An excerpt from a homily by Nersess of Lambron (Ներսես Լամբրոնացի) on the events of the Day of Pentecost, translated by Abraham Terian, Professor Emeritus of Armenian Theology at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. Nersess of Lambron was born in 1153, the son of Shahandookht, the niece of St. Nersess Shnorhali (Catholicos 1166-1173) and Oshin II Lord of Lambron (ca. 1125-1170). He became Bishop of Tarsus in 1175, an office he held until his death in 1198. The full homily is found in the Ճաշոց Գիրք, the liturgical book of the Armenian Church which contains the Bible texts appointed to be read each day of the liturgical year, as well as liturgical texts and instructions, calendrical information, and some patristic festal homilies. The Day of Pentecost launched a global mission to spread Christianity, with Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew reaching Armenia. According to Nerses of Lambron, the role of the Holy Spirit is to comfort us in our adverse life, distribute wisdom and faith, strengthen us against temptations, turn our suspicion to firm faith, and enlighten the eyes of our hearts so we may recognize the hope of our calling, and the breadth of Christ’s love.

For it says: “When the days of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one accord. Suddenly a sound of a mighty wind came from heaven and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them separate tongues as of fire and rested on each of them, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in various tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:1-4). “They were all together,” it says, to show that they were not only the Twelve but also the Virgin Bearer of God together with the women who ministered to Jesus in Galilee and who became eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. Also with them was the band of the Seventy together with their acquaintances. Now, the Holy Spirit came upon them according to Christ’s earlier promise that says: “Behold, I shall send you the Good News of my Father. Stay in the city of Jerusalem until you put on the strength from heaven” (1:4).

He hit with the sound of wind, like thunder, to demonstrate the power of the current over them. Moreover, He is the same Spirit who at the beginning was moving upon the waters who (now) filled the house with intelligible power together with the sense-perceptible token of fire, astonishing those of childish minds. Then, from that very fire individual tongues devolved and rested on each of them, which signified the granting of the gift of speaking in diverse languages. Thus, when visible fiery tongues rested on their sense-perceiving bodies, their minds were made wise with an intelligible power and they began to move their tongues in various dialects. It is for this reason that it says “and they began to speak in various tongues, as the Spirit enabled them to speak” (Acts 2:4). Not that the gift of speaking in tongues is something superior, but because they had no other means at their disposal to proclaim the grace that empowered them. Thus, when they were speaking in diverse languages, the entire city mob, amazed, surrounded them. Wherefore it says: “The entire mixed multitude gathered together, and they all were amazed with astonishment” (2:6), while others upon seeing that incomprehensible transformation said with scorn, “they are drunk” (2:13).

Now, to make the reality of this gift comprehensible to all, we must point out that the descent of the Spirit on them did not (quite) constitute Christ’s promise; it only granted the gift of (speaking in) tongues. For Jesus did not say that “the Spirit will make you speak in tongues,” but that “He will teach and remind you all that I have told you” (John 14:26). But had they received the latter gift first, they would not have been able to attract to themselves the crowd that has now come to see them speak in diverse languages and to admire them. For this reason, the All-wise baffled them first with amazing transformations, like when children are entertained at a banquet. “What is this?” they said, “Galilean men, mere peasants and laborers of yesterday, today are as eloquent as the wise Greeks, and others respond to them in diverse Parthian dialects! Peter, who was born in Capernaum, we hear him speak boldly in the language of the Romans. Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, is punctuating his speech with the language of the Arabs. John, who was raised in Nazareth, how is he questioning us in the language of the Cilicians?” They listen as Thomas reminds them in the language of the Ethiopians of the sayings of the prophets. “Look at dull Thaddeus, how he arranges his speech with the words of Greater Armenia! As though Bartholomew was born as a child in the land of the Medes, he utters their speech! What a wonder! We who were born in foreign lands became familiar with these languages with great difficulty; but they, who had never seen these cities, speak their languages with ease.” They went on to say: “This amazing miracle is (truly) great; but as to where it will lead finally, we cannot envisage.”

Let us pray, bowing down before Him. O Holy Spirit, God, from God and Restorer of all things: The brave Shepherd entrusted His flock to your care and keeping and spread your rays eternally in His Church. Our tongues move by you, to offer you sacrifices of praise. We were appointed as stewards for the administration of your gifts. We all plead with you in unison and speak with you boldly, we the children born of the pangs of your womb. Do not draw back from your flock because of the stench of its abominable sins; do not grieve because of its unbecoming words; but be reconciled with us to the very end, and lead us to your heavenly altars. O Lord, keep us – who were banished into a place of exile – fortified against the piercing arrows of enemies. We do not possess the strength necessary in the arena of perseverance. We therefore ask with sighs that you lead us not into the temptations of the evil tyrant. Give us who are thirsty from the intoxicating wine of your love served today in this sacred Upper-room, so that we may be comforted in these our distressing misfortunes by resorting to the hope of the life to come. O benevolent Holy Spirit, my God, Spirit of meekness, please smell with love this aroma of praise offered to you by your own. And in unison we praise you with the Father and the Son in your eternal existence – without end. Amen.


“Give an account of your stewardship”
—Luke 16:1-9

Dear Armenians, this is our lesson for today from the Gospel. Of course you know and you remember the Parable of the Steward in the Gospel. It is purely a business matter. Even in the American mind and understanding, it is a business matter. If it is clear that social situations that come up in human life are age-old repetitions, then the Parable of the Steward is not a new phenomenon, but one echo of the eternal truths and situations in human life.

There was a wealthy man who owned land, properties and funds. Eventually his business became so vast and diversified that he could no longer operate it all by himself. So he turned over the stewardship or management of his business to an expert on his staff. This is the so-called “steward,” who served him for a long time with the total authority that was given to him. He grew old in that position.

There were also some people who were poking their noses into the steward’s work. Maybe they were simply the wealthy man’s lackeys, or perhaps impartial people who whispered unflattering things concerning the steward into the wealthy man’s ear. According to them, the steward “was squandering his employer’s assets” [Luke 16:1].

