Eternal Present

Armodoxy for Today: Eternal Present

At the top of most altar areas is the Armenian Church there is a solitary symbol that stands still amidst the paintings, icons, brass hardware and tall curtains vying for our attention. It the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet “Է” and pronounced “eh” as the “e” in elevator. The symbol also finds its way into artwork, books and on khatchkars (carved cross stones), where it has also served as a secret code during times of persecution.

The letter “eh” is the verb to-be (is) in the present tense. In the Armenian Church it is the name of God. In Holy Scripture, Moses asks God, … When I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them? And God said to Moses, I AM WHO I AM. And He said, Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’  (Exodus 3:13-15)

The name of God is “I am” and accordingly, “He is!” He is in the eternal present – not He was, or He will be, but forever, He is! Is it any wonder that Jesus uses the same words to present himself? I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the way, the truth and the life… I am, He is, “eh” is the name of God which appears mystically in ornament and overt form.

When His Holiness Vazken I, of blessed memory, came to open the Armenian Martyrs’ Monument in Montebello in 1968, he brought with him a khatchkar which is placed as the centerpiece of the monument. It presents the “eh” boldly, becoming a mark of the First Christian Nation on Earth, in the public space in the secular world.

And it is not by chance that the “eh” – the eternally present “He is” – is the seventh letter of the Armenian alphabet! Mesrob Mashdots who invented the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet strategically placed “eh” as the seventh letter as letter of completeness. Seven is the sum of four (the number of earth with four directions) and three (the number of heaven, the Holy Trinity). The seventh letter, “eh,” the name of God, is the ALL, completeness, heaven, and earth.

And there’s more… such as the year of Armenia’s conversion is the 301 which has two prime factors: 43 and 7. But we’ll save that for another day.

When we view life, and thus history, we view it in four dimensions – place and time. God’s view is outside of time and eternally in the present. God’s vantage point sees the Crucifixion and the Resurrection at the same moment. Jesus challenges us to live in the moment. His statements about the “Kingdom of God” are void of time reference. Furthermore, he cautions us not to live in the past and not to worry about tomorrow. The past is gone and cannot be changed or altered, hence his demand for us to forgive. (Matthew 18:21-22) The future, on the other hand, has no guarantees, as the parable of the “Rich Fool” (Luke 12:13f) graphically brought that reality to our attention. For us, the challenge is to live in the only accommodating space, namely the present. It is a difficult but worthy exercise.

For today, we think of God as eternal “I am” or “He is.”

Let us pray, O Lord, Jesus Christ, you taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed by thy name…” You presented Him to us as Father, surrounded by time, and as eternal Divinity, not bound by space or time. Help us to accept this Mystery and focus our energy on living in the moment – loving those around me, caring for those who hurt, extending comfort to those in need. Help me to keep my thoughts on sharing the love you have placed in my heart and sharing that love without restraint. Amen.   

Day after Crucifixion

Armodoxy for Today: After the day

If you were in Jerusalem in the early Spring of the year 33, and you happened to see the persecution, mock trial, torture and eventual execution of Jesus of Nazareth, you’d most definitely be confused, as were the people of the time.

The year is 33. Jesus began his ministry only three years earlier. He spoke of love. He healed the sick and miraculously cured the people of their many social and physical ills. He spoke out against the establishment, which got him into trouble with the religious authorities. They persecuted him and finally arranged for his crucifixion. It was Friday afternoon. Word had gotten around that he was, in fact, the Son of God, and so they mocked him, saying, “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:42-43)

If on that Friday evening you left town, after witnessing the life beaten out him you would have only been privy to half of the Jesus story. If you witnessed the crucifixion and left, you would understandably believe that the Jesus story ended there and then. You would believe evil has won and the promise of God was merely, words with no action.

Fortunately, we know the story didn’t end of Friday with the crucifixion. That is why we have the audacity and courage to refer to that day as “Good” Friday. We know that on Sunday, Jesus resurrected from the dead.

