Lenten Journey Day 36 – Discipleship

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 36: Mutabbel

Lenten Journey Day 36 – Discipleship 

It would have been appropriate to start this Lenten Journey the topic of discipleship. I have intentionally left it toward the end of the Journey, because as I sure you will agree, discipleship means something different to you today than it did 35 days ago.

The word disciple means student, or a follower of a person. In the Bible, disciples were those who were in Jesus’ company, those who were learning from him. This group went on to become apostles. Apostle means one who is sent. Once they had learned from Jesus, the disciples were commissioned to go out to the world to teach and preach.

Being a disciple of Christ means you are one who learns His words. You praise His life because you have applied his teachings to yours and the improvement of quality (in your life) is overwhelming. At the beginning of this Lenten Journey I asked you to inventory the many aspects of your life: What is necessary to live? What is truly important in your life? By inventorying you can monitor importance levels. You will have a frame of reference. You can note changes in value and attitude.

Today we switch gears. We are now at a point – discipleship – where we are moving from theory to practice. Lent is no longer a burden but is something to look forward to, as a time for change, as a time for reflection, as a time of growth. I would venture to say that you are at a point where your outlook and attitude is noticeably chanced. Perhaps you would call it a mature outlook and understanding of the self and purpose for the self. How do we survive? How do we make a difference in our own lives? How about in the life of our community? Of our family? And even, the world? We have a more mature understanding of faith: Less “me, me” and more “what can I do to help others?” “How can my sacrifice affect the bigger picture in life?” “How can I put something into the larger collection of what we call life? In this understanding, in this maturation process, Discipleship now has a different meaning, for it is not a question of merely following Jesus. It is not even a question of learning what He had to say. It is about actually becoming, living that faith, becoming the person and people God wants us to be.

The message that our Lord Jesus Christ brought to us 2000 years ago was a simple one that God is accessible, that God is there. And it does not matter who you are. It does not matter what social class you’ve come from. It does not matter what your past has contained or not contained. There are no more excuses. God has been revealed and in that revelation He is now reachable. We cannot touch Him but we can understand Him in a new light. We understand Him as pure love, something that touches us and something with which we touch others. It is the message of sacrifice, of faith, hope and love. Most importantly it is a holistic message that to be a Disciple of Christ today means something different to us because we approach Christ holistically. We do not merely focus on His message, we do not merely look at the person of Christ, but collectively the person, the message, the sacrifice, the giving, the God nature is all there for us. So as disciples of Christ we use all of our senses.

We hear His message. We read the message with our eyes but likewise we bear witness to the message that is around us. We see the waves at the ocean, the mountains, the beautiful flowers and the smile of our children. We use our nose to absorb the aroma that comes from all of the goodness that is around us, the beautiful fragrances of God’s wonder. We appeal to our sense of touch. We reach out to people who need a hug, who need a hand. We also find that with those hands that are extended to us are bodies that are waiting to be hugged, waiting to be kissed, waiting to express that love holistically. Finally we appeal to our sense of taste in the Holy communion. It is that final recognition that we are disciples, as our fathers teach us, come and taste the Lord for indeed the Lord is tasty.

We are the disciples of Christ. We have learned love. We now live love. We must share that love. “By this they will know that you are my disciples”, says our Lord Jesus Christ, “that you love one another”.

Today’s prayer is a thought from theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the idea of Discipleship:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at a price’, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

Lenten Journey Day 35 – Last Days

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 35: Roasted Eggplant with Cashews

 Lenten Journey Day 35- Last Days Today’s Lenten meditation is a riddle of sorts. It begins with the very basic question, how can we be prepared for the return of Jesus Christ? As it unfolds we find a very unique message with the instruction we need, with the exact steps we need to go through in preparation for a cataclysmic event. These instructions, however, have more to do with today than with tomorrow. This last Sunday of the Lent is called referred to as the Sunday of Advent in the Armenian Church. 
In the Creed of Nicaea, which we recite every Sunday during the Divine Liturgy, we confess the second coming. We say, Jesus is to return to judge the living and the dead. In scripture there are references to the “signs of the times.” Specifically earthquakes, famines and wars are named as the events that will precede the coming of the end. Unfortunately curiosity often gets the better of us, and rather than preparing for those last days we consume ourselves with questions of where, when, and how these last days will come about.

Our Lord Jesus tells us that no one knows the answer to those questions, not the angels in heaven, not even the son, but only the Father. But curiosity is powerful. The book of Revelation is often consulted to quench the thirst of curiosity. Revelation is a book of prophecy and few can understand prophecy, many times the message is distorted by conjecture. The Church does not even prescribe reading this book (it is not in the lectionary of weekly readings) nevertheless, people read it and read into it. They point to hurricanes, famines and wars as signs of the times and then speculate that the end times are here. Jesus warned us against such misinterpretation of prophecies. When then should we do? How do we prepare for the second coming? What is the Church’s prescription for the preparation?

