Passages: Wis. 14:1-8; Is. 33:22-34:1; 1 Corinth. 1:18-24; Matt. 24:27-36
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Իմաստ. ԺԴ 1-8; Եսայ. ԼԳ 22- ԼԴ 1; Ա Կորթ. Ա 18-24; Մատթ. ԻԴ 27-36
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
How does our Christian life begin? Holy Baptism. When we are baptized, we are initiated into the Church life. Baptism, is one of many, often defined as 7, sacraments. As ancient Christian’s our Christian life is formed around sacraments because sacraments are physical actions, things we do, that have a mysterious (which is what that word means – khorhurt (խորհուրդ) in Armenian) and divine reality. When we are baptized, we are physically washed and through that mystery we are reborn of water and the Holy Spirit. What about the other sacraments? Marriage – we physically put crowns on the head of the bride and groom and through that mystery unite 2 as one in the Kingdom of Heaven. Through Holy Communion, we physically eat bread and wine which through the divine mystery we find the real presence of the body and blood of Christ Jesus. Through Confirmation or Chrismation at our baptisms, we are anointed physically with Holy oil, Myron, which is the mystery of the adoption as children of God as we too became Christos (anointed), putting on Christ as St. Paul says. Ordination, we physically ordain a priest and dress him in vestments, and through the divine mystery the individual is given authority to cast out demons, heal the sick, forgive sins, and “perform sacraments.” Unction or last anointing is the final prayer a priest does before we pass and though we physically die, we believe that we will awake once more and be with God.
There is one sacrament however, that we often forget because unfortunately, for almost all of us in the Armenian Church it is absent or has changed into something different – the sacrament of confession/penance (khostovanutyun խոստովանութիւն). Most of us see confession as what we do on Sunday morning right before receiving Holy Communion, where the Deacon reads off a list of sins. Or perhaps, if we come from a more traditional background overseas, confession is what we read in the morning before Badarak. This is known as general confession. However, my dears, true confession, the sacrament that is recognized to be fully lived is not a general list which we read right before communion in a language we barely understand, some of us running in late, having missed all of Badarak but at least we get a “Megha Astudzo” in before Communion. Rather, Holy Confession a is private and confidential, one-on-one with the priest, where opening up and reflecting we verbalize and acknowledge our sins. We’ve seen perhaps, in the Roman Catholic Church, how a priest and confessor go into a booth and the confessor lists off their sins, hopefully with sincere repentance. In the Armenian Church, as well as the entire Orthodox Church, there is no booth; it is sitting next to the priest, in front of the Holy Altar and recognizing each of the sins, darkness’s and struggles we face daily. Why? Is it not enough to pray at home, read Holy Scripture, come to Church on Sunday? Why do we need to come and confess to a priest?
My dears, St. John Chrysostom teaches us, in his homily towards priests, that if priests did their service properly there would be no need for therapists, counselors, psychologists, etc. because though a doctor brings healing to the body or mind, God through a priest brings healing to body, mind and soul. However, ponder for a moment, how effective can a doctor be if we don’t seek them out when we are sick? If we don’t tell them what hurts? If we lie to our therapist, or just give a general idea of what is bothering us without diving deeper into our lives, how do we expect to find real healing? Likewise, it is with our faith and confession.
Today the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of Kiute Khach (Գիւտ Խաչ) or Discovery of the Holy Cross – when Queen Helena discovered the Cross of Christ in Jerusalem. And yes, there is historical context to what this day is celebrating however, there is something much deeper that we need to unpack and understand. When the Cross of Christ was discovered it wasn’t just laying there to be found. It is believed to have been buried under a pile of crosses and some say it was in a field under garbage and other crosses. There is even some account that the Cross had been buried underneath a pagan temple. The Roman pagans did not want Christian’s to worship the Cross and so they buried it under a pagan temple so that if Christ’s followers did bow before the cross, they would be forced to bow before a statue of a pagan god. However, when the cross was being looked for, not only was the pagan temple destroyed, not only was ruble and garbage moved out of the way, but it was done so by digging. Digging deep until all the garbage was removed, all the other crosses in the pile, everything – until Christ of Cross was discovered. There is much more to this story naturally, such as the field of basil and how it was determined that it was in fact, Christ’s Cross and not a random one, but what do we see and learn? How does this historic event effect my faith or what does it have to do with the sacrament of Confession?
My dears, we all struggle; we struggle with darkness, addiction, anger, fear, anxiety, hatred, loss, sickness, pain; we struggle with our relationships, our spouses, our friends, our colleagues; we struggle with our choices, our passions. When we come to Confession, when we sit here and open ourselves up and verbally confess our individual sins and not just a general list, we are telling the doctor where it hurts; we are like Queen Helena, digging deep, breaking the pagan temples in our lives, the rock, the material, the lies of this world, the garbage and digging into our lives. Some of us have to dig really deep, and for some of us it will be hard to keep going. That is why we have a priest, to help us not get lost, hurt, confused and weighed down by the burden of our sins. Because when we dig down deep and pull all the trash and garbage out, we ultimately will find what? We will discover the Cross of Christ, we will find the tool by which we are saved, upon which all of our sins have been crucified; We find as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians “the power of God.” (v. 18) That is why Confession is so important and crucial for our healing, for our growth and our faith. Some of the Church Father’s say that if we do not go to confession, we fester in our sin and our faith is not genuine. In fact, the image they use is that of gangrene for which we never find true healing because we never remove the poison that is in us.
My dears, to confess is to be vulnerable which is difficult. That is why in the book of Wisdom we read finding God is like, “…preparing to sail [and about] to voyage over raging waves…” (v. 1) Looking for, opening up to find the Cross of Christ is like going over raging waves. But we are not alone in that storm, we are not alone on our journey. The Church, this family, this sacramental and mysterious family is here for us. Physically we gather and mysteriously we are before God, along with the angels and saints in the Kingdom of Heaven. We find healing here before God, that is why the Church is called a hospital for the sick. That is why not only do the faithful come for private and general confession but even the priests must confess. Apart from private confession which I go to, at the beginning of every Badarak what does the priest recite? (It’s in Armenian so we might not be paying attention). “I confess before God and before the holy Mother of God and before all the saints and before you (fathers, brothers ), all the sins that I have committed; for I have sinned in thought, word and deed and with all the sins that men commit. I have sinned, I have sinned; I pray you, ask of God forgiveness for me.” As a priest I confess before you asking what? Forgiveness and prayer; My dears, confession is a recognition that we all need prayer, priest or laity, we all have darkness and when we confess, we are removing that darkness, garbage and ruble and finding God.
That is why we are gathered here with God our Heavenly Father, who sees and hears our suffering and through Christ Jesus, God the Son has given us the remedy, the healing by which we are set free. If only, we would come to Him, open our hearts, our minds and souls, and be healed in the same way we would by going to our doctors and telling them where we feel the pain. If only we would forgive each other, and pray for one another. When we do, our lives outside the Church also become sacramental; the physical prayers, and life we live through God, is divinely and mysteriously filled with faith, hope and love – all the things we ask for during our baptisms – from where we start our faith. Yes, my dears, if only we would confess our sins, forgive each other, and pray for one another. May the Grace of our Lord help us recognize our sins, confess our brokenness, be with us daily in our journeys, through the raging waves, guiding our hearts, minds and souls to find true healing in the Cross, Amen!