Uncle Garabed’s Notebook (Nov. 5, 2016)


In the Armenian Church the term apegha serves to designate a celibate priest who has fulfilled his final vows, but has yet to complete his doctoral dissertation to be ordained a vartabed.

In the history of Armenian music Apegha, a novice, is the title character in Armenian composer Parsegh Ganatchian’s opera based upon Levon Shant’s play Hin Asdvadzner (Ancient Gods).

Now, where does the term apegha come from? Could it be a rendering of Abel, the second son of the Biblical Adam and Eve? The Armenian Bible translates the name Abel as Apel or Hapel, but we know that, in classical times, foreign names bearing the letter L would be rendered in Armenian with the sound GH substituting for the sound L, that is, GHAT for LIUN. For example, Lucas became Ghougas, and Eleazar became Yeghiazar.

This brings us to Abelian or Abelite: In church history, one of a Christian sect of the 4th century living in North Africa, mentioned only by Augustine, who states that the members married, but lived in continence, after the alleged manner of Abel, and attempted to maintain the sect by adopting the children of others.

Thus Apegha could conceivably be the equivalent of Abelian.

If the foregoing appears rather tenuous, there is another approach to the question that requires examination of data from various sources.

To start with, there is Hrachia Adjarian’s Etymological Dictionary that relates apegha to the Syriac or Aramaic word abila which he defines as dkhour or drdoum, which translates into English as sad. Added to this are the entries for the Armenian surnames Abeghyan and Abelyan found in Dikran Avedisyan’s Dictionary of Armenian Surnames where for the name Abeghyan he doesn’t define Abegh but merely cites it in a quotation. However, an entry for Abelyan does define Abel as souk, which can be defined in English as sadness, in addition to mourning, grief or sorrow. Next, we consult Hebraic sources on Abel. There we find some evidence that mourn or sorrow became associated with the name Abel. Finally, we find in Alfred J. Kolatch’s book on Modern English and Hebrew Names that Abel, or Hevel in Hebrew, is rendered meadow from Assyrian sources, and breath from Hebraic sources. This, of course, brings to mind the reference to the New Testament as the Breath of God, Asdvadzashounch. Perhaps this concept led to the adoption of the term apegha for the junior level of celibate priest.

It would seem, therefore, that there is some connection between Abel and Apegha.


What’s in a Name?

Abelian/Apelian/Habelian/Hapelian: Biblical Hebrew in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, Abel is defined as mourning, sorrow, grief, sadness.

CK Garabed

CK Garabed

Weekly Columnist
C.K. Garabed (a.k.a. Charles Kasbarian) has been active in the Armenian Church and Armenian community organizations all his life. As a writer and editor, he has been a keen observer of, and outspoken commentator on, political and social matters affecting Armenian Americans. He has been a regular contributor to the Armenian Reporter and the AGBU Literary Quarterly, “ARARAT.” For the last 30 years, Garabed has been a regular contributor to the Armenian Weekly. He produces a weekly column called “Uncle Garabed's Notebook,” in which he presents an assortment of tales, anecdotes, poems, riddles, and trivia; for the past 10 years, each column has contained a deconstruction of an Armenian surname. He believes his greatest accomplishment in life, and his contribution to the Armenian nation, has been the espousing of Aghavni, and the begetting of Antranig and Lucine.
CK Garabed

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