https://epostle.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/Episcopal-2BRing-294x300-1.jpeg 300 294 Vazken Movsesian https://epostle.net/wp-content/uploads/2022/07/final_logo_large_for_epostle_web-300x189.png Vazken Movsesian2023-04-26 00:01:282023-04-25 20:05:10Mission for All
Not just a greeting: A way of life, a mission for all
A few weeks ago, we heard the message that has shaken humanity for the last two millennia. This was the first gospel, the Good News, which the disciples exclaimed to one another: Christ has risen!
Faithful to their apostolic commission, they ventured off into the world. Thaddeus, we know, came to Armenia and a few years later his brother in Christ, Bartholomew followed. From this group, Thomas took the Gospel all the way to India (about 52 CE), sharing the blessings of the Resurrection along the way and in India establishing the Church.
The Indian Orthodox Church is one of a handful of churches that are in communion with the Armenian Church. Along with the Ethiopian, the Coptic and Syriac Churches, we profess the faith of the universal Church as expressed the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople and Ephesus.
In the early 1990s, while serving as the Parish Priest at the St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino, California, I was approached by a group of Indian Orthodox asking if they could use our church sanctuary while their church was being built. With the permission of our Primate, they, the priest and congregation, would come to our church every Sunday for worship. When the building process on their church sanctuary was completed, their Catholicos (the chief bishop) traveled from India to dedicate and consecrate the building. I was invited to the ceremony.
At the new church building, I took a seat in the back, making sure not to interfere with the dedication proceedings. Suddenly, I was approached by one of the priests who asked me to come forward and meet the Catholicos. I was not expecting this honor and felt the anxiety of the moment. I greeted His Holiness and in respect I kissed his hand which donned his pontifical ring. They directed me to sit on a chair next to the Catholicos.
What happened next is something which I cannot and will never forget. It became a turning point for the direction of my ministry, and I hope, today, it will serve as a message and a direction for all of us within the Armenian Church.
In front of hundreds of parishioners gathered inside the new church, His Holiness took off his ring – the ring of authority – and handed it to me. Puzzled, I looked at him for an explanation. He then asked me to read the inscription inside the ring. To my surprise, it was written in Armenian! Engraved in Armenian letters, it said that it was a gift given to him by the then-Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Vazken I (of blessed memory). Even more puzzled, I looked at him for an explanation.
The Indian Catholicos said he wore this ring given to him by his “brother-in-Christ” because it is a constant reminder of the plight of the Armenian people. He went on to explain that the Indian Orthodox had always enjoyed the respect of the maharajas, the royals and the elite in India. The Indian Orthodox church and its people had a place of honor in their country. “We have never known Christianity through suffering,” he confessed to all of us assembled in that church, “We have always celebrated our faith with joy.”
And then he continued by pointing to me and thereby to the Armenian Church, saying, “The Armenians, on the other hand, have never known Christianity without suffering!” And then, in a strong tone that only a father might invoke to stress the importance of what he was about to say, he leaned down from the altar area and exhorted his parishioners, “Learn from the Armenians. Theirs is a story of suffering, of sacrifice on the road to victory. They have struggled to maintain and live their faith. Theirs is the story of the Cross of Christ. And for this reason, I wear this ring, to never forget that the Cross of Christ is at the Center of our Faith.”
Those words struck me hard. He was saying something we only casually acknowledged, that it was an honor and a privilege to belong to the Armenian Church. This was no ordinary moment. It was the Apostolic Church exclaiming: Christ has risen! Imagine, 2000 years ago, two brothers leave Jerusalem, one went to Armenia and other to India. Imagine 2000 years later these two brothers find each other and they share the story of their travels and experiences over those 20 centuries. One of the brothers gifts a ring to the other brother, who wears that ring as a constant reminder that the Cross of Christ is at the center of our Christian faith and should not and cannot be avoided!
And today, the simple and humble gesture by His Holiness Vazken I is still talking to us. His voice is very clear. We, as an Armenian Church have a unique mission, yes, to our children, but also to the world. We are the witnesses of Christ-resurrected because we are the witnesses of Christ-crucified. Imagine that! Our suffering is not a reason to attract the pity by others, rather it is our compliance with the Divine Teaching, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24)
Because we have known suffering, we look at life in a very different manner. We do not reject suffering but embrace it on the path to resurrection, for in fact, there is no resurrection without a crucifixion. And we are the living example of that resurrected people.
When we – the Christian Church – speaks to the world about resurrection, who can understand that? Like Thomas who could not believe his Lord was alive, who among us, can comprehend a person dying and coming back to life? But when we, members of the Armenian Church, talk about crucifixion, then the entire world can understand. Because the cross has been a reality in our lives, and we have overcome it as a resurrected people.
On a personal scale, your health, your family relationships – with parents, with children, with spouses – financial difficulties, anger, disease, depression, loneliness are all crosses we bear. Our Lord Jesus, on the cross felt anguish, felt the loss of friends, loneliness, the loss of loved ones, betrayal and hatred. He gave us the power to overcome the cross, “In this world you face persecution, but courage, the victory is mine. I have conquered this world.” (John 16:33)
Our world today is in disarray. Death to the innocent and disorder all around are realities. We see shootings, we hear of disease, wars and the loss of children. Here in this country, we struggle with intolerance, racism, and hatred. Who, if not we Armenians, know the dangers of that intolerance which led to the ultimate example of racism, namely Genocide, in 1915 and continuing last year (and today) in Artsakh and Armenia? The US border is filled with young children, estranged from their parents, crying out for a safe haven, for a chance at freedom. Who, if not we Armenians, know the power of those cries for safety and freedom, after being terrorized for centuries under Ottoman rule? We understand the Cross and we also know the Resurrection. We have been homeless and hungry, but we know the streets were not where humans belong, we did not let hopelessness rule us. We know and have the language of pain. Today the pandemic has led to despair. Anxiety and depression are taking their toll. In that despair, a feeling of hopelessness leads to escape. Our faith points to the greater victory that we experience by looking at life, at family, at art, music and dance as expressions of the human spirit. Yes, we Armenians have known difficulties, but our Christ-centeredness makes us know that beyond crucifixion there is resurrection.
When we look up at the Cross of Christ, we see the ultimate terms of innocence and therefore injustice when we witness the Son of God, giving his life. The Cross looked like an end, but he conquered! He overcame the Cross with the ultimate power of goodness, namely Love – giving, sacrificing and caring for others. It is to that Cross that we are called to witness!
And so, when we greet one another: Christ is Risen, this is not merely a page from our past, it is the expression of the life we live. More than a greeting, it is our calling. It is our ministry. And we accomplish our ministry using the tools given to us by Jesus Christ himself: faith, hope and love. By living in love, we express faith and offer hope to a hurting world. Pronounce the message “Christ has risen” with your mouth, understand it through the witness of our Holy Church, and live it all the days of your life.