Ninety-eight years ago, the long history of the Armenian people intersected with the terrible path of human affliction.
There had been tragedies for us prior to that time. But the Genocide of 1915 has come to embody the suffering of our people like no other event in our history. Indeed, it stands with a very small host of other inhuman episodes, as an embodiment of the affliction of mortal man in general.
It’s fitting therefore that Armenians should mark April 24 by gathering in our sanctuaries—beneath the cross of Christ. For the cross illuminates the meaning of the Genocide. On the one hand, it is the universal symbol of human suffering—a reminder that the Son of God was placed on a cross to die.
But the cross is not simply a symbol of suffering. Christ did die on the cross. But more: he is risen. And so the cross must be understood in light of the resurrection of Christ: as a symbol of suffering, surely; but also as a sign of victory over suffering—a victory promised by God to His true and faithful servants.
In this way, too, the cross represents the Armenian martyrs of 1915. Not because our martyrs themselves were resurrected—they remain dead, and we pray for the peace of their souls. But we must remember that our persecutors contemplated the destruction of a whole nation, and they came close to succeeding. Our memorials to the Genocide are one way of remembering that every Armenian living in the world today has passed very close to death, through the experience of a parent or grandparent; through the larger experience of our people.
And yet, having passed so close to death, we did not die. Indeed, in the years following the Genocide, the surviving Armenians rebuilt their lives, raised families, created worthwhile institutions, contributed to a truly great society like the United States—all the while preserving something of our distinctive Armenian Christian identity. The cross, which depicts the miracle of Christ’s Resurrection, reminds us that our very lives are founded on a miracle: the miraculous blossoming of life out of destruction. And that miracle has a name: Hope.
The same hope is the vital nerve of our civilization, the secret of our survival. How often have our people walked through the valley of death? And how could we have endured, how could we have overcome adversity, were it not for this precious gift of hope?
This is the message of hope we need to draw strength from today, as we face our own trials. It hardly needs saying that our world of today is filled with such trials. As Armenians, as Americans, as Christians, as individual men and women, we all sense the urgency of the present moment—the fragile quality of the life we have built for ourselves and for our society.
These are causes for concern, for prayer, for reflection. But not for despair. For in truth, we are not strangers to the valley of death. Through Christ, we have been there before. For our sake, he experienced its terrors, accepted its wounds—and emerged victorious. Because of this, our ancestors did not lose hope 98 years ago. They knew that Jesus Christ would always be beside them—as he is always beside us now—giving us hope for our lives.
It is the greatest hope ever offered to mankind.