St. Gregory the Illuminator visits Glendale
by Nahabed Melconian
The following was written by Nahabed Melconian in 2005. Originally written in Armenian, it has been translated into several languages and read throughout the world as a testament to faith. Below is an English translation.
“30 hours! I have been hearing the voices of children for the past 30 hours,” said the Creator to an angel standing near him. “Who are these people who are speaking to me in a spiritual language?”
“My Lord, St. Gregory the Illuminator was also very happy because those were Armenian youth praying,” replied the angel.
“Call the Armenian Forefather (St. Gregory the Illuminator) to me,” said the Lord with satisfied heart.
The angel humbly flew off and gave the message to St. Gregory.
With his left hand clenched on his breast, the Armenian Forefather humbled himself before the Creator. With bowed head, on his knees, he said, “Yes, my Lord. I am here as a humble servant, ready to hear you.”
“O holy Forefather of the Armenians, for the last 30 hours, 40 Armenian young poeople have been fasting and raising their prayers to heavens. The orthodox faith of 1700 years hasn’t thrilled me as much as today, when this generation is talking to me in the language of their spirits.”
“My Lord, bless my people, who have a need for the power of prayer. This year is the 1600th anniversary of the invention of the Armenian alphabet and at the same time it is the 90th anniversary of the great atrocities, and the world is late in remembering this Genocide of the Armenians while their murderers still deny their barbaric acts.”
“Let it be,” said the Lord and continued, “O holy Forefather, along with the Angel James and St. Mesrob, go and see your people, if you say they have that much need for prayer.”
“May Your Will be blessed, my Lord,” answered St. Gregory humbly and stepping back a few steps, he slipped away to tell the news to St. Mesrob.
The angel James was standing and waiting next to St. Peter at the gates of heaven.
St. Gregory the Illuminator and St. Mesrob exchanged brotherly greetings with St. Peter, and with the guidance of the angel, they descended to Earth.
“Where have we landed?” asked St. Mesrob in astonishment.
“This is the land of Noah. After our Lord resurrected, it was this path he took to come to this small planet. We will only be visiting this land of paradise, the land of the Armenians,” answered James the angel.
“My, how Yerevan has changed,” said St. Mesrob as he looked all around him.
“What is that huge structure they’ve erected in the middle of the town?” asked the Armenian Forefather.
“That is the mother cathedral of Yerevan. It was constructed during the 1700th anniversary celebration of Christian Armenia and was consecrated in your holy name,” replied the angel James.
“It’s as if something is calling me there. Let’s go. I’d like to see this sanctuary.”
And so the holy saints followed the angel to the St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral.
When they entered, the Armenian Forefather was shaken for a moment, when he saw a piece of his bone which was brought over from the Vatican. Meanwhile the angel James and St. Mesrob listened to the Divine Liturgy which was being celebrated.
After the kiss of peace, the three of them left the sanctuary. Outside, a group of Armenian youth, spread out in the courtyard were discussing issues of the day. Suddenly, St. Mesrob, who was lending an ear to what they were talking, asked in astonishment, “Is this really our country?”
“Yes,” said the angel, “Why are you surprised?”
“My ears are hearing foreign words. In Armenia they speak Armenian, but this is not Armenian.”
“What words are you hearing, Mesrob?” asked the Forefather, who now was beginning to listen in on the conversations.
“Cultura… corruptia… concret… militia… socialistagan… finance… regisor… ministrootiun… president… zavod… respublica…”
“That’s enough! That’s enough! I’m hearing it too and feeling your pain, O good teacher.”
“Let’s go to Tigran Boulevard and walk around. Perhaps the mother tongue has flowered more over there,” said the angel.
After passing only a few streets, St. Mesrob stopped and said again in astonishment, “Since founding the Armenian alphabet, this is the first time that our Lord has granted me permission to visit Earth and I’m surprised by what I see. Read what is written here on these buildings: ‘Hye-bank’, ‘Restaurant’, ‘Supermarket’, ‘Casino’. Is this the country we know? This isn’t our language, neither is it our spelling. They’ve butchered the language and letters…. that my students, Yeghishe, Goroyn, Yeznik and Ghazar translated. I wonder who reads that literature today – that literature that I left as an inheritance to our people.” He concluded his distressed expressions as tears flowed over his cheeks.
