The Secret Journey – Lent Day 1

Day 1: The  Lenten Journey

 “From the east to the west and throughout the entire Christian world, wherever people call on the name of the Lord in holiness, by their prayers and intercession, may the Lord have mercy upon us.”

Lenten Recipe

These are the first words of the Prayer of Sunrise from the service of the same name, Arevakal, in the Armenian Orthodox Church.  We are reminded today that just as the Sun rises from the East and travels to the West, shining its light, radiating its heat, so too we find God everywhere.  We find the presence of God everywhere and anywhere where there is life, where there is love.

On this first day of Lent, our Church Fathers direct us to the Gospel of St. Matthew asking us to keep in mind our three main obligations during the Lenten journey: Giving, prayer and fasting.  While fasting is more formulated, in other words, keeping away from meat with dietary restrictions, and while prayer gives us an opportunity for conversation, giving is the action element to the Lenten cycle. 
We will be looking at all three of these elements – giving, prayer and fasting – in  detail in the next few days. For today, as a primer, we will look at all three of them in the context we find in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, specifically from the Sermon on the Mount. 
Matthew Chapter 6: And Jesus says Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  For whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may be praised by others.  Truly, I tell you, they have received their reward.  For when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your alms may be done in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. 
Secondly, Jesus talks about prayer: And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by others.  Truly I tell you,  they have received their reward.  But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door.  And pray to your Father who is in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
And regarding fasting, Jesus says, And whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting.  Truly I tell you they have received their reward.  For when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret.  And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
The first day of Lent is a time for a fresh start. Do not approach Lent as an obligation but approach it as an opportunity to grow. This 40 day period is an opportunity not a responsibility. In the Scriptural passages above we see that giving, prayer and fasting are private opportunities to build on your relationship with God. The Lenten Journey is between you and God. It is a time for reflection and introspection.
During the next 40 days you will see what is really important in your life. Remember, after Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness he was tempted to change the stones into bread to feed his physical hunger. His answer, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from God” is the cornerstone to the Lenten Journey. We are reminded that there is so much more to life than our physical existence. There is a soul which has spiritual hunger. These next 40 days will give you the opportunity to see what is necessary in your life. You will find that prayer, fasting and giving, will connect you to a higher reality.  Remember, it is between you and God, and God is “From the East to the West…”, that is, He is everywhere, within and without you. St. Nectarous says, “Seek God within your heart and not outside of it.”  It is just between you and God. Lent is between you and all of life.  Take advantage!  Here’s an opportunity like no other.
Let us now pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali (the Graceful): 
Oh Christ, Guardian of All, let your right hand guard and shelter me by day and by night; while home and while away; while sleeping and while awake that I may never fall.  Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner.
Cover Photo: Gregory Beylerian, 2014

On Earth as Heaven

Armodoxy for Today: On Earth as Heaven

Two Josephs are remembered by the Armenian Church today. If the life of Jesus were on a set of books on a shelf, these two Joseph would be like bookends on both sides of his life. One is referenced at Jesus’ birth, as St. Mary’s husband and the other Joseph, following Jesus’ death on the Cross, comes from Arimathea to retrieve the Body of our Lord for proper burial. (Matthew 27:57)

In the Armenian Church calendar, St. Joseph, the husband of the Asdvadzadzin, St. Mary, is given the descriptor, “Father of God” (Hovsep Asdvadzahayr). In Western Tradition, St. Joseph is the patron saint of adoptions, after all, he adopted our Lord Jesus Christ and raised him as his own. We know he was a carpenter, and we can imagine warm images of the young boy Jesus running around the shop that was filled with wood and tools, learning the carpentry craft from his father Joseph.

Joseph was an upright and righteous man, scripture says. He was firm in his Faith. Most importantly, he was a man who loved, cared for, and honored his wife so much, that he believed the seemingly impossible: she was pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Despite the social stigma and the public embarrassment and humiliation that was a certainty during that time, he took Mary as his wife and adopted Jesus.

