Der Vasken’s Sermon on September 26, 2021

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

More people travel today than have ever travelled before. Today’s Feast of the Holy Cross takes me back to one of the most incredible places I have ever travelled. About ten years ago, with twenty-five of our parishioners, we flew from Boston to Yerevan and from there, we journeyed through the Republic of Georgia into Javakh and crossed the border into the historic lands of our forefathers.

From the border city Kars to the ancient Armenian Capital of Ani, with what remains of her 1,001 churches, through Mush and Palu we drove. We were taken aback by the beauty and sparkle of Lake Van and walked the dirt roads of what was left of the City of Kharpert—the ancestral home of so many of Holy Trinity’s families. We visited Erzeroum, the birthplace of Mesrop Mashtotz and we drove through and by countless villages once populated by Armenians. On and on we drove through the ancient regions of our homeland. Along the way, we drove across flat roads, climbed small mountains and descended into valleys aware that every road and every village contained a part of our history and our families’ story.

On one particular day, we entered a village populated by Kurdish families. Walking through that village felt like walking back in time. With the exception of dim lights coming from the homes, that village lived by what seemed to be the standards of another era. People were standing in their doorways wondering who we were, staring at our group, at our vans, at the bright colors of our clothes, at how we seemed to walk differently and speak differently and interact differently with each other than they were accustomed to.

That village was located on the famous Mount Varak. Mount Varak is believed to be where Sts. Hripseme and Gayane buried a piece of the Cross to which Jesus had been crucified centuries earlier. Hripseme, if we remember, fled from the Emperor because he wanted to marry her and force her to abandon her faith. So the nuns secretly fled his empire making their way to Jerusalem for safety. They hid in what is today the Church of the Archangels in the Armenian Quarter for near three years, dedicating their lives to prayer and developing their faith. Ultimately, their whereabouts were discovered and they fled to unknown lands arriving to the borders of the Armenian Kingdom burying the Relic of the true Cross on the side of the mountain, known as Varak so it wouldn’t be captured and there it stayed for over three hundred years, buried and all but forgotten until a humble monk named Totik had a vision.

Back in the 7th century, this devout monk saw an image of a bright cross resting on a monastery on Mount Varak. The monk made his way there and on that mountain, he found the Relic of the True Cross of Jesus Christ. Today’s feast commemorates that moment. That fragment of the Holy Cross became the most highly-honored relic in Armenia.
That’s part of the history behind this feast day of the Holy Cross, but the meaning of this feast is much bigger than the historical events that gave birth to it. No symbol is more associated with the Christianity than the cross. Literally, it signifies rejection and execution and death but ultimately, it signifies the Resurrection. Christian people look at the cross and see the glory of God. Out of what began in hatred comes the power of the Resurrection ad the triumph of good over evil. But the Cross has practical implications for us as well.

• In a world fractured by division, the Cross welcomes everyone;
• In a world where people fear death, the Cross promises life;
• In a world filled with doubt, the Cross offers faith;
• In this “me-centered” world of ours, the Cross tells us to help others;
• The Cross is the place of Christ’s healing and love for everyone who seeks it.
• It’s the place where everybody can find hope.

Last weekend, I had the honor of placing a cross on the foreheads of two people from the same family—one an adult and the other an infant—at their baptism. This afternoon, I will have the honor of doing so again for another family because we believe in the Promise of the Holy Cross.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. We venerate the Cross, not because it is an ancient relic but because it is our “North Star” and it will forever point us toward God. The Cross is what ties this world to the world of Heaven.

So think about this. We wear it around our neck. We place it above our churches. We baptize, do weddings and bury our loved ones by it, but how often do we find the time during our day to venerate the Cross in our heart? Do we see it as a guiding presence in our life and in the life of our families? We venerate it because it is our “North Star” that leads us toward God. When we venerate it, we “meet” our God.

Something we should all take time to think about.


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