Vartan: A comma, not a period
Have you ever heard of a nation, a country, a people, or even a team celebrating a defeat? A loss? Well the Armenian Church does exactly that and I don’t believe there is another group of people on the planet that celebrates a defeat, a military one at that. This was the first time anywhere that a battle was fought for the defense of Christianity. And the mere fact that the Armenian Church exists today and is the center of the Christian tradition of the Armenian people, is proof that the battle was lost but the war was won.
This week before the Lent begins, the Armenian Church commemorates two groups of saints headed by two heroes of the Church. They were actually partners in mission, Leon (Ghevont) and Vartan, are noted for bringing the light to the darkness. Of the two friends, brothers in Christ, Vartan was the warrior, Ghevont was a priest. Together they were the fighting force of body and soul, of spirit grounded in Faith. The story of Vartan & Ghevont gets told and retold from generation to generation, from 451AD to today.
Armodoxy asserts that you cannot impose your beliefs on anyone else. Armenians have never pushed their faith on others. This is not a sign of apathy, sloth or weakness, it is an expression of tolerance and understanding. However, when it came to the practice of their faith, the Armenians would not give it up, even if the consequence was death.
To the Persians who were imposing their faith on Armenians, Vartan and the Armenian forces responded, “From this faith [Christianity] no one can separate us, neither sword, nor fire, nor any other force.” Armenians make the point of remembering that they were outnumbered on the battle field by a ratio of 3:1. With over a thousand Armenian casualties, Vartan fell.
The historian Yeghishe records that Vartan and his soldiers took an oath, We are ready for persecution and death and every affliction and torture for the sake of the holy churches which our forefathers entrusted to us by the power of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, whereby we were reborn ourselves by torments and blood. For we recognize the Holy Gospel as our Father, and the apostolic universal church as our Mother. Let no evil partition come between us to separate us from her.
Remembrance of the saints Vartan, Ghevont and those who sacrificed their lives as an act of defiance, is a reminder that our faith in Christ cannot be compromised. In a sense, the Battle of Vartan, 451AD is a page of history that has a comma at the end of it, not period. The Battle of Vartan continues today and each generation has a chance to continue or end the story. The Battle of Vartan 451 is history, the Battle of Vartan in the 21st century is our reality. For we recognize the Holy Gospel as our Father, and the apostolic universal church as our Mother. Let no evil partition come between us to separate us from her.
Let us pray, “Lord, our God, through the intercession, memory and prayers St. Vartan and St. Leon, who lived and died for Jesus and the Fatherland and whom we commemorate today, grant us the gift of peace and of your great mercy. Amen.”