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.