Hope Amidst the Violence

Armodoxy for Today: Keep Dreaming

Political name calling took a quick and sudden break this weekend with the assassination attempt on former President Donald Trump. While at a campaign rally, a bullet from would-be assassin, ripped through candidate Trump’s ear and left the country, and the world, asking the questions that follow: How can this happen? Why did this happen?

I flashed back to the third-grade classroom, vividly remembering my teacher, Mrs. Pharis, rushing into the room to tell us, “Boys and girls, put your heads on the desk and pray. President Kennedy has been shot!” No, we weren’t in parochial school and yes, she did ask us to pray in a public school with no backlash. The year was 1963 and we were just recovering from World War II, the Korean War, the McCarthy era and were about to enter the era of uncertainty, with the assassinations Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy, and attempts on Presidents Ford and Reagan. Vietnam, Iran, Lebanon, Iraq, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Bosnia became worlds within our world where conflict and war propelled these nations to our news feeds, giving us opportunities to weigh in with opinions without us ever understanding the full extent of their pain and suffering. Here we are several decades after those events of the last century, dealing yet another assassination attempt and the reality of hundreds and thousands dying daily in attacks in wars and genocide globally.

The world changes quickly, sometimes with a bullet invading the body, sometimes with troops invading a country. Finding hope and a belief in a brighter tomorrow at times – most – seems difficult, if not impossible. Hope is what keeps us dreaming of better tomorrows.

The Gospel reading this week in our churches comes from Matthew 18, where Jesus challenges his disciples to imagine God’s response to the violence we witness. “What do you think?” he asks, “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.”

God is merciful. He is saddened by our inability to live in harmony and is forever hopeful of our return, to understand one another and live under the commandment to love.

We pray for victims, our world situation, and we pray for hope, so that we can keep dreaming.

Let us pray, “Lord Jesus, hope of the humanity, keep hope alive within me as I see the evil around me. Give strength to those affected by the bullets and bombs of evil, so that they may overcome the obstacles before them, and continue to dream of better tomorrows. Amen.

Cover photo: Envato Elements

Transfigured to Peace

Armodoxy for Today: Transfigured Life

Part 5 – On the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ

Today we look at the practical application of the Transfiguration in our lives. Yes, that’s right, the Transfiguration is a moment in history, but it touches us today, two-thousand years after the event.

Reviewing, during the Transfiguration, Jesus radiates Light giving us a glimpse of his Divinity. On day two, we found the reaction that Peter had is no different than ours when in the presence of the Eternal. We are grounded in the secular and opt for the profane rather than the sacred, and so the challenge is to rise from the confines that bind us. The Call is from God to “Listen to him,” was the focus of day three, which is an alignment with Love, unconditional and pure. The Call transcends our ethnicity, nationality and our religious preferences, as we learned from the Vartavar connection. The invitation is to humanity and humankind. On day four, we learned that Jesus transfers the Light from himself to us – to everyone – giving an opportunity to participate in the Divine Nature.

On this final day, we bring together all that we have learned and understand that the Divine Nature is accessible to us all – young and old, rich and poor – so that the Kingdom of God is at hand. If each of us has within us the Graces and Love of God, our first and foremost obligation is to one another – to love, to respect, to honor, to understand, appreciate this gift of God in our fellow human being.

St. John, explains this:
You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world… Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us… If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

And therefore, peace is possible, because the obstacles to peace have been removed. Seeing God not without us but within us. The Greek saint Nektarios beautifully proclaims, Seek God daily. But seek Him in your heart, not outside it. And when you find Him, stand with fear and trembling, like the Cherubim and the Seraphim, for your heart has become a throne of God.

Not only is peace possible but peace is at hand. The Transfiguration is a reminder that we are of God and our return to God is through the Love we express to one another. Once again, hear the voice saying loud and clear: Listen to Him!

We pray, Lord, I open my receptors, my ears, my eyes and all my senses to receive the Light of the Transfiguration. May I share that Light and see it in my brothers and sisters in this world. Amen.

The Transfer

Armodoxy for Today: The Transfer

Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, Part 4

At the Transfiguration event, (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36), we receive a glimpse of the Divine Light. It is overwhelming. It is the Light by which the words “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:2) makes us wonder and ponder the magnificence of God.

In that radiance, a voice is heard from heaven saying, “This is My beloved Son…”

St. John the Evangelist attests to this Light in his Gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” (John 1:1-5)

Jesus says of himself, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.” (John 8:12) But he does not stop there. He transfers that light to each of us. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God…” (John 1:12)

This transfer of Light is delivered to us by Jesus himself. “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16)

Think of this awesome revelation at the Transfiguration. It is not a moment in history, but an event that talks to you today. The Christ Light – the Divine Light – shone and was witnessed by Jesus Disciples. And in a gesture of universality, Jesus now transfers that Christ Light to each of us, with the condition that it is used to accent the good works of our life and brings glory to God. Think of it for a moment. The purpose of Light is for humanity. It is to strengthen our resolve to do what is right and what is good. It is to promote peace and justice in our lives. In other word, the Jesus Birth-message, “Peace on Earth, goodwill toward one another” is exposed through our Light.

We pray St. Nersess’ prayer for 21st hour, Christ, you are the true light, make my soul worthy to behold the light of your glory with joy, in the day when you call me; to rest in the hope of the good in the mansions of the just. Have mercy on your creatures and upon me. Amen

 

The Call

Armodoxy for Today: The Call

Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, Part 3

At the Transfiguration event, recorded by the three synoptic gospels, (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36), two figures appear next to the Transfigured Christ. Moses and Elijah are characters from the Old Testament. Within Jewish history Moses is the Law giver and therefore the symbol of the Law, while Elijah was among the major prophets and therefore comes to symbolize the prophetic tradition in this story. They were not contemporaries of Jesus, but had died several centuries earlier. Their appearance in the narrative is accented by the words from Heaven, “This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him!” Between the Laws and the Prophets stands Jesus Christ radiating the Divine Light to the World. “Listen to Him,” is the direction for humanity.

The Patron saint of the Armenian Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator, added one more dimension to this story so that it would appeal to the people of his congregation. After Gregory converted the Armenian King Dirtad and subsequently the nation of Armenia to Christianity, he replaced many of the pagan holidays with Christian holidays. The celebration known Vartavar, dedicated to the pagan goddess Asdghik, was a water festival. The feast of Transfiguration was assigned to this day. The water component was kept as a reminder of our personal rebirth through the font of Baptism. Hence, the Divine Call was broadened to include Asdghik. She and her followers now heard the message: “Listen to Him.”

We all have mottos, teachers, gurus, philosophies, and perhaps even gods and goddesses who point us in directions of spiritual growth. Some may follow these teaching more fervently than others. Others, may pull up a saying from a calendar or a talk show and connect to the message. The Transfiguration story points to the perennial call. Jesus Christ is shinning the Divine Light. It is the Light that is not measured by lumens but by warmth and factors beyond our understanding. In that Light in which darkness is dissipated, and purity abounds. Traditions – whether the Law, the Prophets, philosophies, teachers, and the lot, are all subjected to the One message that Jesus Christ professed: Love! There’s no escape. And so, we are instructed: Listen to Him!

We pray a prayer adapted from the Armenian Divine Liturgy, God of truth and mercy, we thank you, who have exalted our nature, condemned as we were, above that of the blessed patriarchs; for you were called God to them, whereas in compassion you have been pleased to be named Father to us. Make the grace of so new and precious a naming of yourself shine forth and grant us to open our mouths with a cry of bold voice, to call upon you, O heavenly Father. Amen.

Transfigured Reaction

Armodoxy for Today: Transfigured Reaction

Part 2 of the Transfiguration Story

The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ as recorded in the gospels, (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, and Luke 9:28–36) tells how three Disciple, Peter, John and James, witnessed a glimmer of the Divine Light. Jesus was transfigured,  “…His Face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning.” (Luke 9:29) Two historical figures – Moses and Elijah, the symbols of the law and the prophets – appear “in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.” A voice from above is heard “This is my beloved Son, listen to him.”

Peter turns to Jesus and says on behalf of his disciple-brothers, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. I will put up three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.”

Certainly, under any other circumstance, we would compliment Peter’s initiative and thoughtfulness to look after the comfort of the guests. But today? Jesus is radiating the Divine Light! He’s shining! For this moment of singularity, we humans are given a glimpse of the Eternal Presence, of the Light that Shines in the Darkness, at the Transfigured Christ! And his response? “Let us make three tents for you!” A message was being conveyed but it was ignored, whether intentional or not is secondary to the fact that he was consumed by worldly interests in the face of this most auspicious event.

Peter’s response to this event was not too much different to our response to God’s presence today. Messages are sent to us daily – several times during a day – but, intentionally or not, we lose sight of the beauty. How many flowers and trees did you pass today on your walk or drive? I imagine, you passed by so many that, familiarity has bred contempt, and you passed by without standing in awe that each of these are the miracle of seedlings, soil and sun. How often have we ignored a child’s plea for attention, only to chase after some insignificant matter? Is that child’s cry, not the voice of God?  When have we truly remarked at the miracle of life, of a single heart beating for 20, 40, 80 or 100 years? And to think, every night the stars, the galaxies, the universe comes out on display, and we walk in other directions until the morning light makes them all vanish.

The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ is a reminder of the awesome glory of God that shines, that radiates all around us. The Christ-light is there, waiting for our reaction. We can stand in awe of a sunset, or put on sunglasses, or pull up an umbrella, or come inside and turn on the light switch. Christ was Transformed. The law and the prophets had gathered around him. The voice of the Father is heard. Peter and the disciples had a choice on how to react as do we every day.

Let us pray, Lord Jesus Christ, when you transfigured and radiated the Light which came to us from the beginning of Time, you gave us yet another opportunity to connect to eternity. Guide me to find glimpses of the Light amidst the darkness that seems to consume my thoughts and my paths. May your presence guide my life so that I may celebrate the glimpses of beauty and joy that are always present in my life. Amen.

Transfiguration – Mysterious Light

Armodoxy for Today: The Transfiguration

The Transfiguration of Jesus Christ is recorded in the three synoptic Gospels. (Matthew 17:1–8, Mark 9:2–8, Luke 9:28–36) They tell a story of Jesus leading three of his disciples, Peter, James and John up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. St. Matthew says, His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light.”

The Evangelist Mark describes his appearance, “His clothes became shining, exceedingly white, like snow, such as no launderer on earth can whiten them.”

And St. Luke describes it, “the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.”

Jesus was transfigured and accented by a light that cannot be the described except through allegory. The brilliance and quality of that life was undeniably undefinable.

In the Biblical account of Creation (Genesis 1) it is noteworthy that God starts the process by saying, “Let there be Light.” This takes place two days prior to the creation of the stars and the sun. In other words, according to this account, the first day of Creation is marked by a Light that is not defined by the sun or any astronomical body. This is the Divine Light, one that shines bright – dazzling and pure. It cannot be defined by measures, but rather by the purity and quality.

During the last several decades modern science and medicine have advanced to the point of intervening in the death process and giving people who have heart events a second chance at life. It happens often enough that the title “near death experience” is now an accepted phenomenon. If you listen to people who have had these near-death episodes, when they are revived or resuscitated, 98% of them return to life telling of a bright light that is not measured in lumens but by temperature: “A warm light,” they say. Could it be that this is a glance and a feel of the Divine Light?

The Armenian Church celebrates that Light as a mystery. The worship of the Armenian Church – the Holy Pataraq – begins with the words, “Mystery deep, without beginning and beyond understanding…”

Christ revealed only a portion of the Divine Light, the Divine Essence, at the Transfiguration. It is beyond our comprehension and understanding.

Tomorrow we continue on the theme and story of this Light, for today, we pray the Khorhourt Khorin, O mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning, you have decked your supernal realm as a nuptial chamber to the light unapproachable and adorned with splendid glory the ranks of the fiery spirits.

Love within Revolution: Repentance

Armodoxy for Today: Evolving Love

When political systems do not work there is a call for revolution. The word itself comes from revolve – that is to turn around. In Christianity we use the word “repentance” which means to turn direction and aim toward God.

From early apostolic days, the term repent was used to imply a change in direction toward God. The Apostle Peter urged people to “repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” (Acts 2:38)

Repentance or repenting is a necessary part of the Christian life. What is often forgotten is that repentance takes place after self-evaluation. The necessity to repent is part of the human condition because we are not perfect.

