Harry Terhanian.com

Wisdom from the son of Armenia.

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  • 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
    worshiping God
    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.

    Prayer 18

    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 world’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 Troublemaker’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 Satan’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 body’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
    in doubt.
    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 –
    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, “Lord,”
    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:

    “And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, ‘My Lord, show me (Yourself) that I may look at You.’ (God) said, ‘You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.’ But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, ‘Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.’” (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.

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