Feb 27: Saint Gregory of Narek

Reflection: The Apostles Saint Jude Thaddeus and Saint Bartholomew are believed to have traveled to Armenia to share the Gospel. In 301, the Armenian king was converted who, in turn, made Christianity the kingdom’s official religion, making Armenia the first nation to do so. In the centuries that followed, churches and monasteries were built, the faith was taught, liturgies were celebrated, and an extensive Christian culture emerged.

In the year 451, the Armenian Church separated from the Church of Rome over disagreements on doctrine from the Council of Chalcedon. Though the Armenian Church remained an apostolic Church, being founded by the Apostles, it became separated from the pope. Its Sacraments and life of prayer continued, but the division also continued. In recent decades, greater attempts at unification have been made, and the saint we honor today is the most recent attempt by the Roman Church to more fully unite with the Eastern Church of Armenia.

By the tenth century, the Kingdom of Armenia was celebrated for its faith, many churches, literature, art, and architecture. It was a relatively peaceful time. In the year 951, a boy named Gregory was born near Lake Van, the largest lake in the Kingdom of Armenia, modern-day Turkey. His mother died when he was young. His father was the ruling prince of the Andzevatsiq province and also an Armenian bishop and scholar. His father was vocally supportive of some of the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon and believed that the head of the Armenian Church, called the Catholicos, enjoyed only the rank of bishop. This did not sit well with the Catholicos, who later excommunicated Gregory’s father from the Armenian Church.

After their mother’s death, Gregory and his older brother were sent to live at the Monastery of Narek, under the guardianship of their maternal great-uncle Abbot Anania, the monastery’s founder. At about the age of twenty-six, Gregory was ordained a priest for the monastery and remained there for the rest of his life, teaching theology in the monastery’s school.

The loss of his mother early in life led Gregory to a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother. He would later write, “This spiritual, heavenly mother of light cared for me as a son more than an earthly, breathing, physical mother could (Prayer 75).”

Shortly after his ordination to the priesthood, Gregory wrote a commentary on the Song of Songs. He also wrote commentary on the Book of Job, numerous chants, homilies, and speeches that sang the praises of holy men. Toward the end of his life, he wrote his most famous work, The Book of Lamentations, or, as it is commonly known today, The Book of Narek.

Gregory’s father had taught him to remain in a state of continuous dialogue with God, ever attentive to His divine presence. The Book of Narek seems to flow from Gregory’s ongoing dialogue. The book is a compilation of ninety-five prayers. Each prayer begins with the phrase, “Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart.” The prayers then go on to express the deepest love of God by a soul that seems troubled, and even tormented at times. The torment, however, is not despair, but an interior expression of hope from a soul who is in touch with his fallen humanity and sin, while at the same time keenly aware of God’s mercy. His prayers reflect the psalms and are similar to Saint Augustine’s Confessions. Saint Gregory states that these prayers were written “by the finger of God” (Prayer 34) and that Gregory saw God, as he says, “with my own eyes” (Prayer 27f). In one of the final prayers, Gregory states, “although I shall die in the way of all mortals, may I be deemed to live through the continued existence of this book…This book will cry out in my place, with my voice, as if it were me” (Prayer 88b; c). He believed his book was written not only for himself, his monks, or the Armenian people, but for all people, for the entire world.

Less than a century after Saint Gregory’s death, the Kingdom of Armenia was invaded by the Byzantines, then by the Turks. In the centuries that followed, these once-flourishing people suffered greatly under foreign domination. This suffering culminated in the twentieth century during the Armenian genocide when the Turks murdered an estimated 1–1.8 million Armenians. Throughout those centuries of great suffering and oppression, Saint Gregory’s book of prayers became the daily prayers of the Armenian people. Everyone had a printed copy; many people even slept with a copy under their pillow. In 2015, when the pope declared Saint Gregory a Doctor of the Church, and in 2021 when Saint Gregory was placed on the liturgical calendar for the Roman Church, his book of prayers suddenly became prayers for the entire world. They are prayers that need to be prayed by all people today so that the world will humble itself before God and become acutely aware of its sin and need for God’s mercy. Let us conclude with the conclusion of Saint Gregory’s final prayer.

