The Prelate’s Sermon: September 26, 2021
Today, according to the Armenian Church calendar, is the feast of the Holy Cross of Varak, based upon a historical event, the discovery of a relic of the Holy Cross, which has been faithfully safeguarded by a 4th century martyr, Saint Hripsime. The bride of the Heavenly Groom, Saint Hripsime, secured the relic in a monastery before leaving for Vagharshabad, the capital of Armenia. After her martyrdom, the whereabouts of the holy relic remained unknown until in the 7th century. A pious anchorite named Totig, after long prayers and fasting, was privileged to find the location near Varak, on the south shore of Lake Van, and to retrieve the relic of the Cross.
The Armenian Church celebrates the three feasts of the Holy Cross which are all revered by the Church Universal: the Apparition (in May), the Elevation (in September), and the Discovery (in October), while this fourth feast of Varak is unique to the Armenian Church and celebrated with equal solemnity. I would like to share a few thoughts derived from this feast which enrich the beauty and the message of the Cross.
- The celebration of the Holy Cross of Varak is solid proof that the Armenian Church both shares the fundamental faith, sacraments, teaching, and the feasts of the Church Universal while preserving her unique character, reflecting the existential pilgrimage of the people of Ararat throughout the centuries, carrying their cross and walking in the footsteps of our Lord Jesus Christ.
- The Discovery of the relic of the Holy Cross of Varak is the best evidence that in spite of all ignorance and challenges from the atheist and the materialist world, fervent faith associated with prayer and fasting reveals hidden treasures and showers Divine blessings on mankind. Regardless of time and circumstances, whenever we selflessly ask the Kingdom of God as commanded by our Lord (Mt 6:33), requests as well as spiritual gifts will be granted.
- SaintTotig, like all the anchorites who distance themselves from society, lived in solitude. Unfortunately, sometimes this lifestyle is misunderstood by many, even by Christian preachers who have ridiculed those anchorites as selfish or useless people for the society, who waste their life for nothing. In fact, the more we study their lives we will be amazed and testify that they sacrifice their lives for the betterment of society. By suppressing their own pleasures and comforts, constantly being in the presence of the Holiest One, they intercede for all those who consciously or unconsciously walk away from God’s grace and they incessantly pray for the peace of the world.
- As an Armenian proverb says, “Spring does not come with the blossoming of just one flower”, but nevertheless the power of each and every individual anchored in God is incredibly superb, as was the case with SaintTotig. This truth invites all of us to evaluate and consider the gifts which God grants to each of us. One of the great temptations which we face as human beings is that we lose sight of our own value when we meet or hear about the achievements of people whom we perceive to be more important or greater than us, or when we witness the falling apart of our dreams, or when we face unbearable catastrophes, etc. As much as these are cruel facts, yet when we try to evaluate ourselves not through human parameters but within God’s love, only then may we crystalize and discover our incredibly unique value, no matter how modest or insignificant it might seem. SaintTotig leads us to understand truly ourselves and our mission, as vested in each of us, and to fulfill it with faith.
- The message of the Holy Cross of Varak brings the most important and vital message to all generations and mostly to us, that being Armenian Christian has its price, for it denotes that each of us must carry a heavy cross, prepared by the worldly powers to assassinate our personality and character, our values and convictions, our dreams and aspirations as the children of God, the children of Light and Life. Hence, in our human nature, mired in sin, once we discover our God-like identity, carrying the Cross will become synonymous with galvanizing our identity, and lead us voluntarily as well as joyfully to face and overcome challenges presented to us from the world, but mostly by those principalities which Saint Paul warns about (Eph 6:12).
With this approach, let us thank the Almighty Lord for all His humble servants in flesh, who inspire us and strengthen our faith in order to sing with the Psalmist and say, “You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place” (Ps 66:12), and let us praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.