The Gospel reading for this day has the answer to preparedness. It comes from the 22nd chapter of the Gospel of St. Matthew. The narrative begins with the Pharisees approaching Jesus to trick him with a question as to which is the “greatest” commandment. Thinking that Jesus may pick one, they will then have an opportunity to show him the error in his ways. Jesus answers, “The greatest commandment is that you love your Lord your God with all your heart, your mind and your soul and the second commandment is that you love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments, Jesus tells us, the rest of the laws and the prophets are all based. In other words love for God, love for neighbor supersedes all other commandments.

Because this passage is placed as the lectionary reading for this Advent Sunday, it is therefore the instruction for preparedness for the second coming of Christ! The riddle has been answered! The best preparation for the second coming is to accept and live the message of the first coming. Love with all your mind, body, soul and heart the Lord your God and your neighbor.

During this Lenten journey we have meditated about many different forces that effect us. We have accepted concepts and ideas that improve our selves, that bring our lives back down to the bare minimum. What is essential for us to survive? What is really necessary for that happiness that comes not from without, but from within.

Today’s message, today’s instruction is at the heart of it brings us yet even closer to understanding the essence of life. When we love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind and soul, that is with everything that we have, we cannot help but love our neighbor, we cannot help but love ourselves, we cannot help but to reach out to help people in need, be they friends, families, be they people we do not know or even people who wish ill for us. In other words we rise for our humanity and take a different look, from God’s vantage point, realizing that everyone around us is truly related to us. They are our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, our children and in this sense we become united with the grand will, with the great will of the universe, with God’s will, who from the beginning of time willed this existence because of His Love, His infinite love.

Today we are given this unique perspective. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, your mind, your soul tells us to be prepared, not for some future date but for today. The Christian is called to always be prepared by always loving. It is God’s way. He always loves.

Today’s prayer comes to us from the gospels of Matthew chapter 25. It is the prayer of the last day. It is offered to us as a parable by our Lord Jesus Christ.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.  Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.  Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Lenten Journey Day 34 – Farsightedness

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 34: Red Bean Appetizer

Lenten Journey Day 34 – Farsightedness 

On this final Saturday of the Lenten season, the Armenian Church commemorating St. Gregory the Illuminator’s (circa 290AD) admission into the “Great Pit” (Khorvirab). The Great Pit was a place of exile and punishment, where St. Gregory was sentenced for the capital offense of spreading the Christian Gospel through Armenia. For thirteen long years he remained in that subterranean dungeon, being nourished and cared for by the prayer and love of a faithful young lady who had converted to Christianity. He found the strength – the kind which comes from within – to challenge the system and to remain faithful to the principles and beliefs that are at the core of Christianity. Meanwhile, the message of Christ had been planted and was now blossoming, in this young girl’s heart. Both St. Gregory and this young lady, Khosrovidughd, showed strength and inner strength that we remember today. 

Many times we find ourselves challenged for our beliefs and the only answer we have – the only way we can answer – is with an inner strength. This past week began with our look at the Parable of the Judge. While we understood the need for prayer in life, we also understood that prayer means letting go and losing the self. The ego takes a back seat to the greater plans of God. We also challenged ourselves to really see where our inner strength lies. Once discovered, we use that strength to push ourselves forward, to make sure that the principles of our faith are not shaken.

The commemoration of St. Gregory’s entrance into the Pit should remind us of the many “pits” – prisons and dungeons in our lives. It is easy to blame others for those falls, but we should not discount our role in creating some of those prisons. Yes, even St. Gregory could have done otherwise but he did not, and therefore, he is also responsible for being in sentenced. As noble as the reasons may be for our actions, we are part of an equation which has rewards or consequences on the other side of the equal sign.

As we mature in faith, we understand that there are serious consequences if not ramifications to every decision we make. Much like was the case for St. Gregory, if we stay firm to our principles that guide our life, we may be challenged with pits in our life, that is punishments that must be endured and overcome.

Sitting here today, removed by 1700+ years from the St. Gregory, we have a special vantage point. We know the history and therefore we have the advantage of farsightedness. We know that St. Gregory was punished in the Pit, but we also know the history that he was delivered and as a result, the conversion of Armenia took place, making it the first Christian nation on Earth. From the actions of St. Gregory’s death sentence, a people were given an opportunity to live.

This is called farsightedness. It is the ability to stand at one point in history and see another. We stand at Good Friday looking up at the Cross with farsightedness and see the Resurrection! So too, from St. Gregory’s crucifixion the resurrection of a nation took place.

