Wisdom from the son of Armenia.
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- Hovhaness Toumanian
- Human nature
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- living within one's means
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- Shameless people
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- Think for yourself
- Turkish Massacre of Armenians
- Two faced people
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- Useless Labor
- Vetch Hazaria – Six thousand secrets of wisdom
- The mystic perfections one may attain by reading parts of the Vetz Hazaria
- Six thousand secrets of wisdom – Vetz Hazaria
- Vetz Hazaria – Questions and answers
- Control the following three things to live happy and peaceful; sensuality, material desire and anger.
- Milk nurtures a child to become healthy,strong, grow and develop good intelligence. But if you give milk to a new born snake, it will turn it into a dangerous and poisonous creature.
- When a rascal is given good instruction, he becomes angry.
- Who fears to suffer, suffers from fear
- The greatness of a person is estimated by his ability to tolerate provoking situations
- Fenugreek – get the sludge out of your bulge
khorovadzee hohdee kuhnatzeen, ehss eheen taghghoum
This is a very witty proverb that brilliantly illustrates the dry folk humor of Armenia. The BBQ is one of the favorite pastimes of Armenia. Roasting a dead carcass is a real treat for Armenians. But, in truth, it is a dead carcass being roasted on a fire. Is there any difference between the carcass of a dead ass or the same being being roasted on a charcoal fire? Both have the fetid smell of decaying flesh.
Imagine the surprise! Instead of joining a barbeque, the persons following their nose found the carcass of the decaying ass being placed in a grave.
eench vor puhrtehs ahmanut, ehn ehl goukah pehrahnut – what you put on your plate, will go in your mouth (literally – what you crumble on your plate will end up in your mouth)
This proverb indicates the responsibility one accrues for his own acts. The consequences of one’s own acts is an important theme in eastern and western philosophy. God endows us with the facility of limited free will. We are never independent of God, but God does not predetermine our destiny or future. What happens to us in the future is a result of our own actions either good or bad or mixed. Whatever we sow, we shall reap. (eench vor tzahnes, aiyn guh hntzehs) This is expressed with a slight variation in the Armenian proverb, puhchadzut tuhkalut bidee kah – what you blow away shall come back into your spoon.
Another Armenian proverb expresses this same point more forcefully, yehpadz ahbourut gehr heemah – You made the soup, so eat it now. The laws of nature as established by God hold us always responsible for our acts unless we are released from such implacable laws by the mercy of God.
Sometimes people work very hard and have very little to show for it. (oujegh ahskahdetz, ahnoti pohrov bargetz – he worked so hard, but went to bed on an empty stomach) This is the result of their destiny as determined by their previous acts in this life and previous lives. Whatever we sow, we shall reap. (eench vor tzahnes, aiyn guh hntzehs) Some people work hard their whole lives and are hardly able to make ends meet. Others are born with a golden spoon in their mouth and go through life enjoying opulence without working hard. Happiness and distress are predetermined by destiny or our previous acts.
Man is always subject to God’s will. God gives man codes of good behavior (10 commandments) and encourages him to follow them with the understanding that transgressions to the laws will bring consequences. Armenian proverbs point this out.
tahdastan gah kahloust, bahdasghan gah dahloust
Judgement day will come, you will be held accountable (answerable to God)
ahnmehn mahrtou ahradzuh eehr ahchehvuh gehrtah
Every man’s deeds walk in front of him
The wisdom put forward by the Armenian spirit is
muhnehr ahnohrehn, guh kudnahs yehrgnahvorehn -
Do no wrong, God will pay you before long.
Eench vor uhnehs, ahyit guh kutnehs
What action you perform, that (its result) you will find
Man is responsible for his actions in life. If he does good, he will find good, if he does bad, he will find bad. The result he gets, either good or bad, entangles him to act again and the cycle continues unending until he is fed up with self-interested activity and decides to hear about the path of liberation through unselfish acts for the unique pleasure of God.
kuhrvadzuh cahvreer, chee kuhrvadzuh yerpeck chee gahdahvreer
What is written will never be destroyed and what is not written
will never take place
There is a book of records of every person’s past deeds and future destiny. If a future event is written in the book, it cannot be erased or changed. Similarly, if a future event is not written in the book, it will not happen according to this proverb because destiny is predetermined. This is not an endorsed Christian concept. It is coming from a very ancient pre-Christian past. In Armenian folk belief there is the concept of jahgahdakeer, which means what is written on one’s forehead is destined to take place. In other words, it means that one’s destiny is written on the forehead or pre-determined. In Turkish, it is called “alin yazuhsuhn” which means what is written on your forehead will happen.
In Islamic belief, during judgment, a person’s own “book of deeds” will be shown, and the person will be apprised of every deed and every word one spoke (Qur’an 54.52-53). If given in the right hand, that Person will go to Jannah (paradise). If he gets it in his left, he’s going to Jahannam (Hell). Actions during childhood are not judged. Even minor and trivial deeds are included in the account.
There is an interesting story that illustrates this idea of “what is written on the forehead will happen.”
It is narrated by the personality of death. “There was a merchant in Baghdad who sent his servant to the marketplace to buy provisions. After a short while, the servant came back to his master, white and trembling, and said, “Sir, while I was in the market-place, I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw it was Death personified. She looked at me and gave me a menacing glance. Please lend me your horse. I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. My plan is ride as quick as possible to Samarra and hide so that Death will not find me.”
