Friday, April 01, 2011

Armenian Embroidery

The New York Times just published an article about the Patriarchate in Istanbul's collection of gorgeous liturgical textiles embroidered by Armenian women. Be sure to look at the multimedia slideshow! Having seen my grandmother's intricate needlelace work (which I used as part of my flowergirl's pillow at my wedding), I am not surprised at the intricate detail and beauty of their work.

A Culture's History Written in Thread

NB: since this is a link from an outside site, it is worth noting that this article is not included in the paywall recently instituted by the New York Times. So don't worry about using up your free allotment on this!

Sunday, January 02, 2011

The Calling

Occasionally, I complete surveys as part of the PBS Viewer Advisory Panel. About a year or so ago, maybe a year and a half, one of the programs that came up on a survey was something called "The Calling", which is a documentary about people preparing to become religious leaders in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. I have been watching for this program since then, and it finally aired in December on most PBS stations across the country as part of the program Independent Lens.

The idea of being called to be a spiritual leader is one that is fascinating to me. One thing that was really striking in this program was the extent to which spiritual leaders are often asked or need to put their personal lives and families on the backburner. The ones who were struggling the most were the ones who couldn't do this. One, the son of a chief in American Samoa, ended up leaving the ministry altogether. Another, a single mother who was ordained in the A.M.E. church, chafed at the requirements placed upon her in her first position as an associate pastor and ended up as an associate pastor at another A.M.E. church, a position she still holds, according to the website of the documentary.

Others made the decision to sacrifice their family life to pursue their religious life. Aside from the Catholic priest, who was the only one on the program required to give up the possibility of having a family, there was the Islamic chaplain who ended up pouring so much into his work and community that he ended up divorced (although he is now remarried). And then there was the Modern Orthodox rabbi who did not feel he could commit to a wife because he spent so much time traveling for social activism, despite the fact that in the Jewish community, rabbis are expected to be married and have a family, and he knew that not having one would hurt him if he wanted a position with a synagogue.

For the first time, I felt I saw the wisdom in a religious organization prohibiting marriage. This is an issue that has two sides, for sure, and I definitely think that having a family gives religious leaders important insight into the lives of their flocks. Religious groups that require celibacy have important responsibilities to include lay leadership etc. in decisions and to provide guidance. There was an article in the New York Times recently about how evangelical Christian churches often go the other way- they actively seek out ministers who are married and have families, and do not want to hire single applicants.

But it makes me think that the Armenian Church (and other Orthodox churches that have similar provisions for married and celibate priests) might get it right.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Choir Information

Somehow I got on the e-newsletter for the Eastern Diocese. This newsletter goes out weekly, and the latest edition announced that the Eastern Diocese's website has all the weekly sharagans (hymns) and other things that change weekly. This is called Giratsooyts.

Not all churches follow these (although all the ones I have gone to in the Eastern Diocese do); my old church sang the same Der Takavoryatz every week. But for those of you who do go to a church that follows these, it can be really helpful to know what you're singing before you walk into church on Sunday morning.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Faith, Hope, Love, and Baptism

This summer we had our baby baptized! Baptism is a big day in the Armenian Church. It is the day that you become a full member of the church. Before I really learned anything at all about the Armenian Church, I knew that I had been baptized, but didn't understand it when my mom told my sister that she couldn't go through the confirmation class/process at the Methodist church my sister and I attended regularly at the time because she had already been confirmed when she was baptized.

Already confirmed? What? To me, confirmation was something that you do in the 3rd or 4th grade, as many of my friends who attended Episcopal or Catholic (or in this case, Methodist) churches did. Confirmation was separate from baptism, something that was set aside for people who were old enough to make the decision to join the church. And those churches who didn't do confirmation didn't have infant baptism anyway, and you only got baptized when you made the decision to get baptized (as my dad did when he was an adult in a Baptist church), so you didn't need a separate confirmation. How could the Armenian Church do it to babies?

When I did more research, I realized that confirmation (called "chrismation" in the Armenian Church) is a separate sacrament, but done at the same time. Chrismation is when the priest marks you with Holy Muron and you are officially a member of the Armenian Church. You also have your first communion when you are baptized (again, a separate sacrament, but done at the same time). This three-in-one ceremony ended up being very very convenient for me, as the last time I attended Badarak before the time I went when I was 22 was when I was in the third grade. Although I didn't know a thing when I started going to Armenian Church, I was already a full-fledged member!

I came to the conclusion that this lack of a separate confirmation ceremony was probably born out of necessity. Or if not as a direct consequence, it sure helped the Armenians maintain their identity through thousands of years. When you are constantly persecuted or under attack, as Armenians have often been in their history, anything that makes membership in a group or organization easier is going to help that organization or community survive. Maybe you didn't have a church near you. Maybe you were forbidden to go, or the church was outlawed. Maybe you had been displaced from your home. All these situations are ones that Armenians have faced in the last century, but they are nothing new.

