Celebrating (not mourning) Sardarabad – 90 years later

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I love the song “Sardarabad.” I love the first lines… “Yerp chi munoom yelk noo jar, khenteru en kdnoom hunar…” [roughly translated = When there exist NO means of resolution or no remedy, the crazy ones find the means!]These words have been a guiding riff for me, challenging me to look beyond the limits. In fact, it probably goes hand-in-hand with my policy that it’s always easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Sardarabad is our Armenian national victory!  We stood up against the Turks and won! Did you catch that – we won! We held off the Turkish advance! And that’s exciting! I mean, like think about our history… we talk about King Tigran – but that’s a couple of millennium ago. So after all the massacres and genocides throughout our history, there is this small little battle – at Sardarabad – that shines as a political/military victory. Its not a major conquest by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly on the list of victories for our small group of people – the Armenians.

And – THIS year – 2008 – is the 90th Anniversary of the Battle of Sardarabad! You know how we love those round numbers! So, is there any better time to celebrate? Let’s make some noise! This is Armenia’s victory and we’re going to celebrate! Right?

Well… you can imagine my disappointment and frustration when I received a directive from the Diocese last week, ordering all the churches to commemorate the 90th Anniversary of Sardarabad with… (can you guess?) with… a Requiem Service!!! (Hokehankist!)

Wow! One of the only battles we win – even Avarayr (Vartanantz) has a twist, where we commemorate Vartan Mamikonian as a fallen hero. But Sardarabad is a win-win. Now, I’m all for honoring the spirit of the dead, but come on, is this it? Is this the only direction in which the Armenian Church can steer us? In all fairness to the diocese, the directive signed by the Primate, did mention that the order had come from the top – that the Catholicos has asked for the requiem in all of the churches. But this only makes the situation sadder.

In scripture we read that before a certain man would follow Jesus, he asked if he could go and bury his father. Jesus replies, “Follow me, and let the dead bury the dead.” (Matt. 8:22) Don’t we, as the Church, have an obligation to order the same words to our people? Instead, we’re not only freeing them from the bonds of death, we’re (with directives such as this) sending them right back to the grave.

Sure, mourn the dead, but at some point realize that what the angel said to the oil-bearing women – “Why do you search for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5) is what the people are now saying to our church.

So what’s an alternative? How about a celebration of resurrection, instead of the requiem? How about explaining to our people that the Holy Eucharist holds within it the power to go beyond the grave? How about a party, where bishops and priests dance with the people in a celebration of victory? Did you hear/read Sara Miles’ experience with the Eucharist? http://www.prx.org/pieces/25794-this-i-believe-sara-miles

A few years back I decided to have my left lobe poked. It was interesting to see the reaction of the people to a priest with an earring. I wrote a small piece in the church newsletter “Nakhagoch” at the time. In its entirety -http://inhisshoes.org/guns-earrings/ – but the portion that I direct you to:

I have never hidden the fact that I don’t care to live up to these misdirected stereotypes we have of priests. A priest, as a servant of God, must celebrate life; after all it is the greatest gift God has given us. A priest must live with a zeal and excitement for life. He must be a listener of music, a singer of songs, a orator of poetry and a dreamer for the romantic. Life is here to be lived, not to be hidden away in the recesses of darkness.

The purpose of religion is to bear witness to that celebration. There is a genuine beauty in life which demands us to partake and celebrate. Christ tells us, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10) Sure, life has its share of difficulties and problems, but our religion gives us an opportunity to rise above those pains.

It’s in this same spirit that I challenge us as the inheritors of Armenian Orthodoxy today, to go beyond the requiems, to look at the power of love and the power of devotion. If not, then yes, a requiem would be most appropriate, but not for the dead at Sardarabad – but for a church that has lost touch with life and living.

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Vazken Movsesian

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