The Christian has the unique perspective of viewing life through the looking glass of the Resurrection. In other words, we’ve seen the Crucifixion but we know the Resurrection awaits! Viewed from Easter Sunday, from the vantage point of the Resurrection, we can proclaim along with St. Paul, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting.” (I Corinthians 15:55)

Today we stand in witness of the Crucifixion of the Artsakh. As the Armenian Church, we are the witness to the Resurrection. We were there in the year 33 on that Sunday morning at the Empty Tomb. We were there at the end of St. Gregory’s imprisonment at Khor Virap in the 4th century. We were there at Avarayr with St. Vartan in the 5th century. We were there during the persecutions of barbarians through the centuries. We were there in 1915 and in 1918. We mourned the loss of our martyrs and also rang the bells of Sardarabad. We were there through communism and there when communism fell. We are there today, proclaiming the same Truth we have for centuries. The Crucifixion is not the end because there is Resurrection. Good overcomes evil, life is what is lasting over than death. Darkness can never overcome the Light. And Love is always more powerful than evil.

If at all we feel hopeless, we only open our hearts to the message of Resurrection from the Holy Church.

Today’s meditation is from the Resurrection account of St. Luke,
Now on the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they, and certain other women with them, came to the tomb bringing the spices which they had prepared. But they found the stone rolled away from the tomb. Then they went in and did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. Then, as they were afraid and bowed their faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’

The Unusual

Armodoxy for Today: The Unusual

The Gospels record a very supernatural, what is commonly called miraculous, event. Spotting miracles has become a popular pastime of many people of faith. A blind man sees, a woman’s bleeding stops, the deaf person hears. But today I will read you a story about a large scale miracle and ask that you identify the miracle, and here is a clue: it’s something very unusual.

St. Matthew records Jesus found himself being followed by thousands of people without a logistical game plan to accommodate the masses.  He writes, “When Jesus saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

Now remember, you’re searching for the miracle, what is truly unusual.

“The disciples said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish.’ He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.”  Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.  And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” (Matthew 14:14-23)

Did you spot the miracle? Did you spot what is truly unusual about the incident described in this story? The obvious answer, that Jesus fed about 20,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, sounds like a miracle, but remember this is Jesus doing it. It is not unusual for the Son of God. And yes, we can guesstimate a number between 15,000 to 20,000, considering the 5,000 men were there with their wives and children.

The bigger number is what follows, when it’s recorded that not only were the people fed but they collected 12 baskets of left-overs. This statement lays to rest any the doubt that the food was truly multiplied.

One of the first things that strikes me as unusual is that Jesus turns the matter over to his disciples and says, “You feed them.” In other words, you have the ability to do so: Take care of it! But the truly unusual event occurs afterwards. Jesus withdraws to pray!

Jesus is at the height of his popularity. Thousands are following him. He’s touching and healing the people physically and spiritually. He brings about one of the greatest of his miracles by feeding the mass assembled. And at the end of it, he withdraws and prays. That is unusual! Compare this to us. Do we pray when everything is going right? When we’re at the “top of our game”? Or, is more like when we are in need, hurting and have run out of options? The number of prayers we offer are directly increased in proportion to the difficulties we endure. For Jesus, prayer was a constant in his life, during good and bad times.

He taught us that our “Heavenly Father already knows your needs before you ask.” (Matthew 6:8) If this then is the case, then why do we pray? Jesus is telling us that the conventional definition of prayer, as conversation with God, is only a part of the story, a very small part. God knows our needs, but do we know them? Prayer is a conversation with God and also with our self, or in other words, with God who also lives within us and without us.

Throughout Scripture, we follow the life of Jesus as an example of living. He prays, he fasts, he loves unconditionally, these are all outward manifestations of the disciplined life. Prayer brings into focus those things that are important in our life. Jesus turned to the disciples and say, “You feed them.” We have the capacity within us to do the seemingly impossible. In a world troubled by war and plagued with hatred, solutions often seem impossible. When we turn to God in prayer, we hear His voice telling us, “You feed them.” This is the first step toward realizing and actualizing a plan for ultimate peace.

We pray today from the fourth hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s Confession with Faith, “Son of God, true God, who descended from the bosom of the Father, and took on flesh from the holy Virgin Mary for our salvation; crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, ascended in glory to the Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; remember me the thief on the cross when you come into your kingdom. Amen.

King of Glory

Armodoxy for Today: King of Glory

Armodoxy has developed in a land and among a people that have not known peace for long stretches of time. Armenia, at the intersection of three continents, Africa, Europe and Asia, has been trampled on by invaders, barbarians and would-be conquerors.

Sunday after Sunday in the Armenian Church, there is a “question-and-answer” session which takes place during the Divine Liturgy. This Q&A has been going on for centuries. The deacon, with the chalice in hands, approaches the priest and asks that the doors be opened for the “King of glory.” The priest asks, “Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle?” The questioning continues and upon his second inquiry, the deacon announces, “This is the King of glory!” and hands-off the chalice for the priest to prepare the Holy Eucharist.

It was the Psalmist who first framed the dialogue on behalf of a hurting world (Psalm 24:8-10). And it has been heard and overheard from altar areas ever since, during times of trouble, persecution and war.

Priest: Who is the King of glory… mighty in battle?

Deacon: This is – He is – the King of glory!

Wars are won and wars are lost but in the case of Armenia, the number losses far outnumber the wins, prompting a more appropriate question: Who is this King, so mighty in battle, that the war was lost? Perhaps not as an audible chants by the deacon, but definitely in the solitude of the mind. Ultimately, what does it mean to proclaim God as almighty – mighty in battle – in the face of horrific tragedies that we endure?

In Holy Scripture, time and time again, we find our Lord Jesus teaching by example. When a tragedy befalls another, he touches them with his love and asks us to do the same. During the Divine Liturgy, the deacon is heard inviting people to worship. He beckons the congregation to stand in peace, to pray fervently, to listen in awe, to prepare themselves and to approach the Blessed Sacrament. Simply put, he calls everyone to celebrate the victory of Christ. His pronouncement “He is the King of glory!” is a response to the priest’s question and at the same time it is an invitation for us to engage in the Kingdom which is in our midst.

“The kingdom of God does not come with observation,” says Christ our Lord, “Nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)

“The King of glory mighty in battle,” is the answer the Deacon proclaims to the priest and in-turn to all of us, every Sunday. We are invited to explore, engage and discover the King of glory for ourselves, “mighty in battle” who is here answering us, our sufferings, our dilemmas, and our wars, by touching us with his love and compassion. By accepting the invitation, we engage in the Kingdom of God. We accept a call to personal and community responsibility to extend ourselves. Indeed, the Kingdom of God is within us!

The Q&A, the Divine Liturgy and hence, our Church is calling us to this higher understanding of our Christian Faith, as members of the Kingdom, to engage in the struggles and sufferings that are all around us, not with a question but with the solid answer: He is the King of glory, mighty in battle.

Today we pray from the Lords prayer, “Our Father, may your kingdom come, may Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Amen.

War Crime?

Armodoxy for Today: Oxymoron not

Warning: The following message may contain content that is graphic and/or disturbing intended for historical purposes.

An oxymoron is a figure of speech that juxtaposes concepts with opposite meanings within a word or in a phrase that is a self-contradiction. For instance, “act naturally,” is an oxymoron because if you’re acting, you’re not natural. Awfully good, is often used to describe something of excellent quality, even though if it’s awful, it certainly can’t be good. There are many oxymorons that are part of our daily conversations. Jumbo shrimp, Civil war, Old news, Bittersweet, are all examples of the pairing of opposite meaning words.

I have found a set of words with the same or similar meaning that are paired together to give the illusion that they are opposites. And although they’ve creeped into our daily conversation, their pairing doesn’t fool me. I’m talking about the words “War crimes.” We talk about people being guilty of war crimes, as if war is not a crime in itself; as if you can have a war without committing a crime. Digging a bit deeper we find that there are rules and regulations that govern war. Because we have classified our society as civilized, we have contrived rules for war. A soldier is fair game to be shot while a civilian is not. It sounds crazy, but a young man who dons the uniform of a soldier is no longer presumed to belong to a mother or father who will be devastated at his death.

It’s bizarre and even sickening, when we try to convince ourselves that we are civilized, that our conflicts are resolved by the shooting, maiming, injuring and killing those who oppose us. In Kigali, Rwanda I stood at the genocide museum. There, they had exhibits of all the genocides of the 20th century. I stood as the child of survivors of the first genocide of the 20th century at the scene of the last genocide of the 20th century. With one foot in Armenia and one in Rwanda, I was looking at the spans of 100 years and all the genocides that occurred in between. The Holocaust, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Bosnia were all there along with others that were somehow left off of the 6 o’clock news. It’s sobering when you look at them all and think is this the best we can do to resolve conflicts?

War Crimes! We even have rules that govern executions, that is state approved killings. In the time of Christ, we know that crucifixion was the manner in which criminals were executed. What we may not know is that the cause of death of the crucified was asphyxiation. The crucified person would die a slow death, gasping for air, and with each gasp getting less and less oxygen into his system. It was cruel and unusual. That was the process of execution two millennia ago. We evolved, and now we kill humanely. Did you catch that oxymoron. A quick bullet by a firing squad, electrocution, gas chamber and lethal injection. And then in 2020 we learned of George Floyd, neither tried nor convicted, died of asphyxiation, as he was deprived of oxygen on the streets of Minneapolis.

In the time of Jesus they had rules and regulations governing execution. But it wasn’t about humane methods, rather it was about man-made laws. In the Gospel of St. John we read that after Jesus had given up His spirit on the Cross, (19:31-35) “… Because it was the Preparation Day, the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.”

Very much like the modern day expression of war crimes, the Jews had rules and regulations that allowed for death – even cruel death – so long as the rules were adhered to.

That spear, known as the Holy Lance, is now kept by the Armenian Church. In Armenian it is called the Holy Geghart, and one of our monasteries where it was housed bears the name of that instrument. It is used during the blessing of the Holy Miuron, to stir and bless the Sacred oil. When that Lance entered the breathless body of our Lord Jesus on the Cross it was sanctified in the same manner in which the Cross of Torture became the Cross of Salvation following the Crucifixion.

There is no such thing as war crimes. All wars are crimes. We need to stop fooling ourselves. Conflicts need to be resolved civilly. If Christ transformed the tools of murder into instruments of life, we can do the same in our language and expressions. We can transform war crimes into peace actions.

Let us pray, from the Book of Hours of the Armenian Church, Beneficent and abundantly merciful God, through Your forgiveness and infinite love of humankind be mindful of all that believe in You and have mercy on all. Help us and deliver us from our several perils and trials. Make us worthy to give You thanks and glorify You, the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen.   

All Civil Wars

Armodoxy for Today: All Civil Wars

What good is a crying god? It’s a legitimate question and was asked by several listeners after yesterday’s podcast. In the midst of coldhearted and barbaric attacks on the children of Artsakh by Azerbaijan, I pointed to where we might find God in these scenes of horrendous evil: crying with His children, crying because His children have opted for war over peace, hate over love. It was St. Nersess Shnorhali, the 12th century Patriarch, theologian and ecumenist, who suggested the anguish of God by remembering the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the epic hymn “Aysor Anjan” Shnorhali visits scenes from the Crucifixion from the Eye of God, the Creator. He masterfully weaves together the event with the deeper love of a Father, a Creator, who has given His child unbridled freedom, even freedom to disobey. Shnorhali recounts how the Face of God was boldly slapped by servants (Matthew 26:67), the same Face that the angels in Heaven shielded from their glance with their wings. Looking at the Cross, Shnorhali sees the “Giver of the laws” was now standing between two lawless people (the thieves on the crosses next to Jesus). In 36 magnificent verses, corresponding to the letters of the Armenian alphabet, Shnorhali painstakingly presents God, who in His infinite love as our Creator, does not stop the Crucifixion, but allows this atrocity to take place.

