Friday, October 17, 2014

What is the Gospel?

One of the many feasts days within the Armenian Orthodox Church is the day we remember and venerate the Holy Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

But why do we remember the Holy Evangelists during our Church year? Were they just biographers? Are not the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John merely historical narratives of the story of Jesus? Perhaps we should ask what is the Gospel? Is it an idea? As "good news" isn't it just a message?

Although these may be common beliefs and modern perspectives, the fathers of the Armenian Church, as well as other ancient Christian traditions, emphasized a different way of perceiving the Gospel and the Holy Evangelists.

The Gospel, in fact, is not an idea or a message, and the Holy Evangelists should not be remembered as being mere biographers of historical narratives about Jesus. The Gospel, according to St. Paul in the first chapter of Galatians, is not an idea to be thought about or conceptualized. He writes, "For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." [RSV] Instead, the Gospel was received and it came by way of revelation, or an encounter with Jesus Christ.

Agreeing with Fr. Stephen Freeman here, the Gospel is to be understood as an event, not the story of an event. The letters of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are not a text about the Gospel – they are the Gospel. In other words, they are the Gospel presented as text. The Gospel is the Event of Jesus Christ, who is the “Good News”, and the Holy Evangelists are witnesses to that Event; to the saving action and Life of Jesus Christ. That Event is to be received and encountered.

Even within our Liturgy, chanting the Gospel is not only a lesson for our minds, but a real meeting with the person of Jesus Christ. The Choir’s proclamation before the Gospel is chanted, "Aseh Asdvadz  [God is speaking]," reflects this. When the deacon elevates the Gospel book over his head or whenever we kiss the Gospel book, we are lovingly acknowledging its value and authority in and over our lives. The Gospel, the Event of Jesus Christ, is that by which we live and that by which we are judged.

Thus, when we commit ourselves to the Gospel, we are committing ourselves to Jesus Christ. As Christians, we are called to be and live the Gospel, not presented as text, but as a living narrative; as human icons of Jesus Christ. God has chosen us collectively, as His Church, to be His evangelists and witnesses for others to receive and encounter the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Feed the poor. Visit the sick. Forgive your enemy.

And love.

image: 1338 Armenian illumination of the four Evangelists from the Gospels of Melkisedek: Berkri, Lake Van.

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