The following remarks of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989) were published in a commemorative booklet published in 1954 on the 25th Anniversary of his priestly Ordination. The booklet was recently donated to the Zohrab Center. It contains other essays and sermons of the Archbishop along with a biography written by his student, “Very Rev. Torkom Manoogian,” the late Primate and Patriarch of Jerusalem. In these excerpts, Tiran Srpazan challenges young Armenian Americans, particularly those in the newly-established ACYOA [Armenian Church Youth Organization] to elevate themselves to the highest ideals of their ancestral church. In so doing he articulates a vision of what it means to be Armenian and American.
It is true that there are great numbers of Americans who profess to be religious. Some of these, however, mistake religion for magic. They think that by going through certain ceremonies and thus doing the customary thing, they have done their duty to God. By merely going to church, or by merely having certain ceremonies performed on them, they think their souls will be saved. Others, going to the other extreme, think that by quoting the Bible and drawing all kinds of strange conclusions from those quotations, they will find the way of salvation.
We must beware of both these pitfalls. Of course, we can be saved from spiritual death only through the holy sacraments and through the Word of God, but we must subject ourselves to the holy sacraments and to the Word of God in deep discernment, in humility, and in an honest efforts to be changed by God’s grace.
It is the gradual change and renewal of our souls that will give us the fuller life, in which we can find happiness, real deep happiness, both in this world and in the life to come.
It is that kind of religious that we need. We must all strive towards that kind of religious life, both as individuals, and as groups or corporate bodies…
We have had great religious leaders and teachers. By following them, by being faithful to our religious and cultural past, and being faithful to our Church and its precepts, we can live in this country the fuller Christian life.
By holding the standard of our faith high and by following dutifully on the path of our forefathers, we can avoid the dangers and the pitfalls to which I made reference a moment ago. Because the Armenian Orthodox way of Christian living will give us a sound, and realistic spirituality, which is neither merely formal nor merely emotional, but which in a healthy way will make us adjust our lives to the circumstances of modern civilization and, at the same time, will lead us to eternal life and to the Kingdom of God.
Professor Michael B. Papazian’s Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church is a succinct yet meticulous introduction to the Armenian Church. This is not a conventional history book. It is not “a continuous chronology that recounts in general the [Church’s] origin…and…history of its development and organization.” Instead, Dr. Papazian “often pauses in the course of the narrative to investigate the topics and to detail the circumstances of their origin and their consequences” (Foreword, 9). For example, he devotes one third of Chapter Two discussing the details of Judaism’s essential tenets of faith in order to transition into the theological and social issues involved in evangelizing the pagan Armenians. Thus we have here a true primer on the Armenian Church, historically organized but replete with insights into her theology, rituals and practice, saints, and world view. The author’s intent is that “all readers [Armenians and non-Armenians, Christian and non-Christian] will find this book to be a helpful source of knowledge about the Armenian Church” (Introduction, 11).
Papazian relies and quotes a variety of sources in his presentation: the Bible; Armenian texts, liturgical hymns (sharagans), prayers, encyclicals; early histories such as Movses Khorenatsi’s History of the Armenians; non-Christian sources such as the Jewish theologian Maimonides; and present-day scholars such as Stanley Harakas, Nina Garsoïan, and His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I. Very few scholarly stones are left unturned; all the information Papazian needs to construct for the reader a thoroughly detailed, explicative chronicle is utilized.
Nine chapters of the book chronicle and detail the timeline of the Church’s history, which Papazian organizes into eight essential epochs. The tenth chapter is devoted to discussing the sacramental life of the Armenian Church, highlighting their unique features compared with other traditions. The book concludes with three appendices, the first of which could easily be considered as an eleventh chapter. It meticulously enumerates the various communions of the entire Christian Church (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc.). Appendix B lists all of the sources consulted, helpful for those who would like to study a topic for deeply. Appendix C is the Lexicon, a list of significant terms mentioned in the book with concise definitions.
An example of the author’s approach may be illustrated in Chapter Six, which chronicles the history of the Armenian Church from the 5th to the 11th centuries. Here Dr. Papazian discusses the Iconoclast movement in the Byzantine Church of the 7th and 8th centuries. Pausing to compare and contrast the Armenian, Greek, and Roman Catholic Churches’ respective positions on icon veneration, the author discovers “a difference of culture rather than theology” (106). Though not questioned by Roman Catholics, icons are not as important to piety as in Eastern Orthodox churches, which often contain an icon-covered screen (iconostasis) before the sanctuary. Although the Armenian Church fathers have never challenged the legitimacy of icon veneration,“art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian has remarked that the illuminated Gospel book…takes the place that the icon holds in the other Eastern Churches” (Papazian 106). This is why in many Armenian churches one can observe, before and after the Divine Liturgy (Soorp Badarak), a pristine copy of the Gospels placed at the center of the altar as though enthroned.
