Sunday, October 07, 2007

Catholicos Visit, Part III

Today was the Hrashapar Badarak today, conducted by His Holiness. Although it was really nice that Vehapar came and was celebrating, I think that the most impressive thing was just bringing all these Armenians together under one roof, in the same building, as one church. Only His Holiness has that kind of influence to get all these people in church on this day.

I also really treasured singing in the choir. GUESS WHO HAD A SOLO???? ME!!! It was one of the two measure amens after Miayn Soorp. I had the "amen" after His Holiness said "Orhnayl Vortit Soorp, Adzvadz jushmarid". I just found out yesterday; it was kind of a last minute thing. I was so honored to have a solo, even a tiny one, during this service. Even if I didn't have a solo, though, I was just so excited to be able to do this. Ever since I found out that Vehapar was coming, I hoped I would be able to sing in the choir for this service.

Working with Maestro Mekanejian was truly an honor and a privilege. I learned so much from working with him, and it was amazing to see such faith in action. This man has so much love not only for the music, but for his church. It was so beautiful. Here is a brief article about Maestro Mekanejian. Truly, if you sing in an Armenian church choir and get the opportunity to take a workshop from him, or work with him in any capacity, you should run and jump on that opportunity.

Here is the best picture from all my pictures of Friday and today. It gives you a brief glimpse of the grandness of Holy Trinity in Cambridge. It doesn't do it justice. It is a beautiful church.

This picture is an okay one, a close-up. I was having trouble getting a good one all zoomed in. The man on the left is Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian. I don't know who the other one is.

Vehapar's message was about the importance of the Armenian family. With all that Armenians have been through during their history, the family unit has really been the place where Armenian culture and religion was nurtured and preserved. The Armenian view of the family unit is that the father and mother are king and queen of their household, and the children are their subjects over which they rule with paternal/maternal love as the guiding force. Vehapar said that in the kingdom of the family, there are no weapons and no violence. Unfortunately, that isn't the case in all families, but it certainly is the ideal that we should all be striving for. Vehapar said that we need to practice our faith on a daily basis, and this reminds me of something that my mother said my grandmother used to say: "You shouldn't have to tell people that you are Christian. They should know from your actions."

Catholicos Visit, Part II

On Friday night, we went to the young professionals' event with the Catholicos, or, as I have now learned we call him in Armenian, Vehapar Der. All the information about this event gave very strong warnings that you needed to be on the guest list, they were going to check IDs, and if you weren't on the list, you couldn't get in. When we got there, the man with the list didn't even check. He just waved me on through. When he saw my naturally-blond odar* husband, though, he stopped him and said, "Who are you??" I had to go back and say no, we were both on the list! We got a good chuckle out of that. It was a pretty brunette crowd there!

The program was really nice; I got to trot out Mer Hayrenik for the crowd singalong at the beginning, which I learned during my time crashing the youth choir at my old church. There are still so many times when I don't know ANYTHING about what is going on, so it was great to feel a little smug like, "hey! I actually know something now!" One of the big highlights of the evening was the Sayat Nova dance company , who were just terrific. I hadn't seen them dance before. Then the Catholicos stood up and said a few words about how happy he was to see that Armenian culture was still being carried on and flourishing here in the diaspora. I think you probably only see this in places like LA, Boston, maybe Detroit, where there is a large Armenian population. Since I grew up in a place with not that many Armenians, I didn't have the opportunity to go to Armenian School (the community did try to put one together when I was really little, but it wasn't really a success), or have my mom force me to take Armenian dance lessons. I think that the Internet is great for Armenians across the Diaspora, because at least now, even if you are in a small community, you can still learn and be exposed to some aspects of the language and culture.

A comment on a previous post suggested that I add pictures, and I now have some! Most of them are pretty awful, though. Our camera has never been the same since it fell off a rock during my husband's hiking trip this summer. Here are two pictures from the Young Professionals' event on Friday night. The first one is before the ceremony, and the second one was taken afterwards.

Vehapar is the one in the purple hat. Just in case you couldn't figure that out.

More on today's Hrashapar service in the next post.

* non-Armenian

Friday, October 05, 2007

Catholicos Visit, Part I

The Catholicos, His Holiness Karekin II, is going to be in town this weekend. There are a number of events for different age groups, culminating in His Holiness celebrating badarak on Sunday.

I will be singing in the choir on Sunday; I am very excited and honored to have this opportunity. I would not enjoy the Armenian Church nearly as much as I do if I was not able to participate in the choir on Sundays. It makes me feel more involved in the service. In order to participate on this particular Sunday, I have to attend 2 rehearsals that are 4 hours long each. For the Catholicos visits, Maestro Khoren Mekanejian is conducting the choirs for every stop on His Holiness's tour through the Eastern Diocese. We had our first rehearsal last weekend, and we have another one this Saturday.

