Lent in the Armenian Church Tradition
A new Lent season has started. In the western world, it starts with Ash Wednesday, but in the Armenian tradition Lent starts the Monday before Ash Wednesday and ends on the Friday evening before Palm Sunday. The date of Easter varies and it falls on the Sunday following the full moon that follows the Northern spring equinox (March 21).
Over the centuries the Armenian Church has developed a beautiful tradition of giving meaningful names to all the Sundays of the Lent season, to remind us of basic Christian truths to meditate upon during each following week. I decided to follow this lectionary during this Lent season. Each week, we will focus on an important aspect of our Christian faith and life. In this letter I will cover the first two topics.
The Sunday that precedes the first day of Lent is called “Poun Parekentan”. “Parekentan” means “good or happy living”. This day is dedicated to the commemoration of the happy, healthy and care-free life Adam and Eve enjoyed.
Good Creation and its message: Enjoy it Responsibly and Praise Him (Genesis 1:26-31a)
As we read in the Scripture, God created heaven and earth and all the other creatures. Whatever God created, “He saw that it was good.” He created mankind in His image and made them responsible over creation. He gave them the plants and their fruits as food. We understand that they had a close relationship with their creator God. God not only cares for his creatures, but gives mankind responsibility over the good creation.
Thinking about God’s creation causes David to sing, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” He is in awe over God’s creation and invites people to revere God, to sing with joy and praise him with musical instruments (Psalm 33: 1-9). I wonder how often we join David in praising God for his creation and His greatness not only with our mouth, but wholeheartedly!
God offered Adam and Eve this creation to enjoy, to meet their needs, and to work for their benefit and for the benefit of the other creatures. We need to be thankful to God for this also. Many in the past thought that abstaining from enjoying good things God has created pleases God. Some even today have a similar approach. Paul reminds Timothy that “everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” God wants us to enjoy His good creation, but he wants us to enjoy it responsibly.
We need to remember that He gave the privilege of eating from every tree except one. And this created a responsibility: to enjoy the abundance that is available and be careful about what is forbidden.
Mankind was put in charge of the garden, to “subdue it, rule over” it. On one hand, they were given authority over the other creatures and on the other hand they were given the responsibility of cultivating and taking care of it. Focusing too much on the authority we were given causes us to forget our responsibility, that it is not there only for our benefit, but for the benefit of all other creatures.
The first Sunday’s theme helps us to refocus on our creator God, good creation and our responsible enjoyment of it, having in mind it is not offered to us only, but to all people around the world, not to us humans only, and not for our generation only.
Sunday of Expulsion – Fall of Humanity (Genesis 3:1-9)
When God introduced Eve to Adam for the first time he said “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh…” Later, Adam blames her for his disobedience and addresses her as “The woman you put here with me.” In Christian Theology, this change goes along with the “Fall”. Through the fall, humanity lost much of what it had been as created by God.
Chapter 3 starts with introducing the serpent, who claims to know God better that the woman does, for it pretends to know God’s mind! The serpent says disobedience will bring blessings: she will be godlike, knowing good and evil. Her eyes will be opened. The serpent places before her the possibility of being more than she is and more than God intended her to be.
Deification is a fantasy difficult to repress and a temptation hard to reject. Instead of doing God’s will, she did her own. When God’s will becomes irrelevant, and autonomy replaces submission and obedience, the finite person attempted to rise above the limitations imposed by the creator. She wanted to be wise, like God. And this is covetousness, which means “I need something I do not now have, in order to be happy”.
Instead of knowing good and evil, the couple now knows that they are naked. This is hardly the knowledge for which they bargained. What was formerly understood to be a sign of healthy relationship between the man and woman (Gen. 2:25) has now become something unpleasant and filed with shame. The consequences of disobedience are shame (nakedness) and loss of innocence (awareness of their innocence). Instead of going back to God, guilt leads them to self-protection and covering themselves. There is no desire to fellowship with God. Instead, they hide from God.
God, the good shepherd, asks the tender question, “Where are you?” instead of a tough question, “Why are you hiding?” God gives the man an opportunity to acknowledge his disobedience. Adam becomes defensive instead, and blames his spouse, and God, who gave him the spouse. The woman defends herself by saying that she was deceived. Each one tries to rationalize, but everyone is responsible for his/her disobedience and as a result all the trespassers come under judgment. Their disobedience had dramatic consequences for them and for humanity. But there in Chapter 3, God gives the first good news that God protects and reconciles.
Humanity is created to have a relationship with God and to have healthy and helpful relationships with other creatures. Fallen humanity denies his/her dependence on God and rejects the need for our fellow creatures. Humanity denies the need for God’s grace and says no to grateful service to God. Sin is not only a violation of the moral code, but “disruption of our relationship with God”. This separation is expressed in different forms, such as pride, self-rejection, passivity, domination, self-destruction, indifference to God’s plan for humanity, or limitless confidence in ourselves in trying to bring good for humanity without God. Talking about fallen humanity in universal form does not reduce our personal responsibility and our accountability.
Thanks be to God that the human story does not end with Genesis Chapters 3-4. Even in Chapter 3, God gives the promise of redemption. There is hope for fallen humanity, for freedom from the bondage of sin and for partnership with God and others. A fresh start is available through God’s grace and in the person of Jesus Christ.
-Rev. Hendrik Shanazarian
Minister to the Union