Der Vasken's Sermon on June 3, 2018

Jun 6, 2018

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

This past week there were four very important feast days in the Armenian Church, all of which are connected through history and faith.  These feasts began last Monday and Tuesday by celebrating the lives of Saints Hripsime and Gayaneh and they continued on through yesterday and today with the Feasts of St. Gregory the Illuminator and of Holy Etchmiadzin.  Through these feasts very important saints are remembered and honored and the building of very important cathedrals are celebrated.

Listen to the story of Sts. Hripsime and Gayaneh.  In the year 287 A.D., after condemning St. Gregory to the pit, King Drtad started the persecution of Christians in Armenia.  At this time, according to history, thirty-six nuns, under the leadership of the Mother Superior Gayaneh, escaped to Armenia hoping to find refuge from the Roman Emperor, who desired to wed a nun under her charge named Hripsime because Hripsime had unusual beauty.  The Armenian King Drtad, being in regular contact with Rome, heard of their entry into Armenia and likewise desired to wed Hripsime.  After many, many efforts to convince her, the King saw that it was useless and that she would not consent to his desires, nor would she leave her companions, nor would she drop her faith in Christ.  The King became enraged and had Hripsime tortured unspeakable tortures into her death.  The following day the King ordered Gayaneh and the other thirty-four nuns similarly put to horrible deaths for their faith--a faith he did not understand or tolerate.

The rest of the story we should all know well.  Soon after the King put Hripsime and the other nuns to death, he went insane from guilt and acted in every way "like a wild boar" according to historians.  Soon after that King Drtad's sister, Khosrovidukht, had a dream that only the faith of St. Gregory could cure her brother so she ordered the Royal Court to release Gregory from the pit so that he could pray over the King and cure him of his mental illness.  

And so it happened that way and the rest is history that St. Gregory converted the King of Armenia and the Royal Family of Armenia and the Land of Armenia to Christianity.  Upon his release from the pit, St. Gregory built chapels over the relics of those thirty-six holy nuns.  And later in the 7th Century, two beautiful cathedrals were erected to permanently house the remains of those pious nuns.  Those two cathedrals stand tall today as witnesses to the faith and love of Hripsime and Gayaneh.  

So what is the lesson we can take away from the lives of these two great female saints of the Armenian Church?

  • Hripsime and Gayaneh were fascinated by everything Jesus Christ said and taught;
  • They were drawn to His teachings about faith, hope and love;
  • They were refreshed in what He taught about forgiveness;
  • And they felt encouraged by all that He said and did in and around Jerusalem.
  • Through their faith, this small group of nuns felt the Love of God.
  • Through their love, God called them to remain firm in their beliefs.
  • And through their beliefs, they were given the Crown of Heaven.
  • Because while they stood among all that resistance and opposition,
  • While they fled from Rome to Armenia,
  • While Caesars and Kings tried to convert their faith, they felt the Love of God.
  • And they chose to follow their heart.
Faith and love encouraged those thirty-six nuns to NOT give in to the godless ways around them but TO give themselves completely to the promises of Christianity.  So what is Hripsime and Gayaneh's legacy to us? 
  • They were martyred with love in their heart for their God.
  • They were martyred because their love for Christ was pure and real.
So their lives tell us that when we make loving God and loving others the story of our lives, there is never a final chapter because the legacy continues into our eternal life.  Love is contagious and never ends.  Love goes with us into our eternal life and that is why Hripsime and Gayaneh died for their love of God. It's like sharing our "internal light" with someone and he or she in turn shines it on to another and another and another, so that at the end of our lives, we made our corner of the world a better place and we passed on something that is eternal.  And at the end of our lives, the only thing left that really matters is whether we loved God and whether we loved others.

So let's ask ourselves:

  • What is going on in your life today that you find to be a constant struggle and how can you respond in love?
  • And just like Hripsime and Gayaneh, we, too, are children of God, who are loved by God every day, every moment.'
Sts. Hripsime and Gayaneh's images are depicted in stained glass in the walls of our church to remind us that when we make loving God and loving others the story of our lives, love becomes contagious and never ends.  Love goes on with us into our eternal life. 

What is going on in your life today that you find to be a constant struggle and how can you respond in Love?