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Armenian Connections

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Armenian Connections

on Gary's Faith Walk

 

As I gaze on the long winter snow receding on Baldy Mountain above Sandpoint, I am taken back to another mountain and another place just weeks ago. On that spring day, I looked out across the just waking city of Yerevan, Armenia upon the snow-covered slopes of Mount Ararat, the biblical mountain rising across the border in Turkey to 16,854 feet. In the book of Genesis, it is written, “in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.” (Genesis 8:4)

Armenia is far distant from our daily consciousness here in the North Country. Armenia today is a land locked nation of 3 million in the southern Caucasus, a former republic of the Soviet Union, and the first nation to adopt Christianity in the year 301. Armenians are an ancient people who over the millennia have survived the onslaughts of invasion, conquest, natural disasters, and genocide at the hands of an imperial power. Their faith sustained them in the most desperate times. 

My purpose was twofold: to explore new ways of connection with the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Catholic Church, and the Armenian Evangelical Church and to visit clinics, schools, cultural centers and farm cooperatives supported by an NGO associated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

In multiple visits over the past decade, I’ve traveled extensively in former communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Yet, twenty years after the breakup of the USSR, the legacy of the era stills holds a grip on many parts of society. The gap between the richest and the poor is immense, former party officials having snapped up pieces of industry as a rough and tumble version of capitalism returned. Authoritarian governance based on centuries of autocratic leadership continues to dominate the political culture. And the spirit of volunteerism on which so much good work happens in the West is virtually unknown. Nurtured by the state for decades, it is many’s view that if tasks and caring are to happen, the state should do it.

In sharp contrast to this legacy stands the heritage of the 1,700 year old Christian tradition in Armenia. Traveling through villages and cities, one is rarely out of sight of a stone church, the remains of a monastery, or intricately carved stone crosses, called “khatchkars” which mark the landscape and tell the story of faith across centuries. And, all have ongoing programs to assist “the least of these.”

In my faith walk, I regularly encounter followers of Jesus renewing their churches after the nearly 70 years of “militant atheism” imposed by communist leaders. Working with, talking to, and observing these church leaders I reflect on the role of organized religion in the United States. European settlers brought their expressions of faith to this land over 400 years ago. Some were puritanical and exclusionary. Some were proponents of religious freedom. Some were extensions of European-based church structures.

So in this month when we celebrate our 235th birthday as a nation, what role will our church traditions play in shaping the century ahead? Will they serve as guardians of culture as in the case of Armenia? If so, whose culture? Will they welcome other expressions of faith or condemn them? And, will the institutional structures which were built in the 19th and 20th centuries survive into the 21st century in an era of “flattened” organizations, distributed leadership, and intense individualism?

Travels in Armenia or elsewhere in the world always place a mirror before my face as I examine my relationship with God and the institutions of which I am a part.

 

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Author info

Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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Garys Faith Walk, Armenia, faitih

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