Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and all Turkey: 2005 New Year’s message

Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul and all Turkey: 2005 New Year’s message

To Our Beloved Church Members,

2004 is behind us. The history of this past year cannot now be changed, whether what was done was permanent or transient, whether what happened was pleasing or upsetting, interesting or unimportant. Of course each one of us would prefer to re-live some of the events of last year and, if possible, change some of our decisions, or take a different route. Yet certainly there were some developments in 2004 that were pleasing and crowned with success. In any case, now it is all history. It is not possible to change any of it. This is how the history of men, families, and nations comes about.

To Our Beloved Church Members,

2004 is behind us. The history of this past year cannot now be changed, whether what was done was permanent or transient, whether what happened was pleasing or upsetting, interesting or unimportant. Of course each one of us would prefer to re-live some of the events of last year and, if possible, change some of our decisions, or take a different route. Yet certainly there were some developments in 2004 that were pleasing and crowned with success. In any case, now it is all history. It is not possible to change any of it. This is how the history of men, families, and nations comes about.

What place will you occupy in the memory of your children? Will some part of this not become clear in 2005? I wonder what will happen in the New Year. Everything will start anew in one sense or another. A further chapter of history will be written in the New Year and in reality, it is us who will write it. As individuals or collectively with others, everyone will play a role in its formation. Everything that happened last year that saddened us or that we wished, if it were only possible, to straighten out, might be rectified by new decisions which we will take in the year before us. I wonder what sort of path we will trace in the pages of history?

As is the case in every birthday celebration, it is also true in New Year festivities that we are reminded of the reality of the passing of yet another year. Whether we desire it or not, time moves on. The numbered days of our lives are like that too. How happy are those who mature and gain wisdom of life with each passing day! St. Paul wrote, “So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal.” (2 Cor 4:16-18, NRSV)

At the beginning of the fifth century Catholicos Sahag Bartev, the Armenian King Vramshabuh, and the hieromonk Mesrob Mashdots joined efforts to find the most appropriate letters for our beautiful tongue in order to communicate these spiritual truths to our people. Thus, in 2005, we will celebrate the 1600th anniversary of the appearance of the Armenian alphabet. This event, in addition to its spiritual dimensions, has been a revolution for the splendid Armenian Culture. It strengthened the Armenian Church and laid the foundation for Armenian Literature. Following the outstanding contributions of the Holy Translators (Srpots Tarkmanchats Vartabedats), foreign prophets, disciples, teachers and philosophers began to speak Armenian with our people. The Armenian tongue and its texts, together with the light of our faith, are today’s guarantors of the existence of our people. Indeed, every single one of the Armenian people should feel proud of and praise our 2,500 year written history and 1,600 year literature. It is also the most natural human right today for every person of Armenian roots to take every opportunity and make use of all of the possibilities of this age to learn the faith of our ancestors and our language.

St. Mesrob Mashdots, the ingenious founder of Armenian writing and literature, was born in the village of Hatsegats, province of Mush, and was buried in the village of Oshagan, in the region of Arakadzodn. After creating the alphabet, Father Mesrob came to Istanbul with Bishop Kint of Tercan. They appeared before Patriarch Atticos and Emperor Theodos II, asking permission to teach the new alphabet to the Armenians living west of the Euphrates River. St. Mesrob, who was granted his wish, at the same time acquired the Holy Bible in its Septuagint version. It was thus possible to revise the Armenian Bible, which had been based on a translation from the Peshitta. This Bible came to be called in Christian literature “The Queen of Bible Translations.” As the product, par excellence, of this Golden Age of our history, and as consequence of St. Mesrob’s visit to Istanbul, the classical Armenian Holy Gospel reigns today on the altars of all Armenian churches wordlwide.

Beloved members of our Church: various activities will be staged throughout 2005 to celebrate the 1600th anniversary of the invention of the Armenian alphabet. In the words of Hachadur Apovyan (1840), “It is language and faith that enliven a people. Woe to us if we destroy them!” Let us hold on to our values in trembling and with great care, live them out, and pass them on to our children.

Beloved clergy, intellectuals, teachers and students, and members of all Istanbul Armenian associations scattered around the world, it is you whom I especially address. By means of this New Year message I declare 2005 to be the “Year of Armenian Writing and Literature.” Celebrate the 1600th anniversary of Armenian Writing with well-deserved pride. Encourage the upcoming generation of children to speak Armenian, especially in the home, in church, in school, and in our social milieux. Make sure that they know their traditional cultural values. While you do so, take care not to hurt the feelings of the young people who have been estranged from our people’s own language and traditions as a result of painful historical events. Do not waste your valuable time and effort criticising other people, institutions, and conditions. Be productive persons, use your intellect, work hard and dare to be enterprising.

I invite every one of you who know Armenian to take it on yourself, in the spirit of the 1600th anniversary of the creation of Armenian writing, to convert at least one of our people, who has grown apart from our culture and tradition, to the core values, community and traditions of our ancestors.

