Der Vasken’s Sermon on November 26, 2023

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

It’s funny how aromas and objects can trigger memories long since forgotten and they can carry you back in time to special places. For my family, Thanksgiving took place every year in my grandparents’ home in Troy, New York. They have been gone now more than thirty years but last Thursday, as we ate our Thanksgiving meal on my grandparents’ china, my mind kept flashing back to those wonderful days. Thanksgiving took place every year in my grandparents’ home with everyone sitting around the dining room table.

There we enjoyed our Thanksgiving meal with a Marash-tsi touch and those Thanksgiving celebrations remain among my favorite memories. My grandmother shined on Thanksgiving. She loved it. Meal preparations began days before anyone arrived. For much of my childhood, I thought her food was the greatest part of that holiday, but later I realized it wasn’t the food I remember the most. It was the people sitting around her table enjoying her food. That’s Thanksgiving at its finest. That’s what I give thanks for—the people around that table talking and sharing and I, as the youngest in the house, sat in my seat and ate my meal and listened to their stories.

Those elders and so many others like them lived hard lives—much harder than I have had to and yet, they discovered the secret of life and joy amid unthinkable sorrow and hardship and heartache. Those people walked through the Valley of Death. They saw the loss of family, the loss of villages, the loss of their ancestral homes, the loss of innocence, the loss of family graves and on and on I could go.

When I sat around their Thanksgiving table, I didn’t see loss. I saw people who smiled and people who loved and people who overcame and people who were on the rise. I saw hardworking genocide survivors, who worked long hours to ensure that their children had a better start in life than they had. At my grandmother’s table were my relatives. It was a table of faithful immigrants. Like other immigrants from other countries and cultures, they brought the “old country” with them. That meant that, although they lived in a new country, their family traditions and values came with them. It was like a piece of Marash arrived with them.

During those meals, they taught us how to live life defined by faith, hope, love and family. They saw the worst this world had to offer yet they never gave up. They clung to their faith much like the displaced families of Artsakh are doing today. Faith, hope, love and family—that’s who they were; that’s what they spoke of; that’s what they taught us; and that’s what they left us as their greatest gift.

Thanksgiving is about thanking God for the blessings we have in our lives. That belief has always been the central part of our ethnic Armenian story. The psalm we just heard read is known as a “Thanksgiving Psalm.” It makes clear this one important point. “Our God endures forever.”

I don’t know about you but as we just gathered around our Thanksgiving tables, many of us noticed that so much in our world has changed over these past few years and months. There has been a lot of turmoil and loss and difficulty. There are wars lingering on and growing larger in scale. There is the Artsakh issue and families displaced.

Yet even in the midst of these things, we still have reason for which to give thanks. At the heart of that gratitude is knowing that Our God endures forever. So on this weekend of Thanksgiving, let us think about things for which we gave thanks to God.

• What were those things?
• Were they things or were they people?

The delicious foods of our Thanksgiving tables belong to this world but the people, who sat around those tables with us, will live on and through faith and hope and love, we will see them again in God’s eternal Kingdom of Heaven because Our God and His Kingdom endure forever.

Our ancestors believed that. May we as well. “Our God endures forever.” I hope you all had a meaningful Thanksgiving with your families.


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