The Cross - Couldn't There Have Been Another Way?
On Sunday, September 12, the people of the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrated with great joy and solemnity the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
Much has been said and much has been written about the cross since the time of our Lord. It is the central symbol of our Christian faith, the one that is most recognizable to those outside the Church and the most appealing to those within.
The Armenian people throughout the centuries have been particularly attached to the cross and the conviction of hope, promise of redemption and reminder of God’s compassionate love that it brings. This has been especially true during the many eras of persecution and turmoil that have been endured by our Church and Nation.
Both individually and collectively, to countless generations of believers the cross has been a visual reminder of spiritual encouragement during the triumphs and tribulations of human life in this world.
Many have asked, “why the cross?” Or even, “how did it work?” Or still, “Couldn’t there have been another way?”
This last one seems to be the age-old question that seems to return perennially in one form or another. “Couldn’t there have been another way?”
“When God wanted to redeem the world through his Son, why did it have to be through the cross? Could there have been some less grotesque and more convivial way for the Son of God save the earth from sin, other than the brutality of the cross?”
This is, of course, a gargantuan question for which to try to come up with an answer, one that has been studied and written about exhaustively, for which we would need hours and hours of instructing to even begin to uncover.
Suffice it to say that the short answer is “no.” No. There was no other way besides suffering and dying by which Our Lord could relay satisfactorily the exact message that God was to impart on humanity. This message is precisely that:
But we should mention that we have encountered these three truths in the Gospels before, and more particularly in the temptation of Jesus to forgo these things and to try to find “another way.”
The Gospels record how, following his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus was taken into the wilderness to fast and to be tested. Once he had fasted completely for forty days, Satan himself came to try to tempt him into renouncing these three things.
First, he charged him to turn some stones into bread in order to abate his hunger. Jesus refused, quoting scripture “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Next, he tells Jesus to throw himself down from the high pinnacle of the Temple in Jerusalem, claiming that God will send his legions of angels to rescue him. Jesus again refutes Satan, reminding him “You shall not put the Lord God to the test.”
Finally, Satan takes Jesus to the summit of a very high mountain, showing him all the kingdoms and riches of the world, promising “all this I will give to you if you worship me.” In one last feat of strength, Jesus says, “Away from me, Satan! You shall worship only God alone!”
The great Archbishop Fulton Sheen, of blessed memory, one of the most magnificent theologians and evangelists of modern times, writes a fascinating bit of scriptural commentary on this Gospel passage, which is contained in his book, “Life of Christ,” originally published in 1958.
In speaking of Jesus’s first temptation to turn stones into bread in order to satisfy his hunger, he writes, “Our Lord would not use miraculous powers to provide food for himself, as he would not use miraculous powers, later on, to come down from the Cross…”
The reason for this is that Jesus was asserting that what’s more important than feeding one’s self – or the hungry of the world – is that they receive the spiritual nourishment from God. In Archbishop Sheen’s interpretation, Jesus was saying to Satan, “You are tempting me away from my cross, suggesting that I be a cheap leader of people, filling their bellies instead of their souls… you would have me bring outer abundance instead of inner holiness. If I give bread alone, then man is no more than an animal… those who believe in me must hold to that faith, even when they are starved and weak, even when they are imprisoned and scourged.”
Indeed, the cross shows Jesus starved and weak, imprisoned and scourged, and yet he remained steadfast in his belief that God would sustain and strengthen him, more than any relief brought by food or respite from suffering.
“The second temptation, “Sheen writes, “was to forget the cross and replace it with an effortless display of power, which would make it easy for everyone to believe in him. If our Lord really trusted so much in the Father, he should prove it by doing a daring deed and giving the Father an opportunity to protect him.”
But Archbishop Sheen points out two things: 1) “Faith in God must never contradict reason,” and 2) “If he did show such signs, he would certainly have all men running after him; but what would it profit them if sin was still on their souls?”
To this he adds, referring to the cross, “It is only when I am seen on the cross that I really draw men to myself; it is by sacrifice, and not by marvels, that I must make my appeal… I must win followers not with material power, but with love.”
He also reminds us that Jesus wants “men who will believe in me, even when I do not protect them… I want my missionaries and martyrs to love me in prison and death as I loved them in my own suffering.”
In speaking of the final temptation of Jesus to reign over all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for bowing down to Satan, the blessed Archbishop writes, “Satan was lying in order to tempt our Lord again from the cross, by way of a short cut… inasmuch as the kingdom of this world was under the power of sin (and indeed Jesus even referred to Satan elsewhere as the “prince of this world”), even the new Kingdom which our Lord would establish – if inherited from Satan -- must be only a continuation of the old one. In short, he could have the earth, provided he promised not to change it. He could have mankind, as long as he promised not to redeem it… the kingdom that Satan offered was of the world, not of the Spirit. It would still be a kingdom of evil and the hearts of his subjects would not be regenerated.”
Satan was in effect saying, “Forget your cross, your kingdom of heaven. If you want the world, it is at your feet.” But our Lord knew that these kingdoms could only be won by his suffering and death.
Indeed, in all three of these examples, Jesus shows us how his death on the cross is going to have way more power and impact than anything Satan or his fallen world, or any kind of substitute power – that doesn’t involve suffering and self-sacrifice – could offer him. And not only that, his own association with suffering, pain, sorrow and death helps us to make sense of those things as we deal with them in our own lives, and encourages us to undertake those things with joy and thanksgiving to God, knowing that we lived in humility for others and not to serve our own selfish interests.
Through his temptations at the beginning of his ministry and his crucifixion at the end, Jesus came to show us precisely that our life is not about filling our bellies and our egos and our pockets. But rather, by emptying himself – and ourselves – we find true nourishment in God, true power in our identity as his followers and true wealth, not in any kingdoms of the world, but in the eternal heavenly Kingdom, which he promised to his beloved ones.
This, dearly beloved, is the true message that the Cross is speaking to us today and at all times.
Jesus faced one last temptation to turn away from the path God’s will had for him and go after his own inclinations – while he was on the cross, the Roman soldiers, using the same qualifier as Satan himself, “If you are the Son of God…,” tempted him to come down from the cross. The thief on the cross next to him goaded, “aren’t you the Messiah, save yourself and us!” The crowds that had gathered mocked him and said, “he saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah!” He has the power! Let him walk away from this madness! Let him prove that he is in control!
He had one last chance to walk away, but he didn’t. He didn’t want to become a cheap idol – all talk and no action, so to speak! Our Lord showed his power by totally emptying himself and dying on the cross, so that you and me would be redeemed, sanctified and raised to eternal life.
There simply was no other way.
The immense measure of love shown in the willing self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord is what today shows us the true power of the Holy Cross.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross
Great Achievements - Message on the 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
Freedom & Independence
Today, July 4, is American Independence Day, the day that we celebrate our declaration of independence from foreign rule and the birth of our Republic.
The two words that come to mind most often in thinking about Independence Day and the founding of our Republic are “freedom” and “independence." Conceptualized in terms of the American experience, “freedom,” on the one hand, is generally understood as freedom from tyrannical rule and government interference and overreach, while “independence” describes the ability of a nation to be free from dependence on foreign rule or meddling.
These two, freedom and independence, have formed the foundation upon which this blessed nation has been built.
Today, I wanted to take the opportunity to examine these two things, “freedom” and “independence,” from a Christian perspective.
First, we must make sure we have a sound understanding of what “freedom” is, because it can often be misinterpreted or misappropriated. Too often, we think of “freedom” as the ability to do what we want, whenever we want to. While there is some element of this present in the Christian understanding of freedom, it does not paint the entire picture of what freedom is.
Freedom in the classical understanding means having the ability for governing one’s self. A free person can assume the responsibility for his or her own thoughts, actions and life choices and has no need to be governed by a higher authority. This was along the lines of how our founding fathers envisioned the American Republic, and they greatly emphasized the need of the free individual to be governed by religious principles and morals, the reason being so that the person would not become captive to his own vices, which would lead to deviance, lawlessness, apprehension and ultimately imprisonment – the exact opposite of freedom!
Indeed, according to the vision of the founding fathers, the freedom of the individual came with a lot of responsibility – for one’s own life, for one’s choices and for one’s behavior toward others.
Now, let’s take a look at freedom from a Christian perspective. First off, we acknowledge the overarching principle seen from the time of Creation and throughout the whole of Biblical and human history: that mankind was created with free will and to live a life of freedom. However, in this case, it is freedom from the tyranny of evildoing and the captivity of sin and condemnation.
