St. Vartanantz Day Message
by Rev. Nerses Balabanian Pastor of Pilgrim Armenian Congregational Church, Fresno, CA
Whose Mark Do We Bear?
They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. Rev. 20:4b NIV
The verse you just read is quoted from the Book of Revelation. Apostle John wrote down his vision of the Judgment Day. He described the people who suffered and lost their lives for the witness of their Lord Jesus Christ, who refused to worship the beast or his image, and who did not compromise their faith. This cost them their lives, and they were given the glorious crown.
Today, 1568 years later, we celebrate the memory of Vartan and his friends. Even though thousands fell on that day in the Battle of Avarayr, yet we consider it a feast and not day of mourning. It is a feast because what happened in the Battle of Avarayr was not an end as the Persians thought it would be. It was a beginning, a continuation of what Thaddeus, Bartholomew, and St. Krikor Lousavorich sowed into the hearts of the Armenian people.
There are 150 years between 301 and 451 AD, i.e. between the Armenians accepting Christianity and being ready to die for their faith. They were not willing to bow to the “beast” and accept his “mark.” Christianity had become real in their lives. Martyrdom is a life of testimony. The Armenians were able to worship and read the Bible in their mother tongue especially since the Armenian Alphabet was developed in 405 AD. The Armenians studied their faith and learned that Christ had set them free from sin. They wanted to live in freedom and worship the God they loved.
What do we learn from these martyrs today?
Vartan and his friends bore marks: In his speech, Vartan mentioned,
“each of us carries numerous injuries and scars on our bodies …”
Whose mark do we bear today? Whose impact shows in our lives?
We often meet people who have a tattoo on their body as a sign or a remembrance of something meaningful for them. Some wear crosses as a symbol of their faith. Some wear scars of war. However, Vartan says, “…those courageous acts I count useless because all of them will vanish.” For Vartan, those were useless because they would fade away.
The Christian mark that Vartan and his friends bore was their testimonial life. A life that was ready to say NO to the Persian gods and YES to Jesus Christ.
Today, we Armenians are able to continue worshiping our Lord Jesus Christ and pray to Him because of people like Vartan and his friends who chose to not give up their faith, their Christian values, and the freedom of religion. Our message after more than fifteen centuries is to continue in the same spirit. We need to bear the mark of our Lord Jesus Christ by living our faith boldly and by serving and witnessing for Him.