Gospel According to LTP: “Moral code” explains snub of Hovannisian

The “Ter” in his name is an Armenian construct to indicate that Levon Ter-Petrosyan comes from a family of priests. So who should dare split theological hairs with the Armenian National Congress leader?

Let me take a shot, so as to not totally waste four years of university religious study and two years of seminary, in reply to Ter-Petrosyan’s claim that the reason he is snubbing Raffi Hovannisian is based on Christian conviction . . .

In an address published by the radical opposition daily “Armenian Times” today, Ter-Petrosyan responded to criticism (see Editorial: Ter-Petrosyan’s carpe diem should have included Hovannisian) over why he did not acknowledge Hovannisian during last week’s dramatic opposition rally. In it, the scholar essentially says that he is trying to be a good Christian (in contrast, presumably, to the heathen Hovannisian).

Ter-Petrosyan writes that Hovannisian’s fast – entering its second week today – “contradicts my principles of Christianity. Before or above being a religion, Christianity for me is, first of all, a moral code – a code that categorically negates the demonstration of Christian virtues – piety, alms-giving, humility, meekness, charity, including fasting. When this virtue is put into show it ceases to be a virtue.”

True enough, the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 6, warns against vanity in religious practice. But: So far, Hovannisian hasn’t hinted that his hunger strike means to court a Higher Source for intervention; rather his audience is of a nearer realm, specifically found a kilometer away from Liberty Square, on Baghramyan Avenue.

Unless Ter-Petrosyan is equating Armenia’s Presidential Residence with the Kingdom of God, he might wish to amend his reasoning for condemnation of Hovannisian’s civic protest.

Further, the first president cited 5th century cleric Hovhan Mandakuni: “Satan destroys both the one who is fasting and his fast when the person puts himself above all the rest and wishes that his abstinence be trumpeted about by others and people learn about it and admire his staunchness. Such a fast does not purify and justify, but defiles and destroys.”

True words by Hovhan. But they contradict one of the key points in the ministry of the Christ behind whose Christianity Ter-Petrosyan is hiding. The famous Temptation of Christ recalls – “trumpets” in fact – by way of the New Testament, Jesus’ 40-day fast, that was the turning point in his acceptance of his soon-to-be tortured destiny. Whole passages of the world’s most popular book (the Bible, in the books of Mark, Matthew, Luke and Hebrews) “trumpeted about” the fast.

And here’s a question for the ages: If only Jesus and Satan were in the desert for the fast, then who reported it? Had to be either the God-man or the devil-man who later reconstructed the events for prime time, right? My bet is on Jesus, as deep throat of the fast – several hundred years before an Armenian priest would have come along to tell him that Satan would destroy him for talking about it.

The mystery and glory of the “Word of God” upon which -- to borrow the politician’s phrase -- the “moral code” of Christianity is built, is that the Bible contradicts itself in enough places as to make it a source to prove or disprove just about any argument on the same topic.

We might, for example, ask whether the “principles of Christianity” include the passage saying “your body is God's temple . . .if anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him.” If it does, and if we agree that smoking is bad for the body, then where is “Christian conviction” when Ter-Petrosyan with his signature cigarette holder smokes his way down Mashtots Avenue in front of children looking for role models?

Somewhere in there, too, a tablet from Mt. Sinai allegedly held this script: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” I’ll stipulate to being the resident reprobate here, but I’m pretty sure that might also apply to lying about (or stealing) votes – well-grounded charges leveled at the LTP camp in 1996.

“One could cite hundreds of such examples from Armenian and world church historical records,” that would condemn Hovannisian, writes Ter-Petrosyan.

No doubt. But here’s a question that seems fundamental, if anyone should be naïve enough to accept Ter-Petrosyan’s explanation: At what point did Hovannisian say that his fast was for religious or spiritual purposes?