Truly, farsightedness is a very special gift given to us as Christian, for we see the crucifixions through the lens that reveals resurrection. We see the empty tomb of Easter while standing at the cross of Calvary on Good Friday. Sometimes the pits of life are very, very deep. In fact the word Khorvirab. means just that, the deep pit. We struggle to overcome our difficulties. We search for a glimmer of light coming from above  – a bit of light to keep us focused in hope to get out of the ditch. We appeal to farsightedness to see the beams of light coming our way.

But there is a promise. Don’t despair. It is a promise that is given to us by one who does not lie. It is guaranteed by the One who has been on the Cross and delivered the Empty Tomb. Our Lord Jesus Christ says, “Courage, the victory is mine, I have overcome the world.”

In that prison cell, St. Gregory had that same message guiding Him and giving him the lens of farsightedness. “The victory is mine”, says the Lord and he too knew his victory was enduring. Having the assistance of the young lady, having her prayers, having the strength that comes from within and the crowning, the ordination of God upon his work he could not fail.

Think of the blessings you have in your life. Think of the friends, the priests, those who pray for you. Think of the crowning, the ordination that God placed upon you, so that you cannot fail. Find that inner strength within to be able to look into the distant and look past the crucifixion in front of you, and find the resurrection ahead.

This farsightedness kept St. Gregory alive.

As we conclude the fifth week of our Lenten Journey we now pray a prayer given to us by the father of the Armenian Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator:

Blessed is your love for human kind my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Save me from my enemies for like a lion they growl and roar seeking to swallow me up. Now my Lord, flash your light up and destroy their power. May they fear you and be cut off from the light of your face since they cannot stand in Your presence Lord, nor in the presence of those who love you.

Whoever calls on You and sees the power of the sign of Your Cross Lord and trembles and shies away from it Lord, save and keep me for I have put my trust in you. Liberate me from my troubles so that the malicious one will not cast me into oblivion for he battles against me in his insidious ways. Have mercy on me God who has power over all and grant the grace of tears to my sinful soul so that I may wash away the multitude of my sins.

Exalted God the only sinless one grant me this sinner your abundant compassion. Save me this wicked one by the grace of your mercy receive me into paradise with the perfectly just. Receive the prayers of this your sinful servant by the intercession of the saints who are pleasing to you Jesus Christ our Lord. Glory to you with the Father and the Holy Spirit, unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Photo: The Church at Khorvirab, 2009 by Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Lenten Journey Day 33 – Worrying about Tomorrow

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 33: Grilled Red Pepper and Eggplant Sandwiches


Lenten Journey Day 33 – Worrying about Tomorrow 

We end this fifth week of Lent with a meditation about apprehension, anxiety and worry about the future. Certainly anxiety comes into play when we are confronted with uncertainty. Even more, this coming Sunday is the Sunday of Advent, when we reflect on the second coming, which in its turn produces new anxieties and new worries of tomorrow.

Jesus warns us not to be anxious. He speaks directly against anxiety and against worrying about tomorrow. Anxiety and the fear that causes it are the opposites of faith. If we have faith we have trust. If we have trust then we diminish the power of anxiety and completely submit to God, so that “Thy will be done” will be done in our lives. Of course this is much easier said than done.

Let us look directly at the instruction that is given to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. Herein is the greatest lesson that we have regarding faith. It comes to us from the Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel of St. Matthew, quoting Jesus:

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Our Lord Jesus Christ plainly explains that trusting God means to completely submit to His will. It means to allow Him to be God. It means to enjoy the life that He gives us and to fly with the birds, and be clothed like the lilies of the field. Enjoy all that God has given us. It requires us to have complete and total faith in Him, by allowing Him to be Father. Remember, in the old covenant God was known as Lord, but Jesus set up a new relationship, unlike any other, so that we dare to call God, “Father.” Our Father who art in heaven… If we believe He is our Father then as a heavenly Father, He takes care of every single part and aspect of that universe.

Certainly we will always have fears and apprehensions of tomorrow, but we need to diminish them and the only way, the only cure for that is faith. To strengthen our faith, to really look at the examples that He gives us, let us look for all of the examples that are plainly around us. Alongside the birds of the air and the lilies of the fields are the simple smiles of our children, the warm embraces of our loved ones, the monumental signs of the mountains, the crashing waves, the moon and stars, each of them telling us, as Albert Einstein says, “God does not play dice with the universe.” Life has not haphazardly come into being. We are not here by accident. God loves us and takes care of us.

Reduce your anxiety, eliminate your fears and trust in God.

Today we conclude with a prayer from Russian writer, Alexander Solzhenitsyn:

How easy it is for me to live with you, Lord! 
How easy it is for me to believe in You! 
When my mind is distraught 
and my reason fails, 
when the cleverest people do not see further 
than this evening and do not know 
what must be done tomorrow – 

You grant me the clear confidence, 
that You exist, and that You will take care 
that not all the ways of goodness are stopped. 
At the height of earthly fame I gaze 
with wonder at that path 
through hopelessness – 
to this point, from which even I have been able to convey 
to men some reflection of the light which comes from You. 

