Finding strength in the Human side of Saints
Excerpts from Sermon Delivered by Fr. Vazken Movsesian
August 24, 1997 and printed in the “California Courier” Newspaper
With the Assumption of St. Mary still fresh in our minds, I’d like to talk once again about the Holy Mother-of-God this week. Last week, we spoke about how St. Mary gave her “first fruit” Jesus to the world and we blessed the fruit of our labors as symbolized in the grapes. The following day, one of our parishioners called me and asked me to look at the current issue of Newsweek. As you know, this week the cover story was about St. Mary. If you haven’t seen it yet, I invite you to read it. The article gives an excellent brief history of St. Mary and the development of Church thought surrounding her. More importantly, read it because you’ll get a look at a new trend and movement that is taking place within the Roman Catholic Church.
According to the article, members of the Roman Catholic Church have collected over four million signatures and sent them to the pope. They are asking the pope to “exercise the power of papal infallibility to proclaim a new dogma of the Roman Catholic faith: that the Virgin Mary is “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of All Graces and Advocate for the People of God.”
It’s fascinating for me, because here we find a major American magazine giving a large portion of its space to an article about faith. It talks about the concerns of the Catholic Church. When I read these types of stories, I am amazed primarily because it shows the maturity level at which the Catholic Church operates. I can’t help but compare it to what we in the Armenian Church are occupied with. Here the Catholic Church is dealing with issues of faith, while we still talk about the nonsense of things like church unity or what time and manner in which to read the requiem announcements. It shows the level of our faith.
There is a tremendous spiritual awakening happening throughout the world. People hunger for spiritual nourishment. Perhaps today, more than any other time in history, because of the manner in which we work and define ourselves, people are in need of connecting with their spirit side. Look at the difficulties we experience in life. Look at the fast pace at which life is marching by. We are searching for stability. We are looking for spiritual unity. And the more we search, the more we understand that our spiritual nourishment and the unity in our lives can only come from God-the essence and creator the spirit. St. Mary gives us an opportunity to find the strength and peace that God provides.
As we mentioned last week, St. Mary is referred to as the Mother of God. (Please realize that the cults cannot use this title on St. Mary. If you want to find out if one of the groups that has been coming to your homes is a cult, ask them about the word, Asdvadzadzin (Mother of God). Can they ascribe it to Mary? The Jehovah’s Witness, for instance, can’t. It’s a good litmus test for cults.) In any case, St. Mary has a unique place within the Armenian Church. Our understanding of Mary also differs slightly from that of the Catholics.
When it comes to the saints, unfortunately, let us not say we forget rather, we don’t emphasize enough their humanness. We sometimes deify them so much, that we forget their greatest attributes are found in their humanness. Saints are not worshipped in the Armenian Church. They are held up as true followers of God. They are looked upon as examples of the good life. The inspiration and strength that we find in their lives is that they were human, not that they were gods. The saints, beginning with St. Mary, were humans who had frailties, who had difficulties, who were tempted to do otherwise. Yet, in their stories, we find that they rose to the occasion. They were able to transcend their humanity by striving and being united with God.
The same can be said regarding the person of Christ. In the Armenian Church, we say that Christ is complete God and complete man. Unfortunately, we don’t emphasize enough His humanity, for after all, we have much more in common with His humanness. We fear. What is fear? Christ sensed fear. He sat in a garden and wept because of the trials and tribulation he was about to undergo. What does it mean to be alone? We feel lonliness – where no one understands us. Christ felt alone. We want to know what is bravery? What does it mean to rebel against injustice, to know that the truth will prevail? Christ rebelled and worked for justice. What does it mean to be crucified? To have all your friends desert you and be punished for something you didn’t do? Christ went through sufferings and crucifixion. These are all characteristics of being human. And by passing through these human traits, by being crucified, then we can better understand His divinity. In other words, you can’t experience a resurrection, until first you are crucified.
We have all passed through crucifixions in our lives because we are human. After passing through the sufferings of this world, we set our gaze upon the divine and know that one-day we will be worthy of the divine realm. Our sufferings will be put aside and we will be find the comfort of unity with God.
Here is the strength of the saints. This is how we should see our saints, St. Mary among them: not as gods, but as people – people who went through difficulties but were able to rise to the occasion. The beauty of St. Mary is that she was human. She was called by God and reacted. She could have done otherwise, instead she said “yes” to God and in so doing rose to the occasion. She wasn’t God. She could have said “no.” She saw her son suffer, she felt the pain and difficulties of life, but she took her humanness and approached the oneness of God. That is the challenge before us today.
The saints give us an opportunity to look at life in a different way. They allow us to see what is the example of a good life, being connected to God. They allow us to see what our lives can be if we rise to the occasion by saying yes to God. The saints are like us. They laughed, they cried, they suffered but were able to keep a tie with the Divine. That is our challenge. We are like the saints. God asks us to rise to the occasion. He asks us to take our humanness and approach the oneness of God.
Unfortunately, if the Catholic Church makes this move of announcing St. Mary as Co-Redemtrix it will be a blow to the Ecumenical movement. Here will be yet another point of dissension among the Christians of the world. But as we know, the Ecumenical movement is similar to the unity-in-the-Armenian Church issue. It’s all political. It just makes nice conversation, but will not happen given our current faith. But that’s another sermon. Today, be inspired by the example given to us by the saints. We have so much to gain from their humanness. Use it as a vehicle to rise from your humanness and approach the godliness to which God invites us.
(c)opyright 1997 Fr. Vazken Movsesian