I feel really lucky to be able to work with Maestro Mekanejian, even for this brief amount of time. I have never had a proper "rehearsal" of the music for the services. The churches that I have attended didn't have rehearsals, since you do basically the same thing every Sunday. I just had to pick it up as we went along. I am not sure that I would have been able to do this successfully if I did not read music. So although the choir directors at the churches that I have attended have often been top-notch, it is hard to benefit from their knowledge without much rehearsal time. Maestro Mekanejian really worked hard with us to get everything just right- getting the pronunciation right (some folks here speak Armenian with a local accent!!), getting the phrasing right, getting the volume and beats right. It was very educational.

Sadly, there isn't a big turnout for the choir, I think because there are 8 hours of mandatory rehearsals. This is tough for people to make, but I wish more people had made the effort. There are about 20 people who are going to sing in the choir, almost all women. There are only a few men.

Why don't more men sing in the choir? I assume that this is because they all want to be deacons; the men in the choirs at the churches I have been to are all older gentleman who are past their deaconing days. At my old church, all the deacons were under the age of 30 (many many high school boys, which is so nice to see), and there are a LOT of them, so there was some talk about having them alternate being on the altar and singing in the choir, so they would learn the tenor or bass parts to the choir music, and we could have some extra men. This sounds like a great idea to me. I would love to see more men and boys get involved in the choir.

Tonight is the Young Professionals event with the Catholicos; my husband and I are going to this one. The events for the children and teenagers are tomorrow during the day, and tomorrow night is the big banquet. We are skipping the banquet because tickets are $150 a person and the YP event is free (yay!). Then there's service on Sunday. I will try to take pictures tonight, and have my husband take pictures on Sunday (if possible).

Sunday, September 16, 2007


Today is the Feast of the Holy Cross. I wrote a post about this last year, but it's a new year, and a new church. Every church does things just a little bit differently, so I got to see what this church does. They not only bless the basil, but they bless the four corners of the earth too! Nice. The priest blesses the congregation by standing in the middle of the sanctuary and sprinkling blessed rosewater over the whole congregation. I got splashed a few times, so I literally left smelling like a rose! I notice that last year I mentioned that eating harisa (not the hot moroccan pepper, but a wheat porridge) is a tradition on this day, but it was the first day of Sunday School at this church, so they were having a big breakfast (breakfast, ha- I left church at 12:45!), which I didn't attend. Maybe they had harisa there?

The choir director sent someone to talk to me because he noticed that I have been there a few times, and I sing along with the choir. This happened at the other church too (on my first visit, actually- this is my third visit to this other church), but even though the choir director got my phone number (twice, in fact, once on two separate visits), no one ever called me, or showed me where to go, or told me when to show up, etc. So I will go back to this church next week, sing in the choir, and we will see. I am not giving up on the other church- I actually do want to go back!

Also, adult Armenian lessons start tomorrow. I need to call and ask how much they are! If they're not more than $250, I will take them.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Scheduling Conflicts

I am not sure what the story is, but I have noticed lately that a lot of things are scheduled on Sunday mornings, when I would normally be at church. This isn't just in Boston, it happened in California too. We were somewhat less social in California, so I don't think I noticed it as much, but it still happened sometimes.

This is so frustrating to me, because I can't always skip the event, and I can't always change it around. I've had a 5K race, brunch with my sister-in-law, and now a "welcome party" for the new baby of my husband's new colleagues. We ran the 5K because we had friends in from out-of-town, plus we were leaving on a trip that day (so I probably wouldn't have gone to church anyway; we were done with the 5K long before church would have been over!). We moved brunch to lunch, so it would start after church was finished. But this welcome party... I could theoretically not go, but these are my husband's new colleagues, and a new baby, so I want to be congenial. I am not thrilled about it, though. It starts at 11 AM, so it's definitely too early for me to even almost be done with church.

In my hometown, churchgoing is an important event, so unless you are scheduling things with people whom you KNOW don't go to church, you don't schedule anything until after noon on Sunday. Heck, my sister's conservative Christian private school didn't even give homework on Wednesdays, because they expected that everyone would be at church on Wednesday nights (okay, I admit, I think this is going TOO far).

If this keeps happening, I am going to have to be more forceful about saying no. It really is frustrating for me to try to keep this balance of going to church regularly and maintaining my relationships with others.