Recall that when God created the first humans and placed them in the Paradise of Eden, they were free to live on their own and given the responsibility of leading godly lives in relationship with their Creator. They were advised, for their own good, not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, yet they decided to use their free will to do something against God – something that would be detrimental to them both. This is the primordial example of the wrong understanding of “freedom” that I mentioned earlier. “Being ‘free’ means we can do whatever we want with no thought of the repercussions of our actions for ourselves or others.” Well, look what happened to Adam and Eve as a consequence of that attitude! Instead of freedom, they became enslaved to sin and captive to death, in desperate need of a savior and liberator all because they used their freedom without regarding the responsibility that accompanied it.
Fast forward to now: this is the predicament of each and every one of us. While we have also been created with free will, endowed with our mental faculties and a conscience as our moral guide, we all have laid aside our God-given responsibilities and in one way or another have traded our sacred freedom for the prison cell of sin and personal transgression.
Thanks be to God that he sent his Only-Begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, for exactly this reason.
In Chapter 8 of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus tells those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” In this passage, besides uttering one of the most well-known expressions in the English language, “the truth shall set you free,” Jesus reassures us that when we become acquainted with him, listen to him and follow him – meaning putting his Word to practice in our lives! – we have this freedom restored to us. We become free to choose him as Lord of our lives, free to choose what is good for our souls and free to stay away from sin, which harms and corrupts us.
Later on in this same passage he continues, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits a sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the Son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34-36)
In refutation of the twisted, hedonistic view of freedom I mentioned before, Jesus lovingly reminds us that if we use our freedom to sin, then we become prisoners to sin and thereby lose our freedom altogether. One cannot be captive to sin and continue to be called “free.” Thank God that Jesus Christ, the Son of the Heavenly Father, offers to “make us free,” and he did this not only in word, but with his willing death on the cross, as the Apostle Paul says in his letter to the Romans, “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” (Romans 8:5) Today we are reminded to always seek after our Lord for the life-giving freedom from sin that he has promised us.
Now as concerns “Independence,” I’d like to start by acknowledging that dependence on God is vital to human existence and an essential tenet of our Christian faith. I do not believe that our founding fathers meant to imply that independence meant that people never had to depend on anyone, and certainly not on God. Recall that independence was conceived of more at the national, societal level rather than at the individual.
In the Christian understanding, we believe we are called to be dependent on God. After all, he is the source of our life, our breath and our salvation. Even our Lord Jesus demonstrated this dependence perfectly throughout his earthly life, as he constantly sought to be at one with God through uniting his own will to that of the heavenly Father. Conversely, we would be right in affirming that no Christian should be dependent on sinful dealings or evil behavior, or anything contrary to God’s commandments.
However, I do believe that somewhere in the middle there is some room to depend on the inventions of the world, the machinations of our hearts or the ministrations of our fellow man, as long as we are not overly dependent on these things. Do not misunderstand: all of these things are ultimately provided by God and, in good faith and in the right measure, are meant for us to trust in. What I mean to say by “overly dependent” is that we shouldn’t trust in these things of the world as things that our world has to offer us. Instead, we should always have in mind to give the credit to God himself and realize that it is upon him that we have come to depend – even when his aid comes to us in the form of our personal abilities, help from others or some tangible product of the world. Just a few minutes ago, we praised God for everything in our life, singing, “In all things you are blessed, Lord; we hymn you, we praise you, we give thanks to you, Lord our God.” In this beautiful praise song, we demonstrate both our dependence on God and our independence from want and need.
For a beautiful example of this, let’s take a look at today’s Gospel reading, which tells of Jesus’s feeding of the 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish. Jesus’s closest disciples wanted the large crowd to be totally dependent on the world in that moment. “Let them go so they can travel on their own to the nearby towns and buy bread for themselves!” In other words, “let them go so they can disunite instead of unite, travel away from instead of toward their Lord and go to take care of their own physical sustenance rather than depending on the source of their spiritual and physical nourishment for all that they need in this moment.” Not the ideal solution for them right then and there.
Jesus had a better idea: “You give them something to eat.” In saying these six simple words, “you give them something to eat,” he summarized beautifully the idea that we can depend on God while receiving from others who have been sent by God for our benefit. While the disciples thought that the people had to depend on their own wallets and the nearby bakeries for food, Jesus knew that the people could depend on the disciples in that moment. Notice that he himself did not give the bread to the people, neither did he have any to give them right then. What he did have was the divine authority and wisdom to use one group of people and their abilities to bless another group that was dependent upon him. No doubt, the disciples needed the divine blessing from Jesus in order to perform this miracle, but in the end Jesus used them to provide the meal for the great multitude assembled that day.
The disciples depended on the Lord for the blessing. The people depended on the disciples for the food. Today, we depend on those people and the miraculous Gospel story that enshrines them in history for testimony, inspiration and, indeed, to prepare our hearts and minds to receive this same blessed and consecrated bread that is offered to us every Sunday at the Holy Table.
On this Independence Day, we pray to Almighty God that he would preserve our freedom as Christians, and help us to depend on him for all our needs in life.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church
of Merrimack Valley
July 4, 2021
by P. Richard Shahtanian, Esq.
Every church community has its share of parishioners who stand out for their years of dedicated service and Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley is no exception to this fact. These faithful parishioners have been, and continue to be, essential to our existence as a church community. Chake Boloian is the perfect example of such a parishioner whose unwavering dedication is an amazing story of faith and love for her church.
Our church building was purchased on December 22, 1969. The founding members started everything from scratch, including its choir. During these initial years, the choir had a regular group of approximately eight singers and organists. Chake was one of those original choir members and since then has never looked back, even though it took her a while to feel comfortable.
“I had no singing experience whatsoever and other than singing a little bit at my parochial school in Syria growing up, I never sang in front of people”, said Chake. She further explained, “I came to this country in 1957 and had to learn a lot of different things … I knew nothing about the Badarak but I learned over time by practicing at home and as a result I slowly became more comfortable with my voice and singing in church … I also learned to greatly appreciate the Badarak because it is such a beautiful and peaceful service that inspires and rejuvenates me.”
That inspiration and rejuvenation is evident, given her length of service to the choir. In fact, it is remarkable that Chake is the only choir member from that original group over 50 years ago who still sings today.
As most of you know, Chake and her husband Michael (known affectionately as “Red”) have three children, namely Carol Minasian, Sylvia Mahlebjian and John who was born the same year the church was purchased. Except for missing a few Sundays when John was a toddler or an occasional illness, Chake very rarely missed a Sunday in the choir. She was in her early thirties when John was born and she juggled raising her young family with her commitment to the church. Throughout all these years, she remained steadfast to not only her commitment to the choir but also to the Ladies’ Guild, Armenian Relief Society, and many other church related activities such as bazaars, Avak luncheons, and making Mas.
Chake has served along with many different choir members throughout the years and has genuinely enjoyed each and every one of them. Nina Hovsepian is one of those members who began singing with Chake approximately 27 years ago and cherishes Chake’s mentorship, friendship, and inspiration.
Here is what Nina had to say: “… for our St. Gregory community, Chake has been our committed melodious pillar connecting our choir to the Sharagans with her quiet confidence and harmonious leadership. She has an academic understanding of the Badarak. She signals when and what to sing, weaves her velvet voice measure to measure, and embraces both choir and congregation in her warmth and love. When I walk up into the church and see Chake in her choir shabeeg… there is a sigh of relief… all is in Divine order!”
Another such member is Sossy Jeknavorian, our longtime Sunday School Director, who said the following: “When the choir was formed about 51 years ago, Chake joined the choir immediately and brought an incredible energy with her beautiful, sweet and perfect voice. She showed up every Sunday, sang the Sharagans and especially the beautiful solos. Singers have come and gone but Chake remains dedicated and sets an example for others… when I joined the choir, I was very nervous to sing the solos but Chake encouraged me and helped me to a point where she would nudge me and say “go” to start singing the solo… Chake has inspired me and many others. She is a remarkable person …”
Chake’s dedicated service has not gone unnoticed. During the 46th Anniversary celebration of Saint Gregory Church in 2016, Chake was honored with the Distinguished Service Award from the Armenian Prelacy for her years of service with the choir. At that time, her son John recalled the following about his mother, “My sister remembers when she was little going to Saturday rehearsal with our mom and lying around the pews while she practiced… we had an organ in the house that my dad purchased for her, just so she could sing and practice. She has not stopped and my dad still wears the biggest smile of all when she sings. He would remind us all the time when we were in the sanctuary, ‘that’s your mother singing.’”
