2019-01-09 / Features

Armenian Pilgrimage Reunion And Orthodox Spirituality

BY CATHERINE TSOUNIS


Holy Martyrs Church service. Holy Martyrs Church service. “This holiday gives us another chance to be thankful for all that we have,” said Fr. Abraham during his Thanksgiving weekend homily. “We are thankful for our material gifts, but most importantly we are thankful for our faith, the greatest gift of all. God is not against material goods because these things make us happy. But, we also need to feed our soul. The message of today’s Gospel reading (Luke 12:13-31) is that spirituality must be a priority in our lives.” On Sunday, November 25, at the Armenian Church of the Holy Martyrs in Bayside, I relived my 2018 pilgrimage to Armenia, including the unrecognized Armenian Republic of Nagorno- Karabakh (Artsakh).

Armenians rank second among 34 European countries in having the most religious citizens, according to a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center. (1) Romanians and Georgians occupy the first and third places on the survey.


Pilgrimage members Pilgrimage members The Orthodox service was moving. I noticed the banner of the Virgin Mary and Christ, Byzantine crosses that I see in Greek Orthodox churches, and the Nikolaevsky Palace, known as the Vodka Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. The church interior reminds me of early Christian churches I visited in Acquileia and Ravenna, Northern Italy. I do not know Armenian. I was able to follow the Orthodox service because of its universality in the Orthodox Christian world.

A friend pointed out that parishioners were having confession, before having Holy Communion. This is a common practice in the Russian Orthodox liturgy that I had witnessed in the Kimisis Tis Theotokou Greek Orthodox Church of the Hamptons, before the October 15, 2018 Russian Orthodox Church schism with the Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Refreshments followed in the church hall. A slide presentation of the 2018 parish pilgrimage to Armenia was shared with the church family during Fellowship Hour. Over 100 pictures were displayed with narration from pilgrimage participants: Fr. Abraham, Aram and Lara Ciamician, and Zarmi Megherian. Thirty-three people attended the 13 day Pilgrimage.

Rev. Fr. Abraham personally presented Catherine Tsounis with a khachkar in appreciation of her articles on Armenian culture. Rev. Fr. Abraham personally presented Catherine Tsounis with a khachkar in appreciation of her articles on Armenian culture. “We saw a young couple preparing for a wedding in Shushi, Artsakh Republic,” said Aram Ciamician, pilgrimage leader. “In the afternoon, we met the same couple at the All Saviors Church. A few days ago, a Queens newspaper published an article on this same wedding. The couple could never imagine that their wedding in Artsakh could be read about on the other side of the world in the Queens Gazette.” This weekly newspaper, with 32,000 readers a day, has published all my articles on the Greek/Byzantine influence in Sicily, Northern Italy, Russia, Asia Minor in Western Anatolia, Armenia, Albania and Greece. In 2018, the Queens Gazette presented their daily life not seen elsewhere.

“You are joining a group whose families were destroyed by the Armenian Genocide 100 years ago,” said Rev. Father Abraham Malkhasyan. “My family is from Van, Western Armenia (Turkey). My father was a brilliant engineer who went to the top and lost all in 1991, when the Soviet Union was dissolved. My mother was a professor of Modern Russian Language and Literature in Yerevan (Armenia capital). In 1991, during this upheaval, I entered the seminary in Jerusalem at 14 years old. My older brother, Ignatios, joined me in the seminary. He is an archimandrite assisting His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians at Echmiadzin, Armenia.” I have heard similar stories from my university students and people in Albania and Russia. The slide presentation showed us the major landmarks, culture, religious and business centers of Armenia.

Why did I join this pilgrimage? The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Hellenic Republic says on its website that “Greece was one of the first countries to recognize Armenia upon independence (September 21, 1991). There is a Greek embassy in Yerevan (since 1993) and an Armenian embassy in Athens. Relations between Greece and Armenia are very strong, both emotionally and historically, due to the co-existence of Greeks and Armenians during the Byzantine period, and under the Ottoman Empire.

Greece is one of the countries that officially recognize the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottomans in 1915. Greece grants development and humanitarian assistance to Armenia and has supported Armenia’s rapprochement with European institutions. Since Armenia’s declaration of independence, the two countries have cooperated within the framework of international organizations (United Nations, OSCE, Council of Europe, BSEC), while Greece firmly supports the further development of EU-Armenian relations.

Due to Greece's long-standing cultural influence (up until the 5th century AD, the Armenians were using the Greek alphabet), Armenian interest in Greek culture is strong. Today, the Greek community of Armenia numbers a few thousand people. The dwindling number of Greeks in Armenia in recent years is mainly due to mass migration to Greece and former Soviet republics.

The Greek language is being taught as a second foreign language at the University of Yerevan, at the Brassov Linguistic University, the Theological School, and Military Academy. (2)

At the conclusion of the program, Rev. Fr. Abraham personally presented this writer with a khachkar, also known as an Armenian cross-stone, in appreciation of my articles on Armenian culture.

To view the Holiday Service album, visit https://photos.app.goo.gl/43zvKVhfqCYgiwQdA

References:

1. greece.greekreporter.com/2018/12/09/greeks-are-fourth-most-religious-people-in-europe/

2. www.mfa.gr/en/blog/greece-bilateral-relations/armenia/

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