Archive for June, 2012

The Final Years of St. Gregory and the Discovery of His Relics

June 21st, 2012    |    No Comments »

As St. Gregory grew old and became more involved in solitary life, King Drtad asked him to ordain his younger son Arisdagés a bishop, and to take him on as Gregory’s assistant. Gregory had already retired by a.d. 325, when the Holy Council of Nicaea took place, and he sent his son Arisdagés in his place to participate in this first ecumenical gathering of bishops of the Christian Church. In his retired state, however, Gregory continued his pastoral work by preaching and writing homilies, employing a simple language so that people could understand.

St. Gregory’s favorite spot as a solitary was a site called “the Caves of Mané,” located on Mount Sebuh near Erzinjan, now in eastern Turkey. This place had previously been the residence of the Virgin Mané, one of St. Hripsimé’s companions. It is unclear how long St. Gregory lived there, and when exactly he died. After some time had elapsed, shepherds chanced upon his body and buried him at the spot where they found him, not knowing who he was. During the fifth century, a hermit named Karnig was guided by a vision to the grave of the saint and discovered his relics. It was customary in those days to distribute relics of saints to various churches in different parts, and it seems that the same practice was implemented in St. Gregory’s case.  Karnig took the body of the saint to the village of Tortan, located to the east of Mount Sebuh, and buried some of the relics there; the rest were taken elsewhere. On or near St. Gregory’s unmarked grave there stood a church, built at a later time and still extant in 1915. The exact site of St. Gregory’s grave in Tortan was not known even to visitors in the tenth century; but nine other graves existed inside the church, and were said to belong to King Drtad, his queen Ashkhén, his sister Khosrovitukhd, and other members of St. Gregory’s family. These were still extant as late as 1915.

The remaining relics of St. Gregory were later taken to the Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Pakavan, where St. Gregory had baptized King Drtad and the Armenian people in the Aradzani River. The relics were kept in a box and taken out on important occasions. In a.d. 450, when a rumor arose in Armenia that St. Vartan and the Armenian magnates had accepted the Persian religion during their visit to Persia’s royal court, the returning magnates were met by a gathering of priests, noblemen and common people, who held forth the box of St. Gregory’s relics as a reminder of their Christian roots. Similar incidents occurred at times of turmoil and joy.

The relics of St. Gregory were later taken and laid beneath the massive columns of the Holy Zvartnots Church, whose ruins are still visible near the airport of Yerevan. The saint’s skull was kept separately in a box. At some point the skull was transferred to the West and is now kept in the church of St. Gregory the Armenian in Naples, Italy. (Some other relics of St. Gregory deposited in that location were recently transferred to the Armenian Church by the Roman Catholic Church, as a tribute to the 1700th anniversary of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity.) Today, relics of St. Gregory may be found at Holy Etchmiadzin, Holy Jerusalem and Antilias. The relic at Holy Etchmiadzin, encased in an arm-shaped reliquary, is used to bless the Holy Chrism (Muron) once every seven years. It is on display in the treasury of the Holy See.

In the calendar of the Armenian Church, the discovery of the relics of St. Gregory is an important feast and is commemorated on the Saturday before the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost. King Drtad, Queen Ashkhén and Princess Khosrovitukhd were originally commemorated on the Monday following the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, but since the calendrical revision of Catholicos Simeon in 1774-75, that feast falls on the Saturday following the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.

King Drtad, Queen Ashkhén and Princess Khosrovitukhd are regarded as saints of the Armenian Church because of their role in the conversion and spread of Christianity in Armenia. It is obvious that St. Gregory could not have succeeded in his mission without help from the royal family. It is also important to note that from the very beginning, there was lay par­ticipation in the founding and administration of the Armenian Church. While St. Gregory serves as an example of a fatherly figure for all Armenians, King Drtad, Queen Ashkhén and Princess Khosrovitukhd stand out as the forerunners of lay benefactors. The church cannot func­tion only with priests and bishops. Without lay participation very little is achieved. No matter what our station in life, we must make ourselves humble before God and do our share to achieve Christ’s mission.

