The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center is pleased to announce the release of the first volume in a new publication series, entitled Sources from the Armenian Christian Tradition, which provides the Krapar text and English translation of Armenian Christian sources in an attractive digital e-book format.
Over a year and a half in the making, this volume brings to life a fascinating artifact from the early modern period: a talismanic prayer scroll known as a hmayil, which was a popular and widespread medium in use among Armenians from the fifteenth to nineteenth centuries.
This new e-book offers the reader the opportunity to digitally “unroll” this mesmerizing prayer scroll from beginning to end, thereby discovering a rich panoply of prayers, Scriptural passages, incantations, and illuminations.
“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. 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. 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. 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.” But his companions quoted other Scriptures, not unlike how Satan once tempted Jesus in the wilderness. 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” 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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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.
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.” 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.
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.
 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.
The 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
Before 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.
Native Cypriot Tasoula Hadjitofi is a refugee, icon hunter and culture-crime detective who has made it her life’s work to recover the countless icons, frescoes, mosaics and cultural artifacts that from time immemorial have been the coveted booty of art smugglers, war profiteers, and terrorists.
She will present her new memoir, The Icon Hunter: A Refugee’s Quest to Reclaim Her Nation’s Stolen Heritage, at the Zohrab Center on Friday, February 2, 2018 at 7PM.
The Icon Hunter is the story of Hadjitofi’s perilous journey from refugee into the underworld of art trafficking. The riveting story culminates in her orchestration of “The Munich Case,” one of the largest European art trafficking stings since World War II.
Cyprus has had a continuous Armenian community since the 6th century at least. The Armenian Quarter of Nicosia was captured by Turkish-Cypriot extremists in 1963, leading to the loss of medieval Armenian churches there, as well as in Famagusta on the island’s east coast. Later, following the 1974 Turkish invasion of the island, the 11th-century Armenian monastery of St. Macarius of Alexandria [Մակարավանք] in the mountains of northern Cyprus was seized and desecrated.
In her Zohrab Center presentation, the only Armenian engagement in her current national book tour, Ms. Hadjitofi will delve into the Armenian heritage of the Turkish-occupied part of Cyprus.
Tasoula Hadjitofi was born and raised in Famagusta, Cyprus. In 1974, with her family she was forced to flee their home after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Tasoula eventually settled in The Netherlands and became Honorary Consul to Cyprus. Approached by a notorious art dealer with information about stolen sacred artifacts looted during the Turkish invasion of Cyprus, she spent the next ten years convincing the art dealer to inform on his former partner. Tasoula places everything on the line to repatriate her country’s sacred treasures.
“I entered the fight against art smugglers in 1987, and it was then I had to learn the rules of their game,” the intrepid crusader said in a recent interview. ” I was very fortunate to receive the best legal advice owing to the late [Orthodox Church of Cyprus] Archbishop Chrysostomos I, which meant that before every single battle to regain stolen treasures I was appropriately prepared. And let me tell you—in spite of the mentally and physically exhausting effort, there is nothing more rewarding than the smiles of vindication when a relic is repatriated.”
The book presentation is free and open to the public. Copies of The Icon Hunter will be available for sale with all proceeds going to benefit the Walk of Truth NGO, which works to locate sacred artifacts looted from conflict areas and to restore the cultural identity of those countries to their people.
A reception will follow the presentation. The event is free and open to the public. All are welcome. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
Friends of the Zohrab Information Center and art lovers who live in the New York area or who may be visiting during the Christmas season will not want to miss an extraordinary exhibit at the Morgan Library and Museum in Manhattan.
Magnificent Gems: Medieval Treasure Bindingspresents one of the world’s finest collections of lustrous, gem-encrusted medieval bindings for ancient handwritten and early printed books. Also included in the exhibition are all three of the Morgan Library’s 17th-century Armenian silver bindings from Kayseri.
Dr. Sylvie L. Merian, Scholar and Reader Services Librarian at the Morgan, and a frequent lecturer and visitor at the ZIC, is one of the world’s leading experts on medieval book bindings, especially those produced in Armenian workshops.
Visitors will also see one of the Zohrab Center’s two precious copies of the first printed Armenian Bible, produced in Amsterdam in 1666.
The Zohrab Center will devote its last evening enrichment program of the year to one of the greatest leaders of the Armenian people in modern times, Catholicos Karekin Hovsepiants, on the 150th anniversary of his birth.
Professor Roberta Ervine of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary will present a lecture entitled, Catholicos Karekin Hovsepiants and the Value of Simple, Timeless Thingson Thursday, November 30 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York.
Hovsepiants must be ranked among the greatest figures in the entire history of the Armenian people. The sheer range of his abilities and the scope of his achievements is simply astounding. Before rising to the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia, Hovsepiants had battled the Turks at Sardarabad, earned advanced degrees from Europe’s most prestigious universities, led archaeological expeditions, lectured in philology and history, shepherded the Armenian Diocese of America during its most tumultuous era, and become one of the leading scholars of Armenian art history in the world.
During his tenure as Primate in New York (1938-1945), Hovsepiants established the Diocesan publication Հայաստանեայց Եկեղեցի / Hayasdanyaits Yegeghetsy [The Armenian Church], raised funds to liquidate the Diocese’s debts, drafted a vision and plan to build a Cathedral and a Seminary for the American Diocese, and inspired many through his passionate and uplifting preaching.
“Catholicos Karekin was the embodiment of the best attributes of the Armenian people,” wrote the late Archbishop Yeghishé Gizirian in an essay published in 1962 to mark the 10th anniversary of the Catholicos’ passing. He added, “In his diminutive but attractive body was stored tremendous energy, physical, mental and spiritual. Ever active, ever alert with a very keen, retentive memory, quick in perception, and equally quick in formulating his opinions and arriving at a decision.”
Professor Ervine will survey the Catholicos’ life and achievements, while she seeks to identify the invisible spirit that fueled them.
“Revered and reviled in his own lifetime, Karekin Hovsepiants became one of the Armenian Church’s most inspired and inspiring figures,” Ervine says.” His life—and even more, his spirit—challenges today’s Armenians to embrace the demands of their faith to the fullest.”
A regular lecturer at the Zohrab Center, Roberta Ervine is Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary in Armonk, New York, where she teaches Armenian Church History and Theology, and Modern and Classical Armenian languages. She recently taught a one-week intensive course on the life and writings of St. Nersess Shnorhali.
“Dr. Ervine has the rare ability to breathe life into history in such a way that persons from the past seem to rise up out of the pages of books and speak to the most pressing questions of our time and place,” one of her students said.
The lecture is free and open to the public. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at email@example.com or (212) 686-0710.
Acclaimed photographer Hrair Hawk Khatcherian will present his new, massive album entitled, Khatchkar [Խաչքար] at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, March 30 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.
Spanning over 500 pages and including well over 1000 exquisite photographs, Khatcherian’s unprecedented photographic compilation comprises easily the most comprehensive photographic documentation of the signature sacred art form of the Armenian people.
Khatchkars are intricately adorned crosses sculpted into stone, which are ubiquitous in the Armenian homeland. Armenians continued to create khatchkars wherever they migrated. As such, beautiful examples of khatchkars—no two of them alike—can be found all over the world, wherever Armenians live or have lived; and they date from the early centuries of Christianity to the present time. They are true markers of Christian Armenian presence.
Born in Lebanon, Khatcherian lives in Canada. There, in 1988 he participated resolutely in the various activities of the Diaspora linked to the Artsakh Movement. In 1993 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. In his hospital room where he underwent terrible treatments which alone could kill a man, there was on the wall a cross and photographs of Armenia and Artsakh.
“It was by staring at them fiercely, day by day, with my mortally wounded hawk’s eyes, that I succeeded in tearing myself from the claws of Death, to take flight again, and to rise high again in the sky, in the direction of my true destiny,” he writes. Today, fully and miraculously recovered, with his wife and two teenage children, he “lives only for and by Armenia, the Artsakh, and the fundamental references and benchmarks of the Armenian world.”
The presentation is free and open to the public. All are welcome to attend. A reception will follow the event and copies of Khacherian’s book will be available for sale.
For further information contact the Zohrab Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 686-0710.
