Lenten Journey Day 40 – Worship

 


Lenten Journey Day 40 – Worship

What a beautiful day today is. It is day 40 – forty days ago we began this Lenten Journey. We feel a sense of accomplishment. It is a good feeling. It has been 40 days of fasting – abstaining from certain foods. It has been 40 days of intensifying our prayer life. It has been 40 days of charitable giving, not merely by writing out checks but giving pieces of ourselves. We have counted our blessings and our talents, contemplating our purpose and function within life and our world. It has been a time of reflection.

It is perfectly natural for us to look back today, perhaps even revisit some of the themes that we explored during this Season. In looking back, though, we must be honest. If not, we will be betrayed by our attitudes and actions.

Today as we gather on this 40th day of Lent we arrive as new creatures. We have been transformed. We have changed, perhaps not to the exact place we would like to be, but the change is noticeable. In particular we have a new outlook. We see ourselves differently, as individuals and within the structure of our communities and the world.

The one topic that follows, naturally is “Worship.” It is the one area that we have not explored. It is the most extraordinary and natural. It is the final step we need to take during this Lenten Season.

In worship we understand ourselves in relationship with God in a rather unique manner. Worship is not prayer . It is praise. Worship is not asking. Worship is giving. It is giving ourselves and humbling ourselves before that which is greater than ours self. And so, Worship is the final step in the Lenten period.

It has been a beautiful journey this year because we have grown, both individually and together. By listening, by talking, by sharing, by extending ourselves, that is, by Loving! Think of it for a moment. The Love that we share with others defines who we are in, for and around life itself. And we have a new definition today. We have a new lease on life today! We have opportunity to come face-to-face with this holy season, to look at the resurrection with new eyes. Our eyes are focusing beyond crucifixion and we see the empty tomb. We witness and become part of the Tomb.

Imagine that…. Sitting in the Tomb of Jesus. Imagine waking up after the torture of crucifixion. Imagine waking up after a burial. We can now share properly what we were intended to share from the very beginning – to become participants in the salvation process. It is not a question of being saved, but one of being a participant. And that is where worship grants us a perfect model.

Worship in the Armenian Church is participation. It is an act of participation. It is not witnessing, but throwing yourself into it holistically with all your senses. To visually see what is around you – the visual delights, the colors, the candles, the flowers. To smell the aroma of the flowers at the altar as well as the incense that takes our prayers to heaven. To be able to hear the beautiful tones and tonalities of the angels. Not saying I don’t understand so let the angels come to me, but rather asking, how can I fly with the angels. How can I participant? Our sense of touch is also important in the Worship services. We have to touch each another. We have to physically love one another. We have to kiss each other to say “You are important in my life just as I would like to be important in yours.” In that touching process we begin to understand what it means to put our feet in the shoes of others. In the shoes of our brothers and sisters, of our people, of others who are struggling. We place our feet in the shoes of others and we understand their difficulties. Perhaps the loss of a job? The loss of a loved one? Perhaps they have an inability to process the spirituality, to process the love that God has put in our heart. And so we reach out to one another physically.

Finally we appeal to our sense of taste. We participate by communicating, by communing with the Holy Eucharist, with the precious body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So we see that worship really is that final step in the Lenten Journey. It is a step that allows us to go beyond Lent, so that taking what we learned during these 40 days, we can apply it and make it a reality in our life, every single day and every single moment, in our relationships with one another, to draw on what we learned in the past, but not to stay there in the past, and to say that the life before me is so beautiful that I’m ready to walk. I am ready to take on the challenges. I am empowered by God. I have been given a new lease on life with Jesus Christ as my savior.

Jesus Christ. Love incarnate. I have been given a new lease on life through Jesus, through love.

We conclude with a meditation on John chapter 15, Jesus, the True Vine. Jesus says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

Amen.
This concludes the Lenten Journey.

Follow the Holy Week Podcasts at Epostle.net

Lenten Journey Day 39 – Light and Salt

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 39: Tropical Sweet Potatoes

Lenten Journey Day 39 – Light and Salt 

Change. We have changed through the Lenten Season. In fact, our Lord Jesus Christ is the author of change. He advocated our need to change. He taught us a path to get back home through repentance. He expressed through words and his life, that through simplicity we can find happiness and inner peace.

Christ has the ability to change evil into good. Certainly, at the Cross, he transformed the evil Crucifixion into a “Good” Friday event, by the power of the Resurrection. Jesus also changes word and concepts. For instance he took the words of condemnation and turned them into words of salvation. The first man heard the words, “Take and eat this will make you like God,” and was condemned. Jesus took those same words and made them into words of salvation, “Take and eat,” this will make you like God, for this is my body and this is my blood.

