True Peace and Strength

Passages: Is. 14:3-17; 2 Corinthians 10:18-11:10; Mark 10:1-12
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԺԳ 3-17; Բ Կորնց Ժ 18-ԺԱ 10; Մարկ. Ժ 1-10

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

In English folklore and legend there is a story about a young King; A boy, who though was born of royal lineage, was raised by a commoner and was unaware of who he truly was. As the legend goes, the son of King Uther pulled the mighty sword Excalibur from the stone and was hence forth known as King Arthur. Though the historical King Arthur is often argued about, the legend holds a place of great importance. Arthur became King Arthur when he found strength in himself and lifted Excalibur out of the stone. Though many of great strength attempted this feat, only this young boy was able to do so not because of his physical strength but rather the strength that was in his heart.

What is strength my dears? Today as Armenian’s we are once again forced to ask ourselves what and where is our strength, as Azerbaijan once again attacks, kills, and decimates our homeland. Where and what is our strength if something we ask even if we set political hardships aside, and look into our lives, and the struggles we face daily. Broken families and friendships, shattered communities, and deception. Skeletons in our closet, addictions and darkness we wrestle with, the lies we tell ourselves to justify the wrongs and evils in our lives; how do we overcome all this? Where and what is our strength?

One of the Fathers of the early Church, St. Justin Martyr tells us, that the author of all war is the devil. War is not merely what is in the battlefields my dears; nor is war limited to firing weapons at each other or killing each other through other means. War is evil that we do to each other, to the environment around us and to ourselves. And the only way to overcome  and fight this war is by finding out strength. Karekin the I, Catholicos of All Armenian’s taught that nations do not survive merely with economics and with foreign policies but with all that God commands. These words reflect to Christ’s words in the dessert, who tells the devil, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matt. 4:4) Does this mean if we merely come to Church, fast, and pray that we will have strength to overcome war and all the darkness in our lives? Or that if we believe in God, than war does not happen? No, my dears. Evil is real and war is real.

Rather, when we come to Church, fast and pray and live our Christian life with a heart open and trusting God than God will transform us and reveal to us the strength we have through Him within us. And God does this by equipping us with what we need to overcome those wars in our lives. Patience, hope, fortitude, love, compassion, mercy, etc. tools by which we grow into who God created us to be. But this only happens when we begin trusting in God more than in our own abilities, trusting God more than in other worldly leaders or any other thing. Not world economics, not foreign policy, not bread alone but everything God gives us. God gives us the strength and God is our strength to overcome evil and find peace. Because if the author of war is the devil, then know that the author of peace is God alone and peace does not mean weak. And peace is not just the absence of warfare and conflict, but is an active state of harmony and well-being that applies to all relations, to each other and to the relationship of God and man

Every Sunday, the priest repeatedly says, «Խաղաղություն ամենեցուն», “peace unto all”. In fact, it is the very first words out of a newly ordained priest, his first blessing is peace unto all. But what peace is he talking about? Peace from earthly wars? Peace in our communities, in our governments? No, my dears, peace and strength as given by God is greater than what this world defines, and this peace is given as a blessing that we take with us as strength to fight and bring harmony in our relationships. Because when things go bad, when we struggle, when we see real war or personal battles, our first instinct should be to fight! We must fight to bring peace. Sometimes this is hard, especially after we’ve been fighting for a long time. But we fight not with the swinging of the sword to strike each other down and we fight not with our own strength which may fail us but with the humility and trust in God. Fighting for peace means working for peace, living our faith. As St. Paul says, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Tim. 4:7-8)

Our strength my dears, to keep fighting, like that of the legendary King Arthur’s comes from recognizing who we are through God. We are a child of God, loved and cared for no matter what scars we have, no matter what wars we have fought, no matter how dirty and vile we think we are or how cruel the world has been to us, we are loved by God. And we need to recognize this in us and in others as well because when we recognize this then we understand what God’s peace is, then we can understand what it means to live by God’s commandments. A peace that fights not to kill but to overcome and lift up; A peace that comes from Christ Jesus, who came and suffered just like us, who died just like we do but we who overcame death, just like we will through Him. This is our strength and peace, this is our faith – no matter who we are Christ comes for us and loves us. If only we would trust in Him to help us pull the sword out of the stone, to arm us with everything we need to fight and overcome the evils in our lives. Let us pray for each other, pray for our soldiers, for our homeland, our leaders, our Church so that through her we will learn how to trust in God, who will equip us with everything we need to overcome war and bring peace into this world.

Opened

Passages: Is. 13:2-11; 2 Corinth. 7:4-16; Mk. 7:31-37
Ընթերցուածքներ՝ Եսայ. ԺԳ 2-11; Բ Կորնց. Է 4-16; Մկ. Է 31-37 

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

What is faith? Whatever it may be or however, we define faith, faith is not learned here in Church! This might be a startling or even upsetting revelation, but coming to Church on Sunday is not where we learn what faith is. Throughout the Gospels we read about how Christ taught in synagogues, and yet, he mainly taught on the hills, by the water, in the towns and in homes. We might argue that there was no formal Church back then, that is why Christ taught in all those places. Though this is true, what we see, not just from Christ, but also the Apostles in the New Testament, the Prophets in the Old Testament and even many of the Church Father’s and Mother’s, is that faith was taught out there in the streets, in homes, in conversations. This isn’t to say, stand out in the streets and yell about the end times, like we see in movies. But rather, when we want to learn something and have an impactful dialogue, we do it one on one, dedicating time and effort. Similarly, today, deep conversations and understanding of our Christian faith begins when we sit down and ask questions from our priests; when we read the Holy Scriptures, learn the traditions of the Church and invite the priest into our homes in order to be able to ask those personal questions, share our ideas and struggles about our Christian faith. When we dedicate time and effort. Then we come to Church to strengthen that faith we’ve learned, glorify and give thanks to God, acknowledge God’s presence in our lives by coming into Holy Communion with Him through the Body and Blood of Christ Jesus.

In fact, in Armenian the word Badarak means what? If we say Divine Liturgy, that would be short of its true definition. Divine Liturgy is the Roman Latin definition – divine meaning Holy and liturgy, meaning work of the people. So, the Holy work of the people. But what makes it Holy, and who are the people that do this work? The priest? The choir? The greeters? Majority of us sit at home and watch Badarak on a screen today therefore, what work is being done apart from a click of a mouse? In the Armenian mindset, Badarak is not only Holy but it is an acknowledgement of sacrifice – Holy Sacrifice, Soorp Badarak. But what sacrifice? Whose sacrifice? In Greek, what we do here is known as Eucharist, ευχαριστία – which means thanksgiving. But who are we giving thanks to and for what? The answers to these questions, therefore, needs to be learned before coming here, so that when we come to Church we understand why we are here, what is so important about coming to Church and praying together.

In the Gospel today, we read about “a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech…” We’ve all heard or read this story, about how Christ heals the man, saying “‘Eph′phatha,’ that is, ‘Be opened.’ And his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” What is opened? His ears and tongue? Perhaps physically. However, God is not a magician nor a voodoo healer to only heal the physical ailments we have. Hearing aids can help a deaf man hear and speech therapy can bring an end to speech impediments. God’s healing, when God opens our ears and tongue means much more than physical limitations being lifted. My dears, when we read this story look at what Christ does, “and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said…” When else do we see that Christ, looks up to Heaven and sighs, groans or cries? At his crucifixion, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” (15:37) The Greek word used at the Crucifixion afeis which means to let go is rooted in the word aphesis which means pardon, forgive, released. This means that when we read about Christ Jesus letting go or opening the ears and tongue of this man, and when we ask God to heal us, God’s healing is not merely physical or superficial healing but it is a pardoning of us, a breaking of the power of sin in our life. When Christ healed this man, it was a foreshadowing, a revelation that Christ’s healing that is beyond the cures of this world and it is our spiritual eyes, ears and our tongue that is opened. Opened to what? Opened to begin understanding who God truly is, what is God’s love and why He desires communion with us. With this understanding, my dears, we learn what faith is and how we can grow in faith.

What is faith? A feeling? Perhaps a belief? No, my dears, faith means being open. Open to God, who knows us and seeks us; open to grow; open to be healed. And this is not done by our own efforts, but God is the one who heals us to be opened. What we must do is be willing to be opened. Opened to being opened. Because being open to being opened by God means learning and living His Commandments; being open to God means hearing and recognizing our sinfulness and trusting God to heal us; being open to God means trusting God. However, my dears, we will not learn how to trust God, what His commandments are, nor have a desire to be healed of our sinfulness unless we invite God into our lives, into our homes. We do this by opening up the Holy Scriptures, opening our homes, our hearts and minds to ask questions, face the fears of doubt, allow ourselves to shed tears and repent of our sin. Only then will we be healed, opened and begin to understand that through the grace of God that it is Christ who is being sacrificed in Holy Badarak, it is God the Father whom we are giving thanks to and we are the people, each one of us who through the Holy Spirit must do the Holy work of God. A work that is not merely limited to 2 hours in this building but grows from here into the streets, into the workplace and into our everyday life.

St. Mark the Ascetic teaches us, “Faith consists not only of being baptized in Christ, but also in fulfilling His commandments.” Meaning, it’s not enough to come to Church and do all this, but we must also live what God teaches us. We live by learning, we learn by opening our homes, our lives, ourselves up to being opened by God, who loves us and desires to be in Communion with each one of us. Therefore, ask questions, read, thirst and desire to be opened by God, to be healed. Thereby, we too will be the voice, the hands, the feet that bring God’s work, news of God’s sacrifice through Christ Jesus, the good news of eternal life to the whole world. Through us, will healing come into this world and together we will give thanks and glorify God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and always, Amen!