The merchant lent him his horse, and the servant mounted it. He dug his spurs in the horse’s shanks so that the horse galloped as fast as it could. The merchant went down to the marketplace. He noticed Death standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning?”
“That was not a threatening gesture,” I said, “It was only my expression of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
Similarly, there was a man in India who wanted to avoid death. The agent of death is called Yamaraj. He comes to extract the soul of man from his dying body at the moment of death so that the person can be judged according to his deeds. This man reasoned that Yamaraj is a first class brahmin (a priestly servant of God) and that brahmins never touch human or animal stools. Therefore, the man smeared his own excrement all over his body thinking that as long as his body is covered in feces, Yamaraj would not touch him for fear of violating brahminical principles.
This is an example of being over intelligent or foolish. Yamaraj is always accompanied by his assistants
called the Yamaduttas who can easily grab someone regardless of their physical condition whether clean or unclean.
douh kouh ouzahzut ouzee, dehss paghdut eench ouzee
You desire what you want, but you will see what your destiny wants (or will give you)
There is a beautiful short story written by Hovhaness Toumanian that illustrates this wisdom. The story is entitled, “The Jar of Gold.”
“I have heard from our elders, who heard from their revered fathers, who heard from their holy wise men that once upon a time there was a poor farmer who had a small plot of land and two bulls.
During a difficult winter, his two bulls died. When spring came, it was time to plant the fields but he didn’t have his oxen to plow the earth. He decided to rent his small plot to a neighbor.
When the neighbor plowed the field, his plow struck something that obstructed its forward motion. A large clay pot was unearthed and it contained a considerable amount of gold coins. The renter tied his oxen securely to a stake and ran as quick as he could to the village to his landlord.
Hey, May your eyes light up, said the renter neighbor, I unearthed a large clay pot full of gold that was buried in your farmland, come and fetch it.
No way brother, it doesn’t belong to me said the landlord. You have paid me rent money, you plowed the land, so whatever comes out of that land is yours. If gold came out of the land, so be it, it belongs to you.
The two villagers began to argue. One said, it is yours, and the other, No, it is yours. The discussion heated up and finally they came to blows. They went to the king to complain against each other.
As soon as the king heard that there was a large clay pot of gold, his eyes became wide open and he said, it is neither yours nor his. This is my kingdom, therefore the pot of gold belongs to me.
The king left with an group of his men to the field to bring back the pot of gold. They reached the field and found the pot. He ordered his men to open the lid. They were all shocked to see that the pot was not filled with gold, but with poisonous snakes.
The king became wild with fury and rushed back to the palace. He ordered the two villagers to be punished for trying to mislead him into a life threatening trap.
May the king live long, please spare us, we never meant to mislead you. Why condemn us to death. We’ll prove to you that you made a mistake of perception. There are no snakes in the pot. There is only gold, pure gold.
The king ordered his men to go back and examine the pot again. The men went and came back quickly. They swore that they saw only gold in the pot.
Oh my god, said the king, shocked and perturbed, I must not have looked carefully or I examined the wrong pot. He quickly got up and went again to the field.
He opened the pot and again saw it was full of snakes.
What kind of magic is this. I really do not understand. There is some hidden meaning to this phenomena.
The king issued a royal decree that all the most expert wise men of the kingdom come immediately to his palace from the four corners of his kingdom.
Honored sages, said the king, please explain for me what is the nature of this strange event. These two villagers found a pot of gold in their field. When I went to observe myself, I was shocked to see the pot full of poisonous snakes. When I sent my men to see a second time, they only saw it full of gold as the two villagers said. What is the meaning of this strange event.
The sages answered in a solemn tone, we can explain this extraordinary affair if you promise not to get angry with us. The pot of clay filled with gold is a blessing that was given to these two poor farmers because they have worked honestly and honorably. When they opened the pot they saw their just wages and had the right to collect the fruit of their virtuous work. But when you went, your purpose was to usurp their good fortune. Because of this ignoble attempt on your part, you saw poisonous snakes instead of precious gold.
The king was shocked into silence for a moment. He gathered his thoughts and spoke.
Very well, he said. But now you must decide which one of these villagers has the right to claim the gold treasure.
For sure, it is my landlord, said the renter.
Not at all, said the landlord emphatically. The two villagers began to quarrel like cats and dogs again.
That’s enough, said the wise men. Now tell us how many children you have and whether they are boys or girls.
One villager had a boy and the other a girl.
The wise men decided that the villagers arrange a marriage of the boy and girl and gift the new couple the pot of gold. The two villagers accepted this decision and became very happy that the wise men made such a auspicious resolution of their dispute. They stopped fighting and made preparations for the wedding.
The wedding ceremonies and joyful festivities lasted for seven days and seven nights. The pot of gold which was a blessing for the honest and virtuous work of the two villagers was given to their newly married children.
May goodness stay always with virtuous people, and misfortune teach the greedy king to change his ways.”
Hovhaness Toumanian was certainly, in my opinion, the one Armenian writer who captured the quintessence of the Armenian villagers’ virtuous and noble spirit. He was a master storyteller, poet, writer and voice of the common Armenian people.