Joseph gives us a very special example which we need to adopt in our lives. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We ask that God’s Will be evident in our lives, here on earth. The reason Jesus instructs us to pray those words is not because God needs to hear that we want His will to be done. Rather, it is for us to understand that the way His Will is done in this world is through our participation. Joseph understood that if God’s Kingdom were to come, his participation was essential. And so, against all the odds, against the conventions and norms of the day, against the impossibility of a virgin birth, against the put downs of gossiping mouth, and humiliation by members of his own community, Joseph says, “Thy Will be Done” and obediently follows the order to take Mary as his wife.

Some of the difficult solutions to the problems in this world begin by us simply accepting the responsibility to be a participant in God’s Kingdom. Joseph gives up his comfort and his dreams to ensure the Kingdom in enacted, “on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

Let us pray, from a traditional prayer dedicated to the Blessed husband, “Oh, St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God. I place in you all my interests and desires. Oh, St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession, and obtain for me from your divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. I never weary of contemplating you, and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me and ask him to return the kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen.

Cover: St. Joseph with the young Jesus. This statue was photographed at the Our Lady of the Angels Cathedral in Los Angeles, California.

20 years ago: Tearing Prejudice

It was 20 years ago today: The untold story of the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center.

Between the years 2003 and 2016 we ran an experiment in an area of Glendale, California known as “Ground Zero,” a place that Armenian organizations have ignored and forgotten, a place where education, identity and prayer came together.

This is a series about the miracles that we witnessed at this small church on the corner with a worldwide ministry. This is part of the Armodoxy for Today podcast series about the Armenian Church now, patterned after the ancient Apostolic Church, then.

Today’s Episode: Tearing Prejudice

Not everyone was happy that we had established the Armenian Church Youth Ministries on that special corner in Glendale. About a week or two after we had moved in I was visited by a member of the Glendale School Board. He was the only Armenian member at the time and he was the only one who expressed his dissatisfaction with our presence. His demeaner wasn’t stern, as much it was confusing. “You had no business starting this Youth Ministries without asking me!” he ordered. Because he was talking to an Armenian priest he figured I was someone who had no knowledge of the country and its laws. I looked at him with a you’ve-gotta-be-kidding expression and he responded with a sad delusional look. It was obvious the seat on the School Board had gotten to his head and he thought he was the gatekeeper. He left my office that day unhappy. I began my work understanding that the town had an old-boys network and I had crossed one of the lines.

The place where it mattered, though, was the school itself. Mrs. Hasmik Danielian was the principal of Hoover High School. She not only welcomed me but embraced my arrival by extending an invitation to Catalina Island for an overnight retreat for the Senior class. Linda Maxwell and Jose Quintanar from We Care for Youth were running the retreat to deal with prejudices, especially among the school’s minorities: Hispanic, Armenian, Asian and African American.

I was honored to be asked to attend. In a time when the conversation about separation of church and state was reaching its peak, here I was, an Armenian priest, invited to a public school event, where issues of social and ethical concerns were being discussed.

Catalina Island is an hour-and-a-half boat ride from Los Angeles harbor. We got to an area of the island that was secluded and away from the touristic area. Linda and Jose had organized different panels and discussions for the students to express and speak. Danielian, a few other administrators and I went along as a “support crew.” I was intrigued and was content observing and learning.

During that time, tensions ran high inside the high school between the different ethnic groups. Street fights were common after school, and the number of expulsions became evident by the kids hanging out on the street corners during the days.

At the evening activity Linda and Jose did their magic. They handed out large sheets of paper – poster size – and had students write their prejudices. No holds were barred. “Mexicans are lazy,” “Armenians are filthy,” “Asians are high-achievers,” “Black people are not bright.” And so on… some were brutal. All around us, in this large room, the posters hung as a reminder of how hurtful and disgusting prejudice comments could get.

And then the magic happened. One-by-one Linda and Jose went around the room challenging the prejudiced with hard fact. Fact, not from a book, but from the audience itself.

There an Asian student stood up. She was a C-average student and had failed to get into the university she had chosen. High achiever? Not a chance.  An Armenian young man stood up. He was well groomed, even at this outdoor retreat, the antithesis of “dirty and smelly.” A young Mexican girl spoke of her accomplishment academically while maintaining employment for the last three years. Her key to success, she admitted, was hard work. And a black student attested that he had picked up a scholarship in mathematics at UCLA, for his achievements in the physics club at school. One-by-one, the prejudices written on the posters were destroyed and accordingly, the students destroyed the posters. They tore them up!

