Armodoxy for Today
Last weekend the Armenian Church celebrated the “Discovery of the Holy Cross of Christ.” As I prepared my Sunday sermon, an email crossed my desktop from one of the churches. The subject line heralded, “Discovery of the Cross, this weekend.” I read the first few lines of the message from a well-meaning soul. It spoke of the most inspiring story of Queen Helena who searched and found the Cross of Christ. I kept reading the story looking to see where this was going. It didn’t. It was a very nice history lesson from the 4th century and it pointed to one of the real dilemmas we face in the Orthodox churches: How to tie the history lesson with life today?
On the one hand, the story has to be told. After all, if not us, the Church, then who will tell this story? On the other hand, what do characters from 1,700 years ago, their exploration of lands in search of the Cross of Christ, have to do with our daily concerns of inflation take off with $7 gas, wars and threats of nuclear annihilation, intolerance on every level, and personal issues of health care and broken relationship? As a priest, my first question is, how can I stay faithful to the calling of “Preach the Gospel” while sharing the stories from our tradition that share the Gospel?
There used to be a Labor Day tradition called the “Jerry Lewis Telethon for muscular dystrophy.” Every year, for a couple of days, entertainer Jerry Lewis would stay up for days in front of television cameras, host guests, share stories and, most importantly, solicit donations for the fight against muscular dystrophy. Throughout the years he collected over $2.4Billion for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. About ten years ago, I remember reading a story saying that Jerry Lewis had been dismissed from his position and would not be conducting the telethon. Can you imagine, an organization dismissing a person who was responsible for raising over $2Billion for the organization? In a statement, the head of the Muscular Dystrophy Association said something to the effect, In a 140-character world, we can’t justify a telethon of several days! In other words, the 140 character world of Twitter was defining the mode of communications, and therefore the funding of the organization.
And hence, our dilemma in the Church. How to we package the story and the message in 280 characters (the new maximum of a Twitter tweet.
Armodoxy addresses this dilemma by not discounting the story but emphasizing the message that the story yields for us today. Without the bridge to today, it is yet another history lesson that can be received from a text book or a lecture. Armodoxy is like looking at the world today through the lens of Armenian Orthodoxy.
Queen Helena left everything to search for the Cross of Christ. Why did she leave the comforts of her royal palace to go through garbage piles at Golgotha, looking for a wooden instrument of torture and capital punishment? Can you imagine in 400 years, someone going through dumps looking for the needle of a vial of lethal injection? We can’t, it’s ridiculous. Yet, that’s exactly what Queen Helena did. She did so because the One who was killed by that torture was the key to salvation. And what she found is what we find today when we look for and discover the Holy Cross.
The Cross, in Armenian Orthodoxy, is the symbol of love. Unlike what Hallmark and Hollywood try to sell us with an emphasis on the heart and the little fat angels with bows and arrows, the true symbol of love is the cross. On The Cross Christ expressed the greatest expression of Love, and in a day and age that is hurting from all sides, the quest for Love begins with each of us. We can’t find what we do not search. The message today is not about finding the Cross, but discovering, that is, searching for the Cross in our lives, searching for Love in our lives. Take it as a challenge to not be scared to search, with body, soul and mind.
Pray the prayer of St. Nersess Shnorhali, O Searcher of secrets, I have sinned against you, willingly and inadvertently, knowingly and unknowingly. Grant me forgiveness, a sinner, since from my birth through the holy baptism, until this day, I have sinned before you Lord, with all my senses and in all the members of my body.