Strength through Suffering – Armenian Earthquake


Copyright 1989, San Jose Mercury News

DATE: Saturday, January 7, 1989
PAGE: 9B EDITION: Morning Final
SECTION: Religion & Ethics LENGTH: 22 in. Medium
SOURCE: By THE REV. VAZKEN MOVSESIAN, Special to the Mercury News
MEMO: Commentary


EDITOR’S NOTE: On Friday, Orthodox Christians observed the Feast of the Theophany, one of the holiest days of their liturgical year. Also known as Epiphany, this is the Orthodox Christmas, a solemn celebration of the revelation of God. Normally a festive event, it is a bitter holiday for the Armenian Orthodox, whose country was devastated by an earthquake Dec. 7.
Apart from the physical devastation, the earthquake has shattered many Armenians’ faith. Sunday, as he faces a congregation of 700 families, 20 percent of whom have lost loved ones in the quake, the Rev. Vazken Movsesian, pastor of St. Andrew Armenian Church in Cupertino, will address those issues at a special service. Here is an edited excerpt of his Theophany message.

THE most difficult questions people ask a priest have to do with evil. If God is good and God is all-powerful, why is there evil in the world?
And when evil comes in the form of a natural disaster, such as the Armenian earthquake, it seems that there is no one to blame but God.
Far from a feast, this year’s celebration of Theophany will be different for Armenians. Still fresh in our minds is the tragedy in which we lost more than 50,000 people.
Why did not God spare the good Armenian people? Why did He not intervene? Armenia was the first nation to accept Christianity. They were the ones who have piously observed the faith for centuries, the ones who defended the faith to death. Why them?
When the history of a people is plagued by such devastation and tragedy, the questioning goes deeper: Why believe in a God who cannot save us from these dangers?
These are questions that I am confronted with daily.
Some people believe God has abandoned the Armenians for some divine purpose and plan. Some doomsday forecasters say the earthquake was part of the ”signs of the times” that the world will soon end. How quickly we are willing to thrust aside reason and logic when hit by calamity.
I do not shy away from the scientific and logical approach.
Why did the earthquake happen? Because the earth shifts.
Why did people die? Because they were trapped in the rubble of buildings that were constructed poorly.
Why didn’t God step in and save the Armenian people? I don’t know. But I venture to say that things just don’t work that way.
In times of crisis, our mental image of God transforms Him into a kind of superman. God is omnipotent, after all. But the order of nature is such that that there is an imperfection built into this world. Lightning causes fires. Drought causes crops to wither. The shifting and settling of the earth causes earthquakes. And sometimes people die.
Other, larger questions loom. Why believe in a god that cannot save you from the perils of this world? Why celebrate the revelation and birth of a God who is powerless against nature?
God is not some kind of superman. God is not there to prevent an earthquake. Where was God when the earthquake happened? He was weeping and hurt like all of us. But the real power of God is seen in the aftermath: in the love and support He provides us.
When we see people throughout the world coming together to aid the Armenians, that is God working. God gives us the capacity to love. We give to others because of that ability to love.
We must stop thinking of God as a great puppeteer who sends disaster to this world to test our reaction. Disaster, pain and suffering are part of an imperfect world. We find God in the peace and love that only He can provide in answer to that disaster.
The Feast of Theophany is the celebration of God becoming man so that man can know God. He took our form and went through all the motions of man. He suffered and died. He did not exempt Himself from this great suffering, for no one is exempt.
When the earthquake hit, we were all hurt. Where was God? We saw Him in the love and support from the four corners of the Earth. We saw a world come together. We saw ”enemies” helping ”enemies.”
God is revealed: a God who understands us; a God who suffers with us; a God who helps and gives us strength during our darkest hour.
This is God being revealed. This is the celebration of Theophany.
St. Andrew Armenian Church does not have a church building of its own. The congregation will celebrate the Feast of Theophany at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at St. Sava Orthodox Church Hall, 77811

Copyright 1989, San Jose Mercury News


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