The Smithsonian Institution’s annual Folk Festival is being hosted on the national mall this week (July 2 – 7, 2018). I was more than pleased when I learned they had chosen Armenia as one of their cultural spotlights, I was surprised! Armenia is the type of place that doesn’t get much attention, but for one reason or another, I found myself in the neighborhood back in 2012 so decided to stop in for a visit. I took a long distance mini-van across the mountains from Tbilisi (the capital city of Georgia) and arrived in the capital city of Yerevan a couple days after the new year in early 2012.
A singing Armenian stone carver performs for a small crowd July 4th on the National Mall. A khachkar, or traditional stone cross, is visible on the table before him.
Though I had just celebrated a few days before, I was surprised to learn that Christmas was right around the corner! Armenia, to my knowledge, is the only country on the planet that celebrates Christmas on January 6th. The Armenian Apostolic Church claims that this date is the oldest accepted date for celebrating the Theophany, a combined celebration of Epiphany, Christ’s baptism, and various other events that took place before the beginning of Jesus’s public ministry. [For further reading on the history of this date, see the links at the end of this post] Interestingly, both Eastern and Western traditions celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December. However, Eastern Orthodox traditions use the Julian calendar while Western traditions use the Gregorian calendar. The 13 day difference between the calendars is what accounts for nations like Germany and Britain celebrating on December 25th (Gregorian) while Russians wait to celebrate on January 7th (which is December 25th on the Julian calendar!!!).
Armenia, the only nation to celebrate on the 6th, is shown to the east of Turkey and just below Georgia.
Armenia is notable as being the first nation to adopt Christianity as the official state religion, which they did in 301 AD, five years before Constantine ascended the throne (306 AD) and 12 years before his so-called conversion (313 AD). A man named Grigor Lusavorich (St. Gregory the Illuminator) is credited with healing king Tiridates who, greatly impressed by this miraculous feat, declared a new state religion for all of Armenia. Oddly enough, Lusavorich was the son of the king’s enemy and had spent at least 12 years imprisoned by Tiridates. Upon his release, Grigor healed the king miraculously in the name of the Christian God.
Khor Virap, the small monastery built over the site of St. Gregory’s incarceration. Mt. Ararat looms in the distance, inaccessible across the closed border with Turkey.
This small altar is built directly above the shaft that imprisoned St. Gregory.
This ladder leads down into the pit St. Gregory called home for 12 years. The circular pit measures 20 ft deep (6m) and 14 ft wide (4.4m). Imagine living in a 14 ft diameter room for a decade and never seeing the sky!
Well, needless to say, I was very pleased to see that the Smithsonian Institution was tipping their hat to the Armenian people. Armenia is one of many countries whose population pales in comparison with the diaspora that is spread across the globe.
I wish I had the time to tell you about the rock-cut cathedrals, unique bread ovens, fascinating script, and visionary film directors I encountered on my visit to Armenia. Instead, I’ll leave you with a few photos and some links for additional reading.
Christmas on the 6th
Christmas on the 7th
The Eastern Orthodox tradition of standing during Liturgies
Winston Churchill’s connection to Armenia (Brandy)