BY ADRIENNE AVANESIANS
Being 22 years old, most people are shocked to hear that I have never been baptized. The usual gasps followed by “Really?…Why?” Unfortunately, due to some unpredictable circumstances my parents were never able to baptize me. Once my ticket to Armenia was booked and my plans with Youth Corps finalized, my mom brought up the idea of me getting baptized in Armenia. After taking some time to consider her proposal, I made the decision that while in Armenia I would like to get baptized.
On the way to Gyumri, I began telling my group the story of my wish to be baptized in Armenia. My group was very encouraging and our leader Vache, assured me it would happen. Now I knew the idea was feasible, but I knew I would need help in figuring out details.
Unger Kevork, our ARF representative was more than happy to assist with anything our Youth Corp group (Team Gazelle) required. He took the time to get to know all of us individually and genuinely cared about our group. He helped us both during and after jambar, showing us Gyumri and making us feel at home. Once word reached Unger Kevork of my desire to be baptized, the planning began.
Unger Kevork along with Vache and the men of Team Gazelle began brainstorming ideas of the baptism date, location and celebration. In my mind I was imagining a baptism with my group in attendance and a simple lunch afterwards. Unger Kevork had a different vision. They planned to have the ceremony at the local church in Gyumri, 7 Verk. However, before the church ceremony a madagh (traditional sacrifice of a lamb) would take place.
Quickly plan went into action. Unger Kevork and Unger Vahe (a member of Team Gazelle) made an appointment at the church for Saturday July 23 at 11:00 am. They bought all the traditional baptism necessities; candles, a towel, and a cross pendant with 8 strings. On the Friday evening before the baptism, Unger Kevork and the men in my group went to a nearby ranch to purchase a gar (lamb). I had never witnessed a madagh and was very nervous to see a lamb be sacrificed in front of my very eyes.
Early Saturday morning Unger Kevork arrived at our house with his madagh tools and his usual caring smile. The men gathered in the backyard and began preparations for the madagh as the girls and I watched from closeby. During the madagh Unger Kevork drew a cross with the lambs blood on all of our foreheads. Before I knew it the lamb was ready to be cooked for the celebration. The ladies went inside the house to begin getting ready for church as the men finished up outside.The lamb was placed to cook on an open fire and we headed off to church.
Walking to church I remember my group members asking me if I was nervous. Surprisingly, I wasn’t. Earlier in the week I had decided to ask Unger Kevork to be my Godfather and he happily agreed, explaining that he had been a kavor at dozens of weddings but never at a baptism. The ceremony was very beautiful and meaningful and before I knew it I was walking out of the church with a new soorp name, Hrispsime.
A wave of emotions came over me. I was excited to finally be baptized, but sad that my family was not there to celebrate this day with me. Then, as everyone began smothering me in hugs, kisses, and congratulations I realized my family was in fact there with me. These 13 strangers with whom I had spent the past 3 weeks with, were now not only a huge part of my life but also felt like my extended family. When we reached our home, Vache recieved a phone call from the other group leader informing us that they would be in Gyumri shortly. The other group came just in time for lunch and all 26 of us sat down on one, long, beautifully set table to celebrate our bonds of friendship, our hard work, and my baptism. I was honored that after a grueling 12 hour car ride from Artsakh to Gyumri, the other group members were still eager to congratulate me. As we all settled down around the table, Patil and Arpa began filling our plates with the lamb that had been slowly cooking over a fire since morning. A beautiful aroma filled the room as everyone began to feast.
I had never put much thought into what getting baptized would be like, but a celebration like this was definitely not what I expected. I am very grateful to my caring Youth Corps group members and of course Unger Kevork who all went out of their way to make my baptism memorable. Before the night was over, in between the dozens of thank yous, I approached Unger Kevork and revealed to him that this baptism was more special than anything I had imagined. He told me he was honored to be my kavor and that I now had two homes; one in Gyumri and one in Los Angeles. Feeling humbled by his generosity, my conversation with him ended my day perfectly. July 23, 2011 is the day I had the privilege of being baptized in my homeland of Armenia and a day I will surely never forget!