Good deeds and attitudes of goodness are emphasized as the best standard for human behavior and worthy of God’s favorable reward. The opposite is implied. Bad deeds will engender bad results.
The Armenian wisdom goes further insisting on the merit of doing good even in the face of evil.
lahvoutioun lahvoutioun ahnmehn mahrtou pahnuneh,
vahdoutiouneen lahvoutioun, mahrt mahrtoun panuneh
Return in kind good for good, everyone can do
Return good for evil, only the exceptional man can do
God as the ultimate witness of everything we do. He will favorably look upon the humble person who acts with virtue, honesty and honor.
lahvoutioun uhreh, chouruh nehdeh, tzouguh chee dehsneh, ahstvadtz guh teedeh
Do a good deed and throw it in the water, if the fish don’t see it, God will. This proverb reassures the humble person that there is ultimate justice with God who never forsakes his sincere servant. Even though, others may ignore the good deeds one does, God never forgets such actions.
The theme of goodness engendering goodness is heard in the proverb,
lahvoutioun ahrah, chouruh tzkeer, tehmut gehlnee – do a good deed and throw it in the water, it will appear before you again. There is a value in doing good deeds for they will return to you in kind.
A favorite Armenian proverb of mine is the following
eench dahs hokout, aiyn gehrtah ahrevout – what you give (or do) for your soul, goes to your sun (meaning it benefits your life).
The sun is the source of light and sustains life in the universe by its warmth and unending life giving energy. Therefore, it is used in the Armenian folk language as a metaphor for “life.”
One who disregards God’s exhortation to do good and plots evil will end up with dire consequences.
ouhrisheen hahmar pohss pohroghuh, eenkuh metchuh geenah
Who digs a pit for another will fall into it himself
People suffer or enjoy based on the choices they make in their lives. Overindulgence is a frequent cause of unhappiness and sickness.
sahd kahtzuhr kahtzuhr guh guhllehn, ahveli tahrun tahrun guh pughtzehn – the more sweets sweets they eat, more bitter bitter they throw up. Another version of this proverb with a slight twist is kahtzuhr hahmegh ouhntounetz, tahrun touynuh hehd dvehtz – he ate delicious sweets, but vomited bitter poison.
Happiness and distress in this life are predetermined by our acts in this life and previous lives. However, our ability to surrender to the will of God is not predetermined. We are free at any moment to surrender to God and immediately the weight of our destiny will be put on hold to give us a chance to advance spiritually and gradually clean the slate of our previous deeds.
When Jesus saved the prostitute from being stoned to death, we are witness to the immediate change of destiny by the Son of God who intervenes to save her life. Then Jesus blessed her to forsake the life of sin and take up the holy life.
There are other interesting proverbs with an edge such as
eench tzangahs eenzee, ahstuhvadz tzangah kehzee – whatever you wish for me, may God wish (the same) for you.
ahntzuhrevuh ihnch ohkoud guhneh kahreen, khuhraduh chahreen
What good is the rain for the rock, or good advice for the evil (persons)
ehsheen talanuh vohsgee ahrah, ehshsuh eli (nohren) ehshseh
Even if you buy a golden saddle for your donkey, it is still a donkey
kahrozuh khouleen chee ahztee, ahntzuhrevuh kahreen
The sermon doesn’t influence the deaf, nor the rain the rock
gahmeer gohvuh gahseen chee pohkheh
the red cow doesn’t change its skin (color)
There is a story of the bird that tried to advice a monkey. In a forest their lived a family of monkeys. On a cold day, the monkeys saw a firefly that they thought was a fire. They tried to start a fire by placing dried straw and twigs near the firefly and blowing on the fly to ignite the dry straw. They imagined that it caught fire and they began to warm themselves by warming their hands and rubbing their bodies with the imagined waves of warmth. One monkey concentrated on blowing on the firefly to keep the fire going.
A bird observed this strange scene. It tried to instruct the monkey blowing on the firefly,
“Friend, you are wasting your time. You are not blowing on a spark of real fire. It is only a firefly”
The monkey ignored the bird’s advice and continued to blow in the firefly. The bird tried repeatedly to convince the monkey to desist in his futile efforts by coming closer to the monkey’s ear. The monkey became annoyed by the bird’s persistence. He grabbed the bird and crushed its head against a rock. Thus it is said, “What good is the rain for a rock, or good advice for the wicked (fool).
What good is learning for men of low class,
Who chose to be lazy, foolish, and crass
Preacher’s sermon for the deaf is not heard
Nor evil fools ever touched by the word
lahv uhsshehnk, lav luhsshenk
If you speak well, You’ll hear good words (in return)
The art of speaking the truth in a pleasant way and concisely is a sign of true eloquence. Speaking truthfully and beneficially while avoiding speech that offends is control of speech. A teacher can speak the truth to instruct his students. But, a teacher should not speak to others who are not his students if he risks agitating their minds. The art of positive communication is uplifting and always will have a positive return of kind words.
If one cannot speak kind, encouraging words, it is better to remain silent. It is said as long as a fool is silent, he remains unrecognized. But, as soon as he speaks, he is known as a fool.
