Before experiencing the ARMENIA! Exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art here in New York City last Fall, I had been in a prolonged season of feeling displaced, homeless. I had even traveled back to my hometown of Cleveland with the hope of finding traces of Home but without success. The places I had left decades ago were no longer. All that was recognizable were the street signs. Saddened, I thought, “Thomas Wolfe was right, ’You can’t go home again!”’
It was in this state of mind that I went to the ARMENIA! Exhibition one day last November. Even before my walk through the visuals began, the music washed over me: Playing softly in the background were choir voices which sounded more like a prayer than a song. They were singing the liturgical music of the Sacred Armenian Mass or Badarak. And in them, I heard the once upon a time sweet soprano of my mother and rich tenor of my father, both church soloists in that once upon a time Cleveland. Instantly, completely, I was HOME.
As I proceeded through the Exhibition, Home gained a depth and enormity totally unexpected. I came to realize that I wasn‘t just connecting with my remembered past, nor even the Home emanating from my own ancestral DNA; rather, I was at Home with the 1700-year collective essence of being Armenian and of being Christian, with the two indelibly intertwined.
I was amazed to discover that when Armenia became the first Christian country, its conversion was total. It wasn’t that a culture came to embrace Christianity; rather, that a brand-new culture was created — FOR the Lord and with the Lord at its center. Through the acceptance of Christ, a pagan country, king and people gained renaissance, reborn as a new culture existing to serve the Lord and to be at One with Him. And to that end, this ancient people humbly, innocently, trustingly gave all they had.
The divinely-inspired evidence is all there: An alphabet was created so the people could worship His Word. This is an alphabet whose very characters are filled with sacred Christian symbols; Liturgical music was developed which expressed — when words cannot – the holy mystery of the Resurrection; the central symbol of the Resurrection Cross was created to affirm the joyful promise of Eternal Life: In Christ is our Home now and in the yet to be.; Architectural structures were designed to glorify God with an elegant simplicity both ancient and timeless for a temporal world.
Through these discoveries and more at the Exhibition, I came to realize why my identity as an Armenian was inseparable from my identity as a Christian. I also better understood why, though living in a hostile environment overrun with centuries of oppressors, the Armenian people could not deny Christ even to stay alive. To do so would have been to self-annihilate. And Armenia is very much alive. It gave for me added meaning to these words by William Saroyan: “Destroy Armenia! See if you can do it…Burn their homes and churches. Then, see if they will not laugh again, see if they will not sing and pray again.”
It is no wonder that I have never been able to give a good answer when someone asks me when I accepted Christ as my Savior. He has always Been, deeply rooted — 17 Centuries worth — and as much a part of me as breathing. I am at Home with Him.
One added word comes to mind, an Armenian word: “Hurashalee”
By Spring Condoyan