Tag Archive for: Prayer

Words for Prayer

Armodoxy for Today: Words for Prayer (for Artsakh)

Ever since Nagorna Karabagh, Artsakh, was violently taken over by the Azeris, Armenians the world over have been searching for words and expressions to share with others, and with God, their frustration, disappointment, anger, and acceptance of the hideous crime on the road to genocide.

The Armenian Law Students Association organized a vigil at the Loyola Law School here in Los Angeles to honor the lives lost during the Artsakh Genocide. An open invitation was sent to the student body as well as the entire community. They assembled, with candles they prayed. I wish to share their prayer here, for those searching for words, especially in a world that keeps adding wars and new sufferings on people. This, they adapted from a prayer written for Armenia and Artsakh in the Eastern Diocese (November 13, 2020).

Blessed are you, O Lord we come to you in a supremely difficult time for the Armenian people. With broken hearts and tears filling our eyes, we are united in grief over the loss of the ancestral holy lands of Artsakh. The Armenian people are forced to leave behind their sacred temples of worship and silence their joyful prayers within their glorious churches. In this state of unbearable pain, we appeal to you, O Lord, to hasten to their aid in your divine mercy and love. 

Dispel their deep sorrow; heal their wounded spirits; pull them back from the error of hopelessness and despair. Help them to find strength and refuge in your loving arms, and to unite the Armenian nation under the warm and caring wings of your Holy Church. Grant us the humility and wisdom to accept the things we can no longer change; and give us courage to effect needful change where we still can.

 In a time of unrest and turmoil in Armenia, give the people the peace you granted to all your followers: breathe into them, too, your life-giving Holy Spirit, so that they too may find peace from worldly commotion, worry, and fear. Help them to work together in love, directing their sincere efforts toward the recovery of our society. Guide them in rebuilding their broken homes, and heal their wounded families who lost loved ones during these bitter days of war.  

Remember with love, Lord, as our Creator, the souls of the heroic soldiers and brave civilians who sacrificed their lives in your name. For those who have now lost their lifelong homes and must flee to safety. Remember them, bless them, and receive them into your Kingdom. Comfort their loved ones by the grace of your Holy Spirit. 

Lord, today we are overwhelmed by the sense of loss and tragedy that has come upon the Armenian people. But we know that you are always near to the brokenhearted, and you rescue those who are crushed in spirit [cf. Psl. 34:18 2]. We trust that all things are possible through you [cf. Philip. 4:13 3]. Help us realize that even when matters lie beyond our understanding, you still know the plans you have for us—plans to help us prosper and not come to harm; plans to give us hope for the future [cf. Jer. 29:11]. We cast our anxiety to you, lean not on our mortal understanding, and trust in you with all our heart [cf. Prov. 3:5]. For we have faith that in all things, you work for the good of all who love and honor you [cf. Rom. 8:28].  

We are humble, Lord, and you are our glory; your very name is wondrous, triumphant, and holy. Surrounded by the great cloud of our newly martyred witnesses to you, we praise you along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and always, and unto the ages and ages. Amen.

Cover: Envato Elements


Armodoxy for Today: Alive

Sunday was proclaimed as a National Day of Prayer for Artsakh and for the Armenian Artsakh. Throughout the world, Armenians especially, got down on bended knees to pray. The prayer was not to a state leader, a diplomat, a politician, a social media personality, musician or celebrity.

In the Western Diocese, we celebrated the Holy Divine Liturgy at the St. Leon Ghevontians Armenian Cathedral. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, the Primate, called on the community to unite in prayer, “turning that prayer into the soil for new life. From that prayer,” he said, “Will come the inner power arising from faith, to manifest good works.”

At a time when the losses of the Armenian people are so great, the call to a life of prayer, has changed the emphasis of finding answers from within, rather than seeking them from without.

As the Archbishop was about to end his sermon, a group of Sunday School students came into the packed sanctuary and lodged themselves at the foot of the altar, in the chancel area of the huge cathedral. They were holding in their hands sheets of paper with crosses drawn on them. Each child had drawn and decorated a cross to bring to church this morning. Archbishop Hovnan announced that the day was dedicated to the Holy Cross of Varak (a small town in the Van region of Armenia, where the Cross of Christ was kept during a time of persecution). The young kids were now the new owners of these crosses.