One of the prayers offered by the priest in the Armenian Church is a prayer that you will never hear read over you, and if you do hear it read over you may want to check our surroundings. It is from the funeral service of the Church where the priest asks God, in His Mercy, to forgive the person of his sins, “because who is it that lives, and does not sin?” And in an explanation (if not to God then to all who hear this prayer) the priest confesses that “Only You (God) are sinless and to You belong the kingdom of all eternities.”

In fact, “sin” is merely an acknowledgement of our human condition. It means we are not perfect and we miss the mark of perfection. Think of a dart board, it is a target with a bull’s eye in the middle. Now imagine tossing darts at the board. For every dart that misses the center, that dart is said to be in sin. The dart that misses the bull’s eye by one ring and the dart that misses by three rings, as well as the dart that misses the entire board, have sinned; they have missed the mark.

Sometimes repentance is described with the phrase turning 180 degrees, that is, turning completely around. Not so. Sometime smaller adjustments are necessary, and the only judge of the degree of adjustment is you yourself. That is why self-evaluation is so important in the life of the Christian, and for this reason the Armenian Church gives opportunities, through days of prayer and fasting, for self-evaluation.

Each of us is in need of correcting our courses in various degrees. This is the revolution that is the beginning of living with heightened awareness. Inside of the word revolution is the word evolution and in reverse form the word love. The true call to Repentance is the call to turn around the LOVE that is missing from our lives so that we can evolve. All living forms evolve. Evolution is part of the living process. Things that are dead, decay. They do not evolve. And rightly so, they do not have the capacity to love.

The God-gift that is inside each of us is the capacity to love. Revolutions that do not accent the love within them are doomed to failure. Revolutions that have turned around the love within them are of the type that Jesus Christ ushered in with the Kingdom of Heaven. And so he instructs us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all else will fall into place. (Matthew 6:33)

We pray a prayer from the Book of Hours of the Armenian Church, “O God, Merciful, Compassionate and Patient, who pains for the sufferings of His creation. Console and grace us the reason for repentance so that we may enter Your Holy Church with spiritual enrichment, confession and repentance and along with your saints praise and glorify You, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirt. Amen.”

Independence means Responsibility

Armodoxy for Today: Independence Means Responsibility

On this day in 1776, the Thirteen Colonies of the British Empire signed the Declaration of Independence making them the thirteen United States of America. The document has been revered internationally for its eloquence in proclaiming the basic human right of self-determination. Herein is the tie with religion in general and with the Christianity in particular.

“When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” begins the Declaration. The document is a masterpiece which talks about self-governance, and consequently, the case for personal responsibility, because there is no one else to blame but yourself for your actions.

A child who is caught doing something wrong, passes the buck onto a friend, a sibling or perhaps even exclaiming, “The devil made me do it.” To believe in predestination means that your actions are predetermined by some higher power. The expression “written in the stars,” is commonly used and in Armenian, the word “jakatagir” is used for “fate” because it literally means “written on your forehead.” There is no escape from this fate, for it is written beforehand! And therefore, what mistakes or evil you do is not your fault. You are not accountable because you had no choice to do otherwise.

Christianity rejects fatalism. You are indeed responsible for your actions. Over and over again Jesus teaches lessons on personal accountability and responsibility. He speaks about forgiveness and repentance because these require the acceptance of responsibility for actions.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident,” continues the Declaration, “That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”

Life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, are identified as gifts from God, and to exploit these gifts is done with the consent of the people.

Today, we celebrate freedom as a gift from God along with a reminder that these ideas were etched in the Declaration of Independence a quarter of a millennium ago and are still being pursued. The celebration of the oldest continuous democracy, the United States, is an opportunity for us contemplate the divine gift of life in all of its ramifications. Take time to read the parables of Jesus. He instructs us to live life, to enjoy the freedom granted to us by God, so that we may enjoy this life in the pursuit of happiness.

Let us pray, Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of life and the freedom to choose the direction of our life. Open our eyes to the beauty of life so that we may better appreciate the wonders of freedom that are granted to us. May we be moved to action as directed by our Lord Jesus. Amen.

OMGōsh, In Context

In celebration of the anniversary of Independence of the oldest continuous democracy in the world, the United States, this week we are looking at issues of church and state.

