Der Vasken's Sermon on October 28, 2018

Oct 30, 2018

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

"But the Cross is foolishness, for those who don't believe, but to those who do, it is the power of God." [1 Cor 1:18]

Today is the Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross.  It's a feast that commemorates an event that took place in the center of the Holy Land in the City of Jerusalem about the same time that the land of Armenia was leaving behind its pagan roots.  I've had the privilege of visiting the Holy Land five times since the year 2000, and the stories and events of the Bible, the feast days and the geography of the Bible are so much clearer in my heart and mind because of those visits.  Let me use today's feast to explain what I mean.

I remember walking down into the lower levels of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem the last time I went and entering into what is now called the Chapel of St. Helena.  The Chapel of St. Helena is where today's Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross took place.  It was down in that once-forgotten part of the Holiest Church in the world--the church that houses the Tomb of Christ, the site of His Crucifixion and so many other important places tied to His death and Resurrection.  In the year 327 AD, St. Helena went to find what she believed to be the most important relic of the Christian faith--the Cross on which Jesus was crucified.  

With the army and financial back of her son, the Emperor Constantine of Rome, St. Helena was eventually able to discover that true Cross, but as the event is described, her men found not one cross but three.  Which, then, would be the Cross upon which Jesus was crucified?  There are local beliefs and traditions that tell much about the years surrounding this part of Jerusalem.

One of these traditions describes the discovery of the Cross.  This tradition says that a young boy had recently died in the City of Jerusalem and as his lifeless body was being carried to his burial place, St. Helena thought that the boy's body could prove to her which cross was without doubt the true Cross of Christ.  So she ordered the young boy's body to be laid upon each of the three crosses.  On the first one, nothing happened.  On the second cross, again nothing.  But upon laying the boy's body on the third cross, the boy woke up because life re-entered his body.

The Cross, that dead piece of wood upon which Jesus was crucified and died, became a life-giving Cross--a Cross that can even breathe life back into the dead.  It's that life-giving Breath of God that our Church Fathers called Asdvadz-a-shounch--the Breath of God, that breathes life into our lives and renews us.   When a Christian looks at the cross, what he or she sees is important.  Is it a symbol of death or a symbol of life?  Think about what you see.

  • The Cross is the bridge which leads to the Gates of Heaven.
  • The Cross is the place where our soul and spirit can be healed and lifted up.
  • The Cross is like a "lighthouse" directing us to a new life of faith.
  • The Cross is the "school" where we learn about truth, about right and wrong and about God's forgiveness.
  • The Cross is the place from where we can draw strength to continue on.
  • And the Cross is the place where every human being can meet Christ.

"But the Cross is foolishness, for those who don't believe, but to us it is the power of God."  Back in 2010, a group of us from this parish visited our ancestral homelands.  We saw many destroyed churches and monasteries on our visits to Kharpert, Van, Bitlis, Erzeroum and the once great City of Ani.  These monasteries no longer had domes to hold up their crosses.  There were no crosses on the altars because the altars were smashed and removed long ago.  The doors no longer displayed the image of a cross because the doors were battered down, but I remembered something while visiting those destroyed holy places.  We were the living "crosses" of that land on that day--on display for the local Kurdish people to see.  We were the living "crosses" of our faith, proclaiming to each village we entered, that the faith of Jesus Christ is part of our family heritage.  It is written on our heart by the blood and faith of our ancestors.  It is who we are.

If we are those living "crosses," then we must take the Cross of Christ into the world in which we live and hold the Cross of Christ in our hands to do the work of God in this world--to visit the lonely, befriend those who sit alone, and care for the forgotten. If we are the living "crosses," then we need to shed God's Light where darkness has taken over and speak hope into the hearts of those who only see gloom and bring encouraging words to someone who needs to hear it--not once or twice, but make that a part of what we do in life and make it a part of who we are in life.  If we are the living "crosses," then we must own the title and live our lives with the realization that Jesus Christ will resurrect everyone who believes in His Name and carries His Cross into the world. 

This is the meaning of today's Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross.  So let's take advantage of this feast day and ask ourselves:

  • Does the cross play an essential role in my life and in my home?
  • And is the cross the lens that I use to understand the world around us?
We each had a cross placed on our foreheads when our godparents held us up for our baptisms.  That cross was placed there never to be removed.  May it light the path for each one of us and guide us and protect us as we live our lives in this world.

Amen.