As beams of sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows of New York City’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, Bishop Daniel Findikyan delivered a spiritually-uplifting Easter Sunday sermon, on the immeasurable significance of Christ’s resurrection.
“Today is the crown of Great Lent, and the pinnacle of Holy Week,” he began. “Jesus died a gruesome death on the cross; but then on the third day, he rose to a new life which will never end.”
The Primate of the Eastern Diocese continued his message by emphasizing that God has power over all things, including death. “The resurrection of Christ overturned everything on that third day, when Jesus appeared as living. What was dead became alive.”
The Easter Sunday service marked two of the Armenian Church’s days of note: the culmination of Holy Week, the sacred commemoration of the events leading to the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, as well as the beginning of Eastertide, the 50-day period known as heenoonk in Armenian that lasts from Easter to Pentecost.
Against the backdrop of the trials and tribulations that challenge us in the world, Christ’s love and promise of an eternal life devoid of pain and sorrow spoke to the hearts of the faithful. Those in attendance—whether physically present at the cathedral or present virtually through the Internet—were united as one Christian family to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
With New Yorkers still living under strict regulations for public gatherings, worshipers in the cathedral observed the now familiar norms of social-distancing, mask-wearing, and limitations on the number of people present in the sanctuary.
Under these conditions, many people opted to watch the cathedral service from home. This year marked the 5th anniversary of the cathedral’s Easter service broadcast, which used multiple camera angles to provide home viewers with an intimate and inclusive experience of the badarak. In the comments section of the Diocese’s video platforms, typed sentiments of joy, prayers and blessings underscored the fact that, despite the many hardships mankind faces in the world today, the Easter message provides shelter, hope, and light in our lives.
On the Doorstep of Eternal Life
Assisting Bishop Daniel throughout the Easter badarak was Cathedral Vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan, as well as Fr. Bedros Kadehjian and a number of altar servers. The angelic voices of the St. Vartan Cathedral Choir, such an integral and moving element of the Divine Liturgy service, ranged in tone from somber to exalted. Maestro Khoren Mekanejian conducted the choir, with accompaniment by organist Florence Avakian.
As Bishop Daniel prayed over the chalice and raised the eucharist to the heavens, harmonious strains of the choir soloist and organ accompaniment deepened the beauty and sanctity of the blessing. As the faithful assembled into a single, socially-distanced line to receive Holy Communion, many bowed their heads in gratitude to be present at the cathedral on Easter Sunday. It was a far cry from the badarak of last year, in the very depths of the pandemic lockdown, when Bishop Daniel celebrated the liturgy before a sanctuary entirely devoid of worshipers.
With the experiences of 2020 in the background, on Easter Sunday 2021 one could more palpably feel the sacrifice that Christ made for man’s salvation. The message of the empty tomb and Christ’s resurrection, with its promise of being reunited with departed loved ones, is especially comforting after the losses so many suffered during the past year. It was a powerful theme struck by Bishop Daniel in his sermon. “When we suffer through the death of loved ones, Jesus’ resurrection reminds us that that death is not forever,” he said. “When the pious women went to the tomb of Jesus to pay their respects, they were filled with the sadness and grief that we feel whenever we lose a loved one to death.”
But he continued: “Great joy is what they felt when they heard the words of the angel declare, ‘Jesus is not here. He has risen from the dead.’”
Bishop Daniel also cited timely examples of current situations that appear catastrophic and tragic, yet can draw us closer to the power of the resurrection and are a means of accessing the eternal life of God.
“The pandemic that kills millions of people and causes pain and grief; the war in Artsakh that takes the lives of thousands of young Armenian boys who shed their blood on our holy land; the world that says you have lost everything: Through the light of the resurrection, the Son of God says to us, ‘You Armenians, through faith, may be closer to God than anyone recognizes. You may have made the ultimate sacrifice that the Son of God made.’ As a result, with the sadness and grief, we may already be on the doorstep of eternal life.”
New World, New Hope
Bishop Daniel concluded his sermon by pointing out that, through the resurrection of Jesus, the “rules” changed, and we live in a new world with a new hope. “They are not the rules of geopolitics, Washington, the United Nations or Wall Street,” he explained; they are the rules of God. “The Son of God is alive and powerful among us in this world, and he is the one true God who rules.”
Once again this year, the audience for St. Vartan Cathedral’s Easter Sunday liturgy included thousands of viewers from across the Diocese and around the world, viewing the broadcast over the Internet. The small, dedicated production team included Yervant Keshishian, who directed the program, and host and narrator Christopher Zakian. Albin Lohr-Jones, whose exceptional photography has visually documented previous Eastern Diocese events and services, also photographed the Easter Sunday service.
A reception on the cathedral’s outdoor plaza, organized by the St. Vartan Cathedral Council, concluded the day’s sacred observance. After enduring a year of dark developments in America, Armenia, and world, emerging from the cathedral sanctuary on Easter Sunday, to be greeted by a beautiful April day in New York, one could feel more powerfully Christ’s inspirational promise recorded in the gospel of St. John: “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness” (Jn 8:12).
By Stephan S. Nigohosian
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