walls are holding, but it's not safe inside
Eleven year old Vigen, school bag on his back,
was running after other kids, screaming at them
in Noyemberyan dialect: "Hey, kids go away,
The boy runs till his cheeks are red and sweat
shines on his forehead, acting as the unofficial
security guard of St. Sargis Church.
"We live in this district. Vigen watches
that nobody enters the church and vandalizes whatever
is left," says Vigen's mother, 31 year old
Voskehat, who sells candles at the church.
"I don't let the kids enter the church,
but they broke the window and entered through
it to play inside," explains Vigen.
There is nothing left in Saint Sargis church
of Noyemberyan. There are pieces of broken glass
on the floor, stones. Walls are decorated with
"This church has had a hard life,"
says its priest, Father Hrayr Bejanyan.
In 1997 an earthquake in the villages of Koghb
and Berdavan was, the priest says, St. Sargis
An hour after the quake Father Bejanyan took
all the church belongings that were left, into
a building that had been an office for a "kolkhoz"
(collective farm) on the property. At it is there,
ever since, that some 100 worshipers come for
"I couldn't give up everything and say that
we don't have a church any longer," the priest
says. "People need all these. I serve the
liturgy and divine service in this hall."
is now held inside the business office of
the old collective farm.
Saint Sargis was built in 1848. During Soviet
times, the State took it over for housing a power
generator. The noisy machine, Father Bejanyan
says, shook the church walls and made them unstable.
Later, the communists turned the church into a
warehouse for a collective farm where fruits and
cheese were stored.
A great number of spiritual leaders were killed
in Lori and Spitak regions. Many of them, having
been artificially labeled Kulaks (bourgeois) or
ARF members were banished.
"Wherever the spiritual life was active,
and there were some functioning cloisters, the
communistic cells settled, and began rooting out
the faith," says the prelate of Gugarats
diocese, Sepuh Chuljyan.
St. Sargis belongs to Gugarats diocese, which
includes the regions of Tavush and Lori. There
are 18 churches in the diocese, but St. Sargis
is the only one for Noyemberyan, a region that
includes 17 villages and some 30,000 residents.
Inhabitants of nearby villages come here to
get married or baptized. The first ceremony of
baptism after the collapse of Soviet Union took
place in 1990.
Father Bejanyan says that during the time when
the church was not functioning, clergymen were
organizing pilgrimages to this place. He proudly
shows all the memorable pictures, kept with care.
"In 1995 we received Garegin I here. The
work of the church was very important during the
war years. We were sheltering soldiers here, we
were blessing them, before they would leave for
the battlefield. (Noyemberyan is near the border
of Azerbaijan.) St. Sargis lived an ordinary church
life," says Father Bejanyan
Father and plans for rebuilding
After the communists moved out, St. Sargis was
repaired and reopened. But in the '97 earthquake
the repairs were ruined in a second and there
has been no money to rebuild.
Voskehat says: "I very often hear old women
say 'This is the office of our sovkhoz (the Russian
word for collective farm) this is not a church.
It seems to be just formal". Many people
kneel down before the outside walls (of the broken
church) and say their prayers there".
About a half-dozen marriage ceremonies take place
in St. Sargis every year. Believers come here
on Sundays to listen to liturgy, and Voskehat
sells about 100-150 candles. Generally there are
more visitors in winter time.
"There are days when nobody comes. I sit
there alone and wait. I am sure that the repaired
church will attract more visitors," says
According to His Holiness Sepuh, the reconstruction
of the church will require at least $150,000.
Vice-mayor of Noyemberyan Grisha Gulkanyan says:
"When we didn't have a state system, our
nation was saved and protected by the church.
Many, complaining of the conditions, leave the
city nowadays, and the role of the church in terms
of keeping them here will be great."
It is quiet inside St. Sargis. The baptism font
and altar are empty. However sunset rays, penetrating
through the windows, embrace the whole church.
A khachkar (stone cross) propped against the
the wall, is proudly looking from behind a spider's
web. Vigen is praying on his knees, and is kissing
the dusty khachkar.
"Noyemberyan is on the border. It is the
railway gate of Armenia," says Father Bejanyan.
"Not only good but also evil enters through
the gate. The church reconstruction is indeed
a great necessity."
To learn more about efforts to reconstruct
St.Sargis: Call the church, (374 66) 2.32.43 or
the deputy mayor's office, (374 66) 2.32.04. To
make a contribution to ArmeniaNow's HyeSanta
project, click here.