Der Vasken's Sermon on August 12, 2018
Aug 14, 2018
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Today in the Armenian Church we venerate St. Mary, the Mother of God, in a very special way. Today is the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary. It's the day our Church Fathers set aside to commemorate the burial of the greatest of saints--the woman Who God Himself deemed worthy to give birth to His Son. When St. Mary's earthly life came to an end, she was buried in a tomb. That tomb is now housed within a church. It is a very special church--an underground church for the most part.
Two months ago, I had the privilege of leading a group of young adults from around our diocese to Jerusalem and the Holy Land. On our first full day in Jerusalem, we visited that below-ground church and celebrated the Badarak on St. Mary's tomb. The church, which houses the tomb of St. Mary, is called the Church of the Assumption because it was exactly there that Mary was "assumed" into Heaven--taken into Heaven--by the Hand of her Son, Jesus.
The Church of the Assumption is a beautiful church located just outside the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem at the base of the famous Mount of Olives and very near the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus was arrested on the night before His Crucifixion. Outside the courtyard of the Church of the Assumption, the traffic and noise of the city flow non-stop all day long. Cars, trucks, buses, tour buses go by all day long. But as you descend into the church, you feel completely removed from that noise. The noise is swallowed up in a deafening peace and quiet. You become aware--immediately aware--that you are standing in the place where the body of St. Mary was laid to rest and her peace surrounds you. And although the cars and buses and trucks are flowing by on the street above, you no longer hear them because you are standing in the holy tomb of St. Mary--standing in the peaceful presence of St. Mary.
There is a beautiful teaching of the Church folded into this feast dedicated to the passing of St. Mary. Standing at the entrance of Mary's tomb, we talked about how our Church Fathers were very careful in describing the "passing" of St. Mary. Nowhere does it say, or is ever said, that St. Mary "died." The Armenian Church, being one of the original Apostolic Churches, stayed true to that understanding. The word "died" is replaced with the phrase, "Fell asleep in the Lord." St. Mary "fell asleep" in the Lord and therefore, lives on with Him in Heaven.
This is true, also, for the prayers we offer every week during the hokehankisd service for our deceased loved ones. If you notice, there, too, the Church Fathers have placed the phrase "fell asleep" and not "died" into the body of this important prayer. Why? Because it's the body that dies, not the soul. The soul--the essence of who they are, never dies.
- The soul belongs to God.
- The soul comes from God.
- The soul is with God.
- The soul doesn't die.
As we entered one by one into the burial tomb of St. Mary, I could feel the faith of our group leaping in their hearts as they touched the slab where the body of Jesus' Mother had been laid. Upon stepping out of the tomb, one member of our group came over to me and she said, "Der Hayr, the peace in her tomb is unlike anything I ever felt before. It's incredible."
Everyone needs peace. Today we celebrate the peace found between the heart of St. Mary and the heart of God. So ask yourself:
- Is there an area of your life that seeks peace?
- Is there an area of your life that needs peace?
If so, then in your prayers, call on St. Mary to help you find it. Today we are encouraged to invite St. Mary in and feel her peace.