It is a privilege and a form of wealth to be born into a rich culture, and most Americans, although they fail to recognize it, are born rich. My father and others with an extensive knowledge of various cultures often remarked that the poor in America were richer and freer than most of the world’s peoples.
Now add to that the fact of being born into another culture, and yet living here in America, and one can see how wealthy an immigrant or foreign family can be, if they know and respect their heritage. I had the wealth of an ancient Christian Armenian culture and all the vast treasures of an American one.
My father was born in a remote village on a mountain next to Ararat. He lived where his family had lived for perhaps 2000 or so years. Having played as a boy in the churchyard where his father (of the married clergy) had been a priest of the Church of Armenia, my father had memorized the names of his ancestors for fifteen or more centuries back, from the gravestones and church records. My mother came from Van City, which was relatively modern and prosperous.
As a boy, I heard stories from survivors, including our family, of the massacres and the long death march. I heard of the martyrdom of many, including my paternal grandfather, first blinded, then a year or two later killed by the Turks. My maternal grandfather was killed while on a pilgrimage to a favorite monastery church.
My father knew the ancient liturgy as the very beautiful songs of medieval monks. They still echo in my memory with their intense faith.
I was thus born rich though materially poor. My father loved California. Having spent time in Europe in his student days, he knew and thought highly of it, especially Switzerland; but he held that Americans failed to appreciate the often greater beauty of their own country.
Up until my college years, I was immersed in the Armenian community. With time, I lost my ability to read and write Armenian, but the cultural impact remained. I was a child of two worlds and two cultures.
This enabled me to see, as I grew older, how both American and Armenian cultures had steadily left their moorings and had drifted from a strong Biblical and theonomic faith to a vague evangelicalism. I was brought up with unchanging reverence to believe that the Bible is the very word of God.
I can vividly remember each Christmas my father’s reading the nativity accounts. I recall him helping us decorate the Christmas tree and telling us that it signified Jesus Christ, the tree of life, ever-green, ever-alive. The ornaments were fruits, or simulated fruit ornaments, to set forth Revelation 22:2. I can recall coming home from kindergarten with my first tale of a Santa Claus, amazed and excited. My laughing father cleaned the chimney, but my cousin Edward, two years older than I, told me it was a silly American story. I always disliked Santa Claus after that.
In Armenia, there was no neutral ground between Islam and Christianity, and I came to realize that there is no neutral ground anywhere. But, to my dismay, the country was drifting into a belief in neutral ground, with all racial groups in that drift. As a student at the university, then in seminary and in the ministry, I came to realize that this belief in neutrality was becoming a kind of new religion, especially among scientists and among churchmen who advocated a rationalistic apologetics. It is difficult for me to express the deep revulsion I felt towards this, then and now. It gave me an intense appreciation of Cornelius Van Til when I encountered his thinking. My horror for neutralism has only deepened with time.
Almost from the day I learned how to read, I began to read the Bible. I loved its majesty, beauty and certainty. In my later university years, I would read as much as an hour, out loud, saturating myself with the glory of God speaking to man. Over the years, when speaking at various churches, I try when possible to read Scripture myself in the service, rather than having another do it. It is a privilege I cherish.
I have been doubly blessed in being an heir of two Christian cultures. Truly, I was born rich.