- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 May 9, 2003 

Faithful Tradition: Mass baptism meant to strengthen Armenian Church

Forty children became members of the faith, during mass baptismal services..

A clergyman stands before a congregation of believers and asks a question that links Armenian tradition to this contemporary gathering at Saint Zoravor Church in Yerevan.

"What does a godfather ask of his godchild?"

In response the kavors (godfathers) repeat three times: "Hope, faith, love and baptism."

The ceremony of the Armenian Apostolic church symbolizes expiation of sins and spiritual rebirth.

On Tuesday (May 6) 40 children of different ages from the Erebuni community were baptized; 14 at Saint Zoravor.

A two year old, Gayane, looks confused and screams when the clergyman brings her to a basin of water. Her mother, Marine Khachatryan, has brought three children. Gayane's nine-year old brother Patvakan and eight-year old brother Davit will also join the believers this day.

"When someone is being baptized, irrespective of the age he or she becomes a member of our church by accepting our ideology," says clergyman Yeghishe Karsyan.

Gevorg Gevorgyan and Armen Kalivanjyan were chosen to be all the children's godfathers. From this day, their role will be to represent the Church in the lives of their sanigs (godchildren). The godfathers are to be spiritual teachers who give children spiritual food by caring for them, so that they grow to become honest Christians.

"We deliver that ideology to a child through the godfather, and based on that the child will be brought up. Godfather is a proxy of the church," says Father Yeghishe.

Parents and relatives joined clergy to see the baptismal ritual..

Baptism is divided into two parts - the baptism itself and the imprint. During the baptism ceremony a clergyman turns a child towards the east and submerges him in water three times, saying, "In the name of Father, Son and the Holy Spirit."

Father Yeghishe explains, "It means they are baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity. Submerging in water three times symbolizes Christ's burial and resurrection. By coming out of water, you become a new person getting stronger by Christ's resurrection."

Fifteen year old Lilit Arakelyan regrets that she hasn't been baptized before. "I feel myself a new person, even my faith became stronger within minutes."

After washing himself with consecrated water, the Father imprints the children with holy water. Father Yeghishe says that the imprint is the mark Christ and holy water symbolizes the Holy Spirit.

"The Father anointed my forehead, ears, eyes, mouth, palms and knees with the holy water. Then my back and heart. I know that this is done so that I serve for good and useful deeds," says Lilit's brother, 11-year old Vahe Arakelyan.

Tuesday's event was organized by the political party "Orinats Yerkir" (Country of Law). Vice president of the party, Gagik Mkheyan, says 50,000 children have been baptized in over the past four years through the party's efforts.

Head of the party's Erebuni region Tamara Ishkhanyan says this year 120 have been baptized in their community and 40 are waiting.

Each person baptized is given a one-gram gold cross.

"Our purpose is to prevent propagation of sects," Ishkhanyan, a teacher, says. "By being baptized they already start getting an idea of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Even in schools there are sectarian teachers who lead children astray."

The ceremony includes baptism and imprint.

At the end of baptism ceremony the Father blesses a thick thread and attaches a consecrated cross which the godfather puts over the child's neck.

"The thick thread is made of white and red threads," Father Yeghishe says. " It symbolizes Christ's blood. When he was pierced on cross, first blood and then white liquid was pouring off him."

After the ceremony, the yard of the Saint Zoravor Church is full of children's hue-and-cry. Everybody's faces anointed with holy water are shining. A mother of two children, Lusine Mkhitaryan, is also among those having been baptized. "Though it is a little late, I took the opportunity and was baptized with my children. It seems like I have been spiritually cleared."

The Father reminds those who were baptized that they must not wash themselves and take bath for three days, as they are anointed with holy water. On the third day only a clergyman can wash with consecrated water places anointed with holy water.

"The water with which the holy water was washed out must be poured out in a clean place. Being baptized people expiate their sins, to be born again. And the imprint makes their souls stronger, gives them strength to confront all difficulties of life," Father Yeghishe says.


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Day of Remembrance

May 9 is Victory Day, when Armenia remembers its war veterans with ceremonies that include laying carnations and standing in formation near the Eternal Flame above Yerevan.



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