And you will enable me to go on doing 
as much as needs to be done. 
And in so far as I do not manage it – 
that means that You have allotted the task to others. 

Lenten Journey Day 32 – Trust

Lenten Recipe
Recipe #32 – Olivada

Lenten Journey Day 32 – Trust

Our lives are built upon trust. Trust and faith are what give our lives stability. Trust and faith come from experience, that is, they are based on our own personal experiences and history. For instance, we trust that when the light turns green for us, the on-coming traffic has a red light. This trust is built on our experience of the thousands of traffic lights we have breezed through, with the full confidence that the opposite traffic is stopped. If we did not have this type of trust, we would live in fear and suspicion. We would stop at every signal we came to, uncertain what to expect.

If we think a bit deeper about our habits on approach to the traffic light, we trust on multiple levels. We trust the equipments – the electronics, the switches and the light bulbs themselves. We also trust the programmers who have set the time switches for the red and green lights. We can safely say that we believe that the programmer is a trustworthy person, that is, someone who will not fool us by giving us a green light and a green light for the opposite street. Our trust, makes the programmer (or builder of the signal) a person who is worthy of our trust.

This type of trust we learn. It is a trust built on experience. It is on this trust that we build our expectations for life. If we do not have this basic trust, we are then betrayed to a chaotic lifestyle. Life become chaos, it does not have order or rhythm. It becomes chaotic because we are overly consumed with fear – fear of the unknown and of the harm that will ensue.

It therefore follows that fear and chaos are overcome by faith and trust. We learn to have faith and trust, which in turn give rhyme and reason to our life and existence.

This week we are challenged to look at our prayer life in a new manner, that is, not only as a conversation with God but a conversation with the self. We turn inward to find the strength to push outward – to push that love and compassion out. We find the strength to do this because we trust. We trust love because we understand that love to be God.

God is love. Unconditional love. If we have love in our heart and if we have love for one another, Jesus tells us, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are Christians by the love that we share and spread.

When we find it difficult to share our love, it is usually because we do not trust. We do not faith that love will be returned to us. We do not trust that love will not hurt. We have lost trust in love. But today we stand with a different outlook and a mature understanding of our faith and place in the universe, we now understand that God is love. And this understanding makes all the difference.

We trust God because God is the one constant in the universe. He is, the I am. Not He was, not He will be, but He is. God as the Eternal Present, is the only thing that can be trusted. He is the only constant in our life that dispels the fear and brings order to the chaos. As such, He – this constant – allows us to trust in ourselves, the love that is in our heart. To trust God means to trust love. We therefore can push ourselves and push outward that love without fear.

On this 32nd day of Lent we are noticing the change in our Journey. What started as the road to faith is now turning into the path of action. You have it within you to act, to trust your actions because they are built on faith, they are built on love, that is, they are built on the trust that you have in God.

Today we have a simple exercise: to love. It is the beginning to the path to action. It is the first step towards action. It is a true love, which may hurt, but we trust it. We are completely submitting ourselves to that love. Submitting to God is submitting to love. Push yourself today to freely explore submission to God. Substitute the love where you think of God. Substitute God where you think of love. Push yourself to love others – family, friends, or someone you do not know. Push yourself to engage in a random act of love. Then take the chance and really push yourself to love your enemy. It is there, in your action, that you see God manifested. There you see God born. There you see the chaos brought to order and fear dispelled. It is at that point that you truly understand, “Thy will be done.” It is His will that we love one another.

Let us pray:
O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give a sense of your presence, your strength and your love. Help us to trust your protecting love and your strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten us. For living close to you, we will see your plan, your purpose and your will in all things. Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 31 – God’s Power

Lenten Recipe

Recipe #31 – Tomato & Bread Soup

Lenten Journey Day 31 – God’s Power

Today we continue with the lessons of the Unrighteous Judge, to understand God’s response to our prayer. Does God answer prayer? How? Is prayer as powerful as they say it is? Does it change God’s mind?

Yesterday we looked at the Problem of Evil. Certainly we all pray for the good and against evil – whether for ourselves, or for others, this prayer is a familiar one. At the very least we have said the phrase, “Peace on Earth” as a prayer of humankind through the ages. Yet evil is very real in the world. In fact, we see such a great presence of evil in this world. If God is all powerful why does He not eliminate evil? If God is all loving, why does He allow evil to exist? Why does He tolerate hatred? Why is there prejudice? Why is there war? Why is there illness? Why evil?

