Tag Archive for: mystery

Mystery Behind the Curtain: Archbishop Tiran, 3

Armodoxy for Today: Mystery behind the Curtain

So there I was at the altar of the Holy Cross Armenian Church in New York with the most knowledgeable man in the Armenian Church. With the Lenten curtain draped behind us, we stood in this narrow space looking up at the altar. Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, now in his twilight years, had invited me out to New York, to offer a position as editor of the St. Nersess Journal. We spent three days together, having coffee, talking, more coffee and every so often breaking for meals.

At this moment we were at the altar, and I was talking to him about “mystery,” a word that seems to be at the center of religiosity. Things we cannot answer or describe we designation into the category of mystery. Years earlier, when I was writing my thesis in collage, I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Archbishop Tiran about the Armenian Genocide, and how in the face of such a horrendous and monumental atrocity such as genocide, we, Armenians, can maintain a belief in a good and all-powerful God? That is, if He is good and all powerful, why would he allow genocide to take place. His answer, to this day, I have not forgotten. He replied with a snicker, as if to say, how can you be so naïve. “If you live in the jungle, and you are attacked by a tiger, why would you blame God?”

How simple is that? If we live in a jungle we have to comply with and accept the rules of the jungle. Throughout my years as a parish priest I have stood with families dealing with the worst of the worst news and prognoses. It is there, at those moments, that theology has to come alive – it has to make sense in life. Archbishop Tiran was giving a practical response to the problem of evil. Why is there cancer? Because we’ve polluted our environment and our bodies. Why are there accidents? Because people are careless and imperfect. Why is there theft? Why violence? Why evil? We live with wants, jealousies, desires, and the freedom to act on our feelings of pride, envy, anger, sloth, covetousness, gluttony and lust. Yes, the fabulous seven and all their forms!

There we were, in front of the altar. He had asked me about the 12 candles and I got that one wrong. How could it have been the 12 signs of the zodiac? It didn’t figure, but then, I was there to discover “mystery” and that it was.

“God gives us a mind. He gives us reason,” said the archbishop. “We cannot put reason to one side when we can’t answer a question and call it mystery.” Saying that, he tried me again. “Why does the church have four walls?”

I wasn’t going to get this wrong. There couldn’t be another zodiac-type answer. “The four evangelists!,” I exclaimed boldly. “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, these are the four walls that encase the church.” I had this; I knew it. But the old archbishop laughed one more time.

“The church has four walls to keep the roof up,” he said with a smile that let us both know that the master still the upper hand over the students.

Mystery is important to acknowledge. But life has real parameters. Just as it is necessary to keep a roof atop a building with four walls, we need to answer many of the dilemmas we create and or encounter. Those three days in New York, with Archbishop Tiran were precious and gave me clarity and focus. As for the St. Nersess Journal, it didn’t happen. Archbishop Tiran died a few months later before he had finalized his wishes. It was, in a sense, a blessing that it didn’t happen. As a result, the year after, we established and published, “Window, View of the Armenian Church,” a journal of contemporary Armenian Church thought. From 1990 to 1995 we brought a light through that window which will be the story of another day.

We end with the words of a layman, and a scientist of the genius type, no less, Albert Einstein, regarding mystery. The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed. The insight into the mystery of life, coupled though it be with fear, has also given rise to religion. To know what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and the most radiant beauty, which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their most primitive forms – this knowledge, this feeling is at the center of true religiousness.

This is the third and final installment of Mystery: My three days with Archbishop Tiran  

Listen to previous days:

#1 – Christian Courage – Archbishop Tiran – epostle

#2 – Mystery Too Deep – Apb. Tiran, more – epostle


Mystery Too Deep – Apb. Tiran, more

Armodoxy for Today: Mystery too Deep

The first hymn which is sung at the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church is  Khorhourt khorin. It sets the tone of entire Liturgy. I remember the first time I read the translation of those words, “Mystery, deep, inscrutable, without beginning…”

The words to the hymn as well as the entire Divine Liturgy were translated by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, of blessed memory. He was one of the brilliant minds of the Armenian Church in the 20th century. His accolades are many, but among the top was his vision for having an Armenian seminary in the United States. He founded the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. He was elected Patriarch of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and served as Primate of the Eastern Diocese.

1978 was a special time in my life. I had just returned from the Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin and entered the Seminary at Claremont. As an Armenian student in this Methodist Seminary, I relied heavily on Archbishop’s Divine Liturgy translation for research comparisons and thesis development. 1978 also happened to be the centennial celebration of Albert Einstein’s birth. Not far from Claremont was Cal Poly Pomona, and I was able to enroll in a class simultaneously about Einstein, tailored for the non-scientist. It was there that I found this most meaningful quote by Einstein. “The most beautiful thing that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” He pointed to mystery and the awe awakened by that mystery. In essence, Einstein was uncovering a truth expressed by the Armenian Church for centuries.

