Tag Archive for: Forgiveness

Bulleted Cross

Roots of Armodoxy: The Bulleted Cross

This week on the Roots of Armodoxy, we are looking at memories from different vantage points that we discovered in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia. This is the fourth of five episodes of this mini-series of daily messages.

The manner in which a memory is articulated can honor the past, while at the same time bring healing, so as to ensure a forward movement from the event.

Outside the front doors of the Church of the Seven Wounds is a brass cross that looks like it was used for target practice at a firing range. Sadly, it was. In 1937, a group of clergymen of the Armenian Church were executed in an area called Haykadzor, a small section of Ani that is in Armenia proper, near the Armenian Turkish border. The Cross, with bullet holes and all, is displayed atop a brass sphere, which is also riddled with bullet holes. It casts its shadow on the names of a couple dozen clergymen, inscribed on large marble slabs below the cross.

An engraved marker proclaims, “The Cross of Haykadzor’s St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church fired on by Turk and Soviet atheists. The cross is moved here in memory the priests from the Diocese of Shirak who were shot.”

This monument, with the relocated cross and the inscription was placed in Gyumri in 2018.  The choice of words on the plaque was interesting to me, specifically identifying the culprits as “atheists.” With this word a very strong and meaningful sentence is imposed on the evil doers. It identifies the intention of the perpetrator and lays blame on them. There is no doubt, after reading the statement about what happened and for what reason.

Many times, our memories, especially memories of horrid events or traumatic episodes in our life, are areas that keep us stuck and living in the past, particularly in the case of unresolved conflicts. To label them for what they are, for instance with the phrase “by the atheists,” brings resolution to the trauma. The motive of the Turks and Soviets, in this case, is clearly defined with the phrase and we can understand that it was to eliminate the Christian clerics. The memory is identified, expressed and honored. This is a necessary step to live life in the moment and not to be hampered by the weights of yesteryears.

Jesus addresses a group of people (Luke 13:1-5) who were questioning a tragedy which befell some others when a tower fell over and killed them. “Do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?” Jesus asks. He answers his own question concisely, “I tell you, no; unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The past is over and there is nothing that can be done to change it. What is important for Jesus, and for us as followers of Christ is that we manage ourselves and change those things that we have control over. In other words, live for today.

Let us pray, Lord our God, you have given us a chance to renew each and every day, each and every minute of the day. Keep my eyes focused on the moment. Help me to move on from the past in a spirit of repentance, knowing you have forgiven me for past wrongs and the moment of today is before me to grasp and live in peace and harmony, in accord with your commandment to love. Amen.

The 7s have aligned again

Next Step #777 – July 7, 2023 – Kicking off the 16th year of the Next Step podcast, Fr. Vazken shares the message of the original “7”s and forgiveness and gives a preview of the year to come on Epostle.net.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for http://Epostle.net
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Impossible Forgiveness

It was 20 years ago today: Untold Stories from the Youth Ministry Center

Today’s Episode: Impossible Forgiveness

There would soon be nothing to celebrate on Cinco de Mayo for the Aguirre family. It was in the year 2000 on the 5th of May that a young man named Raul Aguirre died outside his High School. In an effort to break-up a gang-related scuffle, Raul got caught in the mix and a knife meant for another boy, killed him instead. Raul was not a gang member. He was a student, a very decent and hard working students. He was 17 years old.

All this took place directly across the street from the Armenian Church Youth Ministry Center, in Glendale. Rival gangs made themselves known in the neighborhood as well as on the school campuses. Gangs were defined mostly along ethnic lines. And here, the listeners may understand why we refer to this as a place that Armenian organizations had abandoned and forgotten.

Our church and Youth Ministry Center opened in the year 2003 and so, I came to know Raul from the stories I heard about the day that he died. When we arrived on the corner, there were still students who remembered the tragedy with vivid details. However, I have to mention that the full story of Raul I only discovered after meeting his mother, Leticia, a woman who was a living testimony to the power of compassion, love and forgiveness.

On that tragic day Raul was late coming home from school. The phone rang and Leticia first received the news that her son had been hurt in a fight. Only three hours later, Raul died on an operating table.

