Sex, the Scriptures and St. Gregory of Narek. Presentation by Prof. Roberta Ervine Tuesday, November 3

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Dr. Roberta Ervine, Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, returns to the Zohrab Center on Tuesday, November 3 at 7PM to explore yet another facet of Armenian Christian culture and thought. The title of her presentation is Sex in the Scriptures: The Commentary on the Song of Songs by St. Gregory of Narek.

It may come as a surprise to many that the Holy Bible contains a book of erotic love poems. The Old Testament work known as The Song of Songs is overlooked and even avoided by some today due to its graphic sexual imagery and dubious meaning. Yet the cycle of poems was the object of intrigue and intense study by the early church fathers East and West, including the great 10th-century Armenian mystic, St. Gregory of Narek.

2015-10 BlessingBlessingsCoverProfessor Ervine will present her recent English translation of St. Gregory’s commentary on the Song of Songs and show how the monk from the southern shore of Lake Van dares us to rethink how we imagine God, love, sex and the divine intimacy into which he invites his creatures.

The presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese, 630 2nd Avenue, New York, and is free and open to the public. A wine and cheese reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.

2015-11 ErvineSongofSongs.001CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

ZICErvineRoberta Ervine is an internationally recognized expert on Armenian theological writings and culture, with a particular interest in Cilician-era authors and the history of Armenian Jerusalem. She has published widely and lectured throughout the world, including regular engagements at the Zohrab Center. Dr. Ervine earned her Ph.D. in Armenian Studies from Columbia University, a student of Nina Garsoïan. From there for nearly 25 years she lived, studied and taught within the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem as a disciple of the late Archbishop Norayr Bogharian, who was renowned as one of the twentieth century’s leading authorities on classical Armenian literature. Her most recent book, The Blessing of Blessings: Gregory of Narek’s Commentary on the Song of Songs, was published by Cistercian Press.

Treasures of the ZIC: A Readable and Relevant Handbook of the Armenian Church

PME012by ANDREW KAYAIAN

Professor Michael B. Papazian’s Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church is a succinct yet meticulous introduction to the Armenian Church. This is not a conventional history book. It is not “a continuous chronology that recounts in general the [Church’s] origin…and…history of its development and organization.” Instead, Dr. Papazian “often pauses in the course of the narrative to investigate the topics and to detail the circumstances of their origin and their consequences” (Foreword, 9). For example, he devotes one third of Chapter Two discussing the details of Judaism’s essential tenets of faith in order to transition into the theological and social issues involved in evangelizing the pagan Armenians. Thus we have here a true primer on the Armenian Church, historically organized but replete with insights into her theology, rituals and practice, saints, and world view. The author’s intent is that “all readers [Armenians and non-Armenians, Christian and non-Christian] will find this book to be a helpful source of knowledge about the Armenian Church” (Introduction, 11).

Papazian relies and quotes a variety of sources in his presentation: the Bible; Armenian texts, liturgical hymns (sharagans), prayers, encyclicals; early histories such as Movses Khorenatsi’s History of the Armenians; non-Christian sources such as the Jewish theologian Maimonides; and present-day scholars such as Stanley Harakas, Nina Garsoïan, and His Holiness Catholicos Karekin I. Very few scholarly stones are left unturned; all the information Papazian needs to construct for the reader a thoroughly detailed, explicative chronicle is utilized.

Nine chapters of the book chronicle and detail the timeline of the Church’s history, which Papazian organizes into eight essential epochs. The tenth chapter is devoted to discussing the sacramental life of the Armenian Church, highlighting their unique features compared with other traditions. The book concludes with three appendices, the first of which could easily be considered as an eleventh chapter. It meticulously enumerates the various communions of the entire Christian Church (Oriental Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, etc.). Appendix B lists all of the sources consulted, helpful for those who would like to study a topic for deeply. Appendix C is the Lexicon, a list of significant terms mentioned in the book with concise definitions.

An example of the author’s approach may be illustrated in Chapter Six, which chronicles the history of the Armenian Church from the 5th to the 11th centuries. Here Dr. Papazian discusses the Iconoclast movement in the Byzantine Church of the 7th and 8th centuries. Pausing to compare and contrast the Armenian, Greek, and Roman Catholic Churches’ respective positions on icon veneration, the author discovers “a difference of culture rather than theology” (106). Though not questioned by Roman Catholics, icons are not as important to piety as in Eastern Orthodox churches, which often contain an icon-covered screen (iconostasis) before the sanctuary. Although the Armenian Church fathers have never challenged the legitimacy of icon veneration,“art historian Sirarpie Der Nersessian has remarked that the illuminated Gospel book…takes the place that the icon holds in the other Eastern Churches” (Papazian 106). This is why in many Armenian churches one can observe, before and after the Divine Liturgy (Soorp Badarak), a pristine copy of the Gospels placed at the center of the altar as though enthroned.

