Today is a special day in the life of the Armenian community. Today is Vartanantz.

Years ago, Vartan Mamikonian, a prince land-owner of the Armenian people, led his fellow compatriots in standing against the unjust practices of the Persian Empire. He perished at the Battle of Avarayr but the Armenian people fought on and prevailed over the encroaching Persians years later.

The Persians had become notorious for forced assimilation practices – shaping conquered communities into their own ‘likeness’ and eradicating any sense of unique cultural identity. Its a practice well known and expected of empires. One such attempt at assimilation was the requirement that conquered communities observe the religious practices of Persian state religion – Zoroastrianism.

Now at the time, the Armenian nation was wedged in an awkward position, both religiously and politically. For one, the Armenian people were already strongly committed to the Christian faith – Christ was their Lord not the foreign gods of the Persian Empire. This wouldn’t bode well for compromise or peaceful resolution. But, further complicating the situation was the fact that the Persian Empire looked upon Armenia’s Christianity as an implicit link to Western Christianized Byzantium – Persia’s great enemy. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at things, the tie with Byzantium was only apparent and there was no real aid when the situation turned sour. As tension grew and the Armenians refused to bow the knee to the Zoroastrian faith, Yazdegerd II amassed a large occupying force to invade Armenia. Vartan led the resistance against the Persians and died fighting off the invaders. The war continued on until the Treaty of Nvarsak in 484 A.D. where the Armenians secured their religious freedom.

This is our celebration.

Now its taken me a few years to appreciate this, but I’m proud now to identify with a rich tradition of men and women who care about justice; a people who have fought wars to maintain religious liberty and protested the public places of the world to reveal injustices. I am proud to be a part of a culture that, when caught between two competing empires vying for power, rejects imperial commitments and instead claims loyalty to Christ.

Of course there are grey areas and human flaws in the life of Vartan, just as there are in all heroic displays men conjure up. But that is what I so appreciate about it all – that in all his humanness, Vartan remained the man caught up by the grace of God. The man who, rather than find his life identifying with Persia or Byzantium, would prefer to lose it for Christ sake and the sake of the Gospel.

That is what I so appreciate. That is a tradition in which I wish to participate; a tradition worth embracing.

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