In the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
As the days draw to an end and this year comes to a close, many of us are asking where did 2020 go? This year brought with it many things. At first, we may remember, as the pandemic began, people commented on how being forced to stay home and with family has been a blessing because we’ve had to stay home and therefore, had the opportunity to actually have breakfast with our children or dinner with our spouses.
Additionally, working from home or not having to get stuck in traffic made people more productive. However, this quite quickly changed as the pandemic, then elections, mask or no mask arguments, the war in Armenia, the endless zoom meetings and staying at home orders made this year feel like a broken record, groundhog day, a cycle where minutes, hours, days and weeks blended into one long drawn out story. And almost everyone now says the same thing, “I can’t wait for this year to be over, but I don’t know how it got here in the first place.” This lapse of reality with our time forced many of us to reevaluate it – What do we do with our days, how do we spend our hours? How productive are we really at home or even in the work place? One thing I hear often now a day is, “I don’t have any sense of time. Working from home, I don’t feel like I’m really working or even working enough.”
We all want to be productive even if sometimes we procrastinate or we are lazy. But because we have to and also because we want to, we work, we write, we create, we go for walks, we answer texts and phone calls, we build relationships, we read books, we draw or paint, etc. – we are productive to the best of our abilities. Yet, I am curious, if we ever think about the quality of our productivity vs. the quantity? As a society, we are all wired to think quantitatively – the more the better. The more friends I have on social media, the more popular I am. The more texts I get or invitations I receive, the more liked I am. The more books I read or write, or the more pictures I draw, the more museums I visit, etc. the smarter I am. The more I produce at work, the more money I’ll have, and the better will my life be. However, we rarely question the quality of those friendships, the depth of the conversations through those texts, the information or beauty of the books and artwork or the lasting impact we have through the money we gain through our work.
Yes, it is important to produce and create, especially as Christian’s we try to be like our Heavenly Father who is a creator, arareech (արարիչ), above all other things. Yet, do we give thought to the quality of what we produce? In the Gospel today, Christ tells us a parable about a fig tree that does not produce fruit and the master of the garden tells the vinedresser, or gardener, cut the tree down for it is pointless to have a tree that produces no fruit. The vinedresser, who we as Christian’s interpret to be Jesus, argues to give the tree another chance and he will tend to it to help it produce fruit.
However, the parable does not speak about what kind of fruit or even how much fruit. Therefore, what does it mean, as a Christian to produce fruit? We spoke earlier of examples of productivity as people – money, work, relationships, education, etc. Yet, as Christian’s, as the children of God, do these reflect the kind of fruits we must produce? We are told to love one another therefore, we have relationships; We are told to learn, study, ask questions, therefore, we have education; We are told not to be lazy, to contribute to society, to use our talents and abilities and to give of what we have, therefore, we work and the money we have, we take care of ourselves, our families or we donate to Church or other wonderful organizations. Yet, is this what it means to produce fruits as Christian’s?
My dear brothers and sisters, it is not about the quantity of what we do or create rather, the quality. Meaning whatever we create, whatever we donate, whatever we learn, study or cultivate ultimately, as Christian’s, must come from a spirit of repentance. That is why the first part of today’s Gospel, Christ speaks of the importance of repenting. But repentance is not about a feeling of regret. Repentance does not mean we feel bad about our actions, choices, decisions, etc. To repent means to change or turn. In Armenian, repentance is ab-ashkhar-oo-tyoon (ապաշխարութիւն). Ab is the first part of the word, which is rooted in turning. Ashkhar is the second part of the word, which depending on the spelling changes it’s meaning and the way it is spelled in the word for repentance it means tears or sorrow. Yes, to repent means to turn but it does not mean to turn away from our choices but rather, as Armenian Christian’s when we are called to repent, we are called to “turn away from sorrow” towards God. This is to teach us, my dears, that as children of God, we must realize that though we are free to choose how we live, how we work, what we do, how we produce, etc. if we choose to do all this through faith, then we are turning away from sorrow and placing our gaze upon God our Father who blesses us and our fruits.
In other words, we are using our love out of faith rather than an obligation; We are creating out of hope, and not for some type of acknowledgment. That is why St. Paul says, “For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus… for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another… But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you” (1 Thessalonians 1:11) In other words, yes, produce, live, create, write, build, enjoy life because life has been given as a gift to us to enjoy, but don’t do it because someone told you or because life requires it. Do it because it is a natural product of our faith to love, to hope, to create, to foster, etc. It is not about how many friends we have, or how much money we gain, or anything else which is defined by quantity but ratherthe quality. And what gives our choices, our fruits quality, is God.
Therefore, if we want to judge as to how productive we have been this year, let us begin by asking, how many times did we live from God this year? How much scripture did we read and use what we read to live our life? How many questions did we ask our priest about our faith and did we try to grow from it? How many times did we thank God for the blessings we do have, even through the struggles of this year? How many times did we really turn away from sorrow and towards God, repent, confess, and strive to grow in our faith? Even if we did it once as long as we did it with repentance, than we produced real fruits through Christ Jesus and we are called to do it more and more.
My dears, yes, this year is coming to an end, just as every day the sun rises and sets. What we do throughout the day is important but let us not forget in what spirit we do those things. When we wake up in the morning, rather then reach out to grab our phones first, let us reach out to God in prayer. Let us turn away from sorrow and towards God so that we will produce fruits of quality through us. Let us do this by asking questions, praying, reading, connecting and loving. And through a life of repentance we will produce fruits, which glorify God our Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen!