Der Vasken's Sermon on October 25, 2020

Oct 28, 2020

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

At the end of this week, the Armenian Church will celebrate a feast that dates back centuries.  It is a day that honors the saints of the world and it is a day that honors those who tried to live out their Christian faith.  Saturday is the Feast of All Saints, Old & New, Known & Unknown.  When we look at the lives of the saints, we immediately see some expected things.  For example, we see that there is true holiness in them and that should be expected.  But if we look a little closer, their lives, also, show us that holiness comes in all shapes and sizes--rich and poor, soldiers and peacemakers, monks, nuns, public servants, adults and young adults and those in between.  Their struggles may have changed over time but saints and saint-like people are still among us.

Ancient saints may have written hymns for worship or defended doctrines and teachings or even died for their faith.  Today, modern-day saints and saint-like people may stand for the value of life or for civil rights or for a greatly-needed cause.  They may be like a young man named Sevak Avanesyan, a gifted cellist from Belgium.  This 31 year-old  young man became the first Armenian concert master of the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra.  I heard about what Sevak did just last week. Sevak left the comforts of his home in Belgium to help the families who live near the recently bombed cathedral of Ghazanchetsots, the historic Cathedral of the Holy Savior built in the late 1880's.  At that cathedral, the families prayed weekly, if not daily, in Artsakh's war-torn city of Shushi.  Sevak made his way to that beautiful cathedral to bring peace and calm to the hearts of those who live around there.  He played his music.  He played the song "Grunk" by Gomidas Vartabed, knowing that at any moment more rockets could hit the cathedral and more walls could be destroyed and he could become the latest victim of the war on the peaceful people of the Republic of Artsakh.  Sevak, apparently, always looks for ways to bring comfort to people through music and so he traveled to Shushi to help them in the only way he knew how.  He risked his own life to bring peace to the lives of others and so he played his music.  Sevak lives out his faith.  He is an example of a modern-day saint.

There are many other saint-like people out there as well.  I become inspired when I read of mothers of all ages, leaving the safety of their homes, to support their sons, to support the soldiers of Artsakh on the front lines. I have seen and we have all seen example after example, photo after photo, of unknown women bringing food to the hungry soldiers, bringing coffee to the cold soldiers and bringing moral support to the young soldiers--soldiers defending the front lines and securing the borders all around the mountains and valleys of Artsakh. 

I become inspired by photos of grandparents raising their children's children while the parents of those children are defending the front lines.  These grandparents are keeping their grandchildren warm, keeping them fed and keeping them as safe as possible while mortar fire is heard in the distance and all around their village.  These people are today's saints. Saints are people who have stood out as a light in a time of darkness.  They are the role models of the Christian faith.

So next Saturday, we honor all the saints, both the ones we know of as well as the ones whose names are known only to God.  Look at the beautiful windows surrounding us today.  These windows tell the story of the saints they pay honor to.  We see them as real people who lived out their faith and left their mark.  Saints like Vartan Mamigonian or Mesrob Mashtotz or Princess Santookht or Saints Hripseme and Gayane--all heroes and heroines larger than life.  These stained glass windows beautifully capture their spirit.  They are physically humble people but spiritually majestic.

Saints are not inherently any different than we are.

  • Like us, they valued faith, hope and love.
  • Like us, they also lived in morally challenging and dangerous times.
  • Like us, they lived in a time of war with their neighbors.
  • Our world tests faith and family values.  Their world was no different.
  • Our world sees great violence.  Their world was no different.
  • Our world is increasingly indifferent to spiritual life as their world was.

Every generation in every era faces challenges and produces saint-like people.  Saintly people shine the light of God into a world that has gone too dark.  The Feast of All Saints is not only about people who once lived among us, but about caring, loving, faithful people who live among us today.  Every age needs people who shine the light of God into the world.  These types of people give hope to others.  That is the meaning of the Feast of All Saints, Old & New, Known & Unknown.

Let me end with this.  In this day and age, I think we will all agree that it is hard to live our lives by the standards of the saints.  It is hard to accept the idea that we can be saint-like as well, especially when we see things happening around us that make no sense, that don't seem just or fair or right.  But the world around us needs modern-day saints and saint-like people, who will rise up and show others the way.  

So let's ask ourselves:

  • When we see opportunities to put our faith into action, do we do so?
  • And when we see unjust, unfair things going on around us, do we let our faith guide us?
May the spirit of that young cellist named Sevak Avanesyan and those mothers and grandparents living in and around the front lines of Artsakh live on and grow within our world.  They are inspiring.  They are shining God's Light into a part of the world that has gone dark.  May God bless our soldiers, leaders and all those saint-like selfless people shining God's Light.

Amen.