Friday, August 03, 2007

East Coast/West Coast differences

Now that I've been to three different churches here on the East Coast, I have noticed a few differences between these services and the ones at the two churches I used to frequent back West.

1) They really do morning services here- this is the service that happens before Badarak. One of my churches didn't do morning service AT ALL, and the other did it kind of quietly, and finished and had a pause before they went into Badarak.

2) At the beginning of the Badarak, the priest walks around the sanctuary with the little cross handkerchief for everyone to kiss. I had no idea what this was the first time I saw it.

3) Way more English. All the sermons are in English. I think that is because in the particular areas where I have gone to church, there aren't very many new immigrants. Maybe there are some who are my mom's age and came over in the late 1960s, but I am not sure if there are any people like my friend out in California, who came over from Baghdad three years ago. I know that there are a lot of Armenians who have come to the US from Armenia and other former Soviet republics, but I don't think they are settling in Boston. I know the Nashville Armenian community has a number of these new immigrants, as does Glendale. Even when I was teaching my undergrads, the Armenian students I had, who were 18, 19 years old, were mostly born overseas and came over to the US as children. The use of English is a welcome difference for me, since I barely speak any Armenian at all.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

About Me

I started a new blog about eating in Boston, so I am changing my "About Me" to make it more generic. However, I think that the "about me" that I currently have is really informative for this blog, so I want to save it for posterity.

About Me

I am a half-Armenian woman in her late 20s who, although baptized and chrismated into the Armenian Apostolic Church as an infant, grew up in a town without an Armenian Church. As an adult, I have recently started attending Armenian Church regularly. This blog is about my experiences as a rather late newcomer of sorts to my Mother Church.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Church Searching

I feel bad- I haven't updated this blog for a while, and I just got a really nice comment on my last post, so I am getting my behind in gear.

So we have moved to our new city, the "Glendale of the East", AKA Boston, MA. I am in a position that I have never been in before. I have my pick of several Armenian churches. There are three that are close to me, and that is just Armenian Apostolic. There are another two Armenian protestant churches too. I am going to stick with Armenian Apostolic for now, because, well, that is what I am.

The first Sunday that I was here, my mom, sister, and I drove down to Providence to go to church there. The priest at that church used to be the mission priest who came to my hometown during the years that I was away at college. My family flew him down about two years ago to conduct my grandfather's funeral, so I met him at that time. His church is really good, I think because the priest is a good one. The quality of the church seems to depend so much on the priest (although this is not the only factor; I think a strong, good congregation can overcome a less-than-terrific priest) I am not inclined to drive for an hour each way to go there on a regular basis since I have churches so close by, but his church is a good one, and I would be happy to be part of his community if I were living in Providence.

The second Sunday, I visited the church that is closest to me. The jury is still out on that one, but it seems fine. I skipped last Sunday, and will try the other church on this Sunday.

I was told by folks from the area who now go to my old church back West, the Eastern Diocese churches are a little more "modern" (by Armenian church standards) than the Eastern Prelacy churches. Is this true?? This whole Prelacy/Diocese, Etchmiadzin/Antelias thing is so strange to me- someone explained it to me back at my old church, and I think I understand it, more or less. Google isn't very helpful in coming up with answers to that question, so I had to ask someone directly.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Palm Sunday

Last Sunday was my first Armenian Church Palm Sunday. We were in Boston last year, so I didn't get to go. I had heard that Palm Sunday was the best day of the year to go to church. If you only picked one Sunday to go to church, Palm Sunday was the one.

I had heard something vague about candles and children. In the "old country" (which varies, depending on where you are from. It could be Lebanon, Syria, Iran, or even Armenia), the kids used to hold lit candles and walk around the church on Palm Sunday. One lady at church told me that everyone had different candles. Different colors, different sizes, no rhyme or reason, just different festive colorful candles. My mom said that when she was growing up, the kids would have different sized candles according to their age.

Anyway, in this church, no candles. Maybe they used to do it? Looking at the kids, though, it seems like a good idea to just stick with the palm fronds. Palm Sunday, being the day to go to church, is also the day when everyone brings their tiny babies and their rambunctious toddlers, kids who are too young for Sunday School and don't normally come to church. These toddlers can handle palm fronds, and the babymommas can manage holding their infant and a palm frond, but seems like candles might not be the way to go, safety-wise.

Church was packed. The only time I've seen a crowd like this was at the funeral last November. The line for communion was incredibly long. One of the highlights was watching the priest give communion to a baby that couldn't have been more than four months old. This baby seemed to be the child of an Armenian man and an Asian woman, who must have converted, because she took communion too. The priest's face just lit up when he was giving the baby communion. I really like that this priest cares so much about making kids and their parents welcome.

