Armodoxy for Today: St. Sarkis
There are a few saints that stand out above others and are revered specially by the Armenian people. One of them is St. Sarkis. Parents name their boys Sarkis, and as a family name, Sarkisian is fairly common. A few years back, the Catholicos of All Armenians, His Holiness Karekin II, designated St. Sarkis as the patron saint of youth. Today, young people line up in churches to receive a special blessing on the feast of St. Sarkis which is celebrated this time of year, after Theophany and before Great Lent.
Sarkis is a 4th century saint, a Roman by birth and was appointed by Constantine the Great as Prince of Cappadocia, (next to Armenia, today’s Kayseri). And while he is separated from us by space and time, the message that comes from his story speaks directly to our day and age.
With Constantine’s conversion to Christianity and the joy of the newly found Christian religion, Sarkis went throughout the Empire converting people with the message of faith, hope and love. However, when he reached Persia, the King, Shaboo, demanded that Sarkis stop preaching Christ and instead worship before his pagan altars. Sarkis’ response to the King was “I believe in one God, the All Holy Trinity, who has created heaven and earth. As a man, who is made of the earth, I can destroy your pagan statues and the fire you worship.”
This proclamation against the religion of the day infuriated the people and they began beating Sarkis with stones and clubs. They finally imprisoned him in the hopes that he would deny Christ, but he remained loyal to his faith. He was sentenced to death for his Christian faith and the “crime” of bringing people to Christ. As he was about to be executed, he prayed a prayer for his followers, “O Lord, Christ our God, all those who remember my name during their trials and tribulations, and who remember this event with prayers and fasting, hear their prayers and grant to them all their desires.”
A voice was heard from heaven saying, “I will give you what you have requested, as for you, come home to enjoy the goodness that has been prepared for you.”
I spared you the details of his death, which are rather gory, but I need to mention that he left an indelible mark on the psyche of the people. To this day, even among the Persians, Sarkis is referred to as “The invincible witness and grantor of all requests.”
Often the physical disciplines (e.g. fasting) have replaced the more important reasons for the fasting, namely the message of Jesus Christ. Even today, some folk myths still circulate among the people with seeing St. Sarkis in dreams, eating salt and water as signals for falling in love and betrothal.
Today, as we recount the story of St. Sarkis, we have to lift it off the pages of history and see it as a lesson in convictions and faith. In fact, today, Christians are being persecuted daily for their beliefs. We may not see the swords of the emperors or outright proclamations such as King Shaboo’s, but the weapons that strike us are just as deadly. Our lives are filled with temptations by materialism – believing that our possessions define us and carry some kind of intrinsic worth – while being swayed by a general attitude of indifference towards the plight of others. Death comes to us because of contempt for Christ’s call to Love.
We’d be well advised to take the call of our Catholicos to heart. St. Sarkis gives us an example of conviction, of faith, of discipline and true strength. In a world that teaches otherwise, this saint of the Armenian Church should be welcomed, not only in the lives of our youth but in all of our lives.
Let us pray, “O Christ, director of life and eternity, as your servant St. Sarkis demonstrated with his life, let your message and glory be reflected in my life. May I honor St. Sarkis, and all the saints, by living with you centered in my life, today and always. Amen.”
Cover Photo: (Fr. Vazken, 2023) On the island of Maui, a small sign tells visitors to stay away from this person’s home. The sign is 15 miles from his front door.