***
Extract from The Holy Feasts of Saint Gregory the Illuminator: Celebrating the Life & Lineage of Armenia’s Patron Saint, by Fr. Krikor Maskoudian (New York: St. Vartan Press, 2003).

An arm-shaped reliquary containing bones of St. Gregory at the treasury of Holy Etchmiadzin.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 20th, 2012    |    No Comments »

FAREWELL

Sunday found us setting out earlier than any other day on our pilgrimage. At 4 a.m. we walked in procession to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where we experienced the Divine Liturgy at the tomb of Christ. Armenians have had the daily right to celebrate the Divine Liturgy at this site, in this early hour, since 1853.

Archbishop Khajag Barsamian celebrated the badarak, with several of our fellow pilgrims assisting. Being a part of the service at this holy site was certainly a highlight of the entire pilgrimage; many pilgrims described it as an almost surreal experience.

We had a more down-to-earth-but no less joyful experience immediately following the Divine Liturgy, when Archbishop Barsamian blessed two of our pilgrims—Vache Soghomonian and Nadia Silk—who became engaged during the pilgrimage.

That afternoon we attended a lecture on the Armenian presence in Jerusalem, led by historian Kevork Hintlian at the Armenian Patriarchate. Afterwards, we gathered for a final group discussion to share our thoughts about the journeys—physical and spiritual—we had all been on over the prior week.

Our pilgrimage ended where the Church began: in the Upper Room, where the Holy Spirit descended upon the holy apostles on Pentecost. In that setting we read the story as Luke relates it in Acts; then we sang and prayed for our fathers in observance of Father’s Day.

One final stop had us in the home of Boghos Shahanian, an Armenian resident of Jerusalem’s Armenian Quarter, for a farewell celebration which included toasting, singing, and a delicious Armenian meal provided by our host.

On Monday, the participants were reluctant to leave, and the strength of our newly-formed relationships was evident. Our hope and prayer is that we will all keep in touch; but most importantly, that we will keep the fire we discovered in Jerusalem burning in our hearts, as we allow it to deepen our faith in Christ. On this pilgrimage, we have truly seen him come to life in us in a new way.

We should do our best to preserve the centuries-old Armenian presence in Jerusalem, and to encourage all Armenians to visit the Holy Land. Our group would like to thank Archbishop Barsamian, Fr. Mardiros Chevian, Dn. Justin Ajamian, and everyone who helped make this program possible. We are eternally grateful.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

Pilgrims take part in the Divine Liturgy at the tomb of Christ in Jerusalem.

Dancing at an Armenian restaurant in Jerusalem.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 19th, 2012    |    No Comments »

HOLY SEPULCHER

On Saturday we visited the Pool of Bethesda, where Christ healed a man who was ill for 38 years and could not physically make his way to the pool to be healed. We then began to walk the Via Dolorosa, “The Way of Grief”, which led us to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher—the site of Christ’s crucifixion, burial, and glorious resurrection.

As we entered the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, we saw the slab of stone on which Jesus was laid after he was taken down from the cross. After spending time in prayer at this holy site, we made our way through the church to the tomb of Christ. For all of the participants, our experience at Christ’s tomb was overwhelming and momentous.

We then made our way up to Golgotha, the place where Christ was crucified. Here we crouched down to get close to the spot where this life-changing event took place.

Next we descended into the St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Chapel, which is adjoined by a cave discovered by an Armenian bishop some 40 years ago and considered to be the closest place to where the original cross of Christ was discovered by St. Helena. This cave leads to yet another Armenian chapel named after St. Vartan. It was here that we paused to meditate and to sing the Hayr Mer.

We finally walked up some stairs to another area belonging to the Armenian Church, called Second Golgotha. Overlooking the tomb of Christ, this part of the church houses numerous Armenian altars, as well as a piece of the pillar to which Christ was tied when he was tortured. Here we had a Bible study on forgiveness, and we spoke about the death and resurrection of Christ.

