St. Nersess Dean Preaches Sermon in Jerusalem’s Sts. James Armenian Cathedral during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is observed throughout the world. In Jerusalem, the practice is to visit a different church each day of that week and conduct a worship service. While visiting the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, Fr. Mardiros Chevian was invited to offer the sermon at the event held there. Those in attendance were mostly non-Armenians from a number of different denominations.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen
In the town of Armonk, New York, where the Armenian seminary at which I serve is located, there is a business called “Its All About You”. This business is a spa where people go to be pampered.
The first time I saw the sign above the entrance, I thought okay, so the message they are giving in order to attract customers is that life is all about me, not about you or us, instead its about me. Certainly a clever way to draw people into their establishment.
Shortly after I noticed this business, I had to travel to one our parishes to be the guest speaker at a gathering commemorating the 100th anniversary of the founding of that parish. As I contemplated what I would say in my address to those gathered, I could not get the name of that shop, that business out of my head. So I decided to let it be the starting point of my message to them.
I reminded the guests at the celebration of the 100th anniversary that their parish had been built by mostly refugees, survivors of the Armenian Genocide that had taken place 100 years earlier. And in fact, if it wasn’t for those penniless people, their faith, their willingness to sacrifice and their vision for the future, we would not be gathered here to celebrate this milestone. I shared with them the name of the spa and the message it gave and encouraged them to be grateful that their ancestors, the founders of their parish were not of the same mind. For them it wasn’t about me, it was about you and us. They cared about and planned for your faith development, your education, your spiritual growth, and your fellowship with other believers. They cared not just for themselves, but for you, for the children of your children, for friend and stranger. The cared about who would come after them. Thank God for their vision and foresight!
Now we here this evening, should fast forward a hundred years from this little example of living not for oneself but for others. Where do we find ourselves today? The media, the world of business, even amongst communities of faith, we have been blinded by the evil one to buy into the “its all about me” way of living, speaking, acting and thinking.
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ, we as Christians must be the first to reject that notion and the first to embody, reflect and witness to the “its all about you and us, not me” message.
And why? Because, we are the reflection, the icon, the image of the One who was born, lived, ministered, was crucified, died and rose from the dead – the One Lord Jesus Christ who is the greatest, the purest, the most powerful example of sacrificial love, of giving “until it hurts”, of offering himself as a living sacrifice – the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
We, dear friends, are called to be icons, images of our Creator, but when others look into us what do they see? Do they see the one who died for our sins, do they see the one who showed unconditional love, compassion, mercy and forgiveness? Or is it something else or someone else that we reflect?
In the orthodox tradition, we cense altars, icons, the gospel book and other images of the divine and holy. We also cense the clergy and the people, because we too are called to be images, icons of that which is holy and good. And the image that others will see in us will depend on just how we living that calling – how we treat others, how we live out our faith. And it will depend on whether or not we become true messengers of the one who has sent us forth to bear good fruit, to spread the good news, to love one another as he has loved us.
In the Gospel reading that was read earlier from St. Luke, we heard again the account of the Last Supper, the establishment of the Eucharist. Jesus breaks the bread, giving of himself before his suffering. But the meal is not over yet, dear friends, it is still being served. It continues today and every day and not just during the Eucharistic celebrations that take place in ways unique to each of our traditions. It takes place each and every day of our lives, because just as Jesus became bread for us, we must become bread for each other and for the world.
How can we do that? We can become bread for each other, as faith communities, by coming to each others aid when needed, we can become bread for each other by praying for one another, by supporting and encouraging each other. We can become bread by suffering with each other and celebrating with each other. We are called to become bread for each other, so that we can in turn become bread for others, for those outside this circle of faith, for those who have yet to see, to learn and to understand.
We are called to become bread for the hungry, the enslaved, the poor, the refugees, the imprisoned, the lonely, the troubled. So, let us become bread for each other. Let us have courage and not be afraid. Let us become the light, the salt, and the bread that our Lord has called us to be. And let us watch that light become even more brighter, that salt ever more flavor enhancing and that bread rise so much so that it may feed others as well. Let us not be selfish and keep all these blessings and graces to ourselves.
Christian unity does not mean becoming cookie cutter churches – all the same size, shape, color and taste. It does not mean sharing the same headquarters, language, hierarchy, or liturgical or worship traditions. There is beauty in diversity.
What Christian unity does mean, is to reflect in our own unique ways the One True God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It means becoming the true messengers of our One Lord Jesus Christ to the world, to our friends, our neighbors and yes, even to our enemies. By doing so, we make it possible, through our words and deeds, for others to see more clearly the one who has brought us salvation and can bring it to them as well.
So, shortly, when we begin to sing the Kiss of Peace in Armenian (Krisdos ee mech), let us turn to the person to our right and left, front and back and greet them. Let us look into that person’s soul and see the image of Jesus Christ that has been imprinted on each of us at our baptism. Let us not see just a male or female, white or of color, Protestant, Catholic or Orthodox. Let us instead see a sister, a brother, a child of God, who we are called to love and embrace as one of his, made in his image and likeness. And by doing so, we will be faithful to our call as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and we will become examples and witnesses of the words of the Kiss of Peace that will be sung, which translated into English are:
“Christ is in our midst and has been revealed. He who is God is here seated amongst us. The voice of peace has resounded. A holy greeting has been enjoined. Here the Church has become one soul. That kiss is given for a bond of fullness. The enmity has been removed and love is spread over us all.”
And let us forever praise and glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and unto the ages of ages. Amen
Rev. Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dean of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary