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.

Classical Armenian with Fr. Ghevond Ajamian

The previous two sessions of the Vemkar/Zohrab Classical Armenian Series “Christ as Hope” are available to stream on YouTube. They were both led by Fr. Ghevond Ajamian of St. Sarkis Armenian Church in Dallas, TX.

The July 21st session featured Gregory of Tatev’s “Sermon on Hope (Գրիգոր Տաթեւացւոյ քարոզ վասն յուսոյ).

The July 28th session looked at funeral prayers from the Book of Rituals (Մաշտոց / Ծիսարան), comparing those said for an adult with those said for a child.

The next session, on August 4th, will be led by Fr. Nigoghos Aznavourian and will focus on a sharakan (hymn) for the Feast of the Assumption.

To register for it on Zoom, and for all future sessions in the series, please visit: https://vemkar.us/modules/christ-as-hope/live-sessions/#classical-armenian

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.

St. Gregory of Narek’s Festal Works. Book Presentation by Dr. Abraham Terian. Monday, March 20.

TerianFestalWorksDr. Abraham Terian, Professor Emeritus of Armenian Patristics and Theology at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary will present his new book at the Zohrab Center on Monday, March 20 at 7PM.

The book is entitled, The Festal Works of St. Gregory of Narek: Annotated Translation of the Odes, Litanies and Encomia. This is the first English translation of these poetic works.

Less known than St. Gregory’s celebrated Book of Prayers (or Book of Lamentations as it is sometimes called), the great tenth-century mystic’s jubilant poems on the life of Christ and the great saints and feasts of the Armenian Church are filled with the joyful exuberance of the Christian message. In penetrating theology, masterful poetry and lavish Biblical imagery, St. Gregory summons the reader into his staggeringly intimate experience of God’s 2017-03 TerianNarek.001goodness and the Church’s holiness.

CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

DR. ABRAHAM TERIAN is Professor Emeritus of Armenian Theology and Patristics at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. A recipient of the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in the Humanities award and Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia, he has extensive publications in the fields of Hellenistic, early Christian, and Armenian religious literature.

2012-09 TerianDr. Terian’s book includes English translations of more than fifty substantial compositions spanning hundreds of pages of text. As beautifully engaging as Terian’s renditions of the texts are his profuse and learned annotations, which accompany each work. The scholar provides Biblical references (the volume’s Scripture index spans 11 pages of triple columns); generous cross-references with other works in the collection, as well as patristic references, and echoes in Armenian theological and devotional literature.

The book presentation is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served and books will be available for sale following Dr. Terian’s opening remarks. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.

Holy Week in the Armenian Church. New Book to be Released on Thursday, March 19

A new book by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Information Center, will be released at a book presentation and reception on Thursday, March 19, 2015 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York. #AvakShapat

2015-03_AvakShapatCoverThe book is entitled, Աւագ Շաբաթ Avak Shapat: A Guide to the Holy Week Services of the Armenian Church. The book is being published by the Zohrab Information Center. Conceived as a textbook for clergy, seminarians, deacons, choir members and others charged with conducting the Holy Week services, the guide will be of use to anyone interested in the worship of the Armenian Church, from faithful practitioners to students and scholars of other traditions.

The liturgical tradition of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest and most magnificent in all of Christendom. The center of gravity of the Armenian Church’s liturgical year is undoubtedly Holy Week, the eight days preceding Easter. At no other time of the year is there such a concentration of poignant, ritually lavish, and theologically rich services in such a short period of time.

Yet with that exuberance comes complexity. The instructions for conducting these services are found in two books published centuries ago in Classical Armenian, which describe the services in a highly technical, abbreviated manner. As a result, conducting the Holy Week ceremonies properly, prayerfully and beautifully can be a challenge even for experienced clergy.

2015-03 FDFWith the meticulous eye of a teacher and scholar of Christian liturgy, Fr. Findikyan guides the reader through each Holy Week service, presenting the sequence of prayers, hymns, Scripture readings and rituals, and describing them in detail. The book also contains valuable glossaries of liturgical terms in Armenian and English, as well as separate indexes of liturgical and biblical references. As such, the book serves as a useful reference work on the worship tradition of the Armenian Church as a whole.