According to an old saying, “tangible things are sweeter than the spiritual ones.” Without regard for the long and faithful service of his steward, who had reached retirement age, the wealthy man summons him and confronts him with the accusations he has heard. He adamantly announces, “Don’t waste a moment! Go put your accounts in order and bring them to me because you can no longer be my steward” [Luke 16:2].

The poor man leaves, and so that he can close his books, he makes a few arrangements with his clients. For some of them he offers commercial reductions or discounts in the calculation of their debts. His accusers use this as fresh evidence to further discredit the steward. But this time, the wealthy man will have none of it. Seemingly respecting the total authority with which he had entrusted the steward, he commended him, even if what he did was “unjust” [Luke 16:8].

An employee who works in a business for his entire career deserves to live according to his good reputation and the privileges of his faithful service. Such a diligent person should not be reduced to begging. Having reached retirement age, he should not be consigned to manual labor or farm work. He rightly expects that his grateful clients will one day return the favor of his courtesy. This approach of the steward appears quite natural to the wealthy man and he praises him.

Our Lord Jesus Christ also endorses the outcome of this story and he tells his followers to be mindful of the shrewd deed of this so-called “unjust” steward: “Strive to utilize unjust and unlawful money in this world in such a way that you may be able to secure for yourselves eternal blessings” [Luke 16:9].

In the Parable of the Unjust Steward, the Savior’s full attention is focused on using human wisdom for what is good, investing it wisely on what is undeniably necessary.

Christians may not use ungodly methods in business, work or service. Human life has a clear purpose toward which it strives. This purpose is the proper growth and development of all human abilities, and their proper stewardship (management, utilization) for the complete expression of the Christian’s life.

Laws exist to secure and realize human freedom. To submit oneself to the law does not mean bondage or the violation of freedom. And nowhere, never, and in no way does freedom mean lawlessness, disorderliness, rudeness, or perversion; in other words, irresponsibility.

As for our talents and abilities, whether practical and fiscal expertise, or ethical and religious graces, apparent or hidden within us, we may not use them “as we wish,” unaccountable to ourselves, our friends or our Gospel. We are obliged to be at least as shrewd as the Unjust Steward was at the last moment.

If possible, however, the children of light are always obliged to be shrewd in the freedom of Christian life.

Let us assume that you understand freedom in an absolute sense as “doing whatever you want.” No person or power may meddle in, or critique what you do. Very well. By this principle, if you are a smoker or a drinker, for example. You smoked or drank freely, as much as you wanted, and in your excesses you harmed yourself. Do you think that you are not responsible for your fate? Like it or not, you are responsible to yourself because in your excesses, you trampled on the principles of your own freedom! You tarnished yourself and made yourself sick. You blocked the principles governing the normal growth and development of your human capacities.

Now it is those principles that hold you accountable and warn you to “Give an account of your stewardship, for you may no longer be my steward.”

My dear friends, the lessons of the Gospel are marvelously practical for our life and in our life. We just need to be able to see and discern their reality.

Each of us is responsible for our own actions and words. To each of us, at every moment, is directed that eternal and true warning, “Give an account of your stewardship, because you may no longer be my steward.”

From the perspective of their love for inner peace, and of the well being and happiness of their communities, if people recognized the principles and standards of their personal accountability, there is no doubt that many of life’s problems and troubles would subside and melt away.

“Give an account of your stewardship.” This is directed to each of us at every turn. Give an account of your inner life. Give an account of your family life. Give an account of your social life. Give an account of your efforts for the nation. Give an account of your civil life. Give an account of your career, your words, your profits, your losses. Give an account of your Christian obligations. Do it now and don’t waste time, because you can no longer “be my steward.”

Dear Armenians, we are the children of a forlorn people and too often, in one way or another, we ourselves are the cause of the escalation of our own national misfortunes. We are also accustomed to denying any responsibility whatsoever for our own misfortunes. Instead, we look for others to hold accountable. And that accountability is a very heavy and a very unpleasant thing. Who would dare accept it? For this reason mistakes are made, crimes are committed, and the true attribution of responsibility remains unresolved. And without realizing it, we perpetuate our familiar ways, adding sin on top of sin. Each of us becomes a sinner in the other’s eyes, responsible for all our troubles. Meanwhile each of us personally and individually is sinless and innocent in our own eyes, and our conscience is clear…

But this is not the lesson of the Gospel. The Gospel obliges each Christian to hold himself accountable first of all. Every good person, or every person who wishes to be good, is obliged, before all else, to remove the log from his own eye and only then to tell another person that he has a speck in his eye [Matthew 7:-5].

According to the Gospel you may not accuse your friend in a matter or in a problem in which you are also involved. If your friend has a speck of blame, then—remember the log— before all else, you are equally to blame. You bear responsibility as well and you are obliged to give an account and a report of your stewardship and of your dealings.

The warning, the command, is sharp and to the point: “Give an account of your stewardship.” Who among us will be able to demonstrate the same sense and competence as the unjust steward when the time comes to prepare his own books and those of his people?

The wisdom of individuals and of nations is manifested in trying circumstances. The Armenian people were subjected to a plight that cannot be depicted or described by any word in any language. Today every single member of the Armenian nation feels that plight and attempts to do something. But he does not know what he should do because he is ready to do everything. Read the newspapers. Listen to conversations. They’re ready to do anything. Blood again? They are ready to spill it. Money again? They are already demanding it. Again unity? One will, one spirit, one fate? How zealously they write! The result? None. Because the burden of responsibility is always shifted to others. The speakers, the chief slaughterers, the writers, the critics—they are not responsible. The audiences, the readers, and the distressed are accountable and responsible. The log is meaningless but the speck is doing harm.

My dear friends, do you see where our nation has led us—to the abandonment of the Gospel’s lessons? We should not look outside for the causes of our personal infirmities and troubles because we are the primary cause. Let us acknowledge our own part in the principal causes of the afflictions that have come upon our people. And now, to come out from under the burden of this indictment, let us follow the example of the Unjust Steward, who was able to secure his future with such shrewdness that he was worthy of commendation in the Gospel.

Go therefore and do not forget the lesson of today’s Gospel: “Give an account…”

Give an account of your conscience and your good sense. Where are you? What are you doing? What are you planning to do?