Speech is one immediate way to recognize the quality of a person. It is the most important quality of any person. One cannot speak kindly unless he has a pure heart and clean mind. Feigning a gentle nature may last for some time, but eventually one’s true nature will manifest.
By keeping oneself free of sinful activities and engaged in beneficial works meant to please God and all fellow men, one can have a pure heart and clean mind. Then, it is very easy to speak pleasantly.
The leaders of society have a responsibility to express themselves with respectful and endearing words. But, this is not possible for those persons whose minds are always in the gutter of politics, money, sex and power. Their speech turns often to sarcasm and acrimonious rants. One example was former Vice President Dick Cheney. He addressed very filthy words to Pat Leahy, another elected politician. Joe Biden, the present Vice-President, also used very foul language when he thought his microphone was off.
Such unclean language is an indication that those persons’ minds are frequently meditating on filthy subjects. Thus, their speech off-the-cuff reflects their internal mental disposition. They invariably receive criticism for their harsh speech.
Language expresses thoughts. Cyrano de Bergerac was a brave swordsman who was considered ugly because he had a very big nose. He was a very eloquent man who could express endearing thoughts with great flights of poetic eloquence. Christian, who was in love with Roxanne, was not able to express his love with eloquent with words. He implored Cyrano to help him talk with Roxanne with poetic intimacy. In the shade of night, Cyrano would accompany Christian to the garden below the bedroom window of Roxanne. Christian would call out for Roxanne. She would appear on the balcony. Roxanne would beseech her lover Christian, “Gather your dreams together into words.” Then Cyrano would poetically speak to her as if he was Christian. His eloquent words captured the heart of Roxanne. She thought it was Christian who spoke such words. In the end, Roxanne discovers belatedly that it was Cyrano who spoke to her from the shade and not Christian and her love was actually meant for him. When Cyrano is about to die, Roxanne says that she does not care if Cyrano is ugly. It is his eloquence of loving expressions that has captured her heart.
There is a sanskrit aphorism that says,
satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam
priyam ca nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah
Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth, which is unpleasant to others. Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant. This is the path of eternal morality called sanatana dharma (in sanskrit).
According to this teaching, there are two conditions that should be followed for speaking the truth. It should be presented with an attitude of affection and it should be spoken to morally uplift others. How one speaks is as important as what is said. If possible, one should speak the truth without hurting others. Only in rare instances, one may put aside this rule to make a point to an obstinate person who is continually misbehaving. Then, once the point is made, abide by this rule again.
There was and there wasn’t twin parrots that were born. One was adopted by a foul-mouthed man and the other by a cultured man of good manners. After a few years, both parrots were able to speak many phrases like human beings. They were very entertaining to whoever heard them. One day, the king of the land was on a royal procession. When he passed the house of the foul-mouthed man, the first parrot began to speak,
“Here comes the king. He is so proud, he forgets he is a stupid dunce.”
When the king heard these insulting words, he commanded his soldiers to arrest the man that spoke the hurtful words. They brought back the parrot that had spoken the insult. When the king saw the parrot, he ordered the parrot killed.
The royal procession continued. When it passed the house of the gentleman, his parrot addressed the king,
“Here comes our king. Praise him and may he live long.”
The king was impressed by the good wishes expressed by the parrot and asked that the parrot and its owner be brought before him. The king asked the gentleman, “Sir, I just killed a parrot that looks exactly like yours. It spoke such filthy words. Can you explain the perplexing difference between the two parrots.” The gentleman replied, “Indeed, the other parrot is the twin of my parrot. It grew up in the company of the foul-mouthed man. My parrot grew up in my home.”
The king understood the value of good company for proper education. He rewarded the gentleman with property and gold and thanked him for his good behavior and example for others to follow.
We should avoid the company of people that use foul language. It will only impair our ability to communicate effectively and sincerely.
Another proverb in Armenian is Ahrach mudatzeer, hehdo khoseer – first think, then speak.
It is said in Armenian lehzvee guhdehradzuh touruh(tahnaguh) chee guhehree – the tongue is sharper than the sword (what the tongue cuts, the sword cannot)
lehzvee dahruh(gudzou) seerdee tzahvuh – a sharp (or spicy hot or nasty) tongue will wound the heart
tahnakgee vehrkuh guh poujvee, seerdee vehrkuh chee poujvee -the wound of a dagger will heal, but that of the tongue, never.
Often people remember hurtful words spoken to them or about them until the end of their days.
Chahr lehzoun ahshkhahr eh kahntoum – the evil tongue will destroy the world.
ahshkharin seenoghuh yehv kahntoghuh lehzoun eh – the tongue can build the world and destroy it
pahnpahsoghuh uhngouzee dohbrahg eh, eehchkahn sahrzehs tzaiyn guh hahneh – the nasty gossiper or criticizer is like a box of walnuts, the more you shake it, the more it makes noise.
