

It was not until two days later, in church, that the full weight of Hrant Dink’s fate fell on me.

Already by that time, the Internet was alive with headlines and slogans seeking to encapsulate the greater meaning of Dink’s death. Dink was said to have died in 1915. He was designated Victim Number one-and-a-half-million-plus-one of the Armenian Genocide. He was the hero-martyr killed for speaking the truth.

All of these were thoughtful, helpful, even true in their own ways.

And yet—not the whole truth. Even in the Republic of Turkey, there were others besides Dink willing to speak and write about the Genocide. Some had been roughed up, threatened, sued, forced into exile. But none of them had been selected for an execution-style murder.

That distinction had been reserved for Hrant Dink, and what recommended him for that fate, in the eyes of his killers, was not the kind of man he was or wasn’t, or even what he said or did, but rather the very fact that he was an Armenian.

That thought weighed on me as I stood in our church sanctuary, among fellow countrymen, but also by myself. The sharagans came from me raspingly, haltingly. Surely there was comfort to be found in those immortal sounds—which have outlived every Armenian who ever existed, linking us with those who were, and those who are yet to come.

But on that day there was also a sense of defiance in the mere utterance of those Armenian words. More than once, when I felt I couldn’t continue a given phrase, I found myself forcing the words out, through clenched teeth, and at the expense of tunefulness, just to assure the invisible powers listening that our words would never easily be silenced.

It was just after the singing of Der voghormia that I felt my son at my side, up from Sunday School to receive Communion. Earlier that morning, I had tried to explain to him something of what had occurred in the previous days.  Now, in his wise little way, he stood close to me without any words, as if to console the troubled heart of his father.

Every child, I think, represents a parent’s desire to redeem the wrongs of the past, and to cast a vote for a better future. Certainly that’s the perspective of many Armenians I know—and my own firstborn son, named for the departed grandfathers he never knew, is no exception. But in the midst of that mostly happy thought, it came hard upon me that this same boy, freshly turned six the week before, would be no different from Dink in the eyes of the killers: equally expendable, equally worthy of extinction. Equally guilty of the sin of being an Armenian.

So are we all.

Looking back on that time now, it is still astonishing that I have lived to see a day on which such a realization could occur. For reasons of politics, which are not unworthy in themselves, we pretend that what happened in 1915 was the act of a now-defunct regime. Even the attempt to link Dink’s death directly to the Genocide seems, to me, to be an attempt to isolate it, historicize it, emphasize its anomalous, retrograde quality—as if in the passage of years the world has outgrown such things.

But what still impresses itself upon me long after the day Hrant Dink was shot is this: That the passions of hatred and contempt which made something like the Genocide possible, even plausible, a century ago, are still alive, still easily accessible, still there waiting to be unleashed today

I fear that this hatred will always follow our people. Certainly, I cannot see how all the easy talk about reconciliation (whatever that entails) will ever overcome it. Dink’s killers—an amalgam of the faceless state, and the otherwise nameless lowlifes for whom a moment of violence is the only path to notoriety—are in their typology as old as man himself. They are the images of enforced order and mindless chaos which have allied themselves throughout history, whenever the conceit of human freedom, human distinctiveness, human dignity, arise, and need to be put down—violently, carelessly, with only a token of remorse.

Certainly, there was reason for unexpected hope in the immediate aftermath of Dink’s murder. Perhaps one day it will amount to something. There was likewise reason for disappointment in the political developments (or non-developments) that would follow.

But the fluctuating highs and lows are, I fear, in the scheme of history, ephemeral. What persists is a hatred directed at our people—as it has been directed at other people, elsewhere.

It will always be with us.

By all accounts, Hrant Dink was a decent man in life; certainly a brave one. We should remember that whenever we memorialize him—and we should be grateful that we can remember him as such a man.

But good or bad, none of that mattered to his killers. Dink was shot—because he was an Armenian. That’s the terrible “punchline” that has stayed with me after the day he died.

To be honest, the thought does not keep me awake at night, or pollute the joy I find in life’s many beautiful and noble aspects.

At the same time I am all too aware that I have accepted the responsibility for bringing four new Armenians into this world, to carry on our family tradition, and to add their voices to the chorus of our ancestors. Someday, somehow, I will have to find a way to tell them that, despite their breathtaking purity and innocence, the weapon that targeted Hrant Dink is aimed at them, too.

