Der Vasken's Sermon on April 29, 2018
May 2, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
"In this world you will have trials and tribulations. But be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." [Jn. 16:33]
Today is the Sunday of the Apparition of the Holy Cross. It is also the week of April 24th--the day we commemorate the Sainted Armenian Martyrs. These two feast days, on the surface, seem like two completely opposite occasions. One is the celebration of the triumphant Cross of Jesus Christ. The other is a feast day that began in darkness. The darkness found us. We did not seek it. With this darkness 90 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 the Feast of the Apparition is a feast celebrating life. April 24th, on the other hand, is very different. It is a memorial to genocide. Yes, our ancestors were canonized into sainthood three years ago by the 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 Cross of Christ and April 24th do relate to one another in an important way because the Cross of Christ represents life overcoming death. And that's the great promise of the Cross.
- It's the promise that those who went through the Genocide clung to and never let go of.
- It's the promise of eternal life that we celebrate when we mark ourselves with the sign of the Holy Cross.
- And it's the promise that misery and sorrow and the trials of life and even death itself are not the end.
And if we accept this promise, then we accept the fact that we are followers of the One Who turned the Cross from in instrument of death into a symbol of life. We have been freed from the grip of death because the Cross to which Jesus Christ was crucified, could not stand up to the powers of Heaven. We hold up the Cross of Christ 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 the offspring of saints. 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 1,700 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 103 years later.
And as the song I heard sung the other day at the Armenian Heritage Park said, "Our wounds are still open because we will never forget our loved ones. We owe it to all the people we lost." But it is 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 is 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 Cross as the Symbol where we place our hope because of what it represents. We are no longer the victims of an Ottoman Empire that died many years ago because we know how to hold His Cross up high and we have never let go.
- 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. It is our turn to live out the faith. How well we do that is up to us. Something for us to think about.