Stewardship, the work of supervising or looking after something such as property or funds, is the theme of the Gospel read last Sunday in the Armenian Apostolic Church. As we have written previously, the series of Lenten readings on Sunday includes some of the best-known parables of Jesus Christ. Through the figure of the steward, a “stock character” that Jesus uses in his parables, the Gospel invites us to reflect on the things given over to our care. For a steward is not the owner, as Chris Zakian reminds us in the article just mentioned, but rather a caretaker entrusted with the management of someone else’s property. Dn. Eric Vozzy has written a beautiful reflection on the figure of the Unjust Steward, and you can read a translation of a sermon by Catholicos Papken Gulessarian on the Parable of the Steward. So, rather than reflect further on the parable itself, we will take this opportunity to meditate on the idea of stewardship and how that concept connects to the sources discussed over the past months, the mission of the Zohrab Information Center, and the work that any Armenian Christian—especially one in a leadership role—does.
Spiritual stewardship, as all those mentioned above emphasize, is a question of our priorities and the use of our God-given talents. How might the concept of stewardship apply in the case of historical or literary sources? First, much like the talents that the Christian counts as a blessing from God, the sources of the Armenian Christian tradition are a gift, given to us not because of anything we have explicitly done, but simply by virtue of who we are. Second, like the steward with the master’s money in the parable, these sources are not our property. We do not “own” Gregory of Narek’s sublime spiritual poetry, but rather we have been bequeathed an incredible gift, a source of inspiration. Stewardship asks us what we will do with such a legacy. Like the parable of the talents, the theme of stewardship impresses on us the need to use and develop the incredible legacy such sources represent.
Over the past few months, we have focused on specific literary and historical sources, often books. Yet we have also tried to emphasize an expansive notion of source, including khachkars, inscriptions, coins, hymns, teachers, liturgy, fasting, the lives of the saints, and Jesus Christ Himself. Using the concept of tradition, we have argued that a vibrant present for the Armenian Christian and the Armenian Apostolic Church depends on constant engagement with and applicable use in the present of all those sources that make up the Armenian Christian tradition. Said differently, this means that we must be good stewards of the Armenian Christian tradition. This begins with learning that tradition and knowing more of the vast sources available to us. Not everyone—not even every leader—must be a scholar of the tradition, but a good steward of Armenian Christianity and of the Armenian Church should try to make herself aware of the incredible wealth of the tradition. Moreover, like the parable of the talents or the contrast between the light hidden under a bushel and the light on a hill, as good stewards we are called to make use of those sources. We often turn to generic Christian sources—valuable and edifying in their own right—when with a little more effort, we can put our own Armenian Christian sources to good use to grapple with the same issue. The Armenian Christian tradition is a veritable treasury of sources and resources. Good stewardship values and makes use of them.
|The Treasury||A quarterly magazine publication from The Fellowship of St. Voski, a group of clergy and lay leaders of the Armenian Church. By calling the magazine “The Treasury,” they explicitly recognize the wealth of riches in the Armenian Christian tradition. Each issue is a combination of contemporary work on the Armenian Christian tradition and translations of important sources.|
|The Heritage of Armenian Literature||Three volumes of Armenian literature in translation, this crucial resource offers an introduction to many of the sources in the Armenian Christian tradition.|
|The Armenian Christian Tradition||Edited by the renowned scholar of Eastern Liturgy, Robert Taft, this is a collection of essays on the Armenian Christian tradition derived from a conference held in honor of the visit of Catholicos Karekin I to the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome.|
Good stewardship requires a knowledge of, use of, and engagement with the treasury of sources bequeathed to us. So far, we have been discussing stewardship in an abstract, ethereal sense: not the physical, specific book or inscription, but the poems of St. Gregory of Narek or the hymns of the Armenian liturgy, sung every week. Now, I would like to turn to the objects themselves, the physical books, the architectural masterpieces standing in various states of disarray in Turkey, beautiful stitched or woven pieces we may have inherited. If heritage can be used in the abstract, it also refers to these physical inheritances, which we can also call patrimony. We are all called to be good stewards of our common Christian inheritance and our Armenian Christian tradition understood in the abstract. Yet without the actual books or churches, the physical heritage, there could be no Armenian church architectural tradition or beautiful Armenian hymns. Many of the most celebrated classic sources of Armenian Christian literature survived in only a handful of manuscripts. Imagine if every copy of St. Gregory of Narek’s Book of Lamentations was destroyed before someone printed it or digitized it! We are also, therefore, called to be good stewards of the physical inheritance of the Armenian Christian tradition.
