Monday, 27 February 2023 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, today as we listened to the words of the Scriptures, each one of us are reminded of our calling as Christians to be truly obedient of the Law, the commandments and thoroughly the ways of the Lord, in all the things we say and do, in our every actions and deeds so that we may truly be worthy of the Lord, and not just Christians in name and outward appearance only. We must be true disciples of the Lord in all things, and do whatever we can to proclaim Him, His truth and Good News through every moments that had been granted to us in this life on Earth. The Lord has called on us all to follow Him wholeheartedly, dedicating our time and efforts to glorify God in our every opportunities, and this season and time of Lent is the perfect opportunity for us to begin if we have not begun or embarked on a path towards true holiness in God.

In our first reading today, taken from the Book of Leviticus, we heard of the Lord speaking to His people, the people of Israel during the time of their sojourn and time in the desert, as they made their way from the land of Egypt, the land where they were enslaved for many decades by the Egyptians to the land promised to them and their ancestors by God. In that period of the Exodus, the Lord guided His people lovingly and patiently, even as they rebelled and refused to believe in Him, and they truly hardened their hearts and minds against the Lord, continuing to make complaints after complaints, one after another, refusing to listen to Him and the patient words of His guidance, showing just how shallow their faith and trust in Him was, and which therefore led them down the path towards their downfall, and many perished during that journey, when the Israelites spent an entire period of forty years in atonement of their rebellion and sins.

That is why, we heard the Lord speaking to His people, that if they continued to live in the way they had been living, they would end up in the path towards destruction, and hence, He reminded them of the Law, commandments and precepts that He had delivered to them, placed among them and taught them so that they might indeed live their lives full of faith in the Lord, with no more things and actions that kept them in their selfish and wicked ways which prevented them from truly being His followers and beloved people. He essentially called on all of them to be filled with love for Him and for their fellow men and women, and not to be selfish in their actions and interactions with one another. The actions of the people in rebelling against God and in being stubborn and obstinate were all due to their selfish love for themselves, and in rejecting God’s love for their own unbridled desires and attachments to worldly matters and temptations.

In the same way therefore, each and every one of us must not allow ourselves to be swayed by the temptations of this world, and of selfish love that will lead us nowhere but to the downfall that had been faced by those people who had hardened their hearts and minds against God, and allowed worldly vices, evils and temptations to sway them and to lead them down the path towards destruction. In this season of Lent, each and every one of us are reminded that as long as we ignore the plight of all those who are around us, and continue to focus only on ourselves, and our own benefits and happiness, while others suffer either by our ignorance or even worse still, by our own actions, then, just as we heard it in our Gospel passage today, we have to know that, our every actions and deeds, as well as our inactions and lack of effort, all do matter in the eyes of the Lord.

In the Gospel, we heard the well-known passage in which the Lord Jesus told His disciples about the end of times, the time of the Final and Last Judgment of all the people, past, present and future. We heard from the Lord how He Himself will come at the end of time, to be the Judge of all, to judge everyone for their deeds and actions, for everything that we had done, and also even those things that we failed to do in our lives. We shall be judged by the great and just Judge, Who will reward and punish each one by their deeds, and all of us will have to face this at the end. Unless we have done things that truly make us worthy of the Lord, all of us will likely be cast out into the eternal darkness and damnation, reserved for all those who have rebelled against God, against Satan and all the other forces of evil, and all those who have rejected God’s love and compassionate mercy.

The Lord made it clear to us what all of us as the faithful people of God had to do in order to gain the justification and entry into the eternal glory and happiness with Him. Essentially, it is to love God and others more than we love ourselves, especially to those who are lacking in love, those who are the last, the lost and the least in our communities. It is also not just what good things we can do for them, but also what things that we have done for them even without us realising that those had benefitted them. Whenever we can do it, we should do what we can to care for those who have been placed in our path and even in our care, so that all of us may show them the most generous and wonderful love of God. This is our calling as Christians, and one that we should take heed of, as we continue to progress through our lives, distancing ourselves from sinful ways and from worldly temptations that had led to the downfall of so many people before us.