Meet the co-curators of the current landmark exhibit at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art entitled, Jerusalem 1000-1400 Every People Under Heaven this Wednesday evening at 7PM in Vartan Hall at the Armenian Diocese in New York.
Drs. Melanie Holcomb and Barbara Drake Boehm, co-curators of the exhibition, will survey the works on display and discuss the importance of this period in the history of Jerusalem and its diverse communities.
The exhibit features several priceless Armenian works, some of which have never before been seen outside the walls of the Holy City.
The continuous presence of Armenian monks, artists, and scholars since as early as the fourth century at least is well known and documented. Their preoccupation with the city, along with that of multiple competitive and complementary religious and cultural traditions gave rise to one of the most creative periods in its history. The Met exhibition is the first to unravel the various cultural traditions and aesthetic strands that enriched and enlivened the medieval city.
“Even if the number of Armenian artworks is not many, their quality and beauty are exquisite,” said Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center. “And in any case, the prominent status of Armenians in Jerusalem at this time is evident throughout the exhibit, from the very first object,” he added.
Barbara Drake Boehm, Paul and Jill Ruddock Senior Curator for The Met Cloisters, is co-curator of the exhibitions Jerusalem in the Middle Ages (2016), The Game of Kings (2011–12),Prague: The Crown of Bohemia (2005), and Enamels of Limoges (1996), and curator ofMedieval Jewish Art in Context (2011–12). She recently contributed to the exhibitions L’Art du Jeu (2012–13) (Musée de Cluny, Paris) and Treasures of Heaven (2010–11) (Cleveland, Baltimore, London). A graduate of Wellesley College, Dr. Boehm directs the Curatorial Studies program, administered with the Institute of Fine Arts, from which she received her PhD.
Melanie Holcomb is a specialist in the luxury arts of the middle ages, from treasure hoards to illuminated manuscripts. She is an alumna of Smith College and earned her PhD from the University of Michigan. Holcomb has a particular interest in travel, trade, and other means of cultural exchange among medieval patrons and artists. Her current research is focused on the art and history of the Holy Land
Mark your calendars, friends of the Zohrab Center. The next three weeks will feature a series of three exciting enrichment events.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3 • 7PM
ZIC Goes to the Movies. Le Voyage en Arménie (Journey to Armenia)directed by Robert Guediguian. French with English subtitles. Writer, translator, journalist and filmmaker Christopher Atamian will introduce this award-winning film about a man who flees to his native Armenia after being diagnosed with a serious illness. His daughter sets out after him as he seeks to recover his cherished homeland in a country that has changed dramatically since he left it.
Meet the co-curators of the current exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven. Over 200 works of art from Jerusalem illustrate how the Holy City played a key role in shaping the art of the period from 1000-1400. The Armenians’ presence and creative activity in Jerusalem since ancient times are on full display from the very first work in the exhibit, which features several priceless Armenian treasures never before seen outside the walls of the Armenian Quarter.
Drs. Melanie Holcomb and Barbara Drake Boehm, co-curators of the exhibition, will survey the works on display and discuss the importance of this period in the history of Jerusalem and its diverse communities. CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FLYER.
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 17 • 7PM
An Evening of Poetry. American-Armenian poets Dana Walrath, Shahé Mankerian and Lola Koundakjian will read from their works in English and Armenian.
DANA WALRATH was a 2012-2013 Fulbright Scholar in Armenia, where she completed her first book, Like Water on Stone, a verse novel about the Armenian Genocide, loosely based on the story her grandmother. LOLA KOUNDAKJIAN reads regularly at the Zohrab Center. She has read her works internationally and published them in several translations. She is the founder of the Armenian Poetry Project. SHAHÉ MANKERIANis co-director of the Los Angeles Writing Project and an award-winning educator. He was the first place winner of the 2012 “Black and White” anthology series from Outsider Press. His poems have been published in numerous literary magazines.
All events take place at the Diocese of the Armenian Church, 630 2nd Avenue, New York and begin at 7PM. All are welcome. Admission to the Evening of Poetry is $5. Students with ID are free. All other events are free and open to all. A reception and conversation follows each event.
For further information contact the Zohrab Center at email@example.com or (212) 686-0710.