Monday, February 19, 2007

Great Lent

Today is the first day of Lent, the 40 (ish) day period of fasting before Easter. In the Armenian Church, traditionally we abstain from eating all animal products (with the possible exception of fish....). Going hard-core vegan is difficult, so the Eastern Diocese recommends at least going vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays. I did this last year, and it does get tedious. I would like to add another fast day during the week, but then I have to negotiate with my odar husband, who gets cranky at the prospect of no meat at dinner twice a week.

Here are some tips from the Eastern Diocese. Notice that one of the sample recipes is a fish recipe! I am taking that as an okay to eat fish. I have heard mixed things about whether fish is okay. It makes my life a lot easier if it is.

Why do we fast for Lent in the first place? First, we are preparing ourselves for the resurrection of Christ. Our fast is based upon Jesus's 40 days/nights in the desert, when he fasted and resisted Satan (Matthew 4:12). I was thinking that the desert probably isn't as good of a place to resist temptation as living your every day life in an environment that presents temptation and bad behavior at every turn (I wonder what the Biblical equivalent of Bratz dolls were? Or Girls Gone Wild videos?), but when you are uncomfortable physically, you end up being a lot more uncomfortable mentally. It is easy to love God when you are comfortable and everything is going right. It is much harder when you are experiencing difficulty, discomfort, and deprivation (just look at the book of Job!).

Lent is also about removing those secular distractions, although I confess that I am not very good at this, personally. In theory, I should refrain from TV, movies, and other fun activities, but in practice, I probably won't.

In some ways, the Catholic way of doing Lent (give up something of your own choice, don't eat meat on Fridays) may be more challenging. I gave up alcohol a couple of times, and I have never successfully given up chocolate, despite a few attempts. However, the Armenian way of Lent is perhaps more mindful. Even something as mundane as eating breakfast, guess what? Even if you want a simple breakfast of oatmeal, you can't put milk on it. Eggs? Forget it. Cheese and bread? Nope. And that is just breakfast! So you think about God every meal of the day, and when you are grocery shopping too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Feast of St. Sarkis

Two Sundays ago was a feast day, celebrating the life of one of the many Armenian martyrs, St. Sarkis. St. Sarkis was a warrior and a Christian, killed by a Persian king after fleeing the Emperor Julian. The lives of the Armenian Saints are filled with stories like these (stories similar to those of the early Saints celebrated by the Catholic church as well)- people being tortured and killed because of their Christian beliefs.

Armenians are not alone in this kind of history; persecution has gone on since the beginning of time, but as a people who have faced it relatively recently in their history, both on a historic scale (e.g. the Genocide), as well as on a small-scale daily basis (Armenians in the Middle East diaspora were Christians surrounded by Muslims, although many, many of them have emigrated elsewhere) we are very sensitive to the necessity of sticking to our beliefs in the face of all outside pressure.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, but the sermon last week tied into the post that I had in mind. It was about St. Sahag, who was Catholicos, was instrumental in the development of the Armenian alphabet by St. Mesrob Mashdots, and the two of them have a joint feast (the Feast of the Holy Translators), although according to my church bulletin, Saturday Feb. 10 was the Feast of Sahag Bartev. So maybe he has his own?

Usually St. Sahag is depicted as one of the main characters who ushered in the "golden age" of Armenian culture, but this week, we were recognizing him for something different. St. Sahag stuck up for the monarchy, which made him really unpopular with the ruling Armenian princes, and eventually had to step down as Catholicos. He maintained his popularity with the people, though, who recognized him as someone who was true to his beliefs.

Historically, in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution, Armenians have remained true to their Christian faith. They have suffered, been discriminated against, and even been killed en masse over it.

I think that this is why,
when two FoxNews reporters were kidnapped by Muslim extremist groups and converted to Islam in order to be released
, I did not know if I could have done what they did. I would have felt extremely guilty. Armenian heritage stands upon the bones of many, many people who died rather than betray their faith, what they believed to be true. I think that part of me would have seen conversion, however insincere, to be a betrayal. I know that if I were killed because of a refusal to convert, my husband, father, and mother would all be upset, although maybe my mother would have understood better than anyone else.

The sermon on that day was about St. Sahag, and all people who are truth-tellers. Telling the truth is not always popular; especially when that truth is something that people don't want to hear. Have you ever told a friend or loved one that the person they're dating is controlling or abusive? Just see how popular THAT is. Usually what happens is that the person will quit talking to you, and eventually either break up with or divorce the dodgy significant other. Sometimes your friend will come slinking back, embarrassed by the fact that you were right, but sometimes not.

What was especially interesting about this sermon was that the priest walked his talk. This church is in an extremely, extremely conservative area, and I wouldn't categorize the membership as especially liberal. The priest proceeded to elaborate his message with the modern-day example of the Iraq War, and how no one wanted to come forward to say that it was a bad idea and our reasons for going in were spurious. Those who did say those things were demonized by the administration, but time is bearing them out, and more and more voices are joining in to support them.

I confess that I was shocked. And impressed.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back in my day....

I was in a literary society in college- this literary society was the oldest organization at this university (certainly it's the oldest that is still in existence), which is one of the oldest in the country. So this group is OLD. We are talking almost 150 years old here. Members tended to join in their junior or senior year, maybe sophomore year, and rarely, your freshman year (you had to FIND out about the literary society first, and we sometimes frowned upon immature freshman who were applying, since it was no biggie to reapply later).

Due to the old nature of the society and the continually changing membership and changing nature of some of the practices that goes along with that (we did have an official archivist, but you do lose some institutional memory with that kind of turnover), alumni tended to often say the phrase "Back in my day...." even if they had only graduated the year before. It was a running joke.

The sermon in church today was a "back in my day" sermon that did not have a clear message at all. I am back in the Other church now, the one near my university. The priest at this church has been in the US for at least 30 years (I am guessing), which is at least twice as long as the priest at my "home" church. So his English is pretty good, and usually his sermons aren't in bullet point format.

Today, though, he could have taken a leaf from the other Der Hayr's book and used a bullet point. I kept thinking, "What does this have to do with God? Really!"

He started out talking a bit about the Feast of St. Sarkis, which I actually will talk about in another post, and then transitioned to the Super Bowl. Church didn't seem any less full today than normal, even though it was Super Bowl Sunday and there was no Hokehankist (a large reason why many people go to church- to hear Hokehankist for their loved ones). Church isn't normally that full anyway, though.

The whole sermon was one long "Back in my day." Even the talk about St. Sarkis day was introduced by discussing the special candy that they would make back in Beirut (his hometown) for St. Sarkis day.

The talk about the Super Bowl was the strangest, though. He pointed out what a commercial enterprise that the Super Bowl is, and how back at the original Olympics, people just competed for a wreath of laurel that would eventually die, plus the glory of winning. Maybe it's the market economist in me, but I just couldn't really see what was wrong with the Super Bowl being a commercial enterprise. Sure, complain about Christmas or Easter becoming commercialized, but what else is the Super Bowl for? (Also, never mind that the Olympics are ostensibly for amateur athletes, while the Super Bowl is for professionals). I don't think that the Super Bowl was raining down on the church's parade, so I don't know what the problem was exactly.