An Essay by Yervant Kutchukian
As we prepare for the beginning of Great Lent, we anticipate its arrival with a variety of feelings, perhaps we feel dread at the thought of impending solemnity, fear at the prospect of introspection and reflection and their fruits, or maybe we feel anticipation and expectation at the opportunity for a fresh start and a period of more active spiritual awareness.
In my own home, as a child, I remember we prepared for Lent and the road to Christ's resurrection in a special way with a tradition passed down through the family. On the eve of Lent, we would place a small saucer on a table in front of a window. The saucer would be filled with a layer of white fluffy cotton and on top of the cotton an assortment of beans and grains would be spread with a central pattern of the Cross. These cold little seeds and beans did not look like much especially against the background of a window onto a snow covered world in the dead of winter.
Yet as children, we knew, We knew that within them lay dormant the potential for life. We would soak the cotton with water and we waited. And we waited. And just when we might have begun to doubt whether anything would ever happen, if we looked closely we saw it. We saw signs of cracks in the seeds. Cracks are not very remarkable, but these were special cracks. For we knew that from these cracks soon would emerge the tiniest of sprouts. First white roots would surface and then yellow and green sprouts would appear as the kernels sent forth shoots of new life. Life that did not exist prior, but which we witnessed come into existence. By Easter, these shoots would have a leaf or two, and this curious little garden of sprouts provided us children with a tangible expression of the new life promised to us by Christ's own resurrection.
It is only many years later that I am able to see myself and others in those seeds scattered on the mounds of cotton. As we embark on our Lenten journey, we each have the choice as to whether we will take a seed from the Immortal Word of God and plant it within the soil of our hearts.
Just as plants develop stronger root systems when they have to reach farther to quench their thirst for water, so too with us when we forgo the ease of abundant food and diversions and search out the well where God waits to quench our thirst thereby rooting ourselves in the fertile pastures of His Word. We forgo the food and drink of the world which does not satisfy to feast at the Lord's table and drink from his living water which promises eternal life.
Just as the Uncircumscribable was planted in the womb of the Holy Virgin, so too if we reply with Mary, "Let it be according to your Word," the very same may be planted in the womb of our hearts both to grow within us and to cause us to grow.
We are called to be not only the garden where the Word of God takes root but also to be the gardener of our bodies and minds, nourishing them with what is beneficial and wholesome and keeping them from what causes ailments and is destructive.
At first, we may feel like we are in a wilderness. But take hope, for God promises through the prophet to make our wilderness like Eden, to make our desert like His garden. If we turn to God, as we shall hear on Sunday, He promises to make us "like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." If we endure the cracks that portend coming growth, we shall witness the greenness of the growth God is already working within us that is waiting to burst forth and be revealed.
The journey is not an easy one. It is long and grueling. The transformation of a fallow rocky field to a well-watered vineyard takes much time and energy. But with every rock that is removed, with every clod that is tilled, we move closer to the ideal of the divine paradise. We begin to resemble more closely Mary, whom God planted as an incense tree in the sweetly scented garden of fragrance. With the germination of the seeds of the Word in each of us, we are collectively transfigured into the paradise of God that so many have searched for in vain. With care and diligence, we shall sprout forth like olive branches, laying ourselves as the palm fronds preparing the way for the One who comes in the of the Lord.
A seed is most vulnerable when it begins to germinate. That moment between dormancy and life is pivotal. Let us remember this as we begin the process of germination in our souls with the advent of Great Lent. May we tenderly cultivate each other so that spring may blossom in the garden of our family. When Christ, the bridegroom, "comes down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley and to see whether the cypress and the pomegranates are in bloom," may he find "that flowers have appeared on earth." May he see that "the fig tree has put forth its figs and the vines are in blossom, giving forth the fragrance" of His own Word.
As we labor to become the garden of the Lord, may we always give praise and glory to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Yervant Kutchukian, an ordained sub-deacon, is a 2005 graduate of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. He is currently back at St. Nersess assisting the faculty in the translation of the complete correspondence of St. Nersess "the Graceful" Shnorhali, which the Seminary looks forward to publishing. In the Fall Mr. Kutchukian will begin doctoral studies.