The Prelate’s Message, April 25
Today, the fourth Sunday of Easter according to the Armenian Church Calendar is known as the Red Sunday. The Gospel reading is from Saint John. The beloved Disciple of Jesus transmits to us the departing message from Christ, saying: “The Son can do nothing on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing…anyone who hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life… The hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live… Do not be astonished at this, for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and will come out –those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:19-30).
Once again, I am amazed at our Church Fathers’ wisdom who had arranged the readings of the Scriptures prudently, educating us gradually to comprehend and enjoy our faith. On Easter Sunday, we witness that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. On the second Sunday of Easter, Saint John raises the bars of our faith and imagination by taking us back to the Beginning of Creation, and teaches us that “what has come into being, in Him—the Word-Jesus Christ—was life (Jn 1:3-4). On the third Sunday of Easter, we are instructed that we should be born again to have life and to have it more abundantly. Today, on the fourth Sunday of Easter, we are invited to explore the means of eternal life. What a pedagogical way to teach the basics of Christian Faith, known as Catechism. I would like to share four points derived from our reading.
- Jesus Christ, by saying that “the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what He sees the Father doing”, emphasizes the unity, the oneness of the Father and the Son by all means. This statement has been a stumbling block since it was first uttered among the non-Christians and some of the Christian sects as well. Understanding is the privilege of the rational compartment of human beings. It is the key to progress and success in explaining everything from the interaction of the molecules to the movement of the celestial bodies. Jesus always encouraged the questioning of His audience, and led them to understand and believe. During His conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus plainly explained that “whatever is born from flesh is flesh, while whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:6). As we seek to understand the Divine economy of Oneness, the mystery of the Holy Trinity, that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are One, Jesus does not hide the means by which we may be enlightened, but very openly explains that we have to be born in Spirit, for the flesh can neither contain nor grasp or explain that mystery which is far beyond its scope. Are we ready, humbly, to confess that because of our sinfulness we have distanced ourselves from God, as Isaiah says: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God” (Is 59:2)? Also, to acknowledge that we have deprived ourselves of the privilege granted to us once? which is offered again in the Redemptive sacrificial love, to be born anew. Surely if we follow His promise as the Apostles and all the saints have done, then we may begin to understand upon this earth but more importantly in the world to come, when face to face (1 Cor 13:12), to behold the unveiled Mystery in His everlasting majesty, power and glory.
- With the presupposition that someone is born anew, Jesus says: “Anyone who hears my word and believes Him who sent me, has eternal life.” Not only is the free offer granted, but the means to obtain it is explicitly presented. Hearing the Word of God, and believing in Jesus, is the expressed guarantee of having eternal life. Saint Paul elaborates this statement by saying that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ” (Rom 10.17). Hearing God’s message, which includes reading and constant study, is essential to becoming familiar with the Divine, and to qualifying for eternal life. We should be cautious not to stop at the point of only hearing, but rather we should translate what we have heard into positive and fruitful action. Otherwise, the rebuke of the Apostle James may be addressed to us also: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead” (James 2:26).
- What is to be understood from the phrase “the hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live”? The address is voiced in the present tense, as Jesus is speaking to us, today, by saying that the hour “is now here”, and yet in the next sentence, Jesus is obviously referring to the Parousia, the Day of the Last Judgment. Very often a valid question has been raised: It is reasonable that those who are living can hear, but how shall those who are dead hear the voice of Jesus and then live? We should understand and interpret this in a spiritual and not in physical context. In the Scriptures, and subsequently in Church Patristics, it is well understood that “the sting of death is sin” (1 Cor 15:56), and therefore a sinful person is spiritually dead. Hence, when that person hears the word of God and is born anew by His Grace, he passes from the state of death to life. Catholicos Saint Nerses Shnorhali describes this transition in a poetical way by saying, “I am dead in spirit, / I have strayed in mind, / and exist only in body…Life-giving Savior, Give life to me who is dead, Raise me who has fallen.” This statement clearly teaches us that prior to the commonly understood death which is seen as the end of our earthly journey, we should seriously deal with our souls’ death because of sin. Hence, as much as we give consideration to our physical health, likewise we should zealously pursue the health of the life-giving soul in our bodies.
- The conclusion of this passage, that “for the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear His voice and will come out -those who have done good, to the resurrection of life…” carries an eye-opening message. Regardless of peoples’ response to Divine love, revealed through the Creation and perfected on the Cross, on the Day of Judgment, all the dead will hear the voice of the Eternal Word and WILL RISE. Regardless of individual creeds and personal interpretations, there will be a Resurrection into Eternal Life and a Resurrection unto Condemnation. It is not a matter of choice anymore, but it is the ultimate fulfillment of the Divine will, the sole controller. “Resurrection of condemnation” is the consequence for all those who pitilessly behave in this world, and also to those who justify themselves by assuming that because God is love, punishment is not part of His essence. This kind of self-deception is not far from the one which our fore-parents experienced in the Garden of Eden by the Evil One. At that time, the deception was presented with the false hope of being like God (Gen 3:4-5). The deception continues today with the excuse that God’s loving nature will ignore trespasses while forgetting God’s ultimate verdict. Surely God’s love is beyond all measures. Yet God is righteous and as such, He wishes us all to be attentive to the Resurrection of life and to the Resurrection of Condemnation.
We, who are born anew and are invited to celebrate life forever as grateful children of God, let us welcome into our lives the Risen Lord, and being renewed with the promise of our own resurrection, let us fulfill our mission in this world.
Coincidently this Sunday, which is named Red Sunday, was preceded yesterday by the 106th anniversary commemoration of the Armenian Genocide, which is denied by the perpetrators, and is still disregarded in many parts of the world.
In this regard it is so comforting that the 46th president of the United States, considering circumstances and the consequences of his statement, officially recognized the Armenian Genocide. A partial yet positive step which energizes us, the descendants of the Genocide survivors, to continue our aspirations and dreams in our pursuit of our just cause.
Today’s Gospel reading message is an energizing power more than at any time to fulfill our pilgrimage with the Faith, Hope, and Love of the Crucified and Risen Lord, to overcome all kinds of satanic evil doings and crimes against humanity and Mother Nature. For we are called upon to be the children of light and morning, and to imitate our heavenly Father to whom is befitting glory forever. Amen.