The Archbishop asked the children to raise their cross drawings up high, so that members of the congregation could see them, as we all sang the Lord’s Prayer together. The kids began buzzing with excitement. They took their papers with ornamental crosses painted on them and they began waving them as we sang the Lord’s Prayer. In that wave, we witnessed energy and vitality. Their enthusiasm was dispensed and transmitted to all of us. We smiled at their naive understanding of faith and realized we were being given the signal from God. The next generation was sharing an enthusiasm that came from deep within each child. We were singing “Thy Kingdom come, Thy Will be done on earth as it is in heaven” and we were being treated to the manifestation of God’s will – the love and life expressed by these children – in our holy sanctuary.

The miracles are always around us. If we are willing to open our hearts to God’s love, we can become witnesses to those miracles. Today, we record a miracle as a first step toward victory. Children living, making noise and waiving the cross, the symbol of resurrection and victory, in the midst of an Armenian church. We understand it as a miracle because it happened before a community that knelt and prayed. And if at any time you doubt that such a small gesture is a true miracle, think of the fact, that only a 100 years ago, the same enemy had proclaimed that there would be only one Armenian left and that Armenian would be found in a museum. Every noise, every prayer, ever raised cross is a miracle pointing to victory. Add to this, it all takes place inside an Armenian Church 12 time zones away from where the Armenian Church began, on the other side of the planet, at Holy Etchmiadzin. Only by the Grace of God does this miracle take place.

We prayer the prayer from the Evening Hour of the Armenian Church. Lord our God, increase within us Faith, Hope and Love. Amen.

Oil to Prayer, Miuron

Armodoxy for Today: Oil to Prayer

One of the sacred traditions of the Armenian Church is the preparation and blessing of the Holy Miuron (Chrism). It is done with much fanfare and grandeur, once every seven years. Holy Miuron was scheduled to be blessed this year, 2023, on October 1.

The process of blessing begins forty days earlier. That special ceremony took place presided by His Holiness, Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. The base of the Miuron is olive oil and the essence of 40 different fragrant flowers. Just as this, the mixture, was absorbing the prayers, hymns, incense and the energy of Holy Etchmiadzin, the spiritual center of the Armenian Church, the Azeris fired on the innocent civilians of Artsakh, prompting the Blessing of Muiron to be postponed.

At the blessing of Holy Miuron, the holy relics of the saints are brought out of their sacred spaces within monasteries, to the altar table of Holy Etchmiadzin, along with the sacred Geghard, the Holy Lance that pierced the side of Our Lord Jesus on the Cross (John 19). The Holy Miuron is mystical and powerful. It unites us to Christ and the History of the Holy Church. It is used to christen individuals into the Church, to consecrate clergy and buildings into the sacred service of the Holy Church. It is the life blood of the Church.

This year, the body of Armenian Church, took a major hit. A large portion of that body, namely Artsakh, was cut off of the Body. Understandably, the life blood, the Holy Miuron, would need to strengthen. With the postponement of this year’s blessing, His Holiness, the Catholicos, has ordered the holy relics of the saints and the Holy Geghard to be brought to Etchmiadzin’s Holy Altar during this most difficult time, to console the people with a special blessing.

This Sunday, October 1, has been designated at an International Day of Prayer for Artsakh and the Artsakh Armenians who now seek refuge as their land is occupied and they are exiled from their homes. A Day of Prayer is a call to the children of the Church to focus on God as their only hope. This is our opportunity to return to our roots and understand the true power of God to work His miracles through each of us.

We at Epostle.net will be simulcasting the ancient Armenian Divine Liturgy from the St. Leon Ghevondyants Armenian Cathedral with English commentary. Please join us for a live stream at 10:30AM Pacific Daylight Time, on October 1, that’s Coordinated Universal Time -7 at Epostle.net.

Today we conclude with Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.

The Unusual

Armodoxy for Today: The Unusual

The Gospels record a very supernatural, what is commonly called miraculous, event. Spotting miracles has become a popular pastime of many people of faith. A blind man sees, a woman’s bleeding stops, the deaf person hears. But today I will read you a story about a large scale miracle and ask that you identify the miracle, and here is a clue: it’s something very unusual.

St. Matthew records Jesus found himself being followed by thousands of people without a logistical game plan to accommodate the masses.  He writes, “When Jesus saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, His disciples came to Him, saying, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is already late. Send the multitudes away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’

Now remember, you’re searching for the miracle, what is truly unusual.

“The disciples said to Him, ‘We have here only five loaves and two fish.’ He said, ‘Bring them here to Me.”  Then He commanded the multitudes to sit down on the grass. And He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples; and the disciples gave to the multitudes. So they all ate and were filled, and they took up twelve baskets full of the fragments that remained. Now those who had eaten were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

“Immediately Jesus made His disciples get into the boat and go before Him to the other side, while He sent the multitudes away.  And when He had sent the multitudes away, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. Now when evening came, He was alone there.” (Matthew 14:14-23)

Did you spot the miracle? Did you spot what is truly unusual about the incident described in this story? The obvious answer, that Jesus fed about 20,000 people with two fish and five loaves of bread, sounds like a miracle, but remember this is Jesus doing it. It is not unusual for the Son of God. And yes, we can guesstimate a number between 15,000 to 20,000, considering the 5,000 men were there with their wives and children.

The bigger number is what follows, when it’s recorded that not only were the people fed but they collected 12 baskets of left-overs. This statement lays to rest any the doubt that the food was truly multiplied.

One of the first things that strikes me as unusual is that Jesus turns the matter over to his disciples and says, “You feed them.” In other words, you have the ability to do so: Take care of it! But the truly unusual event occurs afterwards. Jesus withdraws to pray!

Jesus is at the height of his popularity. Thousands are following him. He’s touching and healing the people physically and spiritually. He brings about one of the greatest of his miracles by feeding the mass assembled. And at the end of it, he withdraws and prays. That is unusual! Compare this to us. Do we pray when everything is going right? When we’re at the “top of our game”? Or, is more like when we are in need, hurting and have run out of options? The number of prayers we offer are directly increased in proportion to the difficulties we endure. For Jesus, prayer was a constant in his life, during good and bad times.

He taught us that our “Heavenly Father already knows your needs before you ask.” (Matthew 6:8) If this then is the case, then why do we pray? Jesus is telling us that the conventional definition of prayer, as conversation with God, is only a part of the story, a very small part. God knows our needs, but do we know them? Prayer is a conversation with God and also with our self, or in other words, with God who also lives within us and without us.

Throughout Scripture, we follow the life of Jesus as an example of living. He prays, he fasts, he loves unconditionally, these are all outward manifestations of the disciplined life. Prayer brings into focus those things that are important in our life. Jesus turned to the disciples and say, “You feed them.” We have the capacity within us to do the seemingly impossible. In a world troubled by war and plagued with hatred, solutions often seem impossible. When we turn to God in prayer, we hear His voice telling us, “You feed them.” This is the first step toward realizing and actualizing a plan for ultimate peace.

We pray today from the fourth hour of St. Nersess Shnorhali’s Confession with Faith, “Son of God, true God, who descended from the bosom of the Father, and took on flesh from the holy Virgin Mary for our salvation; crucified, buried, and raised from the dead, ascended in glory to the Father; I have sinned against heaven and before you; remember me the thief on the cross when you come into your kingdom. Amen.

Angels of Geghart

Roots of Armodoxy: Angels of Geghart

Angels are all around us, if only we look. An angel is a messenger that shares God’s message of faith, hope and love with people. Several angels have had encounters with people, both in ancient times, in Biblical times, as well as today.

Vazken I, of blessed memory, the Catholicos of All Armenians from 1955 to 1994 was one such angel. During the harshest years of Soviet oppression and their hushing of the human spirit, many of the monasteries and churches in Armenia were forced to close their doors or limit their access to the people. The diplomacy of Catholicos Vazken, secured certain rights and functions of the church in the midst of targeted atheism. Some of his actions were meant to go under the Soviet radar, but for the most part, the church functioned, albeit in limited form, in full view of the government. He was a gifted and patient leader of the church who was loved by the people. Vazken I was an angel for nearly four decades passing along the faith, the hope for better days to come, and all with his compassion and example of love.

During the Soviet rule over Armenia, it was common for tourists to visit Armenian monasteries as part of the cultural landscape. In other words, the religious significance of these sacred sites was diminished by the government, by presenting them as expressions of random creativity, not necessarily inspired by the spirit. The Christian background was minimized, or even nullified, for the tourist in the official state narrative about churches and monasteries.

Geghartavank, or the monastery of Geghart, is unique because its wonder is felt only after you enter its doors. It is a monastery carved out of a mountain. Inside, different chambers are interconnected through narrow and low hallways. Geghart means “lance” or spear. In the Gospel of St. John 19:34 we read that as Jesus committed his spirit on the cross, the soldiers who were witnessing the crucifixion pierced his side with a lance to assure themselves Jesus was dead. That lance is kept by the Armenian Church to this day, and was originally kept at Geghartavank.

The monastery was a tourist stop even during Soviet times. Today, people flock there for curiosity, but more and more as a pilgrimage shrine to augment their faith.

