The Prelates Message – December 20, 2020
On the last Sunday of 2020, we thank Almighty God once again who guided us with his blessings and wisdom through the terrible ups and downs of life, as pilgrims of faith. Thank God, all our structures stood tall, enriched with new experiences as they faced the unexpected challenges of life and surrounded with a dedicated clergy, the National Representative Assembly, the Executive Council, the Boards of Trustees and the supporting bodies, the principals’ and teaching staffs of the day schools and one-day schools, as well as with the selfless ranks of our sister organizations,.
We rise our prayers to God for the victims of the pandemic and especially for the souls of the brave soldiers martyred in the Artsakh war, begging for peace for their souls, relief for their families, speedy recovery to the injured, freedom to the prisoners, and a peaceful return home to the refugees. We also pray that He may strengthen our hopes to welcome benign new years, fortifying the Holy Armenian Church, keep our homeland secure from enemies within and without and treasonous conspiracies, which darken our victorious march to eternity.
The last weekend of the Dominical year of 2020 is full of major feasts. Two days ago, the Armenian Apostolic Church, with profound love, shared the joy of the Western Churches that celebrate Christmas on December 25. Yesterday, December 26, we celebrated the feast of Saint Stephen the Proto-Deacon and Proto-Martyr. His brief biography and speech to the Sanhedrin council, which ultimately led to his martyrdom, are described in the Acts of the Apostles 6:1 – 8:2. Stephen, full of grace and power, surpassing the obligations assigned to the newly elected seven deacons, intensely preached and did great wonders and signs among the people. Moreover, with an eloquent oration, he invited the spiritual leaders of his nation to repent and to admit Jesus Christ as their Savior. The outcome of this unusual bravery would be nothing less than martyrdom, which miraculously made him worthy to enjoy seeing the glory of Jesus standing at the right hand of God the Father. As protomartyr, Stephen was designated by Church Fathers to be remembered with Saint Mary the Mother of God and Saint John the Baptist during all Badaraks.
Saints are highly revered in the Universal Church as those who, without hesitation, wholeheartedly and positively have responded to the call of Christ. Their faith in action is truly remarkable, because consciously and joyfully they have submitted their lives to Christ even unto death. Saint Stephen was the first who put to test his love for the Risen One. To make relevant his uniqueness to our generation of science, I would like to draw a parallel with a hero from last century in different sphere. Neil Armstrong, who stepped onto the lunar surface on July 20, 1969, was the first who dared to commit himself totally to a new experience. It is true that since then many astronauts have followed him, yet as a pioneer he remains the champion of a new era.
Saint Stephen was the first who embodied the teaching of Christ in fullness. Like the merchant in search of fine pearls, who upon finding the pearl of great value, sold all he had and bought it (Mt 13:45); he literally carried the Cross (Lk 14:27); the Holy Spirit taught him in the council what he ought to say (Lk 12:12); he was persecuted for righteousness’ sake and all kinds of evil were uttered against him (Mt 5:10-11); like a grain of wheat fell into the earth, he died and bore much fruit (Jn 12:24) and, accordingly, he was honored by the Father (Jn 12:26).
Saint Stephen’s faith, rooted in God, anchored in Christ, and embedded in the Holy Spirit, was as solid as any material and visible thing. His hope to enjoy the fulfillment of the Crucified One’s promises was beyond any doubt. His love to be with the Eternal Love, which transcends all the beauties, glories, and pleasures of this world, was unmeasurable.
As a zealot and caring person, Saint Stephen was passionate to share with his own the joy of the heavenly Revelation’s fullness manifested in Jesus Christ. He fearlessly transcended all barriers of the evil power by standing alone in midst of the highest authority of his people, and when he failed to lead them to the Light, he did not give up hope but prayed for them even while they were stoning him.
Saint Stephen is a role model to believers of all ages. As the first flower of Hope, Faith and Love, blossomed from the Empty Tomb, in his humility he teaches us to walk without any regret in the footsteps of the One who humbled Himself to exalt us. In his trust he transmits to us the unchallengeable truth revealed in the Truth, and to avoid all doubts raised by the Prince of this world. In his valor he encourages us not to give up even when the stones of ferocious anger and hatred try to stop our march in the pilgrimage from life to Life.
On a personal note, Saint Stephen likes to share with us the most valuable life-giving message: once we embrace in our hearts the Child worshipped in the manger by the Magi, let us be faithful to Him throughout our lifetime, and let nothing separate us from His love (Rom 8:38), for He promised that, “where I am, there will my servant be also” (Jn 12:26), enjoying all kinds of joy, glory and honor beyond human imagination (1 Cor 2:9), and we will praise Him forever. Amen.