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Armenian pilgrims descend on Jerusalem in their hundreds
ARMENIAN PILGRIMS DESCEND UPON JERUSALEM
IN THEIR HUNDREDS

Special from Arthur Hagopian

JERUSALEM (April, 2010)

Over 300 Armenian pilgrims arrived in Jerusalem for the Easter celebrations this year, swelling the number of the city"s vibrant community and re-invigorating it with their exuberance and their religious fervor.
They came from various parts of the world, bringing with them their hopes and prayers, and their unbridled love for the city of Christ.
Old and young Armenians joined the throngs of thousands of fellow Christians, a huge chunk of whom hailed from the former Soviet countries, in an unequivocal affirmation of faith.
Descending upon the Old City in droves, the Armenians stamped their presence on its cobblestoned streets and alleys, their mellifluous accents echoing in the electrified air.
“The number of Armenians from abroad visiting Jerusalem has been increasing steadily over the past few years,” Father Goossan Aljanian, chief dragoman of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, tells me.
“This year, there were more than 300. We expect the same number or more next year.”
One of their first imperatives on arrival is to call on Patriarch Torkom Manoogian, who along with the Greek Orthodox Patriarch and Franciscan Custodia share the guardianship of the Holy Places, to pay their respects and receive his blessing.
Despite his advancing years and his delicate health, Manoogian makes it a point to receive one and all. He listens patiently to their wishes and concerns and has a reassuring word to each group.
Some of the visitors are old acquaintances from his US tenure. His eyes light up at the sight of a former member of his congregation: it is clear he relishes the reunion.
Some are former Jerusalemites who had left the city of their birth in quest of supposedly greener pastures.
“I would drop everything and come back to Jerusalem without any hesitation,” confides one expatriate to me. “But I can’t,” he adds ruefully. “My children are all grown up and married back in the States, and I have grandchildren there.”
“Jerusalem is different - it will always be special,” chimes in another. “Maybe, when there is peace . . .”
He leaves his sentence hanging.
Old City souvenir merchant Berj Gejekoushian is overjoyed at the sight of his sister from Australia, but when I ask her how she feels, she turns aside and bursts into tears. She can not speak, she cannot find the words - the tears are eloquent testimony to her pain and yearning.
During its heyday, the convent of St James, seat of the Armenian Patriarchate, could boast up to 10,000 souls within its periphery. In the troubled last days of the Palestine Mandate, around 1948, with Arab and Jew drawn into bloody battle over control of the land, thousands of Armenians took ship and sought refuge in their ancient homeland, the ingathering of the exiles denuding Jerusalem of a disproportionate chunk of its denizens.
St James can provide no accommodation for tourists these days. While Manoogian has launched an ambitious renovation program within the convent, with particular emphasis on providing decent quarters for members of its priestly brotherhood, there are literally dozens of dwellings that have fallen into disrepair over the years. To repair them would be an exorbitantly costly exercise. Under the current austerity regime instituted by the patriarchate in the wake of the global financial crisis, the expense cannot be entertained.
Unlike the Assyrian convent of St Mark, erstwhile temporary repository of some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Its diminished community, headed by Archbishop Sewerios Malki Murad, has been able to coax a modest guesthouse out of some of its dilapidated outlying property.
But for the Armenian pilgrims and tourists, there is no place at the inn, and they must inevitably fall prey to rapacious innkeepers as well as mendacious merchants. Although savvy, and sassy people, can always strike a reasonable bargain by falling back on the one reliable weapon in their armory: haggling. In fact, if you don’t haggle, you are taken for a fool or a sucker: you will often find that a bottle of water that is priced at 10 shekels (US$3+) at one grocery or stall, is sold for half that amount at a nearby outlet.
With thousands of people milling about, all bent on gaining access to the same holy site, through the same narrow entrance way, you have to expect a lot of pushing and pulling and squeezing. Quite a few get hurt in the process. But caught up in the universal euphoria that pervades the festive season, there is no place for angry words or fists.
“I hate crowds,” a pilgrim confides to me as we struggle to hold our ground against the tide of humanity shoving from the back. But he says it with a good-humored grin.
The festivities get off the ground with a procession from the village of Bethany on the outskirts of Jerusalem, led by the Greek Orthodox church re-enacting the triumphant entry of Jesus into the city.
They culminate in the ceremony of the miraculous Holy Fire that is believed to descend from heaven, bathing all who participate in grace and holiness.
The ceremony has been performed since time immemorial, and it is the privilege and right of the Armenian church to ensure that the flame spreads everywhere. Eventually it will reach all corners of the world for the pilgrims will carry it back home in lanterns, to Serbia, and Cyprus and other distant shores, to act as a perpetual source of inspiration and comfort, there to remain until relit and replenished the following year.
ENDS
 
 
 
Photos ( 1 )
Writer: Arthur Hagopian
Editor: Eugenia Melkonyan
 
 
 Date Added: Saturday April 10, 2010 09:54:35 
 




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