Mrs. Aguirre recounted, “That moment was the most horrible in my life…. I felt that I would die, but the worst is that I didn’t die…”

During those early days at the Youth Ministry the community was very much talking about this murder. The trial was underway. The minor tensions that existed between the Armenian and Latino communities were even more pronounced by some of the students at the school. The boys who killed Raul were Armenian.

Day after grueling day of testimony Mrs. Aguirre attended the trial of her boy’s killers. And then the unexpected happened. Yes, I’ll admit it, even for me.

“I wanted justice to be done,” said Mrs. Aguirre. “In court I saw the mothers of the gang members kissing crosses and praying to God to forgive their sons and I thought how difficult this must be for God.”

But when Rafael Gevorgyan, one of three gang members being tried, begged for Mrs. Aguirre’s forgiveness on the final day of his trial, she gave it to him.

“I saw a boy, almost a child, in a situation so grave asking for forgiveness,” she said. “I felt huge compassion and huge tenderness.”

Mrs. Aguirre did the impossible. She forgave her son’s killers. She lived Christ’s command, to forgive. She expressed the final definition of love.

I was so moved by this story that I asked Mrs. Aguirre to come and share her story at our church. She accepted the invitation. She walked into an Armenian Church, packed to standing room only, with Armenian mothers, fathers and children. There was so much interest we set up speakers outside to handle the overflow crowd.

She stood up and spoke and told her story. Her words came out of her mouth in Spanish. A translator echoed the words in Armenian. The translator was unnecessary that evening. Everyone understood. Mrs. Aguirre was speaking the universal language, God’s language of love. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.

Forgiveness is supernatural. Forgiveness is going beyond the expected and therefore the result is spectacular. Mrs. Aguirre’s actions were supernatural, that is, they rose above the expected argument of hatred and they acknowledged the power of love.

We witnessed many miracles while on that corner, and perhaps this was the greatest. Armenian ears heard a story spoken in Spanish and understood in Love. This day we learned that humans have the capacity to forgive and in so doing they reflect the Divine.

Join me tomorrow as we continue with the untold stories from the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center, from 20 years ago today.

Leticia Aguirre’s speech

Translated from Spanish to English

Hello everyone,

My name is Leticia Aguirre.  My husband and I came to Glendale from Guadalajara, Mexico many years ago searching for a better life.  My husband and I had three daughters and one son, Raul.

Raul was a very youthful, kind, well in mind and body, full of ideas and dreams to live.  He had a month left before graduating high school and worked part-time at Taco bell.  His wish was to join the Marines and study planes, which he liked very much.

May 5th of 2000 was an ordinary day.  My children had gone to school.  Around 4pm, as I was preparing dinner, I became worried that Raul hadn’t come home yet.  Since he started work at 5pm, he would usually come home, change, eat, then go to work.  Suddenly, then phone rang.  It was a call from [Raul’s] school, notifying me that Raul was hurt in a fight outside of the school.  I was horrified and even thought that this was a mistake, that it wasn’t Raul.  I had never before received any complaints from school about Raul getting into trouble.  On the contrary, he was a very quiet boy, even a bit timid.

We rushed to the hospital, not thinking that the situation could be so grave.  Upon arrival, the doctor told us that Raul had been seriously injured.  He had been stabbed twice in the back and twice in the heart.  The doctor said that they were operating, but there was little hope.  Three hours later, he died.

Seeing my son dead so abruptly was the most horrible thing that had happened to me in my entire life.  It’s a pain so difficult to describe.  I felt like I had died, but the worst part was that I hadn’t died.  I had to live what was to come by the minute.

Later on, I found out what had happened.  Raul was waiting for the Beeline in front of school when Jimmy, a boy from a Hispanic gang, came to leave school.  Jimmy was with his friends when a car full of youth from an Armenian gang drove by.  They exchanged gang signs and suddenly, the kids from the car got out to fight Jimmy and the Hispanic gang members.  When he saw Jimmy in trouble, Raul tried to help and saved his life, but they killed Raul. 

