Yesterday April 24th was of course Armenian Genocide Martyr’s Day and this Thursday April 22nd was Earth Day, two commemorations which appear to have nothing in common except the coincidence of being two days apart. Today in church, however, we commemorate a third day, Red Sunday (Karmir Kiraki) which predates both by a millennia and connects our stewardship of the earth with God’s stewardship of his beloved sons and daughters.
Starting with stewardship of the Earth, the Armenian Church and people have always practiced a very ecological form of Christianity. First and foremost, this is because we are a people who have worked the earth for millennia. That’s why in church we bless grapes and the beginning of the harvest. We bless pomegranates in winter, and have rituals for blessing salt and livestock offerings to church. Most scholars believe the name for today’s feast of Red Sunday originates from simply observing nature at this time. Go to Armenia this time of year and you will see full of red wild flowers stretching as far as the eye can, hence ‘Red Sunday.’ Our ancestors saw the connection between the yearly renewal of the land in spring, and the Easter renewal of life in Christ.
Go also to Armenia, any time of year, and you will learn something about reusing and recycling that any earth day environmentalist would appreciate. When I lived in Armenia I was moved by how little was wasted. My neighbor brought her groceries home in cellophane bags, which she then washed and hung out to dry for reuse. Other neighbors even recycled cow dung (աթառ), affectionately called village brownies. It is spread out into deep sheets in a field and scored into squares, then it is burned for heat in winter. Even our churches in Armenia are experienced recyclers. They make beeswax candles from local bee keepers’ leftovers, then recycle the stubs into new candles.
Our church does indeed believe in recycling and has been earth friendly for over seventeen hundred years. But we also believe in recycling on a much deeper level, which goes to the heart of what it means to be Armenian Orthodox Christians. You see we don’t just recycle things, we repurpose them. These vestments I am wearing belonged to another priest and were in a closet left for the moths. They were lovingly resewn and gifted to me by the Kotchounian family and now have renewed purpose. The grand piano in our hall was gifted to us by a man who lost his wife and the player of that piano and was just collecting dust. He lovingly gifted it to us, and today Haig will bring it to renewed life with Genocide music of remembrance. Taking things which are seen to have little use and transforming them into something very useful and valuable is a special kind of recycling. We usually call it redemption, and it is something our Lord has been doing all along, only God does it with people and not just things. He took a spite filled Jesus hater Saul, and turned him into the greatest Apostle for Christ, St. Paul. He took a sick and crazed King of Armenia, Drtad, and turned him into the faithful leader of the first Christian nation. He rescued the Armenian people, thrown away like trash by their own Ottoman government, bringing us to new life and prosperity in the Diaspora and independent Armenia.
Here now we see the connection between our stewardship of our stewardship of God’s creation and God’s loving stewardship of his beloved sons and daughters. Jesus reminds us of the father’s protective love in the Gospel reading from John, “And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” The Armenian Church’s recycling program may begin with cardboard and candles, but it extends and embraces all of God’s beloved children and is cosmic in scale.
We Armenian Orthodox Christians have known this for a long time, and at our best we have participated in God’s invitation to redeem and repurpose all people and all things in His glorious name. A 1500-year-old prayer we say each week during Divine Liturgy perfectly captures this redemptive spirit of Red Sunday. In preparation for holy communion, the priest offers this prayer for himself and on behalf of all God’s people: “(Lord) Impress upon us the graces of your Holy Spirit, as you did upon the holy apostles, who tasted it and became the cleansers of the whole world.”
In this way, the Armenian church has always been the holy place of repurposing and redemption for God’s creation and his beloved sons and daughters. As a people, when we were lost and of no use to the powers of the world, God remade us anew. And as beloved sons and daughters of God individually we offer ourselves to God in prayer each week. Offering back our tired and broken selves, we are graced with communion with God. On this Red Sunday, and every Sunday, He recycles and repurposes us for a new week. Inspired to do His will and His work-and as his apostles-to become cleansers of the whole world; now and always, amen.