From Dot to World

Armodoxy for Today: From Dot to World

In keeping with the themes we’ve been discussing this past week, today I’d like to share with you a message from astronomer and planetary scientist, the late Carl Segan, with an epilogue by Jesus Christ.

In 1990, the spacecraft Voyager 1, after spending 13 years exploring parts of our Solar System had reached the edge of our planetary neighborhood. Before departing, it turned around one last time toward planet Earth. It was over 4 billion miles away from home when it snapped a picture and radioed it back to us. If you looked extremely close at the image, and only after it was pointed out to you and you took a second, third and fourth glance at it the you might see a pale blue dot against rays of scattered light caused by the Sun. That image, is planet Earth

In 1994 Carl Segan wrote the book.  “Pale Blue Dot.” In it he reminds us that that dot is home. Everyone we have known, loved or hated, every historical figure, from pauper to king, every barbarian and their warriors as well as every ethical teacher and their disciples, who has ever been studied, have all existed on that pale blue dot.

He goes on to warn humanity of the fragility of life, and the importance of honoring and respecting what we have with one another and our environment on that pale blue dot.

Take a look at Segan’s book and his observation of that tiny dot in the universe that we call Earth. You find a prominent scientist, futurist, and thinker talking about the ethics of being human. You see, the scientist and the priest are not too far off each other. They, both begin and end their days with dreams.

Armodoxy points to the universality of the message love, faith and hope. You don’t have to scrape the edges of the Universe to find this truth, it is in each of our hearts. The challenge is to implement the what exists there, and recognize that that pale blue dot is home.

In the Gospel of Matthew we read, an expert in the law, tested Jesus with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22)

 

Glancing at Eternity at Datev

Roots of Armodoxy: Eternity at Datev

Albert Einstein’s E=mc2 is one of the most recognized scientific notations by non-scientists. At most, people know it has something to do with time and space, though the mechanics escapes them. At the least, people know it is connected to Einstein and the theory of relativity. Around the same time Einstein was putting together the formulas for the general theory of realtify, American write, Henry Van Dyke was stating the relativity of time in these terms, “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” That’s right, time is relative. It moves according to the vantage point of the observer.

At the end of time is eternity. It is difficult to accept and impossible to comprehend. Eternity exists in the absence of time, and as such is goes counter to all of our natural experiences. We may use words and phrases such as forever-and-ever but they describe time, not eternity. One such place where we come close to touching eternity, however, is at the monastery of Datev* or Datevivank. It is found in the Syunik Province in southeastern Armenia. Nestled in the forests, atop a hill, the Monastery is a marvel of Armenian architecture. Stone-placed-upon-stone, the shell of the church holds within it a very sacred space where the energy is so strong that time seems to be bent. While at Datevivank, you can experience eternity because time is absent. Though the structure itself is finite, inside you lose yourself to the marvel of faith that has constructed this shrine.

Datev is the reason why people look up when they think of heaven or eternity. On this hilltop some of the greats of the Armenian Church have lived and been inspired, including St. Gregory of Datev (14th century) who is entombed inside the sanctuary. He was a theologian and philosopher whose influence on the church is felt to this very day. During the early part of the 20th century, as the Genocide was coming to an end, the Datev Monastery was the inspiration and backdrop for greats such as Garegin Njteh as he chartered out the course for a new and independent Armenia, with his priorities expressed in a trilogy of ideas, God, the Nation and the Fatherland.

As we were visiting this bit of heaven on earth, a service uniting heaven and earth was taking place. The head of the monastery, Fr. Michael was administering the sacrament of baptism on a young boy of nine or 10 years of age. The boy’s godfather was a worker from one of the local villages. Those in attendance to witness the Christening were the boy’s immediate family and us, a group of pilgrims open to the blessing that may come our way.