I went up to him after the service and told him that, and also that I appreciated that he didn't just "phone it in" every Sunday like I have seen other priests do during my recent travels. He broke out into this huge smile and gave me a big hug. We all like to be appreciated sometimes.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Lent: Total Failure

So we are almost all the way through Lent (30+ days and counting), and it has been a total bust in terms of eating vegan. I started out with great intentions. I went to Trader Joe's and stocked up on key vegan staples like almond milk (because soy milk tastes nasty) and ready-made lentil dishes. I kept Lent for all of two weeks. And not even the whole two weeks; my goal was just to go vegan (maybe + fish in a pinch, since I knew we'd be travelling) on Wednesdays and Fridays, as recommended by the Eastern Diocese, who seems pretty understanding of the annoyances of cutting out all dairy and meat for almost 6 weeks.

The first week was tough, but no problem. Week two, we were travelling to all the cities where my husband got job offers. It just became impossible, although I did make it through both Wednesday and Friday. We would be eating breakfast somewhere where there was nothing but eggs or cereal (no almond milk) on the menu, people were taking us out for every meal to a restaurant where we often had zero input in choosing, there wouldn't be anything close to vegan on the menu, or even + fish (the fish would inevitably have some kind of brown butter sauce), or I would end up eating tofu and edamame, and that's it. I gave up. I thought I would get back into it when we got back from our 2 week trip, but we had to decide what job offer to take, which was incredibly stressful. A high-class problem, I know. But it was really stressful! I just couldn't handle devoting mental energy to both making this decision and also to holding myself back from eating cheese. Or yogurt. Or milk. Or eggs. I just couldn't do it.

Before we got any job offers but after the interviews, every time I would go to church, I would light a candle and say special prayers during Der Voghormia that my husband would get a really good offer in a place where we both would be happy and do well. He ended up with five offers total, which was amazing, and was selected as one of the top seven people on the job market this year (!!!!). He has worked really hard, but God has also blessed us.

While we were travelling, I made a point to visit whatever Armenian church was in town (all but one university have a church within a 30 minute drive). I visited the one in Cambridge MA, and the one in Trumbull CT (the Trumbull church is the friendliest church I have been to, bar none. I am serious!!!! Lots of people came up to us and talked to us afterwards, without us approaching a soul. Very impressive.). It became really clear to me that this decision was going to be hard, so at both churches, I lit candles and said special Der Voghormia prayers that we would make the right decision.

We have settled on a place; we will be heading to the Glendale of the East- Boston MA. Although the department isn't the best department where he had an offer, we think it is the right department in terms of our global happiness as a couple. I will say special prayers this week of thanksgiving, and also pray that we have made the right decision and that our instincts that we will be happy there are correct.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Great Lent

Today is the first day of Lent, the 40 (ish) day period of fasting before Easter. In the Armenian Church, traditionally we abstain from eating all animal products (with the possible exception of fish....). Going hard-core vegan is difficult, so the Eastern Diocese recommends at least going vegan on Wednesdays and Fridays. I did this last year, and it does get tedious. I would like to add another fast day during the week, but then I have to negotiate with my odar husband, who gets cranky at the prospect of no meat at dinner twice a week.

Here are some tips from the Eastern Diocese. Notice that one of the sample recipes is a fish recipe! I am taking that as an okay to eat fish. I have heard mixed things about whether fish is okay. It makes my life a lot easier if it is.

Why do we fast for Lent in the first place? First, we are preparing ourselves for the resurrection of Christ. Our fast is based upon Jesus's 40 days/nights in the desert, when he fasted and resisted Satan (Matthew 4:12). I was thinking that the desert probably isn't as good of a place to resist temptation as living your every day life in an environment that presents temptation and bad behavior at every turn (I wonder what the Biblical equivalent of Bratz dolls were? Or Girls Gone Wild videos?), but when you are uncomfortable physically, you end up being a lot more uncomfortable mentally. It is easy to love God when you are comfortable and everything is going right. It is much harder when you are experiencing difficulty, discomfort, and deprivation (just look at the book of Job!).

Lent is also about removing those secular distractions, although I confess that I am not very good at this, personally. In theory, I should refrain from TV, movies, and other fun activities, but in practice, I probably won't.

In some ways, the Catholic way of doing Lent (give up something of your own choice, don't eat meat on Fridays) may be more challenging. I gave up alcohol a couple of times, and I have never successfully given up chocolate, despite a few attempts. However, the Armenian way of Lent is perhaps more mindful. Even something as mundane as eating breakfast, guess what? Even if you want a simple breakfast of oatmeal, you can't put milk on it. Eggs? Forget it. Cheese and bread? Nope. And that is just breakfast! So you think about God every meal of the day, and when you are grocery shopping too.