Closer to our generation, Mel Gibson produced, directed and co-wrote the epic Biblical drama, “The Passion of the Christ.” There, in a most memorable scene, where the last bit of Life is beaten and poured out of Jesus on the Cross, the camera angle moves to heaven, from where the teardrop of God is seen falling earthward, shaking the world with His disgust for what had taken place on Golgatha.

And if everything finished on the day of Crucifixion, that is on Good Friday, questioning God as powerless would be justified. But we are privy to the ending, knowing that the story is one of victory on Easter Sunday with the Resurrection.

Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.” (John 10:30) “No one has seen the face of the Father but the one who comes from the Father.” (John 6:46) In other words, Jesus is giving us an answer to who God is and whether we admit it or not, pop culture, Hollywood and even glorified tales from the Old Testament have conditioned us to think otherwise and believe in a superman-type of God. When tragedy befalls an innocent person, we expect God to swoop out of the sky and punch evil, whether a dictator or a cancerous cell, out into oblivion. Wrong script. That’s what superman does. Old Testament conditioning adds to the image problem by insisting that God favors groups of people over others. Jesus made it very clear; God is the God of the universe and those who belong to God’s family, are the ones who act on His commandments. “Here are My mother and My brothers!”, says Jesus “For whoever does the will of God is My brother and My sister and mother.” (Mark 3:34-35)

There are no birthrights. God doesn’t love one group of people more than another. Remember, for God, all wars are civil wars. All wars are between brothers, in the eyes of God. We are all His people. Imagine the pain and suffering he endures when two of His children fight and eventually kill one another.

When we understand God as a caring, loving and compassionate Father, we are following the teaching of Jesus Christ, the One who taught us to pray, “Our Father” not “My Father,” but “Our Father who is in heaven.” The suffering and caring God is more powerful than the superman-type of god, because He moves us to action, to be responsible for our own destiny. Peace will come when we act, when we extend our hand to one other, when we have respect for all humankind. In simple terms, the words of the angel at the birth of Jesus must be heard, “Peace on Earth, Goodwill toward one another.” (Luke 2:14). That is, peace will come when we ourselves reach out with goodness and love.

All the calls for unity, for compassion and for activism cannot be answered by Superman or any other hero. It is a call for each of us, to understand the special and unique strength we each hold to bring about change.

We pray, Heavenly Father, You gave Your only begotten son, Jesus Christ as an expression of love. Your love knows no bounds. It is freely given and belongs to all. Tonight, as my brothers and sisters around the world, whether in Artsakh or on the streets surrounding my home, are in turmoil, fill me with your love, so that I may extend my arm, open my hand, and embrace their pain. May I become the ambassador of your Love, by having respect and goodwill toward everyone I encounter. Amen.

Cover photo: Inside Ghazanchetsots Cathedral, Shushi, Artsakh, Armenia: The innocent find refuge. Historic memory from 2014

Holy God, Crucified

Armodoxy for Today: Holy God, Crucified

A hymn of the Armenian Church, may sound familiar when heard in many traditional churches, such as the Roman Catholic or the Eastern Orthodox.

Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, have mercy upon us. Repeated three times, it proceed the reading of the Gospel.

