By Archbishop Mesrob
very first spiritual expression of the 17th Centenary of Cristian Armenia
is the rebirth of the concept of pilgrimage. The Armenians are an ancient
people - a nation of pilgrims, with many holy sites, a great many of which
are in ruins today. However, the pilgrim spirit still simmers in our soul.
Bequeathed to us are many pilgrim songs and our Armenian lexicology is
rich with words related to pilgrims and pilgrimages.
word pilgrim is in the root of the Armenian being. During this 1700th commemoration,
our ambitious schedule of pilgrimages started in August, 1997, on the Feast
of St. Asdvadzadzin, and continues throughout 2001 and beyond. Armenians
will go from their holy sites in the diaspora to the Fatherland. From Souchava
Monastery to the Crimea, to the Holy Land of Christ and the exiled Holy
See of Sis, to Kandzasar, and the barren deserts of Dehr Zor, all the way
to Khor Virab and Holy Etchmiadzin.
This is the Armenian's journey.
But who is a pilgrim? What is
a pilgrimage, and where are the holy places?
pilgrim is a journey undertaken, from religious motivation to a sacred
place. It is a pact, an oath, a pledge, surrender, suffering, and the happiness
People are the pilgrims and pilgrimages
provide people the ability to freely move about and advance. Going on a
pilgrimage, resulting in self-graciousness and self-understanding is the
right of all people.
man walked primarily towards the securing of food. Today, also, humankind
is on a quest, often without thought, walking towards the workplace in
pursuit of worldly pleasures. Sometimes we walk withou direction; sometimes
we walk to break the monotony of daily life. We seek other people, other
worlds. All of this is a journey. However, when this journey is taken in
order to improve oneself, when there is a quest of things spiritual, then
the journey becomes a pilgrimage. As pilgrims our steps are no longer a
simple journey, but rather an oath. Pilgrims go from place to place in
order to reach a more desirable place, and when an inner journey joins
with a physical journey, the journey becomes spiritual.
The pilgrim Christian is that person
who knows that his condition in this world is not summed up, but rather
life on earth is a journey through the church towards heavenly Jerusalem.
The Christian is a foreigner in this
world no matter where he or she resides - a foreigner or a fallen angel
who dreams of heaven.
The journey of pilgrims has three
became the first pilgrim after his expulsion from paradise. Later came
Abraham who in obeying God went towards a new land, an unfamiliar place.
The Hebrews were pilgrims - fleeing Egyptian captivity towards freedom.
The oil-bearing women were pilgrims when they went to the grave in order
to annoint the body of Christ. Pilgrimage sires were in Jerusalem, Nazareth,
Bethlehem, the Jordan River, where the first Christians hastened from the
Old World, France, Spain, and Armenia. They too were pilgrims who visited
the cemeteries of the saints and martyrs and later built chapels.
First, the holiness of our destination.
We are going towards a place that is a holy place.
Second, we must journey towards that
holy place. Pilgrimage signifies movement.
Third, our goal must be to secure spiritual
gains by living in a spiritual manner.
Armenians are an ancient people; they too have their holy sites, traditions,
songs, and poems. They have made discoveries of relics of saints, have
inspiring springs, and holy fountains, and the summit of their mountains.
St. Illuminator himself, returning from Caesera brought the remains of
St. John the Baptist and St. Athanasius, setting the foundation for a great
many monasteries: St. Garabed of Mush, St. Tadeh, Maratouk, St. Nishan
of Varak, Etchmiadzin, Havoutz Tar. The Armenians also went on pilgrimages
to Jerusalem leaving an indelible imprint, the expression of supreme faith
During the 7th century there were
70 Armenian monasteries in the Holy Land. Armenian and foreign historians
relate that in the 5th century there were many Armenian pilgrims. St. Cyril
relates seeing 400 Armenians on the road to Jerusalem and the ancient historian
Yeghishe writes of 800 Armenian pilgrims who ascended Mt. Sinai. In the
same century, on their way home many Armenian pilgrims stopped at St. Simeon
the Stylite Monastery. Many who went to the Holy Land chose to remain there
in Jerusalem, the deserts of Jordan, or the mountain of Sinai.
Pilgramages to Jerusalem continued
for centuries and now we see the enviable position of the Armenian Patriarchate
of Jerusalem, who along with Greeks and Latins, is the protector of the
Holy Land. The Armenian Patriarchate has for centuries kept alive the concept
of pilgrimages, assisting those coming from Cilicia and Armenia, many of
whom rested in popular hotels along the way and whose memory remains in
Aleppo, Latakia, Beirut, Damascus, and Jobbe. The picture of Armenian pilgrims
being greeted royally and escorted to the church, where the chasuble cloak
is draped over the shoulders of the husband and the cover of the Chalice
placed upon the head of the wife. The dust of the Holy Land on their feet
is kissed, and they are honoured with a special name: Mahdesi (Hadji).
"Ah, for those days!" Hamasdegh would
someday write. Now as we prepare to again witness the journey of the Armenian
pilgrim, the memory of Hovhannes Toumanian joins us in song:
Go in peace, dear Pilgrim.
Blessings to you, Armenian Pilgrim.