Passages: Luke 4.25-30; James 5.16-20
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
This past week I had the opportunity to join a number of our A.C.Y.O.A. members in a peaceful protest aimed at seeking justice for the death of George Floyd and demanding change in the passive or active acceptance of racism and prejudice in America specifically towards its black community. As an Armenian Christian, my own personal experience of protesting has been limited to either Armenian cultural or Christian moral issues.
Perhaps many of us, if not all, have not had the opportunity, nor have we had the desire to participate in protests, forums and discussions regarding matters outside our Armenian ethnicity or our Church. However, a statement was made during this protest which gave me an opportunity to approach these protests with a different mindset – “Don’t be mad you don’t have a movement, be happy you don’t need one.”
As Orthodox Christians, especially Armenian Christians, living in the United Sates and Canada, we have enjoyed freedom to raise families, grow businesses, worship as we please and live as we wish within the boundaries of the law. We have faced challenges, as much or as little as any individual has. If our faith, language or any external expression of being Armenian has not unified us, one thing has: the desire for justice and recognition of the Armenian Genocide. This movement, has unified the diaspora and the people in Armenia and has impacted even the most distant Armenian because it is loss we have felt personally. The Armenian Genocide however, is not only an Armenian movement because we look to the world to join us in recognition of our pain and in seeking justice for what has been done. Therefore, no Armenian has the luxury of saying we do not have a movement or a cause.
The slogan of Black lives matter was created as a response to the multiple killings of unarmed black men and women by police officers. Whether we believe this is overly politicized or not, as Christian what is important is the reality and recognition that racism does exist. It exists within the institutional infrastructures that constitute our society such as police, government, economy, churches, etc.
And though racism today is not what it was back in the 60’s where we would see public areas not allowing blacks or other ethnicity’s to enter or make use of services and yet, racism exists both in institutions and as well as our families, but in more subtle ways. Those who deny this fact, choose to remain blind.
In scriptures we read, “Then Jesus cried aloud: ‘Whoever believes in me believes not in me but in him who sent me…I have come as light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.’”(John 12:44-46 NRSV) As well as, “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19 NRSV) Over the last few weeks, we have said that our Christian faith opens our eyes, it illuminates our hearts and minds in order for us to examine ourselves, our thoughts, our actions, our decisions and our internal and external life. Through Christ Jesus, who is the light of this world, we are given a tool in order to see better. However, many of us choose to remain ignorant of that light and rather we choose to stay in the darkness. We don’t know, therefore, we are not responsible for. However, if we profess to believe in Jesus Christ and we come to Church receiving Holy Communion, we can no longer say – I didn’t know. We have been given the tools to see ourselves by stepping into the light.
My dears, Christianity, Orthodox Christianity is not a personal faith. We individually believe, we individual grow in order that we collectively commune with God. The Christian faith is not a ethnic faith and the Armenian Church is not just for Armenian’s. It is a family, it is a body made up of all of God’s children. When one part aches, the entire body feels it; When one tear drops, the entire body screams for help. So it is impossible to say that the cause or movement of others, such as the Black lives matter movement is not mine, because today my family in Christ Jesus is in pain. It is not about a black movement just as the Armenian Genocide is not an Armenian movement. Rather, it is about humanity moving forward together and with each other. We must not mix emotions with truth, we must not look at the political games and theoretical ideologies that these action are part of some agenda. As Christian’s the only truth that must motivate us and our choices is the love of God.
In this case, a life was taken; a child of a mother, a father of a child, a husband of a wife, a friend was killed. If we truly value the gift of life that we know God has given each of us, than we much work to preserve that gift – every life. And when, just as in this case, a life has been taken, we must honor that life, honor that gift by seeking to protect and change the causes that brought forth pain. As we read in Isaiah, we must “cease to do evil and learn to do good.”(Is.1:16-17) Killing is evil, racism is evil but evil is also ignoring and denying the pains of others. Good begins by loving our neighbor as ourselves, good begins with recognition, good begins only with God. This can be done either through protests, petitions, donations, conversations and education. Ultimately all these goods are branches that belong to a family tree. Humanities family tree of which we are the branches of. The same tree on which Christ was crucified upon. As children of God if we claim to be part of that tree, of that cross upon which His blood spilled and freed us from sin, therefore, we cannot idly sit back and say this does not concern me. It is our calling, our duty, our obligation to learn by coming into Christ’s light and doing so, turning away from sin and helping others turn away from their sins. In the letter of St. James we read, “if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20 NRSV)
My dears, that is what racism is – not a problem of skin but of sin. Sin is everything which breaks our communion with each other and with God. We each must do everything in our power to rebuild that communion, which is broken. To rebuild that communion and enter into a life away from sin. In 1965, when Archbishop Iakovos, of the Greek Orthodox Church marched alongside Martin Luther King and he was ostracized for getting himself involved with matters that don’t concern him. Today, the children of those people and the entire Greek Orthodox Church of the United States apologizes to him. My dears, as the Armenian Church, what actions are we taking so that we create positive change today for tomorrow so that we and our children will not be forced to apologize for being on the wrong side of history, of faith and of God? We would rather deflect instead of reflect and ignore our sins and the sins of this world because we are afraid. However, my dears to be afraid means to not trust or believe in God because the opposite of faith is not disbelief, it is fear. As children of God, we are called to have no fear but in faith trust in the Lord. This begins by recognizing our sins, turning away – meaning repenting, and then it extends to how we treat ourselves, how we treat each other and how we treat those who we would see as the outsider.
Psalm 31:8-9 (NRSV) “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute.Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” My dears, it is not our choice but our duty as Christians to step into the light, speak out and defend others in the same way, Christ Jesus did for you and I. That is how one lays down their life for another, which is the greatest example of love. And we must understand that we are not immune to any kind of sin including racism and prejudice. I remember when I was in Jerusalem studying for the priesthood, how much anger I had towards Hassidic Jews who would spit at me or stone me because I was different. Though I was studying to be a priest, even I was not immune to being filled with prejudice. However, Christ calls us to be different, to acknowledge sin and with Him change ourselves. Therefore, no we are not immune from sin but we are called to grow from it and learn to love.
Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, the black lives movement equally to any human rights movement is personal and is our own for which we are called us to grow and learn to love. Today, our brothers and sisters who are oppressed need us and we seeing Christ in them, must answer the call in anyway we can. By doing so, God sees our love and works of mercy and He will draw closer to us (Hos.12:6), He will illuminate our hearts and minds and He will continue to bless us. He will cleanse us from our sins, our hearts and minds from hate, our hands from wrong doings and our bodies from pain. And we being strengthened through Him, will continually praise Him, along with Christ Jesus and the Holy Spirit, forever blessing this world, Amen!