***

Mr. Zakian is the Communications director the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America. The above essay (in an earlier version) was first published in the January 19, 2008 edition of the Armenian Reporter, during his tenure as managing editor.

 

The Soldier’s Psalm

November 10th, 2016    |    No Comments »

Through the centuries, soldiers have prepared themselves for the dangers of battle by reading Psalm 91—the “Soldier’s Psalm.” This Veterans Day, we offer this prayer for all who have ever found themselves in harm’s way.

THE SOLDIER’S PSALM

1 He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, He is my refuge and my fortress: my God; in him will I trust.

3 Surely he shall deliver thee from the snare of the fowler, and from the noisome pestilence. 4 He shall cover thee with his feathers, and under his wings shalt thou trust: his truth shall be thy shield and buckler.

5 Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day; 6 Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth at noonday.

7 A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand; but it shall not come nigh thee. 8 Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked.

9 Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; 10 there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling.

11 For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. 12 They shall bear thee up in their hands, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone.

13 Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder: the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet. 14 Because he hath set his love upon me, therefore will I deliver him: I will set him on high, because he hath known my name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him: I will be with him in trouble; I will deliver him, and honour him. 16 With long life will I satisfy him, and shew him my salvation.

We Bow Down Before His Cross

September 7th, 2016    |    No Comments »

For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing. But to those of us who are being saved, it is the power of God. (I Corinthians 1:18)

This coming Sunday will be the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross: the start of the season of the Holy Cross, one of the five major divisions of the Armenian Church calendar.

The Feast of the Exaltation recalls a story about St. James, the brother of the Lord—one of Christ’s Apostles and the first bishop of Jerusalem. He was the first to exalt a cross in the likeness of the original cross of the Crucifixion, and venerate it as a symbol of the power of God, saying: “We bow down before your Cross, O Christ.” We still recite those words in Armenian: Khachi ko, Krisdos, yergirbakanemk.

From the perspective of that time, James’ act of exaltation could only be called unexpected. After all, to residents of the Roman-dominated world of the 1st century A.D., crosses were instruments of torture and humiliating death. Yet for James, its association with the miracle of Christ made the cross an object of reverence—eventually to become the Christian symbol of salvation and victory over death.

We today can only marvel at the eyes which first beheld the once-fearsome cross, and perceived it as a divine sign of Life. But perhaps we can gain an insight into the Exaltation through another story, about another cross. The story is not a part of our holy tradition (although perhaps one day it will be). For this cross was exalted, not in 1st-century Jerusalem, but in New York City, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001.

This Sunday marks 15 years since that dreadful event, and we can all remember the horror and outrage we felt as we confronted the incredible loss of life, and the prospect of an evil enemy who would willfully extinguish those lives. One couldn’t help wondering, at the time, whether anything could ever arise to redeem the despair of that day.

And yet, something did arise. Digging amid the ruins of Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers had collapsed only a month before, one of the rescue workers discovered something he felt to be a miracle. Two steel beams from the wreckage had fallen together, and landed in the form of a cross. The cross was set upright in the middle of the wreckage, to cast its shadow—literally and symbolically—over the scene. News spread quickly, and soon firefighters, police officers, and construction workers were making “pilgrimages” to the cross, to pray and reflect on the 9/11 attack.

In that bleak landscape of despair, the “Hero’s Cross,” as it came to be called, became a source of spiritual strength. At a blessing service before that site, a Franciscan friar offered these words: “Behold the glory of the cross at Ground Zero,” he said. “This is our symbol of Hope. Our symbol of Faith. Our symbol of Healing.”

Perhaps that’s the divine message St. James intuited, when he first raised the cross some 2,000 years ago. It’s the message of many beloved Armenian sayings: Khachi ko, Krisdos, yergirbakanemk (“We bow down before your Cross, O Christ”), and Sourp Khachn yeghitsi eents oknagan (“Let the Holy Cross be my support”).

And it is certainly the message St. Paul wished to convey, in the words which began this essay: “To those of us who are being saved, the cross is the power of God.”

As we pray for the souls of those who were cruelly taken from this world on September 11, 2001, and as we ask our Lord to grant peace to those who have suffered loss and hardship in the long aftermath of that day, let us also bow down before the Cross of Christ: the unexpected sign of God’s love for, and solidarity with, mankind—which exalts us, even in our pain and suffering.

And let us always proclaim that through the Cross, God has truly revealed His power to the entire world.

The “Hero’s Cross” at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

The “Hero’s Cross” at Ground Zero in lower Manhattan.