Jesus is the one who transforms us and in him we see a transfiguration. A renewal for our lives. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives us a formula for happiness. In the Beatitudes we are told what is really important in life. In giving us hope and belief in tomorrow, he concludes the Beatitudes by once again changing us by giving an opportunity for us to partake in the Divine Nature. The same one who once said, “I am the light of the world,” now turns to us and says, “You are the light of the world,” giving us an opportunity, much like the disciples who witnessed the transfiguration, who saw His radiance, an opportunity to see the fullness of God.

According to the Old Testament, the first thing that God willed was light, “Let there be light.” This is independent of any celestial body. It is pure light. It is radiating light. It is healing light. It is the light that is from the beginning of time and continues forever.

Jesus gives us an opportunity to be that light. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.”

Using something as small and seemingly insignificant as a grain of salt, Jesus emphasizes how important our life is in the big picture. The Lord proclaims that you are important because you are that salt of the earth. That salt is used to flavor life, to give life its meaning and to give it content, that is, inner happiness, inner strength, inner peace.

In Armenian Church tradition a priest blesses the homes of his parishioners and part of that ritual involves blessing water for the spiritual needs of the family and blessing the bread for the physical needs of the family. Equally as important, the priest blesses salt because flavor is necessary in life. We are called to the happiness of life , to share in God’s love, in God’s kingdom, in the goodness that is all around us. Imagine, “You are the salt of the earth” because you give meaning to what we know as life.

Jesus continues, “You are the light of the world. 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.”

There is a responsibility that comes with being light. Light needs to shine. Ours is to light the world. We do not have the right to hide light.

Today we find more opportunities of expressing our responsibility in God’s Creation. You are called to a unique responsibility of being salt, the flavor of life. You are the light which illuminates the darkness and illuminates the path to your heavenly Father. As night falls on the Lenten Season, we are given the responsibility to shine light on a world that is in need of illumination.

The sun goes down daily over our lives, but for many lives, the glimmer of hope for a new sun rise is nonexistent. Imagine leaving a room, turning off the lights and the room becomes so dark that those people in it cannot see the light switch. They don’t know where to turn. They don’t know where to reach to turn on the light. You are the light of the world. Shine. Turn on the switch. Provide hope, faith and love. 

Today God is calling upon you to become the light of the world, not to hide yourself under a table but to put yourself on the light stand. As someone who has gone through this Lenten season you now have a new responsibility to light the darkness and in so doing, to become an agent of Christ, to become a pillar of hope where there cannot be hope. You are the salt of the Earth to bring flavor to life, you are the light of the world to bring light into the darkness.

Let us pray the prayer of Saint Nerses Shnorhali (Norasdeghdzyal):
In the beginning the Word newly created the heaven and heavens out of nothing, and the celestial hosts: the watchers, the angels and the elements, contrary one to the other, and yet agreeing, by which the indescribable Trinity is ever glorified.

The thrice-holy One, dominion and Godhead in one nature, the light uncreated that creates, commanded that there be created light, which he made to shine on the first Lord’s day that was Sunday, by which the inexpressible Trinity is ever glorified.

O You Love, in love You humbled Yourself and took human form for our salvation, in the same body that was crucified, and laid in the tomb of death, this day You rose as God and the angels proclaimed; come you who are saved, sing with the angel praises to him that is risen.
Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 38 – Happiness & Blessings

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 38: Peach Salsa

Lenten Journey Day 38 – Happiness & Blessings 

The Declaration of Independence of the United States proclaims that people are endowed by their creator to have the unalienable right to pursue happiness. Striving for happiness can be expensive for many. Some people forget and forsake all else for the sake of happiness. Often we view happiness as an end in itself, forgetting that happiness can serve a greater end, and that end we call life.

In the Sermon on the Mount our Lord Jesus Christ offers a plan for happiness, which many times seems to be at odds with the perspective offered by the world. Rather than focusing on pride, Jesus recommends being humble. Rather than pushing for pleasure or possessions Christ says true joy is found by helping others. Instead of pushing others out of our way, Jesus tells us to minister to them. His prescription for happiness seems to be at odds with the rest of the world.

Today as we are winding down our Lenten journey, taking those final steps on the road toward Holy Week we start putting pieces together. Fragments seem to collide with each other, right before our eyes. We have a new understanding of what that happiness is all about.

You were given this prescription at an early age, you probably read it several times, heard in many times but never made the connection that it was a prescription. It is a special healing for each and every one of us. It is an opportunity for us to connect to something greater than ourselves. It is a prescription for happiness. We call it the “Beatitudes.”

In the Sermon on the Mount (chapter 5 of the Gospel of St. Matthew) Jesus utters these words and speaks to the heart of a hurting people. He speaks to the soul of a people who need healing. These people are not members of any particular ethnic group. In fact, these people are all of us, they are you and me. Through the centuries we have opened these pages and have been inspired and found hope in tomorrow. In the dreams that we dream and surely those dreams being actualized are the happiness that you and I seek.

Today as you and I are finishing this Lenten season let us read the Beatitudes – this prescription for happiness. As you read, take your time to meditate on how these words speak to you. Contemplate the meaning of the words today and how they might have been interpreted before you started the Lenten Journey. We have tried to alienate ourselves from the pace of everyday life, and we have found a life that is full and rich. It is full of sacrifice, as our Lord Jesus Christ says, “He who is going to follow me must pick up his cross and follow me.” Further He sets a beautiful gardening metaphor for growth, by saying, “Unless a grain of wheat falls in the earth and dies it remains a single seed, but when it does die it produces much harvest.” Jesus in talking about His own resurrection, invites us to participate in a life of giving, of loving. It is a life of sharing, which makes it a life of fullness, where real happiness is instilled in our heart and can never be taken away.

The Beatitudes are the hope that Jesus gives us.

You who have gone through 38 days of the Lenten season with heightened prayer, with fasting with giving of charity. You will hear these words for the first time in a new manner as a prescription and formula for sacrifice, love and happiness. Let us pray the Beatitudes:

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Amen.

Lenten Journey Day 37 – Born Again

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 37: Artichoke Risotto

Lenten Journey Day 37 – Born Again 

One evening in the life of our Lord Jesus, he was approached by a man named Nicodemus who seemingly complimented him. According to the Gospel of St. John, Nicodemus said to Jesus, “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.” Jesus responds to Nicodemus in a rather awkward and unusual manner. Ordinarily you would expect the answer to such a compliment to be a kind thanks, or at the very least an acknowledgement. Instead Jesus turns to Nicodemus and gives him a qualifier. He said, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”

These words, “being born again” can be translated in few ways. Literally, they mean to be “born from above” but it also implies renewal. Jesus’ words mean to be born from above, to be born anew, to be born again. No matter how we twist it, no matter how we say it Jesus demands from us a new beginning for our lives.

Throughout this Lenten season we’ve been challenges in many ways to discover truths about ourselves, so that at the end of the 40 days, we are truly born again, that is, we are born anew, fresh, from above.

Being born again is not limited to one time event in our lives. Nicodemus turns to Jesus and says, “How could this be? How could this possibly be when a man is old, can he enter for a second time into his mother’s womb to be born again?”

Jesus says, “Unless one is born of water and the spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus is referring to baptism by saying to be born from the water and the spirit. This new birth is from our new mother, the Holy Church. The holy font (baptism basin) is the womb of that mother – the womb of the Church.

Beyond the sacraments of Baptism, throughout our life – that time that God gives us – we are granted many opportunities when we experience a re-awakening of our senses and our our being. Certainly this Lenten Journey is one such experience where we have put the ego on a shelf, where we have put many of our desires on hold so that we can understand ourselves and the spiritual being within, experiencing a new birth. The Christian has an opportunity to be born again and again and again. Baptism is the entry point to a new life in Christ, but it does not end when the water has dried off. In fact, it has only just begun. The Christian is challenged to find that newness. Being born again is really a revelation from above. It is an opportunity to be born anew, to a life that is full of love and understanding, not only of ourselves but for the people around us for our environment, certainly for the world.

The Christian is invited to a new life in Christ. That Christian journey is a long and beautiful one, but many times as life hits us with difficulties deviated from the path. During Lent we stand back and notice our deviation and have an opportunity to get back on that road. Lent is about recovering the lost ground and in concluding this Lenten Journey, on its final days of this walk, we understand that the born again experience is really something we need to welcome in our lives.

The challenges of life dull our senses to the beauty that is all around us. We need to welcome the experience as an essential part of the re-creative process of life. The word recreation, to “re- create” ourselves begins with communion with God. The Holy Eucharist is the new born again experience for every Christian. Because in the Holy Eucharist we not only walk with Christ, we talk with Christ, we taste Christ, we enjoy Christ. That is, we are born again into a new life that is born from above, that is born anew and we see that no matter how we express it there is a new generation and a new birth for each of us.

Here is an opportunity at the end of this Lenten period for us to walk out into a new life with Christ. It is a life that has been ordained by God, one that has been sanctioned by God, one that has been demanded by God! We walk with Christ. Plainly, we walk in the path of love, harmony and peace.

Let us pray:
Guide us O Lord our God and teach us to walk in your paths of righteousness. Keep our lives in peace and our ways pleasing in your sight. Guide us, your servants, on our earthly and heavenly course. May we say on the path of purity as directed by Your Only-Begotten Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who is the hope of our salvation, with whom you are blessed O Father Almighty, together with the life-giving and liberating Holy Spirit now and forever, to the end of the ages. Amen. 

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 lection 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. 
Amen

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.
Amen.