Der Vasken’s Sermon on January 22, 2023

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

The other day I did something I thought I would never do. I ate at a food truck. I was called to a meeting at our diocese in New York City. The timing was such that, if I didn’t eat before the meeting, it would be well into the night to eat at all.

So there in the middle of Manhattan, I noticed lines of ten, twelve deep waiting to order food at one of either a kosher food truck, a halal food truck or a truck selling what appeared to be oriental food. So I got into the shortest “food line” and as I waited my turn to buy a kosher snack to hold me over, I watched the people around me. I noticed that they were not just hungry. They were there to keep their traditions alive. Dietary rules have been a very large part of Jewish life since the beginning. The people in line waiting to order food wanted traditional kosher foods—foods that were pure and permissible to their traditions. I thought how wonderful for them. They have access to the foods of their heritage in the middle of the busiest city in the world.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have Armenian foods as easily available? I was standing in the middle of a busy modern city where everything screamed new and improved but yet, people still went back to their heritage. They went back to their traditions.

As I walked down the crowded streets, I looked up and realized I’m doing the same thing those people were doing. I was heading to the home of my roots to the St. Vartan Cathedral and it dawned on me that we all have traditions and we are surrounded by them.

Aside from the biology of human life and the genes and DNA of human life, everything else about us—the meaning of human life, family values, community values—is transmitted through traditions.

• We have wedding traditions and baptismal traditions.
• We have birthday traditions and funeral traditions.
• We have Thanksgiving traditions, Christmas and Easter traditions and Lenten traditions.
• We have family traditions, school traditions and work traditions.

We are surrounded by traditions. These are all ways that we are linked together and to our roots. Through our traditions, our faith is woven into everyday life.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see that Jesus kept many traditions Himself, but He criticizes traditions that are cut off from the faith that give them life. The truth He is teaching here is that all of our traditions should express, renew and deepen our faith because traditions make space in our life for God. They express faith but do not replace faith and we can apply this to ourselves.
We have many traditions in the Armenian Church. In this secular world, traditions are symbols of our identity. They remind us of who we are and express to others who we are and what we are called to be. Attending Badarak, wearing a cross around our neck, marking ourselves with the sign of the Holy Cross across our bodies, placing blessed palms around our homes and blessed water in our foods, setting aside a moment for prayer are all ways that we let our faith grow and express itself in our lives.

These religious traditions can get cut off from the faith that gives them meaning. Think about the people who will cross themselves before rolling the dice at the Encore Casino or hang a cross from the rearview mirror of their car and then drive recklessly. It’s the danger that our religious practices can become automatic and without thought almost like a reflex.

So, let’s think back and ask ourselves:

• How many of us remembered that when we consumed the blessed water on Armenian Christmas, we were recommitting to our baptismal promises and prayers?
• How many of us remember that making the sign of the Cross is a way of placing ourselves under the care of Jesus Christ?
• How often do we recite prayers rather than pray them?
• How often do we kneel for confession but not be willing to forgive others?

We have a wonderful set of traditions in our church life. They mark the seasons of the year and the milestones of life. They weave faith into our daily life as we live in a world that grows increasingly secular. We should embrace the traditions of our faith because they are how we stay connected to our roots, connected to our church, give strength to our faith and welcome God into our lives.

Our biology and DNA tell us what we are but our traditions tell us who we are. Something for all of us to think about.

Amen.

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