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Living Faith
Tested Faith
Witnessed Faith
Service and its Rewards
Armenian Christianity and the World
Armenian Christianity and Survival

A Piece of the Puzzle

When I deal with other Christians around the world, I feel that Armenian Apostolic Christians have this rich legacy that we have sort of kept to ourselves. Other Christians are always interested in knowing about this first Christian nation. They want to know how we developed our unique witness to Christ starting from Thaddeus and Bartholomew and continuing almost 2000 years to the present. Historic Armenia is a country that lays claim to Noah's Ark, and, at the site of Etchmiadzin, our Holy See, in 301 A.D., Christ came down in a vision to St. Gregory. There are only a few places in the world where that has happened.

For people who really do believe in Christ, I think Armenia carries part of the mystery. There's an allure-sort of like a Christian Tibet. I'm not saying that we necessarily live up to that, but, for people seeking to understand Christianity better, I believe our church and our traditions and our religious sites offer a lot of answers. We are part of the greater Christian puzzle. And we are a part of the puzzle that very few people understand. I am not sure even we understand how valuable our piece of the puzzle is.

Although we're not a proselytizing church, a part of faith and of one's spiritual growth is getting to the point where you understand yourself and your relations with God well enough to talk about it with other people. I think it's also part of how we should relate to other Christians and the rest of the world community.

At the parish I attend regularly in Armenia, we have been holding catechism-type, question-and-answer sessions as a part of our religious education program. One of the issues we discussed recently was our Christian calling. As Christians we are asked to be the salt of the earth, the light, and the yeast of the bread-the leaven and lump. When I talk about the leaven and lump, one of the things I always emphasize is that each Christian, as they come to better understand the faith and their role in it, has a duty to explain it to others. That is how the lump becomes leaven; how the yeast raises the world.

I think this calling is an aspect of our faith that many Armenian Christians don't take seriously or haven't taken the time to understand well enough. I think that, if we tried passing our understanding of Christianity along to others, we might discover a great truth: By your students you will be taught.

That has certainly been my experience. I've discovered time and time again that, in trying to learn something well enough to teach someone else, even if you don't learn it well enough, just the act of trying gives you insight, helps you grow, and helps them grow as well.

Teaching others is at the core of Christianity. It's the basic message, the great commission. Not just the apostles were given the task of spreading the good news. It was given to them and to everyone else. Thaddeus and Bartholomew passed their mission on to us and that commission continues to this day. We are an important part of that commission, and I think we have carried that on within our own community. It is time we reach out to other communities as well. Not necessarily to proselytize and bring them into the Armenian Apostolic faith, but to let people know that in over 2000 years we have come to understand God and Christianity not just by learning and teaching the faith, but also by living it through our history.

I want to share the lessons we have learned with the rest of the world. One way I see of sharing our unique witness is by being empathetic with people who are being oppressed, by being voices for justice or voices against injustice, and by trying to be peacemakers. We have experienced all these things as a nation, so I have found it very easy to work in the area of human rights and for organizations like Amnesty International, because as an Armenian it is as if you are raised with a sense of injustice and the need to champion the causes of the oppressed.

I think that we have that kind of empathy if we want to tap into it, but oftentimes we don't. We become inward-looking, and we see ourselves as victims, but that victimization is also a source of strength. We need to turn those feelings around because in doing so we will show others, and ourselves, that we are able to overcome the injustices we have faced.

Miraculously, for 2000 years we have overcome a great deal of adversity. I think this is largely because we have a faith that gives us hope that things will get better-not only that things will get better but that we have a duty to make them better.

Tom Samuelian, Yerevan, Armenia


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