Tag Archive for: Holy Cross

Basil Tea

Armodoxy for Today: Basil Tea

One of the customs around the September celebration of the Holy Cross, is to pass out basil to the congregants. The feast is called the “Exaltation” or “Elevation” of the Holy Cross, recounting that the Holy Cross of Jesus was imprisoned by enemies of Christianity. When the Cross was recovered (7th century) it was raised in a procession to proclaim its freedom from captivity. Today, in the Armenian Church, the symbolic procession takes place, where a cross is elevated along with basil. As tradition tells us, when the Cross of Christ was found there was basil growing all around it. Contrary to what has been propagated by popular folk myth, there is no such thing as blessing basil on this feast. The basil merely is placed on the altar, decorating the altar crosses as a connection with the story of its loss and recovery.

The blessing that does take place is a product of the power of the Holy Divine Liturgy. This special mystical power of the Liturgy is not spoken about often enough. During the Holy Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, prayers are offered, the saints of the Church are remembered and asked to intercede for us, the sacred hymns from early centuries are chanted and sung, and the request of the faithful assembled are voiced or voicelessly heard, and the Holy Spirit is invoked to transform the bread and wine to the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Presence of Jesus Christ Himself is at the Divine Liturgy! And so, in the Presence of Jesus Christ all become blessed and cleansed. Even more, the same Divine Liturgy has been celebrated in the church for years, decades and in some places for centuries. The incense which carries the prayers up to heaven, has been absorbed into the church walls, along with the prayers and hymns. Your parents, your grandparents, your great grands and theirs are all part of this celebration. The small piece of basil sitting on top of the altar, and everything in the Presence of God has now been blessed.

Early on in my ministry when I was serving at a parish in Cupertino, California one of the young men in our church succumbed to an illness which incapacitated him. He was hospitalized and went unconscious. The doctors did not know what to make of it. They administered tests but were confounded. They began feeding him intravenously because he no longer was accepting anything by mouth. His father, a devout and believing man notified me and asked that I pray for his son.

It was the Feast of the Cross and I was speaking to my grandmother on the phone. She was the greatest influence on my life. She lived two doors down from our house while growing up and since taking this pastorate in Cupertino, there were now 400 miles that separated us. But thanks to telephones – yes, landlines with dials – I’d stay in touch and would call her regularly, especially either before or after church services. That Sunday, we spoke and in the conversation I mentioned the plight of this young boy. As I spoke about him, I recalled that his father was from Los Angeles and, in fact, lived in the same neighborhood as my grandmother. I told her who he was and of course, she knew him and his family.

Without hesitation, she told me to take the basil from the Holy Divine Liturgy, boil it in water and take the “Basil Tea” to the boy in the hospital.

I did exactly as she told me. I put Basil Tea in a thermos. It was old-school, with the shiny glass innards and the plaid exterior with a screw-on cup on top. I rushed it to the hospital and kept it concealed under my raincoat. Yes, there was a degree of embarrassment walking into a modern hospital with an ancient remedy prescribed by granny.

At the hospital, we prayed and I gave tea to his father to administer to the boy. The tea was the first liquid (or solid) to enter his mouth in nearly two weeks.

The next morning I received a call. It was his father telling me that his son had come-to. He finished the thermos of tea and was now starting solids. The doctors and medical staff were amazed and dumbfounded.

The basil was definitely blessed, but so was everything else in the church. It is a simple lesson that Jesus teaches us, that life itself is a blessing. The sacred and holy are all around us, only asking us to acknowledge, not with a nod, but by living the blessing.

Let us pray, O Lord, Jesus Christ. You came to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven. Each of us, with our baptism through the Holy Font have become members of the Kingdom. Today I pray the prayer of the Holy Apostles, “Increase our faith” so that we may be worthy members of Your Kingdom, to see the Blessings that are around us. Amen.

Cover Photo: Courtesy of Vahe Sargsyan

Cross Translated

Armodoxy for Today: Cross Translated

One of the greatest challenges faced by churches is one of relevance. It is a tricky issue because Jesus’ message is always relevant, but not always accessible.

The Feast of the Holy Cross, or the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the last of the five major feast days of the Armenian Church during the calendar year. At the St. Leon, Srbots Ghevondyants Armenian Cathedral in Burbank, California, the Diocesan Primate, His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian celebrated the Divine Liturgy and offered a soul-stirring sermon which made the Holy Cross accessible to the overflow congregation that was assembled there that day.

The community in Glendale/Burbank area is made up largely of immigrants, seeking the security and freedom offered by the United States. Adjustment to the new country, especially after migrating from the Middle East is difficult. Unchecked, it is easy to get lost in the newly discovered freedoms and become a slave to materialism.

In referring to the Holy Cross, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross and what it has meant to the Armenian people, Archbishop Hovnan reflected on the need for parents and families to place their hope and trust on the steady and sacred road to good living as prescribed by the Church, for centuries. He then read a letter from a very affluent and well-known entrepreneur, who in his mid 50s found himself on his deathbed struggling with an incurable and inoperable disease. The archbishop translated the letter to Armenian as he shared it with the congregation, I will read the original English. For this community, and I personally believe for many of us, it is exactly what is necessary today and always. Here then is the letter.