Helping the Parishioners of St. Garabed Church in Baton Rouge

August 25th, 2016    |    No Comments »

Last week, we called on all our parishes to hold a special collection on Sunday, August 21, for victims of the severe flooding in the state of Louisiana. As you will recall, Vasken Kaltakjian, the parish council chair of St. Garabed Armenian Church in Baton Rouge, reported that three families in the parish were forced to flee their homes, and one parishioner his business in the wake of the flood.

At this time, we have more detailed information on the status of these Armenian families, and we are asking our parishes to conduct additional plate collections for our fellow parishioners in need in the coming weeks. Other fundraising drives parishes wish to organize as part of this relief effort are also welcome.

Individuals and parishes can make checks out to the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (please write “St. Garabed Relief Effort” in the memo, and mail checks to the Diocesan Center, 630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016). Individuals can also contribute  through our Diocesan website.

Four Armenian families in the greater Baton Rouge area have been affected by the flooding:

One family experienced minor damage to their property and has already returned to their home. They are expecting to begin renovations soon.

One parishioner’s house was completely submerged in water. Everything in the house remains unsalvageable, including such basic items as clothing and other personal belongings.

A third family was forced to evacuate their home and will not be able to return for at least six weeks. The first floor of their house was completely flooded, and they lost all furniture, appliances, and other items on the first floor to water damage.

The fourth family experienced damage at their place of business, where two parking lots were flooded and 82 cars were destroyed. In addition, the family owned two rental houses and a fishing camp, all of which were submerged in water.

Two of these families did not have flood insurance as their properties were not located in a flood zone, Mr. Kaltakjian said. Those forced to evacuate their homes are now staying with friends and relatives in the area.

The parish council of St. Garabed Church has been in touch with these parishioners to provide emergency assistance. Their goal is to provide short-term relief while the families await aid from insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

All funds collected in our parishes should be sent to the Diocesan Center no later than Friday, September 16. Please note that all proceeds—100 percent—will go to the relief effort; funds will be distributed by the St. Garabed Armenian Church of Baton Rouge. If you have any questions, please contact Vasken Kaltakjian, the parish council chair of St. Garabed Church, at (225) 413-4620.

Please give generously to support our St. Garabed parishioners in this time of need. And please continue to keep them—and all the victims of the flooding in Louisiana—in your prayers. May God be with our Armenian Christian brothers and sisters, and with all our fellow American citizens, who are enduring the effects of this disaster.

With prayers,

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian
Primate

Between Crown and Sword

July 7th, 2016    |    No Comments »

On Saturday the Armenian Church will observe the Feast of St. Thaddeus the Apostle and St. Sandukht the Virgin. The story of these two saints sheds light on the early days of
Christianity in Armenia.

Imagine a time of great political and military struggle, a pagan kingdom ruled by a powerful royal family—this was once Armenia. The kingdom strongly clung to the inherited pagan practices until a strange man ventured to Armenia.

His name was Thaddeus. He was one of the twelve apostles of Jesus Christ. He preached in people’s homes, in hidden underground chambers, in marketplaces, and in the streets. The Holy Spirit spoke through Thaddeus, bringing the words of Christ to his followers. People listened intently, eager to hear; moved by the Good News, many converted.

Rumors of this unusual man reached a young girl named Sandukht, the daughter of Armenia’s king Sanatrouk. Sparked by curiosity, the princess disguised herself as an ordinary woman and followed her nurse to a Christian gathering.

Sandukht learned about Christ, and when her nurse confessed her commitment to the Christian faith, the princess promised not to tell her father. Intrigued, Sandukht continued attending the Christian gatherings.

The Christian faith made such an impact on Sandukht’s life that she decided to convert.  She declared her belief in Christ and was baptized, and a sign from heaven designated her as a holy virgin. But when the king’s spies reported the news to her father, Sanatrouk was enraged. In an attempt to dissuade his daughter, he promised to allow her to marry the man she loved—an exceptional horseman named Zareh—and to enjoy life in a comfortable palace, surrounded by endless riches.

Sandukht was not tempted by the lure of this extravagant life. Infuriated by his daughter’s stubbornness, Sanatrouk sentenced the princess to jail. Even Zareh could not change Sandukht’s mind. He visited her in prison, begging her to return to him and to her old faith, but nothing could sway Sandukht.

