monk came out of his cell dressed in a long black robe, and stood motionless
on top of the cliff, looking admiringly at the golden sunrise on the craggy
profoundly peaceful silence, the three cupolas of Sourp Garabed Monastery
shone, down below, like three burning candles under the rising sun.
the bells in the marble belfry began to ring for the morning service. The
ground shook from the cavernous depths and the intensity of the rolling
waves and the cliff vibrated like a violin string.
hear the melodious gurgling of the spring at the base of the cliff:
The celestial concert of the birds on the trees and rocks, and the sounds
of the flock of sheep on the mountainside, under the vigilant guide of
shepherds and dogs.
every day and meditated in the dreamland of the Karke-Highland, enjoying
the panoramic beauty of his homeland. He collected mushrooms, khavardzil
(rhubarb), wild pears and apples, and looked for partridge eggs.
he would sit at the entrance of his cave, looking at the starlit sky, listening
to the bubbling of the spring and floating into the ocean of blinking stars
to meet Hasmig, his girl friend, who had died years ago.
now and then a star would blink at him, making him shiver: “Could
it possibly be her?” he would murmur. “Who knows? The Universe is
an inconceivable enigma.”
You! Sun-worshipper Petros, where are you?” came the playful voice
of Garabed Vartabed, the priest. He was clambering up the cliff, with Sempad,
a teenage student at the monastery, in their daily visit to him.
smiled with a warm flush of intimacy, and said: “Look here, Garabed, and
you my little friend Sempad! Look how beautiful the sunrise is!”
arrived at the top of the cliff with a jug full of milk in Sempad’s hand,
and the Bible in Garabed’s, while the morning breeze played gaily with
his short brown beard. He stood there charmed by the beautiful sight
of Moush and the Sassoun mountains, straining his eyes to see Mount Ararat
more clearly, in the hazy distance.
valleys and thickets are still covered with the morning mist,” said Petros.
“The panorama is so beautiful!”
sustenance of the Monastery through seventeen centuries is more beautiful!”
exclaimed Garabed Vartabed. “Seventeen centuries is a long time! Yes, it
was seventeen hundred years ago when our ancestors built this Monastery
upon the ruins of pagan temples. Since that time, thousands of students
had received their religious education there, protected from the Persian,
Mongolian and Turkish invasions within its impermeable walls.”
amazing! It comprises thousands of acres of highlands and forest with flocks
of sheep and the shepherds to take care of them.”
Monastery, at this time, live thirty-five pupils, nine vartabeds (priests)
and some kitchen workers.
don’t you leave the Monastery and come to live here?” exclaimed Petros
to Garabed Vartabed. “to live in one of these caves and enjoy every
moment of your life?”
I am satisfied with the kind of life I live.”
kind of satisfaction can you get out of your tearful prayers and the unfruitful
biblical readings in your musty cell, while the sun shines outside; mountains
stand firm against the blue sky; the flowers incense the air with their
intoxicating fragrance, and the birds, in the forest, burst out in a symphonic
concert. What kind of satisfaction can you call that?”
satisfaction.” answered Garabed Vartabed.
do you mean by spiritual satisfaction?” asked Sempad.
the soothing sensations one can get out of praying to God.”
is nothing but genuflecting and begging.” said Sempad.
wrong with that?” asked Garabed Vartabed.
against our dignity, against our will and against our individuality.”
to the soothing sensations you were speaking of, can’t you get more inspiring
and more invigorating sensations by simply contemplating this cliff...wrinkled
and cracked in the eternal struggle with the elements of Nature.
It seems as if a miraculous hand had planted it there as a monument to
the epic history of our people.”
just a poetic line you’re reciting,” said Garabed Vartabed, calmly.
else can you think of, when you are looking at its majestic posture and
its lightning scarred body. Can you help thinking that the melodious sounds
of the spring down below, day and night, is an immortal poem itself which
flows out of the depths of our soil to give color and beauty to our culture?”
poetry, and beautiful too,” said Garabed smiling.
is poetry, Garabed!! Creation itself is poetry. God is always in
the process of creating and revising His work to suit His ever-changing
taste and ideal and mood.”
writes lyric upon the flowering fields of roses and lilacs, with beautiful
nudes dancing all around to the tunes of Heavenly music. They dance
supple and dreamlike, and dissolve into the
blue space. He, then, writes epic poetry in the
sky with black clouds gathering menacingly with diabolically laughing flashes
of lightning and with thunder shaking the foundations of Heaven.