Give an account to your ethnic paternity. See how faithful you have been to its traditions.

Give an account to the conscience of your people and see to what extent you feel responsible for the burden of your nation’s plight.

Give an account to your God, your Savior, and to your Gospel and see how much you have strayed from, and become a stranger to that sanctifying domain.

In this last moment, arrange all of your affairs in such a way that your accounting will be worthy of the Gospel’s commendation.

“Fourth Sunday of Great Lent: The Parable of the Steward” Catholicos Papken Gulesserian (1868-1936)
translated by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan

One of the truly outstanding churchmen of the twentieth century, Catholicos Papken Gulesserian was born in Aintab and studied at the renowned Seminary of Armash, outside Constantinople, before becoming its Dean. He spent time in the United States recovering from an illness and so escaped the horrors of the Genocide. Following a stint as a professor in the Seminary of Jerusalem, in 1928 he was appointed co-adjutor Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia by Catholicos Sahak II Khabayan and was consecrated in 1931. A brilliant preacher, beloved teacher, profoundly devout Christian, prolific writer, and fastidious yet visionary administrator, he died in 1936 before the aged Catholicos whom he had been appointed to succeed. This essay is from his superb book, Lessons from the Gospel [Դասեր աւետարանէն], printed in Antelias, Lebanon in 1936.

Truth: by Fr. Tateos Abdalian

 Preacher tells his congregation: “Next week I will preach on the subject of telling the truth. I will use Mark Chapter 17 as the basis for my sermon. I ask you this week to open your Bibles and read Mark Chapter 17.”

The following Sunday, as the preacher was to begin his sermon, he reminded the congregation of the subject matter and his request, asking: “Now how many of you have read Mark, Chapter 17?”

About 20 hands went up.

The preacher said, “Really? Know that Mark has only 16 chapters. Let’s begin.”

Imagine going to the doctor’s office for a check-up. The doctor says: “You are a magnificent physical specimen. You have the body of an Olympian. You are to be congratulated.”

Later that day while climbing the stairs, your heart gives out. You find out your arteries were so clogged that you were, like, one jelly doughnut away from the grim reaper. After time in the hospital and rehab, you go back to the doctor and say, “Why didn’t you tell me the truth?”

The doctor says, “Well, I knew your body was in worse shape than the Pillsbury doughboy. But if I tell people stuff like that, they get offended. It’s bad for business. They don’t come back. I want this to be a safe place where you feel loved and accepted.”

Me? I would be furious about his exaggerated diagnosis and perhaps use his stethoscope to give him a new body piercing. Obviously, with something as serious as one’s physical health, only a fool would want an illusory comforting diagnosis based on pain avoidance or hurt feelings. While doctors should be very caring as to our physical health – and usually they are – priests are as concerned with our spiritual health.

When a priest – our spiritual doctor – instructs us as members of the Church to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ, to love one another, to repent for our sins, to share with those who are in need, to pray, . . . we need to listen. In reality, his words are heeded with the same cursory response as the doctor telling the addict he needs to stop or he will die: “OK, tomorrow I’ll quit, I promise.”

Instructing a person to prepare for eternal life probably will get you the addict’s answer because there never seems to be an immediacy to the situation. We certainly don’t believe we are going to die today or even tomorrow, so there’s time, right?

It would be more comforting if the priest told us: Don’t worry, God still loves you, and with your meaningful contribution to the church coffers with the decimal point in the right place, you should be OK and on the fast track to heaven. The question is: do you want to bet your eternal life on such a response?

John the Baptist told the people to repent, for the Kingdom of God was at hand. He chastised prince Herod for marrying his brother’s wife. Then Herod, to please his new wife’s daughter, offered her any gift she wanted only if she would dance at his birthday celebration. She asked, received, and gave to her mother, the head of John the Baptist.

Jesus preached that his listeners were to repent as well. After spending three years with them, healing them, teaching them, loving them, they still nailed him to a cross.

The priest bears the same responsibility as the Prophets who preached to a people unwilling to turn away from idolatry and back to the worship of the One True God; to a people who ignored the warnings of the Baptist and had no fear or interest of repentance and the coming of God; of the reality of the Messiah who has come and will come again to reunite all things in heaven and on earth as it was in the beginning. But that takes courage, dedication, conviction, and a determination to overcome the same closed minded pharisaical temperaments that Jesus faced.

Sure, it’s great hearing doctors of fabrication give us a fantastic, inventive diagnosis. We “feel” so good after our visits, equating his “good news” to his capabilities as a doctor.

After all who knows more about myself than me, and now my doctor has affirmed all that I had known.

Those doctors that tell me to take off the weight, to start exercising and give up the sedentary lifestyle or I’m going to pay the consequences are just like those priests who tell me to find Jesus and live as he preached, to care for the downtrodden, and to love others. Neither one has any real idea as to who I truly am.

Whether the doctor, the priest, or both, of whose vocation and ministry is caring for the physical and spiritual health of the body and soul, can only ask for our compliance. The doing – physical and/or spiritual – must come from the individual. Without first saying yes and then making the changes is like the old saying: you do the same thing over and over but expect different results. It won’t happen.

He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
(Matthew 18: 2- 3)

So when you next attend Badarak and hear your priest preach about you becoming more of the person God wants you to be, to give up a lifestyle that is doing you harm, say thank you to him for his love and care about your spiritual well being and salvation. Understand well that in the end, he well as your doctor are trying to save your life – one the physical and the other the eternal.

The 3 Ways to Bethlehem by Mesrop Vartabed Parsamyan


If we read the Bible attentively, we shall discover that one of the most important topics is the theme of travel. Have you noticed how often people are changing their place of residence in the Bible? In essence, it is almost impossible to find a Bible character who is truly into dialogue with God who remains at his place of residence. Sometimes, and very often, God, Himself exhorts, saying: “Leave your country and your house and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

The Bible is all about the journey of human life. If you open the New Testament Book of Acts, which depicts the beginning of the Christian Church, you will see that one of the first names of the early Church was “Way.” Paul considered himself a follower of the Way, according to the words of Jesus. “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6.

