The emergence of spring each year ushers in a season of hope. For those of us in four season climates, springtime represents the rebirth of plants, trees and vegetation. After a winter of dormant existence, we are inspired by the rebirth of greenery and flowers that add so much to our environment and our mental state. The metaphor of renewal has added significance this year with the excitement of vaccines to defeat the dreaded COVID-19. Hope is essential in our lives. It motivates us to write the next chapter. It inspires us to exist to the best of our ability, and it guides us through our adversities. The absence of hope reveals a sad existence, certainly not the life our Lord has planned for each of us.
Spring is the season most holy to Christians. The time of preparation and prayer called Great Lent precedes Palm Sunday and Holy Week as the faithful remember and walk with Jesus Christ during the last week of His ministry on this earth. This week, the Last Supper, His Holy Crucifixion and His Holy Resurrection are the basis of our Christian theology. The Armenian Apostolic Church liturgy is Bible-based and culminates with the Holy Eucharist (communion) as we follow the command of Christ at the Last Supper saying, “Do this in remembrance of me.” Holy Week gives us most of our liturgical foundation and ends with the Feast of the Holy Resurrection on Easter. Jesus Christ’s Resurrection defeated death and created the promise of eternity. We know this from the well-known scripture of John 3:16 that says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believeth in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
It is sometimes difficult in our earthly life to grasp the significance of Holy Week and this gift. In the absence of faith, we only know our human existence. Although we all understand the limits of our mortal window, it is still challenging to connect with eternity. Faith is the decoder to understanding eternal life. It opens the door that Our Lord, through His sacrifice, has created for each of us. Our faith helps us understand how Our Lord intended for us to live our earthly life in preparation for our eternal salvation. These are His Commandments that essentially revolve around love…for each other and for self. As He granted us “free will,” we are all sinners, but our Lord has provided us with the opportunity to truly repent and be forgiven for our sins. His sacrifice, His forgiveness and His Crucifixion created the pathway to eternity and are the greatest examples of unconditional love we will ever know. This is why Easter or the Feast of the Holy Resurrection is the high point of the Christian calendar. The most important event in this remarkable week is, of course, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. The term comes from the Latin “resurgere” meaning “rise again.” The word has great spiritual significance to Christians but also has taken on a secular meaning of “revival,” “rebirth” or “renaissance.”
For Armenians who have suffered many periods of decline and resurgence, this word has both eternal and earthly significance. Whether that revival is in the here and now, for the souls of our departed or for all eternity, hope is the key. Our faith delivers the hope that is the foundation of belief. This is part of the mystery of the Holy Spirit.
Christians are often asked, “Why do you believe in the Resurrection? What proof do you have?” Most Christians neither require nor pursue “proof.” Faith and our hope from the promise of Our Lord eliminates that need. It is a basic difference between secular and spiritual perspectives. In a secular world, we live our life until it ends on earth. In a Christian spiritual life, we try to live our life on earth as God intended in preparation for eternity. Our earthly life is simply the beginning. We believe in the eventual reunification with our loved ones as God intends.
How does our preparation for eternity connect with the injustice and oppression we experience during our earthly life? As believers, we are called to live our lives in God’s image…full of love, humility and serving others. There are many ways to experience that calling. As Armenians, we have built a civilization and culture that has Christianity as its foundation. Yes, of course, Armenians existed and prospered for centuries before the birth of Christ. Many Armenians point this out to illustrate the importance of the pagan period. From a cultural and historical perspective, this cannot be disputed. The main point is that Christians, Europeans, Assyrians and others existed in some pagan form before the birth of Christ. Since our “Apostolic” experience during the latter part of the first century, Christianity has grown as a seed nurtured in the soil. With the faith and the resulting internal strength of the people, the interrelationship of our faith and heritage began. It is no coincidence that the Armenian alphabet was divinely inspired by Mesrob Mashdots in the early fifth century for the expressed purpose of translating the Holy Bible. Why? Clearly so that the Word of God and the Holy Gospels could be shared in a common written form. It turns out that this spiritually based event inspired a Golden Age of Literature, both religious and secular, through the Holy Translators of that time and others. Christianity manifested itself in Armenia through the Apostolic Church which became and remains the central institution of the Armenians. Those visiting the Holy Cathedral in Etchmiadzin will notice a special location for prayer as you enter. That’s where Christ descended, instructing St. Gregory to build the house of worship. In fact, the term “Etchmiadzin” translated into English means “where the only begotten descended.”
Our roots are deep and have prevented our extinction. When asked how Armenians have survived for centuries when other peer groups with more favorable conditions have faded from history, my response is always that our faith has enabled this gift from God. Some Armenians, who challenge our Christian foundation, point to the Armenian Genocide as an estrangement from God. We can only begin to understand when we look at our existence from an eternal perspective. God granted mankind free will, and our history is filled with loving and evil events. The Genocide confirms the presence of evil, and our survival confirms the presence of God. Our Lord told us that following Him may lead to suffering, but ultimately eternal joy. Our earthly life is fraught with “suffering,” be it illness or ethnic/national experiences. We must view these in the context of preparing for eternity. This is the message of the Resurrection that we embrace through our faith.
We are experiencing one of these “suffering” periods in our Armenian life. Hatred and evil surround us. Land is stolen. Our identity is defamed, and our people suffer the consequences. This is not new to our existence. There were Persians in the fifth century. There were Mongols and Seljuk Turks later. There were the Ottoman Turks for centuries. Now after the Soviet rule, there are Azeris and “modern” Turks to name just a few. We are given gifts by God, each of us, to put to good use during our lives. Building, nurturing and, if necessary, defending our civilization is an appropriate expression. Despite the tension and horror, we must never resort to the mentality of those who seek to destroy us. Armenians must never be driven by hatred and violence towards others. Our civilization is peaceful and has contributed greatly to global history. We love to talk about our contributions, not our conquests. Defend who we are with humility and grace, not with evil intent based on revenge or power. There is no conflict between our faith and the defense of our identity. This is a time for our faith and spiritual DNA to be visible and lead our thinking.
This week, as we remember Jesus Christ’s last few days on earth, His entry to Jerusalem, the Last Supper, His Betrayal, His Passion and Crucifixion and His glorious Resurrection should inspire all Armenians to forgive, reconcile and rebuild a nation with love. In this way, we are truly preparing for eternity. Establishing and maintaining a civil and peaceful nation is indeed an honorable expression of God’s love. Revenge, hatred and evil have no practical or political value and only lead us astray. Our survival from countless calamities is our earthly reward from God. How else can we explain why Armenia has survived? We must honor and protect this gift with a foundation built on the values of our faith. The revival and rebirth that we live for will be granted as Armenia focuses on the attributes that brought us to this moment. Pray for Armenia’s resurrection, and pray for the strengthening of our faith. We must be active, and we must defend Armenian rights. And we must never forget to thank God for our existence and pray for His blessing as we go forward.
“Kristos Haryav ee Merelots”
“Orhnyal e Harutyunyan Kristosi”