Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Feast of Vartanants: What is it Really About?

A 15th century Armenian miniature depicting the Battle of Avarayr
The Feast of Vartanants (St. Vartan the General and the 1036 Martyrs) is celebrated on the Thursday before Great Lent. In 451 A.D., under the leadership of St. Vartan Mamigonian and St. Ghevond the Priest, Armenians fought the Battle of Avarayr against the Persians who were attempting to force Armenians to renounce their Christian faith in order to orient them toward Persia instead of Byzantium, and Armenians, as Christians, were an obstacle toward that political end.

But for Armenians, this battle transcended the earthly and political ideals of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and national identity. Armenians knew they possessed something that could not be taken away. A few years before the battle, Armenian princes sent a letter to the Persian King which read, “From this faith, no one can shake us…We choose no other God than Jesus Christ for there is no other God. …Here we are; our bodies are in your hands; do with them as you please.” In his sermon to the soldiers before the battle, St. Ghevond said, “Our hope appears to us as double: If we die, we shall live, and if we put to death, the same life lies before us.” Whether the Armenian soldiers lived or died, the Battle of Avarayr meant victory in Jesus Christ because, “He Himself…loved us that He took death on Himself that we, by His death, might be freed from eternal death.”

Once again, we see Jesus Christ as central to the faithful of the Armenian Church. Not even death mattered to St. Vartan and his soldiers, because they believed that eternal life in Jesus Christ could not be taken away. Over the centuries, Armenians have continuously sacrificed earthly pleasures and political ideals for their identity in Christ, because they knew that nothing else in this world compares to the Kingdom of God. Today, may we emulate the faith of our ancestors.

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
and no torment will ever touch them.
In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,
and their departure was thought to be an affliction,
and their going from us to be their destruction;
but they are at peace.
For though in the sight of men they were punished,
their hope is full of immortality.
Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good,
because God tested them and found them worthy of himself;
like gold in the furnace he tried them,
and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth,
and will run like sparks through the stubble.
They will govern nations and rule over peoples,
and the Lord will reign over them for ever.
~ Wisdom of Solomon 3:1-8

Click here to view a worthy discussion from 2014 about the Feast of Vartanants given by Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan.