Tag Archive for: Saints

The Last Requiem

Armodoxy for Today: The Last Requiem

On April 19, 2015 I conducted the last requiem service for the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. That year was the 100th anniversary of a program of systematic annihilation of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire. The Armenian Church announced that on April 24, 2015, it would canonize the martyrs of the Genocide as saints of the Church. The April 24 date has always been used as a marker for the Genocide remembrance for it was on that date in 1915 that the Armenian leadership was rounded up, killed or deported in Constantinople, what is referred to as Istanbul today.

Designating the martyrs as saints was long over due by the 100th anniversary. Martyrdom implied that their life was given for higher principles, in this case for Christ and nation. But even more, the shift to sainthood was a change in mind-set for the Armenian nation. As saints, the martyrs are classified as “victorious in Christ” and therefore, not victims.

“If anyone desires to come after Me,” says Jesus, “Let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” (Matthew 16)

Requiems, a tradition misleadingly referred to as hokehankist in the Armenian Church, are not conducted for saints. They have been crowned by Christ!

On that Sunday, in 2015, I had the distinct honor of celebrating the Divine Liturgy at the St. Leon Armenian Cathedral of the Western Diocese. It was the western most Armenian Church and the delayed timing of the day, had me reciting the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide in the requiem prayer for the very last time ever. Having grown up with Genocide survivors (my grandparents) this was a most sacred moment in history.

In the days that followed the conversation would shift in a manner that only Christ can change. Christ, the one who took the words of condemnation “Take and eat” in the Garden, and madse those same words “Take and eat” into words of salvation, was now leading the Armenian nation to victory. The mind-set had been altered.

Let us pray, Lord, our God, You are with us in every transition and change. Open our hearts to the great change from victim to victor, which You demonstrated with Your glorious Resurrection. Help me to accept the change and welcome the newness of that victory. Amen.

Cover Photo: Luna & Gregory Beylerian

Saints and the Power Within

Armodoxy for Today: Saints

All Saints Day in the Armenian Apostolic Church is celebrated on a Saturday in November. Saints are perhaps the most misunderstood features of our Church. Protestants criticize the intercession of the saints on several grounds, one of which being that the saints are dead people. We in the Armenian Church do not believe life ends at the grave, in fact, we believe that the soul is eternal. Just as we ask a friend or a family member to pray for us, we may also turn to the saints to pray for us, with the assurance that they live with us. This is why during the Liturgy we remember several saints, the Apostles, the Martyrs, the teachers and some of the saints we remember by name, for instance the Kings Abgar, Constantine, Tirtads or the Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew, and of course the Holy Mother of God, the Asdvadzadzin. We ask that they pray with and for us.

By rejecting the saints, we miss a very real opportunity to connect with the Divine. As a Christian, I hold as my highest ideal Jesus Christ. When, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48) it is a standard that is very difficult, perhaps even impossible to achieve. We hold Jesus as the primary example of that perfection; however, we must remember that he is God. But the saints are people like you and me. Every one of them has a will, desires, wants, has dealt with envy, pride and all that define us as humans. Every one of them has been challenged with the realities of everyday life and, somehow, they have managed to rise above the situation. They have risen to a place of goodness that inspires us. This, then, is the power of the saints in our lives. They are people just like us. Not gods, but people. They have faults. And with their faults they have overcome life’s challenges. In other words, they are realistic examples for us. Looking at their lives, we know that we too can rise from our human nature and our situation. So how did they do it? By having Christ, the Christ-force, inside them and by tapping into that power.

I’d like to talk to you about that power especially today as we realize what we all have known and have now rediscovered: We Armenians are alone! The attack on Artsakh is not a border skirmish, it’s a backdoor entry by our enemy to finish what they attempted in 1915. They are ready to finish us off. This is the existential threat – the threat to end Armenia and the existence of Armenians. And when we look around us, we see ourselves alone on the world stage.

