Tag Archive for: Love

Expression of Love: Holy Thursday (Question 6)

The expression of Love: Holy Thursday

Each day of Holy Week, on the road to Resurrection, we are presented with a question which only you, and you alone, can answer.

During the Last Supper, Jesus speaks openly to his beloved and seated disciples.

As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. (John 15)

Jesus tells his disciples that by love they will be identified as his followers, that is, Christianity is defined by love. Love begins with God and is expressed through sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice being the offering of life, the greatest of all the gifts of God.

Following the Supper, Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me, nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”

It is there that a mob arrives, led by one of the 12 disciples named Judas Iscariot. Judas kisses the Lord to betray him to the mob. Jesus is captured as a common criminal, then taken before the religious elite to stand trial for conjured-up charges. The passion, that is the suffering of the Lord, continues through the night. From mock trials to the religious leaders, to the government officials, He is humiliated, beaten, mocked, and sentenced to death by crucifixion.

From the point of his arrest to the sentencing, Jesus has been abandoned by all of his friends and followers. One of his friends betrayed him (with a kiss) while another, Peter, denied him three times, when asked if he knew Jesus. Yet all the while, Jesus does not abandon anyone – neither his friends, his followers, nor His accusers, nor any one of us, for that matter. He stands as a testament to the power of Love. He accepts the sentence and makes his way to the Cross. It is here that we understand that the Cross, therefore, is the ultimate expression of Love within Armenian Orthodox theology.

The sixth question on this road to the Resurrection, comes in a form first asked to Judas, “Do you betray the Son of God with a kiss?” and then asked of Peter, “Are you with Jesus?” They are one in the same question: Love is what defines us as Christians according to Jesus and He himself, in a gesture of Love is sacrificing his life. Are you with him? Or have you betrayed him? Certainly a very heavy questions for a very heavy night. The night of the Passion of our Lord.

Tomorrow: The Cross

The Christ Presence: Holy Wednesay

The Christ Presence: Holy Wednesday

On this Wednesday, the fifth day on the road to Resurrection, we are reminded of our aim, the presence of Christ. In Armodoxy, the Christ Presence is accessible to all. “Let the little children come to me,” says Jesus, “and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14) The children, being pure of heart, have access and therefore, the potential for everyone to have access is a given.

Before He was betrayed, before his trial and crucifixion, Jesus ate one last meal with his loved ones. Known as the “Last Supper,” this is where Jesus gave his instruction to disciples. Addressing them by using the same descriptive phrase, “Little children,” Jesus tells them, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13) He placed love as the highest standard for identification as a follower of Christ.

As they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26) These words of Institution established the ritual of Communion.  It is a sacred and a holy act by which we literally and completely absorb Christ as the energy source by which we live the expression of love. The Christ Presences is not outside of you, but, in the words of Jesus, “Indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.”  (Luke 17)

Today’s question, Where is the Christ Presence in your life?

Tomorrow: The expression of Love

Trust: Lent Day 32

Lenten Recipe
Recipe #32 – Olivada

Lenten Journey Day 32 – Trust

Our lives are built upon trust. Trust and faith are what give our lives stability. Trust and faith come from experience, that is, they are based on our own personal experiences and history. For instance, we trust that when the light turns green for us, the cross-coming traffic has a red light. This trust is built on our experience of the thousands of traffic lights we have breezed through, with the full confidence that the opposite traffic is stopped. If we did not have this type of trust, we would live in fear and suspicion. We would stop at every signal we came to, uncertain what to expect.

If we think a bit deeper about our habits on approach to the traffic light, we trust on multiple levels. We trust the equipment – the electronics, the switches and the light bulbs themselves. We also trust the programmers who have set the time switches for the red and green lights. We can safely say that we believe that the programmer is a trustworthy person, that is, someone who will not fool us by giving us a green light and a green light for the opposite street. Our trust makes the programmer (or builder of the signal) a person who is worthy of our trust.

This type of trust we learn. It is a trust built on experience. It is on this trust that we build our expectations for life. If we do not have this basic trust, we are then betrayed to a chaotic lifestyle. Life become chaos, it does not have order or rhythm. It becomes chaotic because we are overly consumed with fear – fear of the unknown and of the harm that will ensue.

It therefore follows that fear and chaos are overcome by faith and trust. We learn to have faith and trust, which in turn give rhyme and reason to our life and existence.

