Eight centuries before Jesus Christ, the Prophet Amos wrote:
“‘The time is surely coming,’ says the Sovereign Lord, ‘when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger everywhere from sea to sea, searching for the word of the Lord, running here and going there, but they will not find it. Beautiful girls and fine young men will grow faint and weary, thirsting for the Lord’s word. And those who worship and swear by the idols of Samaria, Dan, and Beersheba will fall down, never to rise again.'” Amos (8:11-14).
Some of my boomer-generation friends may remember the movie, Cool Hand Luke. The warden, when speaking of the Paul Newman character that was constantly trying to escape from prison and the chain gang he was sentenced to but always, each time, getting re-captured, stated this famous line of the film: “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” Newman just didn’t get the message.
I feel that a comparable not getting the message culture is upon many in our church. With urgency, we need to find ways to capture the imagination of all generations with the awesomeness of God’s story and to have our faithful thirst for God’s Word.
That may sound like a page from a Sunday school lesson plan but I believe that communicating God’s word to our faithful ought to be one of the highest priorities of our Armenian Church, its clergy and leadership. And sadly, it is not: far from it.
I have heard countless times; the Armenian Church is ritualistic and not scriptural. Often, the same individuals making such comments find little time to read in the language they understand the words of Badarak or any other type of worship service in order to develop their faith on a deeper level. It’s just not their priority. Perhaps if they did, they would be astonished at the scriptural references they would find.
Historically, Armenian Christians have always had a deep love for biblical truth. Our pre-genocide faithful, living in the various villages and provinces of Anatolia, were a people who knew scripture intimately, as opposed to the barbaric Turk who was so illiterate to have even a modicum of understanding of their own faith or of the Koran.
But today, the emerging generations of our faithful, as well as my boomer generation, are biblically illiterate, having little or no knowledge of any key verses, important characters, or basic biblical teachings. And that is sad.
Throughout the twentieth century, any educated person, no matter how professedly unbelieving or secular, knew actual text from scripture with a thoroughness that would put contemporary clergy to shame. It was simply a part of one’s overall education. In the reality of today, the question of why is there the need has replaced the appreciation of the need.
St. Mesrob Vartabed created, in the Fifth Century, our written Armenian alphabet and used it to bring the Word of God into the hearts and minds of the faithful. And for fifteen hundred years it was the method of transmitting scripture and our faith from one generation to the next.
Today there is again a need to create effective ways to capture the imagination of the emerging generation to teach the compelling story of what God has done throughout history as recorded in Scripture. If reading books is no longer the way to effectively communicate this message, then other mediums need to be created and used to shape the perceptions of the world and the church, the way the written word shaped the perceptions of previous generations.
Now the remainder of this article is addressed to our A.C.Y.O.A. Seniors, our St. Nersess Summer Conference participants, and their alumni. Of course, others are welcome to finish reading it.
A.C.Y.O.A. members: as you discuss and debate your agenda items at this year’s assembly, take a moment to remember the reason why you are gathering.
It was the vision of Bishop Tiran Nersoyan of blessed memory, a man of great integrity, wisdom, and love for the youth of his church. In 1946 he began the process of having an Armenian Church organization devoted to the young adults of the time – and of the future – that focused on their faith, religion, and cultural heritage. He expected much from those who gathered during that initial assembly, and as the delegates of today, expects the same from you. His legacy has always demanded only the best.
Christ told us; The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few, and Tiran Srpazan would use these words repeatedly to encourage the young adults of his time to become engaged in the life of the Armenian Church.
He felt strongly – as do I and many of my brother clergy – that there are enough A.C.Y.O.A. and St. Nersess participants and alumni to fill the ranks of the laborers needed today to strengthen our Armenian Church to become the guiding source and bastion of faith, stability, and direction our people need.
It is now to you that we look – I look – to come forth to continue the mission of Tiran Srpazan to see that his hope and trust in the youth remain as vibrant today as it did over 70 years ago.
Don’t’ accept as some would have you to believe that you, as the “youth”, are too young to be concerned with serious church matters, or that “you are the future” of the Church. Your youth ended after high school. And the future: It belongs to those yet to be born.
You as a generation of young adults are an essential and active part of the present Armenian Church and are responsible for her well-being today and for tomorrow as much as any other “older” church member.
Use your higher education, your job training, to create ways to strengthen the pillars of our Armenian Church. If Sunday school was boring for you, create ways to make it interesting for the next generation. Musicians: write new songs that sing of our faith. Architects: create structures of beauty and build our new sanctuaries. Computer folks: create apps that can be beneficial to the promulgation of our faith and culture. PR people: create stimulating ways of bringing the message of Jesus Christ to our faithful.
Everyone is invited to the table and needed to take their role seriously as defenders of the faith.
Our Diocese has witnessed the historical election of an American-born Priest as the new Primate. Our homeland in Armenia has seen a peaceful change in the established ways of governing through the demands of the people creating the Fourth Republic. Let these occasions inspire you to stand tall and respond to your call of service.
We read in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”
Be willing to stand in the open and respond to the call of Our Lord the same way, to come forth and to become a laborer in the vineyard of God for His glory.