As an Armenian Apostolic, I have many times wondered on what it is to belong to a denomination or faith. My journey has been tumultuous at the best of times and damn difficult at the worst. However through out it all, I am currently back in the arms of the motherlands faith with a little clarity and a lot more maturity.
Being proud of faith and religion has inherently become taboo, with more people socially withdrawn from conversation where they feel that there view may offend or be ostracized. It seems the fashionable ideology is to outcry against religion.
“They’re all corrupt”
“These rules don’t suit society today”
“We need to change the system”
“Me, Me, Me”
Now as I have become a lot more involved in the activities of my parish and understand the mechanics on operating such an institution. I find it more aggravating on the very little education people have before partaking in a religion/denomination or practices associated with faith. A church is not built on the standards you hold dear to yourself, nor will it move to the whim of your belief at any given point in time.
It has been established over years and its practices have been tuned to incorporate the belief systems it advocates. I feel that those who don’t understand this concept wish to harm these institutions. Take my personal experiences in the Armenian Apostolic church. Many a times I have heard from general public or regular/irregular church goers on opinions on how the liturgy should be structured. Or opinion on how processions should take place.
Whilst I understand everyone is entitled to opinion, there is a lot to consider before making suggestions such as these. Firstly theology and doctrine, subscribing to a religion means you agree with with the doctrines and philosophical theology it upholds. That also means the nuances it advocates, lets take for example a 9 to 5 job.
You work in a box making factory (hypothetical) and you absolutely love the job, you don’t agree with colour of the boxes being manufactured and don’t find it pleasing to your eyes. However there are other processes in your job which keep you happy. Whilst the system to make the boxes in most part is fine and there are aspects you don’t agree with, you understand that the rules and structure are there to ensure the end product (in whole) is there to meet its purpose. Now there may be one or two people who also don’t like the colour of the box (this occurs) but in general the consensus remains that the box is fit for purpose and we can overlook the colour of the box.
This is where religion and faith become diluted. There is a misunderstanding all to commonly rearing its head that faith can overthrow religion, a very dangerous concept and an area in life to tread carefully within. Through out my personal journey in faith I had a very colorful upbringing. In short:
- At a young age I was baptized Armenian Apostolic
- For many years I would be considered agnostic as I had not attended church apart from seasonal events
- In my teens I found the meaning of faith and started practicing a pseudo religion within my own mind
- Following this in my late teens I had attended a few Pentecostal churches which brought about my theological curiosity
- In the last 5+ years I now find myself somewhat comfortable in my beliefs with faith and religion returning to my Armenian Apostolic roots (for several reasons I may go into in a separate blog post)
It was in my late teens and early 20’s in which i determined the difference between faith and religion and how vital the two pillars play on ones spiritual upbringing and general views on life. Basically I see the two somewhat intertwined but very different at the same time like a Yin and Yang. Faith is the fire that drives your spirituality, it is what keeps the light burning within and moves you along on your journey, it is volatile much like a fuel or propellant and can be unstable. It also can be directionless. Sayings like “blind faith” are at the very center of misinformation and misguidance.
Religion is the vehicles which drives your faith down a certain path. It has structure, organisation and is built to house your propellant to ensure it is being used for purpose.
At a very early stage in my life I found my fuel
It was a wonderful time, all this energy, all this spirituality with many effects. Happiness, sadness, confusion and relief; Just some of the emotions experienced whilst discovering this energy deep within. It lead to some pseudo rules I had placed on myself, not associating with a hierarchy or system but also not centering myself as lord of my own realm. Following this I jumped on the Pentecostal band wagon, at the time the philosophy was somewhat aligned to my own and it had peaked my interest.
These are the two words that come to mind when thinking of this period in my life. The emotional concept of faith and how it plays a big role on ones personal journey was the centerpiece of this structure. Basically the fuel metaphor before? well, lets just put a couple of more fuel tankers in there and you have an explosion of emotion. Looking back on it i am honestly not surprised if there were some neuro-linguistic programming specialists involved in some of the things happening there. It was my euphoria for a couple of years i still go back to it from time to time to check in with myself however i found one thing lacking.
Like a toddler learning how to walk I had reached a stage where all i wanted to do now was jump, run, dance, sit and fly. I felt i was being taught an abridged version of the bible. Whilst some aspects of life can definitely draw from this there was an intellect lacking. There was a theological aspect missing within the services and there was also a cultural gap which i just could not relate to.
Here in came the Armenian Apostolic Church.
Now I’d never been one to criticize the Apostolic Church but I’d never really thrown myself into the deep end either. I have a very placid outlook on life and will only identify with something once I had made the effort. Low and behold I was back at the doors of the church I had been baptized in knocking on them ready to find some meaning.
Complex, awe inspiring, theologically sound and intellectually stimulating.
These are the words that come to my head when I take the Armenian Apostolic Church and look at it purely from the aspect of its doctrines and philosophy. The intricacies of its Sharagans (Hymns), the meaning of every little detail on the Khoran (Altar) and the movement of the Badarak (liturgy) is truely captivating. You could study each one of these every year and draw a different meaning for your life based on the circumstances around you. The linchpin within all of the above is that is has remained unchanged for almost 1700 years. The language in structure has changed a little however most of the liturgy including hymns have been around for a very long time with little steps to improve them as times change. What hasn’t changed is the theology, values and rules that are aligned to this.
One thing i will never agree with is to change the rules of an institution to make an individual feel better.
If you are a part of a religion you make the individual choice to do so, making such a choice should not be taken lightly. You cannot simply make the choice just because it is your cultural responsibility or you identify with it. When you make the choice you should be educated (both self and actively through conversation) on the rules and responsibilities that come with it. If you go through such an exercise you will understand the aspects of it which may not agree with your lifestyle and can make an informed opinion based on such.
In short, do your research,
Because within my mind and beliefs, it is very dangerous to blindly follow something which you know nothing about and can lead to issues much later in life not only for yourself, but also people you hold dear. Which may follow blindly like those before them.