This Lent, all of us are called to deepen our relationship with God and come closer to Him. All of us should spend more time in prayer and in contemplation, discerning carefully what we should and what we can do for our less fortunate brethren all around us. And we can also look upon the good examples set by our holy predecessor, the great saint, St. Gregory of Narek, a holy Abbot and Doctor of the Church. St. Gregory of Narek was a great monk, theologian and servant of God, whose life truly embodied great Christian faith and charity. He dedicated much of his life in service to God, following Him wholeheartedly and spending a lot of time writing many great works that inspired many throughout the Armenian Church that he was a part of. He lived a holy and devout life, giving his time and efforts solely for the greater glory of God and for the good of other people, and not indulging in his own desires and wants, unlike many others of his time.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the examples set by St. Gregory of Narek and also many of the other great saints of God should inspire each and every one of us as we enter into this holy and blessed season of Lent, so that we may come ever closer to the Lord, seeking Him and His path, and doing whatever we can to make our lives truly worthy of the Lord, as good and devout Christians. Let us all no longer be ignorant of our Christian calling and mission, and let us all do whatever we can to reach out to our fellow brothers and sisters around us, especially those who are in need of our help and our love. May God bless us all, now and always, in our every good works and efforts, and help us to become ever closer to Him, especially during this time of Lent. Amen.

Monday, 27 February 2023 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Matthew 25 : 31-46

At that time, Jesus said to His disciples, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory with all His Angels, He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be brought before Him; and, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, so will He do with them, placing the sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left.”

“The King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, blessed of My Father! Take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed Me. I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you welcomed Me into your home. I was naked, and you clothed Me. I was sick, and you visited Me. I was in prison, and you came to see Me.’”

“Then the righteous will ask Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and give You food; thirsty, and give You something to drink; or a stranger, and welcome You; or naked, and clothe You? When did we see You sick, or in prison, and go to see You?’ The King will answer, ‘Truly I say to you : just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it to Me.’”

“Then He will say to those on His left, ‘Go, cursed people, out of My sight, into the eternal fire, which has been prepared for the devil and his angels! For I was hungry, and you did not give Me anything to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me nothing to drink; I was a stranger, and you did not welcome Me into your house; I was naked, and you did not clothe Me; I was sick, and in prison, and you did not visit Me.’”

“They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, naked or a stranger, sick or in prison, and did not help You?’ The King will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you : just as you did not do it for one of the least of these, you did not do it for Me.’ And these will go into eternal punishments; but the just, to eternal life.”

Monday, 27 February 2023 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Psalm 18 : 8, 9, 10, 15

The Law of YHVH is perfect : it gives life to the soul. The word of YHVH is trustworthy : it gives wisdom to the simple.

The precepts of YHVH are right : they give joy to the heart. The commandments of YHVH are clear : they enlighten the eyes.

The fear of YHVH is pure, it endures forever; the judgments of YHVH are true, all of them just and right.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart find favour in Your sight, o YHVH – my Redeemer, my Rock!

Monday, 27 February 2023 : 1st Week of Lent, Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : Purple/Violet

Leviticus 19 : 1-2, 11-18

YHVH spoke to Moses and said, “Speak to the entire assembly of the people of Israel and say to them : Be holy for I, YHVH, your God, am holy. Do not steal or lie or deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by My Name so as to profane the Name of your God; I am YHVH.”

“Do not oppress your neighbour or rob him. The wages of a hired man are not to remain with you all night until morning. You shall not curse a deaf man nor put a stumbling block in the way of the blind; but you shall fear your God; I am YHVH.”

“Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor nor bow to the great; you are to judge your neighbour fairly so as not to share in his guilt. Do not go about as a slanderer of your people and do not seek the death of your neighbour; I am YHVH.”

“Do not hate your brother in your heart; rebuke your neighbour frankly so as not to share in his guilt. Do not seek revenge or nurture a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbour as yourself; I am YHVH.”

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Homily and Scripture Reflections)

Liturgical Colour : White

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day as we listened to the words from the Sacred Scriptures, we are all presented with the reminder of the faithfulness which God has shown to each one of us by the Covenant that He has established and constantly renewed with all of us. God has always ever been faithful to all the promises and oaths, vows and words that He has spoken to us, fulfilling and completing them as He had done, in His own time, and He has always reached out to us with ever patient and enduring love that despite our many stubborn actions and attitudes, and refusal to listen to Him, God has always been ready to welcome us back and to forgive us our sins when we come to Him seeking His mercy.

