Altar or Alter

Garen Yegparian
Garen Yegparian

Garen Yegparian


“Lav, pav, tzav” (OK, enough, pain) is our saying, perhaps somehow equivalent to “jamais deux sans trois” (there’s no two without three) in French.  I like ours better, since the third opens the door to action, in this case an article.

The issue is wedding locations, the actual ritual, not the reception and festivities that follow. It turns out that the Armenian Apostolic Church has rules that require that this rite can only be performed in a church, at an altar.

I assume this is because of some “blessedness” associated with such sites.

It’s now way past time to alter this rule.

A quarter century ago, a very close friend ended up choosing to have a Protestant Armenian minister marry him and his wife because the Armenian Apostolic Church refused to perform the ceremony at their chosen location.

Last week I encountered an article in which Catholicos Karekin II was being severely criticized for authorizing an out-of-church wedding because the person getting married was rich/connected and the author implied unsavory circumstances leading to this authorization.

Just this weekend, I learned of another couple who were denied being wedded by Armenian Apostolic Church because of the location they wanted the ceremony performed.  The response was a shrug and the observation that the church would thus be denied a fee.

Whatever the mumbo-jumbo “reasons” are for this policy, they are less important than the fact that people are being driven away from an Armenian institution in the Diaspora.  There has to be a better solution.

If sanctification of some sort is necessary for a “proper” wedding, then why not sprinkle holy water, burn incense, and chant to the priests’ hearts’ content until any given site is sufficiently “holy” and “blessed” to satisfy their mythological masters?  Hell, we’re talking about the institution that found a way to reinterpret, coopt, and subsume all kinds of pre-Christian religious rituals into its then-new-order – think fire at Diyaruntarach (Presentation of the Lord), water at Vartavar (pagan holiday)/Transfiguration, a pagan goddess’ name, Zadeeg, for the Resurrection, i.e. Easter, grapes for the Assumption of St. Mary, and on and on.  Now, all that is deemed sacrosanct, integral, and immutable, but the location of an altar may not be altered?

Spare me, please, any arguments about tradition, propriety, and Christianity.  This has nothing to do with anything except an implacable resistance to improvement, based on nothing other than human frailty manifested, in this case, as fear of change.

It’s time we all told the church to get with it or lose our (admittedly grudging) support.  Tell all the priests, monks, and bishops you know to put their heads together and come up with a solution, lest they find themselves jobless and bereft of the institution they profess to serve because that institution chose, though their inaction, to be blind to change.


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  1. Lorenz yacoubian said:

    A literal translation of “Jamais deux sans trois” would be “Never two without a third”.
    Figuratively speaking, it means “Things happen in threes”.

  2. Original Armenian said:

    The author is a flaming liberal looking for an opportunity to denigrate anything from the past. It does not matter if the ritual is mythological or not, what matters is its customs and traditions related to and intertwined in Armenian history and culture. Armenians, whether those still residing in Armenia or those who have emigrated, all seem unable to shake off their communist indoctrinated attitudes. Once you allow foreign ideas to creep into your system, you will have lost your core identity forever.

    So for those who complain and find fault with the national church, let them go anywhere they desire to tie their Gordian knot. In today’s world, that knot is not as tight as it once was. 2000 years of church tradition and history can not flip on the whims of the clueless and uniformed.

  3. Manuel Hamalian said:

    The title of Garen’s article reminds me of the title of Anny Bakalian’s “Armenian-Americans: From Being to Feeling Armenian” book. To appreciate the relevance of Garen’s article, any Armenian of Apostolic denomination, especially those planning to get married one day in the USA, need to visit an Armenian Church or Google the requirements for an Armenian Apostolic wedding. My Google search brought up the below link to the St Gregory Illuminator Church’s very informative website.

