St. Gregory of Narek


The Making of a Lenten Stew:

Optional Memorial of St. Gregory of Narek

(Is 1:10-31; Ps 50; Mt 23:1-12)


The readings today make a good stew. A stew includes some main ingredients, such as meat, potatoes, carrots, peas, garlic, and onion, and lots of spices. Then it is slow cooked to perfection.

The ingredients for our scriptural stew today are humility, repentance, justice, willingness, obedience and gratitude. Isaiah calls us to repentance. That is one of the main ingredients – the meat. Jesus on the other hand teaches us to be humble – another main ingredient, the potatoes.

Isaiah then speaks of repentance (Teshuva in Hebrew, Metanoia in Greek). Both mean a radical turning around, a complete about face, going in a different direction. Metanoia has the additional meaning of putting on our highest mind, or being the very best person God has created us to be.

Isaiah puts repentance into terms of justice: justice all over the place, just like carrots and peas – the vegetables: seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan and plead for the widow. For Isaiah, repentance is far from being a sweet feeling of being sorry and saying a few prayers; it is a major shift to a practical taking on the plight of the marginalized, poor, voiceless and dispossessed – those without power in our society. He would agree very strongly with the approach of Pope Francis, which is live simply and reach out to the margins, the periphery, to take on the smell of the sheep.

Isaiah goes so far as to suggest we will be redeemed, forgiven, receive salvation, through acts of justice. That is strong language and a powerful stance. Along that same line, Jesus uses Semitic Hyperbole to underline the importance of his teaching about humility and genuine faith – we are to call no one rabbi, father or instructor, because he is all of those as the Messiah. That is not meant to be taken literally – we all have fathers and instructors, and many would follow a rabbi. Jesus is just underlining he must come first and be central in our lives, and that his teaching about humility is both critical and crucial for us if we are to follow him.

Now it is time for the spices – willingness, obedience and gratitude. Humility, repentance and seeking justice involve a willingness to learn God’s will, the obedience to do it, and above all, to do it all with gratitude. A grateful person is a happy person.

All in all – it amounts to a beautiful, Lenten stew, full of aroma and nourishment for the soul seeking to follow Christ into new life – to rid one’s self of all one’s sins, and to make a new heart and a new spirit, as the gospel acclamation puts it.

Someone who lived this stew is St. Gregory of Narek, a 10th century Armenian monk, poet and mystical writer and composer. His best-known literary work is a book of prayers, The Book of Lamentations. It is considered a masterpiece of Armenian literature. St. Gregory himself defined the work as an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations” and hoped it would provide guidance in prayer for people of all walks of life. In 2021, Pope Francis inscribed St. Gregory of Narek, Abbot and Doctor of the Church, on February 27th as an Optional Memorial in the Roman Calendar. St. Gregory of Narek is recognized as a saint in both the Catholic and in the Armenian Apostolic Church, being venerated in a particular way among Catholics of the Armenian Rite.

The Eucharist takes all these ingredients and makes it a divine stew fit for a heavenly banquet. So today, let us strive to live out our Lenten stew of humility, repentance, seeking for justice, willingness, obedience and gratitude.


Updated: February 26, 2024 — 6:39 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Archbishop Sylvain Lavoie OMI © 2017 Frontier Theme