Meanwhile, the news of Sandukht’s imprisonment spread throughout Armenia. Increasingly, people began to accept the Christian faith, and they prayed for Sandukht’s release.

Moved by his love for his daughter, Sanatrouk summoned the princess to his palace to give her one final chance to renounce her new faith. He asked his daughter to choose between the crown and the sword—either she would renounce Christianity and serve as a pagan princess or face death. Sandukht chose the sword, knowing that Christianity would soon blossom in Armenia. Sanatrouk pitied his daughter, but he could not bring himself to turn back on his word.

The young princess was subjected to torture and ultimately ordered to be executed. During this difficult time, she drew strength from St. Thaddeus, who encouraged her to be firm, reminding her that she would soon be with her Savior. Shortly after Sandukht’s death, Thaddeus was also executed by the king.

Zareh was among the many Armenians who were moved by Sandukht’s faith, and who also converted to Christianity. King Sanatrouk continued the orders for the executions of Christians, including Zareh. Their sacrifice planted the seeds of the Christian faith in Armenia—a faith that 300 years later would become the foundation on which Christian Armenia was to be built.

This week, consider the sacrifice of these martyrs and the lessons their lives bear. Think about St. Sandukht’s strong faith despite her father’s efforts of dissuasion, and reflect on the role of this same faith in our lives today.

—Kiersten Johnston interned in the Diocese’s Communications Department three summers ago

St. Thaddeus, St. Sandukht, and other imprisoned Christians by the 19th-century Italian artist Juliano Zasso.

Sunday of the Steward

February 25th, 2016    |    No Comments »

The steward is a figure who comes up in many of Jesus’ parables—a “stock character,” we might say, who would have been very recognizable to Christ’s listeners.

What did stewards do, in the time of Jesus?  What made them so interesting to our Lord?

They were, first of all, servants. But a special kind of servant: They were caretakers, or business managers, as we might say today. They were not owners; but the true owner, the master, had given the steward responsibility and authority. And to be given such things meant that the steward was in a position of trust.

Clearly, Jesus saw this special relationship of “stewardship” as symbolic of the greater dynamic between God and man. In the deepest sense, we are not the owners of the good things in our lives: our families, our healthy bodies, our heritage, our church. To be sure, we are indeed responsible for all these things, and we cannot neglect our responsibility. But our highest responsibility is not really to satisfy ourselves, but to please God.

Jesus’s parable about an unjust steward who was accused of cheating his master (Luke 16:1-17—the reading for the third Sunday of Lent) is famous for being difficult to understand.  But it gives us some very concrete clues about what it means to be a “good steward.”

Jesus tells us: “He that is faithful in a little, is faithful also in much” (Lk 16:10).  He asks: “If you have been dishonest with another man’s belongings, who will give you something of your own?” (Lk 16:12).  And he concludes with the famous saying: “No servant can serve two masters” (Lk 16:13).

These words of wisdom should be “food for thought” for us, during our journey through Lent.

But the most important words in the parable come at the very beginning, when the Master asks the Steward: “What is this I hear about you? Give me an account of your stewardship” (Lk 16:2).

Surely, this is the larger point Jesus was making throughout his teaching on stewardship.  God has entrusted us with many serious responsibilities.  He has given us many beautiful gifts and blessings.  But we are called to make an account.

When our Master does so, will we show ourselves to have been good stewards?  Or neglectful ones?

But let’s return for some final thoughts on the parable of the Unjust Steward.  As mentioned, it’s difficult to understand.  Some interpreters strive mightily to make the desperate, swindling steward into an exemplar of moral conduct.  But these attempts are unpersuasive, given Jesus’ larger themes about what constitutes being a “good steward.”

Perhaps a key to its meaning can be found in an overlooked point in Luke’s account.  We learn (Lk 14:14) that Jesus was addressing the Pharisees: the religious teaching authorities of Jesus’ time, entrusted with the job of telling the people what God wanted from them.  But in order to make themselves popular, they had “watered down” the message: like the unjust steward, they had “discounted the debt” that man should rightfully owe to God.

Through the parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus seems to have been warning the Pharisees—and all authorities in positions of trust—that while this might make them welcome in the homes of men, eventually there would be an accounting—and did they think that God would congratulate them on their shrewdness?

In this reading, Jesus is being ironic when he says (Lk 16:8), “The lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely.” But that mood certainly fits better with the stern lessons about honesty, integrity, and the impossibility of serving two masters, which immediately follow the parable.

Read the passage for yourself. What do you think?