Our church fathers have pondered this question and as an answer have directed our attention to the cross of Christ. In fact, on that original Good Friday – not evil Friday, but good Friday – we find the Son of God himself is not exempt from evil. God did not stop evil from touching His Son. If God allows this evil, does that make Him powerless? Does that diminish His power. We say that He is omnipotent, we say that He is all powerful, so why does He not stop evil? Perhaps it is because we fail to understand the true nature of God.

St. John the Evangelist tells us that God is love. In a very straightforward mathematical equation (a=b; b=a) he allows us to see that God is Love and therefore, Love is God. Pure love is that manifestation of God. But we are talking concepts: God, Love, what do these things mean? St. Nerses Shnorhali in his theologically rich hymn, “Aradov Looso,” (=morning light), offers us the primer, that is, the key to unlock the giant mystery of Life, Love and God. In this hymn, which he offers to light and the source of light, Shnorhali writes, “The name of love is Jesus.” When we understand that God is love, and love’s name is Jesus, we now begin to understand that the crucifixion is part of the equation but is not the end. Jesus rose. He conquered death; He conquered evil, so in God’s eyes, it is only a platform. It is only one step – and a necessary step to understanding true love.

Each of us that has had the fortune of experiencing love knows that there is a cost to it. There are certain pains that go along with love. Does that exempt us from being all that we can be? Does that in any way hinder us, expressing and experiencing true love? Quite the opposite. In fact it enhances the love experience. So much so that if we look at the empty tomb on Easter, it is only valuable, it is only truly an empty tomb of victory in the context of the crucifixion. That is, without a crucifixion you can never experience a resurrection. And herein lies the key to evil.

The answer to the question, Is God powerless over evil? is, certainly not! God is love! And that is the power of power, that is the light of light. That is the true God of true God. That is real power, isn’t it? For He lights up the darkness; He gives strength to the weak. It allows us to stand in the face of crucifixion and know that we are never alone and that there is an empty tomb for each of us. There is victory for each of us. There is a resurrection for every crucifixion.

From the beginning of this Lenten Journey we have been challenged to move our thought process from our minds to our hearts. As St. Nerses Shnorhali reminds us, “Put a guard upon my heart, so that it may think no evil.” Not “upon my brain,” but “upon my heart.” It is from that point that we start developing our love. From our heart. Now, mind you, the heart does get broken. That heart is not rational, but neither is love. Love is true. Love goes beyond rationality. It gives us the endless possibility to be in union with God. You cannot rationalize a crucifixion, but you can understand that a father, in love for his creation, would give everything – even His Son – knowing that in the end, His creation too, shares in the possibility of resurrection, in complete victory over all the dreaded evil in this world. Herein, God answers the ultimate prayer.

We conclude today with a prayer, by St. Patrick who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries. This is called St. Patrick’s Breastplate because it seeks God’s protection in a world of both tangible and invisible dangers.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 30: Rice Desert with Cherries

Lenten Journey Day 30 – Why Evil?

Of all the questions that have plagued humankind, of all the questions that have demanded an answer, perhaps there is none greater than “Why Evil?” Why is there evil in this world? The question is asked by people who profess a religious belief as well as those who disavow any notion of deity. For the Christian, the “Problem of Evil” is troubling a puzzle because it can shake the very foundation of faith and belief in God.

The Problem of Evil is expressed as follows: If God is good, and if God is all powerful, why does he allow evil? Why do bad things happen? Why are there earthquakes? Why is there cancer? Why wars and genocide? Why do we have to deal with so many tragedies? And so the problem is, either God is not all-powerful, and therefore allows evil, or He is not all good and therefore is responsible for the evil. The are other questions which are related and follow: why does evil happen to innocent people? Why do the good suffer?

Today we will look at the problem of evil, and build upon the themes that we have been exploring during the Lenten Journey, especially along the lines of our Parable of the Judge and our need to pray unceasingly. We keep in mind that on this 30th day of Lent we understand ourselves to be in a process of maturing and growing spiritually. Things look differently today. Things are understood differently today. Putting away our preconceptions, we open our heart to an answer that is coming to us from the definition of God being love.

In yesterday’s journey we were challenged to make our prayer life real. God is not some Santa Claus/Superman type of person to whom we can give our list of demands and wants. Rather, we submit by saying “Thy will be done…” or “Let it be Your will that is actualized in and through my life.” In so doing, we accept a new responsibility, a more mature outlook on our life and our surroundings.

The Christian is called to a life of responsibility. If someone else is in charge of your life, you cannot take responsibility. If it is someone else who is doing your work, it is not your fault when problems occur. But, the Christian stands firm and says, “It is my doing. I accept the love that God has given me in my heart and therefore I need to act on that love.”

Prayer is a conversation with God and also a conversation with the self. This is the idea of meditation, of secluding oneself, getting away from everything and really having that honest conversation with the self. What is it that I need in this life? Who am I? What special talents do I have that I can use and perhaps even exploit?

