Der Vasken's Sermon on June 24, 2018

Jun 25, 2018

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

Last Thursday the Armenian Church observed the feast of two of the Holy Translators.  It is a day that the Armenian people recognize and appreciate a handful of churchmen headed by Sts. Sahag & Mesrob for completing an unimaginably difficult task of inventing an alphabet for the Armenian people and providing them with a written language for the first time in their ancient history. Their goal was ambitious.  Their goal was to translate the Bible into Armenian so that the teachings of Christianity could spread into every city and every village where Armenians lived and change their lives forever.

Today's Bible reading tells of a poor widow, who offered all she had--two mites and two small copper coins--together worth the equivalent of one cent in modern money to the treasury of the temple.  [MK 12:41-44]   This widow had great trust in her faith and in her God.   Like that widow, I think the Holy Translators gave all that they had to God as well:

  • They offered their talents;
  • They offered their energy;
  • They offered the best years of their lives to the "treasury" of the Armenian Church and culture.
And because of these men, the men, women and children of Armenia were able to read the Words of the Bible in their own tongue.  And because of these men, Armenia found its distinct and lasting place in the family of nations of this world. 

We celebrate the work of the Holy Translators on this feast day because the work they did was fundamental to the development of the Armenian Church.  Up to that point in history, Armenians had existed for one thousand years and more without an alphabet. St. Sahag Bartev and St. Mesrob Mashdots were the type of leaders, who thought outside of the box, when they worked together to produce our alphabet.  Scholars tell us that designing an alphabet, that actually works and actually lasts, is no easy task.  In fact, they say that it is extremely rare when you consider the whole of human history.  And yet, St. Mesrob did it and it proved to be a turning point in our history.

St. Mesrob led a team of young scholars and together, they translated the Bible into Armenian within a generation.  And still today, it remains as the most important expression of the Armenian written language ever created.  But creating a workable alphabet and translating the Bible would have been in vain if there were no people who could read and understand what they had done.  So the work of these two translators was not complete.  Church historians tell us that the Translators traveled from village to village gathering people together to teach them the letters and hand them the Word of God. 

So we have to wonder why did the Translators take on such a difficult task. The Church Fathers are very clear in saying that the Translators were motivated by a spiritual mission to make the Words of the Gospels speak the language of the Armenians so our ancestors could understand and internalize the message of the Christian faith and pass it on to the generations that followed.

Think about it. Can you imagine what might have happened to us if we had no alphabet?  

  • We may not have made it out of the Middle Ages as Armenian Christians;
  • We may not have had an Armenian identity at all or even an ancestral land;
  • Instead we may have merely been a lost nation that existed centuries ago but eventually disappeared completely as a culture from this earth.
We may have gone the route of the ancient Babylonians or the Assyrians or the Aztec Mayans with maybe a footnote mention in the history books. 

The Holy Translators enabled us to survive as a nation with a unique identity and as a nation where God lives eternally in our souls.  If they hadn't done what they did, it is believed that our nation would not have survived.  Today, we work to keep this spirit alive.  The celebration of the Holy Translators should be a constant reminder of survival for all of us.  Armenians exist today because of what those Translators did.  The celebration of the Holy Translators is a call for us to appreciate who we are and what we are all about.

So on this feast day as we honor Sts. Sahag and Mesrob, ask yourself:

  • What talent has God placed in your hands?
  • And where in the life of His Church does He want you to use it?
May the feast of Sts. Sahag and Mesrob inspire us all so that the Words of the Bible and the Words of Jesus Christ and His Apostles live on through our lives and through the lives of our children's children.

Amen.