This changed many of our lives.  I no longer feel complete, like a part of me died with Raul.  My daughters and husband have also suffered.  My youngest daughter who was then 8 years old has spend 3 years in psychiatric therapy, taking anti-depressants.  She was emotionally unstable and diagnosed with fibromyalgia when she had deep depression and had pain throughout her body.  My husband was a diabetic and his health worsened.  My other daughter, who was 12 years old then, does not ever want to talk about what happened.  Our lives changed forever.

Raul left us, but still lives in our hearts and in our memories.  I still have all of his clothes hanging in the closet and folded in the drawers, as if he were still here.  I have his shoes and his homework – they’re the only things I have from him and I will keep them forever.  A child is never forgotten.

Gang violence is a terrible thing and not only do the families of the victims suffer, but also the families of the aggressors.

But from the very first minute of this, I felt God’s presence around me, giving me the strength to survive through something so terrible.  Only He gave me the courage and hope for continuing to live.

I know that God is loving, merciful and forgives us all, but I did not know how I could have forgiven the boys that had killed my son.  I was present at every day of the trial of the boys – I wanted justice to be served.  In court, I saw the mother of one of the boys kissing a cross and praying to God for the boys.  I thought about how difficult this situation was for God – with whom would He be with?  With the mothers who were asking for compassion for their sons?  Or with me who was asking for justice for my son?

Now I understand that He was with them and with me.

When the day came for Jimmy – the Hispanic gang member – to testify, it was sad.  He has been involved in gangs since he was 12 years old, committing all sorts of crimes.  His life seemed so sad and empty.  But he felt an even greater [pain – dolor] and guilt for what had happened to Raul – after all, he was the one who started the problem and even ran off when Raul got involved in the fight to help him.  He told me that since the incident, he had left the gang and was trying to be a good person.  He was too ashamed to look me in the eyes and looked down instead.  After his testimony, I went to the hallway to find him and speak to him.  He asked me for forgiveness, crying, and said that he would have preferred to have been the one who was killed and not Raul, who was such a good person.  He said that he could no longer stand such guilt and I forgave him from my heart.  I gave him a hug and told him that the only thing he could do was to keep trying to be a good person, so that Raul’s death won’t have been in vain.  If Raul gave his life for Jimmy, he should leave behind the gangs and all the bad that they do.

I saw how his face and heart felt so relieved, as if a weight had been lifted off of his shoulders.  He was very grateful and happy for my forgiveness.

I kept attending the trial of the Armenian boys, day after day, waiting for justice and still not understanding how God forgives us all, even the boys who killed my son.

When the day came to read the verdict, one of the boys, Rafael, who had struck my son with a crowbar, asked me for forgiveness.  He told me that there was not a day that passed when he didn’t feel repentance for his involvement with what happened to Raul.  He said that he knew it would be almost impossible for me to forgive him, but even if it were in 20 years or more, he hoped that one day I would forgive him.

At that moment, I felt something so hard to describe.  I saw a boy, practically a child, in a situation so terrible, asking for my forgiveness.  I felt great compassion and I forgave him with all my heart.  I tried to give him a hug, but the judge would not allow it.

Then I understood God and how easy it was to forgive when you feel compassion, when you open your heart.  God knew that I understood Him.

I know that Raul is happy to know that I have peace in my heart and that he is with God. 

Since that day, Rafael writes great letters to me from prison where he tells me that my forgiveness gives him the strength to endure life in prison.  He tells me that he is trying his best to be a good person.  He graduated from high school in prison and that when he gets out, the first thing he plans to do is to visit Raul’s grave to tell him how sorry he is.  I write back to him and try to tell him things that will help him move forward, that God always with him and that he is always in my prayers.

Time has passed and good things and sad things have happened.

Jimmy, the Hispanic boy, died a year ago; he was killed by the police.  Apparently he couldn’t leave behind his bad habits.  It was very hard for me and brought back all the pain that I felt when I lost Raul, my son.  I felt that my son had died in vain, trying to help Jimmy, who couldn’t attain a life that was good and complete.  But what I do thank God for is that He gave Jimmy and I the opportunity to open our hearts, for him to ask for my forgiveness and tell me how guilty he felt and for me to have forgiven him and to have felt the tranquility that I needed to feel.  I think that if I had a different attitude and not listened to him, I would not have a clear conscious, to know that he would have died feeling so terrible.

