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ALL PATHS LEAD US TO GOD – A Review on "Turning to God”, by His Holiness Aram I

14 May 2021

By V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian

 

Prior to my short trip to the States, I visited His Holiness in his office to receive his blessings. I was privileged and honored to be presented with his new book entitled “Turning to God”; a diary depicting the events during the coronavirus pandemic. It was the best opportunity for me to read the book on my way to the States and write a review.

 

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had an indubitable impact on the entire world since the end of 2019. The global situation could only be described as something out of movies, but unprecedented in real life. Humanity never felt so vulnerable, and we all realized how fragile life could be. It was evident that even highly educated countries were not ready for such a situation, whereby the very foundations of society were shaken, crippling them economically on the long run. “Quarantine”, “masks”, “washing hands”, “social distancing”, “pandemic”, “lockdown”, “coronavirus”, “COVID”, “vaccine”, all became the daily vocab for more than a year, making headlines on news, social media, and mainstream conversations.

 

Naturally, our church activities, besides the liturgy, stopped as a consequence of the pandemic. His Holiness, concerned by his own health and that of his surroundings, always cautioned us as priesthood members, to stay safe and constantly take preventive measures. Nevertheless, he kept planning new projects for his people through social media, and he encouraged us to benefit from all kinds of high-tech possibilities to continue serving people and never let them face the pandemic alone. Aram I Catholicos is renowned for his theological, ecumenical, rhetorical and spiritual writings, and yet unbeknown to us, he had been writing a book about the pandemic. It was intriguing for us to know what the Catholicos, as a spiritual leader of the Armenian Church, had to say about the entire situation, more interestingly through his own diaries, whereby the reader engages with the author on a personal level, reflecting on the emotions and daily thoughts of the writer.

 

Those who live in the Catholicosate or personally know His Holiness Aram I, concur that he never stops receiving and meeting people in his office, constantly devising new plans for the benefit of the church. It is therefore easy to assume how hard it would be for His Holiness to refrain from his daily routine and live in quarantine. Nevertheless, he managed to find a way to spend the quarantine life through meditating, reflecting and keeping a diary. The readers will notice that His Holiness grasped each day as an opportunity to write a reflection about the strange global situation, by finding a meaning in every single day. As he described it in his introduction: “the pages to follow succinctly display my prayerful and reflective days during the first period of pandemic.”[1]

 

Aram I Catholicos, in his years of service, specifically in Lebanon, acquired a unique life experience, enabling him to anticipate unprecedented situations. Lebanon and Armenia witnessed different kinds of turmoil during these last decades. Although 2020-2021 might be described as the worst period for Armenians, especially those living in Armenia and Lebanon, His Holiness, as the leader of the church, took it as a challenge to draw new paths. As a true leader, accepting the situation relatively quickly with drive is key for opening a new page for his people. Every day, either good or bad, is an opportunity and a challenge for new accomplishments.

 

His Holiness loves sharing his knowledge, his stories and experiences. Indeed, he does so every day with the priests, bishops, lay people and students. During the quarantine, he put his reflections down on paper, which is a great opportunity for the public to benefit from his daily talks. The beauty of his reflections lies in the variety of themes and subjects. The reader will love and appreciate the diversity of his diary, from personal experiences, quotidian thoughts in his private life, thoughts about global issues, to theological explanations, spiritual reflections, moral and religious observations. He also discusses his favorite books and authors, the individuals who he has met or worked with, ecumenical services and finally and most importantly, a take-home message. Moreover, he tackles different aspects of life and modern challenges that humanity is facing globally, especially since his experience as the World Council of Churches’ moderator, was never limited to local services and people. Instead, it encompassed confined duties to serving the Church that includes everyone, an event that is easily noticed in his book. He has a unique vision about the church ecumenism and global geopolitical issues that the humanity is facing.

 

Unlike other diaries that represent thoughts and reflection of the author’s own self, this diary is directly addressing a person. Consequently, readers will clearly feel that His Holiness is talking to them, teaching, and expressing his opinions and objections. Although it may seem like the book is unlike the diary genre, those who are familiar with His Holiness, in his everyday conversations with priests and bishops, can assert that this is indeed himself on a daily basis.