Some of the most well-known cases of physical heritage are also the most tragic. We have previously discussed the two famous monasteries of Surp Garabed, one in the region of Gesaria and the other in the region of Mush. Both buildings have been largely destroyed. While it is easy to decry monasteries and churches in the Republic of Turkey that have been purposely destroyed, there are plenty of sites in the Republic of Armenia or even throughout the Diaspora that deserve more care and attention. Several important projects have worked to document, protect, and even restore Armenian churches and notable buildings, especially within Turkey. UNESCO, the Educational, Scientific, and Cultural arm of the United Nations is the international organization that is most directly related to the preservation of physical cultural heritage. It includes the UNESCO World Heritage sites, important monuments of cultural heritage that often are in need of protection. Ani, Haghpat and Sanahin, Etchmiadzin, Geghart, and the Armenian monasteries in Iran including St. Thaddeus are all UNESCO World Heritage sites. In Turkey, there are several people and organizations dedicated to the preservation of Armenian churches and other cultural heritage. HAYCAR, the Armenian Association of Architects and Engineers, is one group doing this work. The Hrant Dink Foundation has supported research into and published books on the Armenian foundation (vakıf) property in Turkey. We can support such projects abroad while also caring for buildings of importance that have been sources of communal strength here in the Eastern Diocese.
Surp Garabed, Mush, in the early twentieth century and its remnants today
In recent years, the destruction of the Armenian khachkars of Nakhichevan, specifically the Armenian Cemetery in Julfa, has drawn attention. Many of them now survive only in pictures, and the Julfa Cemetery Repatriation Project is one organization trying to document their loss and use digital methods to at least restore them virtually. Many of the inscriptions on churches throughout historic Armenia, which are crucial historical documents, have been lost. Other important projects, including houshamadyan.org (whose chief editor, Vahé Tachjian recently spoke at the Zohrab Information Center), serve as digital archives and reconstructions of both the ephemeral and physical cultural heritage of Armenians. Project Save collects and digitizes Armenian photographs. All of these projects are examples of good stewards of the cultural patrimony that Armenians have inherited.
Finally, I would point out the work of institutions like the Zohrab Information Center. Throughout the Diaspora, there are several important libraries and museums, such as the famous Nubar Library in Paris, the archives and Mardigian Library of NAASR (the National Association for Armenian Studies and Research), and the Armenian Museum of America. Each of these institutions not only collects and preserves the physical heritage of the Armenian and Armenian Christian tradition, but they provide opportunities to use the collections for research. Likewise, the Zohrab Information Center supports research activities and through its many programs continues its foundational mission of disseminating information. In this, the Center is not only a source for information, but is itself a steward of sources and of the physical cultural heritage of the Armenian Christian tradition. Through your support and use of the Zohrab Information Center it can continue to be a good steward of the Armenian Christian heritage. I would encourage us all to be good stewards of our incredible Armenian Christian heritage in whatever way we can!
|Kayseri with its Armenian and Greek Cultural Heritage||The second book by the Hrant Dink Foundation documenting the remaining cultural heritage of religious minorities in Turkey, this book focuses on Kayersi (Gesaria) and its surrounding region.|
|Khatchkar||A beautiful book of photographs of khatchkars by Hrair Hawk Khatcherian. It includes pictures of several khatchkars from the now-destroyed Julfa Cemetery which were preserved in museums.|
|The Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center||Documents and materials related to and available in the Zohrab Information Center.|
Follow the Zohrab Information Center on Instagram @zohrabcenter to see some of the incredible pieces of cultural heritage housed at the Center. We continuously strive to be good stewards of these striking and useful sources. Don’t forget to like us on Facebook!