The Easter Message Of Archbishop Khajag Barsamian

Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (E.)
630 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10016
Contact: Chris Zakian
Tel: (212) 686-0710; Fax: (212) 779-3558
E-mail: [email protected]

April 6, 2004

Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America

(Attached pdf file includes English and Armenian version of the Easter


He was despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with
grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we
esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was
wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him
was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.
(Isaiah 53:3-5)

* * *

THESE SOMBER, SOBERING WORDS come from the inspired pen of the prophet
Isaiah. For seven centuries, they remained pregnant with meaning: an
indistinct glimmer of something yet to come, something waiting to happen,
sometime, somewhere. One can envision the ancient Hebrews faithfully
reading and re-reading the words, generation after generation, for seven
hundred years–until what was once an anguished plea from the soul had
become tame and familiar. Until prophecy had become mere poetry.

And then, suddenly, at the most unexpected moment, Isaiah’s words became
neither poetry nor prophecy, but history. Fact. The searing biography of
one in whom all the prophecies and promises, all the hopes and dreams of
prior generations, found their long-awaited fulfillment.

Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Our Savior.

Imagine, if you will, how heavily Isaiah’s words must have weighed on Jesus,
every day of His earthly life. His very consciousness of the sacrifice to
come is what would have made Him a “man of sorrows.” Imagine Him in the
synagogue of His boyhood, attending to those well-rehearsed verses, alone in
His understanding that they were not a symbolic abstraction, but an
all-too-concrete prediction of His own future.

And how accurate a prediction it was! We sense it simmering just below the
surface of the gospel reports of the Crucifixion, where the same sense of
scorn and affliction come heartbreakingly to life:

“And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they
crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And
Jesus said, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.’ And
they cast lots to divide His garments. And the people stood by, watching;
but the rulers scoffed at Him, saying, He saved others; let him save
himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!’ The soldiers also
mocked Him, coming up and offering Him vinegar, and saying, If you are the
King of the Jews, save yourself!'” (Lk 23:33-37)

Of course, Jesus was not the only one who understood the terrible
significance of this spectacle. In the aftermath of their master’s
crucifixion, it must have dawned on Christ’s followers that Isaiah had been
referring, not just to Him, but also to them. Jesus was the suffering
servant; but it was His own friends who cravenly “hid their faces” at the
decisive hour. What a demoralizing jolt it must have been to the disciples,
when they realized at last the full meaning of Isaiah’s seven hundred
year-old words.

Recently, a similar realization seems to have dawned with the film, “The
Passion of the Christ.” The sufferings of our Lord have been depicted many
times–in film as well as in literature, art, and music–but not, in recent
memory, so vividly, so publicly, and in so focused a way on one aspect of
the Christian drama: our Lord’s suffering. For many people, viewing the
film has opened a new window onto the events surrounding Christ’s final

What have we seen through that window? In many ways, a reflection of our
own times and our own selves. Take away the exotic languages and costumes,
and the society depicted in the film (and in the gospels) does not differ so
greatly from our own. Careerist politicians; cynical priests; the fickle,
roiling mob, which can acclaim you a king one day, and condemn you as a
criminal the next–sadly, these are still recognizable characters in the
human drama, down to the present day. Evil still walks with an easy
familiarity through our city halls, our religious temples, our public
squares and private gardens.

And yet–there is good in the world, too. The steadfastness of John, the
penitence of Magdalene, and rarest of all, the precious holiness of Mary,
each has its analog in our own time. God sees all these things, as He saw
them from the cross. Against the dark voices that tempt us to just give up,
He insists that there is hope. In Christ, He showed us that we are worth
struggling for, worth sacrificing for–even worth dying for. Despised and
rejected, wounded and bruised, Christ would not relinquish His love for
mankind. And not simply mankind at its finest, but also at its worst, its
most venal and cruel. That is the meaning–is it not?–of Christ’s
anguished plea for mercy on His persecutors: “Father, forgive them; for they
know not what they do.”

He pleads for us, as well. Perhaps that, finally, is what people have seen
in the film–the reason they have been so affected. It has jolted them into
a deeper realization that their own lives are bound to Christ’s sacrifice.
“With His stripes, we are healed.”

Of course, Christ did not stop at simply healing us. The story does not end
with His sacrificial death, but with His resurrected life. Unknown to His
followers on the first Good Friday, unguessed even by the prophet Isaiah,
our Lord had something more to offer those He loved. Death on the cross was
only the vehicle to give us something greater: the promise of life with Him,
for eternity, in God’s Kingdom.

That is the gift He holds out to us–the gift that is ours, if we will
accept it. These past weeks, people have been deeply moved to reflect on
the great debt we owe to Jesus. But in so doing, let us not fail to respond
to the gift He offers, which transformed suffering and death into hope: the
gift of Easter Sunday. It is hope born of that gift, and not guilty
self-consciousness, which truly distinguishes us as Christians, and inspires
our joyous greeting:

Krisdos haryav ee merelotz! Orhnyal eh harootiunun Krisdosee!
Christ is risen from the dead! Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!

Easter 2004

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