Red Sunday

Gospel Reading

John 5:19-30

Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing; and greater works than these will he show him, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. 22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. 24 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears my word and believes him who sent me, has eternal life; he does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. 25 “Truly, truly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself, 27 and has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of man. 28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and come forth, those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of judgment. 30 “I can do nothing on my own authority; as I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me. (Revised Standard Version)

Other Sunday Readings

Acts 13:16-43

St. Paul (formerly Saul) gives what is the third discourse in the book of Acts (see 2:14-40; 7:1-53), and it is the first given by St. Paul. He recounts the history of Israel demonstrating the Old Testament is the foundation for proclaiming the Gospel of the New Testament, that when properly understood, it is clear Jesus is the Messiah (v. 27).

He gives three examples of prophecies fulfilled in Jesus (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 55:3, Psalm 16:10), and ends with a proclamation of the resurrection and its life-saving, world-impacting effects: 1) the forgiveness of sins (v. 38) and 2) no one is declared forgiven, or a full member of the people of God through the law of Moses (v. 39).

St. Paul addresses the discourse to the “Men of Israel, and you that fear God” (v. 16). A “Fearer of God” was a designation for Gentiles who worshipped Yahweh, followed the precepts of the Jewish religion, attended synagogue, but were not yet full members of the community, or proselytes. Although salvation was first brought to the Jews through Israel, St. Paul makes it clear that the Gospel is universal through the family of Abraham (v. 26) and by closing with a prophecy from the prophet Habakkuk (1:5).

Questions

  • Drawing from the Old Testament, what was the story of Israel? Were they a light to the nations as they were called and prophesied to be? Could they keep their own law? Were they faithful to promise and covenant God established with them? How does St. Paul offer Jesus as the Savior and Rescuer of Israel, and thus the Church?
  • Jesus Christ is risen! The promises of God have been fulfilled in him. Today, now, eternal life is abundantly shared with his people. He is renewing creation, healing and transfiguring the universe, which includes each one of us. Wherein lies the urgency? What is St. Paul telling us to beware? Why did his listeners respond the way they did to the truth and effects of the resurrection of Jesus Christ? (vv. 38-42)

I Peter 5:1-14

Very likely recalling Jesus as the Good Shepherd, as well as Jesus’ intimate words addressed to him on the shore to “Feed my sheep,” St. Peter writes to local church communities about leadership (vv. 2-5). Pastoral work is to be undertaken with neither a desire for power (v. 3), nor to be exploited for financial gain (v. 2), but with humility (v. 6) and sobriety (v. 8), as the standard, the example, by which all shepherds are measured is the Chief Shepherd (v. 4).

Humility is a foundational virtue and must be exercised by both those in official leadership roles, as well as those subject to elders (v. 5) When all faithful of the Church, regardless of ordained status, age, economic class, humbly submit to one another, we are ultimately submitting to, i.e. loving God (see I Thessalonians 5:12, Hebrews 13:7, 17). It takes humility to first admit we depend on God for all of our needs, to believe that he cares for us, and then to hand over our anxieties to him so he can handle them according to his divine, loving will (v.7).

Good leadership requires a proper awareness of the realm in which we live, one with an enemy that cannot be ignored. St. Peter is aware that the enemy has already been defeated at the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection, but knowing his time is short, the enemy actively seeks to work against God tempting each one of us to join his rebellion before his time expires (v. 8). But we have confidence in Christ that through sufferings, even when crafted by the enemy, we are restored and strengthened (v. 10). Be alert, but with God, who has dominion (v 11), there is nothing to fear.

