Martin Luther King, the Armenian Church and… Why We Can’t Wait…


How Much Longer Can We Wait?
Martin Luther King, the Armenian Church and… Why We Can’t Wait…

Excerpts from Sermon Delivered by Fr. Vazken Movsesian
18 January, 1998, St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church, Pasadena, CA

In the second chapter of the Gospel of John we read the story of Jesus’ first miracle. It takes place in Cana, Galilee, where He changes water to wine. Today, let’s shift our focus to the timing of the miracle. Jesus sees that there is a need and takes care of it. There is a wedding party, they run out of wine, Jesus changes water to wine and the guests are satisfied. This is a simplistic approach to the story, but it’s the timing and the need for the miracle that I wish to talk about today.

Tomorrow, in this country, we will be celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s holiday. As you know, he was a great Civil Rights leader and one of the champions for Black America and for many of us who grew up during the 60’s. You may be familiar with his “I have a dream” speech, but he is remembered more for his actions than his dreams. A few days ago, I revisited one of his books, “Why We Can’t Wait.” It is a book which explains the need to rectify the discriminatory policies of the government and the need to end racism. Reading the book, it becomes obvious that We Can’t Wait. There is no excuse for racism and an end must be found. How? By making the change ourselves – God above, and we on this Earth.
Martin Luther King was able to take the basic tenants of Christianity and apply them for the liberation of a people. His call was for a non-violent revolution, one, which began in Montgomery with the bus boycotts and continues, in many senses, today. King was not a pacifist. Sometimes, we categorize people who can motivate and effectuate change without bloodshed as pacifists. Look at the changes Jesus made to our lives, I’d hardly call him a pacifist. Jesus was among the first non-violent revolutionaries. He went against the system, without physical force, and was able demonstrate a greater power.
Martin Luther King called on us to look at our deepest moral, ethical and religious convictions, to make the necessary changes in our society. Service to humanity was the highest form of worship for King. He asked us to walk the walk of Christ. He was a minister of the Gospel. He saw that a liberation of a people depended on God above and we here on Earth.  And I tell you that in any decision you need to make, always ask yourself, what would Christ do? How would Christ handle a particular situation? Would Christ discriminate against someone because of the color of their skin? Would Christ oppress a person and prevent them from maximizing their potential? In fact, just the opposite, we see today that Christ maximizes the potential of any situation. He changed the water to wine. There was need and He took care of it.
In the same way, Martin Luther King saw the need and he addressed it with the resources available to him. In the 30’s and 40’s, in the Fresno area, Armenians were also discriminated against. They couldn’t get jobs and couldn’t put food on their table. Some changed their names to hide their Armenian identity. But unlike the Armenians, for the Blacks, changing their name wouldn’t help. They couldn’t change the color of their skin. There was no reason to wait. The need existed. Martin Luther King addressed it.
Look at our world today. Can you imagine that we are already in 1998. Life goes by so quickly. Everything is so fast paced. We see changes in our lives and surroundings and this brings anxiety. We want answers for our deepest spiritual questions. This week the Pope will visit Castro’s Cuba. Could we have thought that this would have happened? Could you have thought that the former Soviet Union would have fallen the way it did? What happened when it did? People started to look for their spirituality. Not that they weren’t spiritual beings before independence, but the opportunity didn’t exist for them to exercise their basic rights of expression. Much like these young boys who serve at the altar – it’s not that they didn’t want to serve in their Armenian Church before, its just that the opportunity didn’t exist. In Armenia, after independence, the search for spirituality came as a natural extension to the freedom they acquired. And what happened?
The Armenian Church was there when people started searching, but it was ill prepared to handle the volume and the manner of freedom. She wasn’t ready for the tremendous work. Meanwhile, other groups and cults entered Armenia. Why? There was a need and they capitalized on the opportunity. Can you blame them?
We’re talking about needs and timing. We’re talking about there being a need and taking care of it. Changing water to wine – a need that was taken care of. The Civil Rights Movement – a need that demanded addressing. The Armenian Church is being held captive today. It is a different form of slavery. It oppresses and prevents the church from maximizing its potential.
The Church is being held captive by the secular whims of some heirarchs, leaders and our people. Why are our people staying away from our churches? Why are they going elsewhere? How much longer are we going to wait? How many souls are going to be lost before we make some changes? Is this not the time to change the water to wine? Is this not the time to move ourselves to action? How much longer are we going to wait?
Look at the reality of the Armenian Church. Our lovely Catholicoi say that the church is one, but you and I know the reality. Right here in Pasadena, a few blocks down the street, another priest, ordained by the same rites, will celebrate the same liturgy, in the same language. Do you see one church here? How much longer are we going to put up with this non-sense? We could close our eyes and hope that it will go away, but it won’t. We go to Diocesan conventions and see only a small minority under the age of 60. How much longer do we need to wait before we make a change? We see in our neighborhoods the kids being picked up by buses from other denominations and cults. How much longer will we wait?
In all things, and especially in the Armenian Church, we tend to blame others for our ills. As we see today, the only way that someone can hold you in the bonds of slavery is by your own approval. King taught us to stand up for our basic self worth. His words were given to us Armenians earlier by the likes of Khirimian Hayrig and Yeghishe Charentz, who emphasized the need for us to rely on our collective energy and strength. Who else can we blame but ourselves?
The name of our Church is the Church of the Armenian People. This church is yours. Its in our hands—yours and mine. We need to take control, because we can no longer wait. The Armenian Church is not run from Armenia or Beirut, it driven by the one who shed His blood for this Church and He said that the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. These are words that do not lie. Our faith is in God and Christ is the head of this Church. If we put God at the center of our church and our lives, there is no reason why the Church will not live. The reason there is a split in the Church is because there is no faith in God. If we believed in God, we’d be working together for the liberation of the soul rather than the acquiring of more property. If we believed in God, language would not be an issue. We wouldn’t care if we spoke Armenian, English, Arabic or French in this church, because we’d be speaking the language of love, which is the only language God cares about.
The time for action is here. The time to change the water to wine is here. The revolution has already started. Today, in your presence you are seeing the beginnings of change. It is the reason why you have crowded into this church today. You know that Christ is here. It’s the reason why the number of altar servers and Sunday School increases. You feel the workings of God all around you in this sanctuary. You’re tasting the sweet wine.
Today, I’m asking you to rise—rise up from our collective slavery. We can no longer wait for catholicoi and bishops to make the changes that our Holy Church deserves. We can no longer relinquish our rights. Let’s work hand and hand. I ask you first and foremost to pray. In your prayer life, keep the needs of this church at the forefront. Next, I ask you to support this ministry. If you believe in what we are doing, support it with your work, volunteering spirit and your money. Don’t be a pacifist. It’s going to happen because it’s already happening. With God above, with the inspiration we receive from the Gospels and champions of justice such as Martin Luther King, the time is right for the water to change to wine.
©1998 Fr. Vazken Movsesian

Catholicos Mgrudich Khrimian (Hayrig)

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