Just think, though- if you could manage to get to a church, or have a priest secretly visit you, you were home free! And even if you could not get to a church for many years (if ever, if your situation was really bad), you were still a part of something bigger than yourself, part of a greater communion of Armenians.

And this is why I am grateful that I was able to have my daughter baptized into the Armenian Church, but perhaps even more grateful that my 17 month old niece, who lives in the city where I grew up (where there is no Armenian Church parish), was also able to be baptized at the same time. She is, like her mother before her, her grandmother before her, her great-grandmother before her, and back for countless generations, a member of the Armenian Church for life, no matter where she goes or what she does.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010


I posted about this a while ago, but the Eastern Diocese's theme for the year is still "Vocations: A Call To Serve." The Eastern Diocese is now on Facebook, and they have posted two videos on this theme. Here is the second one.

While I still maintain that there needs to be a focus on getting young people of both genders involved in church life and especially worship, Der Mardiros Chevian brings up an excellent point- the necessity of the Armenian Church in America cultivating American-born priests.

This is in no way intended to knock priests who com from outside the US, because I have interacted with a number of truly excellent ones who have shown me terrific kindness and whom I love dearly. That said, speaking as someone who grew up in an area where there was no Armenian Church, I have found that the American-born priests that I have encountered have had a special understanding of some of the challenges that people who did not grow up in a big Armenian community face when trying to get involved with the Armenian Church as an adult.

With the Armenian Church growing and establishing parishes in places like Orlando, FL, I am sure that more Armenians like me will come into contact with a living, breathing church and have similar experiences, so having more American-born priests will help the church with growth in more ways than one.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Armenian Christmas Pageant in Boston Globe

A reporter from the Boston Globe visited Holy Trinity Armenian Church in Cambridge, MA this weekend to cover the Sunday School Christmas pageant, which had been snowed out not once, but TWICE. For people who love Christmas (like me), Armenian Christmas is extra fun, because it extends the holiday season.

Boston Globe article on Holy Trinity's Christmas program

Someone asked me recently if Armenians celebrate Christmas differently, apart from having it on a different day. My reply was, "Well, most people in the US do the big dinner and presents on December 25th; Armenian Christmas mostly entails going to church."

This answer, while perhaps truthful for me and other Armenians, is not exactly accurate, as Der Vasken reminded us, for Armenians, Christmas is not just about the birth of Christ, it is about the revelation of Christ to the world. Non-orthodox churches celebrate Epiphany, which is traditionally celebrated as the day that the 3 wise men arrived and saw the infant Jesus for the first time. Orthodox churches celebrate Theophany, which celebrates Christ's baptism as the big revelation of the savior to the world, when God himself spoke to the people proclaiming Jesus as his own son and the messiah. This is why, in the Armenian church, we have the water blessing at Christmas, and why we greet each other by saying "Christos dznav yev haydnetsav" - literally "Christ is born and revealed." Good news is best shared, and that is what Armenian Christmas is about- the arrival and sharing of the good news of Jesus.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Diaspora Disconnection?

This weekend, I went to a different church than I normally go to, and the Archbishop was there to give out proclamations for 2 priests who had been ordained 50 years ago.

It is no secret that I live in a city with a big Armenian population, a city that is not an onerous distance from New York City. So it is probably pretty easy and compelling for the archbishop to make a trip here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of two Der Hayrs. Especially during a year when the diocese is trying to focus on getting more young men to become priests!

But it contrasted with how disconnected I think Armenians who live outside major population centers of the diaspora must be. If you will remember, faithful readers, I grew up in a place with very few Armenians. My sister tried to get the mission priest to come to my hometown to baptize my niece. It didn't work out, and my family is really angry about how the whole thing was handled. Which is to say, it was handled very, very poorly and in a way that really left a bad taste in all our mouths. If I didn't live in a place where my family could come visit and get my niece baptized relatively easily (and also in a place where we can hopefully involve the former mission priest, whom my family likes very much and who would not have given us this hassle), probably my niece would not be baptized into the Armenian Church at all.

I don't have any special attachment to the hierarchy of the church, but I really appreciate the effort that the Catholicos made to visit some of the mission and smaller parishes (like Baton Rouge, LA, where I also have family) in the Eastern Diocese, rather than only focusing on the big cities (which he did hit as well, of course). These are parishes that may never see an archbishop, or maybe see one every few years, while I have seen the archbishop at services at least 2-3 times in the last year alone.

In a way, being somewhat disconnected can be healthy. One of the major plusses, from my perspective, is that you end up with a view of Armenians as one people, rather than having this idea of Armenians from Armenia pitted against Armenians from the diaspora, or even, as I have heard lately, diaspora Armenians from one city pitted against diaspora Armenians from another city. In more distant communities, it matters less if you are Beirutsi, Barsgahye, Hayastansi (I really only learned what these meant after moving here, where people actually care). The only thing that matters is whether you are Armenian.

Eastern Diocese You Tube Channel

Did you know that the Eastern Diocese has a You Tube Channel? Neither did I. But they do.