Epiphany-Theophany -An Icon of God’s Manifestation and Revelation in Creation

The Birth of Christ is a celebration of joy. The fact that God became man and entered into our human life is seen in the Icon of the Nativity. Wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger is the Christ Child. All the details of the Icon relate to His presence in the World. This presence shines radically with the black opening of the cave in which He was born. This contrast is often seen in the Fathers’ writings in terms of the spiritual light of Christ’s birth radiating through the shadows of death encompassing man. The black mouth of the cave then symbolically, is precisely this fallen world in which the “Sun of Righteousness” has dawned, this wilderness which the “Light of Wisdom” has illumined. The Virgin Mother is shown half sitting, supported by a hammock- type bed used by the early Jews in their travels. Striking is the absence of the usual sufferings of childbirth which is iconographically seen to be an indication of the virgin-birth of Christ. As in the Gospel, all mankind is called to this event. The Wise men represent the learned and astute, and the shepherds represent the humble of this world. A multitude of Angels give glory to God and announce this good news to mankind.
In the Icon, several episodes are grouped together and shown simultaneously. In the bottom left corner, Joseph sits in painful thought, while the Satan under the guise of an old and bent shepherd suggests new doubts and suspicions to him. In the opposite corner, two women are seen bathing the New-born infant to show the real humanity of Jesus.
All of Creation takes part in the birth of the Savior. In the cave, the Infant lies guarded by an ox and a donkey. While the Gospels do not speak of them, all icons of the Nativity portray them because of the prophecy of Isaiah, An ox knows its owner and an ass its masters manger. (Is. 1:3) The Mountainside is a backdrop to the event. While it bears little correspondence to the terrain of Bethlehem in Judea, it parallels a line from the prayer of the prophet Habakkuk; “God comes from Teman, the Holy One from Mt. Paran. Covered are the heavens with His glory, and with His praise the earth is filled’ [Hab. 3:3] One final detail is the tree painted across from the image of Joseph included not only in its own right as an offering to Christ, but also as a symbol of the Tree of Jesse. In the words of the Prophet Isaiah, “But a shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him:’ (Is. 11:1-2]
The icon of the Nativity calls us to praise and glorify the Birth of Christ and to offer unto Him our gifts as He is offered unto us as Gods Greatest Gift. Gazing upon the Miracle and Gift of Gods Incarnation I say, What shall I bring to You, O Christ, Who, for my sake, was born on earth as man? Humanity offers a Virgin Mother and I offer myself. Blessed is the Revelation of Christ.
(Insert Icon)

Meaning of Epiphany-Theophany
The Feast of the Holy Theophany (Epiphany) of our Lord is celebrated each year on January 6. The Feast commemorates both the Birth and the Baptism of Christ and the divine revelation of the Holy Trinity. At the Baptism of Christ, all three Persons of the Holy Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—were made manifest. Thus, the name of the Feast is Epiphany, meaning manifestation, or Theophany, meaning manifestation of God.

The origins of the two feasts –Theophany and Epiphany – lie in the time of the Byzantine Empire, as evidenced by the Greek words that are used to describe them. The word “Theophany” (Theos – God; phainomai – to manifest) means “Manifestation of God”. The meaning of “Epiphany” (Epi – above; phainomai – to manifest) is “Manifestation from above”.

There was much confusion among Early Christians of East and West about when and how to acknowledge the various manifestations of God. The Early Church recognized four such manifestations, called The Four Manifestations, where the Lord appeared to mankind in glory and divinity. They are 1) The Nativity of Our Lord; 2) The Visit of the Magi; 3) The Baptism of Christ, and 4) The Miracle of the Wedding Feast of Cana (1).
Early, the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ were celebrated on January 6. Later the Nativity was moved to December 25 in an effort to accommodate and eventually replace the heathen festivals centered on the winter solstice. The Armenians still celebrate the Nativity and the Baptism of Christ on January 6 according to the ancient custom, while both East and West settled on December 25 as the date for the Nativity.

Fr. Shnork Souin
dershnork@gmail.com
201-306-4304
http://www.stsahmes.org

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Feast of St. Sarkis (Sergius) the Warrior