He relaxes for a moment. He, then, begins to write philosophical meditations
on the pages of the starlit night. He takes certain planets, grinds
them into His crucible in order to create new elements and new forms of
and philosophy blend together,” said Garabed Vartabed. “Can’t you ever
see things the way they really are and the way they really look?
A cliff is just a cliff, standing solidly on the ground, not a monument.
The gurgling of the spring is just the sound of the water caused by the
pressure when it comes out of the crevice in the rock. As to the Creation,
we can read it all in Genesis, and that’s all there is to it, for ever
ever and ever? How wrong you are, Garabed! Creation has been going
on ever since the beginning of Time. A vortex of forces has been constantly
raging like an infuriated ocean and new things have been spit out of that
the greatest architect and poet, constantly creates and constantly changes
listened intently to this effusion and said tenderly: “You must come down
from the clouds, Petros, and feel the good old earth beneath your feet.”
the question is, who is really the one who is swimming in the clouds, with
eyes blurred by biblical readings?” said Petros.
with Petros’ ideas.” said Sempad. “They have a different spirit, different
blood and are very invigorating.”
glad you like my way of thinking.” said Petros, with a smile.
bells from the marble belfry were ringing. Their reverberations shook
the ground. Garabed Vartabed was plunged into deep thought. The more
he thought the more confused he became...Was Petros’ mind bewildered?...
He had a genuine feeling of compassion for him. Petros believed in God
all right, but his God was different from the one in which he believed.
Then, murmuring inaudibly: “Who knows who is right?”
time for the morning service. I know you’re not coming, but I must go.
May God bless you.”
I stay with Petros for a while?” asked Sempad.
you may. After all you’re the son of his best friend Fedayi Der Kerope.”
followed him out watching him descend the escarpment. On his way down,
Garabed Vartabed was meditating:
since she died he became like this...he has been blaming God for the death
of his girl friend...he has conceived the ridiculous
idea that God actually kills His creatures in order to create better
ones...and He does all that to satisfy His caprice...this trend of thought
slowly drew him away from his former belief until he finally resigned his
clerical rank and came to live here in this cave.
Vartabed went down, Petros returned to his cell and stretched out
on his cot thinking out loud:
undermines the individuality of man...Creation requires highest intelligence,
effort and constancy...it requires vision, artistic genius and self-criticism...God
is neither compassionate nor cruel...He is apathetic to what’s going on
in the world or anywhere else...”
much enjoy listening to your views.” said Sempad. “They’re entirely different
from what we read in our books.”
a moment Petros quit philosophizing and delved into his memories: “In our
younger days, Garabed and I had worked for the Monastery as shepherds,
taking care of thousands of sheep with a pack of dogs guarding against
wolves and thieves. The surrounding mountains and highlands were our cherished
homeland. During summer nights we would sit on the rocky mountainside.
I would play my flute while the sheep and the dogs flocked around to listen
to my enchanting melodies and fall asleep.”
keep playing my flute under the starlit sky, thinking about Hasmig and
of our future. In these moments I would feel as if the earth trembled under
my feet and the trees and rocks danced around us. The stars blinked
at us amorously, and my soul would float on the undulating waves of my
melodies and dissolve into the jewel-studded night. I would roam over the
mountains and highlands, breathe their cool and fresh air, absorb their
heavenly beauty and exclaim: This is my church! All these mountains that
support the sky from falling to pieces are its pillars with the blue overhead,
its ceiling. The moon was just a disc of flames hung from the vault of
space and the stars were candles blinking in darkness.
a man or a woman?” a shepherd once asked me.
is a Woman, of course,” I answered.
makes you think He is a Woman...?”
gave birth to the Universe.”
He is the Mother then who is the Father?”
know!!” I said, laughing, and they all burst out laughing with me.
can tell what God is?” asked another shepherd.
is a never satisfied poet,” answered Petros. “He writes and revises.
He creates and destroys and creates again. My girl friend Hasmig was one
of His poems. Fine and beautiful, but He wasn’t satisfied with His
work so He killed her while she was imploring him not to. She wanted
to stay alive and enjoy her life with me. He didn’t like that creation
of His, so He destroyed her.”
talk like that, Petros!” Sempad admonished him, in a friendly way. “Don’t
you think that our Heavenly Father has only love and compassion for His
children, and whatever He creates is perfect?”
why is it He always keeps destroying His masterpieces...?”