BY GAREN YEGPARIAN
We’re the first Christian nation! (Spoken in an almost "Nyah–nyah–my dad can beat your dad up" tone) Yay! Whoopee! Fireworks exploding! We’re thrilled. Who cares? Why is that relevant today? Is it even beneficial to tout this? This article has no pretense of being coherent from one paragraph to another except in that they all relate to religion.
In the interest of clear communication–a clarification is in order. When using the term "religion," I do not mean "faith." These are two very distinct concepts. The former is the institutionalized version of the latter. Faith is every individual’s matter of conscience–regardless of the particular "brand" (Wicca–Animism–Christianity–Islam–etc.) they choose. It’s when many faithful assemble and institutionalize their faith and despoil it with mundane trappings of earthly–not transcendent considerations–that the trouble begins.
We have religious radicals (or fundamentalists–to use the more polite term–since the former–rising from the Latin for "root," now has a negative connotations) all around us–wherever we are. We’ve got the Christian nutcases in the West and their Moslem counterparts closer to home (OURS–that is–Armenia). The Christian ones know it all; just ask them–they’ll tell you. In fact–through their infinite wisdom–manifested in their missionary activities of the 19th century–we’ve got one more fissure in our community–the Protestants of various stripes that the Armenian Apostolic Church–in its infinite wisdom excommunicated. The Moslem ones recruit maniacs to fight against us in Artsakh. ‘Nuff said–(with apologies to Stan Lee and Marvel Comics).
Then we have our very own Armenian extremists who have a serious misapprehension of the Armenian Apostolic Church’s mission. Anyone who wants to see it as a purely Christian institution–has been sniffing too much incense. This institution has a difficult balance to maintain between its obvious faith-based calling and its national calling. It is equally a national institution. We have vested it with treasures of our culture–architecturally–artistically–intellectually–musically–and even quasi-governmentally. If it is to become exclusively a place to pray–then it will be stripped of our national confidence and treasures. Yet there are many–who at least tacitly–advocate this by excluding the Armenian component of what our church ought to be teaching. At the risk of making enemies–I must observe that this particular affliction seems to be more prevalent in the Diocesan side of the North American administrative schism of the church.
Chilling evidence of this is one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It occurred in February of 1980. from an Armenian perspective–having grown up in the middle of nowhere–I was still quite innocent and relatively new to active Armenian life. I was a sophomore in college and the Philadelphia ANC chair suggested I work through the University of Pennsylvania Armenian Club to get all the Armenian youth groups in Philly to jointly organize April 24th activities that year. They numbered seven–two ACYOA chapters–the AYF–the ASA (not to be confused with the campus-based ASA common to West Coast universities)–the AEYF–the Armenian Catholic church’s youth–and obviously the Penn Armenian club. To render the story short and get to the punchline–we held the first meeting in my dorm room–with four groups represented–the Penn club–ASA–AYF–and one of the ACYOAs–then only a junior chapter. I opened the meeting saying we could direct our efforts either internally–to our community–or externally–towards non-Armenia’s. The ACYOA rep spoke first–and I quote–verbatim "We should do nothing; we should forgive and forget; it’s the Christian thing to do." It subsequently came to my attention that this individual and his peers retained this a-national perspective as some attended the St. Nerses Seminary that prepares clergy. This is nothing but scary! The interesting counterpoint to this is a comment–to be read with a reasonably heavy accent–made some years ago "Vat is dis–Armenian church or are vee goeeng to preach Christianity?" Please note I’ve excluded the names to shield the guilty!
How can we forget our cynical–possibly faithless clergy–making a good buck off weddings–baptisms–funerals–etc.–driving fancy cars–and basically living it up. Another little snippet that’s come to my attention–again–quite politely phrased–is that "the Jerusalem vartabeds’ idea of celibacy is not bringing women into the monastery." What happened to setting an example? Living modestly (forget vows of poverty)? It’s no wonder that miscellaneous sects and denominations can make rapid inroads among Armenia’s who need something to believe in. This is to our detriment as it extracts many of our compatriots from our community life and inserts them into foreign orbits. This is in addition to the historically based existence of Catholic and Protestant Armenia’s beside Apostolics.
Many claim the Apostolic church should conduct the liturgy in English instead of Classical Armenian (Grapar)–so it’s more accessible. While presenting the sermon bilingually–as is already common in many parishes–makes sense–the former proposition does not. It de-Armenianizes the institution–and for what? So some lazy people can get instant gratification? Consider this–amazingly only 200 word roots constitute 80% of the text. Twenty five words make up almost 50% of the whole. The word "yev" (=and) appears 438 times–almost 10% of the total of about 4700 words! Clearly–it wouldn’t take much for the earnest believer to quickly learn what he/she must to participate.
It wouldn’t do not to give at least honorable mention to that old gem "We never would have survived as a nation without the Church/Christianity." However–this one is so loopy as to require a full article of its own.