Armenian Genocide: Learning to share the pain

1.5 million men, women and children were massacred during the Armenian genocide at the beginning of the twentieth century. A horrid start to a horrid century.

Yesterday I wrote about the effects of pilgrimages to other countries. I forgot to mention the obvious: when you meet a stranger, you can either love him or remain indifferent to his presence. Indifference is not an option during a pilgrimage. In fact, indifference is not a Christian option. Full-stop.

Christ did not remain indifferent to us. He bowed down the Heavens and descended to our humble being; He so loved us that He become one of us; He identified with our pain and suffering to the extent that He gave Himself up in order to share this pain and, if possible, to take it away from us.

I am deeply ashamed for my lack of knowledge about the Armenian genocide. I knew close to nothing until I visited this wonderful country. I knew nothing of the 1.5 million lives that were wiped away from the face of the earth. The final act of this disaster would be to allow ourselves to wipe away their memory, too.

There really isn’t much to say when you see these photographs. I looked at each face with great care, I looked in their eyes and I tried to imagine their expressions when they used to laugh, when they fell in love, when they looked at their mothers and their children. I looked at all these decaying, decomposing bodies and tried to understand how God’s memory works. It makes sense now that we pray for ‘eternal memory’ – what else can we ask for? Who will remember our smiles in a century? Who will remember the way in which we experience fear, hunger or happiness?

I look at these faces and the only consolation I find is the knowledge that each of them is entirely known to Christ, Who made them all and Who will remember them eternally.

Pilgrimages can be painful. They force you to enter the pain of others and to make a choice. You can chose to remain indifferent and safe in your comfort and coldness. Or, you can chose to open us, to love and share the pain of these people. We are one, after all; and my sins have contributed to all the horrors of the world – past, present and future. We need to remember. And we need to repent.

8 responses

  • Thank you.
    Looking away is our first instinct, but we must love everyone even through the horrors of death. If we cannot look and testify to the least of these…our brothers and sisters, how can we approach the cross?
    +Memory Eternal+ (such meaningful words)

    • You are right, dear Bonnie. Remembering is not meant to feed our hatred, but to make us understand how horrible we all are and how entirely unjustified, other-wordly and ‘crazy’ (as the Church Fathers describe it) Christ’s love for us is. There is no reason for Him to love us, except His nature. We should all remember this in order to repent and, hopefully, love to accept, forgive and love each other.

    • Dear John, this was started for purely political reasons, but it soon became a religious massacre. After their parents were killed, for instance, the orphans who survived were forcefully islamised. But this is in no way worse than what Christians did in other parts of the world. The point is that we all have fallen, even us, who haven’t killed anyone. We are part of this and responsible, because we don’t love enough, we don’t sacrifice enough. We remain cold and selfish, caught in our small lives and perfectly able to mind our own business as others, in some other parts of the world, die of hunger or in acts of torture. We go to bed and their suffering remains unheard. We wake up and start a new day, and not one thought or prayer is given to these suffering people. We need to remember them and we need to repent for their pain – that is all I want to say.

  • Christ is Risen! Thank you, Father Seraphim, for writing this. And, for posting pictures. I, too, knew nothing about this till I converted to Orthodoxy. My godfather’s family was mostly wiped out due to the genocide. His pain is palpable when he relates how much family history is lost. Thank you for reminding us because there seems to be a push to re-invent history. ISIS is certainly destroying their own as fast as they can, reinventing themselves. It’s amazing how fast we forget the truth. Thank you. Respectfully, Tabitha

    • Thank you for your encouragement, dear Tabitha. The Ottoman empire occupied many of the Orthodox countries for centuries, Romanian (where I was born) included. The things we see today (ISIS and everything else) has been part of our history long before; there is no creativity in evilness, nothing new in our fallen nature. We need to remember and pray. Give your Godfather my love.

    • We should all take courage and speak up, dear Herb. Until these realities are accepted and repented for, they will become open wounds, always on the verge of getting infected once again. Please pray for me and the monastery.

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