Tag Archive for: Soviet Union

Keynote in Nebraska

Armodoxy for Today: Keynote

This is part 2 of a four-part miniseries about the shoot-down over Sasnashen and what it means today.

The day arrived. In the middle of Nebraska, this Armenian priest was to meet with service men from throughout the United States. They had all come to commemorate, remember, and reconnect with a story. They had come to reconnect with others who shared the same values and understanding of the sacrifice made by these 17 men, shot down over Sasnashen, Armenia on September 2, 1958.

The acting President of the Prop Wash Gang, Chief Lonnie Henderson, emceed the program. He had set up a “Missing Man Table” at the center of the banquet hall. The table was set on a white tablecloth, containing 17 red roses in vases and a place setting for one – one representing them all. A shaker of salt next to the setting was a bitter reminder of what had transpired. There, the names of the 17 men were written along with the poem “We See the Eagles Fly.”

Tom Giroir, offered the invocation and introduced me as an Armenian priest. In referencing to my background he pointed to our ministry of “In His Shoes,” that is, those who have suffered evil have a unique responsibility to take action against injustice to others. It was on this premise that I shared my thoughts for the evening with the group.

That day I spoke of the rich story of the Armenian people and the land. I spoke of the Armenian Genocide as an event but also as a springboard to addressing the despicable reality of Genocide that continues to take place in our world. Most especially, I shared with the group the need to stay ever vigilant in their resolve to remember the sacrifices of their fallen brothers. Vigilance and remembrance must have manifestations today in our actions to combat evil on all fronts.

After I offered the ancient requiem prayer of the Armenian Church and remembered all 17 of the fallen servicemen by name, Chief Lonnie honored me in a manner I will forever remember. On behalf of the Prop Wash Gang he presented a shadow box with an actual piece of the downed-plane. Here I would have a tangible reminder of the sacrifice made by these men and the ever-essential necessity to stay vigilant against injustice. He also gifted me Larry Tart’s book, “The Price of Vigilance” signed by the author.

I confessed that in all my travels to Armenia I had never been to Sasnashen. And now, I promised that I can’t think going back to Armenia without visiting Sasnashen. There, I promised the group, I will take the spirit and the energy that was brewing in this room on September 2, 2018. It was a powerful and moving spirit. Since that day, I have shared the story of Sasnashen with countless people through sermons, lectures and videos.

This evening we connected on a human level. We were there to honor sacrifice – the expression of love by these 17 men. We connected Bellevue, Nebraska mystically to Sasnashen, Armenia.  This evening we understood that the most fundamental of all human expressions – to extend ourselves to others, to love and share is essential. It is the legacy that has been left to us by the 17 men who were shot down giving themselves for something greater than themselves, for our country and ultimately for humanity. And we accept the challenge to perpetuate and share this legacy beyond this evening.

With the recitation of the poem, “We See the Eagles” the Commemoration on the 60th Anniversary of the Shoot Down came to an end.


We see the eagles fly…

lookin’ north

toward the Caucasus Mountains

‘bout nine in the morning

Warm September day


No clouds

We see the eagles fly…


riding the currents

Soaring above all



We see the eagles fly…

…and those eagles

look a lot like

The Prop Wash Gang

(September 2, 1997)


Memory in Gyumri

Roots of Armodoxy: Memory in Gyumri

In 1988 the ground shook in Armenia.

December 7, a date which Franklin Roosevelt described as a “day which would live in infamy,” when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, would now be infamous especially for the Armenians who suffered close to 50,000 casualties from the quake.

In 1988, the Soviet Union was still intact. It’s president, Michael Gorbachev was visiting the United States, engaging in high level talks with then President Ronald Reagan promoting Glasnost and Perestroika. He cut his trip short and returned to the Soviet Union, specifically to Armenia to assess the damages. That presidential change-of-plan hurled the Armenian earthquake onto the world stage. Once again, without being asked or considered, Armenia found itself in the top headlines. Of course, this is not what anyone wants to be known for, especially Armenia who had succumbed to other tragedies including Genocide, but still, Armenia is so small and insignificant on the world stage that had the Soviet premier and US president not been inconvenienced, the earthquake would have registered as a footnote with Western media. Instead, 113 different countries sent over rescue and humanitarian aid to Armenia in the months that followed the December 7 earthquake. It was the first time since the 1940s that the Soviet Union officially asked for aid from the United States, despite being in the “cold war.”

The facts are important to remember, because they point to possibilities that can exist and that can usher in peace, harmony and understanding between countries. In this case, Armenia was the catalyst for the harmony and understanding we saw that year.

The earthquake’s epicenter was a small town called Spitak, in between two larger towns, Gyurmi and Vanadzor. (During the Soviet years these two towns were called “Leninakan” and “Kirovakan” respectively.)

In Gyumri, there is a church known as Yot Verk, or the “Church of the Seven Wounds.” It is in the center of the bustling city.  The “seven” refers to the wounds of Jesus that were felt by the Blessed Asdvadzadzin. They are all from our Lord’s life as shared by the Evangelist St. Luke. Specifically, they are, 1) Simeon’s revelation to her “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many… And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 2) The Holy family’s escape to Egypt 3) Jesus lost for three days; 4) Jesus betrayed; 5) Jesus crucified with the Blessed Mother Mary at the foot of the cross; 6) Jesus’ death; 7) Jesus’ burial. An icon in the church depicts St. Mary with seven daggers symbolizing the wounds.

This church is a repository of the memories. The seven wounds are identified by name. the memory of the earthquake is identified by large structures, namely the domes that toppled off of the church on that ill-fated day in 1988. The domes have since been replaced, but the fallen domes sit on the side of the church and at the entrance of a small garden area. The size of these domes and their placement in view of everyone, solicit a response, at the very least, “Why are these domes here?” and get the response, “They fell off during the 1988 earthquake.”

Memories have many functions. Of course, as is implied, they prevent us from forgetting. But what happens when the pain is so great, beyond human comprehension, as was the case on December 7, 1988 when 50,000 people perished? The event was within our lifetime and we certainly want to honor the dead, however the structures and monuments we build to our memories are double edged swords. They honor the losses, but they can also function as monuments to victimhood and prevent us from a healthy move forward.

Following the Crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, a few women when to his grave to anoint his body. They were there to honor the dead Jesus. When they arrived at the grave, the angel asked them a simple question, “Why are you searching among the dead for one who lives?”

This week on the Roots of Armodoxy, we will be in Gyumri, the second largest city in Armenia. We will be looking at memories from different vantage points. Memories that honor, memories that help us heal, and memories that, unfortunately, keep us looking among the dead instead among the living.

We pray today a prayer from the Armenian Church’s Book of Hours, “O Lord, do not turn your face from us. Benevolent Lord, we beseech You, be our helper. Send us Your angel of peace, who will come and protect us from temptations. Almighty Lord our God, save and have mercy. Amen.”

18th Century Prayer Book from Soviet Union to the Church

Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” – gifted to the Western Diocese

Presentation at Reclaim 2023 by Fr. Vazken Movsesian

We often speak about the Armenian Genocide and it’s lasting impact on the Armenian soul and psyche. We must never forget what followed, that is, the 70 years of communism that swallowed up Armenia in the Soviet Union. Those were very difficult years for Armenians caught up in the Soviet State as it spewed its narrative of atheism and anti-nationalism.

In 1977 – 1978, I had a unique chance of a lifetime to study in Armenia at the seminary of Holy Etchmiadzin. It was there and then that I met Archbishop Hovnan, who was a seminarian at the monastery. For most people who viewed from the outside, studying at a seminary in a country which professed atheism, sounded like an oxymoron. But that was the magic that we experienced at Holy Etchmiadzin, under the leadership of Catholicos Vazken I. From the Holy shrine of Etchmiadzin, the Light of Christ was shining.
On weekends, as a break from classes, we sometimes ventured off to Yerevan where local bookstore were always a special stop for us. One Saturday, while browsing through books I came across a tattered and old-looking book of prayers. The cover page was torn, but I made out that it was St. Nersess Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” (Յիսուս, Որդի). It was at the bottom of a pile of “throw-aways” and after paying only a few kopeks, I took possession.

When I got back to the Seminary, I looked up the book in the seminary’s library. The earliest edition of this book was listed as 1643, with a possibility of a later printing by 1785. I was so excited. I had a treasure. Later on I would realize the treasure was what was written on those page.

I mentioned my acquisition to a few of the seminarians who were quick to notify me that anything that pre-dated the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) was to remain in the country. It was interest that everyone knew this bit of the law. Nothing with a day before 1917 could be taken out of the USSR. Of course, I now had a challenge before me, a challenge which was accented by the fact that books of this genre in the Soviet Union could have the fate of “Fahrenheit 451” in Bradbury’s America.

In that same bookstore, I found a book written in Armenian, “Marx, Engels and Lenin on Religion” (Մարքս, Էնգելս, Լենին Կրոնի Մասին) which sold for a few kopeks as well. There were stacks of these books, priced to sell and move into the hands of the public! I purchased one, and I also purchased a flag, the one which flew over Armenia during that period. It was red with a blue stripe, and in the corner the hammer & sickle were prominently situated. I took these books from the opposing camps – Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” and the Marx, Engels and Lenin’s “Religion” – and wrapped them up in the communist flag and mailed them to myself, hoping that the postal or custom inspector would view this packet as communist propaganda and allow it through the system. And, I guess it worked. When I returned back to the States the box was waiting for me. It had been opened, but all of the content was there.

It was only later that I understood the magnitude of the blessing that Shnorhali’s “Jesus, Son” was bringing. I painfully read through the classical Armenian and later discovered translations. It has been a cornerstone of my Bible Study classes and only a few years ago I did an entire season of Bible Studies on this Holy Text.

Today, as we offer “Reclaim a Voice” I’d like to present this book to His Eminence Archbishop Hovan, as a custodian of sacred texts. This book is a voice that the Soviets tried to suppress. It is no different than the countless Christian voices that have been attacked through the centuries and the voices that are held back today. This book belongs within the safety of our Diocesan Library, as an inspiration to others. I thank Archbishop Hovnan for placing such a high value on the written word creating a safe sanctuary for these classics and a place where we know that generations to come will be blessed with the sacred words of Shnorhali and “Jesus, Son.”