Our parish priest, Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian, was installed as our pastor just a few years prior to her being honored by the Armenian Prelacy. Der Hayr has a lot to say about Chake’s service but he clearly recalls his very first Badaraks at our church and remembered how impressed he was with our choir and specifically with our dedicated Choir Director, Knarik Nerkararyan, and Chake. “I remember thinking to myself that Knarik is so incredibly talented and professional and Chake is the headliner and matriarch!,” Der Hayr said.
Typically, Chake and Red were the first parishioners to arrive at church on a Sunday morning until COVID-19 prevented them from doing so. The pandemic, along with other age related ailments, took away one of the most important things in her life.
“We missed so much going to church together on Sunday and I felt empty but it was so good coming on Easter and we are going to try and start coming again regularly… I pray others will start coming back too,” said Chake. It is clear that although Chake may have slowed a little bit physically over the last few years, her mind and Christian faith are stronger than ever.
Also, during these last few years, daughter Sylvia began singing in the choir. Sylvia and Knarik have been a dynamic duo during the pandemic and Chake’s passing of the baton to Sylvia makes her story even more amazing and special. Chake explained, “I never pushed Sylvia to sing… it’s totally what she wants to do…I never believed in being a pushy person about anything… but I did tell her that it’s a big commitment especially while working as much as she does with three boys at home.”
Sylvia, who works as the Senior Director of Talent Development at Analog Devices, admits she sometimes gets emotional having her mother alongside her in the choir. Like her mother, Sylvia is completely self-taught and although she enjoyed teaching Sunday School for many years, she finds a different and special kind of spiritual fulfillment serving in the choir. When Chake was asked how she feels about her daughter taking such a prominent role in the choir, she paused for a moment and emotionally said, “let’s just say that I’m very very proud of her.”
Chake acknowledges that life was different 50 years ago as there were fewer activities and things competing for peoples’ time and attention. “Church was not only the main focus of our lives, but it was also the main focus for many others like us. I realize it’s different today… things have changed a little over the years… we made lifelong friends from our church and our social life centered around the church,” said Chake.
She prays that the younger generations can also find that same closeness and spiritual connection to the church as her generation experienced. Fortunately, for all of us, the only thing that has changed for Chake Boloian over the years is that now you can find her daughter singing by her side.
(Chake’s story is written in loving memory of Tom Vartabedian, who was a dear friend, mentor, and teacher to many in our community.)
Առաջնորդ Սրբազան Հօր Ս. Զատիկի պատգամ
Քրիստոնեայ աշխարհը, առհասարակ, այսօր կը տօնախմբէ մեր Տիրոջ Յիսուս Քրիստոսի հրաշափառ Յարութիւնը՝ աստուածային գերազանց յաղթանակն ու անպարտելի զօրութիւնը երկնքի եւ երկրի բոլոր ոյժերուն վրայ անզուգական ձեւով, զոր կը կարդանք Սուրբ Գրքին մէջ. «Իմ ճամբաս տարբեր է մարդոց ճամբաներէն» (Ես 55.8)։ Արդարեւ, Ուրբաթ օր Երուսաղէմ՝ խաղաղութեան քաղաքը, թոհուբոհի եւ անորոշութեան մէջ էր։ Խելագարած ամբոխը, դրդուած ղեկավարներէն, կը գոռար՝ «թող խաչուի, թող խաչուի» (Մտ 27.23), շփոթահար կուսակալը ի զուր կը փորձէր մահուան վճիռը փոխել, իսկ ծախուած, լքուած եւ ուրացուած Վարդապետին աշակերտները ամբողջական յուսահատութեան մէջ էին։ Շաբաթ առաւօտ հոգեւոր ղեկավարները, դեռ եւս չգոհանալով խաչելով ու թաղելով Նազովրեցի Վարդապետը, կը խնդրեն Պիղատոսէն որ կնքէ գերեզմանը, առարկելով որ գուցէ Աշակերտները, որոնք սարսափահար խոյս տուած էին Իրենց Վարդապետին ձերբակալման պահուն, կը համարձակին գալ եւ գողնալ մարմինը՝ պահակներու հսկողութեան տակ գտնուող գերեզմանէն։ Ասիկա արդէն ծայր աստիճան արտառոցութիւն էր, որուն Պիղատոս ընթացք կու տայ հաճելի թուալու համար անոնց։ Զգուշութեան մարդկային բոլոր միջոցները երբ կը սպառին՝ լռեցնելու համար Անլռելին եւ անհետացնելու հետքը Անկորնչելի Արդարին, ահա Կիրակի առաւօտ Թաղեալ Լոյսը, որ Իր կենդանութեան յայտարարած էր «Ե՛ս եմ Յարութիւնը», գործով կ՛ապացուցէ մեռելներէն յարութիւն առնելով։
Յարութիւնը՝ Հաւատքի, Յոյսի եւ Սիրոյ յաւերժական արշալոյսը, գօտեպնդեց յուսահատած ու ցրուած Առաքեալները, որոնք իրենց հերթին լուսաւորեցին խաւարի ու անգիտութեան մէջ բնակողները։ Աշխարհին բացուելով, անոնք լիովին փոխակերպեցին ընկերութեան մտածողութիւնը՝ անդրանցնելու նիւթական եւ շօշափելի մօտեցումը մարդկային գոյութեան, եւ կեանքի գերագոյն նպատակը հասկնալու աստուածային պրիսմակէն դիտուած։ Արդարեւ, Յարութիւնը քօղազերծեց մահէն անդին յաւերժական կեանքի խորհուրդը, եւ երկրաւորներս պարուրեց անպատում այն ցնծութեամբ, թէ երկնաւոր Հօր Շնորհքով մահկանուցներս դարձեալ արժանացած ենք անմահութեան, եւ ուխտաւորներ ենք այս կեանքէն դէպի Կեանք։
Այսօր, մեր հաւատքի վերանորոգումն է, որ կը տօնակատարենք Յիսուս Քրիստոսի սուրբ Յարութեամբ, որ ոչի՛նչ խնայեց մեր փրկութեան համար։ Տառացի կերպով Ան զգեցաւ մեր մեղանչական բնութիւնը եւ զայն մաքրեց իր սուրբ արիւնով։ Մեզի՛ համար «ան կրեց մահուան վարձքը» (Հռ 6.23) եւ «Իր մահով ոչնչացուց մահուան խայթոցները» (Ա Կր 15.55), միանգամընդմիշտ մեզի հայթայթելով տոկուն փաստը, թէ Ինք կենդանի է եւ միշտ մեր հետ է, ինչպէս խոստացաւ առաքեալներուն (Մտ 28.20): Աւելին՝ Ան միշտ կը խօսի մեր հետ եւ ամենայն համբերութեամբ կը սպասէ Խաչին վրայ արտայայտած իր սիրոյն դրական պատասխանին։
Այս ուղղութեամբ, կ՛ուզեմ պատկեր մը գործածել գիտական աշխարհէն առնուած։ Արհեստագիտութեան հրաշալի գիւտերէն մէկը, այսպէս կոչուած GPSն է, որ կը խօսի եւ միշտ կ՚ուղղէ մեզ, որ հասնինք մեր նպատակադրած հասցէին։ Ամէն անգամ որ ձախողինք անոր հետեւելէ եւ կամ ճամբու վրայ անակնկալներ կամ փոփոխութիւններ պատահին, միշտ կ՚օգնէ մեզի, որ մեր ուղղութեան մէջ մնանք։ Այս երեք տառերը կը կազմեն սկզբնատառերը անգլերէնով G(lobal) P(ositioning) S(ystem) «համաշխարհային դիրքորոշման համակարգ» բառերուն։ Պահելով հանդերձ սկզբնատառերը, երբ փոխենք զայն հետեւեալին՝ G(od) S(peaks) P(ersonally) «Աստուած անձնապէս կը խօսի» մեր հետ, կը տեսնենք որ իրապէ՛ս Աստուած ՄԻՇՏ կը Խօսի մեր հետ եւ երբե՛ք չի հրաժարիր երբ մեղանչենք եւ հեռանանք Իրմէ։ Այս ձեւով մենք հասու կ՚ըլլանք նաեւ Բանականութիւն-Գիտութիւն եւ Հոգի-Հաւատք ներդաշնակութեան։
Արդարեւ, Աստուած բոլոր ժամանակներուն անձամբ խօսած է իր ստեղծագործութեան պսակ՝ մարդուն հետ։ Եդեմի պարտէզին մէջ՝ Նախածնողաց հետ, նահապետներու՝ Նոյի եւ Աբրահամի հետ, մարգարէներու՝ Մովսէսի, Սամուէլի, Դաւիթի հետ, եւ ի լրումն ժամանակի Աստուած անձամբ խօսեցաւ իր Միածնին՝ Յիսուսի Քրիստոսով եւ Առաքեալներու միջոցաւ համայն աշխարհին։
