The Warrior Saint Within: A Symbolic Interpretation of Vartanants by Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

St. Vartan Cathedral, New York (photo by Albin Lohr-Jones)

“The Warrior Saint Within:
A Symbolic Interpretation of Vartanants”

by
Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

This talk was given in the Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium at the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in New York City on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants and name day celebration of St. Vartan Cathedral on February 24, 2022. I’m grateful to Diocesan Primate Bp. Daniel Findikyan and Cathedral Vicar Fr. Davit Karamyan for the invitation to speak on this occasion.

For many of you the number of times is past counting that you have come to St. Vartan Cathedral on this feast day. For others, you can remember a handful of times. For me, it is only the first time, but no less meaningful for that. Here we are on the Feast of Sts. Vartanants, underneath the mother cathedral dedicated to that warrior saint whose protection and guidance our fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers sought, when their fortune saw them flung to the eastern shore of this country after they had endured a calamity even greater than that faced by St. Vartan and his companions. What was it they saw in a defeated and slain warrior from a millennium and a half ago that so inspired them? 

For an event like the one we’re dealing with here to be worthy of remembrance, for it to turn into what skeptics might call ‘legend’ or ‘myth,’ but what we might better name ‘sacred history,’ it must be symbolically meaningful; that is, it must embody timeless, spiritual meaning.[1] It is at that symbolic level that I’d like to focus my brief remarks this evening.

To do so, let me call your attention to a less celebrated passage in Ghazar Parbetsi’s History— but one that I think is key to uncovering the deeper meaning found in this event.[2] Before the Battle of Avarayr, Vartan and the other Armenian, Georgian, and Caucasian Albanian Christian noble lords are called to the Sasanian Shah Yazkert’s court who presents them with the following choice: either abandon your Christian faith and accept Zoroastrianism or see yourselves, your wives, children, and nation annihilated.[3] What do we expect these heroes and Christian saints will do? Surely, they will spit in the shah’s face and say they’ll never yield to such threats. But that is not what happened. 

Ghazar tells us that Vartan deliberated in agony for a while, while remembering that saying of Christ, “Whoever loves his wife and children more than me, is not worthy of me.”[4] But his companions quoted other Scriptures, not unlike how Satan once tempted Jesus in the wilderness.[5] They reminded Vartan of what St. Paul had said, “I would make myself cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of saving my brothers and relatives”[6] and urged him to do just that along with them, in order to save their wives and children and kinsmen: i.e., they asked him to renounce Christ (if only under pretense) in order to save the lives of those they loved.[7] What do you think Vartan did? Surely, he refused them and that is why we remember him today as a Christian martyr, right? Wrong. On that occasion, he silenced the voice of truth within him, and along with his companions chose the way of deception, feigning abandonment of Christ and accepting Zoroastrianism, and thus lying his way out of the difficult situation. 

It was a hard dilemma. If you’re brave enough to try such an experiment, look inside yourself at a quiet, solitary moment and ask yourself what you would do if given the same choice?

Well, Ghazar tells us that the nobles then returned to their land and when their wives and children along with priests chanting Psalms came out to greet them, they instantly began to weep and wail because they found that their husbands looked dark and half-dead, and the light that usually shone from their faces no longer did so.[8] This refers, of course, to the beaming charisma that seems to glow from the faces and eyes of those who live truthfully and uprightly at all times, who always seek the highest good. It is the golden halo that iconographers paint behind the faces of saints. It shone no more from the faces of those men who were living no longer in the light of truth.

Vartan soon discovers that as a result of his deception, all goodness, beauty, and joy has been stripped away from his life. Neither his wives nor children, not even his servants can bear to be in his presence or sit with him at table.[9] He himself cannot even endure being in his own realm any longer, and looking for a way to run from himself and his problems, he decides to flee to the Roman empire, where he can be safe and secure.[10]

His fellow Christian nobles come to him again, this time urging him to stay and fight with them in the wars with Iran that are sure to come, once their deception has been found out.[11] Once again, Vartan is faced with a hard dilemma. Should he run to another realm where he can practice Christianity safely, protect his family, and so escape death? Or, should he accept his own mortality, and honestly and courageously face the difficult lot he has been dealt? It is this inner battle that was the most difficult one that Vartan fought, the war he waged within himself. And after the initial defeat at the Persian court, it is from this inner battle that he emerged victorious, when he decided that no matter the cost or outcome he would follow the way that he knew deep down within him to be right, which meant accepting his own mortality, facing death in battle.