Fr. Michael baptized and confirmed the boy with holy Miuron and then offered a prayer of thanksgiving, “We thank you Lord for replenishing your Church with this new servant of yours.” That word, “Replenishing” was the key to eternity. Here on this high peak, inside this monastery, in the witness of simple people, a miracle was taking place. Eternity was taking form; the continuity of space and time unfolded in our presence. At Datev we may not have comprehended eternity, but we did understand that eternity is not something to come but is in our midst right now. Henry David Thoreau expresses it concisely, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

Fr. Michael turned to us and gave us a blessing. He is a simple monk of the Armenian Church who understands the power of uniting us with eternity. For those moments at Datev, we saw and were united to the vastness of eternity, and with the certainty of the continuity of life.

We pray today, “Heavenly Father, we say that to You belong the Kingdom of Eternity. May we be in your Divine presence, in that eternity, now, as well as forever. Amen.”

* The Armenian name Տաթեւ, may be transliterated into Latin characters as Datev or at Tatev.

Cover Photo: Fr. Vazken 2023

Other Wars

Armodoxy for today: Other wars

Continuing on the theme expressed yesterday, as to how we are conditioned for war, we point to a phenomenon that continues to breed war. It is the phenomenon of leading with a stale vision. This year, this phenomenon is even more accentuated with the presidential elections here in the United States. The two leading contenders for the position have lived the good part of eight decades and are now “sharing their vision for the future” vying for votes. What vision and for what future?

This not only true in the United States, but a quick glance around the globe and you’ll see its usually older men who engage in wars that the young ones fight. We hide behind the concept of funding wars, while shipping off kids to fight those wars.

Jesus came to the world to challenge the stale visions with an option for life.  “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’” (Matthew 9) says Jesus, to a world that is desperate for a vision, a vision which is articulated by love and its manifestations, such as mercy.

Today we fund wars throughout the world based on stale visions which propagate more hatred and more war. Death, disease, famine instead of life, health and wealth. Think of the billions of dollars that can be used to fight larger wars, such as housing and sheltering homeless populations or transferring flood waters to areas devastated by drought or exploring new innovations in medicine and technology to improve the quality of life. Yes, life, health and wealth.

We read in Proverbs, “Where there is no vision, the people perish…” (29) In fact, the stale vision of war is literally and figuratively a one-way ticket to death, hence Jesus words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” It is the direction of a life which follows a vision of faith, love and hope.

As the Body of Christ, the Church, has a responsibility and duty to continue to herald the vision for peace. This a sacred calling which is pronounced by God and heeded by humanity.

We end today with a prayer by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. O God, we thank you for the lives of great saints and prophets in the past, who have revealed to us that we can stand up amid the problems and difficulties and trials of life and not give in. We thank you for our foreparents, who’ve given us something in the midst of the darkness of exploitation and oppression to keep going. Grant that we will go on with the proper faith and the proper determination of will, so that we will be able to make a creative contribution to this world. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen.

The Weapon

Armodoxy for Today: The Weapon

War is a political action. It’s as old as the hills. It has become a means by which people resolve their differences. We are conditioned to believe and understand that, albeit it is an extreme measure, war resolves conflicts once and for all. We appeal to weapons, building stronger and more powerful weapons to overcome adversity and our enemies. The bigger and more powerful the weapon, we think, the more we are guaranteed victory. And so, along with the quest for peace, we are on an ever-growing exploration for bigger and more explosive weapons.

Jesus Christ presents us a weapon of sorts, namely Love. Oh yes, we pay homage to love, saying it’s what makes the world go around. All you need is love! We dedicate song, poems, novels, movies, monasteries and churches to love, and attest to its awesome power, but when it comes to weaponizing against our enemies, we have no faith in love-power and instead opt for instruments of destruction.

We’ve been conditioned, not only during our childhood as people, but as a civilization, through historical lesson, to believe that war is the solution. Reality check: wars are fought, and no one wins. Sure, a battle is won here or there, but no one wins wars. In the end, loser of the battle only builds resentment and anger, to come back another day for “settle the score.”

Furthermore, war gives the illusion that certain life is more important than other life. Women and children are called on first to evacuate, as if the life of boys and men are of less value. Soldiers are drafted or enlist, and when they don their uniform they are fair game, as if their mother or father will not cry when the announcement arrives that their baby is gone.

Over the weekend, four Israeli hostages were rescued, but the cost of the operation killed over 200 Palestinians and hospitalized four times that amount, adding to the narrative that some lives, some groups, some people are more valuable than others.