Later that day, we returned to Sts. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter, where we took part in a vespers service, and observed the eve of the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin. Celebrating Etchmiadzin as the birthplace of the Armenian Church was a very fitting end to our day.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

Pilgrims at the chapel of St. Vartan in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Pilgrims bow down before the Stone of Unction.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 18th, 2012    |    No Comments »

MOUNT OF OLIVES

Our first stop on Friday was at the Chapel of St. Polyeuctos, where we viewed an Armenian mosaic dated from the 5th–6th century. It is the earliest written evidence of the Armenian presence in the Holy Land. The mosaic inscription reads: “To the memory and salvation of the souls of all Armenians, whose names are known to God alone.”

From there we traveled to the Mount of Olives, where we walked the same path that Christ walked on Palm Sunday, the day he entered Jerusalem. While on this route, we visited the Russian Convent of the Ascension of our Savior, which houses an ancient Armenian mosaic.

We also visited the Church of the Ascension. This is the place from where Christ ascended to heaven before his disciples and other witnesses. The building now belongs to the Muslims, but the Divine Liturgy is celebrated here every year on the Feast of the Ascension.

From there we walked to the Church of the Lord’s Prayer, in which the Lord’s Prayer is displayed in over 130 languages, including Armenian. Other sites on this path to Jerusalem included the Dominus Flevit Church, where Christ wept for Jerusalem, the Garden of Gethsemane, where Christ was betrayed and arrested before his crucifixion, and the Church of St. Mary, which houses her empty tomb. Each of us entered Mary’s tomb to pray and reflect on her Assumption.

In the evening, we gathered with youth from the local Armenian community for fellowship. We enjoyed dancing, a soccer game, and karaoke.

Overall, it was a busy day, and there were many moments of inspiration, as we were able to walk the same path as Christ did to Jerusalem, and to stop at holy sites to pray, meditate, and sing.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

A view of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives.

Pilgrims at the Church of the Ascension.

Pilgrims enjoyed fellowship with local Armenian youth.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 15th, 2012    |    No Comments »

SEA OF GALILEE

Today we traveled two hours north of Jerusalem. As we passed Mount Tabor, we stopped the bus for a Scripture reading, and a moment of meditation about the Transfiguration of Christ. Our next stop was Nazareth, the town where Jesus was raised, where we viewed the remains of the house of St. Mary, located in the Basilica of the Annunciation.

Other sites in this vicinity included the town of Capernaum, which has a church built over a visible portion of the house of St. Peter; the town of Cana, where we read and reflected on the miracle Jesus performed at the wedding of Cana; and Tabgha, the site where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes. We then stopped at the Church of the Beatitudes, and had a Bible study where we discussed the Beatitudes as guides to being a disciple of Christ.

Our last stop of the day was the Sea of Galilee. Jesus spent a lot of time here during his ministry; it’s where he walked on water, and saved his disciple Peter from drowning. During a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, Fr. Mardiros Chevian led a group meditation on the storms of life, and how faith can overcome doubt.

Witnessing the many places where Christ walked, ministered, and performed miracles has connected all of us more deeply—not only to Christ’s presence in the Scriptures, but also to his presence in our lives today.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

At the Basilica of the Annunciation, in Nazareth.

Aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee, the pilgrims meditate on life's storms.

The dramatic landscape around the Sea of Galilee, unchanged since the time of Jesus.

The lush surroundings of the Sea of Galilee: the setting for several Gospel stories.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 14th, 2012    |    No Comments »

ARMENIAN QUARTER

We spent Wednesday at the Armenian Patriarchate located in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. The day opened with a meeting with Archbishop Nourhan Manougian, the Patriarchal Vicar. During the meeting, the ACYOA Central Council presented Archbishop Manougian with a check for $1,000, as part of the organization’s annual contribution to the Armenian Patriarchate.

