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)

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Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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