Part 3: Oh My Gōsh, in Context

Mkhitar Gosh was an Armenian scholar, writer, public figure, thinker, and a priest of the Armenian Church. While America deals with issues of church and state and the separation of one from the other, a glance back to the 12th Century reveals this monk, who is inspired and motivated by his faith in God. He writes a code of law which includes civil and canon law that was used in Greater Amenia and Cilicia, as well as in Poland and  in parts of Europe. We focus on his clerical background, that as a priest of the church, he intertwined the law with an ethical standard of living.

Politics and religion intersect at different points through their functioning life within a community. Politics may define a world view for an individual, but it is religion that checks and balances that view along the lines of an ethical code. Yes, Jesus said, “Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s and unto God that which is God’s,” (Mark 12:17)  when asked whether or not taxes should be paid to the Roman Emperor, but he also spoke of the need  for charitable giving, “I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and your gave me drink, naked and you clothed me and in prison and you visited me.” (Matthew 25)  Jesus sets the moral imperative squarely on the shoulders of the individual, not on a government body or entity. But contemplating the needs in the world, it becomes obvious that we can become more effective and reach more people if we can participate collectively. Hence, religion appeals to politics and politicians for help to further its goals.

Mkhitar Gosh’s book “Lawcode” sets the framework for civil law, marital law, relationships, personal freedoms and expressions. It’s important to mention that the book “Lawcode” in Armenian is called “Girk Datastani” which translates to Book of Judgement. This, in itself, describes one of the fundamental reasons for the separation of church and state in a pluralistic society. It is important to understand that all laws, all regulations as well as religion exist inside of a context. What may work for a society where everyone is the same faith and same ethnic background, with the same common history, may not work where these differ. For instance, when St. Paul writes about obeying the government, it is very important to understand that he was writing in a time when the end of the world and end of the time was imminent. The first century Christian had this understanding, and so, yes, obey the government, as bad as it may be, because Christ is coming back and all will be well. Context is fundamental to understanding the unfolding of politics and religion.

We pray, O Lord, help us to understand one another and acknowledge that our differences are a reflection of your creativity. Help us to treat one another with compassion and respect. Amen.

Read the Lawcode here. https://archive.org/details/mxitargoshlawcode2000/mode/2up

 

Unlikely Partners

Armodoxy for Today

In celebration of the anniversary of Independence of the oldest continuous democracy in the world, the United States, this week we are looking at issues of church and state.

Part 2: Unlikely partners

If you want to keep the peace in the family or among friends, you’ve been told from an early age to steer clear of discussing politics and religion. Even Peanuts character, Linus Van Pelt, with security blanket in hand, knows, “There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people – Religion, Politics, and the Great Pumpkin.”

It was the 18th century satirist, Jonathan Swift who put his finger on the reason for this unfriendly mix when he wrote, “You cannot reason someone out of something he or she was not reasoned into.” Yes, most of the time we’re “born into” our persuasions, be they religious or political, we adopt them from our family and friends.

But the basic understanding in Armodoxy is that all things are connected in a universal network of life. Economics gives us the resources to buy the Bible, which defines sin, which psychology attempts to diminish. Physics explains the movement of the building blocks which chemistry and biology exploit into physical realities, that art presents in forms that express ideas that form ideologies that philosophy dissects and analyses. Politics creates systems that organize those ideologies, and religion is there to ensure the equity of distribution, claiming to have a connection to a higher understanding of fairness.

We get into trouble when we claim one system of distribution is better than another. An old Hindu proverb claims, “There are hundreds of paths up the mountain, all leading to the same place, so it doesn’t matter which path you take. The only person wasting time is the one who runs around the mountain, telling everyone that his or her path is wrong.”

Jesus avoids the discussion by turning the responsibility onto the individual. Equity is achieved by sacrifice – by giving of yourself. He teaches this, and then demonstrates with his own life. There is no argument here, for when we give it is between us and God. We do not give to prove a system better than another, nor do we give to the justify the system. We give, because it is the expression of love, which is the expression of God. It is not up for discussion nor debate. If you want to practice Christianity, then love, then sacrifice yourself. Plainly, religion is not to be debated but lived.

The Armenian Church saint, Hovhaness Voskeberan (= St. John Chrysostom) 4th century writes, “”If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.”

We end with one of his prayers, Almighty God, you have promised through your Son that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them: Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us; granting us in this world knowledge of your truth, and in the age to come life everlasting. Amen.