In the Armenian Church, there is a small addition to the words of the hymn, which points to a very big and significant difference in our understanding of Christ. “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, who rose from the dead. Have mercy upon us.” Սուրբ Աստուած, Սուրբ և Հզոր, Սոււբ և Անմահ որ յարեար ի մեռելոց, Ողորմեա մեզ…

This phrase, who rose from the dead, refers to the second person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ. “Who rose from the dead for us.” It changes according to the annual calendar of the Church. For instance, on Christmas the words change to, “Who was born and revealed for us.” And for the Feast of the Holy Cross, the words flow, “Who was crucified for us.” What is revealed here is that for the Armenian Church, Jesus Christ is true God. God is revealed to us. God is resurrected. And, therefore, God is crucified for us.

It is a subtle difference, but an important one. The notion of a “suffering God” is a theological position that also presents a theodicy, an answer to the Problem of Evil. God suffers at the hands of His creation. In other words, evil and suffering are not from God, but a natural consequence of our freewill.

On the streets of Artsakh today, the Azeri government and its people are torturing the Armenian people, by withholding food and medical supplies. By creating situations where they can attack and execute a plan of genocide against the Armenian population, they follow the same plan of the Pharisees, of fabricating lies about Jesus to promote their agenda. Where is God in all of this? He’s on the Cross. He’s with us. He weeps with us, as he witnesses his created human being, opting for death over life, opting for war over peace. St. Nersess Shnorhali, in an epic prayer/hymn called “Aysor Anjar” poetically describes that the same Hands that once took the earth and created humankind, was now being tortured, nailed to the Cross by His creation.

A suffering God is the reason why Armodoxy is always relevant. It demands that we seek solutions from within – amongst ourselves.

Furthermore, God on the Cross emphasizes the extent of His Love for us. For this reason, the cross is the ultimate symbol of love in the Armenian Church. It was not merely a character in history who climbed the Cross, but it was the Creator of History, who was Crucified, Buried and then Resurrected from the dead.

Within the entire hymn, Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy and Immortal, who was Crucified for us, have mercy upon us, we note the juxtaposing of the words, Holy, Mighty, Immortal, next to the suffering and victorious God that we celebrate. It truly is a special hymn that finds a special reverberance when sung around the time of the Feast of the Cross because we repeat that God’s actions, His salvific actions, are His gift to us through Jesus Christ.

Our concluding meditation today comes from St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (5:16-21): Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

Cover photo: Gregory Beylerian, Armenia 2023

Basil Tea

Armodoxy for Today: Basil Tea

One of the customs around the September celebration of the Holy Cross, is to pass out basil to the congregants. The feast is called the “Exaltation” or “Elevation” of the Holy Cross, recounting that the Holy Cross of Jesus was imprisoned by enemies of Christianity. When the Cross was recovered (7th century) it was raised in a procession to proclaim its freedom from captivity. Today, in the Armenian Church, the symbolic procession takes place, where a cross is elevated along with basil. As tradition tells us, when the Cross of Christ was found there was basil growing all around it. Contrary to what has been propagated by popular folk myth, there is no such thing as blessing basil on this feast. The basil merely is placed on the altar, decorating the altar crosses as a connection with the story of its loss and recovery.

The blessing that does take place is a product of the power of the Holy Divine Liturgy. This special mystical power of the Liturgy is not spoken about often enough. During the Holy Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, prayers are offered, the saints of the Church are remembered and asked to intercede for us, the sacred hymns from early centuries are chanted and sung, and the request of the faithful assembled are voiced or voicelessly heard, and the Holy Spirit is invoked to transform the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Presence of Jesus Christ Himself is at the Divine Liturgy! And so, in the Presence of Jesus Christ all become blessed and cleansed. Even more, the same Divine Liturgy has been celebrated in the church for years, decades and in some places for centuries. The incense which carries the prayers up to heaven, has been absorbed into the church walls, along with the prayers and hymns. Your parents, your grandparents, your great grands and theirs are all part of this celebration. The small piece of basil sitting on top of the altar, and everything in the Presence of God has now been blessed.

Early on in my ministry when I was serving at a parish in Cupertino, California one of the young men in our church succumbed to an illness which incapacitated him. He was hospitalized and went unconscious. The doctors did not know what to make of it. They administered tests but were confounded. They began feeding him intravenously because he no longer was accepting anything by mouth. His father, a devout and believing man notified me and asked that I pray for his son.

It was the Feast of the Cross and I was speaking to my grandmother on the phone. She was the greatest influence on my life. She lived two doors down from our house while growing up and since taking this pastorate in Cupertino, there were now 400 miles that separated us. But thanks to telephones – yes, landlines with dials – I’d stay in touch and would call her regularly, especially either before or after church services. That Sunday, we spoke and in the conversation I mentioned the plight of this young boy. As I spoke about him, I recalled that his father was from Los Angeles and, in fact, lived in the same neighborhood as my grandmother. I told her who he was and of course, she knew him and his family.

Without hesitation, she told me to take the basil from the Holy Divine Liturgy, boil it in water and take the “Basil Tea” to the boy in the hospital.

I did exactly as she told me. I put Basil Tea in a thermos. It was old-school, with the shiny glass innards and the plaid exterior with a screw-on cup on top. I rushed it to the hospital and kept it concealed under my raincoat. Yes, there was a degree of embarrassment walking into a modern hospital with an ancient remedy prescribed by granny.

At the hospital, we prayed and I gave tea to his father to administer to the boy. The tea was the first liquid (or solid) to enter his mouth in nearly two weeks.

The next morning I received a call. It was his father telling me that his son had come-to. He finished the thermos of tea and was now starting solids. The doctors and medical staff were amazed and dumbfounded.

The basil was definitely blessed, but so was everything else in the church. It is a simple lesson that Jesus teaches us, that life itself is a blessing. The sacred and holy are all around us, only asking us to acknowledge, not with a nod, but by living the blessing.

Let us pray, O Lord, Jesus Christ. You came to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us, with our baptism through the Holy Font have become members of the Kingdom. Today I pray the prayer of the Holy Apostles, “Increase our faith” so that we may be worthy members of Your Kingdom, to see the Blessings that are around us. Amen.

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Vahe Sargsyan

Cross Translated

Armodoxy for Today: Cross Translated

One of the greatest challenges faced by churches is one of relevance. It is a tricky issue because Jesus’ message is always relevant, but not always accessible.

The Feast of the Holy Cross, or the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the last of the five major feast days of the Armenian Church during the calendar year. At the St. Leon, Srbots Ghevondyants Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, California, the Diocesan Primate, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian celebrated the Divine Liturgy and offered a soul-stirring sermon which made the Holy Cross accessible to the overflow congregation that was assembled there that day.

The community in Glendale/Burbank area is made up largely of immigrants, seeking the security and freedom offered by the United States. Adjustment to the new country, especially after migrating from the Middle East is difficult. Unchecked, it is easy to get lost in the newly discovered freedoms and become a slave to materialism.

In referring to the Holy Cross, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and what it has meant to the Armenian people, Archbishop Hovnan reflected on the need for parents and families to place their hope and trust on the steady and sacred road to good living as prescribed by the Church, for centuries. He then read a letter from a very affluent and well-known entrepreneur, who in his mid 50s found himself on his deathbed struggling with an incurable and inoperable disease. The archbishop translated the letter to Armenian as he shared it with the congregation, I will read the original English. For this community, and I personally believe for many of us, it is exactly what is necessary today and always. Here then is the letter.

I have reached the pinnacle of success in business. In other people’s eyes my life is a success. However, aside from work, I’ve had little joy. At the end of the day, wealth is just a fact I’ve gotten used to.

Right now, lying on my hospital bed, reminiscing all my life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth I took so much pride in, has faded and become meaningless in the face of imminent death.

You can hire someone to drive your car or make money for you, but you can’t hire someone to stand sick and die for you.

Material things lost can be found again. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost: Life.

Whatever stage of life we are currently at, in time we will face the day the curtain closes.

