Der Vasken's Sermon on June 30, 2019

Jul 1, 2019

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

"On night one, ten candidates took the stage for two hours, each trying to shine above the others.  Here's what stood out."

These were the opening words of an article I read last Thursday morning--the morning after the first official political debate of the season took place.  The interesting article opens with these questions:

  • Which candidate spoke the most?
  • Which one spoke the least?
  •  How many spoke Spanish and who didn't even try?
  • And what was the most important issue of the night--Medicare, immigration, climate change, border security or nuclear weapons?
And the article continues and raises the question:  Which of these candidates will have the courage to lead this nation into the future?  Overall, the article is saying that we need a great person to lead our great nation with the courage to do great things.  We need a great person.

Yesterday the Armenian Church celebrated a feast day of a man, who had the type of courage sought after in this article.  Yesterday was the feast day of St. Nersess the Great.  This great saint lived 1,500 to 1,600 years ago and is considered a "giant" among his peers for all that he accomplished in his lifetime.  St. Nersess was the great-great-grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator.  By nature, he was a very humble man but one day, his life changed forever.  It was the day that Armenia's King Arshag thrust the title of Catholicos upon him, and this humble man became one of the most progressive and beloved church leaders the Armenian Church has ever known. The story of this saint of the Armenian Church is very interesting.  In fact, it is his character, his personality, that draws my attention every time his feast day comes around in the calendar.

St. Nersess had little interest in the grandeur and formality of his office.  He preferred to be where the people were to build bridges between the people of Armenia and the faith of Jesus Christ.  He carried on where St. Gregory and Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew had left off.  To put it another way, whereas Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew and Gregory the Illuminator planted the seeds of the Christian faith in Armenian soil, it was St. Nersess who nurtured it in the heart of the people.  This is why he is warmly known as the "Illuminator of Hearts" within the Armenian tradition.

One of the greatest of St. Nersess' accomplishments was forming a very important Church Council.  Church Councils established the rules, the tone and the pathway to be taken by the Church.  Church Councils identify the course of the Church.  And so he called together the bishops of the Armenian Church and formed the Council of Ash-di-shad.  At this Council, many Church canons were created concerning the sanctity of family life.  Improvements were made for better social conditions.  Hospitals were established.  Inns were created to give rest to traveling pilgrims and it established throughout Armenia monasteries and convents. It is for these reasons that he is also known as "St. Nersess the Builder."

He is remembered for so many benevolent and spiritual works, and he is equally remembered as the one who revived religious life within the Armenian family and tradition.  And for these reasons, our grateful Armenian nation also surnamed him "St.  Nersess the Great."  According to tradition, St. Nersess became "Great" because he carried in his heart these words of Jesus Christ:  "...but he that is greatest among you shall be your servant."  [Mt. 223:11]  St. Nersess the Great, considered one of the greatest Armenians who ever lived, occupied the highest throne in all of Armenia.  Even the King, who enthroned him, respected his position and yet he remained among the most humble servants of the land.

To him:

  • Greatness comes from helping others;
  • Greatness comes from doing God's work in this world;
  • Greatness comes from serving a need;
  • And Greatness comes through basic Christian service.
So on this Feast of St. Nersess the Great, think about those qualities that you consider make a person "great."  And ask yourself:
  •  How is greatness defined by your faith?
  • What kind of greatness have you sought?
  • And does it include service to others?
And may we all remember that, at the end of the day, we are all defined by our thoughts and actions and values.  We are defined by what is in our heart and what is in our heart makes all the difference in the eyes of God.

How do you define "Christian Greatness?"

Amen.