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  • Writer's pictureBishop Mesrop Parsamyan

My Sermon at St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral

Bishop Mesrop Parsamyan, Sermon at St. John the Divine Episcopal Cathedral,

New York City, April 28, 2024

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In this season of Eastertide, I greet you in the name of our risen Lord:

Christ is risen from the dead! Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!

Քրիստոս Յարեաւ ի մեռելոց։ Օրհնեալ է Յարութիւնն Քրիստոսի։

It is indeed a joyful occasion today, to be present in this historic Cathedral of St. John the Divine to offer the homily and to witness the restoration of the Armenian Stone-Cross, which has been brought out into the Cathedral after years of protective storage. And I’d like to thank Very Reverend Fr. Patrick Malloy, the Dean of this beautiful Cathedral, for his invitation.

By divine Providence, today is the “Feast of the Apparition of the Cross” on the liturgical calendar of the Armenian Church. The Feast is the commemoration of an historic event that took place in Jerusalem in 351 A.D. during the patriarchate of St. Cyril of Jerusalem.

In a letter to the Byzantine Emperor, St. Cyrill wrote: “The all-victorious Sign of the Cross, formed of light, appeared over the sky extending from Holy Golgotha to the Mount of Olives…. And its rays were so much stronger than the sun that the entire population of the city rushed to the Church [of the Holy Sepulcher], filled with awe and joy at the divine vision.”

St. Cyril received this miracle as a sign from God to stay the course in defense of the Gospel. Throughout history, the cross of our Lord has inspired many to do great works of faith in witness of the Gospel. Martyrs and witnesses have sacrificed a great deal, even their lives, to bear witness to the cross of our Lord. And by their witness, many have been led to faith in the crucified Lord Jesus.

We live in times when the Church is facing many challenges around the world. Peace is disturbed in many parts of the world, and efforts to resolve the underlying conflicts are either rejected or resisted.

In our own ancestral homeland of Armenia, we have lost the historic region of Artsakh through unjust aggression. Thousands of native residents—men, women, and children; the elderly and infirm—were driven from their homes. Many historic monasteries and churches—and indeed thousands of stone crosses, like the one we are blessing today—are being destroyed before the eyes of the world.

War and destruction are claiming innocent lives in many parts of the world. Senseless crime is claiming innocent lives here in our country and, yes, even in our city. Social injustice, racism, economic bias, discrimination, and unfair practices are causing much pain and suffering to many of our neighbors, our friends, and our own families.

And we, in turn, are called to stand up, to speak up, and to live out our Christian faith. To follow the example of our Lord. Just as He endured the cross, which was originally an instrument of pain and suffering, a symbol of death and destruction, He transformed it through His death and suffering into a symbol of Victory and Life.

Thus, in times of pain and suffering, the Cross is the inspiration of Endurance and Healing.

In times of struggle and conflict, the Cross is the source of Courage and Peace.

In times of hopelessness and despair, the Cross is the foundation of Promise and Hope.

In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, our Lord speaks of his relationship with his followers with these words: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser.… Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 4-5).

In the design of khatchkars, the vine and vegetation motifs are inspired directly by the words of our Lord: that we are all connected and united in our common faith commitment to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and without him we can do nothing.

The intricate woven lines, with no beginning and no end, are not mere decorative devices, but are a mirror of the eternal presence of Emmanuel: “God with us.” They guide our contemplation towards the infinite love of the Father for us, and are a powerful reinforcement of the memory of His presence in our lives, even though many times a sense of being abandoned tempts us.

Of course, Armenians are not the only Christian people who seek inspiration from the Cross. Standing here in this magnificent Episcopal sanctuary, I am reminded of an experience I had in another soaring Gothic setting that deeply impressed upon me the significance of the Cross.

About 20 years ago, as a young priest, I was blessed to visit London in the company of our Catholicos, His Holiness Karekin the Second, upon the gracious invitation of the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, His Eminence Archbishop Rowan Williams.

One unforgettable evening, he invited His Holiness and me for a candlelit tour of the majestic Canterbury Cathedral. I can’t tell you what a spiritually captivating experience this was for a young priest like me: to walk through the darkened cathedral in the company of these great churchmen, candles in hand, slowly passing under the awe-inspiring stained-glass windows.

There, we stopped under a particular window to look up at its spiritual beauty. It was a stunning depiction of the Crucifixion. But the context set by the images surrounding it / was even more fascinating than the depiction itself. The theology of the Cross was expressed so vividly and directly through these visuals, depicting various narratives from the Old Testament—each one traditionally seen as a foreshadowing of Christ’s crucifixion.

It was an educational experience to see how the artist had brought these connections to life in his work: he had created a Bible Study in glass and light. Most striking to me was the image at the bottom—from the Book of Numbers: the large cluster of grapes the spies discovered in the Promised Land. It was a visual clue: the cluster of grapes and the rod on which they were carried / formed the T-shape of the cross.

There, in that silent cathedral, through the medium of art, the message was clear to me: every story in the Bible, every prophecy, leads us to the cross, where all burdens are lifted and all tears are wiped away.

Today, right here and now, we stand witness to another cross—this time a cross of stone, that not only decorates our space, but encapsulates the enduring bond between the Episcopal and Armenian churches.

This stone cross is not merely a fixture of rock; it is a beacon of gratitude, a testament to the warm embrace extended by the Episcopal Church to Armenian immigrants fleeing persecution and genocide more than a century ago. It is a symbol of a friendship that not only endured but thrived.

And as in the fourth century the Apparition of the Cross shone in the sky over Jerusalem, this stone-cross shines as a bright light of Christian love and brotherhood, extending from the Cathedral of St. John the Divine to St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral; from Uptown to Midtown; from the West Side to the East Side; — inscribing a cross through the heart of Manhattan, and embracing us all in the symbol of Christ’s love.

It encourages us to continue to bear witness to the Cross of our Lord and boldly proclaim the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ with such zeal that those who meet us may feel the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts and give glory to our Father in Heaven. Amen.

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