Left or Right?

V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian, 2019



As I was participating in the Morning Hour of Prayers, watching the holy icon of the Birthgiver-of-God, Mother Mary holding baby Jesus, a liturgical/spiritual image was painted in my mind.

The Armenian Orthodox Church has assigned two sides for the choir, for the purpose of responsorial Psalms and hymns. These are known as “Ajagoghmyan Tas” (Right-side choir) and “Tsakhagoghmyan Tas” (Left-side choir). In order to identify which one is on the right and which one is on the left, one ought to look down from the Holy Altar, instead of looking from the perspective of those in the church, up to the Altar. This made me think about the beautiful, spiritual and symbolic message that lies behind this image.

In Middle Eastern or even in Biblical understanding, the right side symbolizes righteousness or a special place of honor, and the left side is the opposite, a place for sinners or foolishness (Gen 48:17-19, Matt 25:33,41, Eccl 10:2, Lev 8:22-24). These symbolical meanings do not fit well with the concept of the sides of choirs, but it guided me to the following thought: Sometimes, we are super confident about ourselves and about how much we are educated. We think that we are on the “right side” of the world. We are always right because we know everything and we are able to think logically. The social media or the big cloud of unlimited online knowledge make us believe that knowledge is easily accessible. In fact, we get confused and mix between having knowledge and learning the truth. We might have the most versatile knowledge and continue learning about the world, but that does not guarantee that we know the truth.

Similarly, from our perspective, we might be at the right “place,” however, that might not be true from God’s perspective. When we turn to God for answers to understand this life and the world through His Light, only then we realize that we are standing on the left side of the truth. Specially, when we listen to His Word and see His image through the Holy Altar, we understand that we are imperfectly standing in His presence, but are called to stand at His right hand side by His grace. When we humbly wait on the first step of the stairs, He elevates us up at His Right Hand. What would it mean if we are perfectly right for the world, but lost in the path to the Truth?

The reason why the Pharisees, the Teachers of Law and Sadducees did not accept Jesus Christ was because they were confident that they knew the Law and the Prophecies from their perspective. Because of that, they were unable to see the living Light, Jesus, who was raising people above their physical and spiritual weaknesses. Yes, they have studied the Bible, but they were standing at the opposite side of the Truth. The Laws and the Prophecies are powerless; they cannot tell us where to stand. Only God’s Light and Grace can guide us. Only Christ is “the best robe” that covers our sinful nature and makes us worthy to have His ring on our hand (Luke 15:22).

After the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the experienced fishermen, the apostles went back to their old profession, back to fishing. “They caught nothing” because they went with broken and hopeless hearts. They focused only on the left side of the boat (right side of the Lord). Jesus told them from the shore: “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.”(John 21:6) Because of the multitude of fish (from the left side of the Lord), they were not able to draw the net and they brought them to Jesus.

No matter where we stand, our Savior grants His grace to bring us at His Right Hand, unless we have already decided that we are standing or we are at the right side. There is a reason why we make the sign of the holy Cross from our left to right. To remind us that our Lord came down to Earth to bring us from the sinfulness to the righteousness by His Light. We shall look at the Holy Altar and ask Him to guide us to the side of the Truth, where He wants to see us all.

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