For the last couple weeks, I’ve meditated on the sculptural relief of Vartan that stands on the south-facing wall above the entrance of our cathedral. One might have expected Vartan to be depicted standing tall and proud in full armor, sword in hand, ready to wage war. But that is not at all what the inspired artist, Bogdan Grom, depicted. Call the image to mind if you can.

St. Vartan (left) on the south-facing wall of St. Vartan Cathedral, New York (designed by Bogdan Grom; photo by Albin Lohr-Jones)

Notice his posture. He is there on bended knee, helmet off beside him, face resolute, holding the cross in his left hand at his chest, and pointing upwards with his right hand. What does all this mean? To take off your protective armor and grip the cross at the center of yourself is to honestly accept your own mortality, the inescapable death sentence that is placed on every one of us that comes into this world. To fall on one knee and point upwards is to submit yourself to Reality as it is, to the lot that you have been dealt, and despite that to work for the highest good you can conceive given the limitations of your self and the circumstances of your life, leaving the outcome of your efforts entirely in God’s hands. You cannot choose the circumstances you will face in life, and there are many forces working against you that will always remain outside of your control. All you can control is your own self and how you will respond to them. Vartan overcame the deceptive, inner desires that urged him toward self-preservation and self-protection, that urged him to seek his own advantage at the expense of the highest good. And because of that decision, that inner victory that Vartan won, the halo glows again behind his head. It is there on the sculpture on the cathedral wall.

Meanwhile, Vasak, prince of Siwnik, took advantage of the unfortunate circumstances in Armenia to advance his own interests, caring little that it required treachery and betrayal to do so. He colluded with the Iranian shah and worked behind the scenes to betray Vartan and the other Christian nobles.[12] Vasak sought upward mobility and personal reward at the cost of honesty and loyalty. He compromised his highest ideal and betrayed his companions. This is corruption at its very worst— taking advantage of a bad situation for personal benefit to the detriment of those dependent on you. Vasak tried to trick reality through deceit, lies, and treachery. However, soon after the Battle of Avarayr, the tables were turned on him, and falling out of favor with the shah, he was imprisoned and died in ignominy.[13]

And so, this story presents us with two paths that we may pursue in life. We can choose to shun lies and deception and follow the voice within us that speaks the truth, or we can try to twist reality to our own ends through lies, deception, and deceit. In this life, one thing is certain: we will face difficulty, calamity, crisis, unfavorable external circumstances that lie entirely outside of our control, which we did not ask for and do not want. When that happens, a voice within us will bring up every excuse and reason why we should give up or lie or cheat our way out of the difficult circumstance, perhaps even using Scripture as justification. But there is another voice always inside you: it is much quieter but it always tells you what is right and speaks the hard truth you need to hear. We can call it our conscience or the “spirit of truth.”[14] If you follow that first voice, you take the path of Vasak, trying to twist reality to your own end. But reality has a way of snapping back into shape and crushing the one who tried to bend it. If you have the courage to listen to that second, quieter voice and follow it no matter the cost, leaving the outcome entirely to God, you choose the way of Vartan, and God only knows what unforeseen good may come of it, still having its impact a millennium and a half from now.

We fight this inner battle every day, with each hurdle and challenge we face, no matter how large or small. Every time we listen to the first voice and take the easy path, like Vasak, we corrupt ourselves and the world, making bad things worse. But when we listen to the second voice, we strengthen ourselves and if we act thus consistently, we soon find that we become capable of facing any difficulty, any peril, even death with courage. And by so doing, we hold open the possibility that by our honest actions and self-sacrifice, we can help to repair a broken world. This is what it means to pick up your cross and follow after Christ.[15]

Our forebears who survived the Genocide to come to this country had every reason in the world to abandon their faith and curse the God who, judging by all external appearances, had forsaken them. Many, in fact, did just that. But some fell on their knees, held the cross to their chest, and looked upwards, building this cathedral as a testament to their faith, in the name of the warrior saint who stays true despite all external calamities. They won the inner battle, clinging to their faith against despair and against all odds built a beautiful life in a strange, new world that soon became home to their children and grandchildren. Their chapter is now written and finished, but ours is still open. We stand here now the beneficiaries of their sacrifice, under the protection of that warrior saint, who wins the inner battle against the self. So, on this Feast of Sts. Vartanants, let us ponder what our lives could be like if each one of us always chose the way that Vartan chose, obeying that small voice within us that speaks the truth. What might we become if we did so? What might our nation become? What might the world become?