Now let’s move over to evil, because if I am in charge of my life, how do I explain the big evils within life? That is, what about those things over which I am completely powerless? Earthquakes that take away villages and towns where thousands upon thousands are destroyed? What about the evils of famine and war? More closely, what about illness that devastates families and relationships? I am completely powerless. And as much as I pray about them, I know they are not in my hands. How can I effectuate the change upon these big issues or upon the evils which occur on a grand scale? True, they are not individually in our hands, but this is where the power of the collective, of the Church, comes in.

We believe with Christ, all things are possible. We believe that love is more powerful than evil. Where is love going to manifest itself to this magnitude, but in the body of Christ? Two thousand years ago we had the example, we had the manifestation, we had the incarnation of Love. We touched that incarnation, and in so touching, we were healed. That Incarnation was taken up to a crucifixion and we witnessed a resurrection. If we accept this, then we have to also accept the entire package. The package says, “I am with you to the end of the ages.” In that package we understand – as Jesus says, “Have courage. The victory is mine” – we too, are worthy and capable of resurrecting from our crucifixions and can now have a different understanding of events in our life. In fact, earthquakes, hurricanes, catastrophes, illnesses, cancers – they are not the end. They are the crucifixions that we endure just as the Son of God endured. God did not prevent that cancer, that earthquake, that hurricane from trying to destroy love. Evil did try. But evil is all around. It is not a question of combating evil with more evil. It is a question of enduring and overcoming evil with only one power, the only power that we have – with love.

In enduring, we find the resurrections in our lives. We see that generations are built upon love that cannot crumble, that cannot be destroyed neither through earthquake nor famine nor through the cancers of evil, hatred, bigotry that are all consuming. You see there is evil in this world and God allows it even upon the cross. Does that make God powerless? We will look at that question was we continue our Lenten Journey during this season of prayer as we look at our prayer lives, as we look at the idea of evil and the power of love.

Today we conclude with a different type of prayer. It is an inspirational message. It is something I found a few years ago that brought a lot of comfort to a patient, and I wish to share it with you today. It has many applications, please use it accordingly as a prayer in your lives. It is entitled, Cancer is So Powerless.

Cancer is so powerless, 

It cannot cripple love.
It cannot shatter hope, 
It cannot corrode faith.
It cannot destroy peace, kill friendship, suppress memories, silence courage, invade the soul.
It cannot steal eternal life. 
It cannot concur the spirit.
We confirm this by saying “Amen.”

Confirm by pronouncing the real power: Love.
Photo: (c)2006 Fr. Vazken Movsesian, Church Altar in Rwanda

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 29: Mediterranean Bean Salad

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way 

The Lenten journey is much like a set of stairs. As we ascent upward, we acknowledge the foundation built by each step. Each stair is dependent upon the previous steps we have taken and the success of our climb relies on us placing a firm foot on the stair before.

Yesterday’s step introduced the parable of the Unrighteous Judge. Through it Jesus taught about the nature of prayer. Because our Heavenly Father already knows our needs we therefore understand prayer not only as a conversation with God but a conversation with the self. As we climb the steps, we come to understand God as a caring and compassionate Father who works with and within us, not outside of us. Many times our prayers are based an expectation that God, like Superman, will come swooping down from the heavens and rectify the situation that we’re in. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we should not expect something outside of us to take control; that is, a “Superman” effect by God. Our understanding of prayer today is that we are open to the possibility of God’s will being done. Not to merely sit back and say, “Thy will be done,” and expect some power from outside to overtake us, but now we are open to the possibility of God working through us. That means we open our hands and embrace those who need love. That means we put one step in front of the other and we walk in the paths of righteousness. That means we open our eyes and open our ears to God’s justice. That means we become the instruments to do God’s will here on earth. This is quite different from a lazy man’s prayer wishing that God swoop down from the heavens and take care of his every need.

“Thy will be done” is a prayer of us engaging – being in fellowship with God, allowing God to work through us. Allowing God to be a partner with us in this lifetime. This is the mature prayer of the Christian. This is the new step that we take today. We understand God through the conversation that we are having with Him. Prayer is this new conversation with God and it is not a one-way street. It is not a request list that we hand out and expect to be filled like a Santa Claus does who comes down a chimney and delivers according who’s been “naughty or nice.” The dreams that we have may be wild ones, but to actualize those dreams, God works through us. He becomes a partner with us so that we become the legs, the hands, the mouth, the strength of God here on Earth.

St. Paul likens the Church to the Body of Christ specifically talking about the members of the body in terms of hands, feet, legs. Why? Because the only way Christ can work in this world is through a physical presence and a body. And here is the next step upwards… You’ve arrived at day 29, stepping on the previous steps and moving forward. You’ve made the transition in understanding. Prayer is your a partnership with God.