In our first reading today, from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we heard of the words of the author of the Epistle regarding the extent of the things that the Lord had done for us, even when He was not obliged to do so. He, the Almighty and All-Powerful Lord and Master of all Creation, is not bound to show His love for us all, or to be bound by any promises for us, and less still, to bind Himself in a Covenant with us, especially after we have disobeyed against Him and rebelled against Him, choosing to listen to the falsehoods of the devil instead of the path of God’s righteousness, virtues and justice. God has chosen to continue reaching out to us and patiently guiding us towards Himself despite all these, and established a Holy Covenant with us, binding Himself into this sacred vow, oath and arrangement, all because of His love for us.

God has always loved us all from the very beginning, and while He despised our sins and wickedness, what He hates was truly those sins and evils that we have committed, and not ourselves personally. After all, the very reason why He created this whole world and Universe is because of His love and He created us in His very own image, as He desired to share with us His overflowing love, to love us all most generously and sincerely, and to bring us all into His most Holy and loving Presence. We were never intended to suffer and to die, as we were created all good and perfect. We should have enjoyed an eternity of bliss and true happiness with God, if not for the failures of our ancestors and all of us in resisting and rejecting the temptations and allures of sin and evil. It was because of sin that we have been sundered and separated from God.

Yet, the Lord still persisted patiently and gave us opportunities, help and assistance, time and again so that we all may find our way to Him, to return to His path and to be reconciled with Him. He has always reached out to us, His lost sheep and scattered flock, that as our Good Shepherd, He went all the way, to the wilderness and to the peripheries, in searching out for us, finding us and returning us to the flock that He had gathered, all because He truly loved each and every one of us equally, and most dearly. It is through Christ Himself that we have seen, witnessed and experienced the Love of God firsthand, manifested and made real and tangible in our midst. And by Christ’s suffering, His Passion, His death on the Cross, He has shown us just how perfect and selfless God’s love for us has been, is, and will always ever be.

In our Gospel passage today, the Lord courageously spoke out against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law who criticised Him and His disciples, because of the latters’ actions in picking up the grains of the wheat from the field when they were all very hungry. Back then, the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law were truly notorious for their particularly hardline and rigid attitude in preserving and observing the Law of God, and the many customs and practices of the Jewish people. They were very strict in imposing their no-tolerance adherence and observance of the Law of God, the numerous laws, regulations and rules pertaining to the Jewish customs and practices, especially the one regarding the Sabbath day, the day of rest stipulated in the Law.

However, in their misguided zeal and fanaticism, those Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had overlooked the fact and forgotten that the Sabbath as it was originally revealed by God and intended by Him, was a day to remind all the faithful to turn back towards the Lord, and to take a break from their often overly possessive attachments to worldly matters and ambitions, their preoccupations and works, their desires and wants in life, among other things, which prevented them from loving God and serving Him as they should have done. The Sabbath was a day meant to help the people of God to return to Him after long periods of being distracted by worldly matters and all the troubles, problems and trials that they had in this world.

Unfortunately, those same Pharisees and teachers of the Law, were the very ones who made it difficult for many to come to embrace the Lord, because of their excessive focus and attention on themselves and their own attachments to pride, ego and ambition, to human praise and worldly glory among other things. They had made it difficult for many, especially those who in fact were in the greatest need for God’s mercy and forgiveness. Not only that, but the Pharisees and the teachers themselves forgot that they themselves were also in need of healing and God’s mercy, and by closing the gates of Heaven to many, that made their sins to multiply and became greater, not less. Their neglect of their role as stewards and guides for God’s people, to help them to return to the Lord, was their undoing.

