Easter messages from Armenian American religious leaders

Published: Monday April 09, 2012

An 'Easter tree' at Cafesjian Center in Yerevan featured 'eggs' by teenage artists. Photo from 2011 video from CCA.am

The following commentaries were submitted to the Armenian Reporter by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian, Archbishop Oshagan Choloyan and Rev. Dr. Vahan Tootikian.

While it was still dark

Jesus said to her, "...Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord!"  And she told them that he had said these things to her. (St. John 20:17-18)

IT WAS STILL DARK, EARLY IN THE MORNING of the first day of the week: a Sunday, close to 2,000 years ago. To most of the world, the sun would rise on a day no different from any other. Only a handful of people would later realize that something of importance had occurred. But those few people understood that overnight, the world had changed.

Three pious women rose early to bear spices and burial ointments to the grave of their departed teacher and friend. But approaching the tomb, they sensed that something was wrong. The grave was open: its sealing-stone pushed away. And inside the tomb they found, not a dead body, but a mysterious figure-an angel-who beckoned them to draw closer. Here is how St. Matthew tells the story:

The angel said to the women: "Do not be afraid.  For I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here.  He has risen-just as he said!  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He is risen from the dead...'" (Mt 28:5-7).

Some 2,000 years later, we use the very same words to remember the miracle of that Sunday morning: Krisdos haryav ee merelotz! Christ is risen from the dead!  And as Christians we celebrate Easter to mark the most important, most joyous, most glorious day in all of human history.

But think again of what it must have been like on that first Easter Sunday. In the darkness before dawn, when the pious oil-bearing women set off on their journey to our Lord's tomb, things must have looked very different.

Two nights earlier, the women had watched in horror as Jesus endured the torments of crucifixion. They had stood in silent witness, as his lifeless body was brought down from the cross, wrapped in a burial shroud, and placed in a tomb. All their hopes and dreams had come to ruin. Their Master was dead.  His mission was over. The salvation of mankind had failed. The women approached the tomb that morning, fully expecting to find Jesus buried within.

But-he was not there.

Instead, the women discovered that their greatest hope had come to pass: "Christ is risen from the dead!"-just as he had promised.

Imagine the overwhelming joy, the incredible sense of hope, the feeling of limitless possibility that swept over the women at that moment. They must have been bursting with excitement-eager to share this news with others.

And indeed it was these women-the first witnesses to the resurrection-who brought the Good News to the disciples. Through them, the Gospel mission began: they were the first link in a great chain of evangelism that would eventually encompass the world, and transform our own homeland with its message of love, hope, and victory over sin and death.

A beautiful service of the Armenian Church shows how very close we still are to these events, despite the obvious gulfs of time and space. Taking place in the early hours of Easter Sunday, the service is dedicated to the oil-bearing women: the "Myrophores" in Greek, or "Yughaperitz Ganaykh" in our own tongue. The Yughaperitz service culminates in a reading from the Gospel of St. John (Jn 20:1-18), which begins "Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark..." and ends with Mary Magdalene's ecstatic announcement to the disciples: "I have seen the Lord!"

And here is the astonishing thing: History indicates that this service originated in the early centuries of the Christian movement, in Jerusalem itself-perhaps at the very site of Christ's tomb!-where the celebrants would gather at dawn, just as the women had done, to re-enact their world-changing discovery. Through this beautiful ritual, preserved over many centuries by the Armenian Church, the voices from that original Easter Sunday echo down to us, as if for the first time.

It is surely significant that the oil-bearing women held no exalted or privileged status in the world of their day.  Indeed, even the disciples refused to believe them when they came to the upper room, breathless, to relate what they had witnessed. Yet it proved that these women, even from their humble station, were the ones who had seen the truth with clear eyes. Certainly it was their humility, their willingness to rise before dawn to perform a ministry of love and respect at a friend's grave, that placed them in the right place to receive this truth. Perhaps it was the same attitude of humble ministry to our Lord which prepared their minds to believe in it, and prepared their hearts to share it.

Armenian history is filled with similar stories of people-often from the most powerless and marginalized stations of their surrounding societies-who saw and heard; who believed and shared; and ultimately who transformed their worlds from within. That is the power and the promise that genuine Christian ministry-the "Ministry of the Faithful," as we have been calling it in our Diocese this year-can bring to our churches and communities, to our families and our individual lives. It starts with those simple announcements of joy and amazement: "He is not here; he has risen!" "I have seen the Lord!" Or in the words of our beautiful Easter greeting:

Krisdos haryav ee merelotz!  Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee!

Christ is risen from the dead!  Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!

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