Der Vasken's Sermon on September 27, 2020

Sep 30, 2020

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

Today's Feast of the Holy Cross takes me back ten years to one of the most incredible places I have ever visited.  In 2010, a number of our parishioners took a trip.  We flew from Boston to Yerevan and then boarded mini vans for another seventeen-hour trip through the Republic of Georgia and into the lands of historic Armenia.  We arrived to the ancient land of our forefathers.  From the border City of Kars to the surreal 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 of Lake Van and walked the dirt roads of what was left of the City of Kharpert--ancestral home of so many of Holy Trinity's families.  We visited Erzeroum--birthplace of Mesrop Mashtotz and we drove through and by countless villages once populated by Armenians and on and on through the ancient regions of our homeland we traveled. 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.

On one particular day, we entered a village that was completely populated by Kurdish families.  As we walked through that village, it felt like we were going back in time.  With the exception of lights in the homes, that village lived by what seemed to be the standards of the late 1800's.  People were standing in their doorways, staring at our group, at our vans, at the bright colors of our clothes, at how we seemed to walk differently, speak differently and interact differently with each other than they were accustomed to.

That village is believed to be where Sts. Hripseme and Gayane and their company of nuns buried a piece of the Cross to which Jesus had been crucified centuries earlier.  Hripseme, if we remember, fled from the Roman Caesar because he wanted to marry her and force her to abandon her faith.  The nuns secretly fled his empire making their way to Jerusalem for safety.  They lived in what is today the Church of the Archangels in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem for nearly 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 of Jesus on the side of the mountain known as Varak.  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 brilliant cross resting on a monastery on Mount Varak.  The monk made his way to that monastery and there he found what he had been praying to find for years--a portion of the True Cross of Jesus Christ.  Today's feast commemorates that recovery.  That fragment of the Holy Cross became a most-highly honored relic in Armenia. That is 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 Christianity than the cross.  Literally, it signifies rejection and execution and death but ultimately, it signifies the Resurrection.  We, Christians, love our crosses, don't we?

  • Crosses on our churches;
  • Crosses lifted high in processions;
  • Crosses hanging on our walls;
  • Crosses on vestments;
  • Crosses before our meals;
  • Crosses as jewelry--the cross for us is beautiful.
Christian people look at the cross and see the glory of God.  Out of what began as hatred, incomprehensible hatred, comes the Power of the Resurrection, comes the Triumph of Good versus Evil. But the cross has practical implications for us as well.
  • In a world of division, the cross is a place that unites;
  • In a world where people fear death, the cross promises life;
  • In a world of cynicism, the cross is a place of unconditional love;
  • In a world of self-absorption, the cross shows the power and value of sacrificing for others;
  • The cross is the place of Christ's healing and unwavering love to every person who seeks it;
  • The cross is the place of hope for everyone.
The Holy Cross has been a part of our lives since any of us can remember.

Yesterday, I had the honor of placing a cross on the forehead of two people--one an adult and the other an infant at their baptisms, so that it protects them and guides them throughout their lives.  Under the Cross of Jesus Christ, we baptize the generations.  We bless our marriages and we bury our loved ones.  We make the sign of the cross to mark our bodies with God's seal and we start and end our prayers with this symbol.  The Cross of Christ is a part of life for Christians.

Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak.  We venerate the Cross, not because it is an historic artifact, but because it is a living "spiritual bridge" that connects us directly to God.  And when we venerate it, we "meet" our God.  The cross is the intersection between this world and the eternal world and at that intersection, we meet our God and greet the Lord.  So think about this when you have a moment.  

  • How often do you find the time during your day to venerate the cross in your heart?
  • Do you see it as a guide for your life and for the life of your family?
I will end by repeating this thought.  We venerate the cross not because it is an historic artifact but because it is a living "spiritual bridge" that connects us directly to God.  And when we venerate it, we "meet" Him.  Something we can all benefit from thinking about.





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