Regarding the history of the church, particularly the topic of early Christian evangelization, one learns that in order to make Christianity palatable to the pre-Christian high classes, St. Gregory the Enlightener conformed a particular pagan Armenian practice to the faith. “As we have seen, the pagan priesthood in Armenia was hereditary. Gregory adopted the pagan custom perhaps as a temporary measure to gain greater acceptance and respect for the new Christian priesthood among the people” (49-50). Several of the first catholicoi were, in fact, direct descendants of St. Gregory himself: his two sons Aristakes and Vrtanes; St. Nerses the Great, Gregory’s great-great-grandson, whom Papazian refers to as Armenia’s “‘second Illuminator’” (60), the “‘Illuminator of the heart’” (65). Like many Christian traditions, here is an example of a pre-Christian form that was adopted to facilitate the evangelization of the people.

Of particular interest was another facet of the Armenian Church’s worldview which Papazian emphasizes: ecumenism. Papazian cites several historical episodes where the Armenian Church leadership engaged with other churches for the purpose of healing the wounds wrought against the Universal Church over the course of history. For example, Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus approached Catholicos St. Nerses the Graceful (Shnorhali) in the twelfth century about reunification of the Greek and Armenian churches. The defense that St. Nerses wrote on the Armenian Church’s Christological position gained the admiration of the Emperor and the Byzantine patriarch. It was presented at the Armenian Synod of Hromkla, which Nerses’ successor, Gregory IV “The Young (Tgha)” convened in 1179. When Manuel died in 1180, the synod did not bear fruit because his successors had little interest in ecumenical dialogue. Despite its failure, this episode is indicative of the Armenian Church’s ecumenical worldview at a volatile period in Christian history, an rare attitude magnanimity and unity. Such an outlook was adopted by St. Nerses Shnorhali’s great-nephew St. Nerses of Lambron, who said, “I am united by tradition to whoever bears the name of Christ as a crown of glory….For us, there is no Paul or Apollos, Haik or Romulus” (136).

In essence, this book is a miniature library that engages the reader personally and carries the audience on a sojourn through time to discover and unfold the history and ways of the Armenian Church. To the novice and scholar alike, Light from Light is essential reading. Suitable for all readers, it opens a floodgate of enlightenment on the Armenian Church, its history and its contributions to the ministry of Christ on earth.

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Andrew Kayaian

Michael B. Papazian, Light from Light: An Introduction to the History and Theology of the Armenian Church. New York: New York SIS Publications / Armenian Apostolic Church of America, 2006. 

Andrew Kayaian is a senior at Fordham University in New York majoring in History and Theology. He has worked as an intern for the Zohrab Center for two years and has contributed previously to the ZIC website.

Purity of the Heart

Երանի այնոցիկ, որ սուրբ են սրտիւք, զի նոքա զԱստուած տեսցեն։
“Blessed are they who are pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
—Matthew 5:8

This sermon was delivered by Catholicos Garegin Hovsepiants, former Primate of the Armenian Diocese of America, who was possessed of a brilliant mind, heroic love for his people and culture, and sweeping Christian conviction. The sermon was originally published in Ararat, the official journal of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, in 1907 and reprinted in his collection of sermons, Դէպի լոյս եւ կեանք [Toward Light and Life]. The Armenian the word “pure” is սուրբ / soorp, which can also be translated “holy,” “pure,” “clean,” “saint,” or “saintly.”

2015-04 DewdropSunThe heart is mankind’s primal organ. Before anything else it is the heart that takes shape in the mother’s womb and it is the heart that outlives all other organs. When the heart dies, the person dies. The entire body dies.

But the Lord is not speaking about this physical organ but rather the spiritual organ that is as significant for moral life as the heart is for physical life. By “heart” Christ understands our inner world, our identity, our personality in its entirety. He is speaking about our three spiritual faculties: mind, emotion and will; that which is relative, which gives color and shape to our personality.

However as in ancient times, likewise today, the concept of “heart” is also somehow a synonym for emotion. It is not at all coincidental that our Lord gives so much importance to its sanctity, considering its purity to be a condition for blessedness and the ability to see God. None of our spiritual faculties plays such a great role in religious and moral issues as the “heart” or emotions. Reason endows us with principles and distinguishes the good from the bad, but this is still not enough for us to turn its suggestions into work or life.

Untainted Love

Similarly, the exercise of the will is a support for us but it becomes powerful and effective only when it receives content and impetus from our inner feelings and passion. It is emotion that compels a person toward self-sacrifice and moral heroism, not cold reason. During war the hero is the soldier who sacrifices himself, driven by love for the liberation of his homeland, ignoring the objections of mind and reason. All of the  astounding achievements in history and life that are worthy of admiration can be explained as having been motivated by untainted love and emotion. Any and every virtue that we consider—bravery, patriotism, love for one’s parents, philanthropy—all of them share one and the same source: a pure heart or emotion.