In 1989 I received a letter from Archbishop Tiran, while I was pastoring at the St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino, California. We had met only casually, but to receive a letter by the revered archbishop, the “Encyclopedia of the Armenian Church,” for me, was like being called out at a concert by the superstar on the stage because he recognized me! Me? Yes, you!

Yesterday I gave you the background of that letter. Today, as promised, I continue the story of our exchange. The letter was an invitation to edit a theological journal for the St. Nersess Seminary. His generous letter was flattering, and his offer to edit the journal was more than I could have imagined at that point in my ministry. He invited me to come to New York to meet with him to discuss the detail. I went there and spent three of the most memorable days in my life, just being around and living around this giant of the Armenian Church.

I visited the archbishop in his New York City apartment, in the Washington Heights area. It was next to the Holy Cross Armenian Church on 187th Street, a church which was infamously the site of the 1933 Assassination of the Archbishop Levon Tourian.

During my stay with the Archbishop Tiran, I want to say we discussed many topics, but it was more like he talked, and I listened. I was in awe of his intellect, and how he organized his thoughts. Indeed, what we knew from a distance, was even more pronounced in person, he was the Enclopedia of Christianity and a specialized volume of that encyclopedia focused on the Armenian Church.

On the second day of my visit Archbishop Tiran took me into the Holy Cross Armenian Church. It was the Lenten season and the curtain was closed. We came up the center isle and he pointed to the spot where Archbishop Ghevont was assassinated on Christmas day 1933. With his killings began the ugly divisions among the Armenian people and the Armenian Church in America. (Journalist Terry Phillips writes about the assassination in his book, Murder at the Altar.) He had the vestments of the murdered archbishop, with blood stains still uncleaned, pointing to where he was brutally stabbed during the service that day. Against this reality, the esoteric and spiritual discussion of mystery was going to be hard-find.

Archbishop Tiran took me up to the altar. With the curtain closed behind us, we stood in this narrow space in front of the main altar of Holy Cross. I began the conversation, citing the beautiful words with which he translated, Khorhourt Khorin…. Each of his words were selected perfectly for his translations. The word, “inscrutable” intrigued me. So with that admission, we began a conversation on mystery.

In Armenian Orthodoxy, you understand that God is beyond explanation. If you can describe God, then He isn’t God. Mystery – khorhourt – is the catch-all term for the Divine realm. With the groundwork laid, Archbishop Tiran asked me if I knew why there were 12 candles on the altar? “The 12 disciples,” I answered, “the twelve points of light.” He laughed. He had a very kind laugh that let you know he was amused. “No, the candles are in reference to the twelve signs of the zodiac.” I thought he was putting me on. The Zodiac? Isn’t that what Nancy Regan was being ridiculed for? Then, I looked in the Armenian Church calendar (Oratzuyts) published annually in Holy Etchmiadzin and there they were – the twelve signs, printed on the pages of the calendar. Mystery was fairly deep, in fact maybe too deep, until he asked me one more question, one which sent me over the top in its simplicity and explained Mystery in what we now refer to as in Armodox manner.

Until then, the prayer, Khorhourt khorin as translated by Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan, O mystery deep, inscrutable, without beginning. Thou that hast decked thy supernal realm as a chamber unto the light unapproachable and hast adorned with splendid glory the ranks of the fiery spirits…


Armodoxy for Today: Cognition

One of the greatest gifts given to us by God is the ability to think, to reason, to wonder and ponder, to question and then arrive at a conclusion. In fact, the idea of thinking is tied in intimately with the Christian understanding of life, that is, because we think we have the ability to make decisions, good or bad. God calls us to exercise our free will and make decisions from the most mundane, such as getting out of bed on the right or left side, to the most extreme limits of life, such as deciding whether to drive recklessly while intoxicated. Accordingly, our actions have consequences – rewards and punishments – because we have the ability to think and make decisions. If we didn’t have a choice in decisions, we would be living according to fate and therefore not accountable for any of our actions.

As children, we learn early that our actions have consequences. Our learning is assisted by memory. The first time we place our hand near a hot stove, we feel the heat, perhaps we burn ourselves, and we learn that stoves are hot. Imagine if we didn’t learn and every time we saw a stove we stuck our hand into an open flame, our safety and long term chances of survival would be severely diminished. Thinking is good. Reasoning is good.

Often, religions call on their followers to blindly accept doctrine without putting it to the test, hence the expression, check your brain in at the door. This develops from a misunderstanding of Jesus’ words to trust. He asks us to trust and to have faith. Actually, to truly trust and have faith one needs to fully engage with the powers of reason and rationality. Jesus used parables to explain some of the most complicated and complex concepts in human understanding. The use of parables presupposes the use of intelligence to decipher, to make connections with metaphors and to understand.

There are, of course, many concepts and ideas that are difficult to decipher, for instance the origins of the universe or the extent of time and eternity. When we designate these to the great “mysteries” we are not advocating for an abstention from brain usage. Quite the opposite, we’re saying through the cognitive process, we have exhausted the possibilities of our humanity, but do not discount the possibility of more beyond our sensory perception. Here, we confront God. These are the primal instincts that draw humanity to religious understanding.