There is a higher idea and a better weapon to overcome our enemies.

If you contend that God is the author of life, then you have to admit that all life is precious to God. There are no hierarchies of people for God, as Jesus instructs. We, people, have created disparities. We author wars and are responsible for ending war.

The words of Jesus are clear:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5)

Delicate Planet: Remembering Bill Anders

Armodoxy for Today: Delicate Planet

Today we note the passing of William Anders, one of NASA’s Apollo astronauts from the 1960’s, one of a select group of people through whose efforts the moon landing became possible in 1969.

William Anders flew on Apollo 8, the first man-made object to leave the orbit of the Earth and enter the orbit of another astronomical body, in this case our planet’s nearest neighbor, the Moon. During the Apollo 8 mission the astronauts were charged with circling the Moon, observing the lunar surface, recording their findings and returning back to Earth.

The Moon’s surface is made up of craters and dust. Black and white film was what they used to photograph the landscape.

As the astronauts’ attention was focused on the Moon, in the midst of snapping away pictures, William Anders was the one who turned his head inside the space capsule and noticed a beautiful blue planet peaking its head over the horizon. Quickly, he loaded color film into his camera and began shooting the image outside his window at various f-stops to compensate for the uncertainty created by this never-seen-before event. It was the Earth, rising above the Moon’s horizon. It was the first time ever, that any human life form had witnessed an earthrise.

Anders later said, “We came all this way to explore the Moon, and we discovered the Earth.”

The event took place on Christmas Eve 1968. The image was radioed back to Earth for everyone to see our planet through the eyes of William Anders and the chance event of turning his head. The crew of Apollo 8, Bill Anders, Jim Lovell, and Frank Borman read the story of Creation as a Christmas present to the world. Genesis chapter 1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…”

That day, that picture and the message it conveyed, changed the way humans saw our planet. The photograph is now iconic and continues to be a reminder of how delicate our existence truly is on this planet of ours.

Sometimes, all it takes to refresh our view of life is to turn our head and view life from another window, from another angle. When Jesus says, “Turn the other cheek” to evil, he is asking us to consider the beautiful colors outside our window, even when we’re focused on a seemingly black-and-white world. Truly the challenge for humanity is to turn around, reimagine a world where evil can be overcome by goodness, where violence does not have to be met with violence, where our metaphors include putting out fire with a hose, rather than more fire.

William Anders passed away at age 90. The picture he shot from the space capsule will never die because it is a glance at the goodness which God shared with us, His creation. May God rest the soul of William Anders.

We end with a prayer that one of the other astronauts in the same space capsule, Frank Borman, prayed from space on that Christmas Day: “Give us, O God, the vision which can see Your love in the world in spite of human failure. Give us the faith to trust Your goodness in spite of our ignorance and weakness. Give us the knowledge that we may continue to pray with understanding hearts.” Amen.

Cover: Moonrise, 1968 NASA (Apollo 8)

Christ Call: Dare to Dream

Christ Call: Dare to Dream

Next Step #793 – June 8, 2024 – Christ calls us to dream, to explore avenues that have not been explored, in particular in a quest for peace. “Blessed are the Peace makers, for they shall be called children of God,” says Jesus (Matthew 5). Our world needs dreamers. Hear two dreams – one for the exchange of bombs for water and the other, to implement a pardon in the face of hatred. Testing Armodoxy in a world of war and in dog-eat-dog politics: a Paradox waiting to be explored.
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Earthrise from Apollo 8
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The Narrative (Story)

Roots of Armodoxy: The Story

After your first visit to Armenia, and especially once you make the rounds to the monasteries and ancient sites, you can’t help but ask, how come no one knows about this?

