Darkness elicits different images and emotions. There is the peaceful bliss of a dark, good night’s sleep. Or we might experience the overwhelming darkness of depression. For more than two years, the entire globe has been under the dark shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic. And the Armenian people continue to suffer under the black cloud of war, oppression and death.
We struggle daily against the dark and evil forces that seek to eliminate our indigenous presence from our historic lands, both in Artsakh and Armenia. From the Armenian National Committee of America on Capitol Hill and diasporan communities worldwide to the villages that stand stalwartly on the Armenian border and the halls and offices of the Hairenik building, the battles against the forces of darkness are valiantly fought.
It was with the intention to pray for strength and victory against these forces, as well as an emergence from the shadow of the pandemic into the light of our first Palm Sunday service in-person in two years that my mother and I entered Sts. Vartanantz Church on Sunday.
We were greeted with a heartwarming sight that shined an undeniably bright and inescapable light. A large group of children in their colorful, springtime Sunday best was assembled with their beaming parents for the traditional children’s procession around the church during “tapor.” As the procession began with the familiar and comforting sounds of the organ and choir, we could not help but be uplifted by the innocence and wonder of the youth as they held specially-decorated candles and solemnly, and joyfully, made their way around the church, concluding with special blessings bestowed upon each child by Der Kapriel Nazarian.
After two years of watching badarak on a screen at home with no children’s procession symbolizing the peoples’ accompaniment of Jesus during his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the emotions were overwhelming as we prayed together, joining in the hymns with our fellow faithful. While participating from home became the norm during the pandemic, being together in our church with our beloved community offered a path out of the darkness and a guiding light for our urgent work.
The Palm Sunday service concludes with the “turunpatsek” service and opening of the altar curtain. During Der Hayr’s sermon, he explained that the gate through which Jesus is believed to have made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem is called the “Golden Gate,” also known as the “Gate of Mercy.” Appropriately, this year’s godfather of the opening of the curtain was Manoog Kaprielian, who “in his heart, opens that gate all the time,” Der Kapriel said. Kaprielian regularly welcomes people from around the world to not only stay at his apartment building, but he always invites them to come and pray at Sts. Vartanantz Church on Sunday mornings, so many of whom have accepted and joined the community during badarak.
For me, this year’s curtain opening symbolized mercifully coming out of the shadow of darkness with a renewed vigor of purpose and a resistance to wallow in gloom. Rather, gazing at the precious faces of our children inspired a resolve to always work for a better future for them, both here locally and in our struggling homeland.