World Council of Churches

Eine weltweite Gemeinschaft von Kirchen auf der Suche nach Einheit, gemeinsamem Zeugnis und Dienst

Paula Devejian presentation

21 February 2006

Plenary on the Assembly theme

Ms Paula Devejian from the US is currently working for the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin in Armenia as Internet development director

Reflections on the theme: God, in your grace, transform our societies

Societies today are faced with ever increasing problems. And while tension mounts between people and between nations, complacency and apathy also abound. We become numb to the disasters, and the tragedies, which make it easy to turn a blind eye to the problems of others. Changes in society can be subtle, but over time, result in decreasing moral principles, values and standards as well as ethics.

 

Prior to departing for this Assembly, our delegation met as a group to prepare ourselves for the event. One of the questions asked around the table was, what did our nation, our community and our church expect out of these proceedings? I had to honestly answer to myself, that I didn't think the expectations were much. Not that there was no hope, but that there is an awareness that no one body or organization can resolve the problems of the world.  

In today's society, individual responsibility is often overlooked. When we call upon God to transform our societies, we must not forget that he has already granted us the tools to make this possible. He has taught us, through the teachings of His Son Jesus Christ, the rules of life, right from wrong, good from evil. We also know that actions speak louder than words; leading by example does work; and we can make a difference, as long as we choose to do so.

When we speak out against violence, or tyranny, or poverty, we must also ask ourselves, "What do we do or not do in our own daily life to work to overcome these things?" These are hard choices we are faced with, because as humans, we are weak and the temptation to take the easy path is always great.

It is not easy to refuse or deny ourselves the new piece of clothing because it's in fashion or more modern or even looks nicer on us than 3 we already own. Consumer excess in the Western world is rampant and sadly, sets a standard that others long for and desire. The quest for material wealth and possessions and creature comforts has a snowball effect on society with people constantly wanting and looking for what's next, what's new and what's better.

This makes it easy to overlook the plight of others. We talk about the inequities in the world, but how many of us make a concerted effort in our everyday lives to make a difference, to not be wasteful, to set a true example for others.

God has given us the tools to change our societies, what we need to pray for is the strength, will and fortitude as individuals to use what he has already granted to us, and make it happen. The examples of God transforming the world are constantly around us.

Throughout history, the Armenian Church and nation has been shaped by God's Grace of transformation. Noah's Ark landed on Mt. Ararat, in the historical lands of Armenia, and is an example of God's grace giving all of humanity a second chance. Through God's grace, the Armenian nation was one of the lands visited by the Apostles, and through the works of Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, our Bishops have been graced by the unbroken chain of Apostolic succession. Through the seeds of Christianity, planted by the apostles, Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity nation in the 4th century through the efforts of our patron saint, St. Gregory the Illuminator who survived insurmountable odds and converted a pagan king only through God's grace. We were forever defined as a nation when our alphabet was created in the 5th century, which allowed our people to worship and learn of God's teachings in their own language. The first sentence translated into Armenian was: "That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight" (Proverbs 1.1). Even with the first written words in Armenian, the Church encouraged her people to accept the tools of God's Grace. Wisdom, understand and insight, all words leading us to a more peaceful coexistence with one another.

Through God's grace we became a national church, preserving our faith and ethnic identity for over 1,700 years, and while we've also suffered many times for our faith, the Armenian people never stopped believing that the power of God's grace could transform the world. Our people suffered the heinous crime of Genocide, not only for our faith, but also for our ethnic identity. As a result of the Genocide, our people were scattered throughout the world, but our Diaspora grew strong and despite adversity we found strength. We lived through 70 years of Soviet atheism and state sanctioned oppression of our church, and even in those days we did not feel deserted by God, as his light was kept alive in the hearts and minds of the people. We have been separated from each other, those living behind the oppressive curtain of communism and those on the outside. But we remained faithful to one another, through the Grace of God. Our people relying on Jesus Christ have always looked to the future, to the coming day, to the better tomorrow. And in 1991, we received our independence, and once more he transformed the Armenian lands. In 1991, Artsakh and the historical lands of Armenia were declared independent and through great sacrifice the land was liberated and today our people worship freely. We have been united once again as a nation, under the banner of the Armenian Church and our spiritual and administrative headquarters, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, and today through God's grace we believe that there are better days ahead, that our economy will improve, and that our people though denied the light of Christ for nearly a decade, will learn again of God's Grace. In my lifetime, I could only dream that I would one day see the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin free from foreign domination, but it was a dream that I never stopped having. And now that dream has come true, and our people are a witness to God's grace and power.

The Armenian nation is an example to the world of how God's grace can transform a society. The Armenian people, given their difficult history of persecutions, invasions and oppression from the moment they accepted Christianity, should long ago have disappeared from the earth. But they have remained steadfast to their faith, and turned adversity into advantage, using the tools God gave them. While we are a small nation, our people have made impact on the societies, wherever they have lived. By living as a nation in dispersion in foreign lands, we have co-existed with people of many faiths and cultures. We exist on every continent of the world. And even in regions where we no longer live, our positive impact on society remains. We have adapted ourselves to our new homes and made peaceful contributions to whatever society we have lived in. We have trusted in God and His Divine Grace and succeeded in maintaining our national identity while becoming contributing members of society on foreign shores. We have remained steadfast and loyal to the lofty ideal of brotherhood and solidarity, as first stated by St. Augustine and confirmed by our venerable pontiff St. Nerses the Graceful in the 11th century: "Unity in the Essentials, Liberty in the non-essentials, Love in everything".

God's grace is all around us, he has given us the tools to change our societies, we must find the strength and courage to use them. We talk about unity, about speaking and acting with one voice, and one mind, but we as a body are unable to achieve this among ourselves. If we, as a Christian body cannot unite among ourselves, how can we realistically expect the world to? We talk about unity, but do our actions really reflect that wish. Long after the speeches have been made, studies done, papers written, theories analyzed, what becomes of those words? When we leave this venue, leave the view of the public eye, do our actions reflect these same desires and goals that we preach?

We seek for the world to accept each other. But maybe we seek too much. We have learned through our experiences that perhaps what we should start with is tolerance. Accepting another person's view point, lifestyle, even culture is difficult and sometimes even impossible. If we can get people to first tolerate each other, then the acceptance will come later. But it is something that must be worked on every minute of every day.

God created us as individuals, with free will. And this individuality balances the effects of globalization. Our individuality is what makes us strong. Our diversity doesn't have to be something negative and can be viewed as a positive if we tolerate the differences among us.

Each of us, by the experiences and wisdom that we have received at this conference by attending this assembly, now have the power to return to our churches, communities, neighborhoods, family and friends, and by example, through our own actions, effect the perceptions and actions of society. We should not look to "the Church" by itself, as a separate body aside from ourselves, to solve the problems of the world, because each of us as individuals make up the body of the Church. We have the power within our own hands to change society, we must pray for the strength to use them.