In the Armenian Church, memorial days of one kind or another are quite common: we observe merelots after the major feast days; we remember our departed loved ones on the karasoonk of their passing, and thereafter through annual hokehankisd services.
Here in America, Memorial Day—inaugurated in the wake of the Civil War, and later extended to honor all who have fallen in the defense of our country—gives us yet another opportunity to reflect, with gratitude and admiration, on the departed souls who have shaped our lives.
This year, we Armenians have an additional responsibility to honor the departed, righteous defenders of Artsakh and Armenia. In the spirit of Memorial Day, reflect on this Bible verse from the book of Proverbs, which has held great meaning for our people through the ages:
“The memory of the righteous is a blessing, but the name of the wicked will rot.” (Prv 10:7)
Leave aside for a moment the second part of the verse, about “the name of the wicked,” and consider the first clause: “The memory of the righteous is a blessing.” Surely that is what we all desire at the end of our lives: to be remembered, to be praised. Our material success, even our worldly accomplishments and talents, do not seem all that important from the perspective of the end of life. Our bodies must, by their very nature, decay and turn to dust: we have no control over that.
But to leave memories after us—and more importantly, to leave good, praiseworthy memories, memories that can be seen as blessings—this is one thing we do have some control over. And we should take advantage of that fact during our lifetimes.
The Bible’s “how-to” advice on the matter is simple: Lead a righteous life. That answer, though, merely directs us to another question, namely, “What constitutes the righteous life?”—and that is a subject for a dissertation, not a blog post. However, the simplest answer to the question is also the most profound: living a righteous life means to live in harmony with God.
It’s not hard to find examples of such people, who lived in harmony with God. We might begin with the great figures of the Bible, and the sainted men and women who built the church, and preserved it in our homeland for centuries—often at the cost of their lives. We may move on to the exemplary people from prior generations, who inspired us as children, or impressed us in some deep way. And there are such people living among us today, men and women who astonish us with their clarity of conviction, their inner peace, their ability to bear up under adversity.
Accomplishing this in our lives is not a simple task. There is no twelve-step program for achieving harmony with God. It requires that dramatic change of heart—that turn towards God—which our Lord Jesus Christ called “repentance.” We must pray for the grace, and summon the courage, to move in this direction; and our memory of the exemplary figures in our lives can help to carry us forward.
Perhaps this is why the proverb stresses “the memory of the righteous.” Memory itself is a gift from God. It is a uniquely human faculty: the lower animals are incapable of anything like the human experience of memory. And memory is powerfully tied to life.
In the proverb, the contrast with the wicked is instructive. All that the wicked person leaves behind—all he or she can leave behind, really—is a name. And that name is dead: as dead as stone. But the righteous person leaves behind a memory, and that memory requires a living mind, plus the will of a living person, to preserve it.
The difference between a memory and a name—the difference between the righteous and the wicked—is therefore analogous to the difference between life and death. As a kind of living thing, the memory can be conveyed from person to person. It can be transported across generations. It becomes renewed each time someone grasps it for the first time.
Think about that, this Memorial Day. If you find yourself in a cemetery—and even if you don’t—summon up those memories of the righteous souls in your life, and give someone else the blessing of encountering that soul through your recollection.
And never forget that the life they achieve through memory is but a shadow of the genuine new life awaiting all of our Lord’s true servants, in God’s kingdom.
By Christopher H. Zakian