We have heard the story of Khirimian Hayrik in Berlin. In the mid 1800’s he went there to participate in a conference with other nations. He writes a poignant letter to the Armenian people, describing the meeting as nations huddled around a pot of heriseh (a porridge made with meat and grains, its thickness being its noted attribute). Khirimian writes that all the other nations came to the table with the clanging swords and dug deep into the heriseh with “iron ladles” and pulled out their portion. However, then the turn came to Khirimyan to pull out the portion for the Armenians, he had no swords or guns, but a letter in his hand. He called this the paper ladle, which easily flopped by the weight of the heriseh. He tells the Armenian people, when you return to Armenia arm yourself with weapons, weapons and more weapons. “People, understand above all else that you must put the hope of your freedom upon yourself, on your brains, the might of your fist…  Man, for himself, must work for his deliverance.”

That Berlin story is over 150 years old. And here we are, once again in 2020, standing on the world stage with our hands stretched out asking for others to assist us. Why have we forgotten the words of Khirimian Hayrik? Even more important, why have we forgotten from where his strength came? And our Primate, Abp. Hovnan, expressed it so concisely the other day, “Armenia cannot stand with the crumbs given by foreigners.”

Khirimyan was a priest of the Armenian Church. He became Catholicos. He was so loved that they referred to him as hayrik, yet under all the titles and layers, he was a priest, a priest of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Just like, when we speak of the composer and musician Gomidas, we speak of his musical prowess or his genius, but we forget that first and foremost he was a priest of the Armenian Church, he was Fr. Gomidas, a priest of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

And today, in our world with all of our materialism and egocentric culture – with all the things we buy and sell – things that we claim to have “value,” we have forgotten, we have laid to one side, the strength that we have within us. We have forgotten that we were born of the font of baptism and drink from the fountain of immortality – connecting us to Jesus Christ. As the Apostle says, If God is with us, who can be against us? (Rm 8) When we think of Artsakh and the threat to Armenia and to our being, we look for strength, for assistance, and ultimately to be saved. Why are we looking outside of ourselves? Why are we not looking within? Khirimian Hayrig, Gomidas Vartabed were the beginning of a long line of clergy – church leaders – from Mourapekian, Gevork Catholicos, Chorekjian and in our times the greats such as Vazken Vehapar, and in his shadow the bishops that we have today, from our Catholicos to our Primate who were his students. Against all the odds and with huge obstacles before them, they took us from the Yeghern of 1915 to Sardarabad, through the communist era, to the Karabaghian-sharzhum, to the independence of Armenia, with the Gospel message: Unless a grain of wheat falls and dies it remains a single seed, but by dying it produces a harvest. (Jn 12) All the time, they connected us to the power of Jesus Christ!

Jesus Christ was the first non-violent revolutionary. I am convinced that Tirdat the King, who was the king of Armenia in the 4th century, who had armies (plural!) under his command, who understood strength and diplomacy, who understand military strategy… I am convinced that Tirdat accepted Christianity because he saw it as power for victory and not for surrender. He saw the strength of Faith, based on the message of Jesus Christ, was about overcoming the evil with the power of love. He understood the power of resurrection over death!

This is the basic Faith that we have had throughout the centuries, that our Church has preached through its priests before we came to America and were filled with distorted understandings of religion that are tied with material wealth. This is the faith the Church preached whether Khirimian or Gomidas, Shnorhali or Datevatsi, or today in the trenches of Artsakh where our soldiers make the sign of the cross, are baptized and go into battle to defend the lives of their loved one.

This then is the power and the message of the Saints. It’s the connection with the Source of Life, connecting not with the manger in Bethlehem but with all of eternity – In the beginning was the Word, the Word was with God and the Word was God! … He came to his own and his own did not accept him, but to those who believe he gave the power to be Sons of God. (John 1)

Yes, WE are the children of God. We are the people of God. The SAINTS understood this. This is why and how they accomplished their miracles. This is how we have stood up and won against every enemy. …To those who believe he gave the power to be Children of God.

Israel is not a piece of land in the Middle East, nor is it a country with ethnically same people – it literally means “Triumphant with God!” the People of God!  It isn’t enough that the Garden of Eden is in Armenia (Gen 2:10) and Noah’s Ark lands in Armenia (Gen 8:4), it isn’t enough that we were the First Christian Nation, but each of us who is baptized of the Holy Font of the Armenian Church, each of us who is born again from our Holy Mother, as we come out of the water of Baptism, and the confirmation of the Holy Miuron – the priest sings, “We are called the New Israel! In Christ and we are a portion and joint heirs of Christ! (Նոր Իսրայէլ կոչեցաք ի Քրիստոս, եղաք բաժին Տեառն և ժառանքակից Քրիստոսի)

What power!!! We are connected to the Revolution that Christ started! Do you understand now? Every story in which Jesus give the sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf and life to the dead, he caps with the words, “Do not be afraid.”