Indeed, the Gospel is a story of the Way. Jesus’ disciples spent their entire lives on the roads —in the beginning, following Jesus’ exhortation: “Take up your cross and follow me,” (Matthew 16:24) and then, following the Ascension of Jesus, they traveled all over the world to spread the good news of salvation.

Jesus himself was born on the way. Stepping back in time, as you are reading these lines, the Virgin Mary and Joseph are on their way to Bethlehem. The direct distance, as the crow flies, from Nazareth to Bethlehem is about 70 miles. Mary and Joseph are going to walk more than 90 miles, taking four days, before they reach their resting place at the stable. Finally, on Saturday evening, they will arrive at Bethlehem, where Jesus will be born.

The Christmas story is about the journey. In the narrative of the birth of Son of God, all characters are in movement. Mary and Joseph are traveling. Magi, the wise men from the East, spend over two years on the road and will reach Bethlehem next week. Shepherds tending their sheep on the mountains will hear the good news from the angels and will say. “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15

Our lives, dear friends, is a journey, especially our spiritual life. For some, it starts at the intersection of doubt and stops at the Dead End of unbelief, but, for others, the same suspicious crossing leads back to the cradle of faith, the manger of Bethlehem.

The old saying espouses that every journey begins with a first step. In faith, what is that first step? During the days of Christmas, as everybody journeys to Bethlehem. Now, is it legitimate to ask where our traveling along the way of faith leads us? What do we do with our faith as we journey? What is the way to Bethlehem? In other words, how to travel that Saturday evening so that we can be in Bethlehem.

Fortunately, the Bible provides us several different roads to reach Bethlehem.

The first way is described by the evangelists Matthew, by the image of the Magi, who as I stated previously, were called wise men. They were the scientists of their time and were studying the stars and planets as well as predicting the future. Fundamentally, they were considered the intellectually elite of the time. The story of the Magi indicates that some people may reach the Bethlehem manger by way of science, research, and knowledge. Indeed, you have probably heard people express that there exists a gap between religion and science. Some scientists even say that an intelligent man cannot be a man of faith. From experience and history, however, we know that numerous people have found the very way to Bethlehem as a result of science. Yes, one can be a scientist and a believer! Even today, many leading scientists are people of great faith. Those scholars who have eyes to see and follow the light of the Lord do reach Bethlehem, and science is not bothering them, but rather helping. The famous French naturalist, scientist, philosopher and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin arrived at the following conclusion: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The second way to Bethlehem is reported by Luke the Evangelist. He writes that Joseph and Mary embarked on a journey to Bethlehem to fulfill their civic duty, to pay taxes, and to be registered for a census proclaimed by Caesar Augustus. Indeed, the journey to faith passes also through our daily lives; by our being law-abiding citizens of United States of America, fulfilling our civic duty, taking care as parents of our children, loving and honoring our parents and family in our roles as children, honoring and expressing gratitude to our neighbor, loving each other, and just going outside and greeting people with a warm smile…

In this humble and simple way, God reveals himself to us, works miracles in our lives and leads us to the manger of Bethlehem — to the cradle of our faith. Mary and Joseph didn’t think that seven hundred years ago the prophet Micah prophesied that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem. No, it was just their civic duty to go to Bethlehem, and God worked a miracle in that way. He gave a Savior to the world, a bread for eternal life in the city of Bethlehem, which, you may know, means “house of bread.”

There is a yet another way to Bethlehem, the way of the shepherds, who went to Bethlehem receiving direct revelation. They received a vision from God, in which the angels announced the good news: “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” (Luke 2:11) Such revelations are not frequent happenings. In fact, they are given only to those pure in heart, as it says in the Beatitudes. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Shepherds came to deep faith through a supernatural, spiritual experience. This, then, is the excellent way to Bethlehem.

Of course, the Magi, the scientist, could cast doubt on the experience of the shepherds, who, in turn, could lessen the intellectual journey of the wise men. Neither the wise men nor the shepherds, however, had any reason to disapprove of the journey of the Holy Family, who were just fulfilling their civic duty: going to be registered and pay their taxes.

In the life of faith, everyone is traveling his way, but what is important is that at the end of the journey all of us find ourselves together in Bethlehem, not at the Dead End of unbelief.

During the season of Advent, we are all invited to travel our personal “road to Bethlehem.” When we arrive at our destination on Christmas Day, we will hopefully be closer to the Lord than when we began the journey.

I wish that this year will be an excellent year of a spiritual journey for all of us. Let us never fear to face the many challenges and difficulties of the road. Indeed, when we see the bright and shining face of Baby Jesus our spiritual weariness will disappear immediately, and, in spiritual joy, we’ll “glorify and praise God for all we have heard and seen.” (Luke 2:20)

Cherished Strangers: St. Jacob of Nisibis and Mar Awgen

Quite peculiar is the relationship between the Armenian people and the two saints that are commemorated this Saturday: St. Jacob (James) of Nisibis [Hagop Mdzpna Hayrabed], and Mar Awgen [Marugeh]. Most Armenians have probably never heard of either one, yet by all accounts, they are among the most beloved saints in the Armenian Church. They have the distinction of being among the five or six saints whose names are invoked every day in the liturgy of the Armenian Church. In fact, we call on them in the same breath as Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew, the apostles James, and St. Gregory our Illuminator. Five churches in our diocese and countless other Armenian churches and historic monasteries are dedicated to St. Jacob. Medieval Armenian authors claim that Jacob was our holy Illuminator’s first cousin, though earlier sources do not identify him as an ethnic Armenian at all. Still, whether they realize it or not, most men named Hagop have this great fourth-century Syriac-speaking bishop as their patron saint. And yet curiously, most of us today have forgotten why our ancestors so cherished St. Jacob. As for holy Marugeh, even the peerless 20th-century scholar and linguist Hrachya Adjarian, who authored a massive five-volume biographical encyclopedia of every person ever known to the Armenians, has no idea where his name comes from, and can only say that he was a companion of St. Jacob.

So who are these cherished strangers?

