A man prayed for 10 years to change the world. After 10 years he began a new prayer, praying 10 years to change his country. After 10 years he began a new prayer, praying 10 years to change his community. After 10 years he began a new prayer. He began to pray to change himself. My dearest brothers and sisters, I cannot express the great joy that is in my heart today. Joy to have rejoined you my family. Joy to greet you as Der Andreas. Joy to acknowledge that I am truly blessed to be part of this body of Christ. A joy only made greater and climaxed through the joy of celebrating Holy Badarak. And today’s celebration of Badarak comes on one of the most blessed feasts the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary.
Truly I say this is one of the most blessed feasts because it shows an immediate participation of us, humanity, through Mary in the salvation of the world. All of the great feasts in the Orthodox Church teach us and remember the present reality of Christ Jesus and the salvation He brought to us through his death and resurrection. Yet, today by remembering the ever-virgin Mary, we see that each of us must also play an active role in that salvation.
Having just been ordained into the priesthood, I am sure many-many of you wondered as to what it was like to spend 40 days after ordination in seclusion. No phone, no Internet, no family, no real connection to the outside world and its distractions. As our Primate and my spiritual Father Bishop Daniel mentioned, those 40 days are meant to be a time of reflection for all of us. Through prayer, fasting, meditation and contemplation each one of us is called to place our faith in Christ Jesus and to humble our egos allowing God to work through us.
Having come out of these 40 days, sadly I was again greeted by hearing about mass shootings, hatred, and racism. Undoubtedly when we see and hear about these atrocities whether on a large scale or perhaps on a more personal level, we begin asking why and how much longer? Why don’t our politicians or police, why don’t those people in charge do something? Tougher gun laws, more in dept screenings, taking away the guns – are all slogans we hear. Yet, my dear brothers and sisters, how many of us stop, reflect, and pray that real change can only come through the individual and not the system.
When we go to the doctor because of a sickness, does the doctor treat the entire body or a specific area? A specific area because by healing the cells, by healing one area, the entire body finds relief. Likewise, the same is with our world. Instead of worrying about changing the world God invites us everyday to begin by changing ourselves. Instead of shouting through the streets in protest, God wants us to use our mouths to spread love. Instead of holding onto false hope in the material and temporal, God is calling us to hold onto each others hands, to lift each other up, to bring salvation into this world.
The Holy Mother of God, humbled herself and her understanding, and became the vessel by which God came into this world as Christ Jesus. We to must humble ourselves and become vessels for God to come into this world. Regardless if we are priests, men, women, children, choir members, Altar servers, dues paying members, whether we are living in luxury or suffering quietly, each one of us is called to be an active participant in the story of salvation. And that is the greatest joy in the world – to know that God loves me and I love God and my love of God is something I can share with everyone.
St. Anthony the Great teaches us that “our life and death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God. But if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.” My dear brothers and sisters, how do we treat each other and the ones we don’t know? How do we treat ourselves? Do we want to change the world? Do we want to see how communities grow? Do we want to see St. Gregory Armenian Church prosper? Then we must begin like the Holy Virgin Mary, praying and saying “let it be to me according to [Gods] word.” And the word of God is Christ Jesus – who calls us to repentance, to humility, to forgiveness and to love.
If you’ll notice, none of those things are based on feelings – they are all actions. Our faith demands action. Because actions are the fruits of our faith. These grapes which we bless today, we pray produce fruits also in us of our faith – produce actions not just feelings. Starting with our own hearts, minds, mouths, feet and hands. Those actions grow from this joyful celebration of Badarak and must continue out the doors and in this world.
Therefore, as your new priest I invite us all today along with my clergy brethren, let us look to the gift of salvation that has been given to us. Having received this blessed let each one of us take it and change the world. And doing so we will continue to glorify the Father, the Son Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Amen!