Yes, the Lenten journey has brought us here. What began as a solo venture is now a partnership between you and God, between you and others. You are not alone. There is a reason that Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there shall I be.” He does not say, “Where one is gathered, “ for there cannot be one Christian. Christianity implies a community. It implies working together. Faith without works is meaningless says the apostle.

On this day of Lent, we understand that prayer will have a different meaning for us. The words, “Thy will be done,” will be a call for action for us to open our hearts, open our senses to the possibility of the Eternal God of the Universe to work through us and not outside of us.

But what of problems that are beyond us such as earthquakes, hurricanes, illnesses and disease? We’ll take a look at those problems tomorrow as we continue on this thread, as we take the next step up the staircase of Lent.

Accordingly, for our prayer today, let us pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love.
For it is giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 28: Broiled Lemon-garlic Mushrooms

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Of the Lenten Sundays, three of them are named after parables which spotlight questionable character. During the last two Sundays we met the Prodigal Son and the Dishonest Steward. Completing the trilogy of Parables-Sundays is the dedication for this 28th day of Lent to the Unrighteous Judge. All three parables come to us from our Lord and are found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, 17 & 18, respectively.

The Unrighteous Judge is a man who, as Jesus explains, did not fear anyone – not even God, nor was he ashamed of any person. In the town where he served as judge a widow kept coming to him and pleading with him, begging that he hear her case. For some time he refused, but finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God, nor do I care about men, but because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so she won’t eventually wear me out!” Jesus concludes his parable with an interesting statement. He says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night. Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Indeed, this is an odd story. At first reading you might think that Jesus compares God to this unrighteous, unjust judge. The parable creates this image of a God who can be worn out, or worn down. It is as if, should we keep persevering, if we continue to pray over and over again, God will eventually wear down and He will say yes to our needs and to our desires. So keep praying, keep being persistent. Persevere like the old lady! And in the end God will wear down and will give you what you want.

On closer inspection of the parable, that is, when we read it in its entirety, we see that the evangelist, St. Luke, writes a few words of explanation as a preface to the parable. He says, “Jesus told His disciples this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” So yes, this is a story of perseverance, but it is not to wear God down, it is to keep in mind that must continually be in communion with God. St. Luke’s preface to the parable suggests that during his time, as is the case today, there is a misconception about the nature of prayer.

When Jesus teaches us the “Lord’s Prayer” he warns, “Do not heap up extra words. Your heavenly Father already knows what you need. Therefore when you pray, pray like this. Our Father, which art in heaven … ” Let’s think about that for a moment. If our Heavenly Father knows what we need, why then should we pray?

God knows our needs, so obviously, we have a very real misunderstanding about the nature of prayer.

Prayer is not merely a conversation with God. We pray because we need a conversation with ourselves. God already knows the desires of our heart. He knows our needs and wants, most probably, better than we know them. God knows where we are going. The real question is, do we? It may sound strange, but unless you have a true focus on your life, it is questionable whether or not you know what your needs are.

How often do we give time to hear ourselves, to hear the inner self speak? Part of this Lenten journey has been to open the ears of our heart, to be able to listen attentively. The Psalmist says, “Be still! And know that I am God.” Lent is giving us the opportunity to sit still and listen, hear, absorb and thereby grow spiritually. Lent is not merely to cut down on food, but it is to come down to the bare essentials: What is necessary to survive? Or in Jesus’ words (to the tempter), “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the Lord.”

When teaching us to pray, Jesus directs us to go into a small room and pray without any distractions so that you understand what your needs are. Because when we pray for the good things, God already wants us to have the good things, but how are they going to arrive to us? We need to find the strength. We need to find the patience, the devotion. We need to find the correct values. We need to wake up, put our dreams aside and put on the new garment of hope to walk forward. This all comes from the person – you and me – taking action. When we accept that we are God’s children and that He is our Father, then we know that He will take care of us in all circumstances. Just as He takes care of the birds in the air, as He takes care of the lilies of the field who are here today and gone tomorrow, so too, He will take care of us. Jesus tells us, “How much more are you worth than those lilies of the field, than those birds of the air? Your Heavenly Father takes care of them. How much more He will take care of you.”

Do you have that faith? It is an unquestioning faith and is difficult to achieve, hence the need to discipline ourselves. What remains for us is to continue to pray. Persistence! Persevere! Consistency! Like the woman in the story, never doubt that in the end, you will get what you need, because in that persistence, it is not God the Judge listening, it is you listening to yourself. In your persistence you’ll find that these prayers turn into mantras. They turn into guidelines by which you start living, by which you start accepting responsibility in your life. And much as your life has changed during this Lenten season, your prayer life will begin to mature, and your prayers become real mantras toward action, to realize the dreams that are set deep in your heart and not the desires based on the whims of today.