nikolaiee douhnuh pahmpasehluh kahntetz – The house(kingdom) of Tzar Nicholas II of Russia was destroyed by nasty criticism. (Nicholas’ house was destroyed by nasty criticism)
lehzvee suhrruh ahchkee gouyruh – lehzoon souhr, ahckuh gouyr- the nasty tongue will blind the eye of the critic or, in other words, when one lowers themselves to speaking nasty criticisms of others, the mind of the critic becomes clouded by emotions of disdain and hatred
sehree tzahvuh meghree hamuh – the more one labors (or suffers) in loves, the more one tastes honey (or nectar) of life
yehteh dahsuh pahn keedees, mehguh ahseer eenuh baheer – if you know ten things, speak one and keep the rest to yourself
yeteh hahmozvahdz ches vor khoskut pahnee degh gahntznee, lahv eh chee khosetz – if you are not sure your words will convey your meaning effectively, better not speak
lehzou gah tegh eh, lezou gah touyn eh – there is a tongue like medicine ( or nectar) and another one like poison (one tongue is like medicine, another like poison)
lehzoun yehrehgpehran eh, mehgov aghohtoum, mouyssohv haihoioum – the tongue is like two mouths, one to pray and one to curse
A newspaper article explained how Russel Simmons, a pioneer in American rap music, has become sick of the repeated vulgarity of rap music. He called for a voluntary ban on the three words he considers the most unacceptable such as the b-word, ho, and the n-word. He claims that these are extreme curse words that are inconsistent with any sense of social responsibility by rap artists or their record companies. He has left out many other offensive words and thoughts expressed by rappers on a regular basis such as the f-word and the loud advocacy of violence and hate. Rap has gravitated to using the cultural medium of gangster and prisoner language for conveying its message of social frustration and revolt. Rap music has appeals to a certain public hungry for such unsavory language. What does this say about American culture? Much of it has deteriorated into the gutter where the minds of young people are poisoned with trashy thoughts and exhortations to violence.
Language is an expression of cultural values. People cannot use good language consistently unless they have a pure mind and heart. Such purity of mind is developed by association with spiritually elevated persons not with gangster or sex-machine impersonators. People are being mislead by mediocre cultural icons who lead pathetic and disastrous personal lives.
During Lent, the forty days before Easter, Christians fast as a discipline to enhance their determination to follow the principles of Christianity. By undertaking an outward discipline, one hopes to order and reaffirm one’s inward discipline of devotion and love for Christ. What we do externally can influence our inner condition. When discipline is supported with knowledge, one can become much more determined to follow the righteousness.
The knowledge of right and wrong is readily available for everyone. However, the discriminatory ability to follow that knowledge is not always exercised. For example, it is written on every cigarette pack in the USA, “SURGEON GENERAL’S WARNING: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, Heart Disease, Emphysema, And May Complicate Pregnancy.” Yet, twenty five percent of the USA population continue to smoke.
Knowledge does not automatically lead to right action. It is certainly a good step in the right direction,
but it is not always sufficient. For example, my sister-in-law was a chain smoker. I asked her once what prompted her to smoke. She said she started after she saw a movie in the 1940s of Humphrey Bogart smoking a cigarette on the big screen. She thought it was so cool that she began to smoke to be part of the culture of movie stars. After thirty years of smoking she developed a severe case of emphysema, which is a chronic obstruction of the lungs that causes severe problems for breathing. It is caused by long-term exposure to tobacco smoke. My sister-in-law spent the last ten years of her life with an oxygen tank and tubes connected to her nose to stay alive. The cigarette companies certainly paid handsome premiums to movie makes in the 40′s and 50′s to show the star actors smoking on the big screen. Such subliminal messages on mass media cloud the rational sense of young people and drive them to self destructive behavior even though there is ample evidence that such habits are deadly.
Knowledge needs the support of intelligent discrimination and strong determination to follow the path of spiritual wisdom. Strong determination requires faith that God is the Supreme Person who witnesses everything we do. We cannot find a private place where there is no witness because God is everywhere by His expansions. Secondly, we need to be answerable to a loving representative of God who we accept as our mentor and eternal guide in spiritual life. Often we will encounter situations where we are not sure what the right course of action is. We may be very learned, but our power of discrimination may not be capable of determining the right course of action due to personal attachments that may be stronger than our will to follow God’s path. The spiritual mentor, like an affectionate parent, serves to guide us always. Such a pure guide helps us to maintain the determination for right action.
In the Armenian Church, the faithful abstain from all animal products such as meat, poultry, fish and eggs, during the 40 days preceding Palm Sunday. The faithful refrain from going to parties, movies and other forms of entertainment in order to keep the mind focused on the life and teachings of Christ. Lent is a period of solemn and joyous preparation to renew spiritual strength to celebrate Easter which commemorates the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ.
The history of the celebration of Lent is very interesting. After Jesus was baptized, he fasted for forty days in the desert. The devil appeared to Jesus and tempted him to demonstrate his supernatural powers as proof of his divinity. Jesus refused the temptations one by one by quoting verses from the Bible. Jesus’ fasting during the forty day period became the model for the practice of Lent in the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.
After forty days of fasting, the devil came to Jesus and said,
“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread”. Jesus replied
“Man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of God.”
(MAT. IV. 2 – 4)
The devil then took Jesus to the top of a temple in Jerusalem and said to him,
“If you are the Son of God, jump off this height. It is written that God has commanded his angels to protect you. The angel will bear you up if at any time you risk dashing your foot against a stone.”