Rafael, the Armenian boy, in one of his letters, told me that his appeal could cost him more years in prison.  He tells me that if I am capable of forgiving him, after all the pain that he has caused me, then he also could be strong to get through his own pain and situation.  He says that if he doesn’t get his appeal, for me not to worry because he is already grateful for the forgiveness that I have him for his error and this is a much bigger and real appeal compared to his situation. 

These days, Rafael is happy to know that his sentence will be reduced by a few years and I am very happy for him.  

Lenten Journey, Day 11: More Important than God

Day 11: More Important than God

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 11: Roasted Potato Fans!

Lenten Journey Day 11 – More Important than God
The eleventh day of Lent is a special one in the journey. Eleven is the first and only prime number of equal proportions. It reminds us of the delicate balance between body, soul and mind. It reminds us of the uniqueness of the primes as well as the uniqueness of our lives. Finding that balance in our lives, of course, is one of the reasons we are taking this journey.

Today’s message comes to us from the Gospel of St. Matthew, chapter 5. Here Jesus is addressing a large crowd in what is known as the Sermon on the Mount. In the Sermon Jesus outlines a way of life and living. His message is very clear. He speaks of our relationships with one another. In so doing, he mentions that there is something more important than God.
Matthew 5:21, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said of men of old, you shall not kill and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment, but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment and whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council and whoever says you fool shall be liable to the Hell of fire.”
Christianity is really a very difficult religion to practice, in fact it has been argued that Christianity has never really been practiced because of statements such as what we read. Jesus tells us that it is not enough to say that murder is bad, but when you have evil in your heart, when you harbor that anger towards your brother, you are committing those acts of evil, those acts of murder. He is saying, “If you have anger and act upon that anger and insult your brother, or if you are angry and talk down to your sister you are already committing murder,”
If we’d like to wipe out hatred and anger from our life, then we have to pay attention to this message. It is so necessary to understanding the revolution Jesus brought. And now, if we read further, we find something even more important. In fact, it’s what Jesus says is even more important than God! As hard as that might be to believe, the Holy Scriptures points to Jesus’ words, “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there you remember that your brother has something against you leave your gift, leave your offering, and go! First be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift.”
Reconciling with our brothers! Jesus is telling us it is more important than the worship of God, that is, the celebration of God. Leave your gifts at the altar. Leave God! Go reconcile with your brother and then come back to the altar! He demands that we love one another. To be able to love others is the expression that God demands of us. In that love we begin to understand the unique relationship between us and our heavenly Father.
The Christian message is about people. It’s about harmony and that peaceful existence comes about when we become part of the solution. It’s not about looking up to heaven, but reaching out to one another here on Earth. If there is going to be harmony in our lives, if there is going to be peace in this world, it’s not because I am offering a prayer upwards, but because I am offering a prayer sideways. I am reaching out to my brothers and my sisters and I am going to be the vehicle of love. I’m going to be the one who reaches out and becomes that means of reconciliation. True peace, true harmony, true existence is about us loving with one another.
“You cannot say,” say’s the evangelist John, “that you love God who you do not see when first you do not love the brother who you do see.” It is so critical in the life of the Christian that we understand this very clearly and plainly. God is Love. So let’s repeat that, “You cannot say that you love God who you do not see when first you do not love the brother that you do see.”
Our first obligation is to love one another. By this Jesus tells us we become Christian. By loving, people will know that we are truly His children.
On this eleventh day of Lent as we find harmony and balance, as body soul and mind come together, keep in mind where God wants us to be. The relationships that need to be nurtured, that need to be mended in our lives, this is a perfect time take action on them. The Lenten period is some time to go out and reach out sideways, not only vertically with God, but horizontally with God inside each of us. Reach out to the people around you to say that yes I have faltered, I have sinned. We all make mistakes, but I’m willing to rise above that imperfection and become a child of God.  
By loving one another, put away old habits and problems. Begin each day as a new creation and find that new creation in the loved ones all around me.
Let us conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:

Uncreated Essence I have sinned against you in mind, soul and body. Do not remember my former sins, for the sake of Your Holy name, have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen (I Confess with Faith 6/24)