This week we are challenged to look at our prayer life in a new manner, that is, not only as a conversation with God but a conversation with the self. We turn inward to find the strength to push outward – to push that love and compassion out. We find the strength to do this because we trust. We trust love because we understand that love to be God.

God is love. Unconditional love. If we have love in our heart and if we have love for one another, Jesus tells us, “by this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” We are Christians by the love that we share and spread.

When we find it difficult to share our love, it is usually because we do not trust. We do not faith that love will be returned to us. We do not trust that love will not hurt. We have lost trust in love. But today we stand with a different outlook and a mature understanding of our faith and place in the universe, we now understand that God is love. And this understanding makes all the difference.

We trust God because God is the one constant in the universe. He is, the I am. Not He was, not He will be, but He is. God as the Eternal Present, is the only thing that can be trusted. He is the only constant in our life that dispels the fear and brings order to the chaos. As such, He – this constant – allows us to trust in ourselves, the love that is in our heart. To trust God means to trust love. We therefore can push ourselves and push outward that love without fear.

On this 32nd day of Lent we are noticing the change in our Journey. What started as the road to faith is now turning into the path of action. You have it within you to act, to trust your actions because they are built on faith, they are built on love, that is, they are built on the trust that you have in God.

Today we have a simple exercise: to love. It is the beginning to the path to action. It is the first step towards action. It is a true love, which may hurt, but we trust it. We are completely submitting ourselves to that love. Submitting to God is submitting to love. Push yourself today to freely explore submission to God. Substitute the love where you think of God. Substitute God where you think of love. Push yourself to love others – family, friends, or someone you do not know. Push yourself to engage in a random act of love. Then take the chance and really push yourself to love your enemy. It is there, in your action, that you see God manifested. There you see God born. There you see the chaos brought to order and fear dispelled. It is at that point that you truly understand, “Thy will be done.” It is His will that we love one another.

Let us pray:
O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give a sense of your presence, your strength and your love. Help us to trust your protecting love and your strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten us. For living close to you, we will see your plan, your purpose and your will in all things. Amen.

40 Martyrs of Sepastia – Lent Day 27

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 27: Cold Linguine with Red Pepper, Artichoke and Sun Dried Tomato Sauce

Lenten Journey Day 27 – Friendship

The Armenian Church celebrates the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia during one of the Saturdays of Lent. Although Sebastia is a town in Armenia, the entire Christian Church commemorates the martyrdom that took place there as a lesson in Christianity, perseverance, sacrifice and friendship.

The story of the 40 Martyrs of Sebastia takes place in the 4th century, when 40 soldiers of the Roman army armed with a faith in Jesus Christ, are put to the test: either deny their faith or lose their lives. They refuse to betray or deny their faith in Christ Jesus. They are sentenced to a torturous death by being thrown into a mid-winter freezing lake. The forty men reach out to one another. They hold on to one another creating a human life raft. The water miraculously warms up. God creates an opportunity for the freezing water to give warmth, to give life. In so doing the men are also given an opportunity to be crowned as saints.

There are many dimensions to this story. I invite you to read about it. It appears in many books and articles. For now, I would like to focus on the friendship that existed between these soldiers, particularly because they had the same goal and foundation of faith. Even more, they belonged to a community that brought them together.

We build relationships with others with whom we establish what is called “friendship.” Most of the time, these are limited partnerships; that is, we can talk about everything except matters of faith. We may be reluctant to talk about faith/religion. Why? Because we have been conditioned, we have been taught it is not polite to discuss religion in mixed company. After all, politics and religion are the two ingredients that you never want to take into a friendship. More arguments start because of politics and religion they tell us, than any other subject.

During this Lenten Journey we have looked within. We have looked without. We have built our prayer life with quality and quantity. We understand ourselves as disciplined creatures, assisted by the practices of fasting and of abstinence. Our Christian charity is defined by responsibility and stewardship. And so at the end of this 4th week, we understand that certainly Christianity is not that distorted view that so many people speak about, but there is a purity in Christianity. Not only is Christianity defined by love, but it is the expression of pure love. It calls us to extend and give ourselves to one another. It is sacrifice that manifests itself in friendships and relationships. We love, honor, respect and cherish one another.

Because Christ’s message is so pure, it gives each of us an opportunity to grow in that that same purity.

