In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Gripped with fear, uncertain of what will happen next, there are two choices to be made: Get back up or stay down. Getting back up does not mean victory, success or even an end to all the pain. Yet, remaining down is accepting certain defeat.
If I were to ask, how we would describe someone heroic, what would we say? Brave, determined, strong-willed, faithful, perhaps evenly godly if not god-like. Stories of heroism have always enticed us as humans. Whether they be mythological, pagan, movies, literature or in real life, many of us look to heroic people for inspiration, guidance, and hope. As time goes on, many of the stories about such people become legends and sometimes those stories are exaggerated or deified. A strong individual might be likened to Hercules, a great thinker to Plato; someone who is wise and cunning to Solomon, someone who is a good and kind leader to King Arthur; someone who is resilient to Rosa Park, someone who is a good orator to Martin Luther King Jr. or someone who is faithful to the saints and angels of the Church. Regardless, in almost all the narratives of heroic people there is one truth, their battle and struggles did not guarantee a win but if they stayed down, their stories would die with them.
As much as we have heroic individuals that we celebrate and look to in our daily lives, our Church daily also celebrates heroic people. But for the Church heroism does not come from getting back up because of sheer will or a desire to succeed when the odds are against us. Rather, for the Church the true virtue of heroism comes from being lifted up by Christ even when the world would define us as defeated. As St. Paul teaches, “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) Therefore, a hero for the Church is what we call a saint, someone who has faced the same challenges we face, someone who has been broken and hurt but has been sanctified and made victorious through their belief in Christ Jesus.
Just as hero’s in movies, mythology and literature, saints come in all shapes and sizes, and each has their own journey which inspires us, guides us and teaches us how we are to live our lives. Sadly however, most of us know more about fictional hero’s like Hercules, Odysseys, Superman, Batman, Captain America and many others then we do about our saints – therefore, rarely do we draw examples from them.
Following the 50 days of Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost, the Armenian Church begins to almost daily remember the saints who through Christ paved the way for us to also become saintly. Sts. Hripsime, Gayane, and Gregory the Illuminator or the saintly martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, names we know very closely, yet, rarely give any thought to the life they lived, the struggles they faced, and what we could learn from them. Today, we remember the prophet St. Elijah, who is the only saint that the Armenian Church remembers on a Sunday. Elijah’s heroism wasn’t that he slayed giants or wild beasts nor he did he fly through the air or wear a cool costume. Elijah’s true heroism and sainthood comes from his holiness and generosity to God in a time when all those around him lived a life of idolatry and godlessness. St. Elijah is also one of the few saints who, as ancient Armenian Orthodox Christians we believe, never died but was taken up to Heaven and reappears in the New Testament during the Transfiguration of Christ.
But what can we learn, what can I take away from Elijah to understand and use in my faith as a Christian, living in the 21st century that would make him a hero for me? Look around us, how different is society today, compared to back then? Today we have abandoned our faith, we make internal or external excuses when we are with friends as to why we don’t pray, we sleep in on Sunday for Church but are up before dawn if we are playing golf or going out with friends. We search for self-help, we buy what we can to fill out emptiness; we place more trust in blue eyes and horoscopes then we do in God. A recent article that was shared on social media says that almost 40% of today’s generation believes in horoscopes vs. under 30% who believe in a God. Today, we have again regressed in our faith and become idolaters. We may not worship a golden calf but we worship ourselves and make us in to “god” in the same way as during the time of the prophet Elijah, for the Israelites had abandoned their faith and fallen into the sin of idolatry.
Why? The reasons we give may be plentiful but again I ask, what is there difference from now and then? Nothing except for perhaps today we are far more polluted and perverted then even in Sodom and Gomorrah. Therefore, seeing all the similarities we look again to St. Elijah who saw the same idolatry and godlessness of today and so he went up to Mt. Sinai for solitude because he was being hunted by the pagan King and Queen. There on that Holy Mountain from which Moses had received the 10 Commandments, God asked him, “what are you doing here?” No matter Elijah’s answer, because this saintly hero trusted in the Lord God, even when we was broken and down, God lifted him up, and gave him the strength to bring faith and repentance to all. God made Elijah the difference in a broken world, which changed the hearts of all who listened because Elijah was not a prophet only to the Israelites but also to the strangers and non-Jews. And to learn more about this amazing hero, that I encourage all of us to go and read his life in the scriptures (Books of Kings (1 Kgs 17-2 Kgs 2), as I encourage all of us to learn about the lives of all our saints.
This weekend, we celebrate Memorial Weekend in the United States, a time dedicated to those true hero’s who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. Only 2 days ago we remembered the brave men and women who were ready to die for their freedom of faith and country during the battle of Sardarabad in Armenia. The saints of our Church, each likewise, are the true hero’s who teach us that true freedom, victory and success comes only from God. Because in this life, we will suffer, we will be persecuted, we will be ridiculed, knocked down, hurt, offended, and laughed at; We will face darkness, depression, anxiety, hatred, addiction and all other types of failure. Yet, gripped with fear, uncertain of what will happen next, there are two choices to be made: Deny God, stay down in defeat or trust God and even if we die, our weakness is made strong through Christ Jesus our Lord and savior, who died on the cross, but rose again from the dead raising us up with Him. For a true hero is not someone who is never knocked down, depressed or killed or someone who dresses in a spandex and flies through the air or carries a shield. A true hero is one who is ready to give their life for another, who loves and forgives, who lifts others up, who is compassionate and merciful, and willing to accept their shortcomings. A true hero and saint is one who prays and cares for others physically and spiritually.
As we read in James (5:16-20) “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective…My brothers and sisters, 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.” A true saint, my dears, is one who does all this because they ultimately trust that God will raise them up. We are all called to be saints – cleansed of our sins through baptism, washed by the blood of Christ Jesus, in communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, created in His divine image – worshippers of the one true God only and not of the idols and mythological heroes of the pagans and movies.
Therefore, my dears, let us read and learn about our saints, the superhero’s of faith, the legends of Holy Scripture and the Holy Church. Let us learn and see how they, likewise, faced the struggles and darkness we face today. Even when they were knocked down, they were raised and when we trust God, even when we are knocked down, we will be raised. For our God is an awesome God, who heals the sick, forgives our transgressions and who gives life to the dead. Glory be to our God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!