The Prelate’s Sermon, Sunday, February 13
Today, on the fifth Sunday following the Nativity and the Theophany of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Gospel reading is from the Gospel of Saint John 6:22-38. After the feeding of the five thousand and by night walking on the waters of the sea of Capernaum, to the amazement of His Disciples, the following day Jesus finds Himself surrounded by the same people who had witnessed the miracle of feeding in the wilderness and were more perplexed at not being able to understand how Jesus had crossed the sea. When they express their surprise, the Lord answers, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.” And eventually He declares, “I AM the Living Bread.”
I would like to highlight the life of a true believer in Christ who had been privileged to be nourished with the Living Bread and who had worked not for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life. That believer was Saint Sarkis, whose feast the Armenian Church celebrated yesterday.
Saint Sarkis, a fourth-century Roman commander, highly respected by his comrades and by Emperor Constantine, under the persecution of Emperor Julian the Apostate, takes refuge first in Armenia and thereafter in Persia, with his son Mardiros. He found great favor in the eyes of the king of Persia for leading the army from victory to victory against the Barbarians. Soon, along with his reputation, unfortunately, envy, hatred, and evil speaking increased in the royal circles, and king Shabur urged him to renounce his Christian faith. Sarkis was well aware that obedience was the primary rule for a military person, from recruits to the highest rank of generals. As such, he made his ultimate choice by not denying his pledge to the Lord of lords and King of kings Jesus Christ. As a consequence of his decision, first his son, and then he was executed, and soon after his 14 faithful soldiers.
I would like to share the following thoughts inspired by this faithful militant of Christ, Saint Sarkis, his son, and his faithful comrades.
- The History of Christianity is the history of all those who have confessed one Lord, one Savior Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son of God, who offered Himself as sacrifice for the Redemption of mankind. This confession has been like the life-giving blood of their physical, intellectual, and spiritual existence. It has covered all aspects of their lives and has manifested itself in their thoughts, words, and deeds, in their expression, behavior, and relationship toward all.
- The saints have never acknowledged themselves as “superheroes” nor made of extra-terrestrial chemistry, but as the product of Divine Grace as taught by the Heavenly Master, “What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn 3:8). Hence the saints as much as they are the authentic children created from the dust and living in this world yet being born anew in the Spirit are not of this world (Jn 17:11-14).
- The oral confession of all martyrs and the saints is often followed by fearless action, full of trust and hope in the Risen Lord’s Promise which was a living reality and as concrete as this world. Hence, they placed their lives into the hand of the heavenly Father, in the very example of the Lamb of God who on the Cross said, “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). In the very words of Saint Paul, they have challenged all the challenges of the world and have said, “nothing can separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow –not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love” (Rom 8:38).
- Saint Sarkis as a soldier faced death not only once, but every day. He had challenged death with the power of Supreme God, as Saint Paul says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:11). The victories had never been able to alienate the Saint from his heavenly Lord. In Him he had found the true and eternal Commander-in-Chief, Who had crashed the power of death, leading all those who believe in Him from life to Life.
- Saint Sarkis, as a true disciple of our Lord’s teaching, has rendered to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Mt 22:21). He had been a faithful servant of his earthly masters, as long as they have exercised their authority within the limits of earthly spheres. But when they have asked the things that are God’s to be rendered instead to them, without hesitation and courageously he had declared that his obedience to Christ is non-negotiable.
- The threat of death directed against his son and his own life was unable to alter his faith. For him “living was Christ and dying was gain” (Phil 1:21). The great question of “to be or not to be,” which in most humans’ understanding is limited with this earthly existence, for Saint Sarkis and all saints and for believers of all ages has a wider dimension, transcending time and space. The real question is to be forever or not? For them to be forever or not. This was the real question, and accordingly he made his choice.
- The greatest temptation and the challenge for Saint Sarkis was his consent for his son Mardiros’s martyrdom. Humanly thinking it might be interpreted as the cruelty of an abusive or sick-minded, pitiless person’s approach. Yet, when we replace our material perception with a spiritual one, we will see like him that he had spared his son from corruption and had secured eternal life and joy.
With the prayers of our celestial kin, Saints Sarkis and Mardiros, and all saints, let us fight the good fight (2 Tim 4:7) without alienating ourselves from our Crucified and Risen Commander-in-Chief and praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.