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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

Living Our Baptism

January 4th, 2016    |    No Comments »

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” – Galatians 3:27

As we recall the baptism of Christ on the Feast of Theophany, we are reminded of our own baptism. But what does baptism mean, and how should we reflect on an event that many couldn’t even remember? Is Baptism just a necessary condition for church membership, or to be a member in good standing? Is it just a formality in order to receive the rest of the Sacraments of the Church? Do we think of it as a guarantee of salvation and eternal life? Is it just a past event, or is it a permanent experience that permeates our lives and shapes our Christian worldview, motivations, actions, and decisions?

The Baptism of Christ by Yovannes Khizantsi (1335).

The Baptism of Christ by Yovannes Khizantsi (1335).

Very early in the Church, baptism took on the notion of illumination, or enlightenment. This meant illumination of the mind and freedom to know God, which was freedom from ignorance. Faith is the process by which we come to know God, and illumination is the light of faith that dispels all fear and ignorance, and enlightens our minds to know Him. It is at Baptism that we first obtain faith and access to the knowledge of God. It is the beginning of the process of knowing Him. In fact, St. Gregory is referred to as the Illuminator, because he baptized (or enlightened) the King, and was the conduit of the enlightenment of the nation of Armenia.

St. Mark the Ascetic wrote, “Everyone baptized in the orthodox manner has received mystically the fullness of grace; but he becomes conscious of this grace only to the extent that he actively observes the commandments.” Baptism is not meant to be a static event, something that merely happened in the past, and to be remembered in thought alone. It is ongoing and dynamic, a very present event. Our Baptism is to be lived out, continually at the forefront of our minds, reminding us of the words proclaimed over us, reminding us of the promise of the Holy Spirit and our salvation in Christ through the Church.

Although placed on the path of salvation, we need to take responsibility for the faith we received at baptism by living our baptism. At our baptism, communion with God has been restored, and in turn we respond and pursue communion with Him through a life of worship. Have we responded to what was given to us by God at the Holy Font, and if so, how are we responding? Are we living as though we have been reborn, as though we have become new creatures alive to God and dead to sin? In faith, let us commit to walking intimately with God on a daily basis, knowing Him deeper and deeper, and confess our baptism through a life pleasing to Him.

Blessing of Water
Every Theophany (January 6), the Armenian Church celebrates the Blessing of Water service, which reveals an even deeper understanding of our baptism through the baptism of Christ. Enjoy the video below recently created by the Eastern Diocese, which discusses this beautiful celebratory service.
O great and amazing mystery that has been revealed, God, the Creator, has come to the Jordan. He wished to be baptized by His servant, but John the Forerunner did not presume to baptize Him. O River, do not be afraid, I am your Creator. I have come to be baptized and wash away the sins of the world.  - Ov zarmanalee «Ով զարմանալի», an ode from the Blessing of Water service.

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.

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 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).

Badarak on Aghtamar Island

September 8th, 2014    |    No Comments »

A soft breeze carried plumes of incense into the sky as Aghtamar’s Holy Cross Armenian Church was once again filled with the prayers and hymns of the badarak.

Among the pilgrims gathered there last Sunday was a group from the Eastern Diocese who began a two-week journey across historic Armenia on September 3. Waking to a bright, hot morning, they sailed across the deep blue waters of Lake Van to Aghtamar island and climbed up a small hill to reach the 10th-century church.

Archbishop Aram Ateshian, Patriarchal Vicar of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, and Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Eastern Diocese, welcomed a delegation of clergy representing the Greek, Syrian, and Catholic churches. They included His All Holiness Bartholomew I, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome, and Ecumenical Patriarch, and Bishop Mor Filiksinos Yusuf Çetin, Patriarchal Vicar of the Syriac Orthodox Church in Istanbul and Ankara.

When the church became crowded, some of the pilgrims lined up outside to follow the service. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, clergy led a procession outside the church, where they performed the Antasdan ceremony, or “Blessing of the Fields.”