Հայ ժողովուրդը եղաւ առաջիններէն յարուցեալ Կենդանի Աստուծոյ Խօսքը լսելու եւ զայն թարգմանելու հաւատքի, մշակոյթի, արուեստի, ի մի բան՝ կեանքի բոլոր ոլորտներէն ներս։ Որքա՜ն հիասքանչ դասաւորում ըրած են մեր եկեղեցւոյ Հայրերը այս ուղղութեամբ, երբ ամէն անգամ որ Աւետարան կարդացուի, դպրաց դասը կ՛երգէ՝ «ասէ Աստուած» («Աստուած կ՛ըսէ, կը խօսի»), մեզի յիշեցնելով որ Աստուած ո՛չ միայն անցեալին, այլ նաեւ այսօր կը խօսի իւրաքանչիւրիս։
Այո՛, Աստուած մշտատեւ կը խօսի կեանքի եւ յարութեան մասին առհասարակ ամբողջ ստեղծագործութեան, մեր խղճի ձայնին, Սուրբ Գրքի ընդմէջէն, բայց մանաւանդ Յիսուս Քրիստոսով, որ ամենայն հեղինակութեամբ յայտարարեց՝ «Ե՛ս եմ Յարութիւնը եւ Կեանքը» (Յհ 14.6): Ո՛չ մէկ կասկած որ բազմաթիւ ճամբաներ կան ընթանալու, կրօններու ուսուցումներ կան ճշմարտութեան մասին, եւ գիտական աշխարհի խոստումներ՝ բարգաւաճ կեանքի համար, սուրբ Յարութեամբ աւետուած հաւատքը այդ ամէնքը ներառնելով հանդերձ մեզի կը փոխանցէ նոր պատգամ մը։ Յարուցեալ մեր Տէրը Յիսուս Քրիստոսը Իր արիւնով փրկուածներուս հետ կը փափաքի միշտ հաղորդակցութեան մէջ ըլլալ, խօսիլ մեր հետ ու լսել մեզ, եւ նորոգել մեզ։ Ինչպէս արեւը երկրի եւ ովկիանոսներու մակերեսին ու ընդերքը գտնուող էակները կը կենսաւորէ ու կը նորոգէ իւրաքանչիւրին առանձնայատկութիւնը պահելով, նմանապէս Յարուցեալ Քրիստոս՝ ներթափանցելով իւրաքանչիւրիս կեանքին մէջ, կը փոխակերպէ մեր անհատականութիւնն ու նկարագիրը, եւ աւելի կատարեալ կը դարձնէ մեր աշխարհահայեացքը եւ յարաբերական կեանքը։
Մենք մեզ յանձնելով եւ վստահելով յարուցեալ Քրիստոս Աստուած-GPSին, Ան ո՛չ միայն մեզ անսայթաք կ՛առաջնորդէ սահմանէ սահման, ցամաքամասէ ցամաքամաս, կամ նոյնիսկ մոլորակէ մոլարակ, այլ ժամանակի ու տարածքի հասկացողութենէն անդին անհունութիւն ու յարերժութիւն, կեանքը առ յաւէտ ապրելու Արարիչ Աստուծոյ հետ։
Այս հասկացողութեամբ տօնենք Խաչեալ, Թաղեալ մեր Տիրոջ Յիսուս Քրիստոսի Յարութեան խորհուրդը։ Համաշխարհային համավարակի, բայց մանաւանդ ազգային մեծ աղէտի դժնդակ այս շրջանին դիմաւորենք մեր կեանքին մէջ նորոգեալ հաւատքով Յարուցեալ Տէրը, որ խոստացաւ մեզի «Կեանք եւ առաւել կեանք պիտի ունենանք» (Յհ 10-10): Յոյսի ու Կեանքի նոր երգ երգենք յարութեան շունշով տոգորուած, նոյնիսկ մահուան ձորին մէջէն եթէ քալենք, վստահ ըլլալով որ Տէրը մեր հետ է (տե՛ս Սղ 23.4), եւ գոհաբանենք Ամենասուրբ Երրորդութիւնը յաւիտեանս․ ամէն։
Prelate's Easter Message
Today, Christendom celebrates the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the awesome victory of the Divine, invincible power over all heavenly and earthly powers, in a most unique and amazing way, as we read in the Scriptures, “My ways are different from your ways” (Isa 55:8). By Friday, Jerusalem, the city of peace, was in turmoil and confusion. Maddened crowds, instigated by their leaders, were yelling, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” (Mt 27:23). The perplexed governor in vain was pretending to have authority to overrule the verdict, and the followers of the betrayed Master were in total despair. By Saturday, the spiritual rulers, not content with the crucifixion, asked Pilate to seal the tomb, claiming that the fearful and hopeless Disciples, who fled away upon their Master’s arrest, might come and steal the body from the guarded tomb. This was the last of all ironies, which Pilate reluctantly accepted and imposed in order to please them. When all human means were exhausted to silence and annihilate the Righteous One, Lo! On Sunday, the Buried One who once taught “I am the Resurrection”, now proclaimed it in action by rising from the dead.
The Resurrection, the eternal dawning of Faith, Hope and Love, girded the dispersed and despairing disciples, who in their turn, illuminated the minds of people everywhere dwelling in the darkness of ignorance. Going out into the world, the disciples transformed mindsets to transcend the visible and material approach to human existence and to understand life’s ultimate goal in the light of Divine perspective. Indeed, the Resurrection unveiled the mystery which lies beyond death, and filled the hearts of the human beings with joy that we, mortals, are rejuvenated in our immortality with our heavenly Father’s Grace, and are pilgrims from life to Life.
And today, here we are to celebrate the renewal of our faith in the spirit of the Risen Lord, who spared nothing for our redemption. He literally took upon Himself our sinful nature and cleansed it with His sacred blood. For our sake He carried the wages of sin (Rom 6:23), and through His death, crushed the stings of death (cf. 1 Cor 15:55), providing us with tangible signs that He is alive and always with us, as He promised to His Disciples (Mt 228:20). Moreover, He speaks to us, and patiently waits for our positive reaction in response to His sacrificial love on the Cross.
In this context, I would like to draw a picture derived from the world of science. One of the marvelous inventions of technology is the GPS, which speaks and helps us to get to our destination, and always recalculates when we fail to follow its instruction. By changing the wording of this wonderful instrument G(lobal) P(ositioning) S(ystem) to G(od) S(peaks) P(ersonally) to us and never gives up when we sin and we distance ourselves from Him, we will discover the harmony between Intellect-Science, and Soul-Faith. Indeed, God always had personally spoken with mankind, the crown of His Creation. In the Garden of Eden, God personally spoke to our foreparents. God personally spoke to the Patriarchs Noah and Abraham. God personally spoke to the Prophets Moses, David, Isaiah, and through them with His people. And in the fulfillment of time, God personally spoke in the very person of Jesus Christ, and through the apostles to the world at large.
It is so amazing that in the Armenian Church we practice a very unique feature: the reading of the Gospels is always preceded by the choir’s brief solemn chant, “ Ասէ Աստուած – God speaks,” reminding us that not only in past but also today, God is speaking to each of us. Yes, my dear brothers and sisters, God always speaks with us through different means, by Mother Nature, our consciousness, the Scriptures and moreover through our Lord Jesus Christ, who solemnly announced, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” (Jn 14:6). Of course, there are many ways to think and to act; there are many religions teaching us about truth; and there are many sciences promising us prosperous life. Yet, as the shining sun, penetrating the very heart of the earth and oceans, gives life to each species and preserves their uniqueness, likewise the Risen Lord, penetrating each person’s life, transforms our personality, character, behavior, and makes us more perfect in our outlook, in our relationship with our spouses, children, peers, neighbors, colleagues, and with society at large.
