Armodoxy for Today: Love Conquers
St. Mary, who’s assumption is remembered in the month of August, is referred to with many titles that are also descriptors. Blessed Mother, Asadvadzadzin, the Bearer of God, Our Lady and Queen of Heaven, are among some of the more conventional names. They all point to the unique place she occupies in human history.
She said “Yes” to God and thereby Christ was made incarnate. She bore and delivered Pure Love to the world.
A few years ago, while serving as a parish priest in Glendale, I became aware of the problem of domestic violence within the local community. Like many other places, denial was widespread. Some even shunned me for daring to voice a concern about domestic violence.
As priests we often become the first point of contact for people in need. One night, after a violent scene between a husband and wife, and after hours of counseling and finding a safe haven for a young mother and her children, I asked her if we could pray together before I turned her over to the shelter. Of course, she wanted that bit of solace in her upside-down world. Instinctively, she reached out her hand so I would hold it during prayer, and instinctively I did. She screamed! I let go only to find her hands were crushed and disfigured by the act of her husband.
The domestic violence problem grew with very little mention of it by community leaders. The proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back came one night when a lady who had been on the receiving end of domestic violence for 20 years finally had the nerve and the strength to escape from her husband’s tortures and left the house, knocking on the doors of neighbors, asking – begging – for help. She was told by neighbors that “amot eh!” as in, “Don’t bring shame to the family… Go back home before you bring disgrace to your family… This is not something we Armenians do…” From home to home this continued for 15 minutes until she finally reached a house that did not close the door on her and took her in. She was an African American woman who recognized the seriousness of the situation and immediately called the police. That night we met with her in a sanctuary area.
That was the marking moment when as a community we could no longer stay quiet. We established a grass-roots organization called, “Datev Outreach.” Datev is the name of a celebrated saint in the Armenian Church, it also was a play on words, da-tev, that is, to “give wings.”
During the short-lived life of Datev Outreach we heightened awareness tremendously within the Glendale area. We organized walks through the streets of Glendale where we received the support of many families who came out to voice their oneness with us and the scorn of others who heckled us as we walked by: “There’s no such thing! You’re making it up!” Datev Outreach organized classes for women, gave women opportunities to educate and self-determine their lives. It was a powerful program in the community.
Like many good things, politics got into the way and we closed up our offices after two years, but not before establishing firm ties with the YWCA and ensuring that victims would have a place to find sanctuary.
One of the remaining treasures of Datev Outreach is the beautiful icon of the Blessed Mother. Artist Gregory Beylerian created this icon which cried out to the world the double message that Violence Hurts – there’s no denying it – and Love Conquers – providing the solution! The icon, with the Asdvadzadzin and the Baby Jesus, is a new icon for the contemporary world. It is an icon of Armodoxy because it has a double message boldly proclaiming the horror of violence and articulating the solution in reference to St. Mary, the bearer of Love.
Saints are living today. They are active in our lives today. While many descriptors are ascribed to the Blessed Mother, we must never forget that she takes away pain (cf. Gyumri’s Yot Verk Church) and answers with solace in her capacity to bring Love to the world.
Let us pray, the prayer of intercession of the Armenian Church, Christ, our God, who chose and embraced those who witnessed You and partakers in Your passion. We ask for the intercession of all saints in order that through their fervent prayers and mediation You may grant us peace and protect us from enemies both visible and invisible. Grant us, O Lord, the vision to follow in their path. Amen.