Regarding the history of the church, particularly the topic of early Christian evangelization, one learns that in order to make Christianity palatable to the pre-Christian high classes, St. Gregory the Enlightener conformed a particular pagan Armenian practice to the faith. “As we have seen, the pagan priesthood in Armenia was hereditary. Gregory adopted the pagan custom perhaps as a temporary measure to gain greater acceptance and respect for the new Christian priesthood among the people” (49-50). Several of the first catholicoi were, in fact, direct descendants of St. Gregory himself: his two sons Aristakes and Vrtanes; St. Nerses the Great, Gregory’s great-great-grandson, whom Papazian refers to as Armenia’s “‘second Illuminator’” (60), the “‘Illuminator of the heart’” (65). Like many Christian traditions, here is an example of a pre-Christian form that was adopted to facilitate the evangelization of the people.
Of particular interest was another facet of the Armenian Church’s worldview which Papazian emphasizes: ecumenism. Papazian cites several historical episodes where the Armenian Church leadership engaged with other churches for the purpose of healing the wounds wrought against the Universal Church over the course of history. For example, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus approached Catholicos St. Nerses the Graceful (Shnorhali) in the twelfth century about reunification of the Greek and Armenian churches. The defense that St. Nerses wrote on the Armenian Church’s Christological position gained the admiration of the Emperor and the Byzantine patriarch. It was presented at the Armenian Synod of Hromkla, which Nerses’ successor, Gregory IV “The Young (Tgha)” convened in 1179. When Manuel died in 1180, the synod did not bear fruit because his successors had little interest in ecumenical dialogue. Despite its failure, this episode is indicative of the Armenian Church’s ecumenical worldview at a volatile period in Christian history, an rare attitude magnanimity and unity. Such an outlook was adopted by St. Nerses Shnorhali’s great-nephew St. Nerses of Lambron, who said, “I am united by tradition to whoever bears the name of Christ as a crown of glory….For us, there is no Paul or Apollos, Haik or Romulus” (136).
In essence, this book is a miniature library that engages the reader personally and carries the audience on a sojourn through time to discover and unfold the history and ways of the Armenian Church. To the novice and scholar alike, Light from Light is essential reading. Suitable for all readers, it opens a floodgate of enlightenment on the Armenian Church, its history and its contributions to the ministry of Christ on earth.
Michael B. Papazian, Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church. New York: New York SIS Publications / Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 2006.
Andrew Kayaian is a senior at Fordham University in New York majoring in History and Theology. He has worked as an intern for the Zohrab Center for two years and has contributed previously to the ZIC website.
The presentation of the new book Portraits of Survival: The Armenians of Bourj Hammoud, which was postponed earlier in the year because of snow will take place this Tuesday, June 9 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.
Ariane Ateshian Delacampagne, a photographer of Armenian descent born in Beirut, spent years among the remarkable people living and working in the Armenian enclave of Bourj Hammoud in northeast Beirut. The result is a singular portrait of this vibrant Armenian community born from the ashes of the Genocide.
The album is replete with stunning, original photographs that document the spirit and history of this remarkable community.
The evening is being co-sponsored by the Zohrab Information Center and the Department of Armenian Studies of the Diocese, as well as AGBU Ararat. The event is free and open to the public. A wine and cheese reception will follow. CLICK HERE for full details.
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For further information contact firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
Before the dust of the great Armenian Genocide of 1915 had settled, Armenians suffered yet another mass murder, this one farther east. In 1918 Turkish Ottoman soldiers occupied the city of Khoy (in Armenian, Her) in extreme northwest Iran and massacred the Armenians that had lived there for centuries.
Noted author and journalist Rosemary Hartounian Cohen’s memoir, The Survivor, tells the true story of her grandmother Arousiak, who witnessed and survived the carnage of that second Genocide. The author will present her book at the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, June 2 at 7PM.
