Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Reflections on my Baptism: December 7, 1975

“For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” - Galatians 3:27

“We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” - Romans 6:4

“We believe…in one baptism with repentance for the remission and forgiveness of sins” - The Nicene Creed

“Thou who hast called this thy servant, O Lord, to the holiness and the enlightenment of baptism, we pray thee, make him worthy of thy most precious grace. Put off him the old garment of sins and renew him unto a new life. Fill him with the power of the Holy Spirit that he may have the renewal of the glory of thy Christ. And to thee, the Mighty One and to thy only-begotten Son and to the liberating Holy Spirit is fitting dominion and honor, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.” - From the Order of Baptism according to the Rite of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church

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Thirty-five years ago, today, I was baptized into the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church at 17 days old. It has been a very joyous day for me, as I spent the day in prayer, thanksgiving, and reflection upon my Baptism. As I offer the following reflections on my Baptism, and Baptism in general, I invite the reader to remember their own Baptism, and how God has been faithful to His promise of salvation regarding this Mystery.

If you were to ask my parents and relatives if they fully comprehended the theological significance of what was being performed on December 7, 1975, they would have said no. Thankfully, the efficacious nature of my Baptism was not dependent upon their knowledge of the Sacrament, and regardless of their level of understanding, the invisible grace of God was present and accomplished what Christ and the Apostles said would be accomplished. Like other baptized Christians before me, I was saved and entered into the fellowship and life of the Church, into the Kingdom of God, with the new status of child and co-heir of Christ.

Baptism is not meant to be a static event, something that just happened in the past, and to be remembered in thought alone. Our Baptism is to be lived out, continually at the forefront of our minds, reminding us of the words proclaimed over us, the promise of the Holy Spirit, our salvation in Christ, and the Church believing with us, serving as our Godmother. Although we are cleansed of sin at Baptism, and leave the font as a new creature in Christ, we are continually cleansed by sin as we walk in this newness of life. Through this Sacrament, we are set on the path of salvation for the purpose of union with Christ. Baptism initiates this union, and seals us as we are being saved, as we continue to 'become' Christians.

Was I conscious of what was taking place on that day? No, not in any theological sense, nor was my free-will involved. I’m sure I only had a few simple things on my mind, none of which were related to my Baptism. However, this is why Baptism is not a private event, but a community and public event. It is why Baptism (even for adults) is not merely about the individual, or their choice in the matter, as much as it is about Christ Himself, the Word, and His Body, the Church. At my Baptism, my parents, and my Godfather, declared my faith on my behalf, with the Church as witness. They were commissioned with raising me in the Christian faith, and that is precisely what they did. Placed on the path of salvation, I eventually had to take responsibility for my faith, and either accept or reject what was given to me as an infant.

As the day comes to a close, I am thankful for God’s faithfulness in my life, making my Baptism an ongoing sacramental event. I continue to pray for God’s salvation through His mercy and grace, as I strive to remain faithful to Him through a life of repentance, living out my Baptism in faith.

“Everyone baptized in the orthodox manner has received mystically the fullness of grace; but he becomes conscious of this grace only to the extent that he actively observes the commandments.” - St. Mark the Ascetic

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In gratitude of my Baptism, I would like to honor the following:

Jesus Christ, Who sanctified the waters of Baptism, by being baptized Himself, and as the founder of this Mystery, directly performed my Baptism.

My parents, Augustus and Elsie Vozzy, for being obedient to the teachings of Christ and His Church, for taking the Christ-given responsibility of initiating the Christian faith in their home, for not depriving me of this necessary aspect of salvation, and for committing me to the holy font for the cleansing of sin, rebirth in Christ, and membership into the One, Catholic, Holy, and Apostolic Church.

Fr. Garen Gdanian, for serving the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church as priest, and for presiding over my baptism, representing both Christ, and His Church.

My Godfather and Uncle, Christopher Garabedian, who has served as a profound Christian example and influence in my life.

Rev. Todd A. Zielinski, who, prior to my re-entrance into the Armenian Orthodox Church, played a vital role in helping me to even recognize the validity and legitimacy of my infant baptism.

The picture above is the font in which I was baptized, located at St. Peter Armenian Apostolic Church, in Watervliet, NY.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

St. Ephrem the Syrian - The Robe of Glory

In the introduction to Hymns on Paradise, by St. Ephrem the Syrian, Sebastian Brock explains that typical to almost all early Christian writers, including St. Ephrem, Melito of Sardis, and Jacob of Serugh, is the employment of clothing imagery. Ideas such as God ‘putting on’ names in the Scriptures, Christ ‘putting on’ the body at the Incarnation, and Christ ‘putting on’ our weakness fall within the use of this metaphor.1

Clothing imagery is not original to St. Ephrem, as he is most likely developing imagery already found within the Old and New Testaments, and especially in the writings of St. Paul. In Romans 13:14, we read, “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Also, in Galatians 3:27 we read, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ”.2

The originality that does belong to St. Ephrem is how he applies this metaphor to the whole of salvation history, and how the ‘Robe of Glory’ is a common thread interwoven throughout God’s cosmic plan. The ‘Robe of Glory’ image does not only appear in St. Ephrem’s Hymns on Paradise, thus the following can be thought of as an overall concept found throughout many of his writings.3

