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Restoring Respect in our Sacred Spaces

I have never felt more incomplete walking out of church than I did on Easter Sunday. Something was stirring, and I felt compelled to go back. So on Monday morning, I ran into the groundskeeper, who kindly unlocked the doors to St. Stephen’s in Watertown for me. I slowly returned to the pew I had shared with my husband and three year-old son the day before.
The scent of khoong was still lingering. The pure white Easter lilies that were a vibrant addition on the grand and spirited altar were now in the shadows. I was all alone, grateful and moved by the absolute stillness of the sacred space that once served as the setting for my fall wedding, the joyous summertime christening of our son and the emotional funeral of my husband’s maternal grandmother.
I’m sure the church has faithfully served you and your families in similar ways. It’s our spiritual home, and it’s always been there for us. We are, after all, descendants of the first nation of people to adopt Christianity. But I’m afraid today, we don’t act like it.
This is nothing new. I grew up in southern California, where Easter Sunday was always a circus. The ‘who’s who’ of the San Fernando Valley would don their less-than Sunday best and gather in the courtyard of their respective church to socialize and smoke cigarettes while services were happening inside a jam-packed gymnasium (because the church was far too small to accommodate the masses).
I was younger then, but those experiences obviously left a lasting impression on me. Now years later and three-thousand miles away in the heart of Greater Boston’s Armenian community, I am witnessing irreverence once again on the Sunday marking Christ’s miraculous resurrection from the dead. Imagine Der Antranig Baljian interrupting the 45-minute Holy Communion procession just to silence parishioners who were drowning out the solemn music of the organ with their private, incessant conversations. That moment was supposed to be a time of renewal for the faithful and the humble ahead of their spiritual union with Jesus Christ. But the meaning of the occasion and the Sacrament that I was preparing to receive were marred by inappropriate murmurings and laughter.
Shortly after the badarak, I was reminded of the Gospel narrative in which Jesus purges the temple of commercial livestock and money changers. “My house shall be called the house of prayer,” said Jesus in Matthew 21. But the church is not just the house of God; it is our spiritual home as well. If we fill it with thoughtless behavior, we make that a nearly impossible ideal. Some churchgoers on Sunday did not even have the self-control to refrain from texting.
By the time my husband returned to our pew after an outdoor break with our son, my disappointment had materialized into tears. I was devastated that this was the conclusion of my 40-day Lenten sacrifice. I was overwhelmed and deeply hurt by the complete disregard for the centuries-old tradition of the badarak. As we approach its 104th anniversary commemoration, I also considered the devout Christians who perished during the Armenian Genocide. As their living descendants, we put on an embarrassing display last Sunday.
I’m not in any position to advise you to be more involved in the church; our newest columnist Stepan Piligian can provide that commentary. And in case you missed it, Der Hayr dedicated his Easter sermon to church attendance as he typically does. My point is this: No matter how many times a year you attend church, I implore you to be respectful and mindful of where you are when you do come. It doesn’t matter whether or not it’s Easter Sunday. We all deserve a thoughtful, calm place to practice our faith.
As for me, I eventually made it toward the altar as one of the final recipients of Communion that Sunday morning. Tearfully, I made the sign of the cross and approached Der Hayr, who—with that twinkle in his eye—seemed to say, “It will all be okay.”
Leeza ArakelianAssistant Editor


Armenian Weekly

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