It was his first Sunday back from an extensive trip which had taken him to several dioceses* and eventually to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, but Archbishop Hovnan Derderian was celebrating the Divine Liturgy – the Holy Badarak – and he was raring to share a very special message of hope with his people.
It was Veterans Day weekend and the Srbots Ghevontyants Armenian Cathedral was packed as it is every Sunday. Abp. Hovnan began his sermon by remembering the country’s veterans and their sacrifice to the ideals and strength of the United States of America. He offered a heartfelt prayer and wish for all veterans, remembering the courage it takes to make such a sacrifice for the security and good of our great country.
Abp. Hovnan then proceeded to share the Gospel message with his flock. From the Gospel of St. Luke, chapter 8 verses 40 and on, he recounted three separate statements pronounced by our Lord Jesus Christ which needed to resound in the life of every Christian today.
Your faith has healed you
First, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years approached Jesus. St. Luke remembers that the crowd was so large and so close together that it threatened to crush Jesus. Yet, this woman had so much faith and was not willing to lose this opportunity to touch - even if only the cloak of Jesus – knowing that she would be healed. She made her way through the crowd and as she touched the edge of Jesus’ cloak her bleeding stopped immediately! This did not go unnoticed to Jesus who turned to his disciples and asked, “Who touched me?” Peter said, “Master, the people are crowding and pressing against you, how can we know?” Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet and confessed it was her. Then Christ said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you.” Let us reflect on this woman, asked the Primate. She was a common woman who called her faith to life by going before Christ and it was her faith that healed her. She called her faith to life!
Do not be afraid; just believe and she will live
Christ continues on his way through the town. Suddenly a leader of the synagogue named Jairus approached him for in fact his 12 year old daughter was dying. He pleaded and asked Christ to come to his house to heal his suffering child. But soon someone came rushing from the house of Jairus claiming, “Your daughter is dead! Do not bother the teacher anymore.” But Jesus interrupts this conversation and turns to Jairus to boldly claim, “Do not be afraid, only believe and your daughter will live!” And so was the case as Christ went to Jairus’ house.
She is not dead, she is only sleeping
When Christ arrived at Jairus’ house and the people had gathered to mourn her death, Jesus turned to them and pronounced, “Stop your crying. She is not dead but asleep!” And even though the people mocked and laughed at his words, Christ took the child by the hand and said, “My child, get up!” And so she did.
Abp. Hovnan now began to weave the importance of this story for us today. Through his sermon he challenged the congregation to not merely think of this story as an account from 2,000 years ago but one which offers us lessons and a powerful and miraculous messages for our lives today…
Let us place ourselves in the gospel narrative and ask ourselves who were the players in these stories? Of course, the primary character is Christ himself, the Son of God, who had come to save the souls of men and to enlighten humanity. But there were other players as well.
There was the woman who was suffering from several years of bleeding, but her story is a positive one because she lived her life in hope. Her treasure was her faith! In life today, we often see that people misunderstand wealth. They believe in material treasures which are temporary and forget that tomorrow morning they can vanish quickly. Spiritual treasures based on God’s word is true wealth and that woman knew that. It was that realization that made her approach Jesus and receive her healing.
Another player in the story is Jairus who was respected by the people for his stature and position in the community. But he was even more respected for his faith, that faith which led his steps to the Lord to ask for his daughter’s healing and life.
Along with these two positive examples, there were also people who brought negativity to the story. For instance, the people who came from Jairus’ house and said, “You don’t need to bother the Teacher, your daughter is dead.” These people had negativity in them. For them, hope was dead. The same is true of the people assembled at Jairus’ house when Jesus came. “Who is this man Jesus? What can he do? The girl is dead!” they said mocking and doubting the power of Christ. But they all receive their answer. Their answer comes by way of the faith that led Jairus’ steps to Jesus, by way of the woman whose faith brought her to touch Jesus. It was that faith that gave the real message to the young girl, “My child, get up! Rise.” Christ’s words were the answer that came to them then and come to us as humanity today.
Dear beloved faithful… each of our houses has a key that opens the door. But there is a greater key that we each have and we use it throughout the day to open the doors to those problems, to those difficult situations which can torment us, which cause us to worry. That is the key of faith, which we all have in equal proportions. Because God gives the gift of faith to us all equally, what differs is that some people will bring that faith to life and others – whether willingly or unwillingly – will forget that faith and are betrayed to tragedy.
Today we want to hear the words of Christ – His words to the woman: “Your faith has healed you.” Or his words to Jairus, “Do not be afraid, only believe. Your daughter will live!” Or his words to the group assembled at Jairus’ house, “Do not cry. She is not dead only asleep.”
