The Prelate’s Message, May 16
Today is the seventh Sunday of Easter. On Thursday, we celebrated the glorious Ascension of Jesus Christ into heaven, and according to the Armenian Church Calendar, today is known as the Second Palm Sunday. Our Gospel reading during the Badarak is Jn 12:12-23. We read about the popular entrance of our Lord into Jerusalem, welcomed by residents of the city as well as non-residents. I would like to quote verses 20-23: “Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew, then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified’.”
The Armenian Church conveys a rich legacy to Her believers through the Bible readings as well as the feast known as the Second Palm Sunday. First let us enjoy the nourishment of the Scripture:
- The presence of the guests who wished to meet Christ in person opens a new dimension within the Faith community of the followers of Jesus. It is true that the Evangelist does not discuss the identity of these Greeks. Nevertheless, the very fact that the Apostles have reported to Jesus their request, and His unexpected and amazing reply, makes us think that the guests were prestigious persons.The goal of the Evangelist is to transmit the Good News of the Risen Lord and does not distract the attention of his readers; this is why we do not have additional information in this regard. However, the oral tradition that is preserved in the Armenian Church teaches us that those who wished to see Jesus were the ambassadors of the Armenian King Abgar (Apkar) of Edessa (known also as Urfa). They were sent by the king with a letter inviting Jesus to Edessa, since the king was informed that the Jews were persecuting Jesus. King Abgar also desired that Jesus might come to heal him for he was suffering from a serious illness. According to the Tradition, Jesus sent a reply to the king’s letter, apologizing that He Himself could not leave Jerusalem at that time, but promising that one of His Disciples would be sent to meet the request of the king. This precious information leads us to trace the roots of our Armenian Christian identity deeper than we know or think.
- The closing remark by Jesus that “the hour is coming for the Son of Man to be glorified” surely should not be understood within worldly context, as if His reputation has been expanding out of the Holy Land, but rather we should understand it within the parameters of the Redemption of mankind. We find the clue of this interpretation within the statement of Jesus, which follows in the next verse, that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (v. 24). By following the chronology of our Lord’s mission, we notice that this event occurred after the second Paschal feast mentioned in John 6:14, as our Lord was drawing closer to celebrate the third Paschal feast and to fulfill the Mystery of Paschal feast by being offered as sacrifice on the Altar of the Cross for the remission of our sins. We see that both the Atonement of the unblemished Lamb, followed by the spreading of the Good News to all the nations and including the fulfillment of the Dominical promise that a disciple would be sent to King Abgar, complement each other. Hence the oral and written Traditions embrace each other as part and parcel of the Truth.
- The reason why on this Sunday we read the passage of the victorious entry of our Lord Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, and we call it the Second Palm Sunday is based upon the following inspiring tradition, revered in the Armenian Church. We are told that the patron Saint of the Armenian Church, St. Gregory, having been condemned into the Deep Pit filled with poisonous snakes and devoid of food and water, was privileged to be visited on daily basis by an angel because of his Christian faith. It happened that on the fourth day following the Ascension of our Lord, which is to say on Sunday, the Angel did not visit the saint. When the angel appeared the next day, he explained to Saint Gregory that the Celestial Hosts were invited, rank by rank, to celebrate the victorious entry of Jesus Christ into heavenly Jerusalem. Since the angel belonged to the fourth rank of the Heavenly Hosts, he was obliged to be in heaven on the fourth day to participate in this joyous privilege, and therefore he was unable to visit St. Gregory in the pit on that day.
This valuable tradition reminds us that as the Angel of the Almighty God strengthened Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, likewise an angel comforted and fortified St. Gregory during all the years he spent in the deep pit. Very often there is a tendency to be skeptical when a reference is made to the Angels, and we question why it seems that only in the Scriptures or in early Church era Angels have appeared to human beings. Faith is not the appropriation of those who have lived in past, but rather it is granted to humankind of all ages to enjoy the Divine closeness and all blessings transcending this world.
With all due respect to scriptural and to saints’ testimonies, let me base this truth not on a Bible verse or on a Church Father’s quotation, but rather on a recent experience by a humble but heroic teacher. In recent years, sadly many schools have been the target of shootings, and the most recent tragedy happened last Thursday, May 7, in an Idaho middle school, when a female student wounded three people with her handgun. Krista Gneiting, a math teacher, after first securing her students’ safety, came out of that hellish situation and saved an injured student. Then, she bravely walked down the corridor toward the girl with the handgun, and calmly talked to her, telling her that things would be fine. Eventually, the teacher got close enough to the girl who surrendered the handgun, and placing her arm around the girl, gave her a hug of assurance. The fascinating part of this incredible episode is what the teacher conveyed to her family members: “I just kept going, and I felt like there was an angel on my shoulder that was telling me what to say and what to do.”
This statement does not need any comment, but it reminds us of our Lord’s statement just last Sunday that we should not be spiritually blind, otherwise we might find ourselves in eternal condemnation. Jesus is glorified not only in His Salvific, sacrificial love on the Cross, but also through the loving and caring actions of all those who follow in His footsteps. Let us glorify Him with each and every thought, word, and deed which bring us closer to God, and praise the Giver of all goodness. Amen.