Armodoxy begins with a challenge to allow God to be God and us to be human. When we relinquish what we cannot understand or comprehend to the divine realm, we are taking a very real and practical approach to life. Eternity can wait! We have faith that Christ will lead us there. We then focus our attention to the world at hand and how we can become the instruments of peace, the workers for righteousness, the Children of God who by living for peace (Matthew 6:9). Armodoxy is about the here and now. It’s following Jesus’ words, that God’s will must be done on earth as it is in heaven.

We end today with the words of our Lord Jesus, who proclaims, (Matthew 5:3-10)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
 Blessed are the meek, or they shall inherit the earth.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
 Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Holy Spirit Mystery

Armodoxy for Today: Holy Spirit Mystery

Pentecost is the feast of the Christian Church. It is on this day that the Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the Church was born.

Of the three Persons of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – the Holy Spirit is perhaps the most difficult to understand. We understand the concept of a father. And we understand the concept of a son. We have examples of fathers and sons in our lives, and even if they are not virtuous or respectable examples, we think we understand the notions of fathers and sons.

The truth is the Holy Trinity is what we refer to in Armodoxy as a “mystery.” Try as we might we cannot be understood. Every Sunday we begin the corporate worship of the Church, the Holy Divine Liturgy, the Badarak, with the words, խորհուրդ խորին անհաս անսկիզբն… It is a declaration that the object of our worship, God, is a “deep mystery, unexplainable and without beginning…”

Jesus specifically explained, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

It is often tempting for people, especially clergy, to speak on behalf of God. During this Pentecost season, while we focus on the effects of the Holy Spirit, it is important to understand ourselves as people – humans – each of us trying to understand the Devine based on the traditions that affect our spirituality. As the Armenian Church, gives us an understanding from the Apostolic era – a time that knew Jesus up close and personal.

The other day I was listening to a very popular preacher, Joel Osteen. At the end of his sermon he invited the people to accept Christ by reciting a short prayer. He concluded by saying, “If you said this prayer, we believe you were born again…” It was refreshing to hear him qualify his claim with the words, “We believe…” In so doing, he shared that this was an interpretation – his and his denominations understanding – of the born-again experience. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

The Pentecost period is a time to contemplate the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives, by allowing the Spirit to move within and without our lives – to blow where it wishes and for us to feel and accept its power.

Let us pray a prayer adapted from the Holy Divine Liturgy, “I beseech you, Lord our God who alone are good and ready to hear, look upon me, your sinful and unprofitable servant, and cleanse my soul and my mind from all the defilements of the evil one; and by the power of your Holy Spirit enable me to stand in your presence and in appreciation to glorify you, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.”

Posture Class

Next Step #742: What can we learn from posture class as it relates to the Church. Identifying the nave of the church and the boat ride to heaven. Relevance as measured the posture of the congregants. The “mystery of the slump” is here too. A model church experience.
In His Shoes
Harry Belefonte
Cover: ShareFaith Media
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org and Epostle.net
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand!
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Lenten Dream Therapy

Next Step #611: Mathematics, the language of God, reason and the stretch to resurrection, part of this pre-Lenten preparation. Mystery, mysticism, reason and today’s date 2/20/2020. Hidden mission: helping humans experience the Divine; no parlor tricks here. Worry, anxiety, fears are targeted during Lent. A look at Andy Warhol’s “Sleep.” Lent: 40 days to de-stress and find the rest for harmony and peace.
Kreen-Akrore by Paul McCartney
Fr. Vazken on Vartanants
Lenten Journey by Fr. Vazken
Lenten “Bland” Page
40 Vegan Recipes (another bland page)
Moon occults Mars
Andy Warhol’s Sleep wiki
This week’s WD168
Ana Calhoun: Gen-X Women and Sleep
Reclaim Etchmiadzin – March 13-15, 2020
Engineered by Ken Nalik
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
Look for The Next Step on blubrry.com
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand! 

The Apology Defense

Next Step #505: Vartanantz Edition. The outcome of worry and the tiring mind. Four Sisters of Mary, Apologies for God and the great mysteries that have perplexed humankind since the beginning of time meet together as Fr. Vazken connects dots in a most unusual manner. Defending God, is not as clear as the way of St. Vartan. The clouds of heaven and the wings of the angels are part of the mix too.
Norahrash Psakavor by Luys Vocal Quintet
Reclaim 2018: www.embracing-faith.com
40 Lenten Recipes
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!

Sowing Creativity with Occam

Next Step #492: Beginning with the Parable of the Sower (Matthew 13), Fr. Vazken looks at the amazing phenomena of child prodigy Alma Deutscher, comparisons to Mozart, and applying Occam’s Razor across the lines of creativity, God and mystery. Also – on Church unity – Armenian and non.
Alma Deutscher on CBS’s 60 Minutes
Occam’s Razor
When Americans tried to unite the Church
Parable of the Sower
New Supernova
Einstein on Mystery
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!