Sing to the Lord a New Song. Palm Sunday in the Days of a Pandemic (COVID-19)

A Meditation for Palm Sunday 

Psalm 96

By Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

Click this link to hear the Audio Reading of Psalm 96 

1 Sing to the Lord a new song;  sing to the Lord, all the earth.

          2 Sing to the Lord, bless his name; proclaim his salvation day after day.

3 Tell his glory among the nations; among all peoples, his marvelous deeds.

          4 For great is the Lord and highly to be praised, to be feared above all gods.

5 For the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

          6 Splendor and power go before him; power and grandeur are in his holy place.

With the celebration of Palm Sunday we along with all Christendom traditionally greet the coming of the Lord with the shouts of “Hosanna! Blessed is he who COMES in the Name of the Lord.” (Mark 11:9). 

Although the festivities around Palm Sunday are almost treated like a given each year, this year is unique and so our shouts of jubilation and joy are tempered with concern, sorrow and lament a we see the impending devastation of the pandemic and the grip with which it is holding the world in a type of bondage. Like the Isrealites, we too are lifting up our voice at this particular time, a time of turmoil, fear, separation from loved ones, from our church. Many are kept from their work in which they have invested so much for the good and care of their families.  

The nearing of Easter and the anticipation of the new season and with it the newness of life, the sprouting of the new crops, which annually point to the seasonal reminder of Jesus’ Empty Tomb and assure us of resurrection, are unimaginably shrouded with confusion, suffering, death, rumors of 100’s of thousands of Americans potentially dying in the weeks ahead this year.

Yet in all of this unexpected chaos and separation from much of what we love and usually take for granted, here we are, CHRISTIANS, for better or for worse, the ancient people who ought to be accustomed to suffering, stories of persecution, and martyrdom always made fresh in the remembrance of our faithful and refreshed in the prayers and liturgies of the church, always remaining steadfast in our faith and filled with the hope and anticipation of God’s revelation and sure of his salvation, won for us by the Promised One, our Lord, the Messiah, the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. 

While we are praying for a peaceful end to the war on COVID-19, like the Israelite nation, we too call on God, to calm our fears and to still the floods of our desperation and desolation (Psalm 92:3). Our comfort is in our victorious God, and our assurance is in his victorious crucifixion and resurrection.  Like the Israelite, even in the midst of these “floods” and the treacherous “waves” of uncertainty, we know that the Lord is our immovable Rock and in Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

These days, it seems that the entire human race is being called to “return unto righteousness” (verse 15), to recognize the Savior in all his glory on whom “we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (II Corinthians 1:8)

From our point of view, from the perspective of Christian faith, and from the certainty of our trust in the revelation and the mystery of Christ’s  love manifest in his sacrifice, we must look clearly at our share in Christ’s victory and his invitation to join in the exaltation of righteousness and ultimately to our fellowship in his eternal kingdom. This being said, however, we are confronting the unprecedented and unimaginable reality of doing so without the possibility of “fellowship” in the safety of our physical church, communion in the Holy Chalice of Christ’s Body and Blood, where we are accustomed to greeting each other with the timeless words “Christ is risen from the dead.” “Blessed is the resurrection of Christ.” 

Dear beloved, the late first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said, “We gain strength, and courage, and confidence by each experience in which we really stop to look fear in the face… we must do that which we think we cannot. I personally affirmed this in my own life and experience and now at this fearful and uncertain time, you are invited, no, empowered by Jesus in the Holy Spirit, to not be afraid, to confront this crisis with confidence and hope, to stand firm and continue in our faith, and remain unmoved “from the hope held out in the gospel…that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven,” (Colossians 1:23) and to bring testimony to that faith (John 15:26). Indeed, these are trying times. We all need our church now more than ever and are being asked for very selfless reasons to “Social Distance” that we might not either infect others or ourselves to be infected. What we need right now, even in our isolation, for our good, the good of others and for the good of our church and God’s glory, is to be infected…but infected with Christ’s love and with his assurance that he “is with us always” (Matthew 28:20). We remain united in faith. God didn’t “give us a spirit of weakness,” (2 Timothy 1:7) and we certainly know that he neither gives us his Holy Sacrament to be the means for illness but rather as the “medicine of immortality”. We recognize that we are fallible and we each can and do carry with us the possibility of disease, brokenness and infection. It’s not God who wills our illness. He “takes no pleasure in the death of anyone, …(but that we) Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:22)

but our own irresponsibility, and so we must remain faithful but yet always vigilant. We must trust God and the care of his church and with that her wisdom. We hear in verses 5-6 from the 95th Psalm  that while the ideology of the nations may be false, the present understanding of science and medicine may be imperfect it is the Lord who made the heavens. His Splendor and power go before him as it did most beautifully in his glorious entrance into Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday and so we follow him with fear and trembling knowing that his power and grandeur are in his holy sanctuary from which for a time we have been distanced. This seems like an impossibility to us yet it is not the first time that God’s people have been distanced from each other and from the church. It was and is in those precise times, when we were deprived of our social contact that the faithful turned to God in repentance, like the Prodigal Son or like the Jews during Pharoah’s persecution during their bondage and at the Passover when they were likewise locked in their homes until the passing of God’s wrath. Each time, only great things followed the faithful and those who trusted in God’s sovereignty. 

Therefore, dear faithful, our strength remains in our faith and with our hope in anticipation of the great gathering of her church once again by God’s grace and at the appropriate time. Let us maintain our contact and fellowship with each other and with our church through the benefit of modern technologies, seeing, hearing and knowing that the church is still at prayer and that our prayers and sacrifices are being offered on our behalf and that we are included and remembered in those prayers. How comforting to know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39

Be steadfast in your sure “expectation of things hoped for, (and with) the evident demonstration of realities that are not seen,” (Hebrews 11:1) ready to give a tangible evidence of your trust in God and the anticipation of victory, and by it to summon the whole earth to join you and us in the singing of a “new song”. Where people, friends and neighbors, show fear, are confused and question their faith, or are feeling lonely or isolated, be God’s spokesman, be the voice of comfort, reach out, offer to help, give the good testimony, ask the Holy Spirit to empower your faith and make it life giving for the benefit of others, in a word, be the light in their life! In short be the church in action! We often ask, “Lord what can I bring? What might I do?” This is our time to shine. 

Our cries of lament and uncertainty are passing away. “Fear not”, says the Lord, “for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. (Isaiah 41:10)

The Lord promises to return “peace in the land, and nothing shall make you afraid. And (he) will remove harm from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land.” (Leviticus 26:6) How much more shall he do for us, who belong to his beloved son who have shared in his death and resurrection through baptism? 

The Lord himself commands us to “fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows,” (Matthew 10:31) and says that we ought to always “be of good cheer, for he himself has overcome the world.” (John 16:25) I hope that like me, you will pray for the world, the human race, the leaders, those who are sick, the caregivers, first responders and especially for the repose of those who have died. Yearn and pray for God’s mercy and for the revelation of his love so that when the time is ripe and the coast is clear, the waters of this “flood” recede, we may in peace and in fellowship come together at the Lord’s Holy Table to communicate with him in holiness, and to receive his precious life-giving sacrament in the true meaning of the celebration of Easter, which is the proclamation of his death and resurrection where Psalm 34:8 O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man that trusts in him (See also: 1 Peter 2:3).

On Palm Sunday and more so on Easter, therefore, with our eyes focused on our Lord’s Glorious resurrection, our calls upon the Lord for his mercy shall be transformed into our shouts of joy and praise. The darkness and sorrow of Holy Thursday and Friday, the sadness of Christ’s Sabbath rest in the Virgin Tomb, will be transformed into the joy of his victory over Satan, and death. His Lordship over all creation and his triumph and harrowing of hell, his release of the captives, his resurrection transform our cries of “Lord have mercy” into shouts of joy and the singing of “Alleluia, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Being the Body of Christ in Perilous Times The Fourth Sunday of Nativity-

