“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness,” were the words with which Fr. Vazken Movsesian ended a series of lectures/homilies during the 2019 Lenten Season. It was the direction and stage set for the Holy Week and Easter Season which lie ahead.
By the order of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate and at the invitation of Fr. Khajag Shahbazian, Parish Priest of the Srbots Ghevontyants Armenian Cathedral, the Vigil services of the Lenten Season were accented with sermons by Fr. Vazken Movsesian. Each week, one of the unique Christian outreach programs of the Western Diocese was shared with the congregation in a manner that would promote faith and spiritual growth. These were not informational lectures as much as they were stories which inspired and invited participation in the dynamic ministries of the Armenian Church here in the Western Diocese. Each week, Fr. Vazken wove together stories with the Scriptural message of the week.
The first lecture took place on the day the Western churches refers to as “Ash Wednesday.” Here Fr. Vazken shared the story of Sasnashen – a village in the Talin region of Armenia – where in 1958 a US Airforce plane was shot down by Soviet troops. It was one of the casualties of the Cold War and didn’t find closure until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Last year, on the 60th Anniversary of the shoot down, Fr. Vazken met with the US Airforce servicemen, specifically with the Prop Wash Gang in Nebraska. Following a warm reception and exchange of thoughts, the group took up a collection to help children in the Sasnashen village. In October 2018, Fr. Vazken travelled to Armenia and along with the late Deacon Hrayr Nalbandian visited the village, prayed for the dead at the crash site and established a room for afterschool programs for the village children. Read more about the September 2018 meeting.
The following week Fr. Vazken took the Lenten congregation to India via his message as he shared a story about the Indian Orthodox Church – a sister church of the Armenian Church. He recounted a gesture made by the Catholicos of the Indian Church, the revelation of a Pontifical ring by the venerably Catholicos of the Armenian Church, Vazken I and a direction to share the Gospel of the Crucified Jesus. Last year, Fr. Vazken was the featured speaker at the Orthodox gathering in the Poconos. Read more about this event here.
Week 3 was dedicated to the Starkey foundation. A look at the opportunities given to us was tied in with the theme of the week, the Steward. Fr. Vazken shared the musical ride through the mid-West as a prelude to a mission to provide thousands of hearing aids to the people in Armenia. This is a humanitarian program that touches over a hundred different countries and our Western Diocese brought its participation in aid to the people of Armenia. More information is available here.
The final lectures/homilies were tied together in several ways. It was the wind-down period during the Lenten season. Fr. Vazken spoke about the need to expand and extend ourselves as Christians. By pointing out the Scriptural passages that Church Fathers have directed us to read, he emphasized the need to act on our Faith. He alerted the congregation to the Darfuri Genocide which began in 2003 and how a group of young Armenian men and women gathered around the holy altar of the St. Peter Armenian Church Youth Ministries Center in 2005 and organized relief efforts, including collecting signatures for a divestment campaign for the State of California. He recounted the journey that eventually had him meeting Governor Schwarzenegger and signing of bill which divested California from the Sudan to the tune of $5Billion. At the signing of the bill the Governor asked Fr. Vazken why an Armenian priest would be involved in aid for the Darfuris, to which he replied, “I do it because no one cared about the Armenians in 1915 and so I can’t turn my head now. Can you imagine if someone cared enough to hold back funds from the Turks so that they couldn’t by the weapons they needed to execute a Genocide? Let’s not make the same mistake now.” He continued to explain that the Genocide has left hundreds of thousands in exile and in refugee camps. Then, in the midst of his sermon, he spoke about donkeys! Yes, during the Christmas season last year our church sent over several donkeys to help the people in the camps. Each donkey brought hope and new life.
Fr. Vazken ended the series by talking about the small steps we can all take that will have large footprints. He challenged the congregation to extend themselves to others. As the Scriptural passage on the Sunday of Advent attests, the best way to prepare for the Second Coming of Christ is to keep the commandments of the First Coming, namely to love and care with true Christian compassion.
All of these programs that were presented are sanctioned and supported by the Primate of the Western Diocese, Archbishop Hovnan Derderian. They are further expressions of our Christian compassion within the community. The next major program will be a Blood Drive organized by the Western Diocese. In an emotional plea, Fr. Vazken mentioned that during April Armenians find much comfort in the darkness rather than lighting a candle to eliminate the darkness. With true Christian compassion, the Armenian Church here in the Western Diocese touches the community with its multitude of outreach programs. This Blood Drive on April 23 is a tangible way everyone can take a small step and leave a giant footprint. Each drop of blood is an opportunity for the sick and hurting to move forward with their lives. It is easy to make a difference: It is as simple as signing up for the Blood Drive.
The Lenten season was one to prepare us for life ahead. The six weeks together fortified the ties between the primate, priests and people of this dioceses. Through the lectures and homilies, faithful members of the Church heard about the direction and course set by the Church, and with spiritual anticipation await Holy Week and Easter services, renewed in Christ.