“Where are those 40 young people, James? We came to hear their voices,” said the Forefather, so as to calm the cries of St. Mesrob.
“Those young people are not here, holy Forefather,” answered the angel.
“But they are my children. It was their pleas that were reaching heaven and that our Creator heard.”
“Those pleas were coming from America.”
“Where is this America? I’ve never heard anything about this country.”
“It is across the oceans from this place.”
“And in that country, you mean, our fresh new generation is praying in Armenian?” asked St. Mesrob in amazement.
“Yes, Teacher, yes. May the Holy Church be happy” said the Forefather in a deep voice.
“Let’s go. Let’s go. My soul is excited to hear this,” said Mesrob.
And so the three of them took a deep breath, spread their wings and after a long trip arrived in a town that was sparkling with lights.
“Is this America?” asked the Teacher.
“This is the City of the Angeles, ‘Los Angeles,’ replied the angel, adding, “But along side the angels there are many devils here…
“So, you mean to tell me that in the midst of these devils, the prayers of the Armenian youth reached heaven?” asked the Teacher, completely flabbergasted.
The Forefather reacted with a prayer: “Praise to you, O God, Praise to you. At all times I will praise you,” as he crossed himself and bowed down before God.
After the long flight, the three travelers rested in front of a large building. Some homeless people, in a drunken state, passed by them. They waddled into the darkness.
“Let’s go find our children, James,” said the Teacher. “I’m impatient to hear their voices.”
With the guidance of James the angel, the saints began searching for the place where the youth were praying.
Going through Hollywood, the angel pointed to the two Armenian churches, both of them consecrated with the name “St. John the Forerunner.”
“Why do both churches have the same name?” asked the Forefather.
“Although they are two Apostolic Churches, they belong to two different jurisdictions, with two different catholicoi and two different bishops.”
“So my church is split?” asked the angered Forefather.
“This is the city of the angels, O holy Forefather, but there are no angels here, only dev…” began the Teacher.
“The story of your church is gloomy,” interrupted the angel. “Let’s go.” And they continued to search.
It was 10 o’clock in the evening. The darkness, like a curtain, had descended upon the town when they arrived in Glendale.
“Here is an Armenian Church in the name of the Holy Virgin,” said the angel while pointing to a huge gigantic structure.
“At this late hour, the lights of the church are sparkling and I hear voices coming from the church,” said the Forefather in a happy and pleased voice.
“We are in Great Lent,” said the Teacher, “Perhaps the faithful are praying.”
When the three approached the church, they were pleased to see an Armenian cross-stone (khatchkar) standing as a relic from the homeland.
When they entered the church, the saints froze in their steps. They began trembling and asked the angel, “What is this liturgy that they are performing during Great Lent?”
“This is not a liturgy. This is called ‘Bingo.’ It is a worldly game that is played with money. The church where the liturgy takes place is upstairs. Come on. Let’s go upstairs.”
“Lord have mercy,” they said as the saints followed the angel upstairs.
The church was empty. The saints made the sign of the cross over their faces and bowed down before the holy altar. As they came out of the sanctuary, across the hall they saw a group of men who were speaking with words they could not understand.
“Don’t be surprised,” said the angel. “These are the hokapartzoos (Parish Council members) of the church. They have come to supervise the game they are playing downstairs. They are sitting here counting the money, so they can keep the church standing and operating.”
“When and where have we ever used Bingo to keep the Armenian Church standing and running? How much has the faith of our church and people shifted? God forgive us…” said the Forefather of the Armenians.
“Let’s go to the other church,” said the angel as he led them to the diocesan headquarters. Outside, a group of people had assembled. They were smoking and talking as a wave of the music was caressing their ears.
“Maybe they will perform the Lenten liturgy here,” said the Teacher, with a tone of hope in his voice.