The forty martyrs found that purity in one another. They were able to hold on to each other and stay afloat in that lake. They were able to find strength from one another. We too are on a journey. It is called life. We look for friends and sometimes shy away because we feel others may not understand our position. Real friendship means that we can put all our cards out on the table. It means we can count on one another. We can lean on others and expect them to lean on us as well. To make this happen we need open dialogue. There is a formula to the dialogue. It begins by talking about the bare essentials of life including our faith, our spirituality, who we are, how we understand ourselves and what commitment we have to love. WE understand quickly now that there is nothing to be embarrassed about when it comes to matters of faith. It is now becoming part and parcel of our being to be able to stand tall and say, “Yes, I am a Christian because I am a member of Christ’s family.” Simply put, we say, “Yes, I am called to love.” Nothing more, and certainly nothing less.

To love, to be able to stand up and help. To be able to sit down with a friend in trouble. To be able to extend a hand to someone in need. And to be able to offer the strength and the courage, to lift up someone who has fallen. You see, Christianity is all about continuing what Christ began.

The forty Martyrs of Sebastia understood the message of Christ as an expression of community. The name of the feast itself is about community. It is not one martyr that we remember, but 40 martyrs. It is a collective. People hanging on to one another, staying afloat, despite the difficulties in life. When we understand this, then we start reaching out to one another. We no longer fear confiding in our friends. Instead, we have a healthy and open relationship, and we become true friends. Reaching out, hanging on, staying afloat in the waters of life… Understand that this is how miracles happen, because it at these moments that God heats the waters! We have yet another opportunity to really set sail and reach the dreams that we cannot do alone but certainly possible because of the community collective.

Today’s Lenten exercise is a simple one: reach out to your friends, reach out to your family. Engage them in a conversation of faith. Engage them to understand how important that faith is to you, and really explain what are the dimensions of that faith. Not merely stories, not merely myths, but a real story, a real story of hope, of faith, of really reaching out to one another and helping them stand up and for them to help you stand up. Together. With God’s blessings you reach the goals, you reach the dreams that are infront of you.

In that same spirit, let us pray from St. Nersess Shnorhali:
Glorified Lord, accept the supplications of your servant and graciously fulfill my petitions through the intercession of the Holy Mother of God, John the Baptist, St. Steven the first martyr, St. Gregory our Illuminator, the holy apostles, prophets, divines, martyrs, patriarchs, hermits, virgins and all your saints in heaven and on earth. And unto you, oh indivisible Holy Trinity be glory and worship for ever and ever. Amen. (24/24)

Photo – 2009 Fr. Vazken Movsesian

The Turn Around – Lent Day 17

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 17: Asian Noodles with Edamame

Lenten Journey Day 17 – Turning Around

A wide variety of emotions and feelings accompany us on our Lenten Journey. Because we are each unique creations, we each approach our spirituality in different ways. Some may feel tranquility. Some may feel inner peace. Others may feel anxiety – fear of the unknown, of what may be ahead. And others yet, may not be able to process the physical changes that are taking place by virtue of the dietary restrictions. No matter where you may be in your spiritual quest, it is important to remember that we have taken this journey with purpose, with a goal in mind: to purify, to minimize, to find meaning and purpose not only for the duration of Lent but for our entire life. We must understand that these 40 days are training us for the other 325 days that are ahead of us.

Consider now that we began at one point and are headed toward another point. Ironically, sometimes that end point may very well be the beginning point; that is, the end of the journey may be right where we started. 

I do not mean to confuse things, but think of experiences in your own life. When you have been confronted with a problem or difficulties, you may ponder and look for answers, when all along those answers exist within you. We have had those answers right from the beginning, much like the fabled Dorothy, who stands at the end of her journey in Oz, realizing that the answers were right at her feet all along. She receives the grand revelation that there is no place like home, not from outside herself, but by fact that she arrived at that revelation point. Sure enough, we found the same revelation this week in the parable of the Prodigal Son. The son returned home because that was where the answers were.

In fact, we find that God has given us all of the gifts that we need in our lives. The gifts are implanted in our home, in our heart, but we have drifted from our path. We have strayed away from God. But if we look carefully, we are finding that in this spiritual journey the answers are not somewhere outside of us but are seated within us. Why not? If God has created us and God has given us a soul, why would the “owners manual” – the answer book – be outside of us? The answers are right there, within each of us where they have always been.