May the blessings of this Feast Day be on us all and may each one of us become the warrior saint who wins the inner battle. 


[1] The definition of symbolism I am employing here, ‘a fact or event that bears spiritual significance or embodies higher truth,’ is based on Matthieu Pageau, The Language of Creation: Cosmic Symbolism in Genesis, A Commentary (2018), especially p. 25.

[2] The episode I reflect on here and in the following paragraphs is found in the second part of Ghazar’s History. In the standard English edition, The History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, trans. by Robert W. Thomson (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1991), see pp. 75–157, especially pp. 86–106.

[3] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 87.

[4] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 90.

[5] See Matt. 4:1–11 and parallels.

[6] See Rom. 9:3–4.

[7] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 91–92.

[8] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 95.

[9] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 95–96.

[10] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 97.

[11] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, pp. 98–99.

[12] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 104–106.

[13] History of Łazar Pʿarpecʿi, p. 131.

[14] John 16:13.

[15] Matt. 16:24.

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Dr. Jesse Arlen to speak on “The History of the Armenian Bible” at Museum of the Bible’s “Armenian Culture Celebration”

On Saturday, January 29, 2022, the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. will host an Armenian Culture Celebration with special exhibits (including a digital exhibition on the churches of Nagorno-Karabakh/Artsakh) and other activities, musical performances, Armenian cuisine, and lecture presentations devoted to the role of the Bible and Christianity in Armenian culture.

Dr. Jesse Arlen will be one of the speakers, presenting on the development of the Armenian Bible and its sacred importance that enabled the spread of Christianity, the development of Armenian theology, and the survival of a distinct, unified cultural identity.

Click here for details of the full-day event and see below for a schedule including a coupon code for free admission to the museum.

The lecture presentations will also be available to stream by Zoom. See below for links to join the Zoom presentations:

Lunch & Learn: Christmas Traditions in Armenia (11:00am ET)

Click the link to join the webinar: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83820349313 
Webinar ID: 838 2034 9313

The History of the Armenian Bible (3:00pm ET)

Please click the link to join the webinar: https://us06web.zoom.us/j/83545912455
Webinar ID: 835 4591 2455

“An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition, Part II: Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries” by Dr. Jesse S. Arlen

Zohrab Center postdoctoral fellow and director, Dr. Jesse S. Arlen, to begin Spring 2022 lecture series at St. Nersess Seminary on Thursday evenings at 7:00pm by Zoom, Jan 20 – Feb 24.

An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition: Part II: Eleventh to Eighteenth Centuries 

This two-part lecture series introduces the audience to the Armenian historical tradition, a rich and fascinating corpus of literature with texts produced continuously from the first century after the invention of the alphabet up until the modern period.

During Part I of this lecture series (offered in Fall 2021), we covered the Armenian histories written from the fifth to tenth centuries.

In Part II, we will look at histories beginning in the eleventh century, which respond to the Seljuk invasions and the many changes brought to Armenian life, and proceed up until the early modern period, when travel accounts covered the various diasporic and merchant colonies that were now spread across the globe.  

To register, click here. All are welcome.

Dr. Jesse S. Arlen’s St. Nersess Lecture Series on Armenian Histories now available on YouTube

Zohrab/Fordham Postdoc and Director Dr. Jesse S. Arlen’s Fall Public Lecture series at Saint Nersess Armenian Seminary is now available to stream on YouTube. The six sessions cover the major medieval Armenian historians and histories composed between the fifth and tenth centuries. Part II of the series will take place in the beginning of the Spring 2022 semester.

Lecture 1: An Overview of the Armenian Historical Tradition
Lecture 2: The Conversion and Early History of Armenia: Agathangelos, Epic Histories, & Moses of Khoren
Lecture 3: Narrating the Religious Struggles with Zoroastrian Iran: Ghazar of Parpi and Yeghishe
Lecture 4: Early Engagements with Islam: The Histories of Sebeos and Ghewond
Lecture 5: Regional Histories: History of Caucasian Albania & History of the House of the Artsrunik
Lecture 6: End of the First Millenium: John the Catholicos, Ukhtanes, and Stepanos of Taron

A playlist of the full series is available here.

A resource guide is available here.