Who is St. Sarkis?
Captain St. Sarkis is one of the most beloved saints among the Armenian nation. Together with his 14 soldiers/companions, he was martyred for the sake of the Christian faith. During the reign of Emperor Constantine the Great (285-337) St. Sarkis, being very courageous, was appointed the Prince and General in Chief of the region of Cappadocia bordering Armenia. When, during the period of reign of the king Julianos the Betrayer (360-363) ,the persecutions against Christians started by God’s will, St. Sarkis and his only son, Martyros, came to live in Armenia. The Armenian king Tiran, grandson of Trdat, received them very well.
From Armenia, St. Sarkis and his son went to Persia and started serving in the army of the Persian king Shapouh as the captain of regiments. Become aware of the fact that Sarkis was Christian, the king Shapouh ordered him to worship fire and offer sacrifice to the heathen gods. But the captain immediately refused to obey the order saying, “We should worship one God – the Holy Trinity – which has created the earth and the heaven. Whereas fire or idols are not gods and the human being may destroy them.” After these words the saint destroyed the temple. The annoyed crowd fell on the saint and his son. First the son of the saint was martyred. The saint was put into prison and, remaining unshaken in his faith, was beheaded after the martyrdom of the saint light appeared over his body. 14 soldiers/companions of the saint also were martyred for the sake of the Christian faith. Later, St. Mesrop Mashtots brought the relics of the saint to the village Ushi and the Church of St. Sarkis was built over his relics. Captain St. Sarkis is one of the most beloved saints among the Armenian nation.
According to one of the folk stories, upon return of their victorious battle Captain St. Sarkis and his 39 soldiers/companions celebrated their victory in the royal palace. When all of them were drunk and went to sleep, the king ordered 40 young women to kill the brave soldiers. 39 of the women obeyed the order and killed the soldiers, whereas one of them seeing the handsome and peaceful face of sleeping Sarkis fell in love with him and instead of killing, kissed him. Getting up and seeing what had happened St. Sarkis straddled his white horse and, taking the young woman with him, smashed the gates of the city, brought up a violent snow-storm and left the city. It is because of this folk story that people in love started to consider St. Sarkis their intercessor and protector. St. Sarkis always helps and supports all young people asking his help and support.
If you know anyone named Sarkis, call them (even if it’s a day late) and say “Anoonovut abriss!” or “May you Live with your name!”
prayerfully
Fr. Shnork Souin

Poon Paregentan – Sunday of Great Lent

Poon Paregentan – Sunday of Great Lent

Quiz – You have 2 seconds to answer. Go.

Question:

5 Is it a fast that I have chosen, A day for a man to afflict his soul?
Is it to bow down his head like a bulrush, And to spread out sackcloth and ashes?
Would you call this a fast, And an acceptable day to the Lord?
6 “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, And that you bring to your house the poor who are [b]cast out; When you see the naked, that you cover him, And not hide yourself from your own flesh?  Isaiah 58:5-7

The period of Lent is a time of preparation for the full expression of the Gospel in the Resurrection of Christ. It is easy to see that the event is so great and of such eternal value, that to fully understand its value requires the great attention and sincere piety of the faithful. Because it is unnatural for mankind to turn away from himself naturally and focus rather on the here and now, the period of Lent guides and directs our steps into a proper posture of humility, love and obedience to Christ who loves us and gains for us His Father’s favor and eternal victory.
The Epistle of St. Paul to the Romans, chapter 13-14 reminds us of that and encourages the proper mindset and posture that we must be armed with in order to apprehend so great a victory and so rich a gift. In it, St. Paul teaches us that the time is now for us to be alert and to stay vigilant with the expectation of the day of salvation. Being fully aware of its proximity, we should put aside worldly ways and be armed with light, conducting our lives in an appropriate way as the inheritance of Christ and the Gospel’s offspring.
It is fundamentally important, yea imperative, to be reconciled to one another and to be communed in the Body and Blood of Christ on the Great Day of Paregentan, in order to boldly endure the period of fasting and abstention that comes with Lent.
Being so filled with Christ, in the Holy Communion of His Flesh and Blood, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit, putting no thought to the flesh and the gratification of its desires, we begin the Lenten fast by which we “mortify” the flesh and bring it into submission. Beginning the Lenten fast without Holy Communion therefore makes no sense at all and robs it of its meaning.
Let what you are denied be to the benefit of others. The fast of the proud man, the one who points the finger at another or judges his actions as being unworthy of faith is not humble and his fast is not pleasing to God. Judge not the piety or the fast of others. Let your fast be done in humility1. The humble man does not pass judgement on what others do (v.14:4), but focuses rather on his place before God in the practice of piety.
May you have a joyful Lent.
Prayerfully
Fr. Shnork Souin, Pastor

1 Matthew 6:16-18
16 “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Sunday of the Expulsion 2013

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8 Oh, give me back my joy again; you have broken me — now let me rejoice. 9 Don’t keep looking at my sins. Remove the stain of my guilt. 10 Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a right spirit within me. 11 Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me again the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you. 13 Then I will teach your ways to sinners, and they will return to you. 14 Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness. 15 Unseal my lips, O Lord, that I may praise you. 16 You would not be pleased with sacrifices, or I would bring them. If I brought you a burnt offering, you would not accept it. 17 The sacrifice you want is a broken spirit. A broken and repentant heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51)

Didn’t last Sunday’s snow covered ground look absolutely stunning? What a contrast. Everything that we knew, everything we were expecting to see was gone!
It was for me a stunning reminder of Baptism and how with that washing, everything old is gone and everything is Carte Blanche, a clean slate. The great penitential Psalm 51, even uses snow as the analogy of the purity that comes with baptism. Lent therefore is the sacred time set out to yearn for and return to the grace and the purity of Baptism.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me,
and I will be whiter than snow.