I have reached the pinnacle of success in business. In other people’s eyes my life is a success. However, aside from work, I’ve had little joy. At the end of the day, wealth is just a fact I’ve gotten used to.

Right now, lying on my hospital bed, reminiscing all my life, I realize that all the recognition and wealth I took so much pride in, has faded and become meaningless in the face of imminent death.

You can hire someone to drive your car or make money for you, but you can’t hire someone to stand sick and die for you.

Material things lost can be found again. But there is one thing that can never be found when it is lost: Life.

Whatever stage of life we are currently at, in time we will face the day the curtain closes.

Love your family, spouse, children and friends… Treat them right. Cherish them.

As we get older, and wiser, we slowly realize that wearing a $300 or $30 watch both give the same time whether we have a $300 or $30 wallet or purse, the amount inside is the same. Whether we drive a $150,000 car or a $30,000 car, the road and the distance are the same, and we reach the same destination. Whether we drink a $1,000 or $10 bottle of wine, the hangover is the same. Whether the house in which we live is 100 or 1000 square meters, loneliness is the same.

You will realize that your true inner happiness does not come from material things of this world. Whether you travel first class or economy class, if the plane crashes, you go down with it.

Therefore, I hope you realize, when you have friends, brothers and sisters, with whom you discuss, laugh, talk, sing, talk about north-south-east or heaven and earth, this is the real happiness!!

An indisputable fact of life: Don’t raise your children to be rich. Educate them to be happy. When they grow up, they will know the value of things and not the price.

Cover: Envato Elements


Armodoxy for Today: Symbols

As humans we search for meaning. Alongside survival and reproduction, the human animal has a need to find meaning in life. Religion helps facilitate the search. In that search, sooner or later, we come to a point where our faculties cannot comprehend the vastness of life with all its intricacies.

In the Book of Sirach or Ecclesiasticus, the author begins with a preface to his search (1:1-8):

All wisdom is from the Lord, and with him it remains for ever.
The sand of the sea, the drops of rain, and the days of eternity—who can count them?
The height of heaven, the breadth of the earth, the abyss, and wisdom—who can search them out?
Wisdom was created before all other things, and prudent understanding from eternity.
The root of wisdom—to whom has it been revealed? Her subtleties—who knows them?
There is but one who is wise, greatly to be feared, seated upon his throne—the Lord.

After 43 chapters of intense descriptions of the wonders of the Lord and the heavens and earth, he comes to very simple conclusion:

We could say more but could never say enough;let the final word be: ‘He is the all.’
Where can we find the strength to praise him? For he is greater than all his works. (43:27-28)

Symbols help us understand that which cannot be expressed with words. Symbols can be presented to us in a variety of ways. Their meaning is ascribed by the person who confronts them.

Red, white and blue string are merely dyed fibers. Sewn together in stripes and stars, they take on a new meaning. They are the symbol of a country and all that it represents. Before the strings are sewn, they may be cut, torn, destroyed or thrown in the trash. But once they come together to make a flag, those dyed fibers represent something huge and great. To destroy or desecrate the flag is an expression of disrespect. The meaning of a symbol also changes with the times and the circumstance of the people. On the days following 9/11 in 2001, the flag flying over the rubble of the Twin Towers came to represent the unity and resolve of a nation against evil. The backdrop of the towers and the collective experience of the citizens brought further meaning to the flag.

The main symbol of Christianity is the cross. Two planks, placed perpendicular to one another, joined together, with a short headspace, longer leg area, and the horizontal plank dissected in its center constituting a left and right arm. Two planks of wood can be cut, whittled, and used as kindling in a fire, but create them in the shape of a cross, they now have a deeper meaning.

This Sunday, the Armenian Church celebrates the fifth and last feast day of the year: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. After the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the cross became an object of veneration.

The story of Exaltation can be found in all major Christian traditions. The Armenian Church celebrates four different feasts associated with the Holy Cross of Jesus, the main one being this Sunday’s Exaltation (or elevation) of the Holy Cross. The others are the Discovery (or finding) of the Cross, the Apparition of the Cross and the Holy Cross of Varak. This last one, the Cross of Varak, is unique to the Armenian Church and is celebrated two weeks following the Exaltation.

The Cross is a symbol. It means more than the two planks of wood which compose it. It is a symbol of victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate. It is the symbol of Christianity because in Jesus Christ we see and understand the same, that is, victory over defeat, life over death and the power of love to overcome hate.