By committing ourselves to our God-“GPS,” He does not merely lead us from border to border, from land to land, from planet to planet, but from time and space to eternity and infinity, to enjoy and celebrate life forever in Him. With this understanding, let us celebrate the Resurrection of the Crucified and Risen Lord. Let us welcome the Risen Lord and with renewed faith follow Him who promised “That you may have life, and a more abundant life” (Jn 10:10). Let us truly sing the song of Hope and Life “even though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Ps 23:4), and with thankful hearts, let us praise the life-giving All-Holy Trinity, Amen.
Pastor's Christmas Message
Christmas is our celebration of the birth and revelation of Jesus Christ our Lord.
This evening, I will not get into when or what, exactly, we should be celebrate. Those are topics we can leave for another discussion.
For right now, I want to focus solely on the fact that we should be celebrating and why.
The year 2020 has been an extraordinary year to say the least. The difficulties of this year have been tough to grapple with:
A worldwide Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc.
Social and political unrest have taken hold here in the U.S. amid widespread allegations of fraud during the November election.
Meanwhile, a devastating war and crushing defeat in Artsakh has thrust both the tiny republic and our homeland of Armenia into turmoil and insecurity. The Armenian people are in turmoil and are struggling to come to terms with this great loss of our national pride and security.
In our culture, it has become popular to depict 2020 as a horrid year – despicable and unsalvageable as regards any promise or saving grace. Indeed, in a year that didn’t seem to give us much of a cause for celebration, it becomes all the more imperative that we make it a point to celebrate.
What is this, you say? How could we possibly have anything for which to be thankful or to celebrate this year? The answer is that as difficult a task as this sounds
The birth of Jesus Christ and his revelation as God (Theophany) are meant to be for us the birth and rebirth of a new hope year after year. It is precisely when times are dangerous and uncertain that we must take pause, search deeper and truly comprehend what the prophetic meaning of “Emmanuel” is, or “God is with us.”
For those who are unfamiliar, this word “Emmanuel” was used in the Prophecy of Isaiah (Chapter 7) to describe the Lord’s promised Messiah. It was the same name used by the angel who appeared to Joseph in a dream, as recorded in the first chapter of St. Matthew’s Gospel. The angel also adds that “Emmanuel” means “God is with us.”
I can’t think of any more of a powerful and accurate description of the person of Jesus Christ. He is the very incarnation and embodiment of God’s Divine Nature. God becomes man and comes to live among us… this is the true story of Christmas.
“God is with us” applies precisely to today’s situation and this becomes all the clearer to those living in difficult times under difficult circumstances. On this Christmas, and at all times, We must never forget that God is always with us through his Son, especially in the most difficult times.
While the reality of God’s love revealed in Jesus Christ every year (and I would argue every day!) should be an inspiration and in our lives, it becomes all the more powerful this year as we trek through all these challenges guided by his enduring love and faithfulness.
God our heavenly Father has promised to be with us; he sent his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to be the physical and spiritual revelation of this truth. Now he gently reminds us not to despair and not to panic, as he did with the Apostle Peter on the waves of the sea (Matthew 14:27-30), saying, “I am here; do not be afraid!”
This Christmas, I wish you all a genuine celebration of joy and that you would be encouraged by knowing you are not alone. “Emmanuel,” God is with us.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
New Cross "Crowning" Achievement of Nearly 20-Year Building Renovation Project
Sunday, September 27, 2020, was a historic day for Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley, and noteworthy in all its fifty-year history.
Our Prelate and shepherd, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, payed a much-needed visit to a flock in need, adding to the festivities of the day with his great, spiritual presence.
Srpazan Hayr celebrated the Divine Liturgy and delivered a powerful sermon. Drawing first on the meaning of the Feast of the Holy Cross of Mount Varak and the miraculous apparition that took place there through our Lord Jesus Christ’s true cross, he then revealed the sad news that just that morning the people of Artsakh had been attacked unexpectedly and swiftly by Azerbaijan. He called on the faithful of the Armenian Apostolic Church to pray for peace and prosperity in Armenia and Artsakh, and to stand beside the brave, heroic soldiers of the Armed Forces.
At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the church choir began to sing the hymn Oorakh lér Soorp Yégéghétsi (“Rejoice, O Holy Church), while under Srpazan Hayr’s leadership, and accompanied by the church’s pastor, Rev. Father Stephan Baljian, all the people went out in procession to the side yard of the church. They were about to witness the reality of the words of the above-mentioned hymn, that truly “Christ, the King of Heaven, has crowned you with his Holy Cross.” The Rite of Consecration of a New Cross was celebrated and the cross anointed. At the completion of the Rite, and after the singing of “Giligia,” then came joyful and emotion-filled moment, when the Saint Gregory Church edifice would be crowned with a gold colored Armenian-style cross.
In front of the gazing crowd, the cross blessed and anointed with the Holy Chrism was raised and secured into its place by the construction workers on hand.
We note that the “crowning” of this Holy Cross was not meant only to adorn the church’s pinnacled roofs. But also, it became the crowning achievement and pinnacle of a complete and exhaustive renovation project which has lasted nearly 20 years and has seen the renovation of the church sanctuary, the adjunct “Jaffarian Hall,” the church offices and classrooms, the youth facilities as well as other reconstruction and renovation.
We note also that the cross consecration event, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, unfortunately had to be postponed from last April. Also, the weekend of this event had originally been slated to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the church’s consecration in September of 1970, but this too has had to be postponed until next year.
That notwithstanding, the faithful children of this community greeted with great excitement and gratitude this milestone, which had been awaited for many years, was postponed just a little further, but whose day had finally arrived!
In the afternoon, on the outside patio adjacent to the church, a modest reception was held, attended by the faithful (but properly “socially distanced”). The church’s pastor acted as Master of Ceremonies for the brief program. First, Der Stephan, on behalf of the entire community, thanked Archbishop Anoushavan, the Board of Trustees and the hard-working members of the Building Committee, as well as all donors and benefactors who through their financial and moral support assisted in bringing this project to its completion.
In turn, remarks were also offered by Board of Trustees chairman, Gregory Afarian, and former chairman of the now dissolved Building Committee, Mr. P. Richard Shahtanian, Esq.
Then Der Hayr invited the Prelate to offer his concluding remarks. During his remarks Srpazan Hayr congratulated the entire community and offered high commendations to all those persons active in the project at hand. Praising the church community for being faithful and God-centered, he also noted that, despite all the obstacles and challenges brought about by the Coronavirus pandemic, the North Andover church could stand as an example to other church communities in the Prelacy. “Even though you did not get to celebrate your 50th Anniversary this year,” he said, “Next year you will be able to celebrate Fifty years – Plus One! And therefore that shows how you are always looking to achieve better.” He stated any other of the Prelacy church communities who have had to postpone anniversaries or put off other plans can look to Saint Gregory Church for encouragement and will be able to accomplish those things to an even greater extent in the coming years.
Rising to their feet, the people received Srpazan Hayr’s blessing and dismissal, after which all began to depart for their homes – all the while gazing up at the newly placed and shining cross.
On Thursday, June 4, a small group volunteers representing Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church and the Lowell "Lousintak" and Merrimack Valley "Arax" Chapters of the Armenian Relief Society, gathered to make bagged lunches for the North Andover Fire and Police Departments, as well as for the elderly in our community. In place of our monthly Avak Luncheon, which would have been held that day, a total of 23 lunches were delivered to senior parishioners throughout the Merrimack Valley. We would like to thank those who volunteered for this outreach project. Your dedication to our church and community are much appreciated.
Photos courtesy of Joe Almasian & John Dagdigian
On Monday, February 17, 2020, crews were on hand for the construction of the newly-designed steeple of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church. Members of the Building Committee and others were also present during the construction hours. Due to the generosity of many major donors, the dream of having an Armenian-style dome gracing Saint Gregory Church and hovering over the skyline of North Andover has finally become a reality. Currently, a three foot tall Armenian cross is being cast and will be installed over the steeple very soon.
Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room…
As you’ve probably noticed from my messages these past few years, I am a person who can be deeply inspired by music and the meaningful texts that accompany it. This year is no exception, as I find myself once again finding a powerful message in some of the music that the Christmas season has to offer.
One perennial favorite of mine (as I’m sure it is of many others) is the universally acclaimed and well-known Christmas Carol “Joy to the World.” This song first appeared in 1719 in a literary work entitled The Psalms of David: Imitated in the language of the New Testament, and applied to the Christian state and worship, by English clergyman, Theologian and hymn writer Isaac Watts. During the 17th Century, musical arrangements of this text were published several times, bearing little resemblance to the tune we would recognize today.
An 1836 anthology of Occasional Psalms and Hymn Tunes, published by Boston-based American composer, church musician and educator Lowell Mason, printed the text and tune pretty much as we know it today. The version exactly as we know it today comes from an 1848 version of the periodical The American Psalmist, which was edited by Mason himself. Both of these sources list the name of the tune as “Antioch” and Mason attributes to the great British composer of the previous century, George Frederick Händel. (As a side note, Lowell Mason was the man responsible for introducing music education into the Boston Public School system.)
Watts’ original text was meant to be a free interpretation of the 96th and 98th Psalms, which mention the coming of the Lord and the charge to all creatures of the earth, as well as the heavens and nature itself to shout out to the Lord joyfully. The final verse also alludes to God’s punishment of the first man Adam, as recorded in Genesis 3:17-18. It depicts a beautiful scene in which all the heavens and the earth rejoice at the arrival of the newly-arrived Jesus and although there is no explicit reference to the Incarnation or the Nativity per se, the text itself lends itself beautifully to the Christmas story and the Good News of the birth of our Lord.
One of my favorite lines from this carol is “Let earth receive her King; let every heart prepare him room…” Let every heart prepare him room.
Try to think back to a time when you knew something was arriving or something big was about to change in your life – something new was coming. Perhaps it was when you transitioned from one job to another, or you moved to a new home, began a new hobby or you simply decided it was time to redecorate your surroundings in a new style.
All of us have found ourselves at one point or another in any number of these type of situations – situations of the sort where we find ourselves on the cusp of something new or daring, something that promises to change our lives, represent a new beginning or a departure from old circumstances. Whether we have pursued an education, gotten married, welcomed children, embarked on a new career, moved to a new country or what have you, there is an air of anticipation and excitement surrounding these novelties. This is precisely because each in its own way promises something new, to open up a new horizon before us and to bring us to new territories where we will (hopefully) be furnished with new possibilities and surroundings.
This continuous “regeneration” of our life circumstances is part of the joy and mystery of our life. We do not remain static throughout our lives, rather God takes us on a long journey, the course of which is charted with new designation points and destinations along the way. Of course, there are some things that remain constant, including the skills, life lessons and pieces of wisdom we pick up along the way.
Yet there is one thing all of the above have in common: they require preparation. And more specifically, they require an “out with the old, in with new mentality.” Preparing room for the new thing that is coming down the turnpike.
Your decorations from the old office don’t match the décor of the new one. You need to make space for all those new materials you bought for that new hobby. A new family member is arriving and it’s time to clean out the old rec room to make room for a nursery. This means taking stock, making decisions… Preparing room.
When we think of the Incarnation of our Savior, therefore, we must understand that the impact the arrival of the Savior of the world would have on us is decidedly no less powerful when it comes to our spiritual lives. If he is to come and abide in us, then naturally we need to make some preparations for him. This is why I am so moved by the reminder that at the arrival of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world and the savior of my heart, I need to prepare room for him.
Each one of us is responsible for welcoming and re-welcoming our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into our hearts at Christmastime and throughout the year. When we welcome him into our heart and ask him to be Lord of our life, we must therefore expect to have to prepare room for him to live inside there. So, we must then ask the question: in order to prepare this room, of what must we rid our hearts in order to do so?
Simply put, “the old self.” Saint Paul writes in letter to the Ephesians, “…Put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by lusts, and… be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and… clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
When we get rid of our old self, which is “corrupt and deluded by lusts,” we make room for Christ to come into our hearts and create a new, holy and righteous person within us. Can you take a minute to think of certain aspects of your life that you would like to assign to the “old self pile” (in other words, the no longer needed “discard in the trash” pile)?
Is it that bad cursing habit you have? That one secret addiction or vice that nobody knows about but is hurting your relationship with your families? Gossiping about and slandering others? That grudge you still hold against that person because you simply aren’t able (or willing) to forgive? Apathy towards your faith? Pushing sexual boundaries to impropriety? Your temper? Your resentments? Your fears? Your despair?
There can be many other examples, but we shall suffice to say that all of the above mentioned things are part of what Saint Paul refers to as “the old self” and must be removed from our hearts and lives if we are to truly prepare room for Jesus Christ to come dwell in us.
Therefore, dearly beloved, during this holy season of our Lord’s birth and revelation, let us joyfully prepare room in our hearts for the arriving Savior of the World, Jesus Christ, by asking him to remove our old, corrupted ways of thinking and living, and establishing us as new creatures for his service and the glory of his heavenly kingdom. Amen.
Fr. Stephan Baljian, Pastor
Feast of Holy Nativity & Theophany
January 6, 2020
On Sunday afternoon, January 5, 2020, parishioners of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church gathered to begin the celebration of the Holy Nativity & Theophany (Birth & Revelation) of our Lord Jesus Christ. Following the Mid-day (Jashoo) & Evening Services, as evening drew near, students of Saint Gregory Church's Sunday/Armenian School read the ten readings from the Old Testament foretelling the birth and revelation of the promised Messiah, who was born in a stable in Bethlehem more than 2,000 years ago. This services is known as Jrakalooyts because it traditionally takes place during the lighting of the church lanterns on Christmas and Easter Eves.
At the conclusion of the Jrakalooyts readings, the altar curtain was drawn and amid a joyful atmosphere the Christmas Eve Divine Liturgy began. Young and old joined together in singing "Christ is born and revealed!" At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy, the students led the procession of the choir, deacons, Der Hayr and all the faithful to Jaffarian Hall where a beautiful Christmas Eve (khutoom) table had been set. Der Hayr read the final Gospel reading about the shepherds and the angels, after which our "spiritual home" of Saint Gregory Church was blessed (bread, water and salt).
In his remarks, Der Hayr reminded the faithful that it was not enough that the shepherds heard the glad tidings of the angels. Not only were they moved to get up and say, "Let us go to Bethlehem," but also once they had encountered the new-born Lord and Savior, they went away praising God and proclaiming the good news -- as they had no doubt learned from the angels. He reminded the joyous crowd that they too needed to sing "Glory to God in the highest" tonight, so that the fallen world would hear the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The following morning, Monday, the faithful once again gathered for the solemn Holy Divine Liturgy on the occasion of our Lord's Holy Nativity and Theophany. A delicious luncheon, hosted by the Board of Trustees, followed in Jaffarian Hall.
This past holiday season, Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church, in conjunction with our Prelacy, once again participated in the program to aid needy Armenian families with food and groceries during the New Year/Christmas seasons. Under the leadership of (Holy See of Cilicia) Christian Education Department chair, Very Rev. Fr. Zareh Sarkissian, for the second year this program was enacted in order to take into consideration the difficult economic circumstances in Lebanon and the struggle for many Armenian families to get by with limited opportunity for employment.
As in the past year, an appeal was made to all the Prelacies of the Catholicosate for support of this program, by which a donation of $100 (U.S.) would sponsor a family with sufficient groceries for the home.
Last year's donation of $500 was generated from the revenues received by the previous year's National Representative Assembly, which was hosted by our parish, and was made in honor of Saint Michael's Church (our next door neighbors), expressing our appreciation for their generous donation of use of the church's meeting hall for one of the sessions of the Assembly.
This year, following a special appeal by Der Hayr made over two Sundays in December, our parishioners generously donated $780 toward this important program.
Below, we provide a copy of the thank you letter received by our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian.
I praise the Almighty, who made it possible for the whole of mankind and the Armenian people to welcome the year 2020. In general, years and feasts seem a calendar repetition. Yet for us, rational beings, they are a wonderful opportunity for both a renewal and a reassessment of life with a different understanding.
With this understanding, I want to contemplate the year 2020 through the lens of the three magi who are headed to Bethlehem: the three magi, who represent their contemporary society’s religious and royal class as well as that of those who studied the movements of celestial bodies. In other words, our days’ astronomers and scientists are a wonderful example of hope for mankind, with their consistent and conscious labor of research.
It was no coincidence that the star headed to the manger was revealed to the three magi. They were conducting long studies, which were crowned with their gift of the celestial mystery. And once they revealed that heavenly gift, they dutifully set out for a long and treacherous journey, full of hope, which was finally rewarded—oh, miracle!—with the message of the highest reverence, kneeling before the manger and presenting their loving gifts to the king of kings, the lord of lords, the infant Jesus Christ.