The Diocese’s pilgrimage to historic Armenia will continue until September 15. Additional services are planned at the recently consecrated St. Giragos Armenian Church of Dikranagert and the St. Gregory Church in Kayseri. The group also will tour other parts of historic Armenia—Arapkir, Mush, Antep, Sivas, Kharpert, and Malatya, among other cities and villages. The trip will include a stop in Istanbul, where pilgrims will visit the Armenian Patriarchate. Assisting Archbishop Barsamian on the pilgrimage is the Very Rev. Fr. Vazken Karayan, pastor of Holy Cross Church of Union City, NJ.

Clergy lead a prayer outside Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island. Click here to view more photos.

Clergy lead a prayer outside Holy Cross Church on Aghtamar island. Click here to view more photos.

Surrounded by Our Martyrs

April 23rd, 2014    |    No Comments »

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release that they might rise again to a better life.  Others suffered mocking and scourging, chains and imprisonment.  They were stoned.  They were sawn in two.  They were killed with the sword.  They went about in animal skins—destitute, af­flicted, ill-treated.  The world was not worthy of them—yet they wan­dered over deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.

All of these people, though their faith was well-attested, did not receive what was promised.  For God had foreseen something better for us: that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

And now we are surrounded by this great cloud of witnesses…

(Epistle to the Hebrews 11:35-12:1)

On this day of solemn remembrance, we offer prayers for our beloved ancestors who perished in the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

We recall the words of Scripture that seem to echo with their sufferings—even as they echo with our own awareness that “we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses,” whose vindication in this world lies in our hands.

Today—ninety-nine years after the beginning of the Genocide—we affirm our abiding hope in the resurrection of our Lord, and the promise it holds for our departed countrymen, and for all mankind.

With prayers,

 

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

Primate

A khatchkar in the forest near Kashatagh in Artsakh. Photographed by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian.

A khatchkar in the forest near Kashatagh in Artsakh. Photographed by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian.

Why Go to Church?

January 25th, 2013    |    No Comments »

“I don’t NEED to go to church,” they’ll tell you.  Almost everyone has heard it said at some point.  But how should church-going Christians respond?

Fr. Tavit Boyajian, the pastor of the Sts. Joachim and Ann Church in Palos Heights, Ill., has some thoughts about why going to church isn’t just optional, but is rather a necessary part of Christian living.

Indeed, being part of a community of fellow believers and worshippers is one way we fulfill the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Click here to read Fr. Boyajian’s essay, “Why Go to Church?”

The Sermon of the Beatitudes. James Tissot (1836-1902).

A Vital Spark

December 3rd, 2012    |    No Comments »

(This is the third in a series of recollections of Archbishop Torkom’s years as Primate of the Eastern Diocese that we will feature on our blog in the coming weeks. The entries are excerpted from “The Torch Was Passed”—chronicling the history of the Armenian Church of America in its first hundred years.)

Sixteen years into his primacy, Archbishop Manoogian could assert with confidence that “the St. Vartan Cathedral has been our window to the world, through which we have been able to make contact with other churches and other authorities.” He might have added that the cathedral was also the surrounding society’s win­dow onto the Armenian American community—its accomplishments, its aspirations and its leading personalities. The primate was determined that the diocesan complex would always present the community’s best face, and that it would be regarded as a lively center not only for Armenians, but for the entire city as well.

The unrelenting schedule of artistic and liturgical events which filled the cathedral during Manoogian’s tenure stands as a testimony to his success in this ambition. The diocesan center had a definite personality throughout this period, and not surprisingly, it reflected the personality of its leader. The primate was an accomplished poet, deeply knowledgeable about music, and capable of conveying ideas in the manner of a teacher. Small wonder that he was particularly beloved of the artistic community, whose members recognized in Torkom Manoogian a kindred spirit.  The finest Armenian artists in the country became fixtures within the orbit of the cathedral.  Among them were such luminaries as Anahid and Maro Ajemian, Lucine Amara, Kay Armen, Sahan Arzruni, Dickran Atamian, Ara Berberian, Lili Chookasian, Leon Danielian, Anita Darian, Arlene Francis, Alan Hovhaness, Ani Kavafian, Michael Kermoyan, Tigran Makaryan, Maro Partamian, Emma Tahmizian, Rouben Ter-Arutunian, Berj Zamkochian and Harry Zaratzian. …