Arousiak was an 18-year old, recently married to an affluent and devoted Armenian man. Her blissful life in Khoy was shattered by the events of 1918. Her poignant story captures the drama and pathos of a young Armenian family’s struggle to survive against persecution and hate. Ultimately, it is a tale of the vindication of love, family and a glorious past.
Rosemary Hartounian Cohen is an award-winning author, journalist and accomplished artist. In addition to The Survivor, she is the author of several historical novels: Korban: The Life of Liana, Terrorists or Martyrs, The Mother of Jerusalem is Crying, and Anoush: The Daughter of King Shen. Dr. Cohen received her doctorate in sociology from the Sorbonne in Paris and is the founder and director of the Liana Cohen Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes music and art to support grieving families and survivors of all forms of violence and tragedy including victims of drunk-driving, and addiction.
The book presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York, on Tuesday, June 2 at 7PM. The event is free and open to the public. Copies of The Survivor and others books by Dr. Cohen will be available for sale. A reception will follow the presentation.
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For further information contact the Zorhab Center at email@example.com or (212) 686-0710.
The following sermon for the springtime Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross over Jerusalem was found among the archives of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989) at the Zohrab Center. Tiran Srpazan was one of the great Armenian Churchmen and teachers of the twentieth century. He was elected Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem and served as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. He also founded St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. The sermon is written in Nersoyan’s own neat handwriting on five small leaves of paper. Unfortunately neither date nor the place where the sermon was preached is mentioned.
We are in the period of Eastertide, the fifty days after Easter. Easter was the great event of the Incarnation. It is the great feast of the Church. But it is more than just a feast. It is the great recurring event in the life of the Church. it is the realization of the greatest principle in the life of the Church, of the human soul, of the world.
Resurrection is the triumph of life over death, of spirit over matter, of the higher over the lower, of good over evil, of sanctity over sin, of eternity over time, of infinity over limitation.
Resurrection thus understood is a constant fact, a continuous reality in history, in the life of the universe, in the the life of mankind, in the life especially of the Church, and in the life of the individual soul.
Christ’s resurrection was the realization of the universal fact. It was a demonstration by God of the universal fact of resurrection. God showed us in Christ that man’s destiny was in heaven. That man, God’s creature, was not to perish, but to rise and to inherit eternal life, to triumph over futility, desperation and death.
The actual fact of Christ’s resurrection was a supernatural event. It does not bear biological, physiological or chemical proof. It is above the realm of these sciences as we know them. But resurrection is not less real for that, real in a special sense. When speaking of resurrection, St. Paul says that the risen body is without corruption. It is in glory. It is in power and it is spiritual. These are the qualities of the risen person. These are the prizes of the triumph. Can we conceive such a thing? We do our best, and the rest we are content to leave in mystery.
But triumph supposes a battle, a fight. Victory is the outcome of a successful struggle. And struggle involves suffering, pain, agony, crisis. It means the Cross. Look at the long history of mankind in struggle. Look at the history of the human soul in battle. Look at the constant process of fallings and risings. Look at the ferocity of the war between good and evil, between knowledge and ignorance, between harmony and disorder.
But resurrection transfigures this Cross. Triumph transitions this suffering. The end, the result, glorified the means.
And this brings us to the meaning of today’s commemoration. Today is the Feast of the Apparition of the Cross. On May 7 in the year 351 the population of the city of Jerusalem beheld the sign of the Cross stretching from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem, a distance of about two miles, across the sky, gleaming with intense light. The story is told in the letter of St. Cyril the Bishop of Jerusalem, addressed to the Emperor Constantius.
The significance of the apparition is obvious. The Cross that is born for the sake of God’s triumph against the Devil, for the triumph of life against death, is no more a sign of misery and defeat, but an instrument of glory. The Cross rises from earth to heaven. It is, as it were, the resurrection of the Cross, the glorification of suffering endured for God’s sake.
When we decorate ourselves with crosses of gold and precious stones, when we elevate the Cross and carry it in procession or place it on the altar we show the victory of the Cross. We show suffering and triumph, Cross and Resurrection combined. And a Cross shown like that is entirely different from a crucifix.
But then we may ask, What has all this got to do with us now? What has it got to do with the business of making a living, in which we are engaged? It has everything to do with it. Are we not suffering while making a living? Are we not constantly falling and rising? Are we not engaged in a constant fight in this world? Are we not continually troubled in our souls? Don’t we encounter evil at every turn? Don’t we keep on falling day in and day out against all kinds of temptation? What can have more relevance to our daily lives than the same promise of triumph? What can have more to do with us than the assurance of life for us against death? Life of this soul against the death of the body?
