A Bishop’s Anniversary through the Carpet


The Carpet in the Church: Reflections on the 40th Anniversary of Srpazan’s priesthood
By Fr. Vazken Movsesian
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever changing view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold, a tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold
-Carole King
Sitting in the chancel area of the church can be a lonely place, especially during a coronavirus epidemic. There are chairs, a clear view of the altar area, oriental rugs on the floor and opportunities to be still and meditate. It is here that you contemplate your world on the outside: hatred, disease, hunger, bigotry, wars and try to reconcile those pains with the concept of celebration – whether the Badarak or an Anniversary. This morning I had a chance to think of both.
Last Sunday was the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin. Our Primate, Hovnan Srpazan was celebrating the Divine Liturgy at the St. Leon (Ghevondyants) Cathedral. It was a day for personal testimony as well. His Eminence was celebrating the 40th anniversary of his ordination into the Sacred Priesthood and 30th anniversary of consecration as a bishop of the church. During his sermon, Srpazan reflected and emotionally recalled the day when he knelt before the altar of Etchmiadzin and accepted the Call from God to serve the Church. The Venerable Catholicos of Blessed Memory, His Holiness Vazken I, consecrated the young deacon and bestowed upon him the holy order of priest of the Armenian Church.
As the sermon continued my eyes focused on the ornate oriental rug in front of me.
Forty years! So much has taken place during those 40 years. Following ordination the young Fr. Hovnan traveled to Europe and was educated at Oxford. He was appointed to Canada, rose to the rank of bishop, shaped the Canadian Diocese before accepting the call to the Western Diocese 17 years ago. He saw to completion the building and consecration of the St. Leon (Ghevondyants) Cathedral and the expansion of Diocesan ministries.


Forty years ago perhaps the carpet that was lying in front of me was just being created. Single threads of different colors were coming together. One ornate pattern was leading to the next. Each pattern represents a space in time and has a unique story. Each pattern is a testament to the will and determination of a rug weaver.  A flower on one row connects to a swirl above it and to a shape below it. Each dyed thread compliments the colors around it so much so that it is obvious that one master weaver has put this tapestry together in harmony and joy.  The stories of the weavers we do not know, much like the goodness that is spread by a priest following his call and living his ministry.
The Archbishop continued his reflection and recounted how during the forty years, his love and loyalty to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was always at the center of his actions. It was a love for Etchmiadzin that he felt as a young seminarian arriving in Armenia (1976). It was at Etchmiadzin that he met, grew and learned in the shadow of the great patriarch Vazken I (Catholicos from 1955-1994).  Those early feelings matured and kept him connected to the efforts to build the Armenian Church of the 21stCentury. From the youth rallies to the 1700th Anniversary of Christianity in Armenia to the 100th year of the Genocide and now the renovation of the Mother Cathedral, Srpazan has left an imprint on the life of the Armenian Church that is accented in its harmony and completeness. At each assignment the Love of Christ was expressed in the outpouring of goodness and assistance to the communities – to the people who were part of the hurting world.  Only God knows the how many have seen the wonders, have been helped by the outreach programs and have been inspired to do likewise in this hurting world.
As Srpazan spoke that morning, so did the rug. Viewed up-close, you might imagine that each pattern on the rug is a creation of a person and a place in time. How can it connect so perfectly to the other patterns on the carpet? Viewed from afar, the rug is one complete carpet that tells a story of people, of determination, of focus, of beauty and intertwined expressions. It’s obvious that there is a common thread that the master weaver has used to bring all of the elements together to form one complete display of beauty.
Indeed, it was exactly 40 years ago – in 1980 – on the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin that Hovnan Srpazan was ordained. On this feast we celebrate the descent of Christ as expressed in the word etch-miadzin in the vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator (303AD). Christ is the thread that runs through the life of the Church, the one constant in the life of the people and clergy, bringing it all together to form the tapestry of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The Church, brought together and tied by Christ is beautiful and complete. It is the functioning Body of Christ in this world.
During the last 40 years, Hovnan Srpazan has served the Holy Armenian Church. Each of the events and experiences he has worked through have come together to present a beautiful tapestry of sacrifice and love. Look at it as a whole and you see Christ working through His Church, Holy Etchmiadzin, which is the complete vision as seen by the Illuminator thenand the expression of beauty today. In this vision and expression we can find the etch-miadzin – Christ descending into a world that is hurting, that suffers from hatred, disease, hunger and pain. For those few minutes sitting in the chancel of the church, I had a chance to see bits and pieces of two lives, our Srpazan’s and the art piece woven into a carpet. While we can appeal to so many different means to tend to the wounds and pains of this world, it is the human heart that needs to be mended. The elements to do so are all there, they are the dyes, the threads, the life, the events, Etchmiadzin and Christ active in our life.
With warm wishes for health and strength to our Primate, we say “Asdvadz Oknagan Srpazan” – May God be your helper, Srpazan.
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