In the name Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
The past week, the Armenian Church has celebrated what is known as the week of the valley of Ararat. Beginning on Monday, each day has been dedicated to the remembrances of the saints that paved the way for the Armenian people to become Christians. As a sign of remembrance and honor, pilgrimages are done to the Churches named after St. Hripisime and Gayane and their companions. Perhaps we have heard, read or seen about these beautiful Churches that were built on the spots where the saints died as Martyrs for their Christian faith. These Churches were built at the direction of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Today, we conclude the week with the remembrance of the Mother Cathedral, Holy Etchmiadzin. Etchmiadzin, for those who have seen it know, has a very powerful gravitas; it captures you and strengthens you.
As one of the oldest standing Churches in all of Christendom, it has stood the test of time as much as the Armenian people have stood faithfully against the persecutions and pains of this world. Etchmiadzin has been a beacon, a source of divine light when all hope was lost. Etchmiadzin has housed not just history or literature but holds within it our stories and echoes of our prayers. Now, some may ask, but it’s only a Church, it’s only a building made up of stone and mud and paint and our Christian faith is not limited to the walls of the Church building. Correct, as we have read through scriptures repeatedly our faith is not defined by monuments or large statues. Especially the last few months, having lived in a pandemic and being cut off from our Churches, we have remained faithful by recognizing that the Church is within us. In fact, where there is no faith but rather only monuments, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees by saying they are “white washed tombs”, only caring about the external. Yet, our Christian faith is both internal and external, as it is lived out through our actions. Therefore, what is the significance of celebrating Etchmiadzin today?
Throughout our world, we build great monuments and landmarks on sights or in places of remembrance. Cultural, national, religious and even personal landmarks, which remind us or serve to teach us each time we visit them or see them. They teach us of great men and women, their actions and contributions to society. Landmarks remind us of events in history such as wars or loss of life. Landmarks speak to us about the lessons of the past and how we much live for a better tomorrow. Holy Etchmiadzin, just like many of those great Churches built on sites of martyrs, serves our Christian faith as a living teacher.
The name Etchmiadzin – which is a compound word meaning Etch, the descent, and miadzin, of the only-begotten, refers to the descent of the Only-Begotten Son of God, Jesus Christ. This name is of course speaking of the vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator, who saw Christ descend with a golden hammer and strike the site upon which the cathedral was built. For this reason, on this feast day we pray “with a golden hammer you struck the abysmal depths and put to flight the bands of demons…”
My dear brothers and sisters, Etchmiadzin is not just the Cathedral or a simple landmark rather, it is the foundation of our faith. Just as in the vision of St. Gregory, Jesus Christ must descend into our own hearts and minds and with his hammer strike our very core, from where demons must flee. Etchmiadzin is Christ revealed in us. That is why we as the Church celebrate this feast. It is not only about the building but about Christ being revealed in us and through us.
Today, we are seeing how statues and landmarks in the United States are being torn down because they represent to some oppression, slavery and pain. However, the real pain and hate is not from statues but from seeing that each one of us has that pain in our core. We must change, we must be better, we must remember what the past is and be better from it. Likewise, seeing the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and celebrating this feast what we are invited to do is remember that Christ must descend into our lives, be revealed in us, so that we are better, we grow stronger and we share his divine love with all creation because if we don’t then yes, we also will become like the Pharisees, externally beautiful but internally rotten.
My dear brothers and sister, St. Hripsime, Gayane, their companions, St. Gregory, St. Trdat, and all the wonderful saintly hosts that we name our Churches after, each serve as reminders that even in our human frailty, even in sickness, darkness, pain, suffering, imprisonment, addictions, depression, etc. everywhere in life, Christ Jesus is with us, in us and the love of God will never leave us when we remain faithful in the life we live. The only-begotten must descend into our lives and strike the very core of our being, so that internally we will change into the beacons of light and hope that we are called to be in this world. We are Etchmiadzin. The famous Armenian poet Avetik Isahakyan wrote that “if you scratch the surface of every Armenian, inside you will find Etchmiazin.” My dears, we are the Church, we are walking landmarks which people see, do they see Christ? Do they see hope and love? Are we each truly Etchmiadzin – descent of the Only Begotten in this world? Let us pray that God will cleanse us of our sins, change us to be his servants, so that we can change this world and fill it with his love, hope, compassion and faith. Let us pray that Christ will descend into each of us and guide our actions. Amen!