This is what serious and thoughtful research and examination means, dear compatriots, with persistence and unshakable hope in mankind. And I believe that, under this light, 2019 was indeed a promising year.
Following long decades of joint work by all our community organizations—ecclesiastical, lay, political—what a great news it was that the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States unanimously accepted and recognized the Armenian Genocide as an unobjectionable and indisputable truth.
Who believed that a few years after the Genocide the first Armenian republic would be founded? Who believed that the Soviet order would collapse and that our current republic would be established? This is, dear compatriots, what living with engagement and hope means.
I want the year 2020 to be flooded with this truth, because we, as we remind you in our diary, this year we will observe the centenary of the Treaty of Sèvres, steeped in the spirit of the second centenary of the birth of Khrimian Hayrig. Yes, we must never surrender before the difficulties of daily life. On the contrary, as I said, with our gaze fixed on the celestial star headed to Bethlehem, that is, with persistence and hope and diligent collective work, we will surely fulfill our dreams.
With this belief, this hope and this love, as Paul the Apostle says, when you put your hands to the plough, always look forward. We too, along with the three magi, let us head towards the realization of our first call to Jesus Christ and let us say to each other on Jan. 6, “Christ is born and revealed!”. And with that spirit of renewal in the year 2020, let us be able as Armenians, as Christian Armenians, renovate ourselves in our pilgrimage from life to the eternal life.
One more time, I wish you all a Happy New Year and Merry Christmas. Christ is born and revealed! Blessed is the revelation of Christ!
Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy of the United States
New Year & Christmas 2020
Armen Jeknavorian Honored With Prestigious Award
On Saturday evening, November 9, during the annual banquet of the Armenian National Committee of America, Mr. Armen Jeknavorian, a member of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church, chairmen of the Men's Club, past Chair of the Board of Trustees and past National Representative, received the Vahan Cardashian Memorial Award for his years of service to the Armenian community of the Merrimack Valley and activism for the cause of local and national recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Receiving the award along with Armen were his two brothers, Ara, & Ara Jeknavorian, who have also distinguished themselves with years of service and activism.
This years banquet was hosted by the Merrimack Valley Chapter of the Armenian National Committee and took place on the campus of the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Also receiving rewards that evening (Spirit of Armenia) were Congressman James McGovern (Representing Mass. 2nd District) and Prof. Taner Akcam of Clark University, a Turkish historian with a long history identifying the Armenian Genocide as such and outspoken critic of the modern Turksish Republic's ongoing denial of the historical fact.
Among other dignitaries present, Mr. Aram Hamparian, the Executive Director of the Armenian National Committee, who updated the crowd on the recent passage of U.S. House of Representatives' Resolution 296, which formally recognized the Armenian Genocide. Representing His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate of the Eastern Prelacy, was Rev. Archpriest Antranig Baljian, pastor of Saint Stephen's Armenian Apostolic Church in Watertown and member of the Religious Council of the Prelacy.
We would like to offer our sincerest congratulations to Armen and to the Jeknavorian family for a job well done!
Armen Jeknavorian, recipient of the 2019 Cardashian Award, pictured here with Board of Trustees members and National Representatives of Saint Gregory Church. From left to right: Gregory Minasian (NRA delegate), Mrs. Carol Minasian, Steven Mahlebjian (BOT), Sylvia Mahlebjian (BOT), Armen Jeknavorian (recipient of Cardashian Award), Mrs. Sossy Jeknavorian (NRA delegate), Rev. Fr. Stephan Baljian (Pastor), Christine Kourkounian (Past BOT Chair), Armen Kourkounian (BOT)
Recent St. Gregory Sunday/ Armenian School graduate Meline Almasian received the Menas Bogosian Memorial Scholarship from the Armenian-American Veterans Sam Manoyan Post #1 during their recent dinner-dance. She is pictured here with Der Hayr Saint Gregory Church Trustees Armen Kourkounian and Steven Mahlebjian
Over the years, many of our Sunday School alumni have received the Menas Bogosian scholarship award, which is awarded annually by the Armenian-American Veterans of Lowell, Sam Manoyan Post #1. Over the years, this scholarship program has aided many young Armenian-American students from the throughout the Merrimack Valley.
The latest recipient from among our Saint Gregory Sunday/Armenian school alumni was Meline Almasian, daughter of Joe and Kim Almasian of Westford, parishioners of Saint Gregory Church.
Meline is currently a freshmen at the University of New Hampshire, studying mechanical engineering. Meline was one of two recipients of the 2018 Youth Service Award presented by the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America. She graduated from Saint Gregory Sunday/Armenian School this past May.
Congratulations to Meline and to the entire Almasian family!
Photos courtesy of Violet Dagdigian, Mardo Kevorkian & James Haddad
On Sunday, September 8, Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley held its Annual Picnic. Celebrated on the Feast of the Nativity of the Holy Mother of God, this year's picnic day had an added bonus to it-- the visit of our Prelate, His Eminence Archbishop Anoushavan Tanielian. Archbishop Anoushavan presided over the Divine Liturgy and delivered the sermon of the day. His message focused on the genealogy of Jesus Christ and his being born from the Virgin Mary. His Eminence relayed "through God's providential grace given through Christ, we are all part of God's family now. Even though we may not know our own genealogy completely, due to the circumstances of genocide and upheaval experienced by the Armenian people, we know the origins and genealogy of our Lord, going all the way back to Abraham and to Adam, the first man. Because we received adoption through him, this becomes our genealogy too. This is how as a family, we are invited 'home' to be with God in his heavenly Kingdom."
Following the Divine Liturgy & Requiem services, the Annual Picnic got rolling as the noon hour approached. New and old faces, parishioners, friends and visitors arrived in droves during those early afternoon hours. The weather cooperated and provided a pleasant time for everyone involved.
Our dedicated team of volunteers, from the set-up crew to the kitchen crew, raffle tickets, clean-up and everything in between, was on hand to make for one of our most successful Annual Picnics in recent memory. The food was delicious. The band was top notch. It was great to see so many friends come out to support us. We are grateful to all our devoted workers and to all who came and supported this year's Annual Picnic making it a resounding success.
Perhaps the highlight of the afternoon was the Great Procession of the Holy Cross, which was led by Archbishop Anoushavan himself. While this ceremony would normally be conducted one week later, on the major Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we felt it would be fitting once again to offer this beautiful service on the day of the Annual Picnic so that our parishioners and friends in attendance would be inspired and spiritually fulfilled.
Joining Srpazan Hayr and Der Stephan were several clergyman from local Armenian churches, along with their families. The deacons and acolytes of Saint Gregory Church, as well as youth and members of the Board of Trustees also participated in the procession. Many of the faithful followed the Procession of the Cross as pilgrims, remembering our Lord's words when speaking of his impending crucifixion, "If anyone would serve me, let him follow me, and where I am, let my servant be there also." (John 12:25)
Following the Procession, Srpazan Hayr personally received the pilgrims and the rest of the faithful for a blessing and handed them each a sprig of the blessed Sweet Basil that lay at the foot of the cross.
Through the traversing of the four sides of our church property, with a special prayer and blessing being given for each one, the four corners of the world were blessed through the grace of God and the power of the Holy Cross. We were all reminded of God's precious gift to us in the form of the earth and nature. We found ourselves fortunate to be the beneficiaries of his graciousness as we enjoyed this year's Annual Picnic.
Wise Old Men
Today is July 18, 2019. The day has finally arrived. Today is my 40th birthday...
To say that it has not occupied a significant portion of my thoughts, fears and overall mental energies over the last few years would certainly be a misstatement. On many occasions I have found myself pondering the rapid approach of this magical – almost mystical – number, admittedly ambivalent about its approach, wondering with fascination about its significance, importance and impending impact upon my still young(ish) life.
I am sure to many readers this would seem a pedestrian subject to engage. Many of you have crossed this bridge before. Many of you have reassured me that the road of life does indeed continue beyond the passage of this milestone. Many of you in looking back have confidently reassured me and those in my age group that – compared to what lies ahead – we of this age are still but sprawling infants in the nursery of life and existence.