The Fourth Sunday Following Nativity – Depart from the World and Turn to Christ
Why would St. Paul the apostle say that, “All who live godly lives will be persecuted?”  (2 Timothy 3:12) and why would the church audaciously celebrate and articulate such a reality with the commemoration of the very long list of martyrs who willingly and often happily spilled their blood, and went to their martyrdom as a witness to their obedience to Jesus who himself, by worldly standards, was an utter failure only to see his life’s work end hanging from a Cross, accused of treason against the state and the Roman Empire? This makes no sense from the perspective of modern secular society. Let’s face it, from any kind of standard, one would say that this is the worst marketing plan ever! It is an unsustainable business plan. No one in their right mind, who wants to have a high value associated with their “social credit” vis. how well they are perceived in society, would touch this philosophy with a ten-foot pole. According to the third American Family Survey from 2019, 33% of the US population identify as ‘nones’ meaning that they do not affiliate with any formal religion (‘atheists’, ‘agnostics’, ‘nothing in particular’), up from 30% in 2013.
Many people today have either expressly or implicitly renounced the Christian faith. Those are far more comfortable expressing their “feelings” and identifying as “spiritual” but averse to prescribing to any formal expression of confessional orthodoxy and recoil at the thought of “organized religion”. Even among those who still hold fellowship within the myriad of denominational choices among the churches in America, including Roman Catholics and orthodox Christians, so many now freely express their own opinions, their likes, and dislikes about what the church teaches, including moral issues as if it were a cafeteria with many choices for the consumer to pick and choose as they’d like. It would be much safer, comfortable, easier and more profitable to fit into a society, or worse, even a “church” where anything goes, and where there is no judgement and no need to think about personal dignity, personal responsibility, honor, shame and values.
In reality, these things aren’t novel and there is in fact nothing new under the sun. Since the sixties in particular, and with the sexual revolution, many churches still even trying to maintain a form of godliness, and with the desire to fit into the modernism of her society, in a very ahistorical way and contrary to her traditions, where she struggled against the world transformed by the Holy Spirit, in order like salt, to preserve it, turned from the way of the cross, to a deceptive and diabolical notion that a “God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Sadly, while our society can and likely will deteriorate further, our church must remain firm and with conviction in her otherworldly ministry, not so worried about holding on, but to be the Ark which will safely stay the course and lead her children to the harbor of life and salvation.” Some people will not like her views, reject her teachings, be unable to follow. Because of his love for his creation and the freedom with which we are endowed to choose life or to choose curse, God forces no one but as C.S. Lewis strongly argues, Love “is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have … Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did” for love is always willed but never forced.
This is a frightening society that we live in and one not friendly to Christ. A society about which St. Paul prophesies, where “in the last days perilous times will come: 2 For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, 4 traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.” He cautions us further by saying, “And from such people turn away!” What is this form of godliness he speaks of? It is sadly often the church itself that has gone off the rails, and like a rudderless ship moving around aimlessly and directionless with the random movements of the wind.
We are children of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Our church is a martyred church. Our church has withstood persecution, endured bondage and fought the battle of Avarayr for the freedom of religion, risked everything even the potential support of her western allies all for the integrity of theological and moral truths as expressed in her teachings to be in union with the Lord and everything for which he sacrificed his own life for our salvation. We must not today, either individually or as the Body of Christ to be ashamed to profess what was believed by all Christians, in all place and at all times.
Dear faithful, we are approaching the season of Lent, the prescribed time appointed by our loving mother, the holy church, to more carefully watch over our lives, and test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. It is a time where we take an inventory and use the ancient practices of fasting, prayer and almsgiving in self-denial that we might turn from our sinful ways and seek the righteousness of God and made free from the snares of the evil one. We are exhorted “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3) and we must not turn our back on this glorious tradition only to be “disapproved concerning the faith.” We are after all either by birth or by “adoption”, all children of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a people of God, having from the early centuries, converted to the one true faith, professing the purity of doctrine with the authority and pedigree of the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus and unpacked by our sacred councils, the will and authority of the One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church and thoroughly exposed by the holy fathers of the faith for our common salvation. We, ought therefore to be bold, Cross bearing champions and crusaders of the faith, and continue to “10 carefully follow sound doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, love, perseverance, 11 persecutions, afflictions,” and to hold true to the faith , to diligently pass it on to our children, whole, intact and pure and not God forbid like some “depart from the faith.” (1 Timothy 4:1)

SUNDAY OF THE CATECHUMEN-Fear Not, Take Courage

Fear Not, Take Courage and Have Faith-February 2, 2020 

John 6:15-21

15 Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself. 16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake, 17 where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark, and Jesus had not yet joined the water 18 A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened.  20 But he said to them, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

Once again we are quickly entering a season where many Americans will grow anxious and start to agitate about the federal presidential elections with everyone sharing their feelings about what they “feel” is best for the country. This like any other, is like taking a journey. It is no different in that no one can see the future and it is likely that there will be unexpected turns, opportunities and obstacles along the way. In this case, invariably one will win and one will lose. Some it seems will be thrilled with the result and others consigned to griping for the next four years.  As an immigrant, many have asked me over the years, if I miss Canada. As those who know me with my sometimes misunderstood and perhaps rightly unappreciated humor, know that with a strong intention toward hyperbole, I have answered, “No, same thing, different place, but as long as I can watch the Toronto Maple Leafs, I am good.” I do however enjoy the journey in spite of the challenges and the unknown and am blessed to have a partner who shares the thrills. The reality is that I do not see my citizenship so much in terms of national and man made borders, but as one redeemed by the blood of Christ and having entrance within the Body of Christ and citizenship in the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, during our lives, we are on a journey rather a pilgrimage as sojourners toward Glory.

Dear faithful, we are all on this journey. As a church, both locally and univerdally, we can expect adventure, excitement, thrills, new discoveries, the unknown and along with that, persecution, hatred, suffering, defeat. We need to only look at the history of the One, Holy, Catholic Church. It is a victorious and glorious church but she has endured horrific things and has even sadly at times been even inadvertently responsible for many horrific things even to our age, but she is like a ship sailing on rough waters, has the Lord Jesus with his almighty hand firmly on the rudder.

On our personal journey, in life throughout every age, while we might have started with great expectations, making plans and expecting certain results along the way we may have had and may still likely have many challenges and difficulties. We may along the way doubt God, question his motives, wonder where he was in the midst of our darkness. The unknown can be terrifying. Unexpected turns, pitfalls, and obstacles, both from outside our control from external factors, famine, unemployment, doubt, insurmountable odds, genocide, illness, hurricanes to name a few, and even some which confront us from within, whether it is a lack of self assurance, insecurity, a lack of trust in others and in yourself and abilities. We are inevitably going to confront many levels of discomfort and feel like things are out of control.

These things ought to be expected and in this life God makes us no promises. Our hope according to his true and unfailing word is in him and in the eternal life and resurrection. We are like Simon-Peter, to whom Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)

Let’s look at Peter, the first among equals, the apostle, the one who makes the good confession, the one who was forgiven three times by the Lord, the first Pope of Rome. He had his challenges and he had his doubts. Do you know how he completed his life and his evangelical ministry? St. Peter,  according to church tradition, was at Peter’s own request, crucified on an inverted or upside down cross (Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2.25.5-8), as (according to St. Jerome,) he pleaded his unworthiness of  being crucified in the like manner of our Lord’s own distinctive and redeeming death.

Early in Christ’s ministry, Peter was so full of passion and so impetuous. He could be resolute, he could be rash, he could be quick to anger, he could be gentle but firm. The leap of faith with which he stepped out of the boat and onto the water when seeing Jesus is extraordinary and as a fisherman, it was not as if he didnt understand safe practices and the dangers of the sea, let alone the natural laws of physics. His greatest grace however and most redeeming trait is seen here, placing his complete and explicit trust in Jesus knowing that he is the Creator.

Imagine him being full of confidence heading out upon the troubled unknown and stepping upon the sea, heading out as he sees Jesus in the distance. Imagine the assurance he had knowing that his Lord was right there and he could defy all reason and walk to him. Startlingly things were going along just fine until he took his gaze off the mark, off of Jesus himself. It was then when he started to look inward and recognize the irrationality of the horrible predicament that he was in, the unnatural confines of not being on solid ground, that he realized how insecure he really was. It was then that he began to sink while probably wondering to himself why this was happening to him, that he had lost control, was going to perish and who would  save him?

As in his case, for us too, in the midst of our greatest turmoil, the devil wants us to look within, to take our eyes off the mark, to look inward at ourselves, to see our weakness and is counting on us to feel completely lost and out of control, abandoned by God. But, like Peter don’t we feel tempted to doubt God, question his love and wonder why he lets us and others befall such horrible conditions? Don’t we too question him and ask why we are abandoned? Look, it was not Jesus who left the gaze of Peter, it was not God who abandons ship. It was Peter who left the boat, took his eyes off Jesus who remained there all the time. 

While we might when things are good, have plenty of self-confidence before we embark on the journey of faith, but we mustn’t depend on only our own intellect and our own resources. We will soon find out that we cannot really control neither that which is even within us, let alone that which is outside of us and beyond our capabilities. Nothing in life is predictable. As they say the only things that one could be sure of in this life are death and taxes.

Peter, stop relying on yourself, and stop looking within which is the enemies temptation. Self assurance in the unknown troubled waters of life are the trickery and deceit of the devil. Say, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy or in other words, “You’re God and I’m not!” For better or for worse in sickness and in health, keep your eyes on the mark. Focus on Jesus who has overcome the world. 

Beware of despairing about yourself; you are commanded to place your trust in God, and not in yourself.” says St. Augustine. We are all neophytes and we are all in some ways unprepared for the struggles of life itself let alone achieving the goal of crossing the finish line and meeting the Lord arriving at the haven of life and the security of salvation, the resurrection and promised paradise of eternal life .

If you are a believer and if you claim Christ as your redeemer, hope, life and Savior, Why would you ever despair of yourself? Afterall, aren’t you commanded to trust in him and not in yourself? It is Jesus who creates the seas, the air and the dryland and has not only authority but power to do with it as he likes.

Last week, early Sunday afternoon, we heard the tragic news of the downed helicopter in California where Kobe Bryant and be a basketball legend whose daughter and seven other souls were lost.  It became clear soon after that he had been to Holy Mass with his 15 year old daughter before taking the fateful flight. They both as was their normal practice received the precious life giving sacrament of the Lord’s body and blood.  In that response of piety to the Lord’s invitation that “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” (John 6:54) they entered the fatal trip in bliss and in a state of grace.  Well naturally we would expect that in the moments before the crash insofar as the pilot and passengers were aware of what was happening they along with everyone on board, were probably gripped with great fear, probably not unlike the fear that gripped Peter.  That deathly fear is a natural response to life threatening danger. In the case of the Bryants, who had their eyes and faith firmly on the Savior, our sadness is assuaged by seeing that their faith was in the eternal and enduring knowledge of the victorious Lord.  St. Ireneus and early bishop of the church in Europe, said “the business of the Christian is to always be preparing for death.” There is no better way to prepare for life’s greatest fears, tragedies and ultimately death by keeping our eyes always firmly fixed on Jesus, not complaining about how busy we are, not questioning always why this happened and why that happened but by giving ourselves fully to our focus, commitment and attention to Jesus in all things and like Peter, repent of our weakness and doubt and turn to him and cry “Lord, save me, gexo Der” and hear him reach out to you in his creative hands, hold you close and say in his loving and gentle voice, “Take courage, fear not.” Kobe Bryant was a fearless and courageous competitor but his on court heroism paled next to his courage in his commitment to Christ and his assurance of eternal life which he literally participated by his frequent reception of the life giving antidote to death and the medicine of immortality. We are all called and empowered by the Holy Spirit to share in the same courage with which Jesus himself faced his Passion and with which Peter took his leap of faith onto the troubled waters and assured and emboldened by the divine command of Jesus, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. (while) In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33), Amen.

The Naming of the Lord-The Eighth Day of Nativity Fr. Shnork Souin

What’s in a name?

We are familiar with the Shakespearean play Romeo and Juliet (II, ii, 1-2) where Juliet asks Romeo “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet meet and fall in love in Shakespeare’s lyrical tale of “star-cross’d” lovers. They are doomed from the start as members of two warring families. Here Juliet tells Romeo that a name is an artificial and meaningless convention, and that she loves the person who is called “Montague”, not the Montague name and not the Montague family. Romeo, out of his passion for Juliet, rejects his family name and vows, as Juliet asks, to “deny (his) father” and instead be “new baptized” as Juliet’s lover. This one short line encapsulates the central struggle and tragedy of the play, and is one of Shakespeare’s most famous quotes.

So, what’s in THE Name, Jesus?

God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name.” Philippians 2:9

His name is holy, and life giving. Today we celebrate the Lord’s. naming.

Names have always been important. We all know very famous people by name, historical characters, athletes, pop stars, politicians, teachers, philosophers and scientists to name but a few.

If I say HITLER, you think one think, if I say Tom Brady, you think something very different. Each name incites a reaction, good or bad. Some invoke inspiration and some hope.

No name has invoked more hope than the name of Jesus Christ.

In Jewish tradition according to the law of Moses every male is to be circumcised on the 8th day where they are officially given their name.

At the creation God named every creature and creeping thing that would Rome the Earth. When he created mankind he named them Adam and Eve. Adam and Hebrew (‘adamah) “earth means man and Eve (Shiva)  in Hebrew Life.

The holy gospel tells us that Jesus’ name was given to him from the Annunciation in Luke’s 2nd chapter. when  “21 When eight days were completed for his circumcision,[a] he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” Luke 2:21

The name Jesus in Hebrew. Ya’shiva, means God Saves. Names in the Jewish tradition and other ancient cultures had great meaning and in history and often were given to define a person. The naming on the 8th day therefore had a profound significance and who and what a person would be. There are many reasons Why Names are Important in the Bible

  • A biblical name could record some aspects of a person’s birth.
  • Biblical names sometimes expressed the parents’ reaction to the birth of their child.
  • Biblical names were sometimes used to secure the solidarity of family ties.
  • Biblical names could be used to communicate God’s message.

Let’s first look at GOD’s NAME

The word for God’s NAME is referred to as the Tetragrammaton, or “consisting of four letters”, is considered a sacred formula written as: YOTH-HE-VAU-HE, or IHVH, which incidentally creates a tetrapolar magnet.

For the people of Israel, in order not to blaspheme or profane the name of God Commonly substituted the HaShem or NAME in the four letters with Adonai (“My Lord”).

Dear faithful, Jesus is GOD incarnate, the uncreated and divine 2nd person of the Holy Trinity. Having been baptized into him, we bear his name and we can now boldly and without fear call upon GOD’s name,  Jesus without fear of profanity when it is acclaimed with a pure heart and out of a pious and Spirit filled faith.

Christians refer to the Lord as Jesus Christ. Jesus is WHO he is and Christ is WHAT he is. Christ, is the Anglicized form of the Greek word christos which means anointed or messiah. In Greek, xristos, the Name of the Lord is often like the sacred four letters of the Hebrew scriptures, is written in short as icxc or the first and last letters of IsouS XristoS or in Armenian ՅՍՔՍ and now reveals what was once hidden and forbidden form the mouths of man, the sacred 4 letters.

When we look at a priest’s hand when offering a blessing upon the faithful with the sign of the Cross, you will most often at least in the Orthodox Church, notice the priest’s right hand forming the four letters with the index finger making the Greek letter I, followed by the rest with the fourth finger and thumb crossing forming an X.

We as Christians are  are Born Again in baptism and we too are traditionally baptized on the 8th day from our birth and given a name but most importantly are given the name above every name and are privileged to now sealed with the chrism, named a most excellent name, that of CHRISTIAN!

Let’s look at the words of the prayer of baptism from the Renunciation:

Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy, Lord have mercy.  O Lord God, great and glorified by all creatures, this your servant has bowed his/ her head and has found refuge in your most powerful and holy name. Look with mercy, O Lord, upon this Child, and by calling of your name expel and keep away the thoughts, the words, and the deeds, and all the deceptions of the evil one who is accustomed to deceive men and make them perish. Fill this child with your heavenly grace and grant him/ her the joy to be named a Christian and make him/ her worthy of Baptism of the second birth of the holy Font. And by receiving your Holy Spirit let him/ her be body and member of your holy Church. And by leading a blameless Christian life in this world may he / she attain all the good things of the world to come with the help of your saints, glorifying your unchangeable dominion. Now and forever and ever. Amen.

