Passages: Isaiah 61:10-62:9; 2 Tim. 2:15-26; John 6:15-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԿԱ 10 ԿԲ 1-11; Բ Տիմոթ. Բ 15-26; Հով. Զ 15-21
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Christianity is a cliché! Christianity today, for various reasons has been reduced to slogans, quotes, memes, and many other sayings without the much practice or application of. Quotes such as “God is love; Judge not yet yea be judged; Only God can judge me;” or as we read in today’s Gospel – “Do not be afraid!” All of us have heard, read and even used these and many others like these. Quotes or sayings from the Scripture passages, yet, for too many of us these words have remained nothing more than motivational slogans which though they may help make us feel strong or good, there is no power behind them without faith. “Do not be afraid, it is I” seems like such a simple message of Christ assuring His disciples who we read are caught in the middle of a storm – don’t be afraid. However, in reality as much as we believe God is with us in times of trouble, when the words of scripture merely remain words, it feels difficult and impossible to not be afraid, anxious, worried or lost when we are in the middle of a storm in our life.
Therefore, my dears how do we go from words on paper, from cliché to actual reality? To say with faith is not often clear enough. Therefore, through education, example and discernment. In order to first know what God is teaching us, commanding of us and how He is guiding us, for us to grow in faith, we need to read, ask and study the Word of God – Holy Scripture from where out faith and wisdom comes from. Knowledge of scripture is not enough unless is it also internalized and applied. In the Orthodox Church, we learn how to apply our knowledge of God to the life we live by learning from the example of others; seeing faith in action. But who? The priest, my neighbor, our parents, friends and colleagues? Perhaps! St. Paul says, we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1). My dears, it is the saints, prophets, and teachers that we are surrounded by who are witnesses to living faithfully. Much like the words of scripture have become cliché for us, the saints have become pictures, the icons have become decorations and we have forgotten to learn from them.
For example tomorrow the Armenian Church begins its first fasting period of the year known as Fast of Catechumens. This fasting period, which was established by St. Gregory the Illuminator himself, is a preparatory fast before Great Lent and leads us towards the remembrance of the prophet and saint Jonah. Who is Jonah? We know from Veggie Tales and children’s books that Jonah was a prophet who was swallowed by a big fish when he tried to run away from God.
Though this story is fun to tell children, scripture tells us a much deeper example of who Jonah is and of what Christ is teaching us today – how not to be afraid when we are in a storm. When Jonah trusted in his own abilities, he realized that he was unable, too weak and afraid to take on the tasks and responsibilities that God had given him. This caused him to become anxious, worried and afraid. Rather than trust God, he again trusted his own ability to steer his boat away from those worries and concerns by running away. Only when Jonah prayed, fasted and trusted God fully was he free of fear, anxiety and confusion. But when did he do all this? In the belly of the whale. When he was rock bottom and had nowhere else to go.
My dears, learn from Jonah’s examples. Why do we wait until we are rock bottom, broken, lost in darkness to finally turn to God and pray? Our Christian faith, the teachings of the Church, the Holy Scriptures themselves never negate the storms we will face in life. They never say that we as Christian’s we must be stoic and unshaken by the difficulties of the life. However, we are called to face those and all difficulties with God. So rather then come to God last, why not begin with God first? The early 20th century Baptist teacher Oswald Chambers beautifully says, “We tend to use prayer as a last resort, but God wants it to be our first line of defense. We pray when there’s nothing else we can do, but God wants us to pray before we do anything at all. Most of us would prefer, however, to spend our time doing something that will get immediate results. We don’t want to wait for God to resolve matters in His good time because His idea of ‘good time’ is seldom in sync with ours.” Today the world is in disorder. Families are broken, individuals polluted and corrupted, communities shattered; All these even before any pandemic. “And yet how often in our lives and within our parish communities do we insist on being the captain of our own boat, the lord of our own disorder. Rather than allowing the Word to reveal his presence in the situation, we insist on our own words. We keep Jesus from getting into the boat.” We keep Jesus from our life and so we remain afraid and broken.
My dears, God has given us the tools, the instructions, and the guides by which we should learn how to come to Him and how He comes to us. Whether it is the Word of God Himself in the Holy Scriptures, or the saints, prophets, priests and teachers we learn from through the icons and other means, we must use them. As St. Paul teaches us “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and earthenware, and some for noble use, some for ignoble. If any one purifies himself from what is ignoble, then he will be a vessel for noble use, consecrated and useful to the master of the house, ready for any good work.” (vv.20-22) Use all that is in the great house of God, to purify and become a vessel for noble use, to do God’s work in this world, so that the words we quote from scripture become more than just cliché but rather they become the embodiment, the living example of Christ, God in the flesh, through us to this world. Pray always, keep the fast, read and learn and ask questions with a thirst to grow. Only then will we be able to join the chorus of angels in heaven and with the saints and prophets of old “…greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Is. 61:10)
“If you patiently accept what comes, you will always pray with joy.” – Evagrius Ponticus (Psalm 37:7-9)
My dears, our Christian faith is not a cliché. It is the living incarnation, the real presence of God in this world. Through the life we, who claim to be Christian, live we become Christ to this world and to all those who are sinking in the waves of the storm. We must therefore, live and be imitators of Christ by beginning each day with prayer. We must use the tools that we have been given such as fasting, reading of scripture, looking to the saints so that when we face the storms in our life, we can discern, see and hear Christ calling to us to say, “Do not be afraid, it is I.” Accepting Christ in our boat, into our storm, into our life, may we reach the harbor of peace, the safe haven prepared for us by our loving Lord, and may we through the grace of the Holy Spirit remain unshaken as we learn to give glory to our Heavenly Father, Amen!