When they entered, the Forefather was shocked to see the tables filled to excess and the people eating and drinking. These Armenian descendents of theirs were drinking, singing and dancing with jubilation.
The Teacher watched this scene in silence as he remembered the first verse of Scripture that he translated centuries ago: “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding…” (Proverbs 1)
From the depths of their hearts the saints lamented. They left the diocesan complex and followed the angel.
“The two are Apostolic churches… but they are different from each other. Even on the same street, they push one another,” the angel said to break the silence.
“We didn’t see a difference in their mission,” said the Teacher.
“Yes, you’re correct, because neither of them want to allow Great Lent to dig into their financial mission.”
“Christ became man, so that man can move from darkness to the light. He shed his blood on the cross for us. And we established the canon for Great Lent forty days before the celebration of his resurrection, so that people can discipline themselves, stay away from physical and sensory pleasures, and by fasting, praying, forgiving, repenting, spiritually awakening and by reflecting on the self. They are to live these days to strengthen their souls. And now? … What do we see? They’ve abandoned our canons. And our flock that has lost its way is in need of good shepherds to save the generations of the lost. O my… one place they play games with money. Another place they eat and drink in merriment. And all of this, during the days that are designated as a time for prayer and reflection?”
“Our people are in darkness, O Teacher. Do you hear me? They are in darkness. Materialism and the quest for glory have won over the spiritual life. Woe to our people. Pray, Teacher Mesrob, pray!”
And while the Armenian Forefather was reflecting, the angel stopped in front of a small church where a sweet hymn was heard.
The Forefather approached the sanctuary. He stood still for a moment to hear that sweet song: “From the depths of my heart, a conversation with God. Receive with tenderness our prayers… O, Almighty Lord…”
The Forefather blessed this small church before entering it. Making a sign of the cross, the three of them entered and invisibly took a seat in the choir area of the church. The faithful, with hymnbooks in their hands, were following the liturgical singing.
The saints joined the choir. St. Mesrob was amazed at the participation of the new generation.
After the singing of that hymn, they all came down on their knees and began praying “Der Voghormya” (Lord have mercy). It was so deep and heartfelt that tears flowed from the Forefather’s eyes.
“There still is faith, O Forefather,” whispered the Teacher.
“Pray, Teacher, pray for the Armenian nation” responded the Forefather in a voice filled with reflection.
Just as they were preparing to come out of the church along with the faithful, the pastor of the church requested that everyone be seated since he had to make an important announcement.
At the parish priest’s request, the congregation sat down, and attention was drawn to a group of 40 teens sitting in the first few pews of the modest church. “Do you see the children of this church?” said the pastor. “They are yours and our children. These young people have fasted for 30 hours here in this Holy Church. They prayed, had Bible studies and reflected. They prayed for the homeless, the ill, hungry, poor, needy and bereaved. They asked God to hear their prayers, and to everyone’s joy, they have raised $108,000 from the faithful people who believed in them.
“This money will used to feed poor and hungry people in our world. Further, some of it will be distributed in Armenia, and Artzakh, to a small school there, and one of our churches. The prayers of these teenagers have risen from this church to heaven and heaven has smiled on these kids. During Great Lent the Lord has blessed the fasting of our children and their orthodox faith.
“Go now and tell everyone, your friends and neighbors, that Christ’s Holy Church, the Armenian Youth Ministries’ Center in Glendale, this spiritual home is standing firm for the glory of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church and for the illumination of the Armenian nation.”
With the warm applause of the people, the Armenian Forefather and the Teacher elevated to and revered the Holy Altar. Then the Forefather blessed the pastor and the children, as well as those in attendance, while St. Mesrob, with his beautiful voice, sang Takavor Yergnavor (=Heavenly King, keep your Holy Church unshaken…).
The saints left the church with the people. With content hearts, they opened their arms in the air and praised God. They flew up and disappeared into the night.
Translated from Armenian to English, Fr. Vazken Movsesian
March 5, 2005 – Feast of the 40 Martyrs of Sepastia