Unjust Steward

A Father’s Love

February 18th, 2016    |    2 Comments »

Perhaps the holiest moment in the Armenian Divine Liturgy is when the congregation fills the church with the singing of the Lord’s Prayer. We begin with the words Hayr Mer—“Our Father”; but what really do we mean by referring to God as a “father”? Do we mean that God brought us into this world? That He is responsible for our welfare until we can go off on our own? Do we think of God as a stern disciplinarian, who will punish us if we go astray? Or do we expect Him to treat us with fatherly favoritism, and turn a blind eye to our faults and misdeeds?

We are told in the Bible that the followers of Jesus were also struggling with this question. The answer that Jesus gave is probably the best summary of Christian love that has ever been uttered: the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

This gospel passage (Luke 15:11-32) should be familiar to everyone—it provides the reading for the second Sunday of the current season of Lent—but let us try to see it with new eyes.

Bowing to the request of his younger offspring, a man divides his property between his two sons. The younger son takes his share and leaves home, but quickly squanders his wealth. Destitute and disgraced, and feeling unworthy of his father, the boy swallows what little pride he has left and returns to his father’s house, where he expects a cool reception. To his surprise, the father welcomes him with embraces and kisses, ordering the servants to make preparations for a great celebration: “My son was dead, and is alive again,” the father announces; “he was lost, and is found.”

Jesus could have ended the parable here—with the “happy ending” of a father celebrating the return of his lost son—and had a simple story expressing God’s undying forgiveness for man, and His joy when a sinner repents.  But Jesus did not stop there: he switches the scene to the field where the older son is working—and has been working diligently his entire life. The older boy is outraged when he learns of his father’s behavior, and corners his father to complain bitterly of the injustice of it.

From a public celebration, we are pulled into a private family argument, and it is as if reality suddenly bursts into the story. In the real world, grand public displays of forgiveness are easy to make; but in private—in the family, so to speak—resentments still linger. The older son’s anger has the ring of truth: he has worked hard to do the right thing, taken responsibility for his life. He has earned his father’s love.  One might ask whether a father who throws away his affection on an undeserving child is so very different from a prodigal son who squanders his inheritance.

Part of what makes this such a touching parable is the way the details seem drawn from real life. Jesus shows himself not as a teller of moral fables, but as an acute observer of human behavior and the human heart. An upright son who demands fair play and just deserts; the uneasy feelings of competition which brothers harbor for a parent’s approval and love—these are all too human, and all too recognizable even to us. The father’s response to his eldest son is the same: having already lost one son, he does not want to lose the other; yet he can offer no counter-argument, nor appeal to any greater standard of justice.

The best he can do is to repeat what he said to the onlookers when his wayward son first returned.  But this time, in this quiet, private setting, the same words have a different feeling: not a joyful announcement to the world, but a father’s plea for understanding from his son: “Your brother was dead, but now he is alive again.” What person who has ever lost a family member—to whatever circumstance—can hear those words and not be moved? The love of a parent for a child is very strong; but to lose that child, and then to get him back again—this must bring forth the most powerful love of all.

This is what God’s love for us is like. This is what it means for us to be able to call Him “Father.” With regard to God, we are all like children who want to be close to our parents: we wonder which child they love best, and worry that we may become unworthy of their love. These are not small concerns, but in our child-like way, we miss the point about our father’s love, which is not necessarily the same for all, but which is so deep that it makes no sense to set up a ranking of least to most favored. It is a love whose depth cannot be measured, and which sometimes is not even fully recognized until it confronts the prospect of loss.

It is a powerful lesson, and a fine example of the kind of teaching that made Jesus famous during his mission to the world.  He offers not a fairy tale where actions have no consequences and love conquers all, but rather a full portrait of what real love requires, and of the obstacles such love presents to real people.

—Christopher Hagop Zakian

A painting found in London's Dulwich Picture Gallery (c. 1630s).

A painting found in London’s Dulwich Picture Gallery (c. 1630s).

 

 

 

Expulsion and Temptation

February 12th, 2016    |    No Comments »

The Armenian Church lays special emphasis on the season of Great Lent as a “school” for personal spirituality. The faithful are guided on a kind of “pilgrimage of the soul,” with each Sunday of Lent dedicated to a story from Scripture, based in a parable of Jesus, or in prophecies concerning him.

However, the first Sunday of the series—the Sunday of the Expulsion—seems at first glance to have no direct link to the life of Jesus.