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Feast of St. Sarkis

Two Sundays ago was a feast day, celebrating the life of one of the many Armenian martyrs, St. Sarkis. St. Sarkis was a warrior and a Christian, killed by a Persian king after fleeing the Emperor Julian. The lives of the Armenian Saints are filled with stories like these (stories similar to those of the early Saints celebrated by the Catholic church as well)- people being tortured and killed because of their Christian beliefs.

Armenians are not alone in this kind of history; persecution has gone on since the beginning of time, but as a people who have faced it relatively recently in their history, both on a historic scale (e.g. the Genocide), as well as on a small-scale daily basis (Armenians in the Middle East diaspora were Christians surrounded by Muslims, although many, many of them have emigrated elsewhere) we are very sensitive to the necessity of sticking to our beliefs in the face of all outside pressure.

I started writing this post a couple of weeks ago, but the sermon last week tied into the post that I had in mind. It was about St. Sahag, who was Catholicos, was instrumental in the development of the Armenian alphabet by St. Mesrob Mashdots, and the two of them have a joint feast (the Feast of the Holy Translators), although according to my church bulletin, Saturday Feb. 10 was the Feast of Sahag Bartev. So maybe he has his own?

Usually St. Sahag is depicted as one of the main characters who ushered in the "golden age" of Armenian culture, but this week, we were recognizing him for something different. St. Sahag stuck up for the monarchy, which made him really unpopular with the ruling Armenian princes, and eventually had to step down as Catholicos. He maintained his popularity with the people, though, who recognized him as someone who was true to his beliefs.

Historically, in the face of tremendous pressure and persecution, Armenians have remained true to their Christian faith. They have suffered, been discriminated against, and even been killed en masse over it.

I think that this is why,
when two FoxNews reporters were kidnapped by Muslim extremist groups and converted to Islam in order to be released
, I did not know if I could have done what they did. I would have felt extremely guilty. Armenian heritage stands upon the bones of many, many people who died rather than betray their faith, what they believed to be true. I think that part of me would have seen conversion, however insincere, to be a betrayal. I know that if I were killed because of a refusal to convert, my husband, father, and mother would all be upset, although maybe my mother would have understood better than anyone else.

The sermon on that day was about St. Sahag, and all people who are truth-tellers. Telling the truth is not always popular; especially when that truth is something that people don't want to hear. Have you ever told a friend or loved one that the person they're dating is controlling or abusive? Just see how popular THAT is. Usually what happens is that the person will quit talking to you, and eventually either break up with or divorce the dodgy significant other. Sometimes your friend will come slinking back, embarrassed by the fact that you were right, but sometimes not.

What was especially interesting about this sermon was that the priest walked his talk. This church is in an extremely, extremely conservative area, and I wouldn't categorize the membership as especially liberal. The priest proceeded to elaborate his message with the modern-day example of the Iraq War, and how no one wanted to come forward to say that it was a bad idea and our reasons for going in were spurious. Those who did say those things were demonized by the administration, but time is bearing them out, and more and more voices are joining in to support them.

I confess that I was shocked. And impressed.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Back in my day....

I was in a literary society in college- this literary society was the oldest organization at this university (certainly it's the oldest that is still in existence), which is one of the oldest in the country. So this group is OLD. We are talking almost 150 years old here. Members tended to join in their junior or senior year, maybe sophomore year, and rarely, your freshman year (you had to FIND out about the literary society first, and we sometimes frowned upon immature freshman who were applying, since it was no biggie to reapply later).

Due to the old nature of the society and the continually changing membership and changing nature of some of the practices that goes along with that (we did have an official archivist, but you do lose some institutional memory with that kind of turnover), alumni tended to often say the phrase "Back in my day...." even if they had only graduated the year before. It was a running joke.

The sermon in church today was a "back in my day" sermon that did not have a clear message at all. I am back in the Other church now, the one near my university. The priest at this church has been in the US for at least 30 years (I am guessing), which is at least twice as long as the priest at my "home" church. So his English is pretty good, and usually his sermons aren't in bullet point format.

Today, though, he could have taken a leaf from the other Der Hayr's book and used a bullet point. I kept thinking, "What does this have to do with God? Really!"

He started out talking a bit about the Feast of St. Sarkis, which I actually will talk about in another post, and then transitioned to the Super Bowl. Church didn't seem any less full today than normal, even though it was Super Bowl Sunday and there was no Hokehankist (a large reason why many people go to church- to hear Hokehankist for their loved ones). Church isn't normally that full anyway, though.

