ST. VARTAN MAMIGONIAN’S SPEECH
The Sbarabed, surrounded by the nakharars, addressed the troops as follows:
“You and I have been in many battles together. In some we triumphed over our enemies gallantly; in others we met defeat at their hands. But our victories have been more in number than our defeats. But all these, however, were for personal glory, because we were fighting at the command of a mortal king. He who deserted was branded a coward throughout the land and met merciless death; whereas he who pressed onward valiantly inherited fame for bravery and received splendid gifts from a temporal and mortal king.
“We all have numerous wounds and scars on our bodies, and there have been many deeds of valor for which we have been excellently rewarded. But I consider all these notable accomplishments ignoble and useless and all the honors idle, because they will all fade away.
“Now then, if we were able to perform such brave deeds in obedience to a mortal commander, how much more should we do for our Immortal King Who is the Lord of the living and the dead and Who will judge men according to their deeds. Indeed, even if we were to attain a ripe old age, we should have to abandon our flesh eventually, in order that we may unite with our living God, never to leave Him again.
“I entreat you, therefore, my brave companions, especially because many of you surpass me in valor and precede me in princely rank. But since you, of your own free will, have selected me as your leader and commander, let my words be pleasant and agreeable to you all, great and small: Fear not the heathen hordes and never turn your backs to the frightful sword of mortal men; because should our Lord grant us victory, we shall destroy their might and the cause of righteousness shall be exalted. But if the time has come for us to meet a holy death in this battle, let us accept our fate with joyful heart, without mingling cowardice with our valor and courage.
“I shall never forget, furthermore, but shall ever remember the time when some of you and I deceived the wicked ruler and misled him like a contemptible child by feigning to accede to his impious will; but the Lord will bear witness to the fact that within our hearts we remained inextricably bound to Him.
“As you yourselves well know, for the sake of our dear ones, who were in great distress, we sought all means to secure their release and together with them to enter into the struggle against the ungodly prince for the preservation of the God-given laws of our land. And since we were unable to assist them in any manner, let it be impossible for us to exchange God for men for the sake of worldly love.
“We all recall two or three engagements in which our Lord has come to our aid with a mighty force and has enabled us to earn great fame in bravery, to smite the royal armies fiercely, to massacre the magi without mercy, to obliterate the sacrilegious idolatry in some places, to destroy and annihilate the ungodly decree of the king, to subdue the rage of the sea, whose mountainous waves subsided, whose surging foams wasted, and whose ferocious fury disappeared. He who was thundering above the clouds humbled and lowered himself more than his nature permitted, and spoke with us. He who intended to cause injury to the holy church with words and commands is now fighting with bows, spears and swords. He who thought that we donned Christianity like a garment has now dis covered that, as man cannot change the color of the skin, so he cannot and will never succeed in altering our minds, because the foundations [of Christianity] are firmly set on an immovable rock, not only on this earth, but in heaven above, where neither rains fall, nor winds blow, nor floods are formed. Although we are on this earth in flesh, we are established in heaven by our faith, where no one can reach the structures built by Christ without the touch of hand.
“Stand firm by our resolute Commander, Who shall never forget your deeds and valor. Gallant warriors! For us it is a great distinction that God is performing this work through us, greatly revealing His real power. If by destroying others for the sake of divine laws we were able to inherit personal fame and thus bequeathed the valiant name of our families to the church, expecting from our Lord the reward which has been reserved for each of us according to the good will of His heart and the deeds accomplished, how much more valuable will be the reward were we to die for the great testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ! Even the angels in heaven would covet [such a reward,] if they could. And, since these rewards are not intended for everyone but only for those for whom the beneficent Lord has prepared, this opportunity is being offered to us not for our righteous deeds but because of the magnanimity of the Donor, Who truly has said in the Holy Testament: ‘But where sin abound ed, the grace of God did much more abound.’
“This assertion is most appropriate for us: where we appeared sadly wanting in piety before, we shall now appear the more righteous to men and angels and to the Father of us all. The day when our impious act became known, many tears were shed at the holy church and a great deal more by those we love. Even our inf uriated companions were threatening us with their swords, eager to punish us with bitter death. Our servants were running away from us in disgust. Far distant people who had heard of our Christian faith, unaware of our secret intentions, mourned us with incessant lamentations and unknowingly uttered words of vilification against us. But what I consider the most important of all was this: not only men on earth, but angels in heaven turned their faces away from us so as not to look upon us ruefully.
“The time has now come to cleanse ourselves of every stain of disgrace. There was a time when we were distressed in body and soul as grief-stricken mourners; today we are joyful and discreet in both respects and generally more serious, because we have with us our beneficent Lord as our leader. Our Commander is not a mere man, but the Commander-in chief of all martyrs. Fear is a sign of doubt; but as we have repudiated doubt long since, let fear also disappear from our hearts and minds.”
Courtesy of a text by Yeghishe, 5th century Historian