Lent is the period of personal sacrifice when we are meant to remember (and re-enact) Christ’s sojourn in the wilderness, and the temptations he overcame there. The story of the Expulsion, on the other hand, concerns Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. On the surface, the stories have little to connect them.

But perhaps there is a deeper connection to consider. Identifying that connection is the subject of a short article published as a web exclusive of First Things magazine, by Christopher Zakian, the Diocese’s director of Communications.

By starting Lent with the Sunday of the Expulsion, the Armenian tradition helps us to appreciate the depth of our human intimacy with Jesus.

Click here to read the essay.

The Naming of the Lord

January 13th, 2016    |    No Comments »

There is an ancient Church tradition to name a child at baptism. It is through baptism we are adopted as children of God; therefore, receiving a new name identifies us as a disciple of Christ. The name chosen would be one of biblical origin, a saint of the Church, or someone else who exemplifies and models faith in God. Today, it is not uncommon for a child (or adult) to be given a baptismal name in addition to his or her birth name.

But where does this tradition of naming come from? And what does it have to do with circumcision? Like many things, it has its beginnings in the book of Genesis. “So out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name.” ~ Genesis 2:19

What was the purpose of Adam naming the animals? In the previous chapter of Genesis, God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” A name, then, gives both identification as well as a sense of belonging to the one who has done the naming.

Later in the book of Genesis, circumcision, like naming, became the seal or identification of those who belonged to the ‘people of God.’ Performed on the eighth day after a child’s birth, it served as an irreversible sign of promise, a branding which made one the property of God. For Christians, following the death and resurrection of Christ, the practice of circumcision as the entrance into a covenant relationship with God ceased, and baptism became the entrance point into communion with God.

Explaining the meaning of circumcision in the Old Testament and baptism in the Church, St. Cyril of Alexandria writes, “The rite of circumcision was abolished by the introduction of baptism, of which circumcision was a type. It separated the descendants of Abraham by a sort of sign and seal and distinguished them from all other nations. It prefigured in itself the grace of divine baptism. Formerly a male who was circumcised was included among the people of God by virtue of that seal; nowadays, a person who is baptized and has formed in himself Christ the seal, becomes a member of God’s adopted family.”

Like circumcision, baptism was still traditionally done on the child’s eighth day to mark his or her entrance into ‘life in Christ,’ and also like circumcision, it is an irreversible seal that marks the baptized as an adopted member of the ‘people of God.’ St. Paul writes, “In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God…” ~ Colossians 2:11-12

In the Armenian Church, the Feast of Naming of the Lord «Անուանակոչութիւն» is celebrated on January 13th, the eighth and last day of Theophany. “And at the end of eight days, when He was circumcised, He was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” (Luke 2:21). Our Lord was given the name Jesus, meaning ‘Savior,’ and our Savior has named us. Through baptism, we belong to Him. Those who are baptized make up the Church, and together, the Church makes up the people of God. Theophany is a celebration, proclamation, and remembrance of many things, and living out the commitment of our baptism, and the promises prayed over us, is of foremost priority.

We can aptly conclude the season of Theophany and the Feast of the Naming of the Lord with the fitting words of St Paul as he writes, “…Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:6-11).

Hymn for the Eighth Day of Theophany

Looys ee loosoh/ Լոյս ի լուսոյ (Light from light)

+ Light from Light, you were sent by the Father and you assumed a body from the holy Virgin so that you might renew the corrupt Adam.

+ You, God, appeared on earth and you went about with people, and you saved the universe from Adam’s curse.

+ The voice of your Father testified of you from heaven, saying, “This is my Son.” And in the appearance of a dove the Holy Spirit revealed you.

+ You cleaned humanity’s filth with the Spirit and with fire. All of us shall praise you as God and Savior.

+ The Savior appeared and brought the world back to life from the deception of the enemy, granting us adoption through baptism.

+ The One who brings life appeared today and burns our sin with water. He refreshes the world with his divine water.

+ The Savior crushed the dragon’s head in the Jordan River and by his own power he brought everyone back to life.

+ Restoring the old man, today the Savior comes to baptism to make our corrupted nature new with water, giving us an incorruptible garment instead.

+ Christ is baptized and all creatures are made holy. He forgives our sins, washing us from above with water and the Spirit.

How does this hymn shape our understanding of the Feast of Theophany – Christ’s birth and baptism, our baptism, the Eighth Day, and The Feast of the Naming of the Lord?