(MAT. IV. 5, 6) Jesus answered, “You shall not tempt the Lord thy God.” (MAT. IV. 7)
For the third temptation, the devil went with Jesus to the top of a mountain. He showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glories. He said, “All these things I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (MAT. IV. 8, 9) Jesus replied, “Get away from me Satan. It is written,
You shall worship the Lord thy God, and only him shall you serve.” (MAT. IV. 10)
Then the devil left Jesus and the angels came to minister unto him. (MAT. IV. 11)
The spiritual strength to say no to temptation is developed gradually by regular practice of spiritual disciplines, study of scripture, associating with genuine followers of the spiritual path, and submitting oneself to a pure spiritual preceptor or spiritual teacher. The process of submission has six symptoms which follow:
accepting everything that is favorable for spiritual life,
rejecting everything that is unfavorable,
embrace God as one’s only and ultimate protector,
to not have any separate interest in life except the service of God,
to see everything that happens to oneself as the mercy of God,
and to remain always humble and meek in the service of God.
These symptoms develop gradually through the association of godly persons and regularly hearing and discussing scripture with them. Engaging in regulated and unselfish service with no other goal than to please God and His sincere servants, enables one to hear the spiritual discussions patiently and understand their deep meanings and their pertinence to one’s personal life. The strength to follow those teachings on a daily basis comes from regulated practice of devotions in the association of right minded companions. There are nine types of devotions one can practice. They follow,
hearing the word of God
repeating the word of God
remembering the word of God
serving God with humility
praying to God
becoming a friend and endearing oneself to God
acting always as the humble servant of God
surrendering everything to God.
In the Armenian Church, the prayers of Krikor Narekatsi are especially recommended for daily recitation. Many of the Armenian Church Fathers wrote wonderful prayers for daily recitation to uplift the mind of the faithful. Gradually, one’s mind becomes devoid of negative or dark thoughts and is brightened by endearing words of love and devotion to Jesus, the savior of mankind.
The association of other faithful believers is essential to overcome the many frailties one may experience on the spiritual path. Having the support of friends to maintain vows and stay engaged in spiritual activity is a source of encouragement. Recently, a Catholic priest, who is a popular television
preacher in Spanish language television admitted to having a two year affair with an attractive woman. He made a public statement, “I deeply apologize to the Catholic community and especially to my bishop and to my brother priests who are faithful and who are committed to celibacy.” This famous priest was able to use his busy work schedule and celebrity to avoid the close association of his bishop and brother priests. He began to intimately associate with a woman in violation of his priestly vows. This was the cause of his downfall.
The following prayer by Krikor Narekasti expresses the unconditional love a fallen person expresses for God and the urgent need for God’s mercy to deliver him.
Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart
I was born in sin, the child of mortal labor.
Now, in one day, a penalty of countless thousands
has come due.
I turn to you for forgiveness not on the meager human
scale, but with the full undiminishing measure
of loving kindness shown toward us
by our Savior Jesus Christ:
Before I was, you created me.
Before I could wish, you shaped me.
Before I glimpsed the worldâ€™s light, you saw me.
Before I emerged, you took pity on me.
Before I called, you heard me.
Before I raised a hand, you looked over me.
Before I asked, you dispensed mercy on me.
Before I uttered a sound, you turned your ear to me.
Before I sighed, you attended me.
Knowing in advance my current trials,
you did not thrust me from your
sight. No, even foreseeing my misdeeds,
you fashioned me.
And now, do not let me
whom you made, saved and took into
your care, be lost to sin and
the Troublemakerâ€™s deceptions.
Do not let the fog of my willfulness prevail
over the light of your forgiveness,
nor the hardness of my heart
over your long-suffering goodness,
nor my mortal flaws
over your perfect wholeness,
nor my weak flesh
over your invincible strength.
In your name, Almighty,
I extend the shriveled arm of my soul
so you will make it whole as before,1
as in the garden of Eden,
when it reached to pick fruit of the tree of life.
The misery of my incorrigible soul,2
bound up, infirm, bent over,
is like the stricken woman in the Gospel,
bowed by sin, her gaze on the ground
in Satanâ€™s tyrannical chains,
kept from your heavenly blessing.
Turn your ear toward me, last hope of mercy
and raise this humbled, fallen, dried up,
thinking piece of wood,
to make it blossom in piety,
as foretold in the words of the holy prophet.3
Like one without light, blind from birth,
I do not have vision to look upon your face, O creator,
almighty and compassionate, my only protector.
If you turn the caring gaze of your immeasurable love
upon my breathing speaking vessel,
you could rekindle, out of nothing,
the light of being within me.
Like the wretched woman in the Gospels,
afflicted by evils for twelve years,4
I bleed with rivers of infirmity.
Look down upon me from on high
cloaked in blinding light,
where sewn clothing does not exist,
but everything is covered in mighty miracles.
Condemned as I am, I do not approach
the soles of your life-giving feet
to anoint them with oil 5
or offer to wash them with my
tear-drenched hair. But rather, a true believer,
I kiss the earth, with pure faith,
hands reaching up, sighing with streaming tears,
begging for the healing of my soul,
a soul wasted by shortcomings,
dissipated by weakness.
And these two feet, means of motion,
foundation of my bodyâ€™s structure,
now lame and unsteady,
vanquished by evil,
impede my ascent to the tree of life-giving fruit.
