Der Vasken’s Sermon on May 26, 2024

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

The year was 287 A.D. and a man named Gregory was condemned to die in a deep pit called Khor Virab. His crime? It was spreading Christianity in the land of Armenia ruled by a pagan king named Drtad. This was the start of the persecution of Christians in Armenia. This coming week there are four very important feast days all of which are linked through history and faith.
These feasts begin with the celebration of the lives of Saints Hripseme and Gayane and they conclude next weekend with the Feasts of St. Gregory the Illuminator and of Holy Etchmiadzin.

Listen to the story of Sts. Hripseme and Gayane. According to history, thirty-six nuns under the leadership of the Mother Superior Gayane escaped from the Roman Empire to the land of Armenia hoping to find refuge from the Roman Emperor who desired to wed an extraordinary beautiful nun under her charge named Hripseme. Drtad, the Armenian King, heard of their entry into his lands and likewise, expressed his desire to wed Hripseme. After many attempts to convince her, the King realized that it was useless and she would not consent to his desires, nor renounce her faith in Christ. The King became enraged and had Hripseme suffer awful tortures for her disobedience and ultimately, she perished from the abuse. The following day the King ordered the remaining nuns similarly put to horrible deaths for their Christian faith.

We should all know the rest of the story well. Soon after the King put Hripseme and the other nuns to death, he grew insane from guilt and acted in every way like a wild boar according to historians.

Soon after that, King Drtad’s sister, Khosrovitoukht, had a dream that only the faith of
St. Gregory could cure her brother. So she ordered the King’s soldiers to release Gregory from Khor Virab, hoping he was still alive, so that he could pray over the King and cure him of his mental illness. The rest is history.

In the days that followed, St. Gregory converted the King of Armenia and the royal family of Armenia and the people of Armenia to Christianity and had chapels built over the relics of the thirty-six martyred nuns. Three hundred years later in the 7th century, two beautiful cathedrals were erected to permanently house the remains of those pious holy nuns and to this day, they stand tall.

So what is the lesson we can take away from the lives of these two great female saints of the Armenian Church? Hripseme and Gayane were fascinated by everything Jesus Christ said and taught. They were inspired by His teachings on compassion and selfless service to others. They were refreshed by what He taught about forgiveness. Through faith, this small group of nuns built a relationship with God. Because of that relationship, they were given the Crown of Heaven.

Their relationship with God encouraged those thirty-six nuns to not give in to the godless society around them but to cling to their faith all the more. So what is Hripseme and Gayane’s message to us? I think it is this. Building a relationship with God leads to eternal life and that relationship is the key to Heaven. That is why Hripseme and Gayane died for their faith.

So let’s ask ourselves just like Hripseme and Gayane, we, too, are loved by God every moment of every day. Does knowing that make any difference to you as you go about your day-to-day life? Sts. Hripseme and Gayane’s images are depicted in stained glass in the walls of our church to remind us that when we build a relationship with God, faith becomes contagious and grows and becomes our key into the Gate of Heaven.

Does knowing that God’s love for you never ends make any difference to you as you go about your life? When we build a relationship with God, our faith grows. Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.

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