Jacob probably had little more than peach fuzz tickling his chin when he left behind his family and everything else and abandoned the hustle and bustle of his hometown for the barren, rocky caves outside the city limits. Nisibis in the late fourth century was one of the great cosmopolitan centers of the eastern world. Located about 75 miles southeast of Dikranagerd/Diyarbekir, just inside the modern Turkish border with Syria, Nisibis was a cosmopolitan university town that until the Genocide always had a visible Armenian minority. Already by the turn of the fourth century, the city was home to a thriving Christian community. Like the Armenians, the Christians of Nisibis traced their roots to the Apostle Thaddeus, but their language of prayer and worship was a dialect of Aramaic, Jesus’ mother tongue.

It may be hard for us today to envision a city where Christianity is something fresh and exciting; where the followers of Jesus were not gray-haired old timers but swanky twenty-something urbanites who flocked to the coffee houses and churches of the day to chat up theologians, priests, and composers of hymns and prayers. But it was in such an environment that Jacob fell in love with the Lord. So vivid and electrifying was his bond with Jesus that he decided to forego everything else—an education, his inheritance, and his whole future—so that he could devote himself entirely to knowing God even more intimately. History tells us that he even discarded his clothing when he settled in a crevice in the craggy mountains outside the city, trusting in the Lord to provide for his needs and subsisting on whatever food nature provided. All Jacob wanted was to revel uninterrupted in the joy of God’s presence and to be captivated by God’s loving grace.

From the seclusion of his dank crevice, Jacob’s holiness came to the attention of the Christians of Nisibis. Waves of people, young and old, trekked out into the wilderness to see this young man who had found blissful peace with the Lord in the strangest of circumstances. When the bishop of Nisibis died, a delegation went out to see Jacob and to beg him to be their next bishop. The Christian community of Nisibis was by now one of the largest, and most urbane churches in the entire East. Something like the CEO of a Fortune 500 company today, the person appointed to the Holy See of Nisibis immediately rose to the highest ranks of authority and prestige. But Jacob refused the offer. Again and again, they pleaded with him, notables from the community making the perilous climb up to Jacob’s rocky perch to try to persuade the holy man to come back to civilization to lead their church.

Why did the elders of the Church of Nisibis seek out Jacob—of all people—to be their bishop? He surely had no graduate degrees hanging from the walls of his cave. He had no hands-on experience administering non-profit or charitable organizations. Nor was Jacob known for being particularly eloquent as an orator or savvy in his people skills. Clearly, the Nisibenes saw something else in Jacob that attracted them. The skills he possessed were not those prized by Wall Street, but rather the godly qualities endorsed by Jesus: an honest awareness of his own limitations and faults, gentleness, a yearning for what is right, kindhearted compassion, sincerity, dedication to peace at all cost, and an eagerness to grow ever closer to God. Jacob’s integrity spoke for itself. The Church of Nisibis seemed to recognize in Jacob one who might not develop a compelling strategic plan and raise capital, but one who would uplift the people and steer them along God’s path, as he taught them, healed them, and cared for them in genuine love. Those priorities, they believed, would put their church right before God and bear fruit accordingly.

Eventually, when he could no longer turn away his pursuers, Jacob consented. He was consecrated a bishop around 309AD, right around the time that the Armenian King Trdat was converted to Christianity by the holy Illuminator. It is not unlikely that that startling development just up the road in Armenia emboldened Jacob in an era when followers of Jesus Christ were still subject to immediate arrest and execution.

It is at this point in the story that we meet Mar Awgen. The word Mar or Mor is the traditional title for saints in the Syriac language, a cross between “saint” and “master.” In Armenian Mar Awgen (pronounced ow gen or ow geen) becomes Maroogeh [Մարուգէ] because the Armenian language does not have the sound ow (as in “cow”), and over time our ancestors forgot that Mar is a title, not part of the saint’s name. In any case, blessed Jacob had hardly taken his place in the bishop’s throne of the Cathedral of Nisibis before he called Mar Awgen to assist him. It is as if from the outset Mar Awgen had been an integral piece in Jacob’s master plan for his new church.

Mar Awgen was an Egyptian whose first career was in business. He had worked as a diver for pearls in the Nile river delta in northern Egypt. Like Jacob, while still a young man, Awgen heard the irresistible Good News of Jesus Christ. The love of God so thrilled him that he could no longer allow anything to stand in its way. Leaving everything behind, he set out for the Egyptian desert, where he became a disciple of another great saint, the famous Pachomius. A man of great sanctity, St. Pachomius had also lived for many years as a hermit. However, he increasingly came to believe that to live an authentically Christian life one must not be isolated, but live together with others to serve them and to achieve true Holy Communion with God and with one another. The monks of Pachomius’ community lived together in a large compound centered on a great church. They split their energies between private prayer and study; common liturgy, meals and fellowship with one another; and helping those in need. The Monastery of St. Pachomius welcomed visitors and pilgrims who sought out the peace and wise, prayerful guidance of the monks. Other Pachomian monasteries welcomed the sick, the poor, and the homeless, becoming the world’s first hospitals. It was in such a dynamic monastic community that Awgen came under St. Pachomius’ fatherly mentorship.

We do not know exactly how Jacob came to know Awgen. Some think that Pachomius sent Awgen north to the region of Nisibis to establish new monasteries on the model of St. Pachomius’ communities of prayer and service. In any case, Jacob recruited Awgen to establish a monastery just north of the city. The fourth-century Monastery of Mar Awgen stands today, recently revived with a cadre of young monks who wish to live the Christian life exemplified by their blessed founder. In enlisting Mar Awgen and devoting the substantial time and resources necessary to build a monastery, Bishop Jacob forged the enduring symbiotic connection between monasticism and the church. That enduring bond is a characteristic and indispensable feature of Orthodox Christianity. In Armenia above all, the monasteries were historically the spiritual, theological, artistic, educational and evangelical engines of the church. There can be no question that Armenia’s budding monastic tradition was strongly influenced by the Monastery of Mar Awgen, and that alone may well explain his cherished and prominent place in the Armenian Church’s heart.