 

The Western culture encourages societies towards secularism, where religions have no significant role. The current virus pandemic is viewed solely through scientific lenses, as an issue that can be solved by scientists or physicians. Obviously, we are not skin and bones; we mere bodies. We are humans, in God’s image and likeness. His Holiness, through this book, tries to show and convince the readers that the medical issues cannot be limited to scientific or doctors’ field, but religions play a huge role as well. His Holiness is convinced that science and religion have a common ground, where they can collaborate for the benefit of people. Religion cannot be left out; its role should be acknowledged. In his ‘’Tuesday, 7 April 2020’’ entry, the author writes about the relationship between science and religion. His input on this matter is worth to be highlighted and taken into consideration, especially in the midst of today’s culture that separates these two essential realities of modern life: “Science aims to discover the truth; while religion seeks meaning and purpose behind the truth. Science provides facts, religion provides values. In its search for truth, science should not claim self-sufficiency and dominate faith.”[2] It is a perspective that most of the time is neglected by the scholars and especially the youth. His Holiness draws a beautiful bridge between these two pillars.

 

While Aram I Catholicos, expects science advocates to be open to spiritual dimensions, he also challenges theologians and spiritual personnel to be involved in bioethical issues and crises. He believes that religion has to be more aware and thus engaged in scientific complexities. In his entry on Tuesday, 26 May 2020, the author speaks about viruses, where he states that they do not represent a subject exclusively for scientists, but there are many questions that religion should answer: “Are viruses integral to life created by God or outside of it? Are viruses living creatures? Is the emergence of viruses due to the creation’s formation and evolutionary process or the misuse of creation by the human being? Does the pandemic represent a clash between human creatures and non-human creatures, a process that is happening now with alarming intensity?”[3] These are magnificent questions that people expect from religion to answer. By active involvement in these kinds of studies and challenges, religion will show its significance in the scientific and especially in the bioethical world. As a conclusion, His Holiness suggests: “I would urge deeper research in this area and would encourage universities and research centers to organize colloquia and conferences on the topic, with the participation of microbiologists, virologists, biologists, bacteriologists, theologians, and ecologists.”[4]

 

The reader will notice that His Holiness writes some words in bold, highlighting important values or themes throughout the diary. This helps the reader to keep in mind what the reflection was about and the thoughts to be meditated upon. It goes without saying that the reader will consequently learn new words and vocabulary. The variety of the subjects teaches various words from different study areas, but most importantly, these terms are thought-provoking, pushing the reader to reflect and to meditate.

 

After analyzing different fields of life, His Holiness shows a way to find all the meanings, the reasons, the solutions and the answers, which is “Turning to God”. No matter where we are, what we are facing globally, what concerns we have and what kind of future are expecting us, there is one road that is suggested by the reader: it is the journey that takes us to the Creator of life. The author’s writing about “Turning to God” has a beautiful poetic and rhetoric style, which takes the book to another level. It will make you gaze to the heavens and seek more answers. It will show you that there is one true source to find the answers of our problems, which is our God that we shall turn to Him. The coronavirus pandemic, the tiniest virus turned us to the Greatest and Almighty God. There would not be more beautiful message than the call for “Turning to God”.

 

 

Last but not least, the beauty of this book is that it is not addressed to a specific group of people. In other words, it is written not solely for Armenians, nor theologians, politicians, scholars nor workers, but for everyone to read with ease, regardless of their background. The variety of subjects and themes gives the reader a unique mixture of different flavors. If you haven’t had the chance to take a walk with His Holiness and listen to his beautiful words and stories, this book can provide you a great opportunity to experience it at your desk.

 

[1] Aram I, Turning to God, (Antilias: Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia, 2020), 13-14.

[2] Aram I, Turning to God, 41-42.

[3] Aram I, Turning to God, 171-172.

[4] Aram I, Turning to God, 172.