We arrived one morning to discover a small group of a cappella singers had just concluded a mini-concert in one of the caves. Their repertoire included a few sharagans, or hymns of the Armenian Church, and a couple samplers from Gomidas Vartabed (early 20th century). We inquired when the next concert might take place and they told us it would be a bit later. Our group of nine pilgrims entered the cave at Geghartavank. We were alone. We huddled together and sang a hymn, requesting God’s mercy, “Der Voghormia.”  The acoustics of the cave are such that, we, untrained vocalists, sounded amazing, so much so that the group of a cappella singers came back in as if to answering a prayer. They smiled and lined up in front of us. Taking out an electronic pitchfork, one of the singers gave the note and the others tuned into to produce the concert that was the answer to our prayer. It was renewing and invigorating, leaving us in tears, with full heart of contentment.

Life is a give and take, even with our angels. We weren’t expecting this concert, rather our prayer was one of thanksgiving. Not everything needs to be articulated. Sometimes its best to pray and know that everything falls into place. Angels bring that simple message to us as they did that day in Geghartavank.

We pray the prayer of St. Nersess Shnorhali from the 20th hour, “Benevolent Lord, commit me to a good angel, who may deliver my soul in peace, and convey it undisturbed through the cruelty of evil, to heavenly places. Amen.”

20 years ago: Praying with Focused Vision

It was 20 years ago today: The untold story of the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center.

Between the years 2003 and 2016 we ran an experiment in an area of Glendale, California known as “Ground Zero,” a place that Armenian organizations have ignored and forgotten, a place where education, identity and prayer came together.

This is a series about the miracles that we witnessed at this small church on the corner with a worldwide ministry. This is part of the Armodoxy for Today podcast series about the Armenian Church now, patterned after the ancient Apostolic Church, then.

Today’s episode: Focused Vision

In 1996 I was called to be the Parish Priest of the St. Gregory Armenian Church in Pasadena. It was one of the largest parishes in the diocese, in terms of people and potential. In five short years we had developed a thriving youth presence around the church. There were events and outings, sure, but the phenomena was around the youth presence in the church proper. The ancient Divine Liturgy was celebrated with young participants. In 2002, through the efforts of Aram Krikorian and Dr. Nubar Sethian we produced a CD album of Armenian Church hymns called, “Focused Vision.” The album name explained our emphasis as a community. In the album liner notes, I wrote: Focus your vision on God and let Him take care of your growth.

By the end of 2002, the Primate, Archbishop Vatché, invited me to the Western Diocese as the Director of Youth Ministries. The challenge was simple enough: replicate the success we had in Pasadena on a larger scale for the entire Diocese. We prayed about it, contemplated, weighed the options, prayed, and finally accepted the challenge. I started working at the headquarters of the Western Diocese in Burbank California, which was recently acquired and in the process of setting up what we know today as the St. Leon Ghevondyants Cathedral complex. I remember being in a small office, and after a couple of weeks of acclimating to my new circumstances I started second guessing my decision to this new Youth Department. Specifically, I remember sitting in this office, with ideas and proposals for youth ministry on my computer screen, but  thinking of all that I had left and given up to be here. I called my wife Susan on the phone to sound off some thoughts. We had given up a pastorate in one of the largest parishes in our diocese, we had done so with prayer, and now I was sitting in a small office, trying to set up program. Granted, it had only been two weeks since I started, but patience is not a virtue of mine.

Susan and I consoled each other during that call and I was back to work. The phone rang that afternoon. It was Vatché Mangasarian, producer of the Armenian National Network television program. I was a regular guest on his show during my time at the Pasadena church. He would give me an open forum to talk about the issues taking place within the community, especially with troubled Armenian youth. His show was an evening wrap-up type aired in the Glendale market. Vatché said there was a gentleman who wanted to meet me. His name, a name that I would shortly come to know very well. It was Onnik Mehrabian, the owner/president of a new dealership selling Korean Kia automobiles. I was given an address and went out to meet Mr. Mehrabian.

The address, on Central Ave. in Glendale, took me to a large parking area for used cars. Asking for Mr. Mehrabian I was led to his private office in the back of the lot. This gentleman introduced himself to me and said he had seen me discussing youth issues on Mangasarian’s TV show. He said he wanted to give me a church! It was interesting, because as unusual as his offer was, I was not phased one way or another. In my head, I was still thinking about the earlier thoughts of the day, of praying for our Youth Ministry and giving up my pastorate. In fact, I said to him something like, this was a nice gesture and it would be something I’m sure the archbishop would be happy to discuss with him. I didn’t even put myself in the equation. What would I want with a church? I was in a church and now I’m trying to put together a youth ministry.

I got into Mr. Mehrabian’s Chevy pick-up and he drove me to the church on the corner of Kenilworth and Stocker Streets in Glendale. His key opened the back door. We went up the stairs to some old offices and noticed a large hall and kitchen in desperate need of repairs along the way. We walked through to the main church area. All this time I still had not fully understood the magnitude of this offer. Someone who was unknown to me only a half an hour ago, wanted to give me a church building. What would I do with a church? I had one of the biggest and largest, what would I want with this dilapidated building. The sanctuary was in need of more repair than the downstairs hall. It was a large room, with well-worn out wooden pews, tattered carpeting, a stage area overwhelmed with an adult pool where baptisms would take place. At first, I thought I would share this find with the archbishop, but now, seeing the condition of the building I even questioned whether he would be interested.

Onnik Mehrabian took me through the entire building. We had entered through the back door and so we ended up at the front doors of the building. From the inside, he opened the front doors so I could see the front yard. As he swung the doors open, to my complete and total surprise I saw school buildings! I was standing directly in front of a cluster of schools – Keppel Elementary, Toll Middle and Hoover High School. I was speechless. Tears started rolling down from my eyes. My newly found friend looked at me with a very kind and satisfied smile. I couldn’t contain myself. We had prayed for a youth ministry center, where else did I think God would lead me? What did I expect? That God would take me to work out of an old-age home? Of course not! He brought me and delivered me right in front of the largest concentration of Armenian youth outside of Armenia!

I shook Mr. Mehrabian’s hand and we were set. This building would now be designated as the Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center. Within 40 days he would renovate and rebuilt this building to our specs. We prayed for a Youth Ministry and God gave us a center from where to operate. Sometimes (actually most of the time) our doubt creates our biggest obstacles. When we pray, we need to do so and then give God enough room to answer us. It’s exactly as we said twenty years ago, Focus your vision on God and let Him take care of your growth. 

Join me tomorrow, as we continue the journey which began 20 years ago today.

If you missed earlier episodes, you can catch up by listening to them on your favorite podcatcher or at Epostle.net under the “Armodoxy for Today” tab. Remember to leave a comment and/or write us at feedback@epostle.net.

Mt Davidson Time Capsule Unearthed

Time Capsule Unearthed at San Francisco’s 
Mt. Davidson Cross Commemorating First
 Easter Sunrise Service in 1923 Reveal of 90 year-old time capsule items and burial of new time capsule; 
Religious and political leaders joined for historic event

On Saturday, April 1st, 2023, a time capsule was unearthed from the foot of Mt. Davidson Cross in San Francisco in front of a large crowd of onlookers.  Ninety years ago to the day, San Francisco officials and community members gathered at the top of Mt. Davidson Cross to witness Boy Scouts of America Troop 88 bury a sealed copper box at the foot of the Cross to commemorate the first Easter Sunrise Service held there on April 1st, 1923.

“Historic moments like these held at Mt. Davidson Cross illustrates how our Armenian-American communities can enrich and inspire society by bringing people together under the ancient canopy of our resilience and hope,” commented Fr. Mesrop Ash, Pastor of St. John’s Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco and Board Member of the Mt. Davidson Cross Armenian Council.

During the time capsule unearthing, representatives from the San Francisco Historical Society were present to delicately receive the items which will be prepared for archiving and placed on display for the public to view at their San Francisco museum in June.

Among the items found in the capsule– which were much more plentiful than the organizers were expecting– were a leather-bound Bible, a San Francisco telephone book, pamphlets, a Boy Scout pin, a municipal record of 1933 and several newspapers including the March 27, 2932, edition of the San Francisco Chronicle, featuring a full front-page photo collage of an Easter celebration, and several other newspapers from the time, many with headlines referencing a murder case.

Following the unearthing of the old time capsule, a new, larger copper time capsule was buried at the same spot. Memorable items were presented by various local clergy leaders including Archbishop Salvadore Cordieone, Archbishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco and Metropolitan Gerasimos, Metropolitan of the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of San Francisco.

In front of the crowd, Archbishop Cordieone read a poignant quote from Pope Francis in 2015 during his visit to Tsitsernakaberd, the Armenian Genocide Memorial in Armenia and placed a copy of that inside the new capsule.