The whole sermon was one long "Back in my day." Even the talk about St. Sarkis day was introduced by discussing the special candy that they would make back in Beirut (his hometown) for St. Sarkis day.

The talk about the Super Bowl was the strangest, though. He pointed out what a commercial enterprise that the Super Bowl is, and how back at the original Olympics, people just competed for a wreath of laurel that would eventually die, plus the glory of winning. Maybe it's the market economist in me, but I just couldn't really see what was wrong with the Super Bowl being a commercial enterprise. Sure, complain about Christmas or Easter becoming commercialized, but what else is the Super Bowl for? (Also, never mind that the Olympics are ostensibly for amateur athletes, while the Super Bowl is for professionals). I don't think that the Super Bowl was raining down on the church's parade, so I don't know what the problem was exactly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Voch/Che Debate

Way back in an earlier post, I mentioned that I had gotten some conflicting information about when to use "voch" and when to use "che." Voch is the formal way to say "no", and che is the informal way. Che literally means "it's not."

My mom told me a while ago that she was not allowed to say "voch" at home, that her mother said that "brats say voch." The people at church thought this was strange, because voch is more proper.

Over Thanksgiving, my mom's older sister and her husband were visiting, and I asked her about voch/che. This particular sister is really, really into being Armenian, and is also very bright, so I knew she would be able to help me.

Mystery solved. The people at church were right. My mom wasn't allowed to say voch, but not because it was rude per se, it was because she was not allowed to say no to her mother. If her mother asked her to do something, the answer always had to be "ayo!" (yes). Voch = talking back.

This conversation then launched into a discussion about how my grandmother was so much stricter with the older girls than with my mom, who was the baby. The older girls were not even allowed to give their mom a dirty look. My aunt (third child, second oldest girl, 8 years older than my mother) was saying that she could not speak her mind at all, had to keep her mouth shut, could not even look at their mom funny. Total obedience. However, my mom was able to pretty much do what she wanted.

I laughed and laughed and laughed on the inside at this story, because I would say that when my sister and I were growing up, my mother's expectations were definitely closer to how my aunt described those for the older girls than those for my mother. We were not allowed to say no either! Always yes.


My husband and I went to see an Element concert a little while ago. They are awesome.

Dear Eric Bogosian,

In this week's Newsweek magazine, there is an article asking a bunch of celebrity baby boomers what is next on their To-Do lists. One of them was Eric Bogosian, and the first thing on his list was "Learn Armenian."

Well, for Mr. Bogosian and anyone else out there who would like to learn Armenian, let me point you towards some resources. My resources are almost all for Western Armenian, because that is what I am trying to learn.

Language Tapes

I think the best one out there is Pimsleur's Western Armenian. Pimsleur has a an Eastern Armenian version as well. I actually wrote the lone user review, so I won't repeat it here.

Another option, not as good, is the VocabuLearn series. I haven't listened to Level 2. The lone review of this product is also mine. I should note that I wrote it before the Pimsleur was available. If you have to pick one, go with Pimsleur; it is much better. I think the VocabuLearn is only 3 stars in comparison. I may see if I can go back and edit it.


One of my favorite resources, Armenian Dictionary in Transliteration by Armenian language guru and fellow Penn grad Thomas Samuelian, is no longer in print. I am not sure that it is worth the $100 for a used copy through, but you may be able to find it through a church bookstore or other Armenian resource. I found mine through Hye Family, although it looks like they are no longer selling books. For people who cannot read the Armenian alphabet, this is an invaluable resource. I cannot recommend it highly enough. I wrote one of the reviews on the page; mine doesn't stand alone, this time!

Another great resource is Modern Western Armenian for the English Speaking World by Dora Sakayan. This is worth every penny of the $60-$70 you will pay for it. There is enough transliteration to enable you to use it if you don't know the alphabet, but it will help you learn the alphabet and get better at reading. You can't buy it new from anymore, but you can buy it from St. Vartan's bookstore (the official bookstore of St. Vartan's Cathedral in NYC). I bought mine from Abril bookstore in Glendale, CA, along with a set of children's flashcards to learn the alphabet, which help a little, but really aren't as helpful as just doing a lot of transliteration.

Sometimes your local Armenian church will offer adult Armenian classes; I advice checking with them, if you have one.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Good News!

This past Sunday was the Merelotz Badarak; meaning that after Badarak, Hokehankist (literally "spirit rest") is meant to remember all of our dead. Merelotz means either "dead" or "death"- I am not totally sure, but definitely one of those.

The priest explained that the Sundays after big feast days (namely, Christmas and Easter), we always have a Merelotz Badarak. This is because Christ being born and rising from the dead is not only good news for the living, but good news for those who are "asleep." The priest explained that we don't think they are dead, just "asleep" until the second coming, or judgment day, or whatever it is that is supposed to wake them up from death. Merelotz Badarak seems especially important to me after Easter, because the priests don't say Hokehankist at all during all of Lent, nor for Easter. In general, big feast days = no Hokehankist. I suppose that this recognizes that there is a time for everything, and while we never forget our dead, some days should not be marred by mourning. Seems sensible to me.

The sermon this week was an interesting one. It was all about Jesus as the source of all good things, as exemplified by the first miracle that Jesus carried out. For those of you who aren't familiar with the New Testament (indeed, my own knowledge is somewhat sketchy, as I am able to name 2 of Jesus's miracles, but not the third one), the first miracle was Jesus turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana.

The priest made a really good point. Jesus's first miracle was to promote the individual enjoyment of people, to let them have a good time. This runs contrary to some of the doctrines of more puritanical churches who forbid alcohol, dancing, etc. It shows that God is the source of all good things and shows that He wants us to enjoy ourselves and celebrate. Sounds good to me!

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

On Being A Visitor

While we were away last week, I took the opportunity to visit a local Armenian Church to celebrate the Theophany, and get my yearly rationing of holy water. I was pleasantly surprised at how friendly and welcoming this church was. This is the first time I've been to an Armenian Church where someone actually talked to me first. I admit, I was shocked. Before I even sat down, someone came over to introduce himself and ask me where I was from, etc. Turns out there had been a young adult party at his house the night before, and he also had another person there who was in town for the same conference that brought me to the area.

Since I like to give credit where credit is due, the church I visited was St. James Armenian Church in Evanston, IL. They have a young priest (a "Deacon-in-Charge" actually, which seems to be the step before becoming a Der Hayr? Not sure.), but on Sunday, they had a visiting priest from Detroit conducting Badarak.

In my regular church, the way they get through the service in the fastest way possible is to leave things out. For instance, instead of starting with Khorhoort Khoreen (Profound Mystery), we start with Miadzin Vorti (Only Begotten Son). This visiting priest, who was not very young (to be polite), had been around (in a church way), so his method of keeping the service snappy was to say the whole thing very, very fast. I was following along with the pew book (the brown one!), and it was tough. He was going FAST. Not just normal quick conversational speed, but the speed you hear when someone is saying the fine print at the end of a radio commercial.

Because it was Christmas, church was packed. It wasn't a big church (at least, the sanctuary wasn't big; the building itself seemed like it had lots of room), and you could tell by looking at the outside of the church that it hadn't originally been an Armenian church. If an Armenian church is built to be an Armenian Church, it is built in a very specific style. However, Armenians are a resilient people, so we will happily take a church that used to be Methodist, Baptist, Episcopal, or whatever this denomination used to worship there, and make it our own. On the inside, it looked like the other Armenian churches that I had been to. You have a place to light candles (where in the church this is located seems to vary from church to church), a raised platform where the faithful go up and receive communion and where the priest gives his sermon (this is one step up higher from where the congregation sits), and then you have the altar, which is raised up much higher than the congregation. You have to climb several steps to get up there, usually 3-5. You have the curtain that gets closed during part of Badarak (or the whole Badarak, as happens during Lent), the marble-looking altar thing (surely it can't really be marble, can it?), the gold crosses, the picture of Jesus and Mary (this church had a very European, Vermeerish looking picture instead of a more traditional Eastern-style, 2-dimensional iconograph).

When Badarak started, I was the only person in the congregation. No real surprise, since Armenians always run late. The church gradually filled up, and I ended up sharing my pew book with a Northwestern Ph.D. student originally from Glendale. I could tell from the way she was sneaking looks at my pew book that she needed one too, so I asked her if she wanted to share. Even though I have been attending church regularly for over a year now, I still need the book to know where we are, what is happening.

On the train from downtown, I was cramming like crazy to learn the two lines I needed to learn. First was the Christmas exchange. It goes like this:

Armenian #1: Krisdos dznav yev haydnetsav! (Christ is born and revealed among us!)
Armenian #2: Orhnyal eh haydnotyoonun Krisdosee! (Blessed is the revelation of Christ!)

