Friday, September 25, 2015

The Holy Cross of Varag

Holy Cross Monastery at Varag (photo: Vartan A. Hampikian)
“But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” ~ Galatians 6:14

In the Armenian Orthodox Church, there is a season of the Cross which begins with the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the Sunday nearest September 14th, and ends on the Sunday nearest November 18th. Within this season, there is a feast particular to the Armenian Church - the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varag, the celebration of the discovery of a true piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

According to tradition, in the 3rd century, St. Hripsime and her companions brought a relic of the Holy Cross to Mt. Varag when they sought refuge from persecution, and left it to the local priests for protection.

The location of the relic remained unknown until the 7th century, when a monk by the name of Totig had a vision of a cathedral with twelve pillars on the summit of Mt. Varag. In the midst of the cathedral was a radiating cross. The cross slowly descended down the mountain and rested over the altar of the monastery of Varag. Totig and his student Hovel rushed to the church and found that the vision revealed the location of the relic of the Holy Cross that St. Hripsime entrusted to the priests!

Catholicos St. Nersess the Builder certified its authenticity, and ordered that the Armenian Church dedicate the third Sunday of the Cross to venerating the Holy Cross of Varag, although today, the location of the relic remains unknown.

The hymn sung during the Morning Service of the Armenian Church on the Feast of Varag speaks of the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ to our Christian faith. (Translated by: V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan)

You shined today the light of your unspeakable divinity upon the Cross,
On the mount of Varag.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

You made known today the appearance of your awe-inspiring second coming,
By the sign of your Cross, beaming it on earth.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

You gave a sign to those who fear, and a weapon against the enemy.
With it, protect those who believe in your holy name.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

He adorned today the sign of the Cross,
With a heavenly light brighter than the sun.
Bless the Lord and exalt him forever!

He revealed today the redemptive sign to the angels,
By descending to the mount of Varag.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

Come all you saved by the life-giving Cross,
Bowing down to Christ our Savior upon it.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

The cross... What was once looked upon as a torture device and instrument of death is now gazed upon as the source of healing and life. Through the eyes of faith, the mystery of the cross transforms our tragedies into blessing. Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” ~ I Corinthians 1:18

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