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