The following splendid reflection on the Passion of the Lord has been excerpted and translated from the epic poem by Khrimian Hayrig (Catholicos Mkrtich Khrimian, 1820-1907) entitled Հրաւիրակ Երկրին Աւետեաց, roughly translated, Invitation to the Land of the Gospel.
The monumental meditation was composed in 1850 while Khrimian was a young deacon on his first pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The epic consists of seven “songs” that were indeed intended to be sung, as Khrimian relates in the introduction to the book. Sitting in his tiny cell facing the Mount of Olives to the East, he writes—
One day while I was busy writing and singing a melody—for without singing it, a song has no spirit—suddenly the assiduous, late Patriarch Hovhannes came and stood at the door of my room. “I heard your voice, Deacon Mkrtich. What are you singing and writing?”
I said ,”Srpazan, I’m writing an Invitation to the Land of the Gospel.”
“Whom are you inviting?,” he asked.
“Young people and all Armenians, my spiritual father,” I answered.
“Write! Write! God bless you! Invite them! Call them!,” the Patriarch called out. “Let the fervent Armenian people make an oath to come to Jerusalem…”
The passage below is taken from the Sixth Song, a profound meditation on Jesus’ “Farewell Discourse,” known in Armenian as the “Discourse of the Cross” in John 13-17. Faithful to the ancient manner of Biblical exegesis and preaching, the Catholicos sees the passion, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus as a single, indivisible reality, which is reflected like a prism in other stories and episodes throughout the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The sorrow of Christ’s passion and death is never isolated from the triumphant joy of his resurrection.
The Zohrab Center holds two precious copies of Khrimian Hayrig’s epic in its second edition, published in Jerusalem in 1892. The text is also available online. The subtitles are not part of the original text.
THE VIGILANT ANGEL that gave the great news to the shepherds at your birth,
The same one spoke at dawn, shouting to the watchful women—
It was not the young men who first heard it, but the daughters of Eve:
“He has risen! Why do you seek among the dead the One who lives?
Why do you weep bitterly for him, who wiped away mankind’s tears?”
Let the disconsolate anguish of your hearts turn to joyfulness!
The dew-like streams that fell from your eyes at the Cross will be wiped away.
Mary the bereaved mother, her heart stabbed as if with a sword—
Her piercing wounds were healed by the resurrection of her Son.
He did not allow Mary Magdalene to kiss him. Would he spare his mother’s kiss?
When the scattered flock of sheep was beaten along with the Good Shepherd,
With the Good News to Mary, coming together again as one,
All were filled with joy, their spirits bloated with hope.
She recalled there the Teacher’s earlier discourse—
“Although I have been willingly betrayed into the hands of those odious people,
I will die innocent and they will place me in a tomb.
Yet after three days I will rise, I will stand up alive,
With miraculously renewed youth, I will be newly restored like an eagle.
As the early dawn’s light spreads out, for a moment I will be covered in the lap of the earth.
After three days buried, toward Himself he will gather this shoot.”
And again the radiant Sun rose from the tomb.
A new, exuberant dawn broke over of the universe.
Darkness, a world-engulfing shadow was dispelled and chased away,
Like Jonah, that prophet who fled,
The Lord lived in the heart of the Earth and entered the belly of a sea-dragon,
Its cavernous mouth gaping wide to devour the world, teeth shining like spiked swords,
“Ha!” it said. “I caught him! The Son of Man tumbled into my mouth!”
But it could not hold on to him. Its sharp teeth were crushed.
The One he held in his belly was the swallowed spirit of Adam.
Quickly he spat him out of the deep womb of hell
Because he did not find in the New Adam the sins of old Adam,
In whom he had poured the poison of death, and whose entire progeny he had killed.
Like a fisherman, using his ingenious little virgin bait, the Father
Cast his hook into the sea of death and caught there the great monster.
He slashed its deep chin and pulled out its spirit, alive and well.
By the word of the one who saw it, he swore to himself
One day, alive, to touch this lower realm of our earth.
Behold his most powerful right arm extended, the Word from above
Touched and seized the great dragon, the Slanderer.
He crushed his head and threw him over half-dead.
The spirits of the saints rejoiced. They kissed the Savior’s right hand.
They cried out, “Blessed is the Father. Blessed is the Son. Blessed is your saving arm.
You slew our great adversary, who never ceased to blame us.
He antagonized the righteous and wouldn’t let us be with you.”
Now that we are freed from the darkness, take us to the Father’s luminous home.
