Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday, May 22nd, Yerevan, Armenia


Two more travel days remain (Monday and Tuesday).  We've had to be flexible with our plans to see Armenia from our Yerevan base, as the road conditions have been unclear.  Armenia hasn't had the national income necessary to maintain its roads, and it has an impact on our access to some of its key tourist sites.  And figuring out the conditions isn't easy either.  The most confusing is the report that some villagers have blocked the road to two of our key sites in a dispute with the government. That makes guessing whether the clouds will block the view of Mount Ararat a much easier challenge.  But we hear tonight that the dispute has been resolved, and we're headed to the monastery and temple tomorrow.

No matter where we travel in this area, we can probably find Mount Ararat on the horizon.  We certainly did today, as our destinations were right on the Turkey border.

Khor Virap is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Armenia.  Its notoriety comes from the fact that Saint Gregory the Illustrator was imprisoned there for 14 years by King Tridates III.  Here's the backstory.

Upon the assassination of his father (Kosrovo  II of the Parthians), Tridates (Trdat) the infant is taken by troops loyal to his father to Rome, and his older sister (Khosrovidukht) to Cappadocia.  The man behind the assassination was Ardashir I, the first king and founder of the Sassanid Empire.  Ardashir convinced Gregory's father (Anak) to murder the king, promising to return control of the region to the locals.  Once the deed was done, the locals turned on Anak, and killed all but Gregory (who as an infant was taken by his caretakers to Cappadoccio).

Thirty five years later (in 287AD), Roman Emperor Diocletian rewards his brilliant young general to the throne of Armenia, and soon after a guilt-ridden Gregory joins the army and works his way up to secretary to the King.  Christianity had a strong footing in Armenia by the end of the third century, but the nation by and large still followed pagan polytheism.  Trdat was no exception, and he too worshipped ancient gods.  During a pagan religious ceremony, Trdat ordered Gregory to place a flower wreath at the foot of the goddess Anahit in Eriza.  Gregory refused, proclaiming his Christian faith.  This act infuriated the King.  His fury was only exacerbated when several individuals declared that Gregory was, in fact, the son of Anak, the traitor who killed Trdat's father.  Gregory was tortured, and finally thrown in Khor Virap, a deep underground dungeon.

During the years of Gregory's imprisonment, a group of nuns, led by Gayane, came to Armenia as they fled the Roman persecution of their faith.   Trdat heard about the group, and the legendary beauty of one of its members (Rhipsime).  He had them brought to the palace, and demanded to marry the beautiful virgin.  She refused.  The King had the whole group tortured and killed.  After this event, he fell ill, and (according to legend) adopted the behavior of a wild boar, aimlessly wondering around in the forest.  Khosrovidukht (his sister) had a dream wherein Gregory was still alive in the dungeon, and was the only one able to cure the King.  At this point, it had been 13 years since his imprisonment.  The odds of him being alive were slim.  They retrieved him, and despite being incredibly malnourished, he was still alive.  He was kept alive by a kind-hearted woman, who threw him a loaf of bread each day.

Trdat was brought to Gregory, and was miraculously cured in 301AD.  Persuaded by the power of the cure, the King immediately proclaimed Christianity the state religion.  Trdat also made Gregory the first Catholicos (Pope) of the Armenian Apostic Church.

Three hundred years later, Nerses I had the Cathedral of Echmiadzin built (visited yesterday), and dedicated a chapel in it to Saint Gregory (the Illustrator).  Saint Gregory's remains are at Zvartnot's Temple (also visited yesterday).

After lunch, we visited Noravank (new Monastery), located 122 km from Yerevan in a narrow gorge made by the Amaghu River.  The gorge is known for its tall, sheer, brick-red cliffs directly across from the monastery (kinda like Zion National Park).

The monastery is best known for its two-story Surb Astvatsatsin (Holy Mother of God) Church, which grants access to its second floor by a narrow, stone made staircase jutting out from the face of the building.  Above the doorway in one of the sanctuaries, God is depicted (highly unusual in churches).

 To see all of the photos taken today, click on:
Sunday, May 22nd

No comments: