St. Sarkis ‘Blessing of Grapes’ Picnic

I leaned over and whispered to my husband, “It’s not an Armenian event until you cannot hear yourself talking.”

The ceremony is rich in symbolism and emphasizes the important role the Virgin Mary assumed in the revelation of God.

We were the first arrivals at Shiawasee Park near downtown Farmington on an overcast Sunday to celebrate St. Sarkis Church’s Blessing of the Grapes picnic on the day of the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God.

The only audible sounds you could hear was the quiet rustle of the breeze in the trees and the welcome greeting of the women on the Board of Trustees, busy setting up tables and chairs beneath the pavilion and tents.

Doubting Thomases thought the day would be a washout, but like the opening night of a good play, everything fell into place and at the conclusion of church the park filled up.

The pastor of St. Sarkis, Fr. Daron Stepanian, conducted the Blessing of the Grapes ceremony, an Armenian ritual, assisted by Deacons Manoog Der Ovagimian, Tom Gerjekian, and Khatchig Kafavian.

The ceremony is rich in symbolism and emphasizes the important role the Virgin Mary assumed in the revelation of God. Grapes are considered the first fruits of the harvest and have a place of honor. It is He who gave the gift of the harvest and to offer Him the first fruits was to acknowledge complete dependence on Him.

Jesus was the first-born—or the first fruit—of Mary and, as such, was offered to God in the Temple. St. Mary, the Queen of Mothers, giving birth to Jesus and by the Holy Spirit that God became incarnate, took human flesh. Christ gave his blood to us for eternal life and in remembrance we bless the grapes, the fruit of the earth.

I have a special reason to celebrate this ritual. My mother, Takouhie (Armenian for “queen”) Charverdian Apigian was born on Aug. 13, and her name was also Mary; what to name her was obvious to her parents.

Avedis Mishigian sat at a picnic table across from novice Matthew Berger, grandson of Richard and Ann Maloian, intently teaching him the game of tavloo. Matthew has aced high school advance math classes and starts his freshman year at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor this fall. Armed with that capability, he will in no time be a challenge for the expert Avedis. Proud Grandpa Dikran was beaming at the sight.

As usual, Sonny Gavoor looked fit and athletic like the sports coach he is in shorts, sweatshirt, hat, and sun glasses, proudly introducing me to car collectors Zaven and Anahid Nazaretian of Birmingham, who look forward to the Woodward Dream Cruise, the spectacular car event of the year.

Another car guy filling me in about autos was Shant Jamkotchian, a Volvo master mechanic proudly wheeling around toddler son Levon Shant Jamkotchian. Shant plays a major role in the Homenetmen of Detroit, telling me, “I will teach my son all about the Levon Shant.”

Pilot Tom Poladian left the tavloo table to chat with his mentor, the 98-year-old Oghi Mooradian, who taught Tom how to expertly open katah dough at the weekly Ladies Guild bake sessions.

The delicious walnut crescents that Ann and George Krikorian shared with me were baked by Zoe Dakesian, and were being sold at the sweets table along with the anoush choreg and hot coffee brought to me by “only a Rose” Rose Kehetian. Having back problems does have its rewards.

Sebouh Sarkisian of the church’s Board of Trustees was making sure the kebab fires were cranking out the shishes fast enough to keep up with Steven Evarian, who quickly delivered the savory kebabs to the food lines.

Finally I leaned over to Bob and said, “Now it is an Armenian event because you cannot hear yourself talk over the din of the happy crowd.”

Our Khaghogh Ornek picnic was a success.

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Betty Apigian-Kessel

Betty (Serpouhie) Apigian Kessel was born in Pontiac, Mich. Together with her husband, Robert Kessel, she was the proprietor of Woodward Market in Pontiac and has two sons, Bradley and Brant Kessel. She belonged to the St. Sarkis Ladies Guild for 12 years, serving as secretary for many of those years. During the aftermath of the earthquake in Armenia in 1988, the Detroit community selected her to be the English-language secretary and she happily dedicated her efforts to help the earthquake victims. She has a column in the Armenian Weekly entitled “Michigan High Beat.”

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