Passages: Is. 58:1-14; Rom 13:11-14:26; Mt 6:1-21
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԾԸ 1-14; Հռոմ. ԺԳ 11 – ԺԴ 26; Մատթ. Զ 1-21
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Happy New Year, Shnorhavor Nor Dari! Today is New Year’s, my dear brothers and sisters. Hearing these words, you may think Father did not get enough rest this week or he is recycling a New Years sermon without having read it first because today is certainly not New Years. Today is not even a new month or season. It is the end of a month; it is the end of the Christmas or nativity season for the Armenian Church. It is the end of mask and vaccine mandates here in Chicago, hopefully for good. For most of us it also is the end of the weekend. It, however, is not the beginning of the year.
Today, my dears, is Poon Paregentan for the Armenian Church. In English it is roughly translated into the day of Great Living – Pari = good and gentan = gyank= life. We remember, on this feast day of the Church, the blessings we have received from God. We recall the life for which God created humanity in his image and likeness with the story of Adam and Eve. This feast day, which our brothers and sisters in the Catholic Church celebrate on Tuesday, is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. Unfortunately, many of us, whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant, have forgotten why we celebrate this feast day. Some of us see it as a day to splurge and eat like gluttons. Some of us merely see it as a chance to party. In the Armenian Church, looking at the Holy Altar behind me with its closed curtain, and knowing that tomorrow Great Lent begins, today presents a more somber and less celebratory feeling. However, my dear brothers and sisters, today is new years; it is a time to celebrate and rejoice but understand what and why we are celebrating, for tomorrow is day 1 of our new year.
Today, is a day to make new resolutions in the same way we would during New Years. Resolutions not to better ourselves in some physical or superficial way; but the same resolution for all of us – a resolve to know God more. With the beginning of Lent we all think about giving up certain foods, social media, chocolate, candy, coffee, etc. Some of us make it through the entire length of Great Lent, while some of us fail in a day or a week – but at least we try. Much like our New Years resolutions, we decide to change something in our life so that the result will make our life better. However, for Great Lent my dears, it is not about making resolution to change something in our life by giving up certain foods, but rather to making room in our life for God to change us, mold us, shape us by revealing Himself to us.
Today’s Gospel speaks about our physical actions and the purpose behind those actions. How we pray, fast, give alms; how we forgive or look for treasures and riches in our lives. These actions are good and beneficial, in the same way dieting is beneficial to our health. However, Christ warns us, if we live by these practices because we think there is something to gain, whether from people or even from God, then we will not reap its full benefit or reward. Practicing Great Lent, praying, coming to Church more, is not something we do for God, or thinking we will gain favor through it, rather, we do so because we recognize God’s love and presence in our life. Christ teaches us that when we pray, we begin with those words, “Our Father…” Hayr Mer. To refer to God as our personal father was unnatural in Judaism, who referred to God as the God of their Fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yet, we recognize God as our Heavenly Father, a personal, loving, creating, compassionate Father. When a child is born and up to the first year of their life, they have no real idea of who mom and dad are. However, when the child spends time with his parents and their faces become familiar, there comes a point when they don’t feel comfortable in someone else’s arms, only with mom or dad; It is the same way with God and us my dears.
The more time we spend with God, the more we pray, attend Church, the more we recognize and know who God we become comfortable and comforted by Him alone. And this is what this season of Great Lent, this new year is about: an opportunity for us to spend time with God in order to know who He is. It is not a time to give things up but to be filled and transformed. To recognize God and the image that we were created in. St. Paul writes “the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day…But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (13:12-14)
My dears Christ Jesus revealed to us fully who God is so that we would recognize and become what He created us to be by knowing Him and being known by Him. When we recognize God we become the presence of God in the lives of others around us. Yes, today is the end of a month, of the weekend. Let it be the end also of pointless suffering, of hatred, of arrogance, and of sin. Let us make this resolution – that we will seek to know who God is, draw near and be with God regularly not for earthly gain but rather, so that we will be transformed into being the presence of God in this darkened world. Therefore, happy New Year, happy resolution, happy Great Lent. Take this season, this day, this hour, take this moment to repent, turn to God, and spend time with our Heavenly Father, who calls us by name. May we recognize and know who He is as we are transformed into His divine light and love, so that our lives will bring glory to Him, with the Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!