Holding On

Passages: Prov. 3:18-26; Is. 65:22-25; Gal. 6:14-18; Matt. 24:30-36
ԸՆթերցուածքներ ՝ Առակ. Գ 18-26; Եսայ. ԿԵ 22-25; Գաղ. Զ 14-18; Մատթ. ԻԴ 30-36

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!

As an Armenian clergy, one of the benefits of my “job” is that I not only spend time ministering to Armenian’s but also to many who are not Armenian, Christian, or familiar with the Church. That ministry to non-Armenian’s is not just outside these walls, with ecumenical or social groups. Often times, our community is blessed with visitors for whatever reason and my ministry is presented with an opportunity.

One day after a service, whether it was Badarak, a funeral or another sacrament, a visitor came up to me and said how amazed they were that as a priest I held a hand cross while speaking and which gave me authority as a Christian to speak, but that I held the cross with a special cloth, or that when reading the Holy Gospel again we held it with a cloth. They were amazed to hear the explanation that as Armenian Christian’s we believe in the reverence of the Holy Cross and Word of the Holy Gospel and that we choose not to hold onto these merely with our sinful hands but with a cloth to keep it clean. As a clergyman, sure I knew the reason behind it, yet, I had never really given it much thought that perhaps other Christian’s do not do the same; to be honest I am sure many of us have not either.

We use our hands to for many things. We hold onto money, keys, our phones, and to everyday items; we use our hands to do good and evil, we use our hands to greet one another and hold onto the things that matter most to us. Then without much thought, we come and grab our Cross, our Bibles, the mass or even Holy Communion with those same hands.

Now it isn’t that we are dirty or can’t use soap to clean our hands, nor is it that we are so sinful that we are unworthy because our worthiness and true cleanliness comes from being in Communion Christ Jesus. As many of the Holy Church Father’s teach us that as unworthy as we are, to us, His children, God have His flesh and blood to touch and consume, yet, the priests and prophets of the Old Testament were not even able to enter the Holy of Holies.

Therefore, if it is not only a matter of the physical cleanliness of our hands or our faith, why do we use this cloth and other cloths like these? My dears, it is a matter of our heart and mind. You see the Armenian Church, along with the other ancient Churches uses symbols like this cloth to remind us of the holiness we embrace and are surrounded by. As we embrace these, as we hold onto the cross, the Gospel, etc. we are also called to think about, what else is it that we are holding onto in our lives? Not only with our hands but also our hearts and minds; In other words, my dears, what is it that we place our trust in? In Proverbs we read, “She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her; those who hold her fast are called happy.” (V.18) What is this tree of life? We read a few verses earlier, it is the Lord’s discipline, Wisdom, commandments, and teaching. When we as Christian’s hold onto these things, we are holding onto God. But what does this look like?

A few weeks ago, on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we stated that the Holy Cross is what? A witness and a remembrance of God the Father’s ultimate act of love through God the Son, Jesus Christ. To hold onto God, to follow His commandments, discipline and wisdom, means that we hold onto that love. We remember and we live accordingly, because it is that love which looked at our sinfulness, our brokenness, our depression, anxiety, oppression, hatred, arrogance, and spitefulness; it is that love that broke the artificial lies of the devil who says that we are beyond God’s forgiveness. And that love healed us, lifted us up, consumed us like a blaze and brought us into the communion with God. Whether or not we use a cloth or our bear hands ultimately the question is what do we choose to hold onto, to guide us, to heal us, to free us in this life? Do we hold onto philosophies, yoga’s and other exercises, science, medicine, people, politics, etc.? Do we hold onto personal opinions, social media blogs, slogans or self-help teachings? Do we hold onto our jobs, education, titles, ambitions, failures, success, desires, relationships? Do we hold on to fear, anger, frustration? Though not all of these are not bad or evil in and of themselves, and they can be helpful at times, but which of these is the tree of life through which we are truly healed?

My dears for us who believe in the love of God, in Christ Jesus who died for our sins and rose from the dead, we hold onto to Him like a child holds onto a parents – with trust, hope and love. We cling to our Holy Cross, our Holy Gospel not only as a physical item but through the life we live following the teachings, the wisdom, the commandments, and the love of God which tells us to repent, hope and trust in Him by loving each other, loving ourselves and turning to Him. “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule…” (vv. 15-16) Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, circumcision or not, meaning regardless of what laws, teachings, exercises, hopes, dreams, promises or even pains and darkness we follow or have surrounding us in this life, no matter what worldly things we believe in or trust, in the new creation, meaning life in Christ Jesus, is the only way to have healing, peace, and mercy.

What is it that we holding onto? Hold fast to your cross, hold on to the Word of the Holy Gospel, hold fast to each other, use a cloth or not, but hold on to God’s love by following His commandments, yearning for His wisdom, asking questions to learn His teachings. Let us hold onto the tree of life, Christ Jesus, through whom we receive eternal life. And by holding on, let us live our life following Christ’s example, following the commandments of God, making Wisdom our compass and the love of God our light. May that life in God’s love bring healing to us and the world around us, Amen!

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