Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter in Yerevan

Today is Easter in Armenia.  This year, Orthodox Easter, which is based on the lunar calendar, happens to fall on the same Sunday as in the Catholic and Protestant churches.  A further coincidence is that it is also on April 24th which is Armenian Genocide Commemoration Day, which by itself would be one of the most important days on the Armenian Calendar.  When I was here five years ago, an Armenian American couple told me that younger Armenians aren't very religious but that the Armenian Church is the center of their history and culture and this, together with the Armenian genocide, is what binds the Armenian Diaspora together.

This morning I decided to walk a few blocks from my hotel to an old Armenian Church to observe the Easter service. Around the church were many elderly women selling candles which were not carried into the church, but instead were lit and then consumed in fires near the entrance in remembrance of Christ.  The thought occurred to me that in previous eras the candles were probably burned inside the church but that the smoke made it difficult to breath and that it also discolored the walls and ceiling.  Some enterprising patriarch probably decided to move this ritual outside for reasons of health and historical preservation.  In Western Europe, many churches now have electric candles for the same reason and one simply pays a few cents to light the artificial candles. From an outsider perspective, the Armenia service wasn't significantly different than a Catholic Easter service, with the devout lined up in front of the priest to be blessed and to receive the sacrament. When finished, many walked around the inside of the church touching statues and paintings of the saints and crossing themselves.

The Armenian Church is one of the original Christian Churches, having arisen from underground and with Armenia having become the first state to officially adopt Christianity in 301 A.D. Since then the country and its faith have been inseparable. Also, Armenia, together with Georgia and Russia formed the Eastern frontier of historic Christianity.
On my previous visit I had a weekend for sightseeing, which included a half day at the "Mother Sea of Holy Etchmiadzin," the equivalent of the Catholic Church's Vatican, which I found extremely interesting. The key information about Etchmiadzin is on the Church's website at the following link: I especially recommend the pages on the Church's history and on the 132 Catholicos or patriarchs that have succeeded Gregory the Illuminator, who founded the church

On my last trip I also visited the ancient Hellenic Temple of Garni, built in the 2nd Century BC and nearby Geghard Monastery which stems from the 7th Century which are described in the following links:

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