God speaks to us. From the depths of our heart we hear His voice. His words are the answers that are always with us, no matter where we go. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life,” it is the profound expression of love. There is one direction. There is only one path. It is the path of love.

St. Nerses Shnorhali reminds us that the name of love is Jesus. We discovered it to be the “primer,” and we now understand Jesus’ words to mean that Love is the Way, the Truth and the Life. We have all known that all along. This is nothing new. It is just that we have alienated that section of our soul, mind and spirit from what is important and therefore forgotten that there is only one way and one truth. It happens to be Love. We have searched elsewhere, instead of looking within.

St. Nectarius reminds us, “Do not seek the kingdom outside of yourself, but the kingdom is within.” Jesus established his Church, his Kingdom here on earth, and that Church has its primary foundation in the human heart. That is where the owner’s manual belongs.
This week we looked at the three characters in the story of the Prodigal son, namely the young son, the older son and the father. Today let us be reminded that this Lenten Journey is not only a trip from point A to B, but it can also be a journey from A to A. There is a freshness to our lives, as if the old has been recreated. So it is no longer an old life, but a new life filled with a new understanding, a different approach to dealing with our relationship and our surroundings.

What we are beginning to see develop is the concept of repentance, that is, turning around, coming back: Point A to point A via point B. The most powerful tool a Christian has is repentance. When we realize we have made a mistake we have the ability to improve our self. We can turn back. That return to home worked for the Prodigal Son. There are different paths for each of our lives, but they all lead to the end of the Journey. For some, this journey will be from point A to B. For others it will be from point A to B and perhaps a C and D along the way until they get to E. And yet, for others still, it will be a full circle returning back home from and to point A. A loop or a little detour is nothing to be afraid of. Chock it up to the experience of life. In the mistakes and pains of life we learn. Fortunately, God has given plenty of room to make U-turns.

Let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Fountain of immortality, let the tears of repentance flow from my heart like those of the adulteress that they may wash away the sins of my soul before I depart from this world. Have mercy upon all your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (I Confess with Faith, 18/24)

The Brother’s True Gift is Yours: Lent Day 16

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 16: Cherry Walnut Chews

Lenten Journey Day 16 – The Older Brother

For the past two days we looked at two different characters from the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15). Today we will continue looking at the parable and this time focus on the actions of the older brother.

Of the three characters in the prodigal son, perhaps it is the older brother with whom we can best identify. Perhaps it is because, well, basically he is a good guy. He is a friendly guy. He is the one who did the right things and stayed faithful. He stayed home and did not squander the money that his father had given him. He was loyal. He was obedient. But mostly we see in him the man, who like all of us, recognizes the unfairness of life. There was an injustice that was being played out because when the younger brother came home, there was celebration. It was almost as if he was being rewarded for his breach of discipline.

The older brother also asked some questions that could have arisen out of simple jealousy. Why not me? Why is it that good things happen to bad people? Why are the actions of the bad person being rewarded while my goodness goes unnoticed? I have been loyal. I have been the model son any father would be proud of. Now this son of yours comes home, after squandering and abusing what you have given him. How can he being worth the fatted calf? A celebration? The ring of authority on his hand? Simply: Why not me? Perhaps it is this expression that rings the bell of familiarity in all of us.

There are many examples of unfairness in our lives. Often, we see people who seemingly do not deserve to be rewarded, yet they are honored with privileges and rewards. Why not me? is only a natural question to follow this inequity. Not only is it natural, but it is also logical if we believe good should be rewarded, well, I’ve done it right. I’m a good guy. Sure, I have faults but basically, I’m a good person. Why isn’t my goodness being rewarded?

The father in the story gives a very simple answer. His is an answer that comes from the vantage point of parenthood. “Son,” says the father to his oldest, “I have always had you. Whatever I have is already yours. But this, my son, was lost and now he’s found; was dead and now he’s alive.” In so saying, the father is asking his son to see the bigger pictures. It’s not just about this moment, but there is a bigger “project” so to speak. Ultimately, God’s aim is to have us all His children reconciled with all of His creation. It’s about a state of love and harmony so that everyone may share that Kingdom.

