On Saturday, March, 20, Rev. Fr. Garabed Telfeyan celebrated his first Divine Liturgy at St. Illuminator’s Cathedral, following his ordination as priest and completion of the customary 40-day retreat. The ceremony was presided by Archbishop Anoushavan and attended by Rev. Fr. Mesrob Lakissian, pastor of St. Illuminator’s, and Rev. Fr. Vahan Kouyoumdjian, former Pastor at St. Stephen’s Church of New Britain (Connecticut). After the Divine Liturgy, there was an agape in Pashalian Hall and the attendants congratulated Rev. Fr. Garabed, wishing him success in his service to the Armenian Church.
You may read Fr. Garabed’s first sermon below:
Before my spiritual message, I would like to raise my voice in thanks to God, who granted me this life through my parents, whose faith, love, and living example educated me and guided my steps towards God, as a member of Christ’s Universal Body, within the Armenian Church.
Likewise, I would like to express sincere gratitude to my spiritual father, the Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, as well as to the members of the Prelacy Religious and Lay Councils, who, welcoming my priestly candidacy, sent me to the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia, where I enjoyed the warm, fatherly care of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, as well as the Brotherhood’s affectionate reception, and where the priest preparation program was an enriching source of spiritual and mental growth.
I would also like to thank my clergy and lay professors and teachers, who for the past two years via distance learning shared their knowledge, wisdom, and experience with me.
And, finally, my heartfelt gratitude goes to all the members of my family, who have consistently been supportive of this calling to serve Christ and our people through the order of the holy priesthood.
Now I beseech you always to remember me in your prayers that I might be able to stand before God without shame and offer my humble service to Him through the Armenian Church.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
Today the Armenian Church celebrates the entrance of Saint Gregory the Illuminator into the Deep Pit. Saint Gregory literally carries his cross, enduring tortures for the sake of the love of Christ. His miraculous deliverance from the king’s persecution illuminates the king who repents and turns to God.
During the late third century, Saint Gregory was serving in the army of King Drtad, who, having successfully recovered his paternal throne from the Persians, prepared a victory celebration, and on that occasion gave Gregory the honor of offering a sacrifice to the goddess Anahid. Upon Saint Gregory’s refusal and the revelation of his Christian identity, he was tortured and sentenced to starvation in a Deep Pit, immersed in darkness and filth, filled with slithering serpents and stinging scorpions.
The Deep Pit meant certain death by starvation and isolation. However, an Angel visited him, strengthened him in his faith, and rendered the pit harmless. The miracle of Gregory’s survival convinced the King who turned from his pagan ways to the Light of God.
This same miracle appears in in two Bible stories. The Three Holy Youth are thrown into a fiery furnace because of their faith. However, an Angel came and rendered the flames harmless. Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den because of his faith. However, an Angel came and closed the lions’ mouths.
Two points I would like to underscore here. First, these saints, Gregory the Illuminator, Daniel, and the Three Youth, all denied themselves, and, embracing the death sentence for the Glory of Christ, picking up their crosses, they followed God, who saved their lives through His Angels. Second, as a direct result of these miracles, each of the persecutors and torturers were illuminated, and each repented and came to know the true God.
Saint Gregory, like these saints, glorifying God through his suffering, picked up his cross, and followed Jesus. Despite the fact that he was sentenced to starvation, torture, and death, he survived because the Angel of God was with him. The miracle of God protecting this great saint became the reason for him to be released from the Pit, heal the king of his fatal illness, and illuminate the Armenian people with the Christian Faith of Light.
Saint Gregory and these saints disregarded the temporary troubles of this life and looked to their eternal lives, because, as Apostle Paul says, “material realities are temporary, but spiritual realities eternal” (2 Cor. 4:17-18).
Today, as a result of the corona virus, we have been thrown down into a modern-day Deep Pit. Unfortunately, being deprived of personal relations, we are forced to communicate with each other through technological means. We are discouraged from shaking hands. We are eating alone, suffering alone, being sick alone and having no visitors. If we lose a relative, nobody is there to console us in person. These stresses grieve and vex our spirits.
Moreover, because of the pandemic, we are unable to greet one another with a Holy Kiss, the Kiss of Peace. We are neither able to kiss our gospel or our cross, nor to receive the Holy and Immortal Body and
Blood of Christ into our mouths from the hand of our spiritual father. The pandemic is like a deep pit, which, depriving us of the blessings of normal life, starves us.
We were created by God for intimacy—with our fellow human beings and with God Himself. This intimacy is more than what computers can provide. To connect with each other and with God, we need physical touching and physically being gathered together in one place, as one body, to receive the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life. Our relationship with God cannot be facilitated by machines. A close and intimate two-way relationship with one another and with God is vital, manifested by sharing the Bread of Life, and through it, joining with our Creator, our Heavenly Father.
The pandemic has us imprisoned us in a Pit of starvation from intimacy, but the Angel of God never left Saint Gregory or the saints alone in their pits. An Angel came and gave each one exactly what was needed to remove each hazard—bread for Gregory, fire-protection for the Three Youth, and shutting the lions’ mouths for Daniel. Today the Angel of God is standing right there above our Pit, looking down, extending his hand with exactly what we need.
Christ is standing at the top of our pit. He is extending his hand down to us. He is with us, together with His Word and his Light. With his Angels he protects us and will do miracles with us, the same as with Saint Gregory. God can get us out of this pandemic pit. All we need to do is look up, reach up, stretch, take hold of the Cross, put our life in his hands, and trust him to provide our needs. And surely, as he brought Gregory and the other saints out of their pits, God will pull us up, lift us up, and raise us out of our pit, not merely to enjoy this passing life, but to live together with him in eternal life, a life of unending joy and blessing. To Him be the Glory forever. Amen.