Today, we are celebrating the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. It is one of the four feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross and is unique to the Armenian Church. This miraculous event most probably took place on December 30, 660 A.D., when the relic of the Holy Cross, long thought to be lost, was revealed and given to two monks on Mount Varak.
This divine revelation could not have taken place in a better time because in the seventh century Armenians needed a miracle more than ever. By mid-century Armenia was invaded by Arab armies three times, spreading devastations and destruction all the way from its eastern borders to the capital Ani. This period of history for Armenians was marked by grief, betrayal, defeat and disappointment. They hoped and sought military assistance and support from the Christian superpower nextdoor – the Byzantine empire, but were left to fight and stop the Muslim conquest to the West all alone. There was no king, no central government in Armenia to unite the Armenian forces and organize the resistance. And while every Armenian prince did try to fight and prevent the invasion when it reached their borders and city gates, they have all failed and perished not being united.
It was in the backdrop of this despair that the discovery of the Holy Cross of Varak took place and shone rays of hope that even though abandoned and forgotten, the Armenian nation was not alone and God was with them. The wise catholicos of the time, Nersess III Ishkhantsi, also known in some historical sources as Tayetsi or the Builder, recognized the immense importance of this revelation for the spiritual renewal of the nation and created the feast of Varaka Khach. He also understood the crucial importance of national unity around a single leader. Unable to restore the kingdom of Armenia without the approval of Byzantium, he managed to elevate Teodoros Rshtuni as the supreme prince of Armenia. Their lives centered on God, trusting in the revelation of Christ and his life-giving Cross, united around their new leader, Armenians were able to repel the third Arab invasion.
The story of the Feast of Varaka Khach is so much more than simply a history. The struggle and fight of a tiny Christian nation against immensely powerful global power such as the Islamic Khalifa, against which no empire and kingdom of the time could stand, the hopes and disappointment of our ancestors as well as the source of their empowerment – are all guiding us, showing us the way and helping us to navigate our lives today.
The challenges, demands and distractions of the modern world we live in, twist and tear us apart. Often, our lives are not only not centered on Christ, but they are not centered at all. Our lives gravitate and are pulled into million directions as we try to attend and address the day to day struggles and difficulties we face. We want to do it all, reach to all, find a solution to every difficulty we and our families experience. Our wholeness is disrupted, our precious inner peace shattered into hundred pieces. We strive and struggle to hold onto the pieces of our fractured and fragmented lives, unable to catch and hold them all.
The feelings of wholeness, inner peace and silence became luxuries of modern spiritual life. It is extremely hard to feel God’s presence, to see how he is working in us and through us when our mind is racing into a dozen different directions at any given moment. Being whole, being in peace, being centered on Christ are not simply nice qualities, they are essential for fully being human, being present in our own lives, experiencing and feeling everything God has prepared for us, everything that life has to offer. Life is not a chase, it is not a condemnation to catch up and address every challenge life throws on you and me, but a beautiful experience of being whole, being present in God and being filled with his presence. Only by making Christ and faith the center of lives, we can feel alive and free. While our struggles might not simply vanish, faith will lift us up above the worries and anxieties that torment our souls. Faith will lift us to a place and state of mind and soul where everything in life makes sense, where there is peace and wholeness sustained by God’s presence in our lives.