You’re in the first Christian nation. You’re standing in front of the oldest Christian Cathedral on Earth at Holy Etchmiadzin, you’ve maneuvered through the caves at Geghart, you’ve entered into a pit where the Miracle of the Illuminator took place, and just about anywhere and everywhere you turn there are stories and sights that are, well to use a very crude but descriptive term, mind-blowing! You’ve watched your share of documentaries on Discovery and National Geographic, and this is your first glance at these sacred shrines and holy spaces, that have somehow escaped the curiosity of Hollywood producers. Where ever you look, there are stories waiting to be heard. You can’t help but make comparisons: Etchmiadzin is 800 years older than The Cathedral of Notre Dame, Karahounj predates Stonehenge by 5,000 years. The vortexes here pull more than they do in Sedona. Where am I and why am I just learning about this? you ask yourself.

Visiting Armenia is a journey. It is not about facts and figures but about the mysterious flow of energy that moves through this land. There is really no way of explaining or expressing the resilience and the supernatural means by which this country and its people have survived against adversity, except by resigning to the fact that this is a story that needs to be absorbed.

I was standing with a group pilgrims at one of the sacred spaces in Armenia when a group of tourists walked by and I heard the tour guide explain the history of the monastery that stood before us. She was good. She was young, born in Armenia, spoke and articulated herself in English and weaved the history together, just as you would expect to read it in a textbook. And then, she and her group moved on. Unfortunately, her group didn’t get the story behind this marvel of architecture and faith. They received the history, but the story was not there.

You’re in Armenia. It is a small, land-locked country, at the crossroads of three continents. It is inhabited by a peaceful group of people who have tapped into the Power of Christ, in their witness and expression. This Christ force, is expressed in its history and its story. That is what you witness in these sacred spaces and it is the reason why this place has survived atrocities, perils and even genocide.

The story is what we understand as Armodoxy, that is, the essence of the history with a connection to our lives today. Inside the monastery, the churches and the sacred sites, stone upon stone have absorbed the prayers, the candle drippings, the smoke of the incense and the tears and laughter of the people for centuries. This is the story that we tell. It’s no different than your life. You are not merely a list of historical events, but you have your candle drippings and incense filled walls as well. Yours is a story of relationships, dressed by love, hurt, pain and joy. You are who you are because of the friends who sat next to you, to the hand you extended to your children, the mother and father who disciplined you, the love that hurt you. That’s your story. Armenia has a story that is at the root of Armodoxy. It is why we understand Christianity as a power that can move mountains and heal the soul. Armenia is the living expression of the Christian experience, and every corner you turn, that power and that energy can and should be tapped into.

We pray, “Lord our God, open my heart to the wonders that are around me. Allow me to find the Kingdom that is within and without me, so that my story becomes a part of the story of Life. Amen.”

Ararat Surprise

The Roots of Armodoxy: Ararat

In stark contrast to the wonderful and joyous hospitality you’ll be extended as a tourist in Armenia, is your first encounter with its people, at the small passport control booth as you exit the plane and enter the country. This passport official in that small booth is not interested in chit-chat or idle conversation. Just the facts. A quick look up-and-down, and a few back-and-forths at the documents, and then relief! They have stamped your passport and so you enter into this amazing land of enchantment, dreams and surprises. And the first surprise is in the document that you hold, in your newly stamped passport!

You look at the stamp, that identifies the date of your entry and directly at the top of the stamp is a drawing of a mountain with two peaks, one small and one large. For me, and I assume for many Armenians who have grown up with the double peaks, its recognized as the symbol of the Biblical Mount Ararat. In fact, its so recognizable to Armenians that the element of surprise might escape you.

Mount Ararat is identified in the Bible, Genesis 8:4, as the resting place of Noah’s Ark following the great flood. Whereas Genesis 2:10 locates the Garden of Eden in Armenia, we discover that the second change for the cradle of civilization is once again in Armenia at Mount Ararat.

Armenians are described as the people who inhabit the land at the base of Mount Ararat. Politics being what they are, has the mountain within the borders of Turkey today, but it is the Armenian mountain, so much so, that on this legal document, on this internationally recognized and accepted passport, the symbol of the country is Mount Ararat. Surprised? The root of both the mountain and the people is the same, the “Ar,” just as it is for everything that is essential, such as the sun, “arev.”

Poet Yeghishe Charents proclaims, travel around the world and there is no peek such as Ararat. I’ve been to both sides of Mount Ararat. When seen from the other side, the majesty of the peaks is just not there. Viewed from Yerevan, Armenia, Mount Ararat is overwhelming and grand, like a mother forever present in the life of her children, witnessing the struggles, the pains, the joys and triumphs they experience.

