Opening Remarks at the Clergy Prayer Breakfast organized by Sheriff Lee Baca at the St. Leon Armenian Cathedral, on January 10, 2014 by Fr. Vazken Movsesian
Distinguished Clergy and guest,
On behalf of His Eminence Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, Primate of the Western Diocese, I welcome to the St. Leon Armenian Cathedral, headquarters of the Armenian Church in the Western United States. It is a unique honor for us to host this gathering of clergy, faith leaders and people of faith, who gather around the common theme of freedom, peace and justice. Furthermore, today we have an opportunity to honor Sheriff Lee Baca (who most recently announced his retirement from the Department). It is appropriate to do so at this gathering, for in fact, it was Sheriff Baca, who shortly after being sworn into office brought together religious leaders throughout the County. Sheriff Baca has advocated for community policing and he saw a need for religious leaders to partner with the members of the Department to address community concerns. This annual gathering is a result of his efforts and leadership.
This may be the first time many of you have come into an Armenian Church. I’d like to bring to your attention some of the nuances of the church building. While it is a fairly new sanctuary, it is built in accord with traditional Armenian architecture – one of the most ancient of Christian traditions. You’ll notice the pictures and icons of saints throughout the building. What you don’t see is that each pillar, wall, and area of this sanctuary is consecrated and dedicated in the name of a saint. I mention this because saints are not God, nor are they endowed with godly powers. They are people, with all of the human frailties, and have faced challenges, oppression, suffering, but they have risen to the occasion and shined a light of hope a midst the darkness. In other words, they give us – you and me – hope. You expect perfection from a god, but when a person in the midst of torment and suffering is able to rise to the occasion, it signals an opportunity for us to excel and achieve. That is, we are empowered with the knowledge and confidence to know that we too can achieve the seemingly impossible.
As an Armenia, I can attest to this miraculous power. Armenia is a small/tiny, land-locked country, at the crossroads of three continents. Its history is almost exclusively one of wars, terror and even genocide. The power of love has been the only constant and the only weapon that has insured its survival. It may sound strange and certainly paradoxical to someone without faith, but as these saints will attest with their lives, it is true.
How blessed are we this morning to have examples that we can touch today, not only in the walls and paintings, but examples that are fresh in our memory. Just last Summer we commemorated the 50th Anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and the words which shook the world challenging each of us, and our nation collectively, to dream of and to realize justice through racial harmony. Only last month, we marked the passing of Nelson Mandela, an icon of freedom. In him we found a man who fought and won against the powers of evil with love and forgiveness.
Now, I wish to remind our gathering today, that Dr. King, in his writings and his speeches never hesitated to mention that he was a minister of the Gospel. He gave meaning to the “REVEREND” title at the beginning of his name. He was a man of God. How fortunate are we to find ourselves at this time in history with such great reminders of compassion, healing, forgiveness and love. These are models that give us all a change to look forward in hope.
Our gathering today is at the beginning of a new year. With the New Year comes newness. Sure, it’s merely a date on the calendar, but it’s a convenient opportunity for us to take an inventory of our work, to look back with introspection and forward with hopes and dreams. Today is that opportunity for us to join in fellowship and solidarity with members of the faith community, to make a difference in our communities and surroundings.
But let us also be aware of the trapping of time. The New Year is here, but that doesn’t mean things will be new, unless we so move to make them new. Dr. King repeatedly told us that bringing about justice – and therefore peace – cannot wait. The time is always right for peace, harmony and understanding. Writing to his colleagues, from the Birmingham jail, Rev. King warned them and therefore us, to avoid a misconception of time.
“… It comes from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral… . Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this ‘hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.”
It is in this spirit that we gather this morning, as faith leaders, to become worthy co-workers with God. Thank you for attending. Let us move forward with our program…