Tag Archive for: Son

Advent 36-50: Son & Sun Collide

Advent Day 36 of 50: Son and Sun Collide

Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity. By decree of the King, Tirdat, Christianity became the official religion of Armenia in the year 301. In a pluralistic society such as ours it is difficult to imagine or even conceive of a state mandated religion. That it happened in the 4th century and that it was so well received that it became the dominant force binding and building the people of Armenia since then is what miracles are made of.

Twelve years after Armenia’s acceptance of Christianity, the Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity as an acceptable religion in the Roman Empire. From that point on people were allowed to freely practice Christianity one of a handful of religions.

Christians celebrated the Nativity – the Birth of Jesus Christ – on January 6. It was a combined celebration of Jesus’ birth, the Visit of the Magi and the Baptism of Christ. Essentially, January 6 was the date to celebrate all of the events from the Birth of Jesus to his baptism.

Within the Roman Empire there were groups that worshipped the Sun, and the Winter Solstice was a true celebration of the Birth of the Sun. To move people away from Sun worship to the Son worship of the new Christianity religion, Emperor Constantine changed the date of the Nativity to December 25, twelve days prior to January 6. The twelve day period accommodated pilgrims who wanted to celebrate the Birth of Christ in Bethlehem and his Baptism at the River Jordan. It was a 12 day journey between the two pilgrimage sites by foot.

In Armenia there was no need to separate the feasts and January 6 is the date that the Birth and Baptism of Christ are celebrated to this day under the name Theophany, that is, The Revelation of God.

Let us pray from the Morning Hour of Worship of the Armenian Church, We have become joyful after those days when you humbled us, and those years when we saw evil. Look, Lord, upon your servants and upon the work of your hands and lead their sons. May the light of the Lord God be upon us. Justify for us the work of our hands, O Lord, and prosper the work of our hands. Amen.

Cover: Envato Elements

18th Century Prayer Book from Soviet Union to the Church

Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” – gifted to the Western Diocese

Presentation at Reclaim 2023 by Fr. Vazken Movsesian

We often speak about the Armenian Genocide and it’s lasting impact on the Armenian soul and psyche. We must never forget what followed, that is, the 70 years of communism that swallowed up Armenia in the Soviet Union. Those were very difficult years for Armenians caught up in the Soviet State as it spewed its narrative of atheism and anti-nationalism.

In 1977 – 1978, I had a unique chance of a lifetime to study in Armenia at the seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. It was there and then that I met Archbishop Hovnan, who was a seminarian at the monastery. For most people who viewed from the outside, studying at a seminary in a country which professed atheism, sounded like an oxymoron. But that was the magic that we experienced at Holy Etchmiadzin, under the leadership of Catholicos Vazken I. From the Holy shrine of Etchmiadzin, the Light of Christ was shining.
On weekends, as a break from classes, we sometimes ventured off to Yerevan where local bookstore were always a special stop for us. One Saturday, while browsing through books I came across a tattered and old-looking book of prayers. The cover page was torn, but I made out that it was St. Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” (Յիսուս, Որդի). It was at the bottom of a pile of “throw-aways” and after paying only a few kopeks, I took possession.

When I got back to the Seminary, I looked up the book in the seminary’s library. The earliest edition of this book was listed as 1643, with a possibility of a later printing by 1785. I was so excited. I had a treasure. Later on I would realize the treasure was what was written on those page.

I mentioned my acquisition to a few of the seminarians who were quick to notify me that anything that pre-dated the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) was to remain in the country. It was interest that everyone knew this bit of the law. Nothing with a day before 1917 could be taken out of the USSR. Of course, I now had a challenge before me, a challenge which was accented by the fact that books of this genre in the Soviet Union could have the fate of “Fahrenheit 451” in Bradbury’s America.

In that same bookstore, I found a book written in Armenian, “Marx, Engels and Lenin on Religion” (Մարքս, Էնգելս, Լենին Կրոնի Մասին) which sold for a few kopeks as well. There were stacks of these books, priced to sell and move into the hands of the public! I purchased one, and I also purchased a flag, the one which flew over Armenia during that period. It was red with a blue stripe, and in the corner the hammer & sickle were prominently situated. I took these books from the opposing camps – Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” and the Marx, Engels and Lenin’s “Religion” – and wrapped them up in the communist flag and mailed them to myself, hoping that the postal or custom inspector would view this packet as communist propaganda and allow it through the system. And, I guess it worked. When I returned back to the States the box was waiting for me. It had been opened, but all of the content was there.

It was only later that I understood the magnitude of the blessing that Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” was bringing. I painfully read through the classical Armenian and later discovered translations. It has been a cornerstone of my Bible Study classes and only a few years ago I did an entire season of Bible Studies on this Holy Text.

Today, as we offer “Reclaim a Voice” I’d like to present this book to His Eminence Archbishop Hovan, as a custodian of sacred texts. This book is a voice that the Soviets tried to suppress. It is no different than the countless Christian voices that have been attacked through the centuries and the voices that are held back today. This book belongs within the safety of our Diocesan Library, as an inspiration to others. I thank Archbishop Hovnan for placing such a high value on the written word creating a safe sanctuary for these classics and a place where we know that generations to come will be blessed with the sacred words of Shnorhali and “Jesus, Son.”

Solstice

Armodoxy for Today: The Solstice

A few years back, I found myself in a village in Rwanda working with genocide survivors. We conducted some informal interviews, became familiar with their daily activities and then, as the sun went down, people wound down, and pretty soon, 7:00PM, in the dark of the night, people were in their homes preparing for their evening rest. There was no sound throughout the village. I thought it odd that people would be preparing to sleep at this early hour. And then it occurred to me, that without electricity, without the artificial lighting that the electricity provides, for all intents and purposes the day was over with the sun set.

Today we celebrate the Winter Solstice. It is the shortest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. From the Summer Solstice to this day, the days have gotten shorter and shorter, and now, moving forward, there will be more hours of daylight per day to live and enjoy. In a world without electricity, you might imagine how welcomed the longer days ahead would be, so welcomed, that this day would be celebrated as the “birth of the sun.” Indeed, the sun stays out longer giving more possibilities for work, play, socializing, that is, possibilities for life!

To facilitate the spread of Christianity, the date of the Birth of Christ was moved to December 25 in the Roman Empire during the fourth century. Celebrating the birth of the Sun was replaced with the Christmas festivities, in honor of the birth of the Son! Meanwhile in Armenia, during the fourth century, the Winter Solstice was not celebrated to the extent it was in the Roman Empire. The date of Christmas was not changed and January 6 remains as the celebration date for Theophany. There are more factors for the different Christmas dates, but for today, suffice it to say, that Armenia was not touched by the date change. Until today, the Armenian Church celebrates the Nativity and Baptism of Christ on the same date, January 6.

The Solstice points to the cosmic time lock that has seasons and times changing over the globe. It’s a reminder that some of the great treasures of our Faith are found in the simplest phenomena of nature. Whether the birth of the sun or the birth of the son, there is a common thread that runs through both, namely, light. They are both gifts of light to the world.

How we process this revelation in the Christmas message, is how Armodoxy fits in to our cosmology. Join me tomorrow as we continue in the Advent Journey.