Today, is the Sunday of the Expulsion reminding us of Adam and Eve’s disobedience and their deserved expulsion from Paradise and excommunication from the Tree of Life, in accord with God’s Righteousness.
Next week is the Sunday of the Prodigal Son.

Please attend Wednesday evening services from 6:30-7:30 followed by Bible Study.
Wednesday evening at Bible Study following our offering of prayers in the evening.
Fr. Shnork Souin
dershnork@gmail.com
201-306-4304
http://www.stsahmes.org

Sunday of the Prodigal Son

The story of the Prodigal Son is one not only of repentance but of faith. Conversion is dependent on both repentance and faith which together effects regeneration and with it the new life in Christ. Repentance alone is insufficient as it comprehends not the presence and the energy of the Holy Spirit to effect a life oriented and pleasing to God. Aversion to sin must be accompanied with a desire to turn from sin and to seek the Divine Will and the power of the Holy Spirit. “Godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10), is not mere regret but a desire for regeneration, flowing from faith.
In essence, the Prodigal Son could not have been redeemed from his lost state by a mere aversion to it, but with a desire for a return to his Father’s home and a yearning for his forgiveness. Maybe unexpected, was the generous outpouring of love with which his father greeted him. The scriptures clearly teach that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”(Luke 15:7) The joy in heaven, is expressed by the Father’s welcome and the feast prepared for his returning son, who says, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.” (Luke 15:24) Regeneration, is therefore not only forgiveness but a new life and the power of the Holy Spirit in transforming our will, strengthening us in our resolve and our desire to live a life of blessed comfort in the presence of God in whom we “move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) The Lenten journey, continuing today, leads our souls along a path redeemed by Christ’s life and the transforming will of the Holy Spirit.

Yes Lord, Let be done unto me according to your will. Luke 1:26-28

Pastor’s Points of Light: The Annunciation and Conception of our Lord Jesus Christ ~ April 7, 2019
In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” 29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.” 34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” 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[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
Every year during Great Lent as we make our penitential journey to the foot of the Cross on Golgotha and then to the Empty Tomb announcing the glorious victory of our Lord who trampled death under foot by his triumphant resurrection on the Paschal day of our Redemption an unexpected thing happens in the liturgical life of the church and her faithful. The journey is interrupted for a day. This day typically falls on a week day where most people might not even be aware of it but occasionally every few years, it falls on a Sunday where one can’t help to notice it. It is the Feast of the Annunciation which is the celebration of the occasion of our Lord Jesus’ conception in the womb of Mary! The reason that this “interruption of FEAST overarching the Great Fast, is that it marks the day none months before the yearly celebration of the Nativity of Christ, that is to say the gestational period where GOD truly grew to term in the womb of Mary.
Lent is a very solemn season that contrasts both joy and sorrow and calls for deep reflection in the great mystery of God’s Incarnation, redemption and Love for humanity by sharing in it fully, being born, suffering, dying and rising from the dead. following the journey to the empty tomb of our Lord Jesus Christ on the Paschal morning.
The Annunciation is a great and important feast in the life of the church and ought to be so in the life of every Christian. This event is of such great significance that The Annunciation is recorded in the gospel of St. Luke and has inspired the naming of many churches throughout time. It is the moment at which the Creation, in time, has been interrupted eternally after which nothing can ever be the same. God didn’t tangentially “scrape” the edges of the atmosphere, to give us a mere glimpse into his magnitude, but plunged himself entirely into his own creation, becoming man. He who is the eternally divine Son of God, unites himself personally, to the flesh offered by Mary, body, blood, and soul, without confusion, without change, without division nor separation. One Holy Human and Divine Nature of the Word Incarnate.
The mystery has been well expounded but at the same time calls us to such a sense of awe and wonder and shows us both the trust, faith and courage of Joseph and Mary. St. Joseph himself, St. Mary’s betrothed and the adoptive father of Jesus, at the news, is struck silent. Nowhere in the scriptures do we hear a word uttered and recorded by him. This shows his humility, and trust in God’s call and his willingness to reorient what seems to be a worldly solution, adapt to the difficulty of the interruption into his daily life and plans, only to seek to follow God’s will and invitation. His silence is not the silence as practiced by pagan religion such as that practiced in Yoga, TM or Zen Buddhism, with a concentration on the self, the ego or id, but a profound concentration on God from which grew the great monastic practice of Hesychia or devotional silence and meditation on God the merciful saying only Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. In silence, therefore, Christians in following Joseph’s example, seek God’s glorious presence and his desire for communion with us according to not only his essence, seeing him face to face in the light of his divine continence manifest in the very person of our Lord Jesus the eternal Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
To compliment Joseph’s trust and love of God, St. Mary “Blessed among women”, “full of grace,” too, by her obedience and trust in the Archangel Gabriel’s call, submits to God’s will and becomes the one “Blessed among Women,” the new Eve, greater than the Seraphim and more precious even than the Cherubim, the Queen of Heaven and the Mother of God!
Imagine her surprise at this interruption into her life! An “unplanned pregnancy”! She asks the angel, “why me?” Asking “who am I that the Lord should choose me?” She is after all a young teenage, unwed girl, covenanted to a life of chastity, who as a result of this “divine vocation” would be forced to leave with her betrothed to live as an “illegal” immigrant in a foreign country, Egypt, one that was never know for its fondness for the children of Israel.
What if she said “no” to God? What if she thought better of it after the momentary ascent to God’s will? What if she decided to exercise her so-called “rights” and to seek to terminate the pregnancy? Thanks be to God, that she didn’t do any of these things, but in the face of every challenge, inconvenience and reason, recognized the sanctity and eternal value of a child conceived in the womb, determined to Choose Life, saying “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
Beloved in Christ, as each of us prepares to celebrate the magnificent and lifesaving Paschal mystery and Resurrection of Christ, may the Holy Spirit come upon you and overshadow you empowering you to serve him and follow him according to his will, laying aside all things in humility and offering yourself sacrificially and with praise and worship glorify God Almighty, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Thanksgiving is Stewardship

