'And They Would Not Accept Him' - Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > 'And They Would Not Accept Him' - Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)

From the 25th to the 30th June I was part of a delegation of six bishops from Australia on visit to Armenia. Apart from myself, the bishops represented various Eastern Rites, both Catholic and Orthodox. We were guests of the Catholicos, His Holiness Karekin II, who is the head of the Armenian Orthodox Church and stayed at the central complex of the Armenian Church, the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, a little outside the capital city, Yerevan.

Apart from a number of official meetings with the Catholicos, the Prime Minister, and the Catholic Archbishop, we visited various monasteries in different parts of the country and learned of the history of the Church in Armenia.

Many monasteries were built in the early centuries of Christianity, destroyed by invading armies, and then rebuilt. The rich spiritual and architectural heritage has suffered greatly over the centuries.

The Church in Armenia was founded by two apostles, St Thaddeus who worked in Armenia in the years 35-43AD, and St Bartholomew who laboured there during the years 44-60AD. As in so many other places, the first Christians experienced times of persecution and many were martyred in the first few centuries. However, with the conversion of the King in 301, Armenia became the first nation to formally embrace Christianity, more than a decade before the conversion of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

The subsequent history of the Church in Armenia was marked by periods of peace, broken by invasions from the surrounding nations. For most of its history Armenia has been under foreign rule. A century ago it was under the control of Turkey.

One very moving experience was to visit the Genocide Memorial in Yerevan. We laid a wreath and prayed for the victims. In 1915 the Turkish government undertook a genocide aimed at wiping out all Armenian Christians. Over 1.5 million Christians perished – half of the population of Armenia at the time. The memorial museum documents the progress of the genocide which continued from 1915 to 1922. My experience there was overwhelmingly confronting and sad. One was moved to tears in learning of the intense cruelty inflicted on the people simply because they were Christian.

I have now visited the Middle East as part of a delegation of Australian bishops on three occasions and have been confronted by the level of persecution that Christians have known and currently experience. When we look at the broad history of the Church we see that the lot of being a Christian is to be persecuted in one way or another.

The Gospel today describes the resistance to Jesus by the people of his home town. Rather than rejoicing in one of their own showing forth great wisdom and manifesting the saving power of God, they found fault and criticised him. St Mark summarises the experience of Jesus in his return to Nazareth in these words: “And they would not accept him.”

To be a Christian often means to be at odds with the prevailing currents of thought and attitude in society. Sadly, this is becoming more a reality for us here in Australia. We are now experiencing constant attacks on Christianity in the media and in social opinion. As our society moves rapidly down paths of secularism, it rejects not only Christian moral teaching, but the very faith that has inspired it. To be a believer now is to be unusual and indeed a threat. Simply put, we as Christians are not accepted any more.
We desire to be good citizens and live our lives quietly. However, being Christian attracts criticism and attack. This will only increase and our lives in society will become more difficult.

I learnt much from my time among the Armenians. They have known intense suffering, yet they have not abandoned the faith. When their churches were destroyed, they have sought to rebuild them.

The faith has endured. It has endured because people have held fast, often in the most difficult of situations. The terrible final years under Turkish control were quickly followed by being annexed by the Soviet Union. They endured Communism until 1991. Yet the people did not abandon their faith; they quietly held fast.

In our Church terminology we sometimes use the word “faithful” to describe those in the Church. It is an appropriate term. The person who believes and seeks to live out their faith in a steady and committed way is one who is being faithful. What enables them to be faithful is a deep trust in God, a love of their faith, and a humble spirit. The faithful are those who are not swept along by the currents of popular attitudes, but whose life in grounded in a profound relationship with God. In the end the only thing that really matters for them is that God is the foundation of the meaning and purpose of their life. Faith means everything to them. Because of this they will not be moved. 

Our visit to Armenia as an ecumenical delegation of bishops from Australia, as with the one to Iraq and to Cairo, sought to express our Christian solidarity with brethren in the faith who are currently suffering and struggling to survive. For me personally it was an opportunity to be united spiritually with the Church which is ancient and deep in spiritual history and yet has known much suffering. It was humbling to be among fellow Christians whose faith has survived and remains strong despite so many obstacles and sufferings.

There is a quiet determination to live out faithfully their rich Christian heritage. For them, their faith means everything to them. I can never forget what one old woman said to me: “They can take everything but they cannot take my faith.”

The lands of the Middle East where the Christian faith was first planted are now under much pressure. In many places they struggle to survive. Yet despite persecution and much suffering, the faith endures, often purified and strengthened.  They can be an inspiration to us, as we may face increasing rejection in our own society.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 8 July 2018