Now let’s push this little further and challenge ourselves, because, after all, there is true injustice in the world. But as this Lenten Journey unfolds, we’re understanding that the real problem is with our perception of the goal, of the prize. We’re looking at those excesses and material goods as the prize and lose sight of the true treasure that is already a part of our life. Proof? Take a deep breath. Can you feel it entering your lungs? That’s a gift from God on which you cannot place a price tag. Do you love someone? Someone you can look to – a child, a parent, a husband, a wife, a boyfriend, a girlfriend? That is a gift. Do you have the ability to smile? Do you have the ability to look out at the flowers, at the trees, at the mountains, at the sea and stand in awe for a second and realize that there is something far greater than material goods we consume ourselves with. That is a gift. And that is the gift that has been given to you by God. He says, don’t abuse it. Don’t be like the prodigal. Don’t squander what I have given you. And now, don’t look for more. Because anything more are the excesses that you have to fight off anyway. Don’t look for those extras because you’ve already been given the gift of life. What greater gift is there? You have the gift of love in your heart, along with the ability to take that love and share it with others.

Today’s challenge in the Lenten Journey is to dismiss any jealousies that may be consuming us and preventing us from taking another step forward. As the father in the parable challenged the older son, we receive a challenge from the Parable itself, to take a walk in the shoes of the father. We’ll note that in his unconditional love for both his sons there is no room for jealousy. The Love of God trumps everything, no matter how strong those feelings of jealousy or envy may be.

Remember, God has placed love in our heart. It’s up to us to use it, not abuse it. It’s up to use to share it with the ones we love, with our family, our community and with this world.

We conclude with the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali,
All Merciful Lord, have mercy on all your faithful. On those who are mine and on those who are strangers. On those whom I know and on those whom I know not, on the living and on the dead. Forgive all my enemies and those who hate me the trespasses they have committed against me. Turn them from the malice they bear toward me that they may be worthy of your mercy. Have mercy upon all your creatures, and upon me, a great sinner. (I confess with Faith, 23/24)

The Prodigal’s Father: Lent Day 15

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 15: Suonomo (Cucumber Salad)

Lenten Journey Day 15 : The Prodigal’s Father
Yesterday we were introduced to the story of the Prodigal Son. In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of St. Luke, Jesus offers this parable which touches so many different dimensions of our lives.

Yesterday we reflected on the sin of the Prodigal son; that is, the “prodigalness” of the young man. His sin was that he abused the gifts that were given him. We share in that sin by abusing, which includes not using, the talents given to us by God.
Today we look at the character of the father. The first thing we learn about him is that he gives completely, without restriction or condition. His younger son says, “Give me my inheritance so I can go out and establish and begin my life.” The father, being a wise man, certainly understands that the son may lose or squander the money, but does not argue with his child. There are times in our lives when we need to let go. Even though we may know better than our children, their life is theirs. Yes, making mistakes can be painful, but it is in those mistakes that children learn. This father understand this rule and lets go of his son. As difficult as it is, he allows his son – the one that he loves – to leave. He allows his son to establish his own life.
The second time we see the father is when the son returns. Remember the son is remorseful, or at the very least he understands that he can have a better life by returning to his father’s house. No matter what the son’s intentions may be, the father seeing the son return goes out to meet him on the road and does not even allow his son to ask forgiveness. He does not play a game of pride. He does not foolishly say, “Let me wait and see what he has to say.” He is there to accept his son. He does not say, “I told you so. I knew you would be back.”  Instead he recognizes his loved one – the son that he cared for, gave birth to and nurtured – had now returned! How excited he must have been. Of course he came running up to his son and embraced him.
Now there are two dimensions to this. Let’s follow each of them. First, the father in the parable is an expression of our Heavenly Father. God in heaven waits for us to come home and when we do turn back, He does not wait for us to beg to return to His Kingdom. His patience lasts for us to make that first turn-around. It’s then that He approaches us, embracing and grabbing us, He takes us in, giving us Life! That’s what this father did and that’s what our Heavenly Father does.
God accepts us as true children of his Kingdom. His acceptance of us is a given. The requirement is for us to say, “Yes, I have sinned. I have gone the wrong way. I have squandered what God has given me. I want to find the peace. I want to find that love that God has created me in.” God waits for us to say, “I’m ready.” The rest takes place – it actually falls into place.
Second, the father’s actions tell us what is required of us in our relationships, not necessarily with children, but with one another. There are people who have hurt us. The degrees of hurt are not consequential. Perhaps we have cried over a misspoken word, or we have been devastated by betrayal. The hurt has left a chasm in our relationships with others. We have all created divisions between ourselves and God by virtue of our actions or inaction,  yet God has given us a way back. We too must do the same and leave doors open for those people to return back to us. In other words, an end to grudges is in order. Don’t get caught up in foolish pride. Leave doors open without expecting someone to walk through. Don’t wait for those who have hurt you to return, just know that deep down there are many desires that may not be understood. If the door is open, they may return and when they do you will embrace them.
Know that the heart is speaking to you. Do not think with your mind. Be ready to take in. Be ready to embrace, to hug, to suffocate them with the love that is in your heart. This is the example that Jesus gives us through the character of the father. It’s a double-edged sword, isn’t it? On the one hand it is showing us what our Heavenly Father does, and the example for us to do likewise those in our lives.On the other hand we have prayed, “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us.” God forgives us. We, therefore, have to be forgiving of others.

