Der Vasken's Sermon on July 15, 2018

Jul 17, 2018

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

At the end of this week, the Armenian Church will celebrate a little-known feast day that honors five noble men, who lived a very long time ago.  Their names don't "roll off our tongues" as many other names of saints do, but they should because these five men left their mark on history by building up the Church in Armenia at a very critical time.

Saturday is the Feast of the sons and grandsons of St. Gregory the Illuminator:  Saints Aristakes, Vertanes, Hoosig, Grigoris and Taniel.  These men were the sons and grandsons of Krikor Loosavorich and each a successor to the title of Catholicos of the Church of Armenia. These five men, all of whom died as relatively young men, are remembered by name each time the Badarak is celebrated in an Armenian Church.  And it is interesting that these men were canonized into sainthood not because of their relationship to St. Gregory, but for the fact that each of them gave up his life for his faith. 

Apparently, the development of the Christian faith in Ancient Armenia didn't happen overnight.  It occurred over time and it happened distant region by distant region.  Even the many princes of Armenia developed their faith at varying times and according to historians, their morals and values were similarly slow in taking on Christian characteristics.  And so Saints Aristakes, Vertanes, Hoosig, Grigoris and Taniel--all moral Church leaders--called upon the many princes of Armenia to live their lives with the moral standards that befit the faith of Jesus Christ.   And because they stood firm in their moral demands, each of these five men were martyred at different times, by different princes, in different regions of Ancient Armenia because of their faith.

At the time of these five men, there was a desire building up in Armenia to go back to the pre-Christian ways.  Outside people and foreign governments were trying to impose their religion and cultural ways upon the Armenians.  And even within the borders of Armenia, small populations of pre-Christians were trying to maintain their traditions and roll back the land of St. Gregory and King Drtad to non-Christian times. 

Should we be surprised by this?  No.  In fact, it should be expected because these people knew only one religious experience up to that point and that was handed down to them through the generations of family tradition.  Pre-Christian culture in Armenia was very different than what the Christian King of Armenia was trying to put into place across his land.  So he called upon the sons and grandsons of St. Gregory to align the people and the princes of his land with the teachings of Jesus Christ.

In the early days of the Church, the bishops and clergy focused their teachings primarily on love and forgiveness. In other words, how we treat people, how we accept people, how we interact with people makes a difference in the eyes of God.  Now imagine if these five great men asked us the same questions they asked of 4th century Armenians:

  • Are you good to each other?
  • What have you done with the people God placed in your lives along the way?
  • Have you been kind and considerate?
  • Do you walk with God in your heart?
  • Do you speak and act with love and regard other people as valuable and special?
How would you answer? 

What these five men were trying to instill in 4th century Armenians was a new mentality.

  • We can't treat people poorly and expect God's favor.
  • We can't live putting ourselves above others and claim we love God.

The sons and grandsons of St. Gregory died teaching our ancestors that the selfless Christ always put others first and they ask us to do no less.  Imagine if these five great men asked us the same questions they asked of 4th century Armenians.  How would you answer?

Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.