Der Vasken's Sermon on November 5, 2017
Nov 7, 2017
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Yesterday the Armenian Church celebrated a feast that dates back more than 1,000 years or so. It's a day which honors sainthood and those who surrendered their lives to live out their Christian faith. Saturday was the Feast of All Saints, Old & New, Known & Unknown. When we look at the lives of the saints, something very surprising reveals itself. First, we see that there is a sense of holiness about them and there should be and we should expect that. There's nothing unexpected about that. But if we look a little closer, their lives also teach us that holiness comes in different forms:
- Rich and poor,
- Warriors and peacemakers,
- Shut-ins and public servants,
- Adults & children,
- And even scholars and those who never learned to read.
Saint-like people come from all corners of the world. They lived a long time ago and they still live among us today. Saints faced many real challenges in their lifetime. In the past, saints and saint-like people may have written hymns for the church or explained the teachings or even died defending their faith. Today, saint-like people may stand as the voice of the voiceless or for civil justice issues or for a much-needed charity. They may work in soup kitchens or read to the elderly in a nursing home or spend time bringing joy to an ill child. Every generation produces its own saints. That's why it's called the Feast of All Saints, Old & New, Known & Unknown.
Over the centuries, saints have played an important role in the life of the Armenian people and Church. During the calendar year specific saints are honored on specific days. Saints are people who have stood out as a "light" in a time of darkness. They are the role models of the Church and of the faith. In the Armenian family tradition, mothers and fathers would call upon saints for different reasons throughout the year. If a family member fell ill, it was common for a mother to call upon a saint for healing. When a family member traveled, saints were called upon to protect them along the way. Birthdays would be celebrated on the feast day of the saint for whom you were named. Saints held a prominent place in our ancestral culture.
So, yesterday, we honored all the saints, both the ones who are formally canonized as well as the ones who are not--the Known and Unknown. Looking upon the beautiful windows of our church, the saints appear to be so real.
- Saints like the great General Vartan Mamigonian, who defended the faith;
- Or Mesrob Mashtotz, who saved our unique language;
- Or Gregory of Narek, whose prayers run so deep that he now stands as a doctor of not only the Armenian Church but of the Roman Catholic Church as well;
- Or Gregory of Datev, our greatest academic saint;
- Or Saint Hripseme and St. Gayane and their thirty-six companion nuns;
- Or the legions of ancient martyrs, medieval monks and heroines larger than life.
These stained glass windows beautifully capture their essence. They are humble and they are majestic at the same time. But saints are also people like us. They are people who stood up in the face of injustice and offered peace. They chose to stand up and show others a different way. And our world is very much like the world they lived in. For example,
- In our world there is common disregard for the sacredness of life. Their world was no different.
- Our world challenges what the Church values and what the family values. Their world was no different.
- Our world sees frequent violence. Their world was no different.
- Our world seems indifferent to God. Again, their world was no different.
Every era throughout time has faced challenges and produced saints. The Feast of All Saints honors both Old & New, Known & Unknown Saints. The saints were people who didn't fall in with the spirit of the times but rose above it. They were people who weren't fooled by the wrong going on around them but stood up for what was right. We don't worship the saints but we venerate them and honor their example. We ask for their help to be spiritually strong when the people around us are weak. We ask for their help to be focused on Christ when the world has lost its focus and to be strong in the teachings of our faith when others compromise theirs so that we, too, can be "light" in a world that has gone too dark for too long just as they were.
The Feast of All Saints is not only about what was but what can be. Every age needs people who shine the light of God into the world. These types of people give hope to others. The saints did that in the past. We can do it today. That is the meaning of the Feast of All Saints, Old & New, Known & Unknown. The world around us needs modern-day saints who will rise up and be role models for the rest of us. So let's ask ourselves:
- Would people know that you are a Christian by how you live your life?
- And in what one area can you grow so that your daily life reflects your faith?
May we all do our best to make the world a better place so that tomorrow is better than today.