The Nativity and Washing of the Child, together with the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Angels, and the Journey of the Magi, 1633, Istanbul.

The Nativity and Washing of the Child, together with the Annunciation to the Shepherds, the Adoration of the Angels, and the Journey of the Magi, 1633, Istanbul.

The Faith of the Magi

January 11th, 2016    |    No Comments »

When we hear the story of the birth of Christ, we hear a familiar cast of characters – the shepherds in the field, the angels who announce the birth of Christ, King Herod, Joseph and Mary, and then there are the Magi, the three Wise Men from the East. Who are the Magi, and what are they doing in this narrative? It’s interesting that among the very few people that were invited to the event of the Incarnation, it included three Gentiles, not from Palestine, but from Persia.

Astrologers and scholars of their time, the Magi were Gentiles who anticipated the Messiah, but why? In the Old Testament in the book of Numbers (chapter 24), we read about The oracle of Balaam the son of Be’or, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God.” Balaam prophesied about a coming king of whom he said, “…his king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted.” He went on further saying,

“I see him, but not now;
I behold him, but not nigh:
a star shall come forth out of Jacob,
and a scepter shall rise out of Israel”

Balaam was the predecessor of the Magi, and so they heard from his oracles that a deified King would be born under a star. Since the day that oracle was uttered, the Magi were looking for the particular star that hung in the sky the night Christ was born. And so the Magi, discovering the fulfillment of this ancient prophecy, journeyed from the East to seek out the King. We are not sure what they expected to find, but their place in the narrative is very telling.

When the Magi found the King, what they saw was both ordinary and extraordinary. They didn’t find a palace, but a place fit for animals. They didn’t find their king clothed in colors of royalty, but in swaddling cloths fit for burial. We can safely assume that the paradox of the situation is what compelled them to worship. Their eyes were opened to the glory the beheld them – the God of the Universe born as an infant and lying in a trough.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” ~ Isaiah 9:6

The Magi did not turn around and go home when arriving upon such ordinary circumstances. They were not offended or scandalized by what their eyes saw outwardly. Instead, they worshipped and brought gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh – not for an earthly king, but for God, the eternal King. In a homily by Catholicos Zakaria I (855-877), he writes, “…opening their treasures they offered incense, as a sign of His being God, gold, as to a king, and myrrh, as for one who would die for the salvation of the world.”

These three wise men from the East set an example that we are still called to follow today. To trust, journey, seek, worship, and offer the gift of our lives to the King of Kings. Perhaps the Magi are not the characters in the narrative of Christ’s birth that one would expect to demonstrate such depth of faith and worship, but then again, they demonstrated how to find God in the most unexpected of places. Like the Magi, may our hearts be open to find the extraordinary in the ordinary, to see God everywhere present. Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

Hymn for the Sixth Day of Theophany

Anageezpnagan deseel/Անակզբնական տեսիլ (A timeless vision)

+ A timeless vision of your glory was given to us miraculously, appearing inexplicably in the birth of a child. Today joy has been revealed to the universe.

+ Singing harmony with the bodiless, spiritual beings in their fiery radiance, a pillar of the piercing, incendiary cloud was crafted in the cave. Today the shepherds joined the choirs of the supernal pageant.

+ The dawn of light spread everywhere. The magi followed it by means of the star, presaging the birth in the cave. There they offered their gifts to the divine child.

+ O timeless Son, who share the essence of the Father and of the Holy Spirit, you came down from the Father’s embrace. Becoming human, you assumed a body from the Virgin, taking away the triumph of death for the transgression of Adam, the forefather. We sing to you with the hosts of the angels, in the midst of the shepherds. Blessed are you Christ, the eternal Word.

+ Today you were born, the Son from the Father before the ages, a ray of glory and the dawn of the indivisible Light. Through the vision of the prophetic star, you lay within a manger in the cave of a lodge. We sing to you with the hosts of the angels, in the midst of the shepherds. Blessed are you Christ, the eternal Word.

+ Christ, king of glory and creator of all, God, mighty prince, Father of the coming light, having appeared today as a child, you remain unchanged in your essence. We sing to you with the hosts of the angels, in the midst of the shepherds. Blessed are you Christ, the eternal Word.

How does this hymn change the way you have typically pictured the story of the birth and coming of Jesus?

Nativity of Christ and Adoration of the Magi, 1317

Nativity of Christ and Adoration of the Magi, 1317