Pastor's Message - Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God
Today, the Christian Church all around the world celebrates the glorious feast of the Assumption or Dormition of the Holy Mother of God, Mary, into the heavenly kingdom of her son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Armenian Apostolic Church and her people today rejoice especially, on this special feast day celebrating the woman who inspired and helped refashion our nation into one which houses the Holy Light of Christ and the truth of the Holy Gospel. Very early on, we abandoned the hope we had in lifeless idols like Anahid and others, and came to the light with the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ and the witness of the Holy Mother Asdvadzadzin Mary and all the other saints.
The story of the Holy Virgin Mother Mary is one of simplicity and humility, yet also one of great power and acclaim. After all, God chose a simple, young teenaged girl to become the bearer of his incarnate Word, his Son and his image, in order to change the course of human history for all eternity. Simplicity, yet great consequences!
Sometimes I marvel at how keenly self-aware we are as a species… equipped, it seems, with an innate ability to understand organically, almost instinctively, and appreciate the farthest reaches of our capabilities with little more than some introspection and some sincere guidance from those wiser than we are.
Particularly visible to us are our achievements both personal and collective, and we seem to have a unique way of keeping track of those milestones those other than ourselves have reached. If there’s a record to be set, or broken, you can rest assured there will always be humans there to record it, admire it and celebrate it, no matter what its nature.
After all, we as a human race have a natural tendency to want to rise higher, to be lifted up from our current predicaments and ascend new heights and horizons on the vista of life. It should be no wonder, then, that we highly esteem the greatest among us who have excelled at human endeavors and have scaled the mountains of knowledge, self-discipline, artistry and achievement in a great number of areas. In other words, we highly value the accomplishments of ourselves and our fellow human beings.
Think about all the achievements of the human mind and spirit in the areas of the sciences like medicine and engineering, in literature, in music, in art, mathematics, and so on! I don’t need to list them for you. I’m sure each of you, upon hearing the fields I just mentioned were able to bring to mind countless images of the advancements achieved just in your own lifetime… or simply in recent memory.
As an example, take the recent 2020 Olympic Games that just came to a close in Tokyo! Night after night we watched as new medalists rose to great heights of athletic glory, shattering records and inspiring the world with their determination and single-minded discipline in achieving greatness in their respective sports. I use this simply as a recent example. Otherwise, there are thousands of great achievements throughout history that we can point to as examples of the greatest of human feats of mastery.
Yet, isn’t it funny that when it comes to the ultimate human feat –finding a way to live forever, which has constantly eluded the most ingenious minds throughout history, when a simple woman like the mother of our Lord achieves it by the grace of God, the world acts with disbelief, nonchalance or even skepticism?
And let’s face it, in many ways it comes easier for us to marvel at the Olympic Athletes and the research scientists, or what have you, than to truly appreciate and marvel at Saint Mary for what she did, or more specifically what God chose to do through her.
Now you might ask, “What did she really do?” It was God who chose her to be the mother of his Son; it was Jesus who came to take her into heaven at her Dormition, which signified the end of her earthly life anyway. We may ask, “Wasn’t she just in the right place at the right time?”
Yet, if we are going to ask that question, then we must ask this one as well, “What were all those other people we mentioned before -- the ones with all the academic genius and the athletic prowess – doing, really?” Was it not simply using the gifts and talents that were given to them by God? Can we not say that the Holy Mother of God had been given an incredible gift of hope and a talent for faith that was beyond comparison?
Each and every person who has achieved greatness has simply said “yes” to the talents and gifts that God has offered them. And I don’t care if it’s hiking mountains, fording rivers or simply raising your children to be decent people – in the end, these are all gifts that are given to us by our Lord.
So, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Holy Mary, the Mother of God, did achieve greatness in her life by saying “yes” to the faith, humility and endurance that God had to give to her. By doing so she became an important part of God’s salvation for mankind, bringing the light of Jesus Christ into the world and becoming the first of any humans to be assumed into the heavenly kingdom, leaving us all with the hope of partaking in this gift when it is our turn -- something that I think, when looked at from the proper angle, is a pretty great human achievement!!
While we Christians admire the aeronautical engineers, the master carpenters, the gymnastic gold medalists, the bridge builders and all the countless other people in our age or in ages past who have achieved great things, today we are especially in awe of our Lord’s mother, the Holy Virgin Mary – Asdvadzadzin – the birth-giver of God.
During the Blessing of Grapes service, which is conducted on this most solemn feast day, we read the following words of Jesus from the Gospel of John: “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Today, we should recognize the need in our life to remain with our Lord, to “abide in him” as he says, just as his blessed mother, the Holy Virgin Mary did throughout her entire life. Apart from him we can do nothing – we have nothing. Apart from him, our lives remain empty and our efforts fruitless. Apart from him, we have no hope of drawing near to God the Father nor having renewed life with him in the kingdom of heaven.
He is truly the source of everything we have or can have -- all human talents, skills, accomplishments and achievements. He is the one who has the power – not just in theory, but in proven reality – to assume us all into his heavenly kingdom, just as he did with Mother Mary.
“The branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine.” The Holy Mother of God, Mary, remained steadfast in the service of God, saying, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord” and obeying his will for her. Because of this she literally bore the “sweetest fruit” of all, Jesus Christ, for the whole world to taste of and be redeemed for eternity. The ancient Fathers of our Church asserted long ago that the Holy Cross is the Tree of Life, and the fruit that can be found hanging on it, Jesus himself, is the food that gives us eternal life.
Today, we give thanks to Almighty God, and our Lord Jesus Christ, thanking and praising him for the most Holy Asdvadzadzin, Mary the Mother of God. On this most blessed feast day of her Assumption, I would like to congratulate all of you and wish you all the blessings of life in the Kingdom with our Lord’s holy mother.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Feast of the Assumption 2021