Ararat sets the tone for the journey through this sacred and inspiring land. Here is a small area, occupied by a people who sit at the crossroads of three continents, who have been trampled and bullied by invaders and barbarians. And yet, with no military strategy that weighs on the world theater, this group of people continue to live and prosper, based on a Biblical game-plan, not of floods and disasters, but of resurrection. Armodoxy, brings that game-plan to our lives today. We begin with a visit to this holy land.

For today, we conclude with Psalm 36, “Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your judgements are like the great deep; you save humans and animals alike, O Lord. How precious is your steadfast love, O God! All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.”

Etchmiadzin – Universal

Armodoxy for Today: Universality of Faith

The feast of Holy Etchmiadzin has a descriptor in its official name. It is “universal.” While the word implies the connection to the larger Body, that is, to the Christian Church, it also gives us a direction for ministry, especially when we understand that Etchmiadzin is Mission.

In a world that is plagued with war, disease, poverty, intolerance and indifference, the feast of Holy Etchmiadzin is essential for the survival of humanity. This is not hyperbole, but confirmation that compassion, forgiveness, sacrifice, selflessness, and tolerance, that is love is the only answer for us as a planet.  The original Christian message was, and still is, applicable to the entire world – in the here and now – and accessible to everyone. This is why we say Armodoxy is the expression of OG Christianity.

According to the verses in Genesis 2 the Garden of Eden, the birthplace of humanity is in Armenia. According to Genesis 8, the resting place of the Ark, the second chance at life was on the Mountains of Ararat, the peak that shadows Armenia. The Christ Light which shines from Holy Etchmiadzin is the hope for humanity. Herein is the universality of Holy Etchmiadzin. These three physical locales – the Garden, the Mountain and the Cathedral –  although they exist in Armenia, belong to all of humanity. They cannot be confined to a group or tribe of people. They contain the elements and energy of life proclaiming God’s ever-presence in human history. Holy Etchmiadzin completes the holy trinity of physical locations that radiate the love energy, from spiritual vortexes in this small patch of land.

On the Feast of the Universal Church Etchmiadzin, we make a pronouncement to the entire world the words of the hymn: The only-begotten descended from the Father and the light of glory was with him… The patriarch Gregory saw the great light and joyfully told of it… Come let us build the sanctuary of the Light, for therein shone forth light unto us in the land of Armenia.

Etchmiadzin for All

Armodoxy for Today: Etchmiadin for All

In a world that is plagued with war, disease, poverty, intolerance and indifference, the feast of Holy Etchmiadzin may seem obsolete and/or archaic. What is all this talk about Holy Etchmiadzin when the news is shouting out horror and evil?

The Church steers us to the answer in the epistle reading of the day, from Hebrews chapter 9. Here we read about structures, about altars and tabernacles. In the Armenian Church we read this in the context of the new covenant and therefore state the invitation in the hymn of Holy Etchmiadzin: “Come, let us build the altar of light!”

The altar, which pointed to rules and regulations is now standing as a beacon of light, and therefore, as a lifesaver offering and giving hope! The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church attests to this subtle change of focus when the celebrant prays, “God of truth and Father of mercy, we thank you, for you have exalted our nature, 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.”

As children of our Heavenly Father, we are called to the highest calling: to share the Light with others, especially those living in darkness. “You are the light of the world,” says Jesus (Matthew 5).  “A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Come let us build the altar of light, says the hymn, so that evil is exposed. Etchmiadzin is the altar of light that must be raised in a world of darkness.

“This is the verdict,” Jesus says, (John 3) “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

We pray, from St. Nersess Shnorhali’s prayer, O Christ, the true Light make my soul worthy to encounter with joy the light of your divine glory, on the day I will be called by you; and to rest in good hope, in the mansions of the righteous, until the great day of your coming. Have mercy upon your creatures, and on me, a sinner. Amen.

 

Cover: Altar of Descent, Holy Etchmiadzin, Fr. Vazken 2014