In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
During the 2020 Covid19 pandemic, as our Churches were locked down and we were forced to stay at home, almost all Christian denominations and clergy quickly began to adapt and find modern solutions to reach their faithful flock. We began, for example, to live-stream everything. Church service, Bible Study classes, prayer sessions, counseling, all took on a virtual component and for many of us today our Christian religion is experienced behind a computer screen.
This “modern step” which solved one challenge, now brings about other challenges, such as how do we get faithful to understand that our Christian faith cannot be experienced from behind a smartphone or computer screen. And while this is one of the most important things we need to understand today yet, this new challenge also opened up a dialogue about how the ancient Orthodox and Catholic Churches (especially) must continue on this path and should look to be more modernized in other areas as well.
All of us have heard or asked these questions and others like them, such as why do we need a Badarak to be 2 hours long? Why all these icons, incense or all these decoration? The language, the elaborate celebrations, the royal vestments, it’s too much, why not have a short 15 minute service around noon with a motivational devotion/sermon to live by then we can go about our day? After all Christ spoke about humility, all he did was preach. Jesus didn’t do or teach us any elaborate services because God doesn’t really need any of these things anyway, so it’s time for the Church to become more modern. These are only a few of the suggestions made and asked about regarding how we can change the ancient Churches approach to worship. While there may be some argument to be made about the language because many of us do not understand the ancient Armenian text, however, to think that Christ himself did not establish all this or to say God does not need all this is to misunderstand what the Church is.
In Hebrews today we read St. Paul teaching us that from the very beginning God established a certain way, regulations, to how we must worship. To have this idea of a sacred space and a place to physically come together with incense, gold, etc. “Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly sanctuary. For a tent was prepared, the outer one, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence; it is called the Holy Place, behind the second curtain stood a tent called the Holy of Holies, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, which contained a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat...” (vv. 1-5) No, it doesn’t speak about language or length of service, but rather, it draws attention to our hearts and minds to understand that just as we have a physical home where we physically rest and work, hospitals and doctor’s offices as a physical space where we find healing for physical ailments, likewise, our souls, our faith needs a sacred physical space for us to physically gather into and express our faith by focusing on God. How we fill that sacred space is not about ancient or modern practice, but rather it is about our heart, mind and soul’s expression of love.
In May we celebrated Mother’s day, this month we will celebrate Father’s day, what do we do on these days? We buy flowers or maybe a nice whiskey and other gifts and cards, and spend time with our beloved parents in various activities and thank them for their love and support in our lives. We physically, if possible, spend time with them even if that means only holding their hands and thinking back over memories. And the older we get, the more we understand how precious a parent truly is in our lives. What if someone was to say we are doing too much or we don’t need to spend that much time with our parents, how would we react? We would probably be upset and say, “there is no limit in how much time or ways we want to express our love and appreciation. Nothing we do could ever repay or replace what they have done for us.” This is especially true when we’ve physically lost a parent. It is the same with our faith my dear brothers and sisters.
Everything we do in the Church, why we physically gather, why we sing, and adorn our walls with icons, and fill this sacred place with incense and music is because as ancient Armenian Christian’s we believe this is the minimum we could do to worship, praise and express love and thanksgiving to God our Heavenly Father, the Son and Holy Spirit for His love and blessings. We do all this as a minimum because we understand we could never fully express our love in the same way we could never pay back our earthly parents for their love and blessings. Therefore, no God doesn’t need all this, we need all this so that we will grow in our communion and love in God. When we begin to think that physically coming to Church is unnecessary, it is the same as saying we don’t physically need to spend time with our parents and those we love. When we begin to think this is all too much, it is the same as limiting in how much we think is necessary to express love for our parents. When we settle for the computer screen and do not come physically to this sacred space and into communion with God, it is the same as settling for a picture on our tv’s or computer rather than spending real time with our earthly parents.
My dears, just as God has given us those earthly parents to teach, guide, instruct, love and even more likewise, our Heavenly Father and our Heavenly Mother, the Holy Church, bring us teaching, guidance, instruction, love and more. Our religion and its practice is about how we respond to that love, teaching, guidance and hope. But it is here where we learn how to respond; it is from here in the Holy Church beginning from our baptismal font, then each day we learn which then extends into those actions we live by, how we then treat ourselves, each other, and all creation. Because being a Christian means we like our Heavenly Father create not only consume. We express, respond, put into action our love because our actions and works bear witness to whose child we are – our Heavenly Fathers. That is why Christ Jesus tells the Pharisees that His works, his actions, bear witness to who He is. Therefore, how will we respond to our parents love, to God’s love?
Let us not allow ourselves to be deceived by modernity and its simplicity. Let us not think we do any of this for God but rather we do it for us in response to God’s love. Let us understand how blessed we are to recognize God as our Heavenly Father, the Church as our Mother in the same way we are blessed with our physical parents. May our response to love be a reflection of the love we have received, humble in our hearts and not expecting of blessings or rewards. For the greatest blessing and reward is the love we have already received from mom and dad, the Holy Church and from God our Father, who is worthy of all praise, thanksgiving and glory with the Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!