Today, in every one of our lives we are brought before different challenges, sometimes before difficulties, sometimes before temptations, sometimes illness within our homes. But believe! Have faith! We, along with our brother priests, know that when we visit an sick person and pray, that person receives incredible power, they are brought back to strength, and not only them, but we too. We feel that strength through a life of prayer.
We also wish to tie this story to our church today. For just as those people who mocked Christ and said, “What will he do? The child is already dead” there are those today who will look at the Armenian Church and say, “What is there to do? The Church on the verge of death. It has ended its usefulness. It is in danger.” We remember the words of our Lord, “Do not be afraid!” We ask, how can this Church be in danger? This Church is founded on Christ and is built by God. Whatever God builds, whatever is founded by Christ is fortified, strong and lasts! God entrusts this Church to us and at points we may find ourselves in difficulties, but God’s voice, the words of Christ come to us loud and clear, “Do not be afraid! The girl is not dead!” That girl is our Church which is going to continue its mission.
We direct these words to you today because in this large community we regard you as our apostles. You are our frontline soldiers. You are the ambassadors of the Church. When you return home from church you take with you this message. You proclaim, “I feel within me the strength and power to protect my church, and understand that the blessing of God is the greatest and most precious gift that I have received, not only for myself, not only for the generations of the past, but for the generations that are to come.” Because, in fact, it is here, in this house, that our children receive their spiritual birth through baptism. It is in this house that our children form new holy families through marriage. It is from here that people proceed to eternal life. It is here that we establish our relationship and are united with God through Christ. And it is here that through prayer we find the miracles in our life. We want to be consoled and encouraged by always hearing the words of Christ to Jairus, the woman and today to us: Do not be afraid, believe! Have faith! You are not dead!
We bring this message to you today because, dearly beloved, our Church, whether in Armenia or here in the diaspora, despite having temporary difficulties, thank God, is in a forward march and will continue to march forward and its mission with all of our combined efforts, prayer, faith and sacrifice. The world faces dangers and the road to salvation for us is our Church. Because no matter how dangerous our world gets, we will remain in our Church because the Church is Noah’s Ark for us, it is God’s ship which leads us to new horizons. It is in this Church that we will remain and every day begin our lives anew.
We also want to apply our words to our diocese. Friday evening as I was at St. Peter at the annual assembly of our diocesan church choirs we had a chance to reflect about the past days, weeks and months, how church life has expanded with ministries, become more invigorating and inspiring within our diocese. This truly brings us pride and strength as it fortifies us as a church.
Today, as we celebrate this Holy Badarak,150km from here, in the mountains above Fresno, 105 Armenian young people from our diocese have gathered in prayer, in faith, and they are celebrating the Holy Badarak. These young people will be tomorrow’s leaders. These young people will be our future priests, parish council members and workers.
Today we are a witness that within our Diocese new churches are sprouting up and being built. Just last night I was in San Diego and we experienced a truly historic day. In the midst of that tremendous building project we had an overwhelming response to financially bring our church and its mission to fruition. At the same time, every Armenian is encouraged to mix his or her effort into this holy work.
When we talk about our Diocese, you must know how happy we are that next to our churches where the Holy Badarak is taking place, we have Sunday Schools where our children want to instill the picture of Christ in their hearts and continue their lives following Christ.
Along with all of this, we want to encourage and enrich our cultural life. One such program will take place this evening as we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the great Gomidas Vartabed – a vartabed who no longer belongs to the Armenian people alone but is internationally renowned with his music. There is no one who with over 3,000 musical creations has given so much to our existence leaving us with lasting national treasures.
We say all of this because our Church is not ill! Our church is not at the edge of destruction. Perhaps there are those who want to throw stones at the Church which is the mother of us all, or to throw stones at us, to our clergy or to our Godliness. But we liken those people to those who mocked Christ, who with his miracle-working words had come to give life to a girl who seemed to be dead but was only sleeping. She is most definitely alive!
The Primate concluded his impassioned remarks by sharing the blessing of the day and the Church with the faithful. At the time of Holy Communion, the entire congregation at the Cathedral received the Holy Eucharist, distributed by the Primate and three priest. Truly, in our presence and in our witness, the Church is alive!
*Note: The primate had returned from a trip to several dioceses for the purposes of bringing attention to the extensive renovations that are necessary for the Cathedral at Holy Etchmiadzin. As chairman of the worldwide effort to fortify the Cathedral – the oldest in all Christendom – Abp. Hovnan is visiting all the Dioceses of the Armenian Church sharing his message with throughout the world. To learn more about the renovation project visit http://www.wdacna.com/news/1629/AN-APPEAL-FOR-SUPPORT-OF-THE-RENOVATION-OF-THE-MOTHER-CATHEDRAL-OF-HOLY-ETCHMIADZIN