Let us pray, O Christ, protector of the people, protect and shelter me under the shadow of your holy and precious Cross in peace. Delivery me from enemies invisible and visible so I may always glorify you with the Father and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Cover photo: How Thomas E. Franklin took the iconic 9/11 photo of firefighters (northjersey.com)

Light Shadows: The Cross

Next Step #537: In the Presence of the Holy Cross of Christ, reflections from the Blessing in New York. What’s in the Shadow of the Holy Cross? Preposition-connection of “For” in John 3:16. Travelers who define the universe: the poet and the wise man revisited. While colors, words, melodies, mathematics all describe reality, the case for not discounting the power of religion.
Khorenian Divine Liturgy
Procession: Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Yusaku Maezawa to the Moon
Neil deGrasse Tyson – Power of Story Telling
AC202 Debut
Systematic Theology by Paul Tillich
Scripture for Holy Cross
Cover: JFK Sunrise, Susan Movsesian 2018
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
Subscribe to In His Shoes » Next Step with Fr. Vazken by Email
Look for The Next Step on blubrry.com
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand!

Catastrophe & Baseball Perspectives

Next Step #485: Perspectives: viewing but not buying. Catastrophes that are smoothed over by other phenomenal news. Meeting with the Copts. How Mkhitar missed the boat hundreds of years later. Exaltation of the Holy Cross. Introducing a new blog by Yvette.
Khatchi Ko Krisdos
INTRODUCING: Yvette’s Refugee work in Germany (unavailable)
Window View of the Armenian Church
Fr. Vazken, 35th anniversary
Could Armenians Remain a Global Nation with a Broken Homeland? by Hratch Tchilingirian
On Ordination and the Church (Bible Study, 9/8/17)
The Coptic Church with Armenian Miuron
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
Subscribe to In His Shoes » Next Step with Fr. Vazken by Email
Look for The Next Step on blubrry.com
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand!

From Simpsons to Simon: Shame of the Cross

Next Step #328 – September 18, 2014

An evening with the Simpsons to a morning with the Holy Cross reveals a challenge to put away shame (amot) and pick up where Simon (IHS patron-saint) leaves off. This is not for the weak of heart, nor of muscle and more than wearing an icon of Christ. Tzavut Danem! is here explained. Also a quick stop with the AESA and some thoughts on the upcoming business venture.
Song: Garode by Hooshere
Elevating Cancer as the Cross for today
AESA: http://www.aesa.org/
From the SAIN days: Origins of SAIN
Publication: AIEA Newsletter
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for epostle.net
Look for The Next Step on blubrry.com
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand! 

updated 061221 mm

Simons of our Crosses

Next Step #68 – September 23, 2009

Part 3 of 3 on the Holy Cross – Looking for help in carrying our crosses and realizing we are the only ones who can climb them in the end. Fr. Vazken uses the story of Jesus’ Crucifixion to guide this meditation about help – Simon – in our sufferings – and finding purpose in a life style that makes us each, Simons of Cyrene. Also: A follow up to an exorcism, becoming a story of faith. A bit about end time theology with a look to the future podcasts as well.
Bubbles – Ani does cow imitations in “That’s not my problem”
Song of the Day: “Saturday and Sunday” by the students of the Vazgenian Seminary at Lake Sevan.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan.
Sponsored by Pomegranate & Eye. Mention The Next Step podcast and receive a 15% discount – which will be donated to our ministry.

updated 033021 mm

The Cross is Elevated

Next Step #67 – September 17, 2009

Part 2 of 3 on the Holy Cross. Explanation of the “Exaltation” in history, and its place in life today. Going beyond the John 3:16 message of everlasting life, Fr. Vazken brings the message home in a holistic manner, so the sacrifice of LOVE is our orders for life. A special prayer is offered on this 8th Anniversary of 9/11, with a letter Navy Seaman Apprentice Dembekjian that talks that look for peace. In His Shoes news includes Warren Goodman’s release from prison.
Song of the Day, Lilit Danielyan’s “Cut up this pomegranate here”
Bubbles by Ani: “Twins”
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan
Today’s show is sponsored by Pomegranate & Eye Mention The Next Step podcast and receive a 15% discount – which will be donated to our ministry.

updated 033021 mm

Can’t Avoid that Cross

Next Step #66 – September 9, 2009

In the aftermath of making history with another electronic next step – streaming the Armenian Orthodox perspective. New models for living- finding the central point of our lives and the programming that is fed us. A letter about the prosperity gospel – watch out for the wolves in sheep’s skin! This podcast begins a three part series about the symbol of the Holy Cross – It’s not something you can avoid! (nor should you want to avoid it!). Really? Who needs suffering? Part 1 (of 3) on the Armenian Orthodox significance of the Holy Cross.
Ani’s Bubbles: “Three Trees”
Song of the Day: “Two Short Planks” by Ian Anderson.
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan

updated 033021 mm

Elevating the Resurrected Cross


Next Step #13- September 10, 2008

From reporting on religio-politics, Governor Palin’s views on Israel, the Man of the Year event that took place last Friday at BGT, and the Genocide happening in Darfur, Fr. Vazken segues into a discussion on the Holy Cross. Wow! Did you ever imagine you’d read all that in a podcast dedicated to looking at life through the lens of ancient Armenian Orthodoxy? Truly, there’s even more… We are now in the period approaching one of the five major feasts of the Armenian Church. This Sunday is the Feast of the Exhaltation of the Holy Cross. Even basil has a role in this, but you’ll have to listen to find out!

updated 031921 mm