Finally, the third time we see the father in this story is when he talks to the older brother. He comforts him and he reminds him that we are all equal. In the sight of God it does not matter if you come back today, or if you come back in a hundred years. It does not matter if you came back yesterday. What is important is for each us to turn back to God. And that is the caring Father that we have in heaven, who does not prejudice his decisions by who we are, where we are, or what we’ve done. What matters is the “right now”. Are we willing to be at one, in harmony with Him, with the love and the universe that he has given us.Tomorrow we will continue with the theme of the Prodigal Son as we take a look at his older brother.

We now pray there prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali, from the “I Confess with Faith”:
I confess with faith and adore you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, uncreated and immortal essence, creator of angels, of humans and all that exists. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (1/24)

Image by Edgar Gonzalez from Pixabay

Prodigal Son – Lent Day 14

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 14: Hot and Sour Cabbage

Lenten Journey Day 14 – The Prodigal Son

Every Sunday during the Lenten Season has a unique name. Today is known as the Sunday of the Prodigal Son. Accordingly, the lesson of the day comes from the Gospel of St. Luke, Chapter 15, where Jesus teaches using a parable, commonly known as the story of the Prodigal Son.
Perhaps if nothing else reached us from the time of Jesus except for this one parable, it would be enough to explain our relationship with God. It is a story of reconciliation, and expresses the unconditional love that God has for us and therefore, requires of us.
The story of the Prodigal Son unfolds like this: A man has two sons. The younger son asks for and receives his inheritance. He takes his share of his father’s estate and squanders it on reckless living. While he has funds, he is popular with many friends. But when his money ran out, so did his friends. No money, no parties, no extravagant lifestyle, no friends, he goes out to look for work. But it is of no use. He can’t make enough to survive.
One night, when he is really down, he sees some pigs feeding and he actually considers eating the pigs’ food because he is so hungry. It is at that point that he comes to his senses. He remembers his father’s home and remembers that that his father’s servants live better than he. That night, he makes a decision to go back home –to his father – to beg for forgiveness. He even strategizes that he will ask to be taken-in as one of his father’s  servants.  
Now, while the son is returning home his father sees him on this road. His father comes running toward him, grabs him, hugs him and kisses him. He doesn’t even give his son a chance to talk nor to explain his deeds while away from home. The father then orders his servants to come around and bring him the best clothes and put the ring of authority on his hand. Then he orders a celebration! The fatted calf is slaughtered for this party.
The story of the Prodigal Son doesn’t end here. Remember he had an older brother. Now this older brother was working in the field and heard the sound of merriment and dancing. He didn’t understand and protested to his father. He said, “Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!” He just could not understand the unfairness of life. He (the older brother) had done everything right and the younger brother had wasted his inheritance. “Where is the justice?” he demanded. Why is the bad guy getting rewarded while the good guy continues to labor and struggle?
The father, with compassion and understanding, explains to the older brother, “You are always with me, and everything I have is yours.  But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
So ends the story of the Prodigal Son, but here begins a tremendous opportunity to reflect on the many dimensions of this short parable.
In the next few days of the Lenten Journey we will look at the father and older son characters separately. For today’s discussion we will focus on the younger son. Let’s begin with the young man’s desire to want a better life and to enjoy it. That is not a foreign or unusual feeling. In fact, we all have entertained thoughts of better life. Why not? Why shouldn’t we have the better things in life? For in fact, in this boy’s case, he had the means, his father had the resources, so why not take advantage of the situation and go for it all? What then is the “sin” of the younger son? He is driven by his passions and the energy that comes with youth, and perhaps a little bit of impatience. He seizes the opportunity and takes what he can! Where’s the sin?
Taking what is given to you is not a sin. That is your gift. It belongs to you. The sin is squandering the gift! The sin is taking your gift and abusing it.
One of the challenges that comes to us on this 14th Day of the Lenten Journey is to list and inventory the gifts that have been given to you. Are you using that gift? Or are you abusing it? Are you respecting that gift or are you squandering it?
God has given each of us talents. He has given us life itself. Indeed the breath we breathe is a gift, as is the smile on our face, our ability to hug and our passion to reach out. Unfortunately, much like the Prodigal Son, we squander what is given us in a reckless and sometimes abusive manner. We consume our lives with the minutia and we therefore abandon quality. God has given us a smile that would light up a room and we cover it up, we are ashamed to show that smile. He has given us the ability to talk and instead we keep our mouths closed, or if we do open it we fill it with idle conversation and gossip. He has  given us the ability to hold, lift up and to help others instead we tie our hands down and refuse to help those in need. He has given us feet to walk in the paths of righteousness and instead we take our bodies to dismal hangouts.
We are each a prodigal son. We have taken the gifts of God and instead of using and enjoying them, we have squandered, abused and wasted the goodness in a prodigal life. We have missed the mark and by missing it, we fall short of realizing and maximizing our potential.
As we are inventorying our talents and gifts from God, let us also ask ourselves how we are using those gifts. Are we squandering the precious elements of life? Or are we using those talents for the betterment of all?
Tomorrow, we will continue with the parable of the Prodigal Son by observing the character of the father. For now let us pray the prayer of St. Nerses Shnorhali
Heavenly Father, true God, who sent Your beloved Son to seek the wandering sheep. I have sinned against heaven and before you. Receive me like Prodigal Son and clothe me with the garment of innocence, of which I was deprived by with sin. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me a great sinner. Amen (3/24)

Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Charity: changing the greater-than sign

Day 4: Giving and placement of the greater-than sign

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 4: Spinach Salad with Passionfruit Dressing and Maple-Glazed Almonds

As we are coming to understand, Lent gives us an opportunity to slow down and strip life to its essentials. We are finding what is really essential and necessary for our life.
Today we discover that the act of giving, that is charity, is an essential element of life, that is, it is necessary for healthy living. In real terms, giving is one act that you can’t “give-up” for Lent. Giving to others enhances our spiritual life.
Let us take at the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus instructs us on the proper manner of giving. Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them. For then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. So whenever you give alms do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the street so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you they have received their reward. When you give alms do not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6)
Giving, or acting on charity, is an outward expression of our faith. By giving to others we are expressing the inner desires of our heart. Those expressions tell a lot about us. In the giving process we develop patterns and slowly we find that we are juggling our giving along with the receiving and taking processes.  We seek to find a balance between our giving and receiving. For instance, we give to those from whom it is possible to receive and we take from those who are giving.
When Jesus says, “It is better to give then it is to receive,” he is disrupting the balance. He is placing a greater-than sign in place of the equal sign and we’re called to do the same. He says when you give, keep it pure. If you give to others make sure that is a true giving without expectation of anything in return.  In fact throughout the Gospels Jesus instructs us to help the poor, to aid those in need. Why? Well, the first answer is obvious: because they need it. But what is not so apparent is that even more, weneed to give! When we aid others and help them we understand that life is more than the accumulation of wealth. We realize that life is not made up of the stuff and things that we call possession. Those thing, in fact, possess us!
When Jesus cautions us not to sound a trumpet when giving, he is instructing us to keep it pure. Give with no expectation. Even the applause and the praise of others is something we receive in return, so avoid it by giving in secret. In so doing, our giving is unidirectional, and that type of giving is egoless, selfless. On this fourth day of Lent, we are beginning to understand the importance of losing the self. When ego doesn’t matter, the desires of the heart are truly pure. Giving becomes an expression of love, unconditionally, without expectation of anything in return.
During the Lenten period we are called to really examine ourselves, with fasting, with prayer and with giving. Giving is the easiest of the three to examine, because we notice ourselves giving. There is a record of our actions. Take advantage of this time.  Try this small and simple exercise. Examine your past and your present for people who have touched you in a unique manner. You may be surprised to find that the ones who have influenced you the most were not the superstars. They were not the athletes, the recording stars and the mega-rich. In fact, they were the very simple people who gave something to you without expectation for their personal rewards. Perhaps it was a mother, a father,  perhaps a grandfather or grandmother. Perhaps a friend who shared some time with you or some advice. And the fact that you remember these people is proof that giving never dies because it is an expression of love.
One-way giving is the kind of giving God expects because it is the type of giving He demonstrates in His love for us. One-way giving is a definition of Love. God gives us the most precious gift of all, that life that we have. He gives us salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ and it is given unconditionally, in other words despite ourselves. So in the same manner give to others. In fact throughout the gospels Jesus instructs us to give to others who have absolutely no way to pay us back. Why? Because in so doing we become God-like. God did the same thing. He gave to people who had absolutely no way to repay Him. How can you payback life and salvation? And God answers by saying, do the same to others. Love and care for others with no expectation and no conditions.
So give freely. And remember, the object of your giving is not only tangible goods. More important that what is in your pocket is what is in your heart. Give your time. Give your attention. Give your love. Find an elderly person who needs a few moments of your time. Find a child who needs you to read a book. Find a person who needs food. Find another who is in need of shelter. Or simply, find someone who needs a smile and for you to hold his or her hand. Give and express your love.
Let us pray one of the prayers of St. Nerses Shnorhali:
Bestower of mercy grant that I may come to you with true faith, with good works and by the communion of the Holy body and blood. Have mercy upon your creatures and upon me, a great sinner. (From St. Nersess Shnorhali’s “I confess with Faith,” 19/24)