In this world, it is easy to fall short of our High Calling easily distracted by The Temptations of the world. How many of us attempted buy a multitude of kings and ideologies which cross away from holiness? if we are continually prayerful maintain our discipline and commitment within a life in Christ and adhere to communion in the Holy things then  what a great privilege we have to be the example the witness and the disciples to call others back into that same Fellowship. These could be our friends, neighbors and colleagues but most assuredly our friends are family and especially our children.

It is unfortunate and sad fact that many I’ve grown ashamed of Jesus name. It hasn’t even been a point of contention not only make public sphere where official decorations and some government settings and schools prohibit the use of Jesus name. I will never forget following 9/11 as a new immigrant to the United States, that I attended a ecumenical so-called prayer service where the one offering the prayer never mentioned the name Jesus but use the term, almighty God Hot Pot. In whose name we pray without ever actually using a particular name. I remember at the time feeling that this was the beginning of the end of True Religion in America.

We, dear brothers and sisters, we are given the most excellent name of being called Christian. a name used for the first time in the town of Antioch among the first gentile church. We are given a calling and a mission to live the life in Christ, a most High Calling. Every Christian is incorporated into the body of Christ and is thereby part of the royal priesthood of believers (I Peter 2:5) and the Body of Christ.

As such, we have the privilege to remain in communion with the Lord, and to pray in his Holy Name, recognizing that as we say, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner we confess that His name is so powerful that it can cast out demons, move mountains and raise the Dead. Waking up each morning put the name of Jesus on your lips Crossing yourselves, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, seal and stamp the name of God upon your chest, believing what great power this has and what remarkable transformation it brings to you.

Let us end with prayer, with the words of our great patristic father, St. Gregory of Narek;  O my Jesus, you who have the Name above every name and the name at which every power in heaven and earth shall bow down, Receive us and make us worthy of bearing your name and being called Christian, and as sons of your Father who you revealed by your incarnation and fellowship with the children of man, O Savior  strengthen our resolve and commitment to you and join us in the Body of Believers where we seek our fellowship as coheirs with you and inscribe also our names in the book of life, Amen.

John 3:17-My Favorite Verse!

AX 2nd Sunday following Epiphany

For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

John3:16. Which Sunday school child hasn’t heard this verse and likely memorized it? Across many denominations, it is practically on everyone’s lips and assigned to memory. 

This verse, resonating in our ears from today’s gospel lesson, is on one hand perhaps one of the best known, often quoted, most beautiful and meaningful verses in the scriptures yet, if you can take what I’m saying now with a grain of salt, perhaps also one of the most improperly used and maybe misunderstood verses in the Gospels. 

However, rather than being, as was intended, the most beautiful articulation of the life giving gospel, the good news and the most perfect announcement of the anticipated messianic fulfillment for the worlds long awaited salvation, it has unfortunately become at best, in an increasingly secular society driven by social media, a slogan for ballgames and memes and used also at worstas a “hammer”, a verse to be used to club people over the head, implying the hearer is unworthy of God’s love and lacking fellowship in the Kingdom, ostensibly assuming a lack of subjective faith. John the beloved apostle and evangelist inspired by the Holy Spirit and being one who experienced the love, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, is stating for the whole of Creation rather the summary of the Good News with the marvelous, incomprehensible and objective act of God’s universal reconciliation for the entire creation revealed in the Incarnation of Love in the Birth of God’s Only Son and True God, Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

God didn’t come, nor did he have to come in the flesh to pronounce judgement on the world. He didn’t have to do that at all. The world, from the Fall of Adam and Eve, whose condition all humanity inherits and in which we have been born and live is already under the stain of sin. At sin’s root is the underlying and universal human trait of distrust in God’s love and disobedience to his authority as Creator. There is no one righteous, not even one, (Romans 3:10) as “All have sinned and have fallen short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23),.

Dear faithful, it is wonderful to know and to memorize John 3:16, but also to recognize how equally important the verse which follows it is. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

The Word of God, the Divine Second and Eternal Person of the Holy Trinity is incarnate precisely because he chose to save and to redeem that which was lost. Mankind has fallen and is cast out of the former glory of paradise and his intimate communion with God. He is exiled from the life-giving enjoyment from the fruit of the tree of life (Gen. 2:9). We as a race, created to be the crown of creation have chosen to love the darkens over the light. Like the Israelites, we have as a species taken our collective and individual eyes off of the light and have turned to darken and forsaken the divine image and the beatific vision having lost our faith through our disobedience.