Yet, the time has come for me to experience this rite of passage for myself, and as I do so (really for the past several years leading up to this moment) I find my mind is drawn to contemplate the more rustic or cavalier questions that may arise on such an occasion: What have I accomplished thus far and what do I hope to accomplish in the future? How long will I live and will I have one of those “mid-life crises” everyone always talks about? What will become of my health, happiness, capabilities and strength as I enter this new phase and beyond? These are all questions, I suppose, that would come naturally to any reticent 39-and-holding-year-old. Why should I be any different?
When I was a boy, we had among our children’s books an illustrated collection of Bible stories created especially for children. (It’s been so long I confess I’ve forgotten the name of the book). In this book, there was a chapter entitled “Wise Old Men.” I can’t remember about which exactly of the sections of the Bible it was written (the Prophets? Or the Apostles maybe? The Judges of Israel?). All I can remember from the picture on the title page of the chapter was a depiction of two middle-aged men sporting colorful tunics (like the kind in which we’d imagine Sts. Peter or Paul to have strolled around in) and long graying beards. Of course, it’s also worth mentioning the page number upon which this picture/chapter could be found. You guessed it—page 40!!!
“40” the number, in Biblical language, often refers to a long period of time in general, or to a period of trial and testing, or the time it takes for one generation to reach its stature and/or a satisfactory level of maturity before giving way to the next.
Forty years of life, therefore, would mean that person had lived a long time, experienced much and learned much from those experiences. So, in such a way my young, impressionable mind came to associate the number 40 with “Old Men” or being old. Not exactly a 39-year-old’s favorite predicament to be in, is it?
I pause to take stock of my life now: Colorful robes? Check. Beard? Check. 40? Check. Uh-oh. I’m one of the “Old Men,” or at least I feel like I am.
But wait, what about “wisdom?” Last night, before we drifted off to sleep, my lovely wife Yeretsgin Alice posed to me an astounding question: “What did you learn in your 30’s?” Simple, yet direct and invitatory.
I have to admit, I was stunned. I sat in silence for a moment as suddenly a whole wave of thoughts rushed into my mind… thoughts about life lessons that were complex and intricate, difficult at times (like this one, in fact) to put together or express cohesively. It took a few more minutes still before I could even open my mouth and find the words with which to begin my answer. (If any indication of this predicament could be alluded to, that my first utterance was “I learned how to change diapers” may be the most telling!)
What an important question had been posed to me in the final hours of my fourth decade of life! What have I learned in the last one? Where all this time I had been contemplating the existential, consumed with the specious, the plenitudes and platitudes of overgrown advice, all pertaining to my impending age-doom, I suddenly found myself thrust into a new, brighter light under which to examine my prevailing attitudes.
“What have I learned?,” in other words, “What wisdom have I gained?”
Perhaps it is too much beyond the scope of this essay, or too out of focus to be able to clearly depict my entire vision… or it could be just slightly too personal for me to divulge everything that was expressed during our ensuing discussion. Suffice it to say that it was the sentiment of said discussion that compels me to write these lines to you today.
In his book of Proverbs, King Solomon quips, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the holy one is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10). In that microcosmic recall of the elapsed time between birthday number 30 and birthday number 40, I realized in a moment how far I had come through God’s grace. In one decade, the life lessons I had been taught, both whimsical and monumental, seemed truly miraculous and awe-inspiring.
Reverence (=”fear”) for God has been crucial for me to gain wisdom. Whenever growth or learning have occurred, they have done so in conjunction with a humble acceptance of God’s love and his will for my life. Indeed, I have seen this with near axiomatic certainty: wherever God was willing to impart upon me wisdom and understanding – in any matter at all – reverence toward the Lord and seeking to know the “Holy One” (=God) in my life would be the only way it could be wholly and securely imparted to me.
This is not to imply that I did not tender many failures, as well as missed opportunities for learning along the way. What is of importance is that I choose at the present moment no longer to belabor those things about which I have very little knowledge and much uncertainty, but rather to relish the joy of what I had learned along the way.
Now, for reasons of practicality (and so that you, the reader, can at least say that you came away from the experience of reading this paper having learned something of my imparted wisdom), I would like to share with you just a few of my insights: One thing I have learned to try to put the needs of others before my own (like Jesus did), but also to speak up for myself when the need arises (Couples nicely with: fatherhood, marriage, priesthood).
Additionally, I learned that one should listen to people, really listen to them in a way through which I might be able to truly hear what they are trying to say (Try your skills through: friendship, mentoring, parenting).
Moreover, I learned to always give thanks at all times and for all things, and to never take for granted that one’s health, status, position, relationships or anything else will remain static forever. What may be a present reality for you today maybe a distant memory tomorrow. Cherish what you have – yes, even the difficulties – and give thanks to God, for it is through good circumstances and bad circumstances that God has forged your character and each trial is a way for God to whittle away at you until you become his perfectly sculpted masterpiece.
Most profoundly, I have also learned that the greatest joy there can ever be in life is found in singing the praises of the One who created me and in sharing that joy with others. This is the essence of life in God’s Kingdom and in order for us to inherit it then, we must learn to live that life as a reality now.
Most importantly of all, I have learned that God loves me for the person he made me to be, not for who I might aspire to be (or fall short of being). And furthermore, the greatest sign and promise of this love and acceptance is our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom he invited me and all of us to share in his divine life and love.
Through his Holy Cross – whose care lifts up all human beings to the heavens, whose silence absorbs the cries and joyful shouts of all the ages, which encapsulates both the grace of salvation given and the gratitude for it received and which leads all the peoples of the earth in a great, glorious paean of praise – I can now see the true depth and breadth of his love for me, and feel compelled more and more every day to make knowledge of the Holy One, Jesus Christ, my utmost priority for my remaining years. During this decade and the many more to come.
May God turn us all into "Wise Old Men."
Two of Our Late Pastors Remembered
This photograph appeared in the Armenian Weekly in June of 2010, along with an obituary eulogizing recently deceased Archpriest Fr. Arshag Daghlian (right). Der Arshag served as pastor of Saint Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church of Merrimack Valley from its consecration in 1970 until his departure in 1985. He is pictured here with Rev. Fr. Vartan Kassabian, who had served the Saint Gregory community as its priest from 2003 until his untimely passing in March of 2009. Both of these men of God were faithful and loving shepherds of our community. The Weekly article and the photograph were provided by one of Saint Gregory's own, the late Tom Vartabedian, who went to his eternal rest in November 2016. May the Lord grant rest to their soul in heavenly light.
Prayer of Thanksgiving for the Republic of Armenia & Annual Spring Food Fair
Photos courtesy of Violet Dagdigian & Gregory Afarian
Editor's Note: The year 2019 has been declared the "Year of the Armenian Media" by His Holiness Catholicos Aram I of the Great House of Cilicia. Following this theme, the students of the Pre-K - 1st Grade class of Saint Gregory's Sunday School presented a newsletter entitled "Sunday Children's Bulletin" to the parishioners of Saint Gregory Church during the annual year-end commencement ceremony. Special thanks to teacher Karen Shahtanian for compiling this wonderful and informative piece of literature. We reproduce it here below.
On Sunday, May 19, the Saint Gregory Sunday/ Armenian School held its annual year-end closing exercises and cultural program. Following the Divine Liturgy, the students filed into the church sanctuary in order to present a program based on the various things they had learned throughout the Sunday School academic year.
During the program, each student received a certificate of completion for the academic year. This year's sole graduate was Meliné Almasian, daughter of Joe & Kim Almasian. Meliné has been an outstanding student in our Sunday/Armenian School and was one of the recipients of the Prelacy's Youth Service Award during last year's National Representative Assembly that convened in North Andover.
The dedicated Sunday School staff, under the capable direction of Mrs. Sossy Jeknavorian, deserves a high amount of gratitude for their commitment in volunteering to teach and guide our children throughout the year. On behalf of the students and parents, the teachers presented Digin Sossy with a small gift in appreciation for her work as Sunday/Armenian School Principal.
Following the presentation in church, students, parishioners, family members and friends participated in a delicious buffet luncheon in Jaffarian Hall, prepared by the parents and staff. A large crowd was on hand to watch the annual Armenian School hantes, which consisted of poems, readings, songs and dances performed masterfully by our students.
One of the highlights of the program was a stunning performance by little Lucy Kevorkian of Komitas Vartabed's song Gakavig, accompanied by Der Hayr at the piano.
The students of our Sunday/Armenian School continue to learn about our Armenian Apostolic Faith and the culture and heritage of Armenian forefathers. We congratulate all the staff, students and parents on another successful year of learning and we wish you all new successes in future years.