    In the United States of America what is the probability of two young Armenians falling in love and deciding to get married? How about two Armenians, both Apostolic and of the same church (Diocese or Prelacy)? I leave it to your creativities to come up with other scenarios On the other hand it is very possible that both have a non-Armenian best friend from college who they want to be their best man. How about a Jewish best friend. According to the Armenian Apostolic Church, they CANNOT have a Jewish best man. If the desired best man is Armenian but not Apostolic, he first needs to be confirmed.
    Those requirements were “good” when Armenians were living in small, ethnically segregated communities, where the government/ civic law supported the church, and a church marriage certificate was a requirement for the civic registration of a marriage. That is not the case in the USA or the rest of the “civilized world”. What if non USA citizen/resident Armenian couple wants to get married in an Armenian Church in the USA? The Armenian Church cannot perform the wedding ceremony?
    Many Armenian institutions, not only the church, to be effective in the lives of our new generation, will have to adopt and revise the “ceremonial” parts of their “laws” to the reality of life in their new localities and try to preserve the essentials. As American Armenians or Armenian Americans, we need to choose between “Being or Feeling Armenian”.

  4. jda said:

    This opinion piece tells us something we already know: the Apostolic Church requires things which are inconvenient from the perspective of the consumer. We might add that it is extremely inconvenient that Badarak is held during a time of day likely to conflict with soccer practice, NFL games, and shopping at the best outlet stores. Indeed, having to come and hang out in a Church building is a waste of time. Why can’t we go to church online, like the University of Phoenix?

    The columnist misses the point, and does so badly. First, he supposes that an Armenian wedding must take place in an Armenian Church sanctuary. I went onto the website of St James, where it was disclosed that this is not so, if there is genuine need to have the service in a church member’s home.

    Second, journalists are supposed to get both sides of the story – a theologian, Priest or Vartabed etc. is the person who can explain why we want our weddings in our Churches. I know I did. From my lay perspective, marriage is a sacrament, the outward sign of a grace from God. Like baptism and communion, it should be performed in a joyous and solemn way, in which God’s gift is fully acknowledged in a sanctified space. It is a lot harder to do that in a restaurant, on a hillside, or in my favorite bowling alley.

    If someone’s idea of marriage is that it is not a sacrament, and is merely important to those involved, the rules of the Church are inconvenient. After all, wedding planners, florists, caterers, and video-graphers are more flexible, why can’t the wedding venue? If this is your perspective, maybe you should consider why you want a Church wedding in the first place.

    The author says that it is time to alter the rule that weddings must be performed in a Church sanctuary, but he never bothered to find out if this is a rule, why it is a rule, or why it is a historic requirement of our people and Church. Why should we listen until he does his homework and confronts centuries of tradition and learning?

  5. Gaidzag Shahbazian said:

    I consider history defines part of my identity. Our traditions are part of our history, then I will try to keep my traditions as long as I consider myself Armenian.

  6. Shahe' Kasparian said:

    The Armenian Apostolic Church having a 1700+ year history, culture, traditions and rituals cannot be changed overnight by the simplistic and superficial views put forward by Garen. The Armenian Apostolic Church has to have a set of rules and guidelines and laws, otherwise it will be subject to ridicule and extinction. These laws have to be obeyed. Someone may not agree with them, that’s fine. But you cannot subject the whole to change at the behest of a few’s whim. The law says that if there is an Armenian church in the area, city or village you are getting married in, you need to be married in the church. If there is no Armenian Church, you can go to a Greek, Ortyhodox or Syriani Church and our priests will perform the ceremony there. In rare cases, where there is no church and depending on the circumstances, the Church may do a wedding ceremony. For example, you cannot say I want the wedding to take place in my villa. The Church cannot create precedence. Next thing you know, someone would want to get married in a night club, or the middle of the ocean! There is sanctity in all of this, something that has been preserved for over 1700 years.

    In response to my friend Manuel’s remarks, referring to the fact that a Muslim or Jew cannot be a best man, here how I interpret it:

    In the Armenian Apostolic Church, when we are born and baptized, the “Gnkahayr” is asked by the priest: “Yerekhan inch guh khntre’? (What does the child seek?)and he replies: “Havadk, Houys, Ser yev Mgrdoutyoun” (Faith, Hope, Love and Baptism). The Gnkahayr is a broker or go between or “michnort” between the baptizee and Jesus, and hence we are “born” into our Faith. The “Gnkahayr” or best man in a wedding ceremony is asked to be a go between the couple and Jesus according to Ephesians 5:22-33. Therefore, if the best man is a Muslim or Jew who does not have our faith in Jesus, cannot be a “michnort”, hence the law.

  7. Dinasourian said:

    I could never marry anybody if I ever became a priest , I would feel like I have destructive hands , assimating Armenians in to mixed marriages.