Consider the Source

But emotion can also make a person tumble into the abyss if its source is murky or self-absorbed. Greed, selfishness, hatred, conceit and every sort of repulsive obsession share the same source as the virtues. It is a characteristic of the human spirit that evil and good, noble and base, the shameful sentiments and crude egotism all have a place in our hearts alongside self-sacrifice and honorable inclinations. Sometimes one dominates in our life, sometimes the other.

Like a true and compassionate physician, Jesus wishes to eradicate evil by pointing out the real cause of moral infirmities. Our entire way of life, our speech, our inclinations, and our actions are all merely the expression or instrument of our inner ways. If our inner ways or emotions are pure, then their corresponding actions will inevitably be pure. If the source is pure, the water flowing from it will be pure. Continue reading “Purity of the Heart”

The Good News of the Resurrection

The angel at Jesus' tomb proclaims to the holy women "He is not here. He has risen." Armenian miniature from Isfahan, Iran, dated 1610.
The angel at Jesus’ tomb proclaims to the holy women “He is not here. He has risen.” Armenian miniature from Isfahan, Iran, dated 1610.

The following Easter sermon was delivered and published in New York in 1938 by then Primate of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America and later Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia, Garegin Hovespiants. A scholar, soldier, and man of intense Christian commitment, he escaped the rubble of the Genocide to become one of the great Armenian Church leaders of recent centuries. In this sermon, the Archbishop reveals the relevance of Christ’s Resurrection for the modern, scientific age.

Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen! (Luke 23:5)

Who will roll away the huge stone, the boulder that was placed in front of the tomb? This was the discussion among the women. Taking with them sweet incense and oil, they had come to pay their last respects to the earthly remains of the great Teacher. Just yesterday he was alive, today he was but a breathless corpse, and tomorrow he would forever disappear from their view as a bit of decay and destruction. This final noble deed should have been done with heart and soul. Yet the women were frail and weak. So who was going to help them to roll away the huge stone that sealed off the tomb so that they could have access to the cave?

Do Not Weep for Me

But look—the door is open! The stone has been rolled away and they hear a voice: “Why are you looking for the living among the dead? He is not here. He has risen.” Amazing. Wasn’t it just three days ago that they had seen him carrying his cross on his shoulders on the road to Golgotha, exhausted, falling to his knees under the weight of his cross? With pain in their hearts, tears in their eyes, sobbing, groaning, they watched the disdainful procession. The last time they had seen the peerless Teacher’s kind eyes looking at them they had heard his heart-rending words, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me. Weep rather for your children” [Luke 23:38]. They had seen from afar his death on the cross, his burial in the cave; his antagonists’ derisive laughter and taunting as they returned from Golgotha now liberated of the rabble-rouser from Nazareth. Even his disciples had scattered. The shepherd had been struck like his sheep. If only he were still alive…

Poor, naïve but holy women. They did not yet know that that very day in history a miracle was taking place by God’s will. New paths to salvation were opening before them to destroy death by means of death, yes, to cripple it. Their eyes would open, their earthly eyes, to see and to understand that it is not possible to destroy the truth by means of falsehood and deception. Jesus’ message about the redemptive and great power of faith would become clear. In the face of that faith mountains moved, boulders were rolled away, rough roads were made smooth, dead bodies were coming to life. It was necessary die, to “die daily” [1Corinthians 15:31] in the name of God, for one’s brother, for one’s homeland in order to receive and to protect eternal values. And there was the key to open the otherwise locked gates to life.

The Power to Subdue the World

The primitive force of Christianity lay there. The early Christians believed that Christ rose, he was alive in the midst of those gathered in his name. He was in their lives and in their hearts. Great moral strength was to be found in the idea of resurrection and in their faith in it. The power to subdue the world consisted in external weakness, poverty, distress. “Henceforth it is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me” [Galatians 2:20].

But the good news announced by the angels is also for us, who thrive in the theoretical and practical science and in the aesthetics of the twentieth century.

Continue reading “The Good News of the Resurrection”

An Anthropologist Considers St. Vartan: Faith, Nation and Memory. February 12 at St. Vartan Cathedral

Christopher Sheklian, a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago, will be the featured speaker at the annual commemoration of St. Vartan and His Companions (Վարդանանց / Vartanants) on Thursday, February 12 in the Kavookjian Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.

The Zohrab Information Center is co-sponsoring the event with St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral, with the participation of the Mid-Atlantic Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

Competing Memories of Saint Vartan

Anthropologists study culture and since the adoption of Christianity, the Christian faith and the institutions of the Armenian Church have become part of the very fabric of Armenian culture. But if the Armenian Church is reduced merely to one element of Armenian culture among others, what is the place of faith, devotion, and liturgy? Nowhere, perhaps, is this conundrum most obvious than in competing memories over St. Vartan and the Battle of Avarayr. Was St. Vartan fighting for the existence of the Armenian nation? Or was he a consummate defender of the faith? Can we separate these two things? Moreover, the way we remember and commemorate St. Vartan speaks to the way we ourselves think about the connection between faith and nation. How we remember St. Vartan is not merely a historical matter. To fully grapple with the memory of St. Vartan is to take on the fundamental question of the Armenian nation: its relationship to its Christian faith in the salvation of Christ Jesus.

The Armenian Minority and Secularism in Turkey

Deacon Christopher Sheklian at the Armenian fortress of Hromkla in Turkey. He will lecture at the annual Saints Vartanants commemoration at the Armenian Diocese in New York.
Deacon Christopher Sheklian at the Armenian fortress of Hromkla in Turkey. He will lecture at the annual Saints Vartanants commemoration at the Armenian Diocese in New York.

An ordained deacon of the Armenian Church, Christopher Sheklian is currently completing his doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago entitled Theology and the Community: The Armenian Minority, Tradition, and Secularism in Turkey. His dissertation is based on two years of intensive research and fieldwork in Istanbul and Diyarbakir, Turkey within the Armenian Church and community. The first fruits of his research were recently published in a book chapter entitled, “Venerating the Saints, Remembering the City: Armenian Memorial Practices and Community Formation in Contemporary Istanbul.”

Deacon Shekian is a native of California, having been raised in St. Mary Armenian Church in Yettem, in the Central Valley. He spent the 2011-2012 academic year at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary studying Armenian theology and Armenian Christian culture. Several of his current scholarly projects stem from the instruction he received there.

Deacon Sheklian will speak during a commemorative banquet to which the public is invited. Donation for the dinner is $25 for adults and $10 for children 10 and under. Guests are also warmly encouraged to participate in the Divine Liturgy, which will be celebrated at 6:00PM.

For further information contact the Diocese at (212) 686-0710 or zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or

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.

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.

Armenian Monasticism Focus of an International Symposium in Salzburg Last Week

Fr. Daniel Findikyan lectures at the University of Salzburg last week on Armenian Monasticism.
Fr. Daniel Findikyan lectures at the University of Salzburg last week on Armenian Monasticism.

Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zorhab Center, was one of the featured speakers at a conference at the University of Salzburg, Austria, last week entitled, “Monastic Life in the Armenian Church: Glorious Past, Ecumenical Reconsidering, Challenge for the Future.”

Dr. Jasmine Dum-Tragut, Lecturer in Linguistics and Armenology and Dr. Dietmar Winkler, Professor for Patristics and Church History at the University of Salzburg co-organized the event, which brought together specialists in Armenian and Eastern Church Studies, monasticism, and ecumenism. Representing the Armenian Church, apart from Fr. Findikyan, were Abp. Nareg Alemezian, Ecumenical Coordinator and Dean of the Armenian Seminary of the Great House of Cilicia,  Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, Director of Ecumenical Affairs for the Holy See of Etchmiadzin, Fr. Pakrad Berjekian of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and Fr. Ruben Zargaryan of the Holy See of Etchmiadzin. Also participating were monks of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Peter in Salzburg, which was founded in the mid-eighth century and has operated continuously since.

Speakers traced the history of Armenian monasticism from its origins in the fourth century in Armenia and the Holy Land to its decline during Ottoman times, and its decimation as a result of the Armenian Genocide. The massive theological, scientific, artistic and intellectual contributions of Armenian monks throughout Armenian Christian history were displayed. Also surveyed was monastic life as it has reemerged in the twentieth century in the Armenian Church’s hierarchical centers and signs of a renaissance in Armenia today, with young men retreating to ancient, outlying monasteries in pursuit of solitude, prayer, and study.

Also noted were small but growing numbers of young women in Armenia who are coming together to live out the monastic ideal. By arrangement of His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, two young sisters will travel to Salzburg later this Spring to spend time in Salzburg’s eighth-century Benedictine Convent under the supervision of its dynamic and gracious Abbess, Mother Perpetua.

Fr. Findikyan’s paper, entitled, “Penitential Spirituality in Armenian Monasticism at the Turn of the Millennium,” studied a controversial theology of human sinfulness that emerged in some northern and eastern Armenian monasteries from the 11th to the 14th centuries, which resulted in the development of  liturgical practices such as the closing of the altar curtain and the withholding of Holy Communion during Great Lent, practices that present a number of theological, liturgical and practical problems in Armenian Church life today.

All of the papers will be edited in a book to be published in English in short order.