It was as easy and as simple as communicating, learning, knowing, talking and establishing a dialogue with your neighbor. It may sound like a lot of work, but these are all manifestations of love, which is the starting point.

The trip back to the mainland was quicker – we had dumped our prejudices at the island. Some might have thought that because we were lighter, the trip was faster. I think it was because we wanted this magical weekend to last longer.

Prejudices, whether they are among ethnic groups, students, or even a School Board member looking at a young priest, are built on ignorance. They are overcome by the knowledge which comes from education. It’s the basic education given to us by Jesus when he taught that we all are chosen by God. Each of us, not a special ethnic group or financial status defines us in front of God. As the song says, “Yellow, red, black and white, we are precious in His sight.” You may think it’s a child’s song, but children already know that. It’s the rest of us that need to learn.

After those couple of days, we felt our place on the corner was ordained, sacred, special and unique, because we, the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center was now a part of the education process to promote peace.

Join me tomorrow, as we continue the journey which began 20 years ago today.

If you missed earlier episodes, you can binge listen on your favorite podcatcher or at under the “Armodoxy for Today” tab. Remember to leave a comment and/or write us at


Resurrection and Beginnings

Holy Week Day #9 – Easter Sunday! – You made it through to the end, only to find it’s the beginning. The angels direct us to look at Life and we do – to find it Resurrected! Final directions for the Lenten Journey.
Music: “Govya Yerousghem” by Vazkenian Seminarians at Lake Sevan; Speghani Children’s choir; “Birdsong Medly” by Armen Chakmakian; “About God” by Gor Mkhitarian. Cover: “Rise!” by Gregory Beylerian for In His Shoes Ministry. (available in the Epostle Shop)
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

Easter Eve – ‘Before the Dawn’

Holy Week Day #8 – Easter Eve – It’s always darkest before the dawn, but the Light cannot be contained. It’s radiating from the Tomb of Christ, as we anticipate the Good News of Resurrection; Matthew 28;
Music: Selections from “Ornyal eh Asdvadz” by Students at the Vazkenian Seminary at Lake Sevan; Cover: Easter Morning at the Hollywood Bowl, 2003.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

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Great Friday – Crucifixion & Burial

Holy Week Day #7 – Great Friday – a mediation as this Lenten and Holy Week Journey culminates, at the foot of the cross with Christ, Mary and St. Nersess. The Cross is Unavoidable.
Prayer: “Lord Have Mercy”;
Music: Rendition of Der Voghormya by System of a Down; “Stairway to Heaven” (Led Zepplin) Symphonic Kashmir; “John Nineteen Forty One,” Jesus Christ Superstar, Andrew Lloyd Webber;
Cover: Holy Apostles Armenian Church in Kars, now converted to Mosque. 2014 Fr. Vazken
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

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Great Thursday – Darkness: Life without Christ

Holy Week Day #6 – Great Thursday – the Passion continues to unravel as Christ enters the Garden of Getsemane. We walk with Christ through this Amazing Story, where we encounter every human emotion, until we stand still in darkness – a Life without Christ.
Music: Diramayr, DerVoghormya and Oor es Mayr eem by Lucine Zakarian; Cover: Salvador Dali’s “Sacrament of the Last Supper”
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

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Holy Week – Great Wednesday

Holy Week Day #5 – The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ begins to unravel from the Last Supper where he instructs by action, the lesson in humility. Washing the feet of the Disciples, he invites us to a call for social justice and action.
Prayer: St. Nersess Shnorhali’s Aysor Anjar;
Music: Selections from Armenian Duduk Sounds from the Ages;
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

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Holy Week – Great Tuesday (10 Maidens)

Holy Week Day #4 – Great Tuesday – The parable (Matthew 25) can be and must be turned into a story reflecting its message of preparedness. The Christian is always ready with good works and solid faith, in preparation of answering to God.
Song: “Stargazer” by Armen Donelian;
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for

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Holy Week – Great Monday

Holy Week Day #3 – The Farewell Discourse, John 14, Trust in God, Make Sense of the Chaos, Understand with your Heart and wipe away confusion – Comfort for the Passion Traveler.
Music: “Heru M’ertar” and “Lullaby for the Sun” by Night Ark in Wonderland, Cover: Death Valley at Spring

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