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.