For you said, “Where I am, there my servants will also be.”
The lion cub triumphed over Judas’ lineage.
An awesome voice roared. The depths of Hell shuttered.
The Lord has woken as if from sleep. He who slept in the heart of the earth is awake.
Having drunk wine at the Cross, he spilled it from himself like a giant.
In his death he shut his eyes for an instant, as if in sleep.
Will he not henceforth do even more when he rises up?
A Grain of Wheat Alone
The grain of the wheat husk that sprouted from the field of the Virgin,
Detained in the prison of Golgotha by the thrashing sledge of the Cross;
He fell like seed to the earth. He died like a grain of wheat in the ground.
Miraculous was that little grain, whom the Father’s hand planted yesterday,
And today that grain sprouted from the soil, in manifold bunches.
One grain died, yet it raised countless grains to life.
He yielded an immeasurable abundance of fruit according to his Word.
By the fruits of the countless souls at rest, which he brought back flourishing to life.
The reckless pack of renegades, riling him at the Cross
Called out, “Ha!” wagging their heads at the one hanging from the tree.
They hung their heads low in disgrace, humiliated,
When they saw that what they had destroyed by death on the Cross was the Temple of his Body,
Which Jesus the Architect would build in three days.
The Father stood up as the Son’s defender, He Himself in the courtroom.
Freeing him from his oppressors, He made it known to the whole world
That Jesus was crucified and died. He is the true Son of God.
And he showed his tormenters the arena of righteousness, his Cross.
To the Father
That is why first we will always offer praise
To You, our loving Father. Triumphing in compassion, and
Out of love for fallen humanity, you surrendered your beloved One to death.
You left him in the hands of enemies, as if abandoned without a care.
They tortured him, O how they tortured him! He was covered in wounds,
So that by the wounds of his body, you might heal the wounds
Of the half-dead, fallen man, who was going down to Jericho.
Wounded by the robbers’ knife, he groaned pitifully.
For his pathetic form and the sound of his languid cries
They showed no concern, as if having never seen nor heard.
Their impotent hands could not heal his wounds,
If not from you, O Father—the Samaritan went up to visit him.
And who can measure your love, with which you loved the world,
So much that you surrendered your beloved, from within your very own Self, to death?
By the innocent blood of your Son, the lifeless world is revived.
This is how you showed humanity the measure of your infinite love.
And to the Son
But to you, too, O immortal Son, in the body in which you died for us,
Even greater blessings will forever be offered from us, who have been saved by your blood.
In your love for us, you were not content only to become human from the Virgin.
But enduring endless insults in your meekness,
By the hands of ingrates, yes, you even tasted death.
I swoon when I ponder what you endured, O crucified Jesus—
Your tears in the garden, and your voluntary arrest,
Standing in the judges’ forecourt, silent, mute.
Beaten with a stick, whipped by the odious soldiers,
The slap, the crown of thorns and the vile spitting of indignity;
Carrying your Cross to Golgotha, and your forsaken footsteps,
Laid upon the altar of the Cross, fastened tightly with nails,
Lifted up from the ground onto the Cross, standing as the target of the world.
The wound pierced into your side, bound like a dead man,
Buried alive in a tomb for the dead.
A New Melody
This memorial of your afflictions, and of your suffering unto death on the Cross,
Which the Gospel recounts, I read in the discourse concerning your death.
I recall and I grieve, but I rejoice at your salvation,
Which you exhibited in the middle of the earth in a wondrous, new mode.
Who saw and who heard that God the Light was coming into our world?
The Light was born human from the Virgin. God became the Son of Man.
And ultimately he went willingly to death on the Cross, and to the Tomb.
From the tomb he rose in glory. This is how he seals the Discourse of the Cross.
To the Tomb
Now then, having fallen on my knees in awe, I venerate your tomb,
Where you were formed in your body, there you embraced me in your grave.
Because those buried in the ground in sin you raise to life by your resurrection.
O Tomb, O Tomb! You are the lid of death’s door.
O entry gate and path to the Kingdom of Heaven!
From every nation and land, the masses come and appeal to you.
If one asks, “Where are you going?” they say, “We are going to Jerusalem.
We have made an oath to worship at Christ’s tomb.”
Go stand near the tomb and see, filled with the Spirit, how
They kiss—yes, they kiss the motionless yet living stone.
And they believe in you, O Lord. They believe that you died and you were buried here.
Cheers to the dead of the world! For you gave them life through your resurrection!
May you stand always firm, O Tomb, the monument to the Savior’s death.