The Saints, are the connection to the Divine. They have been through this path. They have reached out of their humanity and have been able to tap into Divine because Jesus Christ has been at the center of their being and the expression of their being. With all due respect to our brothers and sisters who have come and created new denominations, that reject and find little to no value in the saints, they have kept you away from the source of life. They have kept you from the HOLY MIURON! From that life-energy that ties you with all the SAINTS. That ties you to Christ, who is there from the beginning, and lives in the saints, Asdvadzadzin, Thaddeus and Bartholomew, Hripsime and Gayane, Loosavorich and Tirtad, 40 Martyrs of Sebatia, Shoushan and Santoukh, Datevatzi, Naregatzi, Shnorhali, in the Holy Martyrs of the Genocide, and on the front line in Artsakh and in all of us! The New Israel.

Let’s not look elsewhere. Return to the Church that connects us to the power of Christ. The Church with its Miuron from the time of St. Gregory the Illuminator and spread on the foreheads of the soldier on the front line in Artsakh. We are called to march with the saints. We are called to come to Armenia’s defense with the weapons that we have always had. You are the new TRIUMPHANT in God! Pack with you the weapons of thought, speech, writing, aid, business, and money. Jesus Christ ushered in the Revolution and we have been connected to it. Today is the day to realize that the invitation is there for you to answer. Christ is in each of us. If you write, write, If you cook, cook, if you sew, sew, if you pray, pray, if you are a doctor, heal, if you are a person, have compassion, share that compassion and just see how, you can tap into the Divine. The Saints did it. So can we.

God bless you, the Armenian People, the Armenian nation and Armenia. Amen.

Child’s Play, Halloween

Armodoxy for Today: Child’s Play

I often wonder why we complicate things. Why is it that children are flexible and bounce back from difficulties? Why does Jesus point to a child, challenging us to understand that Kingdom of God it belongs such like the little children?

Halloween is one such time when I can’t help but think about the innocence that is lost when adults jump into children’s lives. Halloween is a church feast. It is the night before “All Saints Day” or “All Hallow’s Eve” slurred to the sound of Halloween. Yes, the roots are pagan, but so are the roots of just about everything else. Christians have taken the tradition of remembering the saints – the hallows – and celebrating them. All Saints Day is celebrated on November 1st in the West, and so October 31st is the Eve of All Hallow’s Day. In the Armenian Church, All Saints Day is celebrated on the Saturday closest to November 1st and so the eve is on Friday night. In Armenian we refer to the evening celebration as nakhatonak or “before the feast.”

Saints are very special people in our lives. They are not gods, that is, they are people just like us, with their frailties and imperfections. They have sinned, doubted, betrayed and have been found to be insincere. Yet, despite their imperfections, they have risen from their humanity to touch the divine. In other words, because they are like us, the door is opened to the possibility for all of us to excel and strive for perfection.

Because we believe in the continuity of life, we believe saints live beyond their earthly existence. The practice of intercessory prayer is merely asking the saints to remember us in their prayers, much like you would ask any of your friends or your priest or pastor to pray for you. Because saints have passed on, the notion of connecting with someone in the grave conjures up spooky thoughts and expressions. Add to this the money motive, and you have the formula for what takes place today at Halloween, with scary movies, zombies, bloody masks, and disfigured disguises.

Here’s a challenge that comes straight out of the Armodoxy playbook, take back Halloween. What a beautiful way to share the traditions of the Church with your children, but to have them dressed up as the saints of the Church! Each saint brings a story of devotion, dedication and challenges us to overcome. Halloween can be a means of learning and celebrating your religious heritage.

As you dress up in the costume of your favorite saint, listen to the intercessory prayer made to our saints.

O Christ our God, you crown your saints with triumph and you do the will of all who fear you, looking after your creatures with love and kindness. Hear us from your holy and heavenly realm by the intercession of the Holy Mother of God and by the prayers of all your saints. Hear us Lord, and show us your mercy. Forgive, redeem and pardon our sins. Make us worthy thankfully to glorify you with the Father, and with the Holy Spirit. Now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.