The success of Bishop Jacob’s ministry is confirmed in the remarkable miracles that were attributed to him and to Mar Awgen. In particular, he is said to have healed countless people from physical disabilities and even complete paralysis. His total trust in Jesus Christ, along with his heartfelt compassion for human suffering seemed to be distilled into such concrete and vivid feats of healing. His reputation as a man of God spread far and wide and translated into innumerable cases of Pagans and Jews turning their lives over to Jesus Christ. He is one of the signatories of the first Ecumenical Council at Nicea in 325AD. He also set out on an expedition to climb Mount Ararat, where he hoped to find traces of the great flood and of Noah’s Ark. Although he did not succeed in conquering the holy mountain, by miraculous means he retrieved a piece of the Ark and returned it to Nisibis. Today this small, rectangular piece of wood is enshrined in the treasury of Holy Etchmiadzin. Until an earthquake in 1840 wiped it away, an Armenian monastery dedicated to St. Jacob of Nisibis stood on the northeastern slope of Mt. Ararat near the village of Akori, just 20 miles west of the Arax River’s modern border between Armenian and Turkey.

The great saints Jacob of Nisibis and Mar Awgen are our witnesses to the mysterious thrill that comes from dedicating oneself unconditionally and wholeheartedly to the Lord, even when doing so requires us to break from what is considered normal, traditional, and popular. The holy men challenge us to rethink our established assumptions about what is needed to make the church successful and strong; and what should be the primary qualifications of those called to lead it. Our saints furthermore remind us of a time when every Armenian Church in the world was within walking distance of one or more monasteries filled with men and women of great sanctity, devotion, knowledge, and talent, who had consecrated themselves to undertake the work mandated by Jesus: to preach, to teach, and to heal. This should give us pause today, when the number of Armenian monasteries has plummeted from well over a thousand not too long ago, to two or three today. Finally, our blessed saints, cherished strangers, invite American-Armenians of faith to resist the overwhelming inertia of shallowness, self-absorption and strident background noise that mark our times, and to turn sharply to Jesus Christ, and to his sacred Body within the Armenian Church.

As our great Saint Gregory of Narek prays at the end of his magnificent hymn of praise to St. Jacob, “This blessed doer of the will of Christ’s Father—let us join him by a fraction of his faith so that we may arrive at your great glory.”

St. Gregory of Narek’s Encomium on Saint James of Nisibis: A Discourse of Praise is available in a beautiful English translation in Abraham Terian, The Festal Works of St. Gregory of Narek: Annotated Translation of the Odes, Litanies, and Encomia. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2016, pages 344-361.

The Lord’s Prayer

In an interview with an Italian TV network, Pope Francis of Rome said recently that the current language of the Lord’s prayer ‘is not a good translation.’… The problem, as he sees it, is that the prayer asks God to ‘lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. But, says Pope Francis, it’s not the Lord Who tempts. ‘It is not He that pushes me into temptation and then sees how I fall. A father does not do this. A father quickly helps those who are provoked into Satan’s temptation’.

A couple of points presents themselves immediately. The first is that it’s ‘not a good translation’. The problem here is that we can’t know, since we don’t have the original text. There are a number of indications that Christ, as a Galilean particularly (‘Galilee of the Gentiles’), knew Greek, but it seems unlikely that, in the context of the transmission of the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew, 6, 9-13; Luke 11, 1-4), He would have spoken in that language. At His trial before Pilate, however, He probably did do so, since both He and Pilate would have had Greek as a common language. Until recently, it was assumed that the Lord would have spoken in Aramaic, but there is now a growing body of opinion that Hebrew was more widely used than previously thought at the time of Christ. It’s therefore impossible to know exactly what the Lord said.

If the Gospel of Saint Matthew was, indeed, written by him, we should remember that, as a tax-collector he would have spoken four languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, Latin and Greek. He couldn’t have functioned otherwise. And you really don’t have to be much of a Greek scholar to realize at once that the Gospel of Saint Luke was written by someone who had had a good education in Greek. The point is that the translation as we have it was accepted by the Early Church, the members of which would have been much more confident than we can possibly be today that the Greek reflected what Christ actually said.

The second point is the acknowledgement of the role of Satan. The earliest text we have, the Greek, makes it absolutely clear that we hope to be delivered from ‘the evil one’. It’s generally understood that the word in Greek refers to a masculine person, although theoretically it could also mean a neuter entity, such as, for example, ‘spirit’. What it cannot mean is ‘evil’ in general, which would have been rendered by a feminine noun.

Having said this, however, the striking thing about the Pope’s statement is that it’s almost Protestant, in the sense that it seems to be more an individual position rather than a matter of Church dogma. Clearly he was speaking ‘off the cuff’, as it were, in a TV interview, but, as Pope, he has available to him two thousand years of Christian hermeneutics, so it really should have been easier to come up with a more authoritative answer.

One such generally recognized authority is Saint Maximos the Confessor who wrote a treatise on the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Regarding ‘Do not lead us into temptation’, Saint Maximos says that the words refer to those who have not completely forgiven others who have stumbled, to those who have not brought to God a heart free of grievance, who are not reconciled with their neighbour. Such people will fail to attain the grace of the blessings they’ve prayed for. In fact, they’ll be justly delivered into temptation and evil so that, once they’ve retracted their judgments of other people, they’ll learn to purify themselves of their own sins. ‘Temptation’ here, says Saint Maximos, means the law of sin, to which we were not subject when we were first created. The ‘evil one’ is Satan, who has persuaded us to transfer our soul’s desire from what is permitted to what is forbidden.

Another interpretation of ‘temptation’, he says, is our predilection for the passions of the flesh, with ‘evil’ being the way we implement these passions. God doesn’t free us from either of these if we haven’t previously forgiven our debtors. As long as we’re stubborn in this regard, He abandons us to the domination of evil, because we ourselves have deliberately chosen the shameful passions, of which the devil is the sower, in preference to our real nature, of which God is the creator. God allows us to make this choice.

Maximos goes on to say that if we really wish to be delivered from evil and not to enter into temptation, we should trust in God and forgive our debtors. ‘For if you do not forgive people their sins, your heavenly Father will not forgive you yours’ (Matthew, 6, 15). We should do this not only to receive forgiveness for our offences, but also to defeat the very law of sin itself.