Questions

  • Peter describes leaders as shepherds. Why? What is on the mind of a shepherd? What are their challenges? What is important to them? What are their methods? (vv. 2-4) Consider other images of a shepherd throughout Scripture: Psalm 23, Ezekiel 34, Luke 15:3-7, John 10:1-6.
  • Is St. Peter only prescribing this model for the Church? Is there, or should there be a distinction between Church life and non-Church life? Do you believe St. Peter thought this way? Consider leadership models you have experienced and also used in and outside the parish community.
  • Is humility a typical virtue among leaders in the world, at work, in the Church? Why or why not? Explain why a humble leader is not a weak leader, but rather a strong one. (vv. 5-6)
  • How do you typically handle tension, worry, and anxiety? Is that solution similar or different than what St. Peter suggests? How does this verse relate to the context of the church community? (v. 7)
  • In what ways does the enemy attack, tempt us to live in ways that are destructive to our faith? Is it always obvious, or can it be ways that seem innocent, subtle, or in line with cultural norms? Why do you think St. Peter chose a lion as analogous with our enemy? Considering that humans are not the enemy, what tactics should we take in order to resist the enemy? (vv. 6-9)
  • What is the connection between sharing the sufferings of Christ and good leadership in the Church? (vv. 1, 9-10). What about the connection between tending the flock and casting anxieties on the Lord? (v. 7)

The Blood of Christ

Although there seems to be no ecclesiastical origin or significance for Red Sunday (Կարմիր Կիրակի), the color red recalls numerous themes within Christianity and the tradition of the Armenian Church.

It is the blood of Jesus Christ that redeems and heals us, the source of life which spilled into the ground from the Cross to give life and salvation to the entire created order. As we sing Առաջի քո Տէր during Badarak:

Son of God, who are sacrificed to the Father for reconciliation, bread of life distributed among us, through the shedding of your holy blood, we beseech you, have mercy on your flock saved by your blood. (p. 33)

A resurrection of life or judgment

But bringing about a renewed creation, one that is made whole, requires the corruption which ails us to be judged. And so the Father gives the Son, as the Son of man (see Daniel 7:13-14), the authority to bring judgment on the forces of sin and evil that have plagued us, diverted us, misled us, oppressed us, and led us to believe that this world and what it has to offer is satisfactory and sufficient.

And so the Cross and the resurrection call us to live in him, in holy communion with Jesus Christ, just as we were created to live. Jesus invites us to pass from death to life into a resurrection of life rather than the path that leads to a resurrection of judgment (see John 5:29).

As. St. Gregory of Nazianzus writes,

Some will be welcomed by the unspeakable light and the vision of the holy and royal Trinity, which now shines on them with greater brilliance and purity and unites itself wholly to the whole soul…the others…must endure being outcast from God and the shame of conscience which has no limit.

A sense of urgency

Built into the Gospel is a sense of urgency, a matter of life and death. Rather than right vs. wrong, the Orthodox Churches view sin from the perspective of life vs. death as taught in Scripture and by Church Fathers. One such Church Father, St. Athanasius, writes:

He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. (On the Incarnation, 4.24)

And so Jesus calls us to hear his word and believe in him so that we may have eternal life.

Jesus is more than his teachings

What is the number one concern of our existence? Where does Jesus land on the spectrum of our love? Jesus isn’t looking to be fourth or fifth place or even second place. His desire is not to be someone who is only called upon when we are in need. He didn’t take on flesh, shed his blood, and rise from the dead just so we could relate to his ideas and principles and imitate his style of life as one among many religious figures.

Many religions and individual beliefs around the world consider Jesus to be a prophet, a good teacher, and someone to respect. Jesus is not just an enlightened teacher. Rather his divine teachings cannot be separated from who he divinely is – God. And as the Son of God, he calls us friends! (see John 15:15) As friends, he wants to spend time with us. He wants our love in return, our entire being. He wants to commune with us!

So what do we do with the time and life given to us by God? How do we fill our schedules? How often do we pray, what do we pray? Do we attend Badarak? When we do attend, do we participate? Is our life marked by seeing others as more important than ourselves, or is it just occasional? Do we live as though we are dependent on God daily, momentarily as our Savior? Do we really believe we need him, that we are utterly lost without him?

His shed blood demands, cries out for a response of love, a response of our whole being.

The Blood of the Martyrs

Speaking of crossing from death to life, which is one of the themes of Sunday’s Gospel reading, the color red also recalls the blood of the Church martyrs: those who follow the pattern of Jesus, those men and women who demonstrated valiant faith, unafraid to die for Jesus Christ, confident in his words and promise to raise to new life those who know and follow him. As Jesus promises in the following chapter,

For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:40)

And later in John’s Gospel, in front of the tomb of Lazarus,

I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)

Christianity is martyrdom

In a way, on this Red Sunday, and every day, we are called to martyrdom. The demand of the Gospel, the demand of our faith compels us to imitate Jesus’ complete and total surrender to the Father’s loving care, no matter the cost, even unto death.

This is good news in a world that regularly spills blood in the name of ego, politics, and false religion. A world that is still filled with injustice, imbalance, unfairness, pandemics, and terror. And so the color red reminds us of our pain, distress, fear, and suffering, but as St. Paul assures us, the love of Christ and his work at the Cross is the last word on the topic of evil and death:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, “For thy sake we are being killed all day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)

Witnessing the Gospel

Who are the Martyrs to whom we look as examples of faith? To which Saints do we pray asking for help to imitate their lives and the life of Jesus Christ?

Do we tend to think of martyrdom one-dimensionally, as death by the sword, or is martyrdom built into the Christian faith? If not by death, what does it mean to be an authentic, tangible witness to the reality of God, what he did for us, his mercy, forgiveness, and love – every day in every situation?

Do we really want to test the boundary by living just enough to get by, or do we want to live like martyrs, confident not in ourselves, but in the promise of new life in Jesus Christ and the reality of his love that conquers every trial, even death?

The Blood of Holy Communion

Finally, Red Sunday should call to mind what was already mentioned, the life-giving Blood of Christ, but given to us in the sacrament of Holy Communion. In the Gospel reading, Jesus claims the Father “has granted the Son also to have life in himself.” The fullness of life does not come from anywhere or anyone else, no other source, and we are given that fullness of life in the Mysteries (Sacraments) of the Church.

From death to life

In the Gospel reading Jesus tells us, “The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (v. 25) During Badarak we don’t just receive a fleeting experience or a temporary spiritual fix. When we share the Body and Blood of Christ, we are passing from death to life, and so Badarak is a matter of life and death. Once again, we view sin in terms of life vs. death, rather than right vs. wrong.

A note about sinful deeds

(This does not imply the Church does not teach that some thoughts, words, and deeds are wrong. Some things are wrong, but not because of a legal system that Jesus has constructed for the Church, rather those things rupture our holy communion with him and instead bring rot and corruption to our being. That is why some things are wrong. They are destructive to our nature, to our communion with God and with others, not because it is merely disobeying an arbitrary law. See below “A note about obedience and disobedience“).

Badarak is not metaphorical

That being said, the celebrant of Badarak does not say the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ is “life, hope of resurrection, purification and remission of sins” for poetic or metaphorical reasons. There’s an urgency. We will die without him. Again, from On the Incarnation, St. Athanasius, reflecting on our origin in the Garden, writes:

He set them in His own paradise, and laid upon them a single prohibition. If they guarded the grace and retained the loveliness of their original innocence, then the life of paradise should be theirs, without sorrow, pain or care, and after it the assurance of immortality in heaven. But if they went astray and became vile, throwing away their birthright of beauty, then they would come under the natural law of death and live no longer in paradise, but, dying outside of it, continue in death and in corruption. This is what Holy Scripture tells us, proclaiming the command of God, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” “You shall die”— not just die only, but remain in the state of death and of corruption. (1.3)

That process or state of death and corruption still lingers today. We have never ceased from disobeying God. In other words, we have not loved him by following his commandments (“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” John 14:15).

Again, this death and corruption is not punishment for the disregard of a legal rule, it is a consequence of being infected by the disease of sin which results in ruptured holy communion. Think of a branch removed from a tree, its source of nourishment and life. It eventually dries up and dies. Sin is a result of not loving God, or at the very least, loving something more than him, and the result of that is corruption, corrosion, and ultimately death.

A note about obedience and disobedience

(In other words, sin has the character of non-being or emptiness. Again, this is why we think of sin existentially, in terms of life and death, and not legally, in terms of right and wrong. When we do not exist in God, we invite death, non-being. And yes, Jesus calls us to obey, but it is not about following rules. The reason we obey Jesus is to live as he lives.

