The Rev’d Ann Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
August 11, 2013
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
We come together this morning to honor Ara Moses Baltayan and to commit his soul into God’s loving care. Ara’s friends and family tell me of a man who was a loving father and devoted husband who worked hard to provide for his family. He enjoyed photography and taking his sailboat out on the Sound. He was committed to the community and to serving it through Rotary—the international service organization for business and professional leaders. And then there was his connection with this place, this parish, Christ Church.
Ara’s life was woven into the fabric of this parish and its people. Coming here with his wife Mary to find a church much like the Orthodox Church of his youth in Turkey, he and his family became deeply involved in the life of the parish. He joined the Vestry where he put his engineering training to use as Property Chair. The minutes of monthly meetings include lists of the projects he was overseeing. His dedication was such that his son Art tells of climbing into the tower with his father to work on the chimes after the Vestry chose to donate the funds needed for their repair to a loan for the new Hospice.
Ara moved on from Property Chairman to become the lay leader of the parish, its Senior Warden, for over twenty years. After moving into Emeritus status, he continued to be active. We can see the results of some of his efforts in the heated ramp outside the Elm Street door and in historic videos of services. He left his mark here and he is remembered with respect and love.
One of our parishioners responded to the news of Ara’s death saying that it was both a sad day and a new beginning. We come together today to remember Ara and to affirm the new beginning, the continuation of life, that is his today.
In the Gospel lesson Fr. Matthew has just read we hear that Jesus was troubled as he knew he would soon be leaving his disciples. They, too, were troubled with thoughts of his departure, of life without him. In these few words, Jesus reassures them they will not be separated.
Jesus says. I am the way and the truth and the life. He points beyond himself saying, I am the way, to the truth and the life. He promises that he will go ahead of them, to prepare an oasis, a place for them to dwell in peace after all the struggles of life. He lovingly reassures them that they will know through him that life changes but never ends.
I’m sure you know by now, as I do, that all of this can be just words to us, maybe beloved words, but still a theory, an explanation. It isn’t until we lose someone we love, someone we will miss dearly, that our heart speaks the question, what now, that Jesus answers. We aren’t here today to talk about death as an ending. We are here to celebrate both life that was, and life that continues, today, into eternity.
Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann reflected that understanding when he wrote these words about suffering and death: Here is a man suffering…The Church doesn’t come to restore health in this man, simply to replace medicine when medicine has exhausted its own possibilities. It comes to take this man into the Love, the Light and the Life of Christ.…(So that) God is his very life, and thus everything in his life comes to God, ascends to the fullness of Love.(1) It is in that place of Love, that place of transformation that Ara and those he loved who have gone before him now rest, where they have moved from life to life.
Today we gather, we mourn, we give thanks. We have lost a patriarch, anchor, father, grandfather, dear friend. There will be a void in his absence. Ara was a part of many of your lives—he has been and will be missed. Yet he now knows the fullness of God. That place which is our hope and the ground of our faith.
Being open to that kind of connection with God becomes very important when we grieve the loss of someone we have loved. Our culture is so ready to help us hide our grief, rather than help us grow through our pain, that we must consciously make an effort to mourn. It is as we mourn that we find, as the disciples did, the great consolation of God’s presence.
Like them, we find our ashes of mourning turned into garlands of joy. Not a joy that we might equate with happiness, but the joy that comes from the deep abiding knowledge of the love and consolation of Jesus, with us in the midst of our grief, always coming to each of us, until the end of all time.
Today we thank God for Ara, for all he was, and all he gave of himself. All he gave to you who were closest to him, and all that you were able to give him as well. We thank God for the gift of Jesus Christ, with us today and always. We rest in the hope of life eternal that we know in Jesus Christ. Life Ara now knows in a fullness we can only imagine. Life God offers to each of us as well.
(1) Schmemann, Alexander For the Life of the World: Sacraments and Orthodoxy. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1963, p. 103.