Notes From Hairenik
March 16, 2010

Last Sunday Anushik and I decided to attend mass at Khor Virab, which is located in Armenia's Ararat region about 20 miles from Yerevan. Unfortunately, by the time we got there just after 1:00 pm it was already over.

Seems I haven't written about Khor Virab before on this blog. Khor Virab is where St. Gregory the Illuminator was tortured and imprisoned in the late third century for preaching Christianity to Armenians. He was left for dead there, in his own personal hell for 13 years while nourished by a woman living nearby who took pity on him. It wasn't until King Trdat had contracted a mysterious debilitating illness that he was pulled out of the pit in order to cure the king. Trdat fully recovered, and subsequently declared Christianity as the state religion. You can actually go into the pit (there's two of them), which is protected by a chapel adjacent to the main church. The path leading to it is very narrow, and you need to climb down a ladder to get down there. I have never entered the pit and don't plan on ever doing so.

There is an excellent view of Mount Ararat from the compound as the Turkish border is only a few hundred meters away. Unfortunately the weather was overcast that day and not much was visible. Since Ararat appears as if you can reach out and touch it only about 10 days thoughout the year, it is extremely difficult to coordinate when to go to observe the full spender of the mountain up close.

The caption on this panel reads (translated from Armenian), "St. Gregory the Illuminator's Torments."

This place is one of the holiest sites in Armenia, yet the visitors that day were extremely rude and disrespectful to the overall sanctity of the compound. Many people were talking very loudly , chatting on their phones and generally clueless about the proper way to behave. People under the age of 20 generally didn't know how to control themselves. At the time I was livid, but before long I realized that people simply don't know any better.

The religious education in Armenia is lacking, and I put the blame directly on Catholicos Karekin II, who is the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church. I have seen the same ill-mannered behavior displayed by local Armenians at nearly every church I have visited  in the country. Even within the church you have people speaking loudly and even shouting to one another. This can also be attributed to a general lack of respect of people for each other and even themselves, but like I said, the education isn't there.

This Catholicos is considered by everyone I have spoken to here as being the head of his own mafia, disregarded as a supreme, pious religious figure. He owns the Nor Zovk supermarket chain in Yerevan, and one of the stores is located right up the street where I live (he keeps a very clean supermarket and offers great prices, incidentally, a great businessman). He presumably has other business interests, none of which I am informed about. The Yerevan residence on the corner of Sayat Nova and Abovyan Streets has yet to be constructed--why he needs one is anyone's guess. He also wants to build a new church at the site of the amphitheater located beside Cinema Moscow, which was ironically the location of a cathedral that was destroyed by the Soviets so that Armenians could go to the movies. But that intention is illogical since very few people have religious inclinations to begin with. Also the amphitheater is frequently used for summer concerts, and there's no alternative venue in downtown Yerevan. You hear people still rave about Catholicos Vasken I who died in the early 1990s, but when it comes to his two successors, people are generally unimpressed and very disappointed.

In any case, people who have yet to visit Khor Virab should go during the week when people are busy at work or school. That way you'll have a full appreciation of the sanctuary and how divine the area actually is.

Photos taken with my Nokia N86 8MP

Anonymous Diana said...
Very informative post. I have learned a lot about Khor Virab, thank You!
As for teens behavior, I absolutely agree because many of them simply don't know the elementary rules of ethics. And when I usually go to St. Gregory the Illuminator church on Sundays and I can see a lot of them talking on the phone loudly. It shouldn't be difficult to switch off the phone for a short time, I think.

Thanks for Your great writing!

Blogger nazarian said...
I last went to Khor Virap about 25 years ago (time, apparently, flies quickly) and still have very vivid memories of the pit, the view of Ararat, the border between the then USSR and Turkey.

This is one location I would highly recommend a visitor to go to, and actually descend into the pit as well. But yes, I agree about the general disrespect among the population about the church. I am not a very religious person but in places of worship I think everyone should be respectful regardless of denomination.