We then received a tour of the Patriarchate, which included sites such as the Sts. Tarkmanchants School, where we learned about the latest programs, as well as opportunities to be involved with and support the school. Other sites included the Calouste Gulbenkian Library, which holds close to 100,000 volumes, the tree to which Christ was tied when he was flogged, and the Holy Archangels Church, which houses the prison where Jesus was held as he was tortured before his crucifixion.

After having lunch with the Brotherhood of Sts. James, we attended a vespers service in Sts. James Cathedral. We then proceeded to one of the many altars of the cathedral, where Noel Dawood of St. George Church of Waukegan, IL, was chrismated by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.

Witnessing one of our peers receiving a sacrament of the Armenian Church, in such a holy setting, made this an especially memorable day for us as pilgrims.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

Pilgrims pose for a group photo at Sts. James Cathedral in the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem.

Noel Dawood was chrismated by Archbishop Khajag Barsamian at Sts. James Cathedral.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 13th, 2012    |    1 Comment »

JORDAN RIVER

On Tuesday morning, we traveled to the Jordan River to see the site where Christ was baptized by St. John the Baptist. It was here that Archbishop Khajag Barsamian performed the “Blessing of the Water” ceremony. The wooden cross that was used for the ceremony was presented to Enna Tunyan, a pilgrim from St. Sarkis Church of Charlotte, NC.

The visit to the Jordan River set the tone for the rest of the day. We continued to the Mount of Temptation, just as Christ did after he was baptized in order to prepare for his ministry. This was followed by a Bible study focusing on how we should witness our baptism daily by resisting evil and following the example of Jesus.

The day concluded with a visit to the Dead Sea, where we were able to find relief from the heat by taking a leisurely swim in one of the ancient sites mentioned in scripture.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

Pilgrims continued their journey through the Holy Land with a visit to the Jordan River.

Pilgrims continued their journey through the Holy Land with a visit to the Jordan River.

Archbishop Barsamian performed the “Blessing of the Water” ceremony and presented the cross used for the ceremony to Enna Tunyan, a pilgrim from St. Sarkis Church of Charlotte, NC.

After the Jordan River, the group traveled to the Mount of Temptation.

Today on the Young Adult Pilgrimage to the Holy Land

June 12th, 2012    |    No Comments »

BETHLEHEM

We began our journey to the Holy Land on Monday with the celebration of the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem.

In the early hours of the morning, we descended into the Holy Grotto, where a silver star marks the place where Christ was born. Here we witnessed the celebration of the Divine Liturgy by Diocesan Primate Archbishop Khajag Barsamian. Some of the pilgrims assisted the Primate during the service. Others bowed their heads in prayer, taking in the sanctity of the space.

This was a very moving experience for all of the participants. In his message, Srpazan spoke about the importance of Christ’s birth, and the need for us to continue Christ’s ministry (see below).

Later, we also visited the Armenian chapel of the Church of the Nativity of Christ, and traveled to Shepherds’ Field, the site where the angels delivered the good news of the Lord’s birth. We engaged in a Bible study on the Lord’s birth, and reflected on Jesus’ presence in our own lives.

– Eric Vozzy is a participant in this year’s Young Adult Pilgrimage

***

From Archbishop Barsamian’s message at the Church of the Nativity:

“The ground we are standing on is where [Christ’s] journey began: Here in Bethlehem, in the Church of the Holy Nativity, which marks the spot where Christ was born. When the baby Jesus opened his eyes for the first time, to look up at the night sky, he was looking upon the stars that he had created, untold ages before.

“With those same eyes, our Lord spent his earthly ministry looking at the landscape around us, with many of its landmarks still in place since that time.

“And now, you too have reached this place. You are having this experience. And we as a group will be able to share that experience, as we embark on a journey that has the power to shape us, and direct us, throughout our lives.”

Young pilgrims taking part in the Divine Liturgy at the Church of the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem.


Pilgrims pose for a group photo outside the Church of the Nativity of Christ and the Armenian Monastery.