I figured that I didn't really need to wish anyone Merry Christmas, so all I had to learn was the response, which was the same as the other exchange I was trying to learn last minute, the exchange for the Kiss of Peace. Protestant/Catholic churches also do some kind of passing/exchanging peace, usually consisting of shaking the hands of your neighbors seated around you and saying "Peace be with you." In the Episcopal churches that I have attended, Exchanging the Peace practically turns into coffee hour, with everyone going all over the church to say hi to their friends, talking to random strangers, and it tends to go on for 5 minutes or so, until the priest reins them all in.

In the Armenian Church, despite our deserved reputation for being loud, noisy, and social, we are very regimented when it comes to the Kiss of Peace. The deacon-in-charge (not always the priest) usually goes down, and starts the chain by "kissing" two of the other deacons, who then go out and distribute the "kiss" in the manner of playing Telephone down each row.

Let me clarify. There is no actual kissing involved. It's basically the miming of a European-style, double-kiss greeting on both cheeks, but instead of kissing, the person doing the kissing whispers Krisdos ee mech mer haydnetsav (Christ is revealed among us).

Then, the person receiving the kiss whispers back the same line you reply with for Christmas: Orhnyal eh haydnootyoonun Krisdosee. After you receive the kiss, you turn to your neighbor, move your face from one of their cheeks to the other, whispering Krisdos ee mech mer haydnetsav, and they reply back Orhnyal eh haydnootyoonun Krisdosee, and repeat.

The reason why I don't know these two lines is because a) Christmas only comes once a year, so it's not like I get to practice and b) with the Kiss of Peace, being in the Choir gets me out of participating, so I never had to learn. (It is kind of a relief- one fewer thing that I have to screw up on a regular basis). On the one hour train ride from downtown Chicago to Evanston, I kept repeating (sometimes out loud, but quietly) "Orhnyal eh haydnootyuonun Krisdosee! HaydnooTYUNun. HaydnooTYUNun. HaydnooTYUNun." And then I get to church, and I STILL screw it up. No one seemed to mind, though, and when the "kisser" got to me, he said it in English to make sure I understood.

Afterwards, I went up to the Deacon-in-charge and told him that he had a very friendly church, and I was very impressed. He asked my name, and I told him, and then he asked my last name. I repeated my very, very WASPY, not Armenian at all, last name (both married and maiden name are this way), and added "I am only half Armenian." He told me that did not matter at all, and not to even mention it, I was still Armenian, etc. My sister, in all of her experiences with the youth programs with the Eastern Diocese, has said that this attitude of "We're all Armenians!" is not universal, so I admit that I kind of expect it wherever I go. I'm only half, I don't speak much Armenian, etc. I told him "Keech me ge khosim." (I speak a little), and hey, he was happy.

My husband and I are just starting the process of finding out where we will be living starting next year. I am pleased to realize that everywhere he is interviewing is no more than about an hour away from an Armenian Church, and most are much closer than that.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Today is Christmas in the Armenian Church. The New York Times had a nice article today explaining why we do things the way we do. Basically, we were the only church not threatened by pagans, so we kept the celebration of Christ's birth and baptism together, while all other churches split them up.

In the words of my priest, when people ask, "Why do you celebrate Christmas on January 6th?" the correct answer is "Why DON'T you?" :) That is a little antagonistic, I admit, and I wouldn't really recommend it.

New York Times Article on Armenian Christmas

One of the interesting things that this article points out is the benefit of having the celebration of Christmas be on a different day than Dec. 25th. Having Christmas on Jan. 6th means that most of the commercial, end-of-year retail push, etc. is over, and you can truly concentrate on Christ's birth.

What is kind of ironic about this POV is that really, Christmas isn't a big deal in the Armenian Church. I mean, it's a feast day, we're happy, we celebrate, we bless water, but Christmas is NOTHING compared to Easter, at least from a religious standpoint.

Christmas is a big deal in the US, and most of the Western World, though, so the Armenians I know still make a big deal out of it, even though traditionally, back in the "old country," it wasn't. However, these Armenians ALSO make a big deal about Easter, much bigger than most people in the US. Let's face it- Lent is all about self-denial, which will never be popular with companies, and Easter isn't as big of a deal when it doesn't come at the end of this period of self-sacrifice. If you make an effort to observe Lent, however you do it, whether it's going vegan the whole time like you are "supposed" to, or going vegan two days a week (I did this last year), or giving up something in particular like many Catholics do, you are going to be relieved when Easter rolls around!

I couldn't get to service today, but I am going to go tomorrow. We are still out of town- we have been out of town for almost 3 weeks now, so I haven't been able to go to church. There is one that is about an hour away by public transportation, and since they will be blessing the water, I am going to go. It will be interesting trying a new church for the first time in a year.