Series Description: The Armenian historical tradition is rich and well developed, with texts written in this genre produced continuously from the first century after the invention of the alphabet up until the modern period. Of all the Armenian literary genres, it is the histories that have received the most attention from modern scholars, thanks to their importance for our knowledge of the Near East and Mediterranean. Nevertheless, the Armenians who wrote their histories did not conceive of history in the same way we do today, nor did they approach their topics with the same preoccupations and concerns of modern historians. In this six-week course, we will seek to approach the Armenian histories on their own terms, attempting to understand the context in which they were produced, the religious and imaginative world of the authors who composed them, and the goals and purposes that motivated both the patrons who sponsored them and the authors who wrote them. Proceeding chronologically, this semester our goal is to cover twelve major Armenian histories from the fifth to tenth centuries (about two per session). At the same time, we will introduce participants to books and online resources where they may acquire the primary texts and gain access to important secondary materials to facilitate deeper study on their own.

YouTube Recording of the First Session from the Vemkar/Zohrab Classical Armenian Series “Christ as Hope”

The recording for the First Session of the Vemkar/Zohrab Classical Armenian Series “Christ as Hope” is available to stream on the Zohrab Information Center’s YouTube channel. Subscribe to the channel to be notified when future videos in the series are posted.

In the first session, Jesse Arlen, Interim Director of ZIC, presented Gregory of Narek’s “Ode for the Ascension” (Տաղ Համբարձման ի Գրիգոր Նարեկացւոյն).

After the presentation, participants engaged in 20–30 minutes of discussion.

The sessions will continue each Wednesday evening through September 1st at 7:00pm ET. Register in advance for the Zoom sessions here. No knowledge of Classical Armenian is required.

Future sessions will be led by Fr. Ghevond Ajamian, Fr. Nigoghos Aznavourian, Julia Hintlian, Fr. Hovsep Karapetyan, Ani Shahinian, and Dn. Ezras Tellalian.

A NEW ERA FOR THE DIOCESE’S ZOHRAB CENTER BEGINS UNDER A NEW COLLABORATION WITH FORDHAM UNIVERSITY

The Eastern Diocese, under the auspices of Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel, has entered a new agreement with Fordham University, which will reconfigure the director’s position of the Diocese’s Zohrab Information Center into a post-doctoral fellowship.

Under the new arrangement, the directorship of the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center has become a rotating position, of two to three years’ duration, where each successive director will simultaneously hold a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Orthodox Christian Studies Center of Fordham University.

The position will now be officially designated the “Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Armenian Christian Studies, and Director at the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center.” Applications are currently being solicited from qualified candidates, with a submission deadline of May 15, 2021.

Click here for an official job description and submission details.

The arrangement with Fordham University was pioneered by Dr. Christopher Sheklian during his tenure as Zohrab Center director (2018-2020), with the active encouragement of Bishop Daniel.

“I want to express my thanks to Dr. Sheklian for proposing this exciting new vision for the Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center of the Eastern Diocese,” said the Primate, himself a former director of the center. “I am fully convinced that this exciting plan will breathe new life into the center, bringing it into the Third Millennium—and thereby more effectively realizing the expectations of its founder, the late Mrs. Dolores Zohrab-Liebmann.”

“The plan propels the Zohrab Center to the academic forefront of Armenian Studies globally; draws it more tangibly into Armenian Church Studies, specifically through St. Nersess Seminary; attracts and supports young scholars in Armenian Christianity; and establishes the Zohrab Center more securely into the Diocese’s mission and efforts to Build Up the Body of Christ,” the Primate said.

A Rarity in the Academic World

The Zohrab Center’s collaborator in this new undertaking, Fordham’s Orthodox Christian Studies Center, is a rarity in the academic world: a center dedicated to the study of Orthodox Christianity, which is unaffiliated to a seminary. In recent years the two co-founding directors, George Demacopoulous and Aristotle Papanikoloaou, have worked to include the Oriental Orthodox churches in the center’s orbit, and to advocate a broadly ecumenical approach to the study of Christian Orthodoxy.

“By working with the Orthodox Christian Studies Center, the Eastern Diocese, through its unique institution of the Zohrab Information Center, has the possibility to support and even transform the academic study of Armenian Christianity in America,” said Dr. Christopher Sheklian in a description of the vision behind the new agreement.

“At this moment, there are only a handful of academic positions in Armenian Studies in the United States, and other than at St. Nersess Seminary, there is not a single position dedicated specifically to the study of Armenian Christianity,” he said. “Through this joint venture, the Diocese will simultaneously ensure the dynamic future of the Zohrab Information Center while offering crucial support to the study of Armenian Christianity in America.”

