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”

“A Cross Appears in Eastertide”

The following sermon for the springtime Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross over Jerusalem was found among the archives of Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989) at the Zohrab Center. Tiran Srpazan was one of the great Armenian Churchmen and teachers of the twentieth century. He was elected Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem and served as Primate of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church. He also founded St. Nersess Armenian Seminary. The sermon is written in Nersoyan’s own neat handwriting on five small leaves of paper. Unfortunately neither date nor the place where the sermon was preached is mentioned.  

2015-04 CrossSkyWe are in the period of Eastertide, the fifty days after Easter. Easter was the great event of the Incarnation. It is the great feast of the Church. But it is more than just a feast. It is the great recurring event in the life of the Church. it is the realization of the greatest principle in the life of the Church, of the human soul, of the world.

Resurrection is the triumph of life over death, of spirit over matter, of the higher over the lower, of good over evil, of sanctity over sin, of eternity over time, of infinity over limitation.

Resurrection thus understood is a constant fact, a continuous reality in history, in the life of the universe, in the the life of mankind, in the life especially of the Church, and in the life of the individual soul.

Christ’s resurrection was the realization of the universal fact. It was a demonstration by God of the universal fact of resurrection. God showed us in Christ that man’s destiny was in heaven. That man, God’s creature, was not to perish, but to rise and to inherit eternal life, to triumph over futility, desperation and death.

A large cache of letters, sermons and other papers belonging to Abp. Tiran Nersoyan (†1991) are housed in the Zohrab Information Center and the Archives of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church.
A large cache of letters, sermons and other papers belonging to Abp. Tiran Nersoyan (†1989) are housed in the Zohrab Information Center and the Archives of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church.

The actual fact of Christ’s resurrection was a supernatural event. It does not bear biological, physiological or chemical proof. It is above the realm of these sciences as we know them. But resurrection is not less real for that, real in a special sense. When speaking of resurrection, St. Paul says that the risen body is without corruption. It is in glory. It is in power and it is spiritual. These are the qualities of the risen person. These are the prizes of the triumph. Can we conceive such a thing? We do our best, and the rest we are content to leave in mystery.

But triumph supposes a battle, a fight. Victory is the outcome of a successful struggle. And struggle involves suffering, pain, agony, crisis. It means the Cross. Look at the long history of mankind in struggle. Look at the history of the human soul in battle. Look at the constant process of fallings and risings. Look at the ferocity of the war between good and evil, between knowledge and ignorance, between harmony and disorder.

But resurrection transfigures this Cross. Triumph transitions this suffering. The end, the result, glorified the means.

And this brings us to the meaning of today’s commemoration. Today is the Feast of the Apparition of the Cross. On May 7 in the year 351 the population of the city of Jerusalem beheld the sign of the Cross stretching from Golgotha to the Mount of Olives, just outside of Jerusalem, a distance of about two miles, across the sky, gleaming with intense light. The story is told in the letter of St. Cyril the Bishop of Jerusalem, addressed to the Emperor Constantius.

The significance of the apparition is obvious. The Cross that is born for the sake of God’s triumph against the Devil, for the triumph of life against death, is no more a sign of misery and defeat, but an instrument of glory. The Cross rises from earth to heaven. It is, as it were, the resurrection of the Cross, the glorification of suffering endured for God’s sake.

Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989)
Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan (1904-1989)

When we decorate ourselves with crosses of gold and precious stones, when we elevate the Cross and carry it in procession or place it on the altar we show the victory of the Cross. We show suffering and triumph, Cross and Resurrection combined. And a Cross shown like that is entirely different from a crucifix.

But then we may ask, What has all this got to do with us now? What has it got to do with the business of making a living, in which we are engaged? It has everything to do with it. Are we not suffering while making a living? Are we not constantly falling and rising? Are we not engaged in a constant fight in this world? Are we not continually troubled in our souls? Don’t we encounter evil at every turn? Don’t we keep on falling day in and day out against all kinds of temptation? What can have more relevance to our daily lives than the same promise of triumph? What can have more to do with us than the assurance of life for us against death? Life of this soul against the death of the body?

But victory, triumph, glory, life can be achieved only through power. No one ever fell and then rose again without having the power for it. No one ever fought and won a victory without having the strength for it. So Christ rose from death through his divine power. And that life and power come from God, from above. From God, who dwells in us, who dwells in his Church; who dwells in heaven, who dwells everywhere.

And the point in being a Christian is nothingabsolutely nothing but to put ourselves in the condition in which we can receive that power, which is called grace. The Church, as Christ’s body, communicates that power to us through God’s Word, pronounced and proclaimed by the Church, and especially through the sacrament of Holy Communion.

The world around us is constantly in danger of falling. But let it rise. We are always in danger of falling, but let us rise. Because Christ is always rising. Christ is always risen. His Cross is always shining in glory. Let us rise with Christ in the Church. Let our prayer constantly be: “Raise us, O Lord with you, from death to eternal life.”

Glory be to the risen Christ. Amen.

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”

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

Hidden Meanings of the Armenian Church’s Feasts and Fasts. Fr. Daniel Findikyan will Uncover Them on February 13.

The Armenian Church calendar is filled with mysteries and treasures.
The Armenian Church calendar is filled with mysteries and treasures.

RARE IS THE ARMENIAN who has never heard of Christmas or Easter.

But what about the Church’s less popular festivities? The Presentation of the Lord to the Temple (Տեառնընդառաջ / Dyaruntarach / Trndes), Ascension (Համբարձում / Hampartsoom), The Apparition of the Holy Cross (Երեւումն սրբոյ խաչին / Yerevoomn Srpo Khacheen), the Transfiguration of Christ (Պայծառակերպութիւն / Baydzaragerbootyoon / Vartavar), Lazarus Saturday (Ղազարու յարութիւնն / Ghazaroo Harootyoonun)?

Not to mention a whole series of other more obscure commemorations—The Ark of the Covenant (Տապանակն / Dabanagn), the Dedication of the Holy Cross (Նաւակատիք սրբոյ խաչին / Navagadeek Srpo Khacheen), the Commemoration of the Maccabees, New Sunday (Նոր կիրակի / Nor Geeragee)…

What Do They Mean?

What in the world are these festivities? What motivated the Armenians to set aside these annual holidays? What was their intended function, if any? And most important, do they serve any practical purpose for the betterment of our own lives and humanity today?

Living the Gospel of Christ—Year-by-Year

Fr. Daniel Findikyan is Director of the Zohrab Information Center and Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.
Fr. Daniel Findikyan is Director of the Zohrab Information Center and Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary.

V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Center and Professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary will give an illustrated presentation on Hidden Meanings of the Armenian Church’s Feasts and Fasts at the Zohrab Center in New York on Thursday, February 13 at 7:00PM. The presentation is part of the Eastern Diocese’s “Living the Gospel of Christ” initiative this year.

FDFCalendarFlyer.001“The Armenian Church’s calendar of feasts, fasts and commemorations is among the oldest in Christendom, and also one of the most elaborate,” said Fr. Findikyan. “Like the liturgical year in every Christian tradition, the Armenian Church’s distinctive annual cycle of holy days serves as a perpetual invitation to live and celebrate the Gospel of Christ—day by day and year by year.” He went on, “But to leverage this ancient Christian calendar for spiritual growth requires some guidance.”

Fr. Findikyan will guide his audience in that worthwhile endeavor. The presentation is free and open to the public. A reception will follow.

CLICK HERE to read more about Fr. Findikyan’s education, work and publications.

CLICK HERE to download a flyer. Contact the Zohrab Center for further information: zohrabcenter@armeniandiocese.org or (212) 686-0710.