In listening today to the prophet Isaiah, we heard, the indictment that condemns me, that I am sure everyone listening will take to heart. Let’s hear once again what the prophet says, “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; Your lips have spoken falsehood, Your tongue mutters wickedness. No one sues righteously and no one pleads honestly. They trust in confusion and speak lies; They conceive mischief and bring forth iniquity.” (Isaiah 59:2-4)

If I’m perfectly honest, I must confess before God that I am not righteous, no, not the way God wants. I am a sinner. I cannot  look upon my false perception of righteousness as if God owes me, but instead, like Isaiah, to see all my perceived “righteous acts as but filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) and that I am in the greatest need of God’s mercy, trusting, yes believing with all my heart that “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the greatest” (1 Timothy 1:15). I miss the mark of his perfection. My inclination is to usurp that which God promises by grace and is seen in my innate human aversion to his authority, manifest in the deadly sins I commit both knowingly and unknowingly be it, pride, envy, anger, laziness, covetousness, gluttony or Lust. I don’t have to look only at the world around me to see sin, but I need only to look within. It’s so easy to sit back and view the world from the comfort of our homes, our TVs our iPhones, and to be judgmental of such a world and such depravity. If I were God, I’d knock the world on its behind. How could God love such a world? How can he be so patient? How can he love me? We shouldn’t make the mistake of confusing his long-suffering with tolerance.

Judging others from our false sense of righteousness and to be intolerant of others, expecting them only to measure up to me is a huge problem today and associated with “Identity Politics’. What are identity politics? As a society and as individuals, we are becoming less and less interested in the humanity of others, less tolerant of other’s opinions lifestyles as if others are further from truth and from God than ourselves. We are becoming more interested in knowing where people stand on issues and less about their lives, about how much God loves them and his desire for their salvation. 

This week, I saw “The Two Popes” in Netflix and one thing that caught my attention was when Pope Benedict XVI and then Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio were discussing about taking Holy Communion and Pope Benedict asked Cardinal Bergoglio if he should be strict in not allowing Holy Communion to divorcees or other sinners. Cardinal Bergoglio replied, “Holy Communion is not a reward for the virtuous, it is food for the starving.”

God’s love for and his desire for fellowship with you is not dependent on your virtuosity and it’s certainly not on goodness. He doesn’t and won’t respond with love based on any worthiness of our own. It is just the contrary. Yet while we were sinners, God poured out his love and gave us a redeemer and seeks to save us for the sake of Christ.

We now have access to God’s loving and divine sanctifying power as we boldly cry out to him saying Our Father forgive us our trespasses, whereby we approach both with trembling and with faith and receive Holy Communion. 

Pope Francis ushered in Christmas for the world’s 1.3 billion Catholics with a message of unconditional love, saying, “God continues to love us all, even the worst of us… You may have mistaken ideas, you may have made a complete mess of things, but the Lord continues to love you.” The Pope made this statement during the Christmas Eve midnight mass. What a beautiful message from Pope Francis.

With my spiritual eyes in repentance and with a contrite heart, God has invited us intofellowship with him, to look within and to ask, am I what he wants me to be? Do I trust him in all conditions? Am I in love with his creation and take loving care of the resources and gifts that he has given to me? Do I love those around me? Do I sow love and compassion or do I judge others and look at myself as just and discount another person’s ideas? Perhaps the most important question is do I see the problems outside of my personal space as being in need of reform, change and reparation or do I look to resolve my own life and allow the Holy Spirit to sanctify my works, words and thoughts? Is my heart broken and do I seek holiness having been called through spiritual rebirth from the font of baptism? Do I aspire to sainthood, and to be conformed not to the world but transformed by Christ(Romans 12:2)?  

Shnorhali

God is Love. He offers himself, body and soul.He is eternal and he is life, yet, he is born, suffers, dies, is risen and now sits at the right hand of his father from whence he will come. His salvation is objectively given for all and received subjectively through faith. In this Gospel reading, we hear the first mention of “eternal life”, where it is again mentioned by John another seventeen times, with fifteen quoted from the lips of Jesus himself. John, inspired by the Holy Spirit states for all mankind, the Gospel in miniature, “that whoever believes in him  should not perish, but have eternal (aionios) life” (zoe), (John 3:15). 

Dear faithful, it is wonderful to know and to memorize John 3:16, but also to recognize how equally important the verse which follows it is. God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

 

The gospel is always and only a proclamation of God’s saving work in his Son, Jesus. It is the Good News which once and for all announces the enduring truth that God loves the world, that he loves me, that he loves you and that he wants to not only share his life and his love with you but wants you to share his love and life with others.  John even ascribes love as a very personal characteristic of God, even and essential attribute, in fact stating in his first Epistle, that “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). Through the coming of Jesus, in spite of the darkness, brokenness and death, we know and believe that the World, which as John says, “is condemned already” (John 3:18), not only needs saving, but it is worth saving!!! It was worth the life of Jesus!