As a practical matter, the director will be based at the Zohrab Center itself, which occupies a suite of offices, research library, and presentation facility at the Diocesan Center in New York. As an integral member of the Diocesan staff, the director will be expected to contribute to Diocesan ministries projects, and the cultural and educational life of the community. The agreement makes provision for the director to spend some time in research and teaching at Fordham University (located in uptown Manhattan), and stipulates that one day per week should be spent at St. Nersess Seminary’s Armonk, NY, campus.

The position is open to candidates with a Ph.D. in a field related to Armenian Studies, and command of at least one dialect of Armenian. According to the terms of the agreement between the Diocese and Fordham, the selection committee assessing applicants will include a representative from the Diocesan Council and a member of St. Nersess Seminary’s faculty; additionally the Diocesan Council must approve the committee’s selection before any candidate is sent to Fordham University for its approval.

About the Zohrab Center

The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center was established by the Eastern Diocese three decades ago as a resource, research, and teaching facility to promote Armenian studies, and to assist students, scholars, the Armenian community and general public in deepening their appreciation for Armenian faith, history, civilization, and culture. It was established through the generous gift of Mrs. Dolores Zohrab Liebmann, in memory of her parents: Krikor and Clara Zohrab.

Krikor Zohrab (pictured above) was one of the towering Armenian intellectual leaders in Constantinople, who lost his life in the Genocide of 1915.

His Holiness Vasken I, the late Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, presided over the Zohrab Center’s dedication ceremony on November 8, 1987, during the primacy of the late Archbishop Torkom Manoogian.

Since its founding, the Zohrab Center has enjoyed a distinguished lineage of scholars serving as director and assistant director, including Fr. Krikor Maksoudian, Rachel Goshgarian, Aram Arkun, Fr. (now Bishop) Daniel Findikyan, and Christopher Sheklian. At present, its interim director is Jesse Arlen, a scholar in the field of Armenian theology and early Christian studies who is completing his doctorate at UCLA.

Under every administrator, the heart of the center has always been its research library, whose holdings exceed 40,000 books, periodicals, photographs, and assorted resources in all areas of Armenian Studies.

Of special note would be the center’s collection of Armenian periodicals and newspapers from across the world; its vast collection of 19th/20th-century Armenian literature; and a precious treasury of rare books and manuscripts. A number of titles are found in no other library in the western hemisphere.

Click the link to find a job description for the Postdoctoral Research Fellow and Director position.

At the Glorious Tomb of the Lord: A Poem for Holy Week by Khrimian Hayrig

ResurrectionThe 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.

—FDF



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

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.”

Jonah

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? Continue reading “At the Glorious Tomb of the Lord: A Poem for Holy Week by Khrimian Hayrig”

Saluting a “Soldier of the Light” March 24 at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary

1767_001The Zohrab Information Center and St. Nersess Seminary will co-sponsor a day-long symposium dedicated to the life and vision of His Holiness Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian, a true titan among the Armenian people in modern times.

The symposium is titled, Soldier of the Light: The Aspirations of Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian.” It marks the 150th anniversary of Hovsepian’s birth and the centennial of the Battle of Sardarabad (in which he fought). It will take place on Saturday, March 24, at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, 486 Bedford Road, Armonk, NY.

Speakers include Dr. Abraham Terian, Dr. Roberta Ervine, Dr. Christine Maranci, Rev. Fr. Karekin Kasparian, and Mr. Nubar Kupelian. V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center and Professor at St. Nersess Seminary, will moderate. Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian will preside.

A Man of Staggering Accomplishments Abounding in Grace 

HovsepiantsBefore being elected Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian (1867-1952) served as Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America during the turbulent years following the assassination of Archbishop Ghevont Tourian in New York in 1933. Born in Artsakh, Armenia, he earned graduate degrees from the best universities in Europe, encouraged the Armenian troops on the front lines of the Battle of Sardarabad, chaired the Department of Archaeology and Art History at Yerevan State University, led pioneering archaeological expeditions in western Armenia, published learned books on the art of medieval Armenian manuscript illumination, and previously obscure chapters in Armenian history, and inspired countless people through his preaching and teaching. Through it all Hovsepian tirelessly summoned his flock to rise up from pettiness and division, and to embrace the dignity, richness, and eternal values of Christian life as embodied in Armenian art, culture and history and above all, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the Church.

