(The Prelate’s Sermon, September 25)
Today, according to the Armenian Church Calendar is the Feast of the Discovery of the Relic of the Holy Cross of Varak. Mount Varak is located on the eastern shore of Lake Van. It was famous for its several convents, chiefly the Monastery of the Holy Cross. According to tradition, St. Hripsime was entrusted to safeguard a relic of the True Cross of Jesus Christ. During the persecution against her, St. Gayane, and their religious companions, St. Hripsime decided to hide the relic. For three centuries, no one was aware of its location until, in 653, an anchorite named Totig was granted the honor to discover the whereabouts of the relic after twelve days of severe fasting with his disciple Hovel. On this occasion, Catholicos Nerses the Builder authored a hymn dedicated to the Holy Cross, and by his commission, the church of the Holy Cross was built on Mount Varak.
This feast of the Holy Cross of Varak is unique to the Armenian Church, which likewise celebrates with the Oriental and Eastern Orthodox and Catholic Churches three other feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross: the Apparition (around 7 May), the Exaltation (around 14 September), and the Discovery of the Holy Cross (at the end of October).
The sequence of the lost, then discovered, then again lost and found, and eventually lost relic of the Cross conveys a powerful message which I believe is relevant for all generations and ages. The Cross, for the first time, was elevated by Saint James, the brother of Christ and the first bishop of Jerusalem, as the most respectful remnant related to the Redemptive act of our Lord Jesus Christ. During the persecutions, the Cross was lost and then discovered due to the fervent efforts of Saint Helen, the mother of Emperor Constantine in the fourth century. That is how a precious piece of the Cross came to be safeguarded by Saint Hripsime, but again, due to persecutions, was hidden and assumed to be lost until the hermit Totig found it in the seventh century. The holy relic was preserved in the Monastery of Varak until the Armenian Genocide, but now it is lost again from human sight.
It is true that the tangible relic of the Cross at Varak is lost at the moment, but the mystery and power of the Cross transcends Time and Space, because it stands for the sacrificial love of our loving heavenly Father. With this understanding about the spiritual Cross, the Love of God, which has animated material love, motivates also all those who love and follow the Crucified and Risen Lord.
The Evil One, starting from the deception against our forebearers, has presented a lavish promise. His ultimate goal has been to distract us from our ultimate objective by deceiving us into ignoring the Source of Life through the fleeting pleasures, ease and comforts of this earthly life. This does not mean that God created mankind for suffering, pain and death, but rather for life and joy experienced by all the Archangels and Angels. The Evil One was also originally created as good but rebelled against the Creator. Having been deprived of the Divine privilege, the Evil One obscures spiritual and intellectual eyes through confusion and disorder, and passionately acts through physical senses to alienate all those who commit themselves to the Lord of Lords and kneel only to the unblemished Lamb of God.
The loss and discovery of the Cross opens another dimension in our lives, that due to persecutions and other factors we may lose to actualize the message of the Cross in our lives. However, as soon as we devote ourselves to God, then the discovery of the Cross embellishes our lives.
Inspired by the exemplary devotion of this humble hermit Totig, let us all pray unceasingly and unselfishly for the realization of good and God-pleasing visions, and praise the All-Holy Trinity. Amen.