I Want to be Like Mom! The Asdvadsadsin is the Glorious and Perfect Example of Sainthood and our Heavenly Mother. Theophany 2020

Titus 2:11-15

Luke 1:35
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.
Titus 2:11-15
11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.

This eve is not only the celebration of Jesus’ birth but of St. Mary becoming not only the Mother of God but our Mother the Icon of perfect sainthood and the summit and goal of our Christian life. We are all in baptism and the seal of the Holy Spirit, called and enabled, yes anointed to become like Mary who is and remains blessed among all women and the birth giver of our Savior.
Have you ever thought about what the Christian calling is? What is our standard?
We often hear ourselves making excuses about our lives, the choices we make, the relationships that are broken the good we neglected, often by saying “I’m only human”.
Beloved, it is Christ’s will that we should all be worthy of the eternal life that he won for us. He wants us to be with him and not to miss out. It will take commitment, it will require strength to follow Jesus, to be like Mary, to trust him and to worry less about what the world says and what others do, but to put our attention on Jesus the “great God and Savior”! Jesus, born of Mary has appeared to offer salvation to all people. How do we follow him and what are we to be? Can we keep making excuses and say, “we’re only human?”
Well, Mary is only human!
Yet, behold, there she is, crowning each of the Holy Altars and Godly Sanctuaries of Armenian Churches worldwide and at all times, adorned with beauty, gifts and prayers of intercession and praise! She is in some ways very different from many of us in our posture of humility, faith, service and devotion to God, but yet at the same time she is nonetheless exactly like us. She is sanctified, having become what each of us in baptism. By the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, she is consecrated, transformed, sanctified and conformed to Christ in every way possible and in the very same way that each of us are invited to be and who have the potentiality to become. God has offered this to us in our own baptism, sealed the power of his life through the gift of the Holy Spirit. It has been promised and potentialized, Like Mary, in our baptism. Each of us is therefore, likewise sealed and born again with the sanctifying operation of the Holy Spirit, by which God has sealed his Holy Spirit on you, so that the power of the Most High will overshadow you.”
It remains that we like Mary, our blessed and holy Mother, participate in a profoundly synchronous and cooperative life in Christ and in the Church, being informed by our faith, fed by the sacraments and to remain in the unity of the Body of Christ. Remember that life is not easy. We are easily distracted especially today. God doesn’t force us.
Apart from a full commitment to Christ, and within the safety of the sacred cradle of our life which is the church, our sanctified life guarded and nurtured in the life-giving faith would be compromised.
No, Life is not easy. There are all kinds of temptations, deceptions, ideas that tickle our fancy and entice and engage our thoughts, our feelings and our senses. We see how broken our world is. There is war, there is hatred, there is a worsening disregard to the natural gifts of God’s creation which we waste, ruin and destroy through acts of irresponsibility and carelessness, where it is the oceans, the air, the crops of the field or life itself, there is an increasing devaluation of life and humanity itself to name but a few examples. Families are being broken up and people are falling into hopelessness. It seems obvious that in every case there is at the core a refusal of acknowledging Jesus as central to our life’s core, either denying him outright, or seeing him as peripheral, unimportant or unworthy of our attention.
Renouncing ungodliness, we should be aware of the dangers and worldly temptations, various vices and means that the evil-one uses to distract and steer us away from holiness. Seeking the good of others and the pursuit of real joy, for fellowship with our fellow man and a life of service to our God, our families our fellow citizens, not looking on the pother as stranger, not ignoring those who are in the margins of society but like the Lord ready to love and to seek solidarity with all.
Therefore, dear faithful, like St. Paul encourages and instructs Titus, we too are enabled if we don’t turn from Christ, and if we nourish the baptismal grace given to us. We ought to immerse ourselves in the gifts of grace, of repentance and the frequent attendance at Badarak and frequent reception of Holy Communion. Through that grace given to us, we will like the saints, be bold in our faith and willing to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives, while we wait with blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us and to purify us to do what is good. (Titus 2:13-14)
This evening we came before God and we rejoice at our dear savior’s birth, gathered sacramentally in the Holy Cave of his nativity to receive his precious and life-giving presence from the womb of the church and to Commune with him and with each other in love and steadfastness as the Body of Christ. Tonight, like the example of the lives of the St. Mary and all the saints we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to sin, which separate us from God’s love, we are, each and every one of us, invited into a new relationship with God, one that parallels and reflects the golden disposition of our greatest icon of obedience, love, humility, St. Mary, who out of her trust in God her savior, succumbed to the mystery beyond reason and was made worthy to become the Mother of God, the Lord Jesus Christ and the mother of us all. Therefore beloved and sanctified of God, as we prepare to receive the Holy Communion of Christ’s Body and Blood and to recommit our to our lives in Christ, let us join the choir of angels and sing, Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth, Peace and goodwill among all on whom God’s favor rests.
Christ is born and revealed, blessed is the revelation of Christ.