Roots of Armodoxy: Voices that lead
Most people would not want to admit they have been hearing voices in their head. Not so with Fr. Grigor, the priest at one of the local parishes inside of Yerevan. He’s very open about hearing the voices now, but not when he first heard them. It scared him. He thought he should seek psychiatric help. It was a voice he heard when he was using one of the hand crosses during services in his church.
In Armenian Church tradition, a small (4 to 6 inch) ornate cross is held by the priest during services and is referred to as a hand cross. It is used to bless items, objects and especially sacraments, such as baptisms, weddings and of course the Holy Eucharist. The cross itself is attached to a short rod which is how the priest holds the cross.
This particular cross that Fr. Grigor held was in the church when he took over the pastorate. On the four points of the cross – two on the vertical member, top and bottom, and two on the horizontal, sometimes referred to as the arms of the cross – are four translucent stones. And in the center, where the vertical and horizontal members intersect, there is the fifth stone. He shared with us that every time he used this cross to offer a blessing, he would hear a voice saying that the cross belonged in one of the side altars and that he should place it there. Just as he had resigned himself to the fact of seeking some professional help, the small company of the archeologists were sent over the church to the inventory and study some of the ancient artifacts. The Matendaran in Yerevan houses the largest collection of ancient Armenian manuscripts is interested in artifacts and relics from antiquity.
The experts examined the cross and carefully removed the translucent stones to discover under the arms and the top and bottom stones, there were small relics from four different saints, along with notations. The holy relics of saints are venerated in the Armenian Church, as they are charged with the energy of the saints. But still, the voices persisted with Fr. Grigor until the team removed the center stone under which was the unexpected: a piece of Christ’s Cross!
In the center of this cross which had blessed and energized people, protected the poor, the sick and the lonely, and swabbed the merriment of families, the Cross of Jesus Christ lay flat, and untouched and undisturbed. Fr. Grigor admitted that the cross had been used during baptisms and were certainly exposed the elements, at the very least water. Yet, the wood was intact, along with the inscription left there by pious members of the church centuries ago.
The voices stopped. The experts authenticated the Cross and now its blessing had been discovered. Fr. Grigor placed it, as the voice had instructed him, in a place of honor, inside the side altar. Once a year, on the celebration of the Discovery of the Cross (in October) the Cross is removed from its place and processed through the faith people. The church is the Asdvadzadzin (=Holy Mother of God) but referred to as Zoravor (the might one) because of the awesome power which emanates from this simple church.
It should be noted that in the Armenian Church, the Cross is the symbol of Love. Unlike the heart made popular in the West, for the Armenian Church, Love is expressed by sacrifice. The Cross represents that sacrifice. And so, when a blessing is given by the cross, an exchange of love takes place, with Jesus Christ as the author and incarnation of Love.
Today we pray, Holy Mother of God, you are most powerful, zoravor, because you have given the world Love through Jesus Christ. May we be protected under the shadow of His Holy and Precious Cross in peace, delivered from enemies visible and invisible. May we always glorify the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.