‘For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.’ 1 Cor 1:18
Moved by the plight of our soldiers defending Artsakh and Armenia, and inspired by today’s feast of the discovery of the cross, I want to speak today about the role of a Christian during wartime. For some, imagination is needed to call this wartime, since the front line is thousands of miles away in Artsakh. For others, with friends and family living in and defending Armenia, the war is very real to you. But for all of us, this terrible war evokes seasons of great trial in life, the death of a loved one, a life threatening illness, the death of a marriage. We pray God deliver us form all such trials, but when we must face them, today our church calendar reminds us, that seasons of loss are also seasons of the cross. For with every trial comes a cross, and with every cross, a crossroads. Will this evil move us closer to God, or succeed in chasing us further away? Will we ‘discover our cross’ in our trial-as our church calendar invites us-or reject it? On these decisions, pivot the war within the war, the great battle for the very heart and soul of man.
Maybe that is why our church tradition dedicates four holy days and a whole season to the cross, for it is the most important tool mankind can take into battle, mirroring both our potential blessing and our curse. For it at once reveals the great gift of God’s love for his children, as well as the great division that tears all peoples and all places asunder. A former teacher of mine, Peter Kreeft, described the double-edged nature of the cross in this way:
The Cross is the crux of everything. It reconciles Heaven and earth, God and man. But it also divides mankind. For it is there at the Cross that we see Love’s enemies, Love’s crucifiers, as well as Love’s friends. At the Cross we see the ultimate warfare. The Cross is God’s sword stuck into the earth held by the hilt from Heaven.
It is very clear to Armenians that Azeri president Aliyev is an enemy of the cross. His own citizens are arbitrarily silenced, arrested and beaten, his brutality in attacking Artsakh is therefore not surprising. It is even more clear to Armenians that Aliyev’s mentor, Turkish President Erdogan, is an enemy of the cross in his disregard for all people, at war against Kurds, Greeks, and now Armenians; at war with all Turkish citizens who oppose him. We continue to pray, and offer our support- that God prosper the self-defense of our homelands, and defeat these enemies of the cross before any more innocent blood is shed.
But today on the feast of the cross, we must not only pray for the battle out there, but also the battle within. There is a great temptation in facing great enemies of the cross, enemies of love; to ourselves become such enemies. To take one example: An Armenian man posted a quote by Avetik Isahakyan saying ‘When Jesus said love your enemy, there was no turk in the world!’ Isahakyan was half-joking, but this person was serious! When questioned on it, he doubled down, quoting Nzhdeh; “The best Turk is the dead Turk.” Now, we can understand the anger here. Surely this person has family and friends in Artsakh and Armenia whose lives are on the line. But alas, all seasons of great trial are seasons of the cross, and the cross brings a crossroads. Do we repay hatred with hatred, do we condemn entire countries and innocent peoples to death? Do we not believe what we relive each Holy week, that our Lord was betrayed, tortured and murdered before his mother’s eyes, and yet, loved even his enemies till the end? If we don’t, we find ourselves on the wrong side of the cross as enemies of love and enemies of Christ, rather than his friends.
For like no person before him, Jesus won the war within the war, and gives us all the power to do the same. Because the blessed Armenian Christian soldier, he who is defending Artsakh as we speak, as well as he and she sitting right here today waging the daily battle to uphold what is true and good and decent in the world, we must all seek continuously to discover our cross. Discover the cross which comes in times of great suffering, and which always brings a crossroads. The way of Christ is hard, impossible actually without God’s help, but it is a way of great moral power, more powerful than the sword.
To not hold strong to this weapon as Armenians will weaken us both militarily and spiritually. To not hold ourselves to a high Christian standard diminishes our righteous plea for help and diminishes the heroic and Godly service of those, of whom I personally know a few, who are both great Armenian patriots and deeply Christian believers. Men who are patriotic enough to risk their lives in defense of the innocent in Armenia, but are also Christian enough to never delight in taking life, never dehumanize an entire people, and never allow the enemy on the battlefield to penetrate their hearts, the most sacred ground of any Christian man or woman. May God deliver us from the enemy, on the battlefield and within our hearts, and grant us to discover again his all-powerful cross, guide and protector of all friends of Christ, now and always; amen.