Again, in His divine Providence, God has interwoven the idea of the ‘Robe of Glory’ throughout His cosmic plan of redemption. Brock outlines this in four main episodes which make up this cosmic drama:
  • At the Fall, Adam and Eve lose the ‘Robe of Glory’ with which they had originally been clothed in Paradise; in order to re-clothe the naked Adam and Eve (i.e. humanity), God Himself “puts on the body” from Mary.
  • At the Baptism, Christ laid the Robe of Glory in the river Jordan, making it available once again for humanity to put on at baptism.
  • At his or her baptism, the individual Christian, in “putting on Christ”, puts on the ‘Robe of Glory’, thus reentering the terrestrial anticipation of the eschatological Paradise (i.e. the Church).
  • At the Resurrection of the Dead, the just will in all reality reenter the celestial Paradise, clothed in their Robes of Glory.4
Brock goes on to explain that the “Robe of Glory provides a thread which links up between the primordial and the eschatological Paradise”, and this context is intended to bring to mind the entire span of salvation history5. In one of his Epiphany hymns, St. Ephrem makes clear that Christian baptism was the means provided by God in order for the baptized to recover the lost robe when he writes,

“Instead of with leaves from the trees
He clothed them with glory in the water”6

Thus, as one considers the ‘Robe of Glory’ imagery, one can see the place of each individual Christian’s baptism within the divine economy as a whole, and the hope this provides for the believer and the Church.

1 St. Ephrem the Syrian, Hymns on Paradise, Introduction by Sebastian Brock, SVS Press, 66.
2 ibid., 66.
3 ibid., 66-67.
4 ibid., 67.
5 ibid., 67.
6 ibid., 70-71.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Faith and the Armenian Genocide

Faith can be a very illusive concept due to its seeming intangibility. It can be very difficult to define, even when Scripture references it numerous times. Faith can even be doubted, taken for granted, and trivialized, even though it is the theme throughout Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. None of this means we should avoid the topic, so what follows is a reflection on faith and its importance in our lives as Christians.

Faith seems to entail (but is not limited to) the following elements: trust, belief, and response. These three elements, although expressed and manifested in various ecclesiological expressions and traditions, are ultimately directed toward and placed in a Person; the Person of Jesus Christ.

Our faith serves as the foundation or grounding, where our trust in Christ as the Messiah takes root. We know that without faith, we cannot grow, mature, be transformed into the image of Christ, or obtain union with Him. Both the ethos and the telos of Christianity require faith, and require it to be placed in Jesus Christ.

Our faith defines who we are as Christians; as His disciples. John 1:12 says, "But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God." Ephesians 1:13 reads, "In him you also, who have heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and have believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit."

Our faith defines what we do in His name, so that when we are redeemed, our works are redeemed as well. Our works follow what we believe and thus, are evidence of our faith. Ephesians 2:8-10 reads, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God --not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Also, James 2:14, 17 reads, "What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works? Can his faith save him?...So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead." Without faith, our works become at the very least self-gratifying or self-glorifying. Only when our works are grounded in Christ do they have meaning and significance to the Church, the world, and the Kingdom.

Our faith is communal. Without the faith of others, we the faithful cannot survive. Although faith does apply to the individual before God, it is not merely something between one individual and 'his' God. Faith is not independent. The Church is the Body of Christ, and His entire Body is His instrument, and it is the Church's communal faith that makes up the people of God. I Corinthians 12:12-14 reads, "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many." Again, from Ephesians 2 (which was written to the Church as a whole), "For by grace you have been saved through faith...For we are his workmanship..."

Today is April 24th, which marks the (95th) anniversary of the Armenian Genocide which took place in 1915. This post is written in memory of the faithful Armenians who suffered and died for their Christian faith and heritage no matter the cost. They are a true example of a living faith, and an inspiration to not only Armenian Christians, but to all Christians who believe, trust, and respond to the Person of Jesus Christ. They carried the cross of Christ, they suffered for His name, and they literally lost their lives for what they believed. May the fallen faithful Armenians never be forgotten, and may the light of their faith continue to shine.

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?" - Matthew 16:24-26

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

The Armenian Letter "Eh" (Է)

If you walk into any given Armenian Orthodox Church, you may notice something over the altar, or at least most of them. You may either see the single letter 'Eh' (Է) directly at the top, such as the picture to the left demonstrates, or you may see the words 'Asdvadz Ser Eh' (in Armenian letters) with the English translation 'God Is Love' following it. In the case of the latter, the letter 'Eh' (Է) is still directly above the altar.

What is so special about the letter 'Eh' (Է) that it deserves such a prominent place over the church altar? First, let's look at its meaning. In the phrase 'God is Love', the word for is is 'eh', thus, 'Asdvadz Ser Eh' (transliteration: 'God Love Is'). So, the letter/word 'Eh' (Է) literally means 'is' or 'he is', which , to those familiar with the Old Testament, may sound like a reference to God Himself.

In Exodus chapter 3, the prophet Moses encountered God in the burning bush. As God was instructing Moses to deliver His people from Egypt, Moses asked, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" God said to Moses, "I am who I am." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I am has sent me to you.'

God told Moses that His name is 'I am', or technically 'Is', or 'He Who Is'. Thus, God is a being who just IS, and it is only the eternal God who can call Himself by this name. In Armenian, it is the letter/word 'Eh' (Է) that serves as the name for 'I am' or 'he is', and just as Moses realized the 'Eh' (Է) to be dwelling in the burning bush, so too does the Armenian Church realize that God (Eh) dwells at the church altar.

Furthermore, 'Eh' (Է), when pronounced, makes the sound of a breath, and so the idea of God being the breath of life is attached to this letter. Also, the letter 'Eh' (Է) happens to be the 7th letter of the Armenian alphabet. Symbolically, 7 is known as the number of perfection, or completion. Throughout the Bible, the number 7 is attributed to several acts of God, and to God Himself, so the letter 'Eh' (Է) takes on even further significance.

Thus, for the Armenian Church, the letter 'Eh' (Է) and its meaning is considered to be Holy. It is not only symbolic, but 'Eh' (Է) is the name of God.