Finding the Primer

Armodoxy for Today: The Primer

There is one word for love “սէր” (pronounced sehr) in Armenian and in this one word, the erotic (eros), brotherly (philia), and unconditional (agape) elements of love all come together, remarkably, but not surprisingly.

In science and specifically in the field of physics attempts have been made to describe all the fundamental forces and the relationships between elementary particles in a single theoretical framework. A unified field theory has been the quest of many great physicists. During my youth I was fascinated by the notion that everything might be explained in a unified field theory. I carried my interest and curiosity for an answer with me into seminary. If there exists one explanation, if there is a unified field theory, I thought, why must it be limited to the physical world? A true unified field theory would also pertain to the emotional, psychological, and spiritual world and therefore be explained as a part of religion. From a religious vantage point, particularly a Christian one, the unified field theory would also account for God. The problem there, of course, is that God has to be greater than the words that can contain or describe Him. And so, I thought, is it possible that God is the Unified Field Theory? But, who in the scientific community would entertain such an assertion?

Throughout the years as I contemplated this puzzle, I was fascinated by the work of physicists who pondered the question and came up with theories. I would dive, even if shallow, into experiments with particle accelerators and the latest with Higgs boson or Higgs particle, especially when the term “The God Particle” was assigned to the work.

Something was missing. There was a missing piece to everything I was absorbing. I needed a primer – a piece of the puzzle that would give meaning to everything else. And then it happened! One Sunday morning as we were singing the Hymn “Aravod Louso” a verse that I had sang a thousand times before jumped out at me. St. Nersess Shnorhali writes, in the 36 verse hymn, in the 29th verse, the words, “The name of love is Jesus.”  It clicked! From that moment on, I saw something very clearly, that relied on the truth of pure logic, that is, if A = B and B = C, then A = C. If God = Love and if Love = Jesus, then God = Jesus. In other words, the primer opened the world of understanding by expressions of equality. God, Jesus and Love could be used interchangeably.

I went ahead and tested this discovery. Jesus makes a statement, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” This has caused isolation and rejection of Christianity by people who only had a superficial understanding of the terms. Testing began. I interchanged the word “Love” for Jesus. Can we now agree – everyone agree – that Love is the way. Love is the truth. Love is the life? It works! It was remarkable but not surprising. Jesus Christ, is the fulfillment of the law and the profits, the Alpha and the Omega. The Way is a person, the Truth is a person and Life is a person. They are Jesus Christ. The primer works! It connects the story of Jesus Christ to all of eternity, to the beginning and end of time. Armodoxy makes this bold proclamation, and everything we teach is based on this solid foundation, that there is only one element from the beginning of the universe to the end, and that is love. It is the strongest element in this universe. It is the beginning and the end.

Let us pray, O Lord Jesus Christ, you are the way, the truth and the life. Help me to walk in your path of love. Guild me to proclaim boldly the name of Jesus Christ and in so doing, may I carry this message to the hurting world. Amen.

Cover: Luna & Gregory Beylerian