Saint Maximos says that, according to Scripture, there are two kinds of temptation, one pleasurable, the other painful. The former is the result of deliberate choice, the latter is unlooked for. The first kind actually generates sin and this is the temptation which we pray we should not enter into (Matthew 26, 41). The second kind punishes sin with sufferings that we don’t expect. Saint James talks about this ‘temptation’, when he says ‘Regard it as a great joy whenever you find yourselves beset by many trials. Because the testing of your faith produces patient endurance; this endurance shapes the character; and the character thus shaped should be brought to fruition (cf. Jas. 1, 2-4; Rom. 5, 4). The evil one works his malice through both. In the first instance, he wants to distract us from divine love; in the second, he wants to make us curse God.

Since we know his machinations, we should pray for deliverance from the temptations due to our own volition and for endurance in the trials which God allows for the good of our soul.

Saint Maximos ends by saying: ‘May all of us who call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ be delivered from the present delights and future afflictions of the evil one by participating in the reality of the blessings held in store and already revealed to us in Christ our Lord Himself, Who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit, is praised by all creation. Amen’.
James W. Lillie
The source is taken from Orthodox Christian Network 


According to legend, Hripsime and her 35 female companions formed a group of devout Christian nuns who lived as hermits in a Roman monastery around 300 A.D. Hripsime was believed to be a descendant of the royal family of Rome. She was extremely beautiful and had attracted the attention of the Roman emperor Diocletian, who vowed to marry her.

To avoid his forceful advances and to maintain her chastity, Hripsime, her fellow nuns and their leader Gayane, fled Rome. After traveling to Alexandria, they finally arrived in the vicinity of Vagharshapat in Armenia, where it is said they found an old building of an abandoned wine press and settled there.

The Roman emperor continued his pursuit of Hripsime and the nuns. He asked the pagan Armenian King Drtad to help return them to Rome. However, when King Drtad’s soldiers discovered where the nuns were hiding and King Drtad saw the beautiful Hripsime, he too fell in love with her and commanded her to marry him. When Hripsime was brought before the King, she refused to renounce her Christian faith and accept the King’s marriage proposal. She chose the love of Christ over the title of queen with all of its pagan trappings. The King then pressured Gayane, the leader of the sisterhood, to convince Hripsime to marry him. However, instead of advising Hripsime to submit to the King’s demands, Gayane told her to resist and stand firm in her faith. Hripsime and Gayane then escaped from the palace and returned to the winery. Because of her refusal, the King’s forces inflicted fiendish tortures upon Hripsime, Gayane and the other sisters. According to various accounts, the soldiers cut out their tongues, pierced their eyes, chopped up their bodies and then burned them.

The martyrdom of these women took place in the last year of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s imprisonment in the pit. Upon his delivery from the pit, in the early 4th century St. Gregory built chapels over the relics of the nuns. Later, during the time of St. Sahag Bartev, these chapels were rebuilt, and during the pontificate of Catholicos Gomidas in the 7th century, two beautiful cathedrals were erected; one of these, the Cathedral of St. Hripsime, remains a monument of Armenian architecture.

St. Hripsime, along with her companions in martyrdom, are venerated as the first martyrs in the history of Armenian Christianity. In 1979, His Holiness Vasken I, the Catholicos of All Armenians, reported joyously to His Holiness Khoren I, the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, that as a result of recent archaeological excavations, firmly sealed graves thought to be those of Hripsime and her companions had been found. His Holiness Vasken I wrote: “It is with deep emotion that we wish to inform you that the ancient tomb discovered during the past year under the walls of the St. Hripsime monastery has disclosed graves of interred bodies without heads. It is highly probable that those remains are those of some of the maidens.” Because of the manner in which these bodies had been severed, the direction in which they were buried and the absence of pagan-like burial practices, the archaeologists were able to confirm the authenticity of Hripsime and her followers’ remains.

Feast of Pentecost

The Feast of Pentecost is the commemoration of the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the fiftieth day following the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The Armenian Church celebrates this feast 50 days following Easter Sunday.

The Holy Spirit is one of the three persons in the Holy Trinity coexisting with, and equal to, the Holy Father and the Holy Son. During His earthly life and ministry Christ spoke to the Apostles about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Recording the words of Christ, St. John writes, “The Comforter, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything and make you remember all that I have told you.” (John 14:26).

The descent of the Holy Spirit is described in the Acts of the Apostles: “When the day of the Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place.  Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.  (Acts 2:1-4).

In the book of Acts, St. Luke further records the names of various countries, and that men from those countries were surprised, when each of them heard his native language. Among the mentioned places are Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia (Acts 2:9). Two of the saints of the Universal Church, both of Roman origin, Tertullian and Augustine, have written that the word “Armenia” should possibly be substituted instead of “Judea”, as it is more logical that Armenia would be mentioned among those as a “foreign” country, as the apostles were living in Judea.  Moreover, with regards to geographical position, Armenia was situated between Mesopotamia and Cappadocia. Therefore, the people living in Armenia may have been among the first witnesses of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Among the Armenian Church songs and hymns, two are dedicated to the Feast of Pentecost: “The Sent Dove” (referring to the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove that descended upon Christ during His Baptism) and “Indivisible Trinity”. These are sung during the Morning Service on the feast day. Also, during the Evening Service, the “Andastan” rite of the blessing of the four corners of the world is conducted. It is during this service that a prayer written by 12th century Armenian Church father Nerses of Lambron, is read.

In the Christian Church the teaching of divine grace is related to the Holy Spirit.  According to that instruction, each virtue is a divine grace granted to the faithful by the Holy Spirit. Thus, ascribing any virtue to one’s own self, and not to God, is a grave sin and can be manifested in another, which is pride. Hence, commemoration of Pentecost is also an appeal to the faithful to avoid pride and instead, use the divine graces in life for righteous purposes and moral goals.

One of the four season fasting periods defined by the Armenian Apostolic Church is the fasting period preceding the beginning of summer. This fasting period, as well as the other ones preceding the other seasons of the year, is not preparation for any feast, and according to the tradition is called Elijah’s fast, as coincides the feast of commemoration the Prophet Elijah the next Sunday.

This fasting period preceding the beginning of summer starts the day following the feast of Pentecost (the flesh day preceding the fast is the Sunday, when the feast of Pentecost is celebrated). With the change of the Easter Feast day the beginning of the fasting period may be during the period May 11-June 14. Like the other fasting periods preceding the other seasons of the year, this one also lasts five days – from Monday till Friday.


Lent is intended to commemorate the forty days of fasting of Our Lord (Matt. 4:2). In our Church, as well as in all Eastern Churches, the great fast of Lent begins with the Monday following the Sunday of “Poun Parekentan”, and not on Ash Wednesday, as is the practice in the Roman Catholic Church.

Lent is a period of forty days counting from the above-mentioned Monday to the evening of the Friday before Palm Sunday. The whole Lenten period, including the Holy Week, is intended to be one of self discipline. In this period, particularly, we should consider our shortcomings, and make efforts to rectify them. It is a time set aside by the Church for self-examination and self-appraisal, to strengthen our character and to renew our purpose in life. None of us is so perfect that no room is left for further moral and spiritual improvement. We all have faults, weaknesses and sins, and Lent is the most appropriate time in which to make penance and to correct them. To achieve this goal, examination of conscience is the first necessary step, followed by a resolution to be more humble, and more gentle, and to exercise self control over our appetites, which is the main principle behind the practice of Lent.

The practice of abstinence is stricter in the Eastern Churches than in the Western. The Western abstinence consists simply in refraining from the use of meat. In the Eastern Churches it consists in abstaining from all kinds of flesh meat, including fish, and all other animals foods, i.e., dairy products and eggs. We know that today not everyone can observe Lent in its strictest form, but everyone can and should observe at least some part of the Lenten obligation according to his individual requirements. We can abstain from certain pleasures, amusements, shows, festive occasions, etc. We can at least devote more time to private prayer, church attendance, and the reading of edifying good books.

In the Armenian Church all Sundays of Lent have meaningful names, which remind us of various Christian basic truths to meditate upon during that Sunday and the whole week following.

The Sunday preceding the first day of Lent is called in Armenian “Poun Parekentan”. “Parekentan” is an Armenian word used for all Sundays preceding a week of abstinence and means “good or happy living”. “Poun Parekentan” is the ArmenianCarnival Day. People who are intending to observe Lent are permitted to give themselves, on this day, to all kinds of feasting and merry making.
According to the Armenian Church calendar this Sunday of “Poun Parekentan” is dedicated to the commemoration of the happy, healthy and care-free life which our first parents, Adam and Eve, enjoyed in the earthly Paradise. This commemoration reminds us of the Christian teaching that man was originally created in a happy state of life, and is destined to eternal and endless happiness by his Creator. The ugly thing which comes between man and his happiness is

sin, which is disobedience to God’s laws, and which is the greatest evil on earth. Sin or disobedience to God’s commandments did deprive our first parents, according to the Bible, of their natural happiness. Sin is the only thing which deprives us from our supernatural or spiritual happiness which we shall enjoy in heavenly Paradise.

The second Sunday of Lent is called The Sunday of Expulsion and commemorates the exclusion or banishment of Adam and Eve from Paradise as a result of their sin of disobedience. It reminds us of the sad consequences of sin. (Read Gen. 3: 1-24).The remaining Sundays of Lent are named after the Parable of the main Lesson of the day, read during the Divine Liturgy.

The lesson of the third Sunday contains the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32), and therefore is called “

The Sunday of Prodigal Son”. It teaches us how to regain the lost paradise.

The fourth Sunday is known asThe Steward’s Sunday (Luke 16: 1- 13). It instructs us to use our intelligence to gain and preserve our spiritual life, to use our wealth to relieve the poor and needy, and to help our churches, so that one day we may be received “into the everlasting dwellings”.
The fifth Sunday is called The Sunday of the Judge (Luke 18: 1-8). It reminds us of the importance of prayer in gaining and keeping our eternal happiness.
The last Sunday is called The Sunday of Advent (Mark, Chapter 13). It reminds us of the last happenings of human history in this world:
a) The end of present order of the world;
b) The second coming of Christ;
c) The resurrection of the dead;
d) The Last Judgment;
and e) The Inauguration of a new order in the world, “A new earth and a new heaven”.

In accordance with the penitential spirit of the Lenten Season, the altars of the Church are closed and Divine Liturgy is said behind closed curtain, in a low voice and in penitential tunes. Besides the regular daily morning service, the Armenian Church has another morning service called “Arevakal” which is generally sung during the Lenten season. This service has beautiful prayers and the hymns which are mostly in supplicative tunes.

In keeping with the spirit of Lent the faithful are expected to abstain from worldly amusements, such as shows and parties. They should devote more time to churchgoing, prayer, penance and other religious exercises.

Unction of the Sick

The Orthodox and Catholic Churches acknowledge the unction of the sick as the seventh sacrament. In the Orthodox Church this sacrament is officiated upon people who are very ill and rely on God’s mercy and belief that the Holy Oil will quicken the recovery or in the case of inevitable death, the oil will alleviate any death related sufferings. It was established according to the message of the Apostle who founded it.  “Are any among you sick?  They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord”. (James 5:14).  According to the Church fathers, the aim is to grant perfect health through penance.  The service does not have any association with the preparation for death or “last anointment”.  It is strictly to be used as a sacrament for healing, and can be repeated.
From the 4th to the 15th centuries, the Armenian Church administered the sacrament of the Unction of the Sick.  This is recorded in the Church Canons and commentary works.  However, beginning in the 15th century, the Armenian Church did not refuse, but abstained from conducting the sacrament in order to resist the influence of the Catholic Church.  Over time, it was left out of our liturgical life.
Today, the Unction of the Sick, is not regularly practiced, but is still recognized as a Sacrament of the Church.  In the administration of the Sacrament, the clergyman prays and reads the Gospel of healing, blesses the individual, then offers communion.  Thus, both the body and the soul of the individual find peace and healing.