… Archbishop Manoogian felt a special affinity for the nineteenth-century musician-priest Gomidas Vartabed. Born in Western Anatolia in 1869, Gomidas was the greatest modern exegete of Armenian sacred and folk music. The terrors of the Genocide cut short his career, although Gomidas himself lived on in a French hospital until 1935. The primate was one of the world’s leading authorities on this guid­ing spirit of Armenian music, and he initiated several major events in his memory. Both the centennial anniversary of Gomidas’s birth, as well as the fiftieth anniversary of his death, were occasions for concerts, symposia and liturgical memorials. The primate even penned a book in Armenian, entitled The Genius of Gomidas, for the latter occasion. A particularly creative tribute was arranged in 1981, when a discussion on Gomidas by Archbishop Torkom and composer Richard Yardumian was broadcast as a television program entitled The Voice of Armenia.

… To enhance the profile of the Armenian Church, the primate had many tools at his disposal: his knack for attracting media attention, the public’s natural curiosity about an exotic foreign culture, and his personal friendship with the most colorful political figure of the day, New York City Mayor Edward I. Koch.  In addition, without ever impinging on the dignity of his office, Archbishop Torkom was blessed with a genuine sense of humor about himself, which he used quite effectively on the American stage. A dove alighting on his miter during the cathedral’s Easter celebration, or a chance encounter with the world heavyweight boxing champion at a testimonial dinner, were priceless opportunities, Manoogian realized, to remind the country of the presence and activities of its Armenian community.

Zeytounsiner

September 13th, 2012    |    No Comments »

Our group of pilgrims began the morning of Wednesday, September 12, at the Zeugma Mosaic Museum in Aintab. It houses the world’s largest collection of mosaics, and it is packed with masterpieces from the lost city Zeugma, situated some forty-five kilometers from Aintab. From the museum, we headed toward the city’s old bazaar, where we explored the merchant stalls that seem little changed from centuries past.

Later, we visited the Sourp Asdvadzadzin Armenian Catholic Church, built in the 19th century. The church was converted into a cultural center a few years ago, but as is often the case with such conversions, the Armenian Christian character of the sanctuary still makes itself felt. A descending dove carved above the old baptismal font of the church was just one indication of the center’s origin.

Another Sourp Asdavzdzdzin Church—this one an Armenian Apostolic edifice built in 1892—stands very close to the Armenian Catholic church, and was another stop on our itinerary of the day. At one point this church had been made into a jail, but since 1984 it has been used as a mosque. The local imam greeted our group of pilgrims, and spoke to us about the history of Sourp Asdvadzadzin Church. We had a chance to sing the Lord’s Prayer in the old sanctuary prior to our departure for Marash.

Marash was once home to no fewer than six Armenian churches. But nothing remains of those churches today. A lunchtime stop at a peaceful spot in the city afforded us a chance to hold a requiem service for the souls of our countrymen martyred in Marash.

Then it was back on the bus for the drive to the ancient Armenian stronghold of Zeytoun (now called Süleymanli). On the journey we entered a different world of mountains, rocks, and forests, traversed by a river called Shoughouri. The rugged terrain seemed to reflect the character of the Armenians of Zeytoun, who throughout Armenian history were hailed for their bravery and indomitable spirit. We sang one such patriotic song dedicated to the Zeytounsis on the way to the village. Disembarking from the bus we found modern Zeytoun to be a lovely, fertile setting, and could easily imagine Armenian life there as we explored the town and talked to the locals.

–Artur Petrosyan of the Diocese’s Communications Department is covering the two-week pilgrimage