October 6, 2013
There is a story about theologians, who are arguing about free will and pre-destination; the concepts that every man has the right to choose his future, versus God already having predestined everything for us. No matter what we do, it’s already decided.
So all of the theologians get together in a room, and they’re arguing, and eventually they separate. Those that believe in free will gather on one side, and those that believe in predestination gather on the other side. And there is one theologian left, and he doesn’t know which way to go so he says I’m going to go to the predestination side. And they say, “Oh great, we have an extra one. We have one more. We have won. We have more than them. Why did you come here?”
The lone theologian responds, “I came here on my own free will.” And they say “Oh no, free will! Get out of here! Go to the other side!” So they send him to the other side.
And those on the other side say to him, “We are so happy that you came here. Why did you come here?” And he says “I didn’t choose; they sent me here.” And they say “Uh oh! Predestination! Somebody else has decided for you? Get out of here!”
Very often we come across these types of people, who say that our faith is already determined. In Armenian, we have a word, jagadakeer, which means “written on the forehead.” That which is written on the forehead is fate; it’s already decided. You cant see it, but it’s there.
Our orthodox theology teaches us that we don’t believe in predestination. We don’t believe in fate. We believe in something greater - nakhakhunamootyoon - which means “providence”. Nakhakhunamel in Armenian comes from two Armenian words - “nakh” which means first, and “khunamel” which means to take care of. So when we believe that God takes care of us, he takes care of us ahead of time. Just like a parent, a mother and father, start to save money when a baby is born for that child’s college fund. Now I know that we usually start this off in the first week or two, and then after the diapers pile up, we lose track of the money and we can’t do this anymore. But most of the time we do this - we save up money for our children, so that on their 18th birthday or when they graduate and go to college, they already have the money there.
That’s not a coincidence. That’s not fate. That’s nakhakhunamootyooon; that’s providence. That’s the parents taking care of the child ahead of time, just as God takes care of each and every one of us ahead of time.
God carefully prepares the things in our lives as foundations upon which we build and serve to achieve the good purpose of our lives, which is to serve God.
And these things can be as simple as our family, the country in which we are born, the mentors that we have, and the people with whom we come in contact every day.
In my life (because it’s my Antranig Badarak, I have a right to talk about myself today), God has prepared my foundations and led me to where I am today. And it’s mainly due to three groups of people who have helped me in my life.
The first is the clergy - from Armenia to Jerusalem to the United States, from the Kevorkyan Jemaran in Etchmiadzin to the Srpotz Hagopiantz Jemaran in Jerusalem to St. Nersess, I have come in contact with priests who have helped me, guided me, and have served as examples on how to be a good priest. Of them, one stands out in particular - Hayr Ghevond Dzayrakooyn Vartabed Samoorian - for whom I am named. He helped me, he guided me, and he gave me advice on how to serve God, and how to serve the people of God.
The second group is my family, and friends. They have guided me, they have advised me, they have even chastised me at times, preferring me to be a better person, a better priest. In particular, my grandparents, who have taught me to pray in English, and in Armenian. They taught me how to serve God, and serve my fellow man.
And my lone surviving grandparent, my grandfather, whose name is Herman. My grandmother, for those who knew her, know that she didn’t like the name Herman, so she gave him the name Chuck instead. But his name, lo and behold, when he was growing up, was Ghevond as well. So after him, I am also named Ghevond.
But then there is also the group of the people; the laity; the faithful; you. You have planted the seeds in me, and watered those seeds, in this very church, SrpotzGhevondiantz, St. Leon, which in Armenian, is Ghevond. Again, you are the ones that prepared me for this journey I undertook, for the ordination I received, and the mission I have before me.
These three groups, you in particular, have helped me see God’s purpose in my life, and in this world. I have chosen this; no one forced it upon me. You did not force me to become a priest - I chose to become a priest.
Likewise, God asks each of you to choose which way you want to go. Do you want to go towards Him, or do you want to go away from Him?
We don’t believe in jagadakeer, fate per se, but we sort of do. Because if we look at the word jagadakeer again, it means written on the forehead. And those who are baptized and chrismated in the Armenian Church, have holy muron on their forehead.
You already have jagadakeer; you already have fate. Your fate and my fate is God Jesus. He is sealed upon our forehead; that is our destiny. It is our destiny to go towards Him, to be with Him, and to serve Him.
We can allow other things to come in between us and Him, but he is always there waiting for us; asking us to return to Him.
So as we leave the sanctuary today, I pray that we take note of what is our destiny. That our destiny is God, who is written upon our foreheads, and it’s up to us whether or not we want to follow Him. He is not forcing us, and He is not telling us we have to, but He is telling us as a parent does, come to me, I will help you. Amen.