Sunday, September 17, 2006

A Year in the Armenian Church

This month marks one year since I started attending the Armenian Church on a regular basis. Let me begin at the beginning.

While I was baptized into the Armenian Church as an infant, I grew up in a city without its own church. We would have a visiting priest come through about once a year to celebrate the Badarak (mass), and until my mom got mad at the visiting priest, we went once a year. After that incident, my family never went again, until they got a different visiting priest, which was after I went off to college.

Service once a year also means that we didn't have things like Armenian Sunday School. We did have Armenian School for a while when I was little, but it was excruciating. I was only 3, and there were probably 10 of us in one class... ages 3 (me, the youngest) through age 12. Can you imagine? Who decided to structure that class?

When I was little, there was a sizable Armenian community in my hometown, and sometimes the local newspaper would cover our Armenian picnics, baptisms (there was a whole article on my baptism in the newspaper, and a picture of my sister's), and other events as part of their community coverage. At one point, they did an article on Armenian School, on the front page of the style section. There is this great picture of the teacher looking down at me and another girl (who was 4), and an older boy. I am looking up at her with this incredible crazy look of total defiance, which is hilarious to me, because that expression sums up how I felt about this class.

I don't remember too much about it, but I do remember that it was incredibly boring. I was a really bright little girl. Really bright. And what would we do in Armenian School? We would go around and recite the numbers in order. Every lesson. The teacher would start, and then we'd go by age and say our number. So the teacher was "meg" (one), and since I was the youngest student, I would always have to say "yergu" (two). Every lesson. Yergu. Yergu. Yergu. For a bright little girl in the prime time for language learning, this was excruciatingly boring. One day, I decided that I was tired of saying yergu, and I decided that I would say another later number that I liked better instead. I think it was "yota" (seven). The teacher was furious! I am sure she thought I was stupid and disobedient, but really, I was trying to spice up my lesson. Armenian school ended shortly after that.

To sum up, I knew only a very few words of Armenian (what I would call "toddler Armenian"- anything a mom would say to her toddler), and even less about the Armenian Church. Since I am only half Armenian ("odar"- outsider - is one of the words that I knew, since that describes my dad), all I really had was my name (thanks Mom! She informed my dad that since we were getting his incredibly WASPy last name, she was giving me and my sister Armenian first names), the food (naturally), and my membership in the Armenian Church.

As an aside, the Armenian Church really knew what they were doing when they combined Baptism and Christmation (first Communion)- none of this confirmation at age 7, or adult decision to be baptized, or anything that would risk your membership in the Church after your parents managed to get their acts together long enough to get you baptized. Your parents get pissed at the church and quit taking you? Or they die and can't take you? Or you move away to a place where there is no church? No problem! Once they've got you, they've got you! This actually makes this much, much easier for people like me, and I'm sure this practice is rooted in historical context.

I have wanted to learn more about the Armenian Church since going to my cousin's Greek Orthodox wedding nine years ago. This cousin is not Greek at all, but my aunt and uncle go to the Greek Orthodox church as the closest proxy to the Armenian church around. (We went to various Protestant churches, if we went at all) Orthodox weddings are SO different, and it was fascinating. I have always been drawn to learning about religions, and the rituals of the church were really captivating.

At college, I thought I might get involved with the Armenian Club, which did exist, but wasn't that active. I didn't have a car, so never managed to go to services. After I got out of college and started working, I tried a couple of local Armenian churches in the city where I was living, but I didn't find them tremendously welcoming, I had no idea what was going on, I couldn't follow along, I didn't understand Armenian and there was NO English at all, it took forever, the churches weren't close to my house, etc. So I decided not to go anymore.

Then I moved out to California, which is Armenian Central, and I decided to give the Armenian Church another try. I went to the one that was local to my university (I'm not in LA or Fresno, so I don't have a ton to choose from), and same old same old. I didn't go back. Then, after getting married, I got up the nerve to try the Armenian Church close to my husband's university (in a totally different part of California- long story), and with minimal effort on my part (this is very important and will be another post later), I discovered that it was a very friendly place. After getting the hang of that church, I started going to the other church close to my university when I was in the area. It's not the most friendly church, but it's not bad and it helps me feel connected.

It has been almost a year since I started attending regularly, and I decided I would try to blog about the next year in the Armenian Church. I hope it will be a year, anyway- we will be moving after my husband graduates in about 9 months, and I hope we end up somewhere with an Armenian Church! That is 9 months away, though, and I will cross that bridge when I get to it.

1 comment:

vozz said...

Thanks for starting this blog! I just discovered it yesterday. I wanted to start with your first post, and I plan on catching up with the rest of them in chronological order. I have my own "journey", which is more of a theological journey, but now includes the Armenian Church. I have many questions, and I can relate to some of what you posted here and other posts that I skimmed. It seems that the quirks of the Armenian Church are typical all around America. Anyway, we need more blogs like this out there. Keep writing!