On behalf of the Armenian American community, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, placed a New Testament Bible from Constantinople (Istanbul) from 1884 belonging to a Genocide survivor and an Armenian Cross Stone (Khachkar) made especially for this event into the new time capsule.

Aside from the clergy, it was an honor to have many state and city politicians in attendance for this historic event. CA Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis, San Francisco Mayor London Breed, as well as San Francisco Supervisors Myrna Melgar and Ahsha Safai all provided brief remarks and ceremonially added their own small San Francisco-related momento into the new time capsule.

The historic event was organized by the the Council of Armenian-American Organizations of Northern California (CAAONC), a coalition of more than 30 Armenian-American organizations that purchased the Mt. Davidson Cross through a City of San Francisco public auction in 1997. The CAAONC has renovated the Cross and maintains it and the hilltop as an offer of thanks to San Francisco for becoming a safe haven for survivors of the Armenian Genocide.

“The San Francisco Armenian American community was gratified to save the Cross from demotion in 1997 and serve as its caretaker for the past 25 years in memory of the victims of the Armenian Genocide committed by the Turkish government, remarked Roxanne Makasdjian, Founding Board Member of CAAONC and event Mistress of Ceremonies.

“We do this as a way of thanking San Francisco for taking in the Armenian refugees a century ago, and as a way to honor our history, both as the first nation to adopt Christianity in 301 AD, and as descendants of Armenian Genocide survivors. For us, this Cross and this time capsule embody the importance and purpose of remembrance,” commented Makasdjian.

Watch the Video

Listen to The Next Step Podcast #390 by Fr Vazken Movsesian, produced on November 16, 2015, starting minute 33, when Fr Vazken recaps a Pilgrimage by a group of  St Peter Armenian Church members, Glendale, led by him. The Pilgrimage was to 7 Churches in 3 days, including a hike to Mt Davidson Cross.

Listen to the Podcast

Archbishop Hovnan Derderian’s Remarks at the Mount Davidson Cross

Watch the live stream here:

Lenten Journey Day 31 – God’s Power

Lenten Recipe

Recipe #31 – Tomato & Bread Soup

Lenten Journey Day 31 – God’s Power

Today we continue with the lessons of the Unrighteous Judge, to understand God’s response to our prayer. Does God answer prayer? How? Is prayer as powerful as they say it is? Does it change God’s mind?

Yesterday we looked at the Problem of Evil. Certainly we all pray for the good and against evil – whether for ourselves, or for others, this prayer is a familiar one. At the very least we have said the phrase, “Peace on Earth” as a prayer of humankind through the ages. Yet evil is very real in the world. In fact, we see such a great presence of evil in this world. If God is all powerful why does He not eliminate evil? If God is all loving, why does He allow evil to exist? Why does He tolerate hatred? Why is there prejudice? Why is there war? Why is there illness? Why evil?

Our church fathers have pondered this question and as an answer have directed our attention to the cross of Christ. In fact, on that original Good Friday – not evil Friday, but good Friday – we find the Son of God himself is not exempt from evil. God did not stop evil from touching His Son. If God allows this evil, does that make Him powerless? Does that diminish His power. We say that He is omnipotent, we say that He is all powerful, so why does He not stop evil? Perhaps it is because we fail to understand the true nature of God.

St. John the Evangelist tells us that God is love. In a very straightforward mathematical equation (a=b; b=a) he allows us to see that God is Love and therefore, Love is God. Pure love is that manifestation of God. But we are talking concepts: God, Love, what do these things mean? St. Nerses Shnorhali in his theologically rich hymn, “Aradov Looso,” (=morning light), offers us the primer, that is, the key to unlock the giant mystery of Life, Love and God. In this hymn, which he offers to light and the source of light, Shnorhali writes, “The name of love is Jesus.” When we understand that God is love, and love’s name is Jesus, we now begin to understand that the crucifixion is part of the equation but is not the end. Jesus rose. He conquered death; He conquered evil, so in God’s eyes, it is only a platform. It is only one step – and a necessary step to understanding true love.

Each of us that has had the fortune of experiencing love knows that there is a cost to it. There are certain pains that go along with love. Does that exempt us from being all that we can be? Does that in any way hinder us, expressing and experiencing true love? Quite the opposite. In fact it enhances the love experience. So much so that if we look at the empty tomb on Easter, it is only valuable, it is only truly an empty tomb of victory in the context of the crucifixion. That is, without a crucifixion you can never experience a resurrection. And herein lies the key to evil.

