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Bishop Vicken: a call to action
in a suffering world
Washington, February 5, 2007 Bishop Vicken Aykazian, legate and ecumenical officer of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) and president-elect of the National Council of Churches (NCC), spoke to a crowd of 700 people at the National Cathedral at the opening service of the National Workshop on Christian Unity on January 29.
Bishop Aykazian's message was built upon the theme for this year's National Workshop on Christian Unity: "Ephphatha" (Be opened!).
The full text of his remarks follows.
A Call to Action in a Suffering World
Thank you, your grace, for that kind introduction. I'm very touched and blessed to have been given such an opportunity to speak to you in this marvelous cathedral. And thank you, participants of this workshop, for your warm welcome. It is good to see so many familiar faces and an honor to be among so many friends - old and new. I can think of no other place I would rather be than here in Washington with you, my brothers and sisters of the National Workshop on Christian Unity. We meet at a time when the unity of the universal church is vital to our common ministry. In spite of the fact that we live in a time of unprecedented information, prosperity, and freedom, we are faced everyday with the reality of incredible tragedy, divisiveness, and suffering.
How can we explain and try to understand this paradox? How is it possible that in this Age of Information, which has transformed the world into a global village, we have become immunized to the great suffering around us?
Why are the blessings of human dignity confined mostly to the well-to-do?
Are we quick to forget that love and forgiveness are rooted in the recognition of the rights and dignity of others?
The prosperity and freedom that we enjoy today have come at a heavy price.
The last century was the most violent in history. The extent of man's inhumanity to man has left a legacy that we have yet to fully confront.
Genocide, poverty, and curable diseases are moral, ethical, political, economic, and spiritual challenges we face today. Time and again, in societies with diverse cultural and religious heritages, individuals and populations have been persecuted and have suffered often at the hands of their own government. Many have been left without a voice in a world where the loud and powerful often get the most attention.
The massacre of 1.5 million Armenians during the First World War and its denial opened the door to a century of senseless bloodshed: the Holocaust of the Second World War, the killing fields of Cambodia, the forced famines in the Soviet Union and China, the slaughterhouse of Rwanda, and the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia. Today, the words "never again" must ring hollow to those suffering the same cruel fate in Darfur. Similarly, in an age of technology and innovation, extreme poverty and inequality remain endemic in many parts of the world. While we have more billionaires on earth than at any other time in history, more than one billion people lead a subsistence life. While we enjoy the benefits of medical advances here, HIV/AIDS has decimated generations of people on the African continent. In our own backyard, more than 45 million Americans remain without health insurance and are at the mercy of a system that continues to punish the uninsured.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we must give voice to the needs and suffering of those who remain voiceless in our world. Our Lord and Savior showed us the way. When all others feared a man with leprosy, He touched and healed the man's disease because he knew that the leper's faith was greater than his despair over the sickness. He broke bread with tax collectors and others considered sinners to teach us not to judge because we are all sinners in the eyes of God. He forgave those who persecuted him in order to teach us that before we can beseech God's forgiveness, we must first learn to forgive one another.
In the Gospel of Matthew Chapter 22, verses 36 through 40, He was clear in his instructions. When asked: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law? Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." This is the foundation of our ministry, whether we were ordained many years ago, or we are studying to be ordained in the near future, like some of you here today.
I stand before you, my brothers and sisters, as a humble servant of the Armenian Apostolic Church - a church that is one of many in the great Orthodox tradition that dates to the earliest Christians. Most Americans from the Orthodox Christian tradition immigrated to this country in more recent times. They came seeking the same opportunities and freedoms that earlier Protestant immigrants sought during our country's founding years.
My ancestors received the Good News of our Lord through the teachings of Saint Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew. Later, they became the first nation to adopt Christianity as the official religion in 301 A.D. They paid a very heavy price for that conversion throughout the years through invasions, occupations, forced re-conversions, massacres, and martyrdom. However, faith in our Lord sustained us, especially during the darkest days of the Genocide.
Even though our ecclesiastical traditions vary, the bonds that unite us are far stronger than any differences that divide us. The teachings of the Sermon on the Mount are as powerful and meaningful whether you read them in Armenian or English. The cross serves to remind us of our Lord's obedience and unconditional love - the foundations of His ministry during his time on Earth. Regrettably, we have too many distractions in our information-overloaded world that draw us away from these basic teachings.
Political expediency and commercial marketing have reduced the meaning and majesty of our Lord's love to powerless sentimentality. However, only through His Love and Grace can we speak with a unified voice, which can serve as a clarion call in our troubled world. When we place love and hope above greed and fear we can give voice to the voiceless. Only then will we realize that true power comes from the humility of unconditional love.
The Sermon does not say "blessed are the peaceful." No. It says, "Blessed are the peacemakers." Therefore, our faith is not passive, but a call to action in a suffering world. That is who we are and where we stand. This is our message here and to the whole world.
How do we respond to a world in need of voices that will be heard? What is our response to the forces of envy, greed, and terror?
We begin by offering hope through the majesty and mystery of faith.
We continue by uniting behind the meaning of the cross to serve our Lord and carry on His ministry.
We persevere by proclaiming that expressions of faith are meaningless if they are not spoken with the recognition of the rights and dignity of others.
We succeed by responding to a world in need of a clear voice by first speaking with humility and love in order to counter the hatred and suspicion that has poisoned much of our discourse today.
What lurks behind the apparent evils of our world, whether it is disease, poverty, or Genocide, is something much worse and more devastatingly powerful. The greatest force opposing improvement, the greatest force that shackles men in their destitution and failing conditions, the greatest force that chooses Sparta over Calvary is the evil of despair. This is our adversary and our plague.
My hope is that we resolve to give voice to the voiceless and work together to overcome this plague in our world. My prayer is that we speak with a unified voice through the power of hope and the strength of His Love. Let us dedicate ourselves to this purpose and fulfill our duty with humility and love.
Thank you and God bless you all.
E-mail photos available on request. Photos also viewable in the News and Events section of the Eastern Diocese's website,www.armenianchurch.net.
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