The Prelate’s Sermon, Sunday, April 3
On the sixth station of our Spiritual Journey through Great Lent, which clarifies and enlightens the whole scope and goal of our life’s journey from the womb of our mother to the womb of the earth and beyond, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the next Coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Preceding this great feast as an essential station within the Providential plan of Redemption, the Armenian Church commemorates the feast of her patron Saint Gregory the Illuminator’s descent into the Deep Pit (or the dungeon), where he was condemned to meet his death daily with suffering and pain caused by venomous snakes and scorpions.
The life of this great saint, revered by all the Apostolic Churches, brings a vital message to Christians of all ages. This feast, as much as it is a historical undeniable event, is also a continuous source of strengthening of our faith to remain anchored in Jesus Christ in all circumstances. I would like to share the following thoughts derived from Saint Gregory’s Vitae as daily bread for all generations.
- The name Gregory means “awake, alert, and watchful”. Indeed, it signifies the personality of this saint who was vigilant against the invisible snares of the Evil one. Gregory’s father, Anak, killed King Khosrov whose son, Drtad, became the king of Armenia. Drtad sought to avenge his father’s assassination by imprisoning Gregory physically into the pit. Yet, there was an invisible warfare taking place, as Saint Paul says, “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realm” (Eph 6:12).Knowing that Gregory was a Christian, Drtad attempted to entrap him by inviting Gregory to offer sacrifice to the pagan goddess Anahit. More treacherously, the dark deceiver tried to deviate the Saint from his mission. The great temptation described to Jesus Christ that “all these [the kingdom of the world and their splendor] I will give you if you bow down to me” (Mt 4:9) was presented to Christ’s servant Gregory too. Yet, because he was alert physically, intellectually, but mostly spiritually, he was able to carry the glorious Cross rather the crown of vanity.
- Following fourteen different types of torture, Gregory eventually was “buried” alive –thrown down into the pit to meet his end in a most miserable and degrading manner. Nevertheless, nothing was able to separate him from God because, as Saint Paul says, “Nothing can ever 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” (Rom 8:39). Thus, Saint Gregory is a perpetual overflowing source of strength to keep firm our faith and to remain faithful to God, anchored in Jesus Christ in all circumstances and at all costs.
- Saint Gregory the Illuminator through his indescribable, dehumanizing, suffering and loneliness in the unbearable pit became a testimony of the unfailing Teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ who said, “whoever serves me must follow me” (Jn 12:26). In some versions, Gregory was confined for 13 years, in others for just 13 months. The exact time is secondary to the courage exhibited by the saint in the face of such terror. For by following Jesus Christ, we find our lost self in sin, and we help others to find their own selves too. By following Him, through Him we enlighten our darkened body, mind and soul with all their aspirations, thoughts, and feelings, and then we are able to enlighten others who are walking in the darkness of ignorance, despair, and hopelessness.
- Saint Gregory, the watchful servant of the Lord, by his humility, endurance, and hope, became a living testament to the believers of all centuries that “suffering produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” as says Saint Paul (Rom 5:4-5). Having the exemplary life of Saint Gregory let us pray and ask the Holy One who descended in the Sheol, to come and help and elevate us from the pit of sin and to make us worthy to serve Him willingly and joyfully with all the saints, praising the All-Holy Trinity. Amen