Cover: Envato Elements


Armodoxy for Today

Saints are perhaps one of the most misunderstood elements of the Church. Saints are not God. We don’t worship saints. Saints are human, people, just like you and me. Just like us, they have free will. They have doubts, in fact, some have had doubts about God as well as about matters of Faith.

Jesus says, “Courage, the victory is mine. I have overcome the world.” The saints are those who took Jesus for his word, took on the challenges of the world with courage and overcame their condition and therefore, share in the victory with Christ.

In the Armenian Church, the feast of All Saints is celebrated in on a Saturday in November. In the West, All Saints is a fixed feast, that is, it is celebrated on the first day of November. The night before All Saints Day, is appropriately called All Saints Eve, or Hallows Eve, sloppily transformed into Halloween. In the Armenian Church the tradition of the evening before the feast is called Nakhadonak.

Saints have passed on from their physical life, and, as scripture refers to it, they have fallen asleep in Christ. People have tried to grapple with the notion of an end to a physical existence and have pondered about the possibilities of ghosts, hence the connection with some of the popular customs that emphasize death and spooky manifestations of the afterlife surrounding Halloween. Coupled with the huge profit motive in selling costumes, masks, movies, stories of horror, etc., the original intention and connection with saints is forgotten.

Saints give us examples of living. If you or I try (or dare) to compare our lives with Jesus Christ we are doomed for failure because Jesus is perfect. We will always fall short of perfection. But in looking at the saints, we have a model. They are human and therefore they live with frailties and imperfections; however, in their lives they were able to rise from the human condition, and for us today, they give us a model and an example for living.

From St. Nersess’ prayer, (#7), Beholder of all, I have sinned against You, in thought, word or deed. Blot out the handwriting of my offenses and write my name in the book of Life. Amen.


Next Step with Fr. Vazken #694: Discovering St. Peprone – a relatively unknown saint of the 3rd century, brings a message to the believer and to the world today. Fr. Vazken connects the dots twixt the saint, us and our lives today.
St. Peprone, saint of the Armenian Church
St. Febronia of Nsibus (OCA website)
Febronia icon
Sermon on Cross of Varak
Holy Cross of Varak
Datevik “Listen to My Heart
Gagavik lyrics
Cover icon
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for InHisShoes.org
Listen via Stitcher Radio on demand!
Listen on Apple Podcasts

Life beyond the Mall

Next Step #365: In this episode: The Mystery of the canonization of the saints – are we at “Vartanantz + 100” and other questions: The importance of the 37th & 38th letter; Anush Opera – a spectacular presentation by Lark Musical Society; and… the zombification of the mall-walkers – life inside and outside the mall.
“Have a Little Heart” by Melineh Kurdian
Lark Musical Society
100 Year Journey
Dawn of the Dead
Our feed has moved! Subscribe to In His Shoes » Next Step with Fr. Vazken by Email to continue receiving notifications when new episodes are published.
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! 

Kahanayk to Iverin

Next Step #359: A special 100 Anniversary of the Genocide edition of the Next Step. Sharing energy from the human spirit.
Canonization of the Saints
On the canonization
Songs from Gor Mkhitarian
Armen Chakmakian
Armen Movsisyan
Ara Geverokian
Hovhaness Badalyan
Rouben Matevossian
Our feed has moved! Subscribe to In His Shoes » Next Step with Fr. Vazken by Email to continue receiving notifications when new episodes are published.
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! 

Making saints out of Halloween and Religion

Next Step #125 – October 28, 2010

Putting the Saints back into Halloween. Nothing to fear unless you’re peddling religion to children. Didn’t we say religion is not for kids! We find Patriarch Kyrll and Pope Benedict on the same page? In His Shoes hits the $ 500,000 mark to aid children of Genocide. Religion in the World: Pew Research
The quiz: http://features.pewforum.org/quiz/us-religious-knowledge/index.php
Nicholas Kristoff’s adaption: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/10/opinion/10kristof.html?_r=1
Song “Horovel” by Rouben Matevosyan
Ani’s Bubbles: “Homeless Outreach”
Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for epostle.net

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