The Prelate’s Sermon
(Sunday, August 21)
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Virgin Mary, the God–bearer, over a period of nine days. The Church expresses her reverence not only for the earthly, exemplary life of St. Mary, the one glorified by God, but also offers thanks and praise for her constant intercession and care for the Church whose first member she became through her obedience and submission to God’s will for the redemption of mankind.
In today’s Gospel reading from Saint Luke 1:39-56, we become witnesses to a spectacular conversation between two, saintly, expectant mothers: Saint Elizabeth, the mother of Saint John the Baptist, and Saint Mary, the mother of the Lord of lords. As soon as Mary enters the house and greets Elizabeth, Elizabeth being filled with the Holy Spirit welcomes Mary by saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb…blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord said to her will be accomplished.” The Evangelist also adds the precious detail that upon this greeting, immediately the baby John leapt in his mother Elizabeth’s womb. Armenian Church-fathers have explained that the John in the womb turned in such a way as to bow down in adoration of Jesus in the womb. Saint Mary graciously responding to this greeting says: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has looked with favor on the lowliness of His servant.”
This narrative, as much as it is aimed to strengthen our faith within the scope of the earliest stage of the sacred mission of the Incarnate Word of God, nevertheless looking from a different dimension, we witness a most beautiful aspect of human life, unique to all mothers to be. Hence, I would like to share the following thoughts.
- The Evangelist Saint Luke, as a physician by career, has skillfully recorded special events where Divine and human realities embrace each other and bring the transcendental God closer to humanity, so that we might ascend beyond this material world and perceive the mystery of life. One of these narratives is the visitation by the Holy Virgin Mary to Elizabeth, her aunt.
The well-known saying, “a friend in need is a friend indeed”, most of the time is understood within the context of emotional, material, social or other crises. But it carries a positive note as well when we would like to share our unexpected joy, success with a true friend. But who is our true friend? In general, we regard a trustworthy friend either one of our peers or someone close to our age with whom we may have spent important times over our lives together. In this case, the friend is neither the former nor the latter; she is an aunt. Most of the time, thinking that we will be not understood or will be judged, we become cautious to share our experiences with elders, whether they are parents or relatives. Yet Mary, led by the Holy Spirit, being free from this complex, by ignoring the generational gap, hastens to meet her aunt.
- Mary, as soon as she enters the house of Elizabeth and greets her, feels herself as if she was in a dream, being welcomed with an astounding response: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” How could or did Elizabeth know about Mary’s conception? Who told her? Elizabeth’s extensive exclamation, full of blessings, made Mary more confident of what the Angel had conveyed to her at the annunciation.
- The confession of Elizabeth “blessed is the fruit of your womb” as much as it is a prophetic statement related to the Incarnate God, yet it carries an eternal truth relevant to all ages.
The womb has a critical role in procreation, and hence in the continuity and fulfillment of God’s first commandment to humanity: “Be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 1:28). It is the sacred sanctuary where the Breath of the Creator, which animated the dust in the beginning, continues to do so, perpetuating His action of Love through human love.
Procreating therefore is part of the Divine, eternal plan. Consequently, any attempt to interrupt or to destroy that procedure definitely is caused by the Evil One who throughout history has manipulated people to commit evil against the unborn and the newborn. Indeed, just after Jesus was born, the Evil One entered into the heart of Herod, and Herod ordered all of the children, whether born or still in their mother’s wombs in Bethlehem, to be massacred (Matt 2:16-18). In more recent times, there are some who interpret the responsibility of having free will with exercising a freedom of choice, and however they may choose to rationalize the decision to terminate the life of an unborn child in the womb, they are nevertheless acting against the divine commandments to replenish the earth and not to kill (Ex 20:13).
It is an undeniable fact that the fetus contains a new life and the prospect of a new individual born into this world. Mother Nature teaches us how a planted seed holds the promise of a future flower or plant or tree. At any stage, even right after the planting, if the seed is destroyed by hail, storm, and flood or by any accident, the loss causes deep grief. Likewise, our Christian faith teaches us that human life, having its source in God, is a journey beginning with the union of sperm and egg within the mother’s blessed womb. It continues to differentiate and develop organically. It ultimately encounters “autonomy” at its birth, and subsequently continues to develop and grow in the fullness of time and in accordance with the Will of God.
All those who think that knowingly are practicing their freedom by slaughtering their unborn babies, actually unknowingly are walking in the darkest valley of sinful slavery. Within the limits of a sermon, we beseech all our faithful by saying: Wake up! Let us use our freedom not in destroying life, but by edifying Creation. Wake up! We are accountable not to a judge in an earthly court but to our heavenly Judge on the Great Day of Judgment. Wake up! Hear the voiceless cries of your unborn ones: “Dearest Mom, do not let your sacred womb become my deplorable tomb…”
- Elizabeth’s cry that “as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy” is an unparalleled joy experienced by those who are privileged to be mothers. This magnificent and loving detail recorded by Saint Luke underscores the very fact that those who are yet unborn are still living creatures, and as modern science and psychology prove, they are eligible to be schooled even in the Garden of the Womb!
With this most elucidating passage of our beloved Evangelist Doctor Luke, let each and every one take special, loving care of whatever is trusted to us by God. In the very words of Divine Liturgy we exclaim: “Thine of thy own we offer up to thee, according to all things and on behalf of all people.” Let us praise the heavenly Father who sanctifies Life, the Only-begotten Son who gives Life, and the Holy Spirit who perfects Life. Amen.