The answer to the question, Is God powerless over evil? is, certainly not! God is love! And that is the power of power, that is the light of light. That is the true God of true God. That is real power, isn’t it? For He lights up the darkness; He gives strength to the weak. It allows us to stand in the face of crucifixion and know that we are never alone and that there is an empty tomb for each of us. There is victory for each of us. There is a resurrection for every crucifixion.

From the beginning of this Lenten Journey we have been challenged to move our thought process from our minds to our hearts. As St. Nerses Shnorhali reminds us, “Put a guard upon my heart, so that it may think no evil.” Not “upon my brain,” but “upon my heart.” It is from that point that we start developing our love. From our heart. Now, mind you, the heart does get broken. That heart is not rational, but neither is love. Love is true. Love goes beyond rationality. It gives us the endless possibility to be in union with God. You cannot rationalize a crucifixion, but you can understand that a father, in love for his creation, would give everything – even His Son – knowing that in the end, His creation too, shares in the possibility of resurrection, in complete victory over all the dreaded evil in this world. Herein, God answers the ultimate prayer.

We conclude today with a prayer, by St. Patrick who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries. This is called St. Patrick’s Breastplate because it seeks God’s protection in a world of both tangible and invisible dangers.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through the belief in the threeness,
Through the confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ’s birth with his baptism,
Through the strength of his crucifixion with his burial,
Through the strength of his resurrection with his ascension,
Through the strength of his descent for the Judgment Day.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of Cherubim,
In obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
In prayers of patriarchs,
In predictions of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven:
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me:
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me
From snares of demons,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of witches and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man’s body and soul.
Christ to shield me today
Against poison, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So that there may come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness,
Of the Creator of Creation.

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 29: Mediterranean Bean Salad

Lenten Journey Day 29 – God’s Way 

The Lenten journey is much like a set of stairs. As we ascent upward, we acknowledge the foundation built by each step. Each stair is dependent upon the previous steps we have taken and the success of our climb relies on us placing a firm foot on the stair before.

Yesterday’s step introduced the parable of the Unrighteous Judge. Through it Jesus taught about the nature of prayer. Because our Heavenly Father already knows our needs we therefore understand prayer not only as a conversation with God but a conversation with the self. As we climb the steps, we come to understand God as a caring and compassionate Father who works with and within us, not outside of us. Many times our prayers are based an expectation that God, like Superman, will come swooping down from the heavens and rectify the situation that we’re in. When we pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we should not expect something outside of us to take control; that is, a “Superman” effect by God. Our understanding of prayer today is that we are open to the possibility of God’s will being done. Not to merely sit back and say, “Thy will be done,” and expect some power from outside to overtake us, but now we are open to the possibility of God working through us. That means we open our hands and embrace those who need love. That means we put one step in front of the other and we walk in the paths of righteousness. That means we open our eyes and open our ears to God’s justice. That means we become the instruments to do God’s will here on earth. This is quite different from a lazy man’s prayer wishing that God swoop down from the heavens and take care of his every need.

“Thy will be done” is a prayer of us engaging – being in fellowship with God, allowing God to work through us. Allowing God to be a partner with us in this lifetime. This is the mature prayer of the Christian. This is the new step that we take today. We understand God through the conversation that we are having with Him. Prayer is this new conversation with God and it is not a one-way street. It is not a request list that we hand out and expect to be filled like a Santa Claus does who comes down a chimney and delivers according who’s been “naughty or nice.” The dreams that we have may be wild ones, but to actualize those dreams, God works through us. He becomes a partner with us so that we become the legs, the hands, the mouth, the strength of God here on Earth.

St. Paul likens the Church to the Body of Christ specifically talking about the members of the body in terms of hands, feet, legs. Why? Because the only way Christ can work in this world is through a physical presence and a body. And here is the next step upwards… You’ve arrived at day 29, stepping on the previous steps and moving forward. You’ve made the transition in understanding. Prayer is your a partnership with God.

Yes, the Lenten journey has brought us here. What began as a solo venture is now a partnership between you and God, between you and others. You are not alone. There is a reason that Jesus says, “Where two or three are gathered in My name, there shall I be.” He does not say, “Where one is gathered, “ for there cannot be one Christian. Christianity implies a community. It implies working together. Faith without works is meaningless says the apostle.

On this day of Lent, we understand that prayer will have a different meaning for us. The words, “Thy will be done,” will be a call for action for us to open our hearts, open our senses to the possibility of the Eternal God of the Universe to work through us and not outside of us.

But what of problems that are beyond us such as earthquakes, hurricanes, illnesses and disease? We’ll take a look at those problems tomorrow as we continue on this thread, as we take the next step up the staircase of Lent.