But victory, triumph, glory, life can be achieved only through power. No one ever fell and then rose again without having the power for it. No one ever fought and won a victory without having the strength for it. So Christ rose from death through his divine power. And that life and power come from God, from above. From God, who dwells in us, who dwells in his Church; who dwells in heaven, who dwells everywhere.
And the point in being a Christian is nothing, absolutely nothing but to put ourselves in the condition in which we can receive that power, which is called grace. The Church, as Christ’s body, communicates that power to us through God’s Word, pronounced and proclaimed by the Church, and especially through the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The world around us is constantly in danger of falling. But let it rise. We are always in danger of falling, but let us rise. Because Christ is always rising. Christ is always risen. His Cross is always shining in glory. Let us rise with Christ in the Church. Let our prayer constantly be: “Raise us, O Lord with you, from death to eternal life.”
Glory be to the risen Christ. Amen.
The event is being held in conjunction with the national observance of the Armenian Genocide centennial and the recent canonization of the martyrs of 1915. It is being co-sponsored by the School of Theology and Religious Studies of the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and the Zohrab Information Center.
Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, and Armenian speakers will consider the meaning of new Genocide martyrs in the context of the wider Christian practice of the canonization and veneration of saints and martyrs, with special attention to their practical impact on the faith and lives of Armenian-Americans today.
The day’s program will begin with welcoming remarks by the Provost of Catholic University, Rev. Dr. Mark Morozowich; Rev. Dr. Paul McPartlan, Dean of School of Theology, and V. Rev. Dr. Daniel Findikyan of the Zohrab Information Center.
Dr. Robin Darling Young (Associate Professor of Theology, Catholic University of America) will open the day’s deliberations with a talk entitled, Armenian Chroniclers, Early Martyrs, and Communal Intercession, from Agat’angelos to Yeghishe.
Christopher Sheklian, an ordained deacon of the Armenian Church and doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago, will reflect on the tension between the secular-national significance of the Genocide martyrs and their Christian-theological meaning. His talk is entitled, Witnessing, Sacrifice, and Suffering: Martyrdom and the Relationship Between Ethnic and Religious Identities.
Greek Orthodox priest, Rev. Dr. Stefanos Alexopoulos (Assistant Professor of Liturgics and Sacramental Theology at Catholic University) will next speak on the topic, The Armenian Martyrs of 1915 and the Greek Martyrs of 1922: Pastoral and Practical Applications for Armenian and Greek Orthodox Christians in America Today.
The afternoon will conclude with a panel discussion among all the speakers, moderated by Rev. Dr. Ronald Roberson of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
The symposium is free and open to the public. It will take place in Caldwell Auditorium of the Catholic University of America (620 Michigan Ave. N.E., Washington, DC). The program will begin at 10 a.m. and conclude at 3:30 p.m. For information, contact the Zohrab Information Center at (212) 686-0710.
The distinguished specialist in Early Christian, Byzantine and Armenian art, Dr. Helen Evans, will give an illustrated lecture entitled, Armenian Art: Voice of a People at the Zohrab Center of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern) on Thursday, April 30 at 7PM.
A visual tradition of the Armenian people that spans many centuries and prosperous communities from the Armenian homeland across the globe, Armenian art is at the same a highly specialized and a vast phenomenon. Dr. Evans will explore what makes a work “Armenian” by looking at key works of art of several historical periods. She will consider the role of the Armenian communities producing the works as well as that of the varied peoples with whom Armenians were in contact in attempting to define new and old ways to make Armenian art compelling not only to its people but also to the larger world.
Helen Evans is the Mary and Michael Jaharis Curator for Byzantine Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She earned her Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. After joining the curatorial staff of the Museum in 1991, she installed the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Byzantine Art, the first galleries dedicated to Byzantine art in an encyclopedic museum, in 2000 and expanded them in 2008. Dr. Evans has lectured widely in the United States and abroad and has taught at the Institute of Fine Arts of New York University, Columbia University, Hunter College, the University of Chicago, and Oberlin College. She is a member of the Board of the Mary Jaharis Center for Byzantine Art and Culture at Holy Cross College; treasurer and a founding member of the Association of Art Museum Curators; and former chair of the Editorial Board of the Art Bulletin.
CLICK HERE to download a full-color flyer.
The lecture is free and open to the public. A wine and cheese reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.