ARMENIA – Illuminated by the Presence of God

THE ARMENIAN CHURCH

By Vahan Tekeyan

The Armenian Church is the birthplace of my soul.

Like a vast grotto it is simple and profound, dark and light –

With its hospitable court, ample tribune, and hushed altar

Standing in the distance as though it were a ship afloat.

The Armenian Church I see with my eyes closed.

I breathe and hear it through the clouds of incense

Which rise towards the feet of the Infant Jesus,

And through the fervent prayers vibrating its walls.

The Armenian Church is the mighty fortress of my forefather’s faith.

Raised by them from the earth stone by stone,

And descended from heaven, a dewdrop and a cloud at a time.

In it they unfolded themselves peacefully and humbly.

The Armenian Church is a great embroidered tapestry

Behind which the Lord descends into the chalice, and

Before which all my people stand with bowed heads

To commune with the past through life-giving bread and wine.

The Armenian Church is a peaceful haven across turbulent seas.

It is fire and light in the cold of night;

It is shady forest in the scorching midday sun

Where lilies bloom by the River of Hymns.

The Armenian Church, beneath every stone in its floor.

Holds a secret passage leading up to Heaven.

The Armenian Church is the shining armor of Armenia’s soul and body.

Her crosses rise to protect her;

Her bells ring forth and her song is always Victory.

The prologue of the Gospel of St. John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the Word…” and is contextualized in verse 18, “and the Word became flesh.” This is for humanity a transformative revelation about the very understanding of who God is and illuminates the ancient understanding of the Monotheistic God known but yet mysteriously hidden in the ancient sacred scriptures of the Old Testament. The Incarnation of God, who remains unchanged according to his eternal essence, makes himself known by revelation to and from the mouths of the prophets and the history of Israel, always remaining transcendent, but reveals himself in the imminent realm of creation. When we see and know Jesus, we have seen the image and likeness of the Father as he told Phillip, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)

God chose to transcend his creation by immersing Himself into it, sending his son into the world and personally uniting his uncreated divinity to his creation in the conception of Jesus from the womb of the blessed Virgin. St. Athanasius teaches us that “God became man so that man can become god.” The goal of life is to become god, not in an essential sense but, by becoming by grace what he is by  nature through baptism and divinization.

As baptized followers of Christ we are therefore in fact children of God and imbued with communion with Christ from our baptism. Ours eyes are opened, sealed with the Divine author’s hand, to see the divine image impressed upon all of creation and more specifically in those in whom God’s Spirit dwells in the seal of Holy Chrismation, anointed with the life-giving energies of divinity.

Christian tradition reveals this deeply rooted and mysterious premise in everything that the church is, and does. What we believe, we pray (Lex Orandi est Lex Credandi) , what we believe we write, what we believe we draw, what we believe we build and so on.

Our repository of Christian “art” is a testament of this living faith and our communion with the divine. Our fathers didn’t just write books, they illuminated them. They didn’t just write hymns, they adorned their prayers with the mysterious voice of the seraphim. They didn’t just build meeting halls, they built stone structures reaching up to God under whose majestic dome is cradled “a great embroidered tapestry behind which the Lord descends into the chalice.” (Vahan Tekeyan, The Armenian Church).

The signs of God’s living presence in the Church, is ever present in all that the Church has created, in her art, music, architecture, literature and liturgy. This is true of the ancient Eastern Churches and especially in the Armenian Church, the heavenly treasures given to our people by the very hand of God, as my father used to always say.

A new exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was opened and blessed by the presence of His Holiness, KAREKIN II and many high-ranking clergy of the Armenian Church including the primate of the Eastern Diocese, Fr. Daniel Findikyan.  Armenia! The exhibition explores “the remarkable artistic and cultural achievements of the Armenian people in a global context over fourteen centuries—from the fourth century, when the Armenians converted to Christianity in their homeland at the base of Mount Ararat.” (https://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2018/armenia)

I would encourage everyone to make every effort to visit and attend the exhibition which is now open and will run until January 13, 2019.

Our diocese too has been making every effort to bring this tradition of incarnate Christian faith through illumination. Our church has many beautiful and very educational resources which are for our use and available now in digital and emerging formats, using modern technology to present the same ancient apostolic and orthodox faith in living color, not to replace our icons, but to compliment them for a new and sophisticated society.  The diocesan department of public relations and those who work so hard to bring the gospel message to life in living color through the various means that we have whether it is video, literature, art, illustration or social media, is to be commended. I encourage everybody to make great use of these wonderful resources that will illuminate our minds and peak the interest of all the children of our church both old and young alike. Please visit the www.breadandsalt.org site and watch the many educational illuminations of faith and stories from our church’s glorious past and her prophetic message for the present.  Also, download the vemkar application on your smart phones and follow the daily calendar of the church year, the liturgical feasts, the lives of the saints and may God bless and illuminate our hearts souls and minds, Amen.

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Published by

Fr. Shnork Souin

Priest of the Armenian Orthodox Church

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