To obey is to draw nourishing, eternal life from the Source, from the Existent: Jesus Christ. To disobey is to cut ourselves off from that nourishment, which results in lifeless rot. And so we measure our actions in terms of life and death, not by simply following the rules. Jesus is not looking for rule followers, he is looking for disciples, the Church to follow him and to become like him, to sit and sup with him in (comm)unity with him. He is looking for us to love him by obeying, following, imitating, doing what he does, seeing how he sees, forgiving how he forgives, healing how he heals, and teaching what he teaches. This is what it means to live life, and to truly live life is to live the divine life, in Christ.

The Pharisees and those who killed Jesus were following the rules. They were morally upright citizens. To do right or wrong, then, is not to obey or disobey a legal rule, rather to obey Jesus/God is to exist in him, to exist as we are meant to exist – in communion with our Lord. Sin and salvation is all about holy communion – sacramentally and existentially, which are two sides of the same coin.)

What does sharing the Body and Blood of Christ accomplish in us?

Herein lies the importance of sharing God’s life in his Body and Blood. In John’s version of the Last Supper/Passover, Jesus said

Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. (John 6:53)

Pick up the Badarak book and follow along. Meditate on the words and prayers. In the beginning part of Badarak, the Liturgy of the Word, the deacons invite us to:

Stand in prayer before the holy altar of God that we may find the grace of mercy on the day of the revelation and the second coming of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (p. 25)

In the latter part of Badarak, the Liturgy of the Eucharist, the priest prays the following words as he breaks the Body of Christ and places it into the chalice:

Grant that this communion be for the purification of sins and the loosing of transgressions, as our Lord Jesus Christ promised and said that “Whoever eats my Body and drinks my Blood shall live forever”…let this be to me…for health of soul and body and for the performance of all deeds of virtue; so that this may purify my breath and my soul and my body and make me a temple and a habitation of the all-holy Trinity. (pp. 45-46)

The deacons invite the people forward to share Holy Communion and sing:

We confess and we believe that this is the living and life-giving Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, that becomes for us purification and remission of sins. (p. 49)

After all have shared Holy Communion, the people rejoice with thanksgiving and sing:

We give thanks to you, Lord, who have fed us at your table of immortal life; distributing your Body and your Blood for the salvation of the world and for life to our souls (p. 51)

We should long for Holy Communion

In Sunday’s Gospel reading, what happens to those who believe? To those who do not? How important is our faith to live? How important is not only attending, but putting our entire heart and being into participating in Badarak?

Do we ever think of our faith or Badarak in terms of urgency, as a matter of life and death? Do we yearn for the healing mystery of his Body and Blood?

The miracle of the resurrection is happening inside of us, at this moment, so that when we physically die, death is rendered inconsequential to the new life already given to us by God. A new life that changes us, transfigures us, and makes us a new creation, so that when we face trials and suffering we face them with the overflowing, divine abundant life of Christ. How else could Jesus have faced the Cross had he not been in (comm)union with his Father?

Walk soberly

How should our faith, then, permeate and inform how we view suffering, our lifestyle, our schedules, our self-image, the goals we set for ourselves, how we raise our children? We are not called to live in panic, but in confidence that Jesus has accomplished salvation.

That does not mean we can sit back and wait for God’s plan to unfold. Jesus includes us in his plan, and it requires effort on our part, concrete faith – to love those who do everything possible to be unlovable, to forgive those who hate us and exploit us, to give thanks not only when we experience surplus but in our pain and when we are in desperate need, to live and walk soberly, so close to God that we are one with him, in holy communion with him, so that we are not the evil and corruption that the Son of man will judge one day.

As St. John Chrysostom admonishes:

Beloved, we need great diligence in all things, for we shall render account of and undergo a strict enquiry both of words and works. Our interests stop not with what now is, but a certain other condition of life shall receive us after this, and we shall be brought before a fearful tribunal. As St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians (5:10), “For we must appear before the Judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” Let us ever bear in mind this tribunal, that we may therefore be enabled at all times to continue in virtue… so he that always retains this fear will walk soberly.

By Dn. Eric Vozzy