Passages: Is. 29:11-20; Phil. 4:8-23; Lk. 11:1-13
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԻԹ 11-20; Փիլիփ. Դ 8-23; Ղկ. ԺԱ 1-13
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen!
When the Deacon in Church chants, Yev yevus khaghaghutyan uzDer aghachestsook (Again in peace let us pray to the Lord), what do we respond? Der Voghormya (Lord have mercy). When the priest says, khaghaghutyoon amenetsoon (Peace unto all), what do we respond? Yev unt Hokvuyt koom. (And with your spirit) When we begin praying and we hear the words, Orhnial Der Mer Hisoos Krisdos Amen (Blessed be our Lord Jesus Christ Amen),or Hanoon Hor yev Vortvo yev Hokvoyn Srpo Amen (In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen), we automatically know that we are about to say what? The Lord’s Prayer – Hayr Mer. In the Gospel today, we read of how the disciples ask Christ to teach them how to pray and Christ Jesus begins by teaching them what we refer to today as Hayr Mer, the Lord’s prayer. However, Christ does not merely say repeat these words but continues to speak about how we must seek out the Kingdom of God, how we must ask questions, and bless one another. Additionally, though today’s Gospel reading is from Luke, the Lord’s prayer is also found in the Gospel of Matthew (6:9-13) in the Sermon on the Mount.
This reading for the Armenian Church is read during Lent but when we examine it today, we see how before Christ teaches us the words of Hayr Mer, and even afterwards, He makes an interesting distinction, that relates to His teaching in the Gospel of Luke, between the prayer of the Pharisees and of how we should pray. In Matthew 6, before the Hayr Mer, Christ says, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. Then after Hayr Mer he continues, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you; but if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” What does this mean? My dears, I began this sermon with the words from Badarak, from our Holy Divine Liturgy, and asked if we knew the response to each of those repeated phrases.
Most of us know them. Even if we don’t speak Armenian but have attended Armenian Church occasionally, or maybe a retreat with our youth, or perhaps we’ve attended a service in the Armenian Church like a baptism, wedding or funeral where the priest says, “repeat after each of the Deacon’s litanies, Lord have mercy or Der Voghormya” and so we repeat. If you’re in the choir or on the Altar, the hymns and chants, which are beautiful in nature draw us in and capture our attention. Sitting in the pews, quietly under our breath some of us sing along with the choir, deacons or even priest. However, those words during Badarak, the hymns, chants, repeated phrases, every word in scripture is not information, poetry or even decoration. They are prayers and each time we are in Church, listening to a sermon or in conversation with our priest we are told to be more prayerful, to pray unceasingly, as St. Paul says. Yet, for too many of us, even everyday prayer, attending Church, repeating those phrases or saying we are Christian is merely poetic decoration. It is like putting up Christmas decorations, or setting a thanksgiving table yet, not going further. What do I mean?
Isaiah writes, “And the Lord says: ‘Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote;’” (v. 13) How many of us honor God with our lips and yet, our hearts are far from Him? How many of us speak about religion, chant in the Church, read stories or watch movies or national geographic documentaries about God, Church or Christianity and yet, our hearts are far from God? It is like putting up Christmas decorations yet, in the house we are fighting and divided or setting a table for thanksgiving, yet, in the kitchen we have no idea how to prepare a meal that will give true sustenance. Having a heart far from God can be in many ways. My dears, attending Church and knowing the Lord’s Prayer, or the repeating phrases, even praying at home is absolutely beautiful and necessary for our Christian life. In fact, the Church father’s teach us how just as breathing is necessary for life, so too is prayer necessary from faith. However, a Christian life, what God calls us too is not merely theoretical or limited to words. Rather, we must live it. That is why Christ tells us, along with teaching us the Lord’s prayer, that we must forgive, we must seek out, we must ask questions – we must live and desire to grow in the life that God has ordained for us and calls us to.
That is why we are surrounded by these icons saints, these saints that give us examples of not just prayers in words, but prayerful lives. Or else there is no love in our faith and no sustenance, no reality in our belief in God. That is also why, St. Paul today in Philippians tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, do; and the God of peace will be with you.” (vv.8-9) But let me caution us as well for our Christian faith, our belief in God is not a moral code, or a list of controls for our behavior. We know plenty of people of other faith’s or no faith that are far more charitable and kinder. Therefore, Christianity is not about being kind or charitable; nor is it about only our actions alone. Christianity is about being Christ! Meaning the root, the purpose and cause of our actions, our prayers, our goodness, of our kindness, mercy and charity is God; to glorify God by sharing the Good News. “What you have learned and received and heard [and seen in me], do.” We learn that Good News, we receive the resurrected Christ Jesus who gives us life through the Church, through the prayers, the words, the hymns and chants. But these things are meant to be sparks, meant to ignite a fire of warmth that invites others into this family, into Church. Yet, because for too many of us they remain merely words or we attend Church out of some arbitrary obligation, our hearts never draw near to God, we never truly feast from His table, we never hear and understand the Good News and therefore, we eventually fall away and turn to other options, other idols, other gods.
However, our Lord in His mercy and compassion remains, calls, invites us to come to Him, to knock on the door, to ask questions and seek Him out and He promises that if we do so out of a pure and honest desire to know Him, then we will find truth, we will be let in, we will receive our daily bread. Our lips and our hearts will confess our faith, our light will illuminate this world and our homes will share the truth of God’s love, hope and mercy. The words, Khaghaghutyoon Amenenetsoon Peace be to all, will not only resound from the Altar by the mouth of the priest but will come through each of us to those around us inside and outside the doors of the Church. My dears, pray, sing, chant, but do so not only with lips of flesh but with our heart, with our hands, with our feet and our minds. Forgive and we will be forgiven; turn away and we will be turned away. Our Lord God the Father, through His grace and mercy, has revealed Himself through Christ Jesus, calling us to action, calling us to repentance and prayer.
May it be so not for personal gain but for growing in our Holy Communion with God by drawing others, inviting everyone who seeks Him into this Holy Place, into this home. Where the external decorations and banquet before us is not only physical but is manifested in true love, hope and real sustenance for all who seek the Kingdom of God. So that when we respond to the Deacon by singing Der Voghormya, Lord Have mercy – in our hearts we receive God’s mercy. So that when we say in Hayr Mer, “Our Father…your Will be done…” we truly recognize God as a loving parent and we desire His life giving will in our life. So that when the priest turns and says, Khaghaghutyoon amenetsoon Peace unto all, truly in our hearts we will pray for God’s love, hope, mercy and peace for all – for us, our families, our neighbors, those in the pews next to us, our friends and colleagues, our bosses and leaders, our enemies and foes, for the beggars, and prostitutes in the streets and all those who are still outside these doors. Khaghaghutyoon amenetsoon Peace unto all, Amen!