The Lord Jesus hence reminded them and also all of us that the Law of God was meant to help us to find our way back to the Lord, and not to lay unnecessary burdens and hardships on us. The Law of God is love and is about God’s ever enduring and strong love for each one of us, so that He was willing to go through all those obstacles for us, on our behalf and to love us still even after we have disobeyed and refused to listen to Him so many times. Nonetheless, God continued to reach out to us, and through His Son, Our Lord and Saviour, all of us have been gathered from being scattered all throughout the world, and through Him and His love, we have been saved from our predicament and fate of eternal damnation. And it is only right therefore that we also dedicate ourselves to the Lord in the same way.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, the Lord has laid out His path and His graces upon us, and the choice is now ours whether we want to embrace Him and journey together with Him, or else, if we rather choose the comforts of the world and the temptations of glory and power. And we can also imitate and follow upon the good examples and works set by one famous saint and Church father, St. Anthony the Abbot, also known as the St. Anthony the Great, who was one of the earliest monastics of the Church, and living in the land rampant with bitter persecutions and hardships by the Roman authorities. St. Anthony devoted himself wholeheartedly to the Lord, spending his every living moments and breaths to glorify God by their work. He had to face a lot of struggles, but St. Anthony remained faithful and patient. He resisted the temptations of worldly glory and strived his best to lead a life of holy asceticism, focused solely on God, and gathered like minded people who followed his example, which was credited with the rise of the monastic practices in the Church.

For example, it was well known that the devil and other demons often came to torment St. Anthony, lifting him up and tempting him with all sorts of false and empty promises. He was under constant attacks from the evil one, and had to contend with the sufferings of this world as well as the pressures for us to conform and follow the ways of the world. Nonetheless, St. Anthony remained firm and strong in his faith, ministering to the needs of his community and other people who desired to seek the Lord and His forgiveness and grace, within his monastic communities as well as to the greater community, to his many visitors and contemporaries. Through his inspirational works, he has become our great model in how we should live our own lives, in being faithful and committed to God, and his writings inspired generations of good and holy priests, and holy people of God. The question is that, are we willing to spend the time and effort for us to change our ways for the better? The choice is ours alone.

May the Lord our most loving God and Creator continue to love us and care for us, and that may He continue to be patient with us, as we are progressing through our own respective lives. We should not take our faith, its many rules and precepts for granted anymore. That is why it is important that we have to grow to understand more about what our faith is all about, and how we should seek and strive to be humble before God, so that we may not be swallowed by our many worldly attachments and pride, and that we will always ever be patient in following God, and that we may always give Him thanks and praise for all the good things that He had done for us. May God bless us always, now and forevermore, in all the things we say and do. Amen.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Gospel Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Mark 2 : 23-28

At that time, one Sabbath Jesus was walking through grainfields. As His disciples walked along with Him, they began to pick the heads of grain and crush them in their hands. Then the Pharisees said to Jesus, “Look! They are doing what is forbidden on the Sabbath!”

And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did in his time of need, when he and his men were very hungry? He went into the house of God, when Abiathar was High Priest, and ate the bread of offering, which only the priests are allowed to eat, and he also gave some to the men who were with him.”

Then Jesus said to them, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Master even of the Sabbath.”

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (Psalm)

Liturgical Colour : White

Psalm 110 : 1-2, 4-5, 9 and 10c

Alleluia! I thank the Lord with all my heart in the council of the just, in the assembly. The works of the Lord are great and pondered by all who delight in them.

He lets us remember His wondrous deeds; the Lord is merciful and kind. Always mindful of His covenant, He provides food for those who fear Him.

He has sent His people deliverances and made with them a covenant forever. His holy Name is to be revered! To Him belongs everlasting praise.

Tuesday, 17 January 2023 : 2nd Week of Ordinary Time, Memorial of St. Anthony, Abbot (First Reading)

Liturgical Colour : White

Hebrews 6 : 10-20

God is not unjust and will not forget everything you have done for love of His Name; you have helped and still help the believers. We desire each of you to have, until the end, the same zeal for reaching what you have hoped for. Do not grow careless but imitate those who, by their faith and determination, inherit the promise.

Remember God’s promise to Abraham, God wanted to confirm it with an oath and, as no one is higher than God, He swore by Himself : I shall bless you and give you many descendants. By just patiently waiting, Abraham obtained the promise.

People are used to swearing by someone higher than themselves and their oath affirms everything that could be denied. So God committed Himself with an oath in order to convince those who were to wait for His promise that He would never change His mind.

Thus we have two certainties in which it is impossible that God be proved false : promise and oath. That is enough to encourage us strongly when we leave everything to hold to the hope set before us. This hope is like a steadfast anchor of the soul, secure and firm, thrust beyond the curtain of the Temple into the sanctuary itself, where Jesus has entered ahead of us – Jesus, High Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.