BY VERY REVEREND FATHER BAROUYR SHERNEZIAN
When I was looking at the Armenian Church calendar, I realized that between two fasting periods, Arachavorats Bahk (The Fast of Catechumens – Five days of fasting, unique to the Armenian Orthodox Church) and the Great Lent, we remember and celebrate the feast days of “warrior saints”:
- St. Sarkis the Warrior, his son St. Mardiros, and the fourteen soldiers (the feast day is at the end of the Arachavorats Bahk) – Feb. 16.
- Saints Adom and his soldiers – Feb. 18.
- Saints Sukiassians the Martyrs – Feb. 19.
- Saints Voskians the Priests – Feb. 21.
- Saints Ghevond the Priest and His Companions – Feb 26.
- Saints Vartan the General and His Companions- the 1036 Martyrs who died in the Great Battle – Feb 28.
Although there are other saints commemorated, these groups of saints are the majority that we celebrate between these two important fasting periods.
If we read about the lives of these groups of saints, we will be inspired by the courage they had for their belief. And the interesting fact about their stories is that they all had conflict and opposition with the army or with royal leaders/soldiers, because of their faith in Christ. They did not defend themselves, but instead guarded their faith. They refused to accept higher positions or to have royal titles, but preferred to be the servants of God. They disobeyed their earthly call, but instead showed obedience to their divine vocation. They were not afraid of sword or flame, because they were shielded by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even the martyrdom of their friends or their sons did not stop them from giving up on their lives for the glory of their faith.
How can we relate these holy martyrs and the warriors to the fasting periods?
The reason the holy martyrs and warriors were killed by their “faith enemies” was because they were not deceived by earthly pleasures. We have an example from the story of Saints Sukiassians the martyrs:
Saints Sukiassians, were from Alanats Ashkharh (Ալանաց Աշխարհ) – The world of Alan/Aryan, and they were princes who lived in the Armenian royal palace. They left their royal palace and titles and lived in the wilderness so that they could dedicate themselves to a hermetical life. Neither the sons of the king, Vunooyn and Vurooyn, or the royal representatives from their country could convince them to go back to their palace and positions. The royal and rich lifestyle was no longer interesting for them, because they found a richer life in Christ. They were killed, because they were not deceived by earthly pleasures that they were recommended to.
We also learn about Saints Vartanants, who sacrificed their lives for their faith, because Christianity or bearing the name of Christ is not simply a title, but is the grace of salvation and divine identity.
The spiritual discipline of fasting – either completely cutting off from food and water or abstinence from animal products – is meant to teach us to open ourselves to prayer and God’s words as our nutrition just as the daily food we eat, sometimes as a pleasure. In other words, it is disciplining ourselves to live spiritually and in wholeness, since God created us one in body and spirit, but who have fallen because of sin. Just as we work to have full control of our body and spirit, so we must let the Holy Spirit work through us, because the earthly pleasures that nourish our ego can also “block” the grace that will work for the community around us or keep us away from the image and likeness of our Lord.
What can we learn from these “Warriors’ Weeks” between the two Lents?
- Fasting or keeping the lent is meant to make us warriors of our faith.
- Fasting can teach us to not give up on the grace that God granted us through the
Holy Spirit, no matter how earthly pleasures have surrounded us.
- Our Faith is a stronger spiritual weapon that will not let any kind of fear hold us back from the person that God created us.
- These two weeks of warrior saints are the best examples of the kind of spirit we need to battle earthly desires in order to gain the spiritual weapons that make us stronger, especially during the Great Lent.
- These saints teach us that, no matter what job or title we have, our strong faith in Christ can define who we really are.
We should call these two weeks “The Weeks of the Warrior Saints!” Let us prepare for the Great Lent with the spirit of all warrior saints and with their intercessions.
Very Reverend Father Barouyr Shernezian is the Pastor of St. Gregory Armenian Apostolic Church in San Francisco.