We conclude today’s Lenten journey with the prayer that our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught us,
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 27 – Martyrs of Sepastia

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 27: Cold Linguine with Red Pepper, Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

Lenten Journey Day 27 – Friendship

The Armenian Church celebrates the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia during one of the Saturdays of Lent. Although Sebastia is a town in Armenia, the entire Christian Church commemorates the martyrdom that took place there as a lesson in Christianity, perseverance, sacrifice and friendship.

The story of the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia takes place in the 4th century, when 40 soldiers of the Roman army armed with a faith in Jesus Christ, are put to the test: either deny their faith or lose their lives. They refuse to betray or deny their faith in Christ Jesus. They are sentenced to a torturous death by being thrown into a mid-winter freezing lake. The forty men reach out to one another. They hold on to one another creating a human life raft. The water miraculously warms up. God creates an opportunity for the freezing water to give warmth, to give life. In so doing the men are also given an opportunity to be crowned as saints.

There are many dimensions to this story. I invite you to read about it. It appears in many books and articles. For now, I would like to focus on the friendship that existed between these soldiers, particularly because they had the same goal and foundation of faith. Even more, they belonged to a community that brought them together.

We build relationships with others with whom we establish what is called “friendship.” Most of the time, these are limited partnerships; that is, we can talk about everything except matters of faith. We may be reluctant to talk about faith/religion. Why? Because we have been conditioned, we have been taught it is not polite to discuss religion in mixed company. After all, politics and religion are the two ingredients that you never want to take into a friendship. More arguments start because of politics and religion they tell us, than any other subject.

During this Lenten Journey we have looked within. We have looked without. We have built our prayer life with quality and quantity. We understand ourselves as disciplined creatures, assisted by the practices of fasting and of abstinence. Our Christian charity is defined by responsibility and stewardship. And so at the end of this 4th week, we understand that certainly Christianity is not that distorted view that so many people speak about, but there is a purity in Christianity. Not only is Christianity defined by love, but it is the expression of pure love. It calls us to extend and give ourselves to one another. It is sacrifice that manifests itself in friendships and relationships. We love, honor, respect and cherish one another.

Because Christ’s message is so pure, it gives each of us an opportunity to grow in that that same purity.

The forty martyrs found that purity in one another. They were able to hold on to each other and stay afloat in that lake. They were able to find strength from one another. We too are on a journey. It is called life. We look for friends and sometimes shy away because we feel others may not understand our position. Real friendship means that we can put all our cards out on the table. It means we can count on one another. We can lean on others and expect them to lean on us as well. To make this happen we need open dialogue. There is a formula to the dialogue. It begins by talking about the bare essentials of life including our faith, our spirituality, who we are, how we understand ourselves and what commitment we have to love. WE understand quickly now that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to matters of faith. It is now becoming part and parcel of our being to be able to stand tall and say, “Yes, I am a Christian because I am a member of Christ’s family.” Simply put, we say, “Yes, I am called to love.” Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

To love, to be able to stand up and help. To be able to sit down with a friend in trouble. To be able to extend a hand to someone in need. And to be able to offer the strength and the courage, to lift up someone who has fallen. You see, Christianity is all about continuing what Christ began.

The forty Martyrs of Sebastia understood the message of Christ as an expression of community. The name of the feast itself is about community. It is not one martyr that we remember, but 40 martyrs. It is a collective. People hanging on to one another, staying afloat, despite the difficulties in life. When we understand this, then we start reaching out to one another. We no longer fear confiding in our friends. Instead we have a healthy and open relationship, and we become true friends. Reaching out, hanging on, staying afloat in the waters of life… Understand that this is how miracles happen, because it at these moments that God heats the waters! We have yet another opportunity to really set sail and reach the dreams that we cannot do alone but certainly possible because of the community collective.

Today’s Lenten exercise is a simple one: reach out to your friends, reach out to your family. Engage them in a conversation of faith. Engage them to understand how important that faith is to you, and really explain what are the dimensions of that faith. Not merely stories, not merely myths, but a real story, a real story of hope, of faith, of really reaching out to one another and helping them stand up and for them to help you stand up. Together. With God’s blessings you reach the goals, you reach the dreams that are infront of you.

In that same spirit, let us pray from St. Nersess Shnorhali:
Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of your servant and graciously fulfill my petitions through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, St. Steven the first martyr, St. Gregory our Illuminator, the holy apostles, prophets, divines, martyrs, patriarchs, hermits, virgins and all your saints in heaven and on earth. And unto you, oh indivisible Holy Trinity be glory and worship for ever and ever. Amen. (24/24)

Photo – 2009 Fr. Vazken Movsesian