Der Vasken's Sermon on April 23, 2017

Apr 25, 2017

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"In this world you will have trials and tribulations.  But be of good cheer for I have overcome the world."

Today is called New Sunday in the Armenian Church.  It's also the weekend of April 24th--the day we commemorate the Sainted Armenian Martyrs, who fell victim to Genocide. These two feast days on the surface seem like two completely opposite occasions.  One is the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ and the other is a feast day that began in darkness.  The darkness found us.  We did not seek it.  With this darkness ninety percent of our homeland died, including our fathers and mothers, their children, scholars, priests, teachers, merchants, musicians, authors and poets, craftsmen, farmers and shepherds.

At its foundation New Sunday celebrates Life.  April 24th, on the other hand, is very different.  It's a memorial to Genocide.  Yes, our ancestors were canonized into sainthood by the Armenian Church and what a blessing that was for our family histories, but we all remember our grandparents and their stories.  Most of us can still hear their first-hand accounts of those dark days that led up to a lifetime of tears.  The Resurrection of Christ and April 24th do relate to one another in an important way.  

Just scratch the surface and it becomes clear that the Resurrection of Jesus Christ represents life overcoming death.  And that's the promise of the empty tomb.  It's the promise that those, who went through the Genocide, clung to and never let go of it.  It's the promise of eternal life.  And it's God's promise that misery and sorrow, the trials of life and even death itself, are not the end.  And if we buy into this promise, then we buy into the fact that we are followers of the One, Who walked out of His own tomb. We have been freed from the grip of death because the tomb, which contained the crucified body of Jesus Christ, could not stand up to the powers of Heaven. We celebrate the Resurrection because what it represents is so crucial.  Death could not hold Jesus Christ.  Death had no power over Him, and when He walked out of the tomb, He announced to the world that He has "overcome the world."

But now consider this.  We are now the offspring of saints.  How much of our faith in what the Resurrection represents comes through in our typical commemorations on April 24th?  How much of our faith shines through, when we tell our neighbors and co-workers and people we meet for the first time, that we are Armenian and their first words back to us are about the Genocide?  It's as if, who we were before 1915 with our rich culture and 1700-year faith, doesn't matter.  Too often our faith and culture are pushed aside and we are defined by 1915.

It is a fact of history that those, who brought Genocide to the heartland of our homeland, did so in order to eradicate our ancestors.  And they proved all too capable of inflicting misery and pain on our people with effects that are still felt today 102 years later.  But it's equally a fact that many of those, who suffered and died in 1915, did so with the hope that there would be a place in the Kingdom of Heaven for them.

Every Armenian living today has a story to tell given to us from a parent or grandparent which testifies to this truth.  We Armenians are forever obliged to seek justice on behalf of those who endured our history's darkest hour and April 24th will eternally stand as the day we remember them.  But it's important to remember them as they actually were--to remember their hopes and prayers; to remember their courage and strength; to remember their faith and their will to survive and build again.

Our Sainted Martyrs understood that Christ was speaking directly to them when He said: "In this world you will face trials and tribulations.  But be of good cheer for I have overcome the world."  This is the promise we should all hear as we face our own challenges today.  That is the promise that the Armenians of 1915 clung to and that is the promise that will help us see the Resurrection as our greatest hope and greatest strength as we face our challenges in life.

We are no longer the victims of an Ottoman Empire that died many years ago because we hold the Cross of Christ up high and we have never let go of it.

  • And that Cross guides us;
  • And that Cross leads us;
  • And that Cross defines us;
  • And that Cross has been freely given to each one of us.

The Cross of Jesus Christ is now in our hands and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is in our hands.  It's our turn to live out the faith of our forefathers and embrace their trust and own their trust in Jesus Christ as our own.  How well we do that is up to us.  How we raise our families, how we fill our churches, how we pass on our traditions, and how we express our values are all ways to embrace the faith and culture of our grandparents.  It's up to us. 

Something for all of us to think about.