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Their Suffering a Century Ago Strengthens Us Today

A typical Martyrs Day is an occasion of intense activity in the Armenian community, with large public gatherings and densely packed sacred observances. But the 2020 commemoration saw Armenians across the world prohibited from coming together physically, due to restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Instead, during the week culminating in April 24, Armenians united in symbolic ways, communicating over various media platforms, and designating specific hours of the day for acting in unison.

In the days prior to April 24, His Holiness Karekin II, the Catholicos of All Armenians, had encouraged Armenian faithful across the world to observe the occasion in their homes: by dimming the lights and reciting prayers by candle light on the evening of April 23, and by observing a minute of silence at noon on April 24. On both occasions, local churches were instructed to toll their bells for three minutes in memory of the Genocide Saints.

Parishioners across the Eastern Diocese honored the Catholicos’ appeal. Their churches also held special closed-door prayer services, and where possible broadcast these over the Internet to the faithful.

“Our imprisonment is for Christ”

At St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral in New York City, the Feast of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide was marked with a special Divine Liturgy celebrated by cathedral vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan, which included the “Prayer for the Intercession of the Genocide Saints” and the ceremonial minute of silence in their memory.

Presiding over the badarakand offering a special homily was Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan. In a sermon beginning with the words, “Our imprisonment is for Christ,” in an echo of St. Paul, Bishop Daniel spoke on the inner meaning of human suffering, both in the torments of the Armenian Genocide Martyrs in 1915, and in the midst of the 2020 worldwide pandemic crisis.

He recalled the 2015 ceremony canonizing the Genocide Martyrs as the “most momentous day in the modern history of the Armenian Church: a day of unity among all its faithful.”

When the Armenian Church acknowledges the martyrs as saints, he said, “We children of the church proclaim that the blood of the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide is the blood of Jesus Christ that he shed on the cross.” In that sense, the shared suffering of the Armenian people represents “a unique pathway to God, a unique means of growing in the faith, a unique perspective on eternal life.”

Bishop Daniel looked back on the sufferings of earlier Christian exemplars—from St. Paul languishing in a Roman prison cell, to the Genocide Martyrs themselves—and wondered whether the current crisis of disease, fear, and isolation is itself a way to see worldly events as the saints would see them: “To take what the world sees as disaster and calamity…and transform all of that, through the eyes of faith—through Christ himself—into Light and Life.”

The Bishop went on: “Today, on the 105th anniversary of the Genocide, we too are living in darkness, and fear, and calamity, when much of what we have, much of what we have worked for, has been taken away from us. When we are ‘imprisoned’ in our homes, and every one of us has the choice to see that calamity through worldly eyes…or as glimmers of the Light of God.”

To choose to do so, the Primate said, is to join with the Genocide Saints and affirm that all of our sufferings are for Christ. “We can join them and say: This Genocide is for Christ. We can join them and say: This pandemic is for Christ. We can join them and say: All our lives are for Christ.”

Click on the following links to watch Bishop Daniel’s sermon in English and in Armenian.

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