The March 19 presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York. As he presents his book, Fr. Findikyan will lead a worshipper’s tour through the sequence and meaning of Holy Week in the Armenian Church, emphasizing the meaning of Jesus’ final days for us today. At the conclusion of his talk, copies of the new book will be available for sale.

The presentation is free and open to the public. A light Lenten meal will be served beginning at 6:30PM. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.

2015-03 AvakShapatFlyer.001CLICK HERE to download a color flyer.

V. Rev. Fr. (Michael) Daniel Findikyan is a priest and vartabed of the Armenian Church. He has served as Director of the ZIC for two years. He is also Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and Visiting Professor of Liturgical Studies at the University of Notre Dame (South Bend, Indiana). He is an internationally renowned authority on the theology and history of the worship tradition of the Armenian Church and of other eastern churches, and has published widely in this area. Read more about Fr. Daniel’s education, teaching, ministry and publications.

For more information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.

#AvakShapat

Learn! Grow! Inspire! 2015 Spring Lecture Series

ZZohrab.001The Zohrab Center presents a rich and varied program of lectures, book presentations, and other stimulating opportunities for enrichment and edification this Winter and Spring. Armenians and anyone interested in Armenian civilization, arts, letters, and faith will find many options to learn, to grow and to inspire others.

A new study on Armenian music, a guide to the Armenian Church’s Holy Week ceremonies, a photographic album of the old Armenian community of Bourj-Hammoud, a Genocide-era novel, and a new travelogue of historic western Armenia will all be showcased by their authors. In addition, noted scholars will hold forth on various facets of Armenian Studies, including Vartan Matossian, Helen Evans and Roberta Ervine. A movie night and other events are also planned.

The Zohrab Center is collaborating with several sister organizations and parishes to co-sponsor some events.

All events are open to the public and most are free of charge. Unless otherwise noted, all presentations take place at the Zohrab Center (Armenian Diocese, New York). Check back frequently for updates and additions. For further information contact ZIC at info@zohrabcenter.org or (212) 686-0710.

ZIC Schedule of Events Spring 2015

Thursday, February 5 (7PM)
“Code Name Haiko: Discovering the Last Unknown Participant in Talaat Pasha’s Liquidation” Dr. Vartan Matiossian, Armenian National Education Committee

Thursday, February 12
Commemoration of St. Vartan and His Companions. Divine Liturgy and Dinner followed by Lecture. Co-sponsored with St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral
“An Anthropologist Considers St. Vartan: Faith, Nation and Memory” Lecture by Christopher Sheklian, University of Chicago

Thursday, February 19 (7PM)
St. Leon Armenian Church, Fair Lawn, NJ

The Life and Work of 19th-Century Armenian Composer Kristapor Gara-Murza. Book Presentation by Krikor Pidejian with Şahan Arzruni.

Thursday, March 5 (7PM)
Co-sponsored with Eastern Diocese Department of Armenian Studies
Portraits of Survival: The Armenians of Bourj Hammoud. Book Presentation by Ariane Ateshian Delacampagne.

Thursday, March 12 (7PM)
A.G.B.U. Center, New York

Historic Armenia after 100 Years. Book Presentation by Matthew Karamian

Thursday, March 19 (7PM)
“A Guided Tour of Holy Week in the Armenian Church” Lecture and Book Presentation by Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Zohrab Information Center/St. Nersess Armenian Seminary

Wednesday, April 8 (7PM)
“Picking Up the Pieces: Three Bishops and Their Vision for the Armenian Church circa 1920” Lecture by Dr. Roberta Ervine, St. Nersess Armenian Seminary

Thursday, April 16 (7PM)
Co-sponsored with the Eastern Diocese Department of Armenian Studies
The Martyred Armenian Writers 1915-1922. Book presentation by Herand Markarian

Thursday, April 30 (7PM)
“Armenian Art: Voice of a People” Dr. Helen Evans, Metropolitan Museum of Art

Tuesday, June 2 (7PM)
The Survivor. Book Presentation: Rosemary Hartounian Cohen.

Where Armenian Architecture and Worship Meet. A Presentation by Prof. Christina Maranci on September 25

Sculpted images on the exterior of the 7th century Armenian Cathedral of Mren may reveal more than meets the eye.
Sculpted images on the exterior of the 7th century Armenian Cathedral of Mren may reveal more than meets the eye.

The distinguished expert in Armenian Art and Architecture, Professor Christina Maranci, will present an illustrated lecture at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, September 25 at 7PM entitled, The Great Outdoors: Liturgical Encounters with the Early Armenian Church.

Dr. Maranci is the Arthur H. Dadian and Ara T. Ozetemel Associate Professor of Armenian Art at Tufts University.

She will present the results of recent research on the exterior structure and decoration of certain medieval Armenian churches. Maranci believes that the intricate carved images and the epigraphic writings that adorn the exterior walls of many Armenian Churches were not produced simply to beautify the buildings. Instead, she suggests that the Armenian architects and artisans were guided by liturgical services that took place outside the church. Maranci supports her view with Armenian hymns and rituals found in medieval Armenian liturgical books.

This coordinated study of architecture and liturgy provides a potential material setting for liturgical texts, suggests new interpretations of the relief sculpture, and offers insight into the medieval experience of the Armenian Church.

Prof. Christina Maranci is an expert on medieval Armenian architecture.
Prof. Christina Maranci is an expert on medieval Armenian architecture.

Prof. Maranci received her Ph.D. from Princeton University in the Department of Art and Archaeology in 1998. She has lectured and published widely, particularly in the area of Armenian architecture. Her books include Medieval Armenian Architecture: Constructions of Race and Nation (Peeters, 2001), and Vigilant Powers: Three Churches of Early Medieval Armenia (Brepols, forthcoming). Her articles have appeared in the Revue des études arméniennes, Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Gesta, the Journal for the Society of Architectural Historians, the Art Bulletin, the Oxford Companion to Architecture, and the Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages.

Her recent work on the Cathedral of Mren (Kars region, Eastern Turkey) led to the successful application for its inclusion in the World Monuments Fund Watch List for 2014-17. She is campaigning to increase awareness of the fragile condition of this significant monument and others in the Kars/Ani region.

2014 MaranciGreatOutdoorsFlyer.001CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A FLYER.

The lecture will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 Second Avenue, New York. It is free and open to the public. A reception and refreshments will follow.

For more information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter #LiturgicalEncounters.

Fr. Findikyan Discusses an Ancient Armenian Prayer at German Symposium

Fr. Daniel Findikyan lectures at the University of Bonn, Germany
Fr. Daniel Findikyan lectures at the University of Bonn, Germany

Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Information Center, returned this week from Germany, where he participated in an academic conference at the University of Bonn, Germany. Fr. Findikyan gave a lecture on an Armenian funeral prayer attributed to the erudite 8th-century bishop Step‘anos of Siwnik‘. Findikyan edited and translated the prayer into English from a 14th-century manuscript held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

The conference was organized by the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Bonn on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council and the 75th anniversary of the publication of the book Liturgie comparée [Comparative Liturgy], the ground-breaking study of the interconnections that are to be found among the worship traditions of the ancient Christian churches. The book was written by the great German Orientalist, Anton Baumstark. Findikyan was one of ten speakers invited to present lectures. He was the only Armenian and the only speaker from the United States. Continue reading “Fr. Findikyan Discusses an Ancient Armenian Prayer at German Symposium”

ZIC Receives Precious Collection of Armenian “Oratsooyts” Calendars

The Zohrab Information Center holds the largest collection of Armenian liturgical calendars in the Western Hemisphere.
The Zohrab Information Center now holds the largest and most expansive collection of Armenian liturgical calendars in the Western Hemisphere thanks to the recent donation by Rev. Fr. Arten Ashjian.

The Zohrab Information Center’s library has been enriched by the donation of over 100 daily liturgical calendars from the personal library of Rev. Fr. Arten Ashjian of Yonkers, New York. Known as Oratsooyts, the pocket-sized calendars are published by the major hierarchical centers of the Armenian Church and provide the dates and other information necessary for the proper celebration of the feasts and saints’ commemorations of the Armenian Church.

The Ashjian Collection contains Oratsooyts volumes printed by the holy sees of Etchmiadzin, Jerusalem, Constantinople, and Antelias, as well as local church calendars issued by St. John the Baptism Armenian Cathedral in Paris, the Armenian Hospital of Istanbul, and others. Included as well are priceless  calendars published by the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America in Boston in the early years of the 20th century, before the Diocesan headquarters moved to New York.

A page from the 1948 Oratsooyts of Holy Etchmiadzin showing the entry for Sunday, June 20, the feast of the Discovery of the Jewel Box of Mary the Mother of God, and the third anniversary of the consecration of His Holiness Georg VI as Catholicos of All Armenians.
A page from the 1948 Oratsooyts of Holy Etchmiadzin showing the entry for Sunday, June 20, the feast of the Discovery of the Jewel Box of Mary the Mother of God, and the third anniversary of the consecration of His Holiness Georg VI as Catholicos of All Armenians.

The Armenian Church’s yearly festal cycle is highly variable. Not just Easter, but most saints’ commemorations and other feast days like Pentecost, Ascension, Palm Sunday, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, as well as the annual celebrations of the saints, change each year according to a complicated interplay of solar, lunar, and daily cycles. Major Armenian Church centers publish their Oratsooyts each year to designate the correct date for all of these festivities.

Why bother stockpiling decades-old liturgical calendars? The real value of old Oratsooyts booklets is not in the day-to-day details of church services in years gone by. The Oratsooyts also contains registers of active clergy, their current positions and ministries, details about local Armenian Church communities, and other priceless historical information.

Who was the director of the Printing Press of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin in 1959? Where and when was Archbishop Georg Arslanian born? The Oratsooyts is the source to consult.

Rev. Fr. Arten Ashjian (R) speaks with ZIC Director Fr. Daniel Findikyan about his Oratsooyts collection.
Rev. Fr. Arten Ashjian (R) speaks with ZIC Director Fr. Daniel Findikyan about his Oratsooyts collection.

Rev. Arten Ashjian is the most senior clergyman of the Armenian Church in North America and possibly the world. Born in Aleppo, Syria in 1919, he studied in the Seminary of the Armenian Patriarchate of Sts. James in Jerusalem. Arriving in the United States at the invitation of then Primate Abp. Tiran Nersoyan (†1989), Fr. Arten continued his studies, earning graduate degrees from the General Theological Seminary in New York, and Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He and his gracious wife, Yeretzgin Mariam, have lovingly served numerous Armenian Church communities in North America during a long and distinguished ministry. He continues to officiate at Holy Cross Church of Armenia and St. Nersess Seminary in New York.

A genuine bibliophile, Fr. Arten is also one of the most prolific authors among the clergy of the Armenian Church in America. His numerous books, in Armenian and English, are housed in the Zohrab Center (enter Arten Ashjian and select author).

Fr. Arten’s collection of Oratsooyts’s enriches the Zohrab Center’s existing collection of this unique genre, which includes volumes as old as the mid-nineteenth century. The collection can be accessed via the Zohrab Center’s on-line catalog (enter ōrats’oyts’ or calendar and select subject).  The collection is also available for personal inspection and study by appointment.

New Book on the Armenian Divine Liturgy to be Released at May 28 New York Reception

2013-04 FAQBadarakA newly-published book by St. Vartan Press entitled, Frequently-Asked Questions on the Badarak: The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, will be officially released at a reception on Thursday, May 28 at 7:00PM in the Tahlij of the Armenian Diocese Center, 630 Second Avenue, New York.

The event is being hosted by His Eminence Abp. Khajag Barsamian, Primate of the Diocese.

Written by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center, the slim but meaty volume came about several years ago, when young people throughout the Diocese were asked to submit their questions about the Badarak. Fr. Findikyan, who also serves as Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, answered these questions and more, resulting in a book that will be of great interest not only to Sunday School and Armenian School students, but to their teachers and other adults as well.

Among the questions raised are straightforward queries such as: “Who wrote the Badarak?” and “Why do we stand most of the time during the Badarak?” to more weighty matters like: “Can the Badarak be shortened?” “Do women have to cover their heads during Badarak?” and “Do the bread and wine really turn into the Body and Blood of Christ?”

The reception is free and open to the public. Those planning to attend are asked to RSVP by phone at: (212) 686-0710 or by email at: zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org. Books will be available for sale and the author will be on hand to personalize copies.