Forgiveness & Freedom

Next Step #735: Back in 2007, on this day, we established the Day of Forgiveness based on Christ’s principle of forgiving without limit. Here’s another reminder of the dimensions of forgiveness and leading to freedom. A shooting in Chicago is the latest of a string of shootings in a country that is struggling with freedom and the control of that freedom. Here are the links to today’s topics.
July 3, 2022 – Freedom Sermon at 1:12:25
1927 – 4th of July picnic, picture and commentary
Forgiveness conference on 7/7/7 www.7×77.org
7×77 Universal Peace Symbol through Forgiveness
Chicago Killings
Book of Forgiving by Bishop Desmond Tutu
Jethro Tull www.jethrotull.com
Cover: Building the human embodiment of 7, Vasquez Rocks
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org and Epostle.net
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Good Fish

Next Step #591: Returning from Armenia, the opening of the Sasnashen Youth Center, visits to the sacred and the meaning behind them. Forgiveness in action – hugging the perpetrators of the crime. A new and healthier definition for fanaticism connected to the love of God. Reading English in Armenian (like transliteration…) and a case for foreign obsessions. Why the monasteries? the language? the 36 letters? and an Armodox answer.
Nazeli by Haig Yazedjian
Hugging the Murderer
Sasnashen Article 1
Sasnashen Article 2
Cover: Coke & Beer, Dilijan 2019, Fr. Vazken
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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Moon Beams at 50

Next Step #579: 50 years after the first steps on the moon are celebrated but not without connecting dots between the service of exorcism, demonic possession and lunacy. Jesus and the language of parables. Beyond words, scripture comes alive and finds emotional (read new) meaning as the crew of Apollo 8 pronounce a Christmas Eve message to a receptive planet. Happy forgiveness day 7×77. Rock & roll, as the earthquake hits us during the Tull concert.
Jethro Tull: Michael Collins, Jeffry and Me
George Noory Coast to Coast
Apollo 8 Christmas Message
Technical Director: Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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Sharing Forgiveness

Next Step #561: Getting to know someone beyond meeting personally – a reflection of love is the key. Sharing: Is there a word? What does that say about us? Pope Francis on Love. Elements of Lent: Charity, Prayer and Fasting – a challenge to do the hardest of these (and hint: it’s not the one you’re thinking.)
Hovhaness Badalyan: Karekin Njteh
Lenten Journey by Fr. Vazken
Pope Francis on Forgiveness and the Family
Dn. Hrayr Nalbandian’s Passing
Cover: Exchange/Split, Fr. Vazken 2014
Technical Director: Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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The Forgotten Clotting Factor

Next Step #475: Express the Forgiveness formula in it’s most primal factors. Is something missing? Did you forget? That’s the point. Forgetting: a physical phenomena as exposed by dementia and Alzheimer’s. A look at the psychological side of forgiving with chime-ins from the world and time. Following up on the Decennial 7×77 event – from Catalina – stories of a childish fight to a finding empathy in the other. A leap from the purpose of justice. Defining history from Kodak to Snapchat.
Hrashk Manoukner “Amen Sazi”
Dr. Yervand Grigoryan’s YouTube Channel
Holy Eucharist w/Forgiveness Theme (7/10/17)
Jacqueline Leo “Seven
7×77: Ten Years ago www.7×77.org
Bible Study on Forgiveness (7/3/17)
In His Shoes: www.InHisShoes.org
Photo: Bay of Seven Moons plaque at Avalon, Catalina Island
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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Decennial Markings

Next Step #474: Stories of Forgiveness: Leticia Aguirre talks about forgiving the boys that killed her son Raul (Glendale); Ben Kayumba talks about forgiving the men who killed his mother during the Rwandan Genocide (1994). As the 7×77 Forgiveness Day comes around for its decennial rendezvous with a hurting world, here’s the challenge to forgive as we want to be forgiven. Stories that push the soul beyond the limits of its humanity to the divine realm.
Nerir Indz by Christine Pepelyan
7×77: Ten Years ago www.7×77.org
NRSV reading of Forgiveness
Bible Study on Forgiveness #3
Survivors by Don & Lorna Miller
In His Shoes: www.InHisShoes.org
Photo: From 90th Anniversary of Armenian Genocide (4/24/05)
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
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