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”

Imagining a Christian Armenian Nation. Lecture by Prof. Robin Darling Young. Thursday, March 1, 2018.

2018-3 RobinKings.001(NOTE: AN EARLIER VERSION OF THIS POST CONTAINED GAVE THE WRONG DATE FOR THIS LECTURE. THE EVENT WILL TAKE PLACE ON THURSDAY, MARCH 1 2018).

Robin Darling Young, Associate Professor of Theology at the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC will speak at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, March 1 at 7PM in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York.

[CLICK HERE to download a full schedule of the Zohrab Center’s Spring 2018 enrichment events]

The specialist in early Christian history and thought will present a lecture entitled, A Righteous King for Armenia: The Early Historians and their Political Theology.

When Armenia became Christian, its leaders — and later, its writers — had to rethink their country’s politics.  Professor Darling Young will explore how the earliest Armenian historians adapted biblical interpretation and political ideas to describe and measure their own rulers and imagine the first Christian nation.

young-robin
Dr. Robin Darling Young is a theologian specializing in early Christian thought, including Armenian and Syriac Christiantiies.

An accomplished interpreter and historian of early Christianity, Robin Darling Young has published widely on topics in the history of early Christianity and its thought, including the areas of scriptural interpretation, the history of asceticism and monastic thought, and the Christian cultures of ancient Syria and Armenia.

In 2015 she hosted a symposium at Catholic University entitled, From Victims to Victors: The New Armenian Saints of 1915which brought together Armenian, Roman Catholic, and Greek Orthodox scholars to discuss the significance and ramifications of the canonization of2018-3 RobinKings.001 the martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. She has also lectured at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.

The lecture is free and open to the public. CLICK HERE for a color brochure. For further information contact the Zohrab Information Center at(212) 686-0710 or zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org.

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.

Thursday, March 2: The Joy of the Gospel in Times of Tragedy: A Lesson from St. Nersess Shnorhali.

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St. Nersess “the Gracious One” Shnorhali (1102-1173AD). A true pillar of the Armenian Church.

V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan will present a little-known work by the great 12th-century Armenian Catholicos St. Nersess Shnorhali at the Zohrab Center on Thursday, March 2 at 7PM. His presentation is entitled, The Joy of the Gospel in Times of Tragedy: A Lesson from St. Nersess Shnorhali.

Fr. Findikyan is Director of the Zohrab Information Center and Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary (Armonk, NY).

Jesus famously promises to lift even our heaviest burdens and to bring relief to all who are weary. But how are we to cope with the most harrowing pains and tragic assaults that can afflict human beings? What can we do for those who are suffering? Can anything good—even joyful—come from tragedy?

St. Nersess Shnorhali’s  little-known Letter of Consolation (Թուղթ մխիթարութեան) is an exquisite poem in which the Catholicos displays his tender compassion for someone who has experienced what is perhaps the most harrowing and inexplicable pain that one can suffer in this life, the death of a child. With great sensitivity, the Gracious One touches the wounds of the grieving father, as he weaves a tapestry of hopeful images and allusions from Sacred Scripture to bring the healing of Jesus Christ to bear.

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Fr. Daniel Findikyan lectures at the Gevorgyan Seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin, Armenia last September.

Fr. Daniel will present his new English translation of the work, highlighting not only its poetic and lyric beauty, but also how “the Gracious One” teaches and personifies the power of Jesus Christ even in the midst of seemingly hopeless heartbreak. 

Fr. Findikyan is a priest and vartabed of the Armenian Church. He received his doctoral degree from the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome and is the author of several books and dozens of scholarly articles on the worship traditions of the Christian East and especially the Armenian Church. He has lectured nationally and internationally, and is President of the Society of Oriental Liturgy. Hayr Daniel is a founding member of the Fellowship of St. Voski [Նոր Ոսկեանք], a non-profit organization dedicated to transmitting the spiritual and theological heritage of the Armenian Church tradition to Christians today. He is on the editorial board of the quarterly magazine The Treasury [Գանձարան].

The presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York. All are welcome to attend the presentation. Join us at 6PM for a cup of Lenten soup.

For further information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710. CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

Genocide and Immortality? Dr. Roberta Ervine to Open ZIC Autumn Enrichment Series

The Zohrab Center’s Autumn Enrichment Series will begin on Tuesday, September 27 with a presentation by Dr. Roberta Ervine entitled, In the Harsh Light of Genocide: Armenian Thoughts on Immortality.

2016-09-ervineanmahutiwn-001Dr. Ervine is Professor of Armenian Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. She is a regular lecturer at the Zohrab Center.

The Genocide forced Armenians to reconsider their human experience in the light of mass death and dislocation. In an insecure and threatening world, what can one depend on? Is there a life after death, and if so, who is in charge of it? Where does it happen? What is it like? What qualities make a person, a community, or an ethnic group immortal? Does immortality have anything to do with faith? How does immortality relate to traditional Armenian religious teaching, if at all?

Prof. Roberta ErvineOn an almost week-by-week basis, Armenian periodical literature from the 1920’s and 1930’s records the process by which these questions worked themselves out in the minds of survivors and Diaspora Armenians alike.

Rereading this long forgotten body of writings, Dr. Ervine will explore the new, post-Genocide thinking on the topic of immortality, and look at where Armenians turned to find inspiration and consolation in the uncertain decades immediately following the Genocide.

Since 2001 Professor Roberta Ervine has taught courses on
Classical and Modern Armenian Language, Church History, and Armenian Theology and Spirituality at St. Nersess Seminary in Armonk, New York. She earned her PhD in classical Armenian Studies from Columbia University and has done extensive research on topics related to medieval Armenian studies. She pursues topics related to the history of Armenians in Jerusalem and the intellectual tradition of the Armenian Middle Ages.

2016-09-ervineimmortality-001During the Spring  she was the Henry K. Khanzadian Kazan Visiting Professor of Armenian Studies at California State University, Fresno.

Dr. Ervine’s presentation will take place in the Guild Hall of the Armenian Diocese in New York on Tuesday, Septmeber 27, 2016. All are invited to the event, which is free of charge. A reception will follow. For further information contact the Zohrab Center at zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.

CLICK HERE to download a flyer.

Noble Lineage: The Mysterious Story of a Book

by V. REV. DANIEL FINDIKYAN

Gdanian
Rev. Fr. Garen Gdanian 1925-2013

Every book tells two stories.

The first is contained within its pages, be it a novel, an atlas, a cookbook or a chemistry textbook. The second is the book’s own story—how that particular volume came to be—from the printing press to the bookstore or dealer—traversing perhaps multiple owners and readers, until it falls into your hands.

Recently the Zohrab Center was the beneficiary of the library of the late and beloved priest Fr. Garen Gdanian, who passed away in 2013. While sorting through cartons of books, I noticed the elegantly embossed leather binding that is the hallmark of a precious old book.

GdanianBOokHandsMy suspicions were confirmed as I plucked it out of the box and carefully turned the book in my hands. Lustrous gilt edging glittered in my eyes while my fingers coursed over the grooves and ridges of the intricately embossed cover. Whoever bound this book spared no expense.

Stamped in gold leaf on the cover was this title: Առ բարձրաշնորհ Տ.Տ. Մաղաքիա Արքեպիսկոպոս Օրմանեան Պատրիարք Հայոց [T0 the Most Gracious Reverend Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian Patriarch of the Armenians].

He, of course, is the great Armenian churchman from the turn of the twentieth century, easily one of the greatest Armenian intellects of modern times, who served as Patriarch of Constantinople from 1896-1908.

Want to read more about the Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian along with an excerpt in English from his famous Gospel commentary, Hamabadoom? Click here for the latest issue of the Armenian Church magazine The Treasury / Գանձարան.

Ormanian
Patriarch Maghakia Ormanian 1841-1918

Yet while Ormanian was a gifted and prolific author, the cover indicates that this book was not written by him, but addressed to him. 

My first thought was that the book contained a letter directed to the Patriarch, who was a controversial figure. He resigned his position as Patriarch under pressure from political extremists, who had attacked him for his stubborn refusal to support any form of violence in the Armenians’ opposition to Abdul Hamid’s regime. Could this book be some anti-Ormanian diatribe?

But no. A gilt inscription on the book’s thin spine reads Կրօնի Ուսում [Course in Religion].

Indeed, turning to the title page, we read the full title of the work:

 Illustrated Course in Religion from the Known to the Unknown, from the Impenetrable to the Believable. A Face-to-Face Course and Graded Study. Intermediate Level. 

TitlePage
Title page of Tavit Khachgonts’ textbook on the Armenian Church. Patriarch Ormanian’s monogram stamp (Մ.Օ) is visible in the center right.

The author is a certain Tavit Khachgonts (1866-1918). It was published by the Balentz Press and Bookstore in Constantinople (Istanbul) in 1905.

Traversing the pages of our book we discover a comprehensive survey of the Armenian Church in 188 pages. It includes brief but incisive summaries of the Old and New Testaments, the history of the Armenian Church against the background of the universal church; key persons and saints, feasts and fasts, sacraments and liturgical services, vestments and vessels, church architecture and hierarchical structures, Armenian church pious customs and traditions, and more. A number of tables, charts and glossaries round out the extremely valuable manual, which may well be the finest one-volume survey of the Armenian Church that I have encountered.

The author adds this codicil to the title page:

Objective
To transmit Armenian Christianity to Armenian young people and to present their mother church as something for them to love. 

A noble goal indeed.

So much for the first story.

The gilt inscription on the leather cover addressing the book to Patriarch Ormanian turns out to be a glorified gift tag. This copy was a personal gift. It was specially bound for the Armenian Patriarch, whose monogram, M.O., is stamped on the title page. This book once belonged to the great Maghakia Ormanian.

How did the book travel from the sacred galleries of the Armenian Patriarchate in Constantinople over 100 years ago to Fr. Garen’s personal library in Troy, New York?

The mystery continues. Read on… Continue reading “Noble Lineage: The Mysterious Story of a Book”

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

2015-10 SongSongsImage

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”