On this occasion a volume of selected essays and sermons by the Catholicos, translated for the first time into English by Dr. Ervine and Fr. Findikyan, has been published. Those present for the symposium will receive a complimentary copy of Toward Light and Life: Reflections of Catholicos Karekin Hovsepian.

The March 24 conference starts at 10:30 a.m. (10 a.m. check-in) and concludes at 4 p.m., with a light lunch served at midday. The symposium and lunch are free and open to all interested.

Please contact St. Nersess Seminary at (914) 273-0200 to reserve your seat. SPACE IS LIMITED.

The event has is generously underwritten by Mr. and Mrs. Berge and Vera Setrakian.

Join the ZIC Book Club on the 85th Anniversary of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

2018-4 MusaDagh.001Have you always wanted to read Franz Werfel’s 1933 masterpiece, but haven’t had the chance? Were you inspired by the film The Promise to learn more about what happened on a mountain named Musa Dagh in 1915?

On the occasion of the landmark historical novel’s 85th anniversary, you are invited to join the Zohrab Center’s The Forty Days of Musa Dagh Book Club on Thursday, April 12 at 7 pm in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.

Aida Zilelian, Elaine Merguerian, Haig Chahinian, Harry Koumrouyan, and Nancy Agabian will recite brief excerpts from the book and explain how the text resonated with them.

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Franz Werfel  author of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh

Others wishing to share their own responses to the book will be invited to step up to the OPEN MIC. Each participant will be limited to 3 minutes.

The Forty Days of Musa Dagh was written by the Austrian-Bohemian Jewish playwright, novelist and poet Franz Werfel in German in 1933.  The historical novel was inspired by Werfel’s travels to Syria in 1930, where he met countless Armenian refugee survivors of the Genocide, most of them living in wretched, hopeless conditions. The acclaimed novel brought world-wide attention to the Armenian Genocide.

Musa Dagh (Mountain of Moses) is located just inside the current border of Turkey and Syria overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. In July 1915, six Armenian villages in the region mounted a successful resistance to the attacking Turkish army by converging on the mountain. The Armenians held back the Turks for 53 days until they were evacuated by Allied French warships. The event is depicted at the end of 2018-4 MusaDagh.001the recent Genocide film, The Promise.

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The ZIC’s Forty Days of Musa Dagh Book Club grew out of a group of New York area Armenian writers who came together recently, guided by NYU Gallatin Professor Nancy Agabian and writer Haig Chahinian, to read and discuss The Forty Days of Musa Dagh. Energized by the portrayal of their people fighting back during the Genocide, they talked about how Franz Werfel’s novelization touched them individually, and as a whole.

All are encouraged to read or re-read The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, and to share their thoughts and reflections on the book on April 12. Those wishing to speak are asked to contact Haig Chahinian at haig@post.com to sign up and/or to receive tips on reading the work. All are welcome to attend. A reception will follow.

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Nancy Agabian

Nancy Agabian is the author of Princess Freak, a poetry collection; and Me as her again, a memoir. Her novel The Fear of Large and Small Nations was a finalist for the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially-Engaged Fiction. A past ZIC speaker and friend, Nancy teaches creative writing at NYU and through her Heightening Stories workshops. nancyagabian.com.

Haig Chahinian’s writing on parenting, race, and life as he knows it has appeared in The Washington Post, O The Oprah Magazine, and the New York Times. For clips, see chahinian.com. When he’s not churning out words, he runs a career counseling practice helping people find more fulfillment at work.

Harry Koumrouyan was born and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, from parents who fled the Ottoman Empire. He started his career as a teacher before joining the administration

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Haig Chahinian

first as a school principal and later as the head of HR. He has written two novels in French, where the Armenian theme plays an important role. He has one son, Adrien, age 28.

Elaine Merguerian is Communications Director at Asia Society, where she promotes the organization’s arts and cultural programming. Before settling in New York, she worked in Washington, D.C. for the federal and local governments, and the Armenian Assembly of America. A native of Massachusetts, she earned a B.A. in English literature from Wellesley College. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

Aida Zilelian is a New York City writer. Her novel The Legacy of Lost Things (Bleeding Heart Publications) was the recipient of the 2014 Tololyan Literary Award. Her stories have been published in over 25 journals and several anthologies. She has been featured on NPR, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Kirkus Reviews. She is also the curator of Boundless Tales, the longest-running reading series in Queens, New York. She recently completed her second novel, The Last Echo Through the Plains.