Glancing at Eternity at Datev

Roots of Armodoxy: Eternity at Datev

Albert Einstein’s E=mc2 is one of the most recognized scientific notations by non-scientists. At most, people know it has something to do with time and space, though the mechanics escapes them. At the least, people know it is connected to Einstein and the theory of relativity. Around the same time Einstein was putting together the formulas for the general theory of realtify, American write, Henry Van Dyke was stating the relativity of time in these terms, “Time is too slow for those who wait, too swift for those who fear, too long for those who grieve, too short for those who rejoice, but for those who love, time is eternity.” That’s right, time is relative. It moves according to the vantage point of the observer.

At the end of time is eternity. It is difficult to accept and impossible to comprehend. Eternity exists in the absence of time, and as such is goes counter to all of our natural experiences. We may use words and phrases such as forever-and-ever but they describe time, not eternity. One such place where we come close to touching eternity, however, is at the monastery of Datev* or Datevivank. It is found in the Syunik Province in southeastern Armenia. Nestled in the forests, atop a hill, the Monastery is a marvel of Armenian architecture. Stone-placed-upon-stone, the shell of the church holds within it a very sacred space where the energy is so strong that time seems to be bent. While at Datevivank, you can experience eternity because time is absent. Though the structure itself is finite, inside you lose yourself to the marvel of faith that has constructed this shrine.

Datev is the reason why people look up when they think of heaven or eternity. On this hilltop some of the greats of the Armenian Church have lived and been inspired, including St. Gregory of Datev (14th century) who is entombed inside the sanctuary. He was a theologian and philosopher whose influence on the church is felt to this very day. During the early part of the 20th century, as the Genocide was coming to an end, the Datev Monastery was the inspiration and backdrop for greats such as Garegin Njteh as he chartered out the course for a new and independent Armenia, with his priorities expressed in a trilogy of ideas, God, the Nation and the Fatherland.

As we were visiting this bit of heaven on earth, a service uniting heaven and earth was taking place. The head of the monastery, Fr. Michael was administering the sacrament of baptism on a young boy of nine or 10 years of age. The boy’s godfather was a worker from one of the local villages. Those in attendance to witness the Christening were the boy’s immediate family and us, a group of pilgrims open to the blessing that may come our way.

Fr. Michael baptized and confirmed the boy with holy Miuron and then offered a prayer of thanksgiving, “We thank you Lord for replenishing your Church with this new servant of yours.” That word, “Replenishing” was the key to eternity. Here on this high peak, inside this monastery, in the witness of simple people, a miracle was taking place. Eternity was taking form; the continuity of space and time unfolded in our presence. At Datev we may not have comprehended eternity, but we did understand that eternity is not something to come but is in our midst right now. Henry David Thoreau expresses it concisely, “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.”

Fr. Michael turned to us and gave us a blessing. He is a simple monk of the Armenian Church who understands the power of uniting us with eternity. For those moments at Datev, we saw and were united to the vastness of eternity, and with the certainty of the continuity of life.

We pray today, “Heavenly Father, we say that to You belong the Kingdom of Eternity. May we be in your Divine presence, in that eternity, now, as well as forever. Amen.”

* The Armenian name Տաթեւ, may be transliterated into Latin characters as Datev or at Tatev.

Cover Photo: Fr. Vazken 2023

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