May you again inhabit them, my only hope of cure.
And the organ of glorification with which you endowed
me, whose voice when moved by the magnanimity of
your mercy used to turn back the breath of the
Troublemaker, silencing him,
may you miraculously restore your living word to me,
so I might speak again without faltering,6
like the one you healed in the Gospel.
I lie here on a cot struck down by evil,
sinking in disease and torment,
like the living dead yet able to speak.
O kind Son of God,
have compassion upon my misery.
Hear the sobbing of my agitated voice.
Bring me back to life
with the dew of your blessed eyes
as you brought back your friend from breathless death.7
In a dungeon of infirmities, I am captive, bitter and
Give me your hand, sun that casts no shadows, Son on
high, and lift me into your radiant light.
Like the pitiful, wailing voice of the widow Nain,
mourning her only son,
fingers trembling, chest heaving,8
tears streaming down her face paralyzed with grief,
I beg with my last sighing breath: Grant me,
who has lost hope, your comfort and pity.
Teach me not to moan and protest like a prisoner,
kind and praiseworthy creator of the universe,
but rather, like the young man you brought back to life,
who comforted his grieving mother,
may I too receive from you
a second chance for my condemned soul.
You took pity, O Savior of all,
even on demon-possessed brutes,9
and those unfortunates, stoned, beaten, and deformed,
with their unkempt, knotted hair
and their wild faces, raving in delirium.
Like them, I petition you,
turn back the legions of evil defiling
your sanctuary within me
so that when your Spirit arrives
your goodness might dwell here
and fill my body with your cleansing breath,
bringing lucidity to my reeling mind.
Like souls banished to hell,
I am held captive by illness.
Let your light dawn in radiant rays of mercy
upon my torture to rescue me
from the clutches of the sickness
tearing me apart.
The infirmities that cause disease
traveling invisible paths, secretly lying in wait,
straying from the ordained ways with
malicious purposes â€“
all torment my soul.10
Hidden from examination, the
malignant growth proceeds
with the poisonous work of the Evil-doer.
With your strength which knows no equal,
Son of God, heal me so that I might live.
With your almighty hand pluck out
the harvest of destruction
that the various mortal illnesses,
each dressed in its own way, produce.
Pluck out the evil roots
sprouted upon the field of my unruly body
with your mighty hand
that plows and cultivates the plots of our souls
so they may bear the fruit of the gospel of life.
And because the torments of my infirmities
surpass even these examples,
which like a spreading cancer,
have touched all the parts of my body,
there is no salve as there was none for Israel,11
for my innumerable sores.
Every part of my body from head to toe12
is unhealthy and beyond the help of physicians.
But you, merciful, beneficent, blessed,
long-suffering, immortal king,
hear the prayers of my embattled heart for mercy,
when I cry to you, â€œLord,â€
in my time of need.13
1 …… Mt. 12:10-13. 2 …… Lk. 13:11-13. 3 …… Ezek. 17:24. 4 …… Mt. 9:20-21, Mk. 5:25-29.
5 …… Lk. 7:37-38. 6 …… Mk. 7:35. 7 …… Jn. 11:3. 8 …… Lk. 7:11-15. 9 …… Mk. 5:5.
10 …… Lk. 14:2. 11 …… Wis. 16:12, Is. 1:6. 12 …… Is. 1:6. 13 …… Jon. 2:3.
The question that should intrigue the faithful is how can one who is rightfully striving be taken away from the path by temptation. There is an instructive story in this regard that may shed light on this question. There is story about the great sheik Abdul-Quadiri Gaylani (May his soul be sanctified). He was crossing the desert with his dervishes. It was during the month of Ramadan during which there is fasting from dawn to sunset.
All the the travelers were exhausted by the heat, hunger and thirst. An astonishing thing happened. A brilliant light appeared before them, and a voice was heard. “I am your Almighty God. You are My dear sons, My dear faithful followers who sacrifice everyday for My sake. As you are all hungry and thirsty, I have made food and drink lawful for you during the light hours. Do not suffer any longer My children. Eat and drink to your satisfaction.”
The dervishes felt relieved and reached for food and drink. But Abdul-Qudiri Gaylani cried out, “Stop! Do not break your holy fast.” The saint faced the light and spoke, “I call on the name of God and beg for His mercy to deliver us from the devil.” Everyone was amazed to see the light disappear and a profound darkness engulfed everyone.
An eerie light appeared and the devil spoke to the sheik. “I have never failed before to break the fast of the faithful. You are the first person who was able to understand my deceit. Please explain how you understood my ruse?”
“I have carefully understood your tricks by the training I received from my sheik who instructed me in the art of spiritual truth which empowers one to distinguish between reality and illusion for the benefit of all. There is a triangle of verification to determine if something is true or false. These three points are scriptural law, the words of the Prophets and the confirmation of my sheik.”
“According to scripture, God has ordained that we follow Ramadan strictly unless our life is threatened by death. None of my dervishes was on the brink of death. If we followed your order, we would have broken God’s ordained law. God never gave us laws to disregard for our own comfort. Only the Devil exhorts us to ignore God’s law for bodily comfort.”