Beloved Church members: one of the painful historical events on which we touched above has become known in Armenian literature as Medz Yeghern (The Great Disaster). The Ottoman government of that time of the Committee for Union and Progress, citing security reasons in the circumstances of the First World War, exiled Armenian citizens living in the Ottoman Empire to the deserts of Syria. However, because the necessary precautions were not taken, hundreds of thousands of Armenian citizens lost their lives either near their own homes, or on the journey, or in the desert, or were the victims of inhuman attacks by opportunists. Of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire, only a small proportion was saved from annihilation. Whatever the given justification, this great unconscionable disaster has passed into history as a human drama that took place at the beginning of the 20th century.

Wherever on the globe, every Armenian still feels the imprint of this Great Disaster in his or her identity and still lives with the trauma, in some way or another. Throughout the year 2005, on the 90th anniversary of this event, Armenians will offer to God their prayers and incense for the souls of their martyrs.

We can conclude the following lesson from the interesting coincidence of the 1600th anniversary of the Creation of the Armenian Alphabet and the 90th anniversary of The Great Disaster: the 2,500 year-old Armenian people must above all be conscious that their existence is founded on Christian love and precepts, and that the guarantee of their future is by way of holding tightly to the culture and faith that has brought them thus far.

God has brought together the Turkish and Armenian peoples within the same geography, as very close neighbours, and even as members sometimes of the same family, whether in Anatolia or in the Caucasus. All concerned need to understand that there is no alternative but to live in peace and tolerance with each other, and to expend every effort in this direction.

As Turkish Armenians, we too must not neglect to contribute to this process, no matter how humbly.

At the threshold of the New Year, let us listen to these magnificent words of Jesus Christ:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 5:4,6-12)

On the occasion of these first moments of the 2005th year of grace of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, I wish to address the beloved children of the Armenian Church and remind them of some basic essentials.

Do not forget that having been baptized by water and Holy Myron, you are united in Christian-Armenian identity. This is an honor as much as a privilege. Remember the words of the Lord Jesus: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” And secondly, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:30-31)

St. Paul, writing about the salvation of the soul, declares in addition that we are saved by confessing that Jesus Christ is God and believing in our heart that God raised him from the dead; and that the one who believes from the heart is justified and that the one who confesses with the mouth is saved. (Rom 10:9-11)

Remember that we are entering a New Year. Make use of every opportunity to renew your Holy Baptismal vows. Every Holy Badarak or Baptism ceremony, or even at a moment of prayer alone in your house, or in your room, is a time for renewing those vows. Turning to our Father in heaven, from the depths of our hearts, we should pray to strengthen our “faith, hope, and love,” and to be justified, to be cleansed of sins, to be saved from evil, and to serve God. Let us repeat with faith the Jesus prayer of Patriarch Saint Nerses the Graceful of Hromcla:

“Son of God, true God, who descended from the bosom of the Father, and took flesh of the Holy Virgin Mary for our salvation, who was crucified and buried, and rose from the dead, and ascended to the Father, I have sinned against Heaven and before You; remember me like the robber, when You come in Your kingdom. Have mercy upon Your Creatures and upon me, a great sinner.”

This is the profession of the apostles and of the founders of the Armenian Church – our spiritual treasure. Remain true to the Armenian Church, which has provided undeniable service in the past to our faithful and continues to do so today.

Protect the holiness of the home. Do not forget that the Church’s smallest unit is the family. You must found your family on the rock of God’s word to keep it sound. Allow prayers and the sweet fragrance of incense to enter your home once again. Members of the family who pray do not grow distant from each other; in fact, they love each other more and grow closer. In the first moments of the New Year, abide by our centuries old tradition and say together as a family the Lord’s Prayer. Be assured that you will find strength to conquer difficulties and endure distress in the unity of prayer.

Beloved Administrators of our Foundations: carry your load together. In this way you will live the Law of Love of Jesus Christ. “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest-time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (Gal 6:4,5,9,10)

Dearly beloved: contribute to the formation of a common will in our church community and to the blossoming of community life. Be citizens who respect the law, love peace, and be loyal and respectable persons. Take pains to protect our traditions and special values.

On the occasion of the New Year, I wish to declare my pastoral advice to the hieromonks of our Patriarchal See, our priests, the deacons, the church choir members, those teaching and instructing in our schools, those administering associations and church foundations, members of the press of our community, and to all dear and beloved members of our Church:

Let us work and live lives suitable to the Christian-Armenian identity to which God has called us. “[Live] with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph 4:1-3)

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” (Eph 4:31-32)

Jesus Christ commands us to love our brother and sister as we love God (1John 4:21). Let us all with enthusiasm serve the spiritual and moral development of society, being blessed with the love of God and of brothers and sisters, and trusting in God’s mercy and leadership and in the intercession of all the saints and martyrs.

May our God, who is the source of all creation and is full of love for all that He has created, enlighten you all with His Holy Spirit, strengthen your unity and love, and renew your hearts and souls. Let us all pray with the prophet David, who was strengthened and enlightened by faith: may God “show love and bestow salvation.” Amen.

I wish for every one of you a year of God’s blessings and favour, and a year full of well-being and happiness.

Patriarch Mesrob