Pastor’s Points of Light
By Fr. Shnork Souin-Baynetian
The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give their food in due season. you open your hand and fill all things living with your bounty.
(Armenian Prayer Before Meals)
In this ancient Armenian prayer of Thanksgiving, said before meals, we see the glorious and creative hand of God providing everything necessary for the good and welfare of mankind.
The implication is that God provides everything necessary for the welfare of all mankind and that we ought to be wanting for nothing more, as the gifts of the divine bounty are sufficient for all. The question we must pose however is: “why is their famine, why is their starvation and why is there poverty in our world?” If the problem is not with the amazing realization that our benevolent God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is the lover of humankind, then the problem must be with us!
Mankind, that is Adam and Eve, at the Fall, had their eyes wide open and fell into the world of sin out of their pride, envy, anger, laziness, covetousness, gluttony, and lust. Pride, and Envy, because they wanted to be like God and knowing God was in charge and they didn’t feel ready to obey Him, Anger, blaming each other rather than sacrificing and offering themselves for each other, Gluttony and Laziness because they wanted to eat from the” Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil” rather than, the “Tree of Life” because they felt what received wasn’t enough and Covetousness because they wanted what did not belong to them – in fact was forbidden them and finally Lust because when they had committed every transgression of the Deadly Sins, where previously they were innocent and saw each other as an extension of each other, they realized that they were naked!
The brokenness of this world, the starvation, famine, poverty, is the selfish greed, pride and every other sin, of a humanity that is out of touch, eyes wide shut with God and His mandate for mankind to be the good stewards of his God- given stewardship over the planet and her ever decreasing resources. We need to return to God, in repentance this Thanksgiving and Advent season. We need to stop and offer back ourselves in humility. We can stop the madness, be kind, be charitable, “take what we need and leave what we don’t.” What will our children’s children say about us if we leave them a desolate, barren planet, polluted, infertile, poisoned and raped of every resource?
Repenting from our “consumerist” behavior, we can by God’s grace, return to a wholesome calling, to make life simpler, live within our means, not burdening ourselves nor our children and their children, but causing no harm to them nor to the environment nor to his entire creation that was given to us and for them. Giving thanks “We offer back all that comes from Him, from all and on behalf of all, Amen.” (From the Divine Liturgy-St. John Chrysostom)
This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks to the Lord for His gracious bounty and realize that if we become the Good Stewards, then there will be plenty for all, and recognizing our Christian spirit of love and stewardship, for our lives, families, church, talents, gifts, resources, and responsibility to future generations.
(Prayer after meals)
“Let us give thanks and glory to the Nourisher of the universe who nourished and filled us.”
Prayerfully
Fr. Shnork Souin-Baynetyan, Pastor