Secondly, our Prophet has said, “Die before you die.” It means one must detach oneself from carnal desire to find spiritual treasure. He has spoken, “I pass the night in the presence of my Lord, who giveth me food and drink,” and “Fasting is the food of God,” and is the means for man to taste the spiritual food of God offered to His true believer. Thus, the first thing that God endowed man with was (‘aql) reason or intelligence. We must use our God given intelligence to understand the solemn importance of God’s commands and not find false logic to break them. In a profound sense, the food and drink God gives his servant is spiritual intelligence to say no to sinful acts and yes to serve humbly and without pretension for honor or personal profit.
Once a bird catcher trapped a fowl with his snares. The bird pleaded that if his captor let him go, he would give him three precious counsels that would make him very prominent and happy by their wisdom. The first counsel was given while the bird was on his captor’s wrist. “do not believe the foolish statements of any one. Such statements may seem to be true, but, when carefully examined, are often illogical and difficult or impossible to verify.” The bird flew up on top of a roof. Second, “Do not grieve for what is past and finished.” “The bird flew even higher on the top of a high tree. Third, “to give good counsel to greedy, lusty and impious persons is like sowing seeds on salty land. Unless a person is trained to rise above the base qualities of passion and ignorance, it is impossible to understand and benefit from good counsel.”
The bird spoke in a loud and measured voice, “Oh bird catcher, before you came, I swallowed a precious jewel heavier than my own weight. It was destined for you. It would have made you and your family very rich for the rest of your life. But fate has tricked you to lose this most valuable of jewels.”
The bird catcher began to cry wretchedly for his misfortune. He cursed his fate and became very agitated and distraught.
The bird rebuked him saying, “Sir, you did not hear the three counsels I gave you. Why do you believe such a foolish and improbable statement. Do you think it is possible for me to fly upwards if I swallowed a jewel heavier than my own weight?” The bird continued. “You are lamenting and vexed for something that is past and gone like water that passed under a bridge and is far gone downstream.
Why are you sorrowing for something that you cannot change or bring back?” You have ignored the first two counsels and confirmed the third.
Unless you voluntarily place yourself under the tutelage of a genuine spiritual preceptor for training and good counsel, you will never overcome the influence of ignorance and passion that have blinded your good reason for so long. They are chains on the soul of a man that obstruct his vision of God’s eternal light of knowledge.”
The bird flew away and left the bird catcher to his fate.
“My Sheik, who is always accompanying me from within, and who manifests through the words of my preceptor to instruct me from without, always reveals the true answer to my questions. If I remain humble and strive honestly to control my senses and mind through daily devotions in the company of true believers, my Sheik from within blesses me with true (‘aql) spiritual intelligence, and my sheik from without confirms the same so that the devil cannot trick me to go away from the path.”
The mercy of God is manifested by the gift of spiritual intelligence to make the right decisions in life to keep ourselves in the orbit of God’s law, justice and love. When the three points of the spiritual triangle confirm each other, God’s Words, the words and actions of the God’s recognized Prophets and the same words from the mouth of God’s Messenger, then we are sure that the devil is defeated.”
The sheik Gaylani addressed the devil. “You contradicted what God has ordained and the great prophets have confirmed. We must always strictly observe Ramadan unless we have an exceptional life threatening obstacle.Therefore, I knew that your words were deceptive and should not be followed.”
Third, your voice and your words could not have been from God the Almighty because if God manifests to lowly mortals, our mental state and physical being would be transformed along with our inner consciousness. There are examples of the faithful who have felt the presence of God and heard His voice of truth and even seen Him. In Gen 32:30 the Bible said “And Jacob gave that place the name of Peniel, saying, I have seen God face to face, and still I am living.” Abram saw God: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” (Gen. 17:1) Moses, to whom God spoke and gave great miracles, was chosen by God to be His Prophet. It is said that he thought that, since God used to speak to him, he might be able to actually see God. The story is in the Quran, where God tells us what happened:
â€œAnd when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, â€˜My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.â€™ (God) said, â€˜You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.â€™ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, â€˜Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.â€™â€ (Quran 7:143)
Moses heard God’s Words and was transformed forever. He repented for his attempt to see God. Any person who hears God’s True Voice and Words is transformed forever like Moses, Abraham or Jacob.
Saul saw a vision of Jesus many years after the crucifixion of Christ and was immediately transformed. He became Paul the Apostle after his vision of the Lord.
The Devil pretended to be impressed by the sheik. He said, “Dear Sir, you are a true saint and a deep well of wisdom. I bow down at your feet and beg you to accept me as your disciple. You have defeated all my tricks.”
The sheik called out is a loud, deep voice with the up most urgency, “My God be glorified in whom I take refuge and the devil be cursed.” The devil disappeared because he was not able to stay in the presence of the sheik who was fasting so ardently and praying to God for deliverance.
Temptations and deceptive tricks of the devil become more challenging and subtle as we grow older and proud of our material accomplishments. Even a pauper is proud of his penny. The only means to thwart the devil in his schemes is to always act true to and follow sincerely God’s instructions without any personal attachment or agenda. Act for God without loving or hating the action, but out of a sense of dedication and loyal surrender to the will of God. Such action for God must be without desire for personal benefit from enjoyment of the results. The goal of such acts should be the satisfaction of God without self-satisfaction or self-gratification.