Love your family, spouse, children and friends… Treat them right. Cherish them.

As we get older, and wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $300 or $30 watch both give the same time whether we have a $300 or $30 wallet or purse, the amount inside is the same. Whether we drive a $150,000 car or a $30,000 car, the road and the distance are the same, and we reach the same destination. Whether we drink a $1,000 or $10 bottle of wine, the hangover is the same. Whether the house in which we live is 100 or 1000 square meters, loneliness is the same.

You will realize that your true inner happiness does not come from material things of this world. Whether you travel first class or economy class, if the plane crashes, you go down with it.

Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have friends, brothers and sisters, with whom you discuss, laugh, talk, sing, talk about north-south-east or heaven and earth, this is the real happiness!!

An indisputable fact of life: Don’t raise your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. When they grow up, they will know the value of things and not the price.

Cover: Envato Elements

The Same Cross

Armodoxy for Today: Elevating the Cross

The Cross is the symbol of Christ and Christianity. This devise of torture became the expression of victory over suffering and death. In the symbol of the Cross we find the expression of victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate. It is the symbol of Christianity because in Jesus Christ we see and understand the same, that is, victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross refers to an event which takes place in history. But Armodoxy demands that we take ownership of the events we celebrate. In traditional churches, such as the Armenian, Catholic or Orthodox Church, it is easy to be overwhelmed by the beauty of the event and lose sight of the purpose. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross points to the Cross of Christ.

In the town of Gyumri, Armenia, there is a church dedicated to the Holy Asdvadzadzin St. Mary. It is called Yot Verk, that is, “Seven Wounds” of St. Mary. One of those wounds refers to the Blessed Mother learning that her son is Crucified. Today, we are invited to stand as a witness to the Crucifixion, a witness to the awful and painful Cross.

Jesus is not an abstract figure in history. To St. Mary, he was her Son and Savior. In the Gospel of St. John we read that the Holy Mother was a witness to the Crucifixion from the foot of the Cross. (19:25) The excruciating pain of a mother watching her son being tortured along with criminals, is only a part of the story. Jesus was tried on trumped up charges; he became a scapegoat for humanity. The exercise today is to walk in the shoes of Jesus’ Mother, Mary. Can we sit at the foot of the Cross and look up. Against the backdrop of heaven, we imagine our brother, our sister, our mother, our father, our friend, our enemy, our son… who is being tortured, having life slowly drained from his body. The cries of Jesus are directed to all of us, “I thirst.” “Why have you forsaken me?” “Where is my mother?” Listen very carefully, and you’ll hear the same cries from Artsakh, the Congo, Darfur, from your back street, wherever injustice has taken charge. “I thirst.” “Why have you forsaken me?” “Where is my mother?”

For three hours, we sit and watch, only to note the innocent blood dripping next to us. We hear humiliating mockery from people that don’t even know us or our loved one. “He had it coming to him!” “He freed others, let him free himself.” “He said he believed in God, well where is his God now?” Finally, we hear the final gasp for breath and the words, “It is finished! Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” A silence which later will be referred to as deafening encircles us, forcing us to come to terms with the tremendous magnitude of our loss and the loss for humanity.

And now we open our eyes wide and understand that Jesus is not abstract. He does not belong to history but to all time. The refugee, the poor, the lame and blind, the weak, the downtrodden, the suffering and the oppressed are on the cross today and with our eyes wide open, we look up against the backdrop of heaven to see it is the same Christ on the Cross.

The Exaltation of the Holy Cross is a Feast of the Armenian Church because it pulls us in and connects us to Jesus and His Mission of caring for the lost, the lonely, the lame, the broken hearted and the suffering.

Let us pray, O Christ, You conquered the Cross and turned the instrument of torture into the symbol of our Salvation. You invited us to pick up the Cross and follow you. May we be inspired by the love and life you gave to all of us on the Cross, and in turn may we share the gift of life with others.