Prayer: Prepare the earth for the day of light and let the soil bloom and bring forth fruit, heavenly cup of life-giving blood, ever sacrificed, never running dry all for the salvation and life of the souls in eternal rest. And though my body die in sin, with Your grace and compassion, may I be strengthened in You, cleansed of sin through You, and renewed by You with life everlasting, and at the resurrection of the righteous be deemed worthy of Your Father’s blessing. To Him together with You, all glory, and with the Holy Spirit, praise and resounding thanks, now, always and forever, Amen.



Fourth Sunday of Lent-March 10, 2024

The Holy Drama of Grace

The Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A)
(Note: This Gospel is also optional for Years B & C with Scrutinies.)

When Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, he found him and said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered and said, “Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “I do believe, Lord,” and he worshiped him. John 9:35–38

This is the conclusion to the story of the healing of the man born blind. It is the fifth of seven signs (miracles) in John’s Gospel that point to the divinity of our Lord. This healing especially confirmed Jesus’ teaching from the previous chapter: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). Jesus was the Light Who came to dispel all darkness, and now He illustrates this fact by opening the eyes of the blind man. This story is quite long and detailed. The details it includes makes it much more than a miracle. It is also a dramatic story revealing both the consequences of rejecting Jesus, as well as the blessings received by one who turns to Jesus in faith.

We begin with the detail that this man has been blind since birth. It was a common misconception at that time that such a birth defect might have been caused by the sins of the parents. In part, this came from a misreading of Exodus 20:5–6 in which God said that He inflicts punishment “on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation.” Jesus makes it clear that this was not the case; this man’s blindness was a result of the natural disorder experienced by humanity as a result of original sin. If humanity had never been cast out of the Garden of Eden, disease and natural disorders would have never existed. For this reason, we should understand that we are all “blind” in the sense of being born into the state of original sin and are, therefore, in need of the grace of spiritual sight.

The healing of this man is done purely on Jesus’ initiative. This shows that God’s healing action in our lives is always His initiative. But Jesus clearly offered this man healing because He knew the man would eventually come to faith in Him, which is the far more important healing that took place in this story.

After the man is healed, a very interesting drama unfolds. The Pharisees hear of the healing and begin to interrogate the man. Afterwards, they also interrogate the man’s parents and then the man for a second time. Throughout their interrogations, two things happen. First, the Pharisees slowly become more agitated, more irrational and end by completely rejecting both this miraculous sign and Jesus Himself. The man, however, begins with what appears to be a bit of ignorance about Jesus, but as he is interrogated and challenged to explain his healing, he deepens and clarifies his convictions, ending in the deepest faith when he cries out to Jesus, “I do believe, Lord.” Then we are told that the man worshiped Jesus.

The dramatic unfolding of this story teaches us that when we are given the grace of God by hearing His holy Word spoken and witnessing His mighty hand at work, we must make a choice. Either we will respond in faith and slowly be drawn deeper into that faith, or we will rationalize it away and reject God’s saving action in our lives. It is not possible to simply remain indifferent to the Gospel when we hear it spoken or when we see its effects changing us or others.

Reflect, today, upon the two paths this sign from Heaven had on those present to this miracle. You, too, are present to this miracle through your reading of it. How will you respond? Will you imitate the Pharisees and discount the deep spiritual truths this action conveys? Or will you open yourself to the transforming power of this healing? Commit yourself to the path of this blind man. Say to our Lord, “I do believe, Lord.” Apply those words to every action of Jesus in your life and allow that faith to lead you into worship of Him Who is the Light of the World.

Jesus, Light of the World, You came to dispel the darkness caused by original sin. You came to heal our blindness and open the eyes of our souls to Your true Light. Please open my eyes so that I may see, and give me the courage I need to profess my faith in You and worship You with all my heart. Jesus, I trust in You.


Fourth Week of Lent