Accordingly, for our prayer today, let us pray the prayer of St. Francis of Assissi.
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
And where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand
To be loved as to love.
For it is giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Lenten Recipe

Recipe 28: Broiled Lemon-garlic Mushrooms

Lenten Journey Day 28 – Perseverance

Of the Lenten Sundays, three of them are named after parables which spotlight questionable character. During the last two Sundays we met the Prodigal Son and the Dishonest Steward. Completing the trilogy of Parables-Sundays is the dedication for this 28th day of Lent to the Unrighteous Judge. All three parables come to us from our Lord and are found in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, 17 & 18, respectively.

The Unrighteous Judge is a man who, as Jesus explains, did not fear anyone – not even God, nor was he ashamed of any person. In the town where he served as judge a widow kept coming to him and pleading with him, begging that he hear her case. For some time he refused, but finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God, nor do I care about men, but because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice so she won’t eventually wear me out!” Jesus concludes his parable with an interesting statement. He says, “Listen to what the unjust judge says and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones who cry out to him day and night. Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, He will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Indeed, this is an odd story. At first reading you might think that Jesus compares God to this unrighteous, unjust judge. The parable creates this image of a God who can be worn out, or worn down. It is as if, should we keep persevering, if we continue to pray over and over again, God will eventually wear down and He will say yes to our needs and to our desires. So keep praying, keep being persistent. Persevere like the old lady! And in the end God will wear down and will give you what you want.

On closer inspection of the parable, that is, when we read it in its entirety, we see that the evangelist, St. Luke, writes a few words of explanation as a preface to the parable. He says, “Jesus told His disciples this parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.” So yes, this is a story of perseverance, but it is not to wear God down, it is to keep in mind that must continually be in communion with God. St. Luke’s preface to the parable suggests that during his time, as is the case today, there is a misconception about the nature of prayer.

When Jesus teaches us the “Lord’s Prayer” he warns, “Do not heap up extra words. Your heavenly Father already knows what you need. Therefore when you pray, pray like this. Our Father, which art in heaven … ” Let’s think about that for a moment. If our Heavenly Father knows what we need, why then should we pray?

God knows our needs, so obviously, we have a very real misunderstanding about the nature of prayer.

Prayer is not merely a conversation with God. We pray because we need a conversation with ourselves. God already knows the desires of our heart. He knows our needs and wants, most probably, better than we know them. God knows where we are going. The real question is, do we? It may sound strange, but unless you have a true focus on your life, it is questionable whether or not you know what your needs are.

How often do we give time to hear ourselves, to hear the inner self speak? Part of this Lenten journey has been to open the ears of our heart, to be able to listen attentively. The Psalmist says, “Be still! And know that I am God.” Lent is giving us the opportunity to sit still and listen, hear, absorb and thereby grow spiritually. Lent is not merely to cut down on food, but it is to come down to the bare essentials: What is necessary to survive? Or in Jesus’ words (to the tempter), “Man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes forth from the Lord.”

When teaching us to pray, Jesus directs us to go into a small room and pray without any distractions so that you understand what your needs are. Because when we pray for the good things, God already wants us to have the good things, but how are they going to arrive to us? We need to find the strength. We need to find the patience, the devotion. We need to find the correct values. We need to wake up, put our dreams aside and put on the new garment of hope to walk forward. This all comes from the person – you and me – taking action. When we accept that we are God’s children and that He is our Father, then we know that He will take care of us in all circumstances. Just as He takes care of the birds in the air, as He takes care of the lilies of the field who are here today and gone tomorrow, so too, He will take care of us. Jesus tells us, “How much more are you worth than those lilies of the field, than those birds of the air? Your Heavenly Father takes care of them. How much more He will take care of you.”

Do you have that faith? It is an unquestioning faith and is difficult to achieve, hence the need to discipline ourselves. What remains for us is to continue to pray. Persistence! Persevere! Consistency! Like the woman in the story, never doubt that in the end, you will get what you need, because in that persistence, it is not God the Judge listening, it is you listening to yourself. In your persistence you’ll find that these prayers turn into mantras. They turn into guidelines by which you start living, by which you start accepting responsibility in your life. And much as your life has changed during this Lenten season, your prayer life will begin to mature, and your prayers become real mantras toward action, to realize the dreams that are set deep in your heart and not the desires based on the whims of today.

We conclude today’s Lenten journey with the prayer that our Lord, Jesus Christ, taught us,
Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come, Your will be done on Earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For Yours is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen.