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 Prayer for Holy Thursday by Catholicos Khrimian Hayrig

On the Thursday before Easter (Աւագ Հինգշաբթի) the Armenian Church commemorates the Last Supper of Jesus, when he established the mystery of his abiding presence among God’s people through Holy Communion of his living Body and Blood in the Divine Liturgy. 

Erevan, Matenadaran, MS 316, Gospel, Arts'akh, XIVth century, Last Supper. Photo: Ara Güler.
Erevan, Matenadaran, MS 316, Gospel, Arts’akh, XIVth century, Last Supper. Photo: Ara Güler.

Jesus, today you sat down with your hungry farmhands gathered around you. With every step you took, you plowed with them the rocky, hardened land of Israel. You were a plowman and a sower of seed and they were your courageous tillers. You sowed fistfuls of the seed of the Word of Life. You, true vine, planted your orchard at the summit of Golgotha.

Behold! Taking into your hands a cup of the fruit of the vine and a loaf of the bread of Good News, you bless. You give thanks. You break. And you say, “Take, eat, believe. That bread appears to be mere bread. But it is really and truly my Body. It is life. It is not the manna from the desert that your fathers ate in their faulty faith and then died. Instead, you, their faithful children, with your resolute faith, eat this Bread of Life and live forever! And drink this cup filled with joy and jubilation. It really is my blood, which I will spill on the Cross, breaking the cup of my body.”

For three years you proclaimed unceasingly, “I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.” Obstinate ones did not want to understand this mystical message of yours. Perplexed, they became indignant and murmured, “How can he give us his body to eat?”

Yet today, behold! You unveil in plain sight the mystery of Communion. Blessing ordinary bread and wine, you sanctify them and with your hands you distribute them, saying, “Here you are! This is my Body and my Blood.”

Lord, we believe that through the example of the Bread, you join your life with our life. You fuse your immortality with our mortality, so that through your life, humanity’s life may be immortalized. That is why you constantly repeated, “Truly, truly, I say to you: If you do not eat the Body of the Son of Man or drink his Blood, you have no life in you.” Yes, Lord, your Body is real food and your Blood is real drink. Blessed are they who eat this meal with faith. 

Catholicos Mkrtich I Khrimian (1820-1907), popularly and lovingly referred to as Khrimian Hayrig, is surely one of the greatest leaders of the Armenian Church in modern times. Passionately concerned for the welfare of the Armenians in the waning days of the crumbling Ottoman Empire, he is best remembered as an outspoken advocate for the right of self-determination for his people. To that end he led the Armenian delegation at the Conference of Berlin in 1878. The blessed Catholicos was also–perhaps even more so–a devout and inspired preacher and a man of resolute Christian faith and fervent prayer. This excerpt is translated from his book Յիսուսի վերջին շաբաթ. Խաչի ճառ [Jesus’ Final Week: Discourse on the Cross], published in Constantinople in 1894. A precious copy of this book is housed in the ZIC collection.