Remembering Courage and Sacrifice

A Vartanantz Day service and dinner program, commemorating Armenian military leader and martyr St. Vartan Mamigonian, was held at St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on February 20. The event was organized under the auspices of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church, with the participation of the Mid-Atlantic Knights and Daughters of Vartan.

Bishop Daniel Findikyan, Primate of the Diocese, presided over the service and program.

The feast day began with a celebration of the Divine Liturgy officiated by the Rev. Fr. Voski Galstyan: the newest priest of the Diocese, who was ordained by the Primate’s hand this past summer.

A dinner followed in Haik and Alice Kavookjian Auditorium, featuring remarks by Bishop Daniel, keynote speaker Deacon Timothy Aznavourian, and Mid-Atlantic District Representatives for the Knights and the Daughters of Vartan (respectively) Dr. Edward Sanossian and Seta Izmirliyan.

In his speech, Dn. Aznavourian reflected on how the Armenian peoples’ unwavering commitment to Christianity throughout the centuries continues to be relevant in modern times.

“Armenian Christians today are able to refresh our souls and spirit in the bravery embodied by St. Vartan and his soldiers on the battlefield,” he said.

Dn. Aznavourian noted how the ancient Armenian historian Yeghishe recounted the struggle of the Armenians to retain Christianity, despite the Persians’ attempt to force a reintroduction of Zoroastrianism.

Life Beyond Death

In his own remarks, Bishop Daniel added: “That chapter of our history breathes life into who we are today. St. Vartan knew he would die, but did not look at this tremendous challenge with worldly, human eyes. Instead, he saw it through the eyes of God, with life beyond death, making it possible for us to celebrate the victory of the Christian faith to this very day.”

St. Vartan Mamigonian is revered for having led the Armenian army at the Battle of Avarayr in A.D. 451, where Christian Armenians took arms against the pagan Persian empire. Although Vartan and his Christian fighters were grossly outnumbered and suffered a military defeat, the battle is significant in that it ultimately changed the course of Armenia’s history. After witnessing how unyielding the Armenians were in defending their Christian faith with their very lives, the Persians eventually relented in their bloody campaign of conversion.

The Armenians thereby secured their right to freely practice Christianity.

An Ongoing Connection

The Battle of Avarayr is marked each year by Armenians worldwide on the Thursday preceding the Great Lent, in recognition of the ultimate sacrifice made by St. Vartan and his army. The Knights and Daughters of Vartan have been instrumental in ensuring that St. Vartan and the Battle of Avarayr are remembered and observed.

A strong connection to the centuries-old battle was also expressed by the Vartanantz event’s attendees, who affirmed that St. Vartan’s defense of Christianity is something which they feel appreciative of in their hearts and souls. Many of them nodded in approval as the evening’s speakers emphasized the importance of remembering the many sacrifices that Armenian martyrs have made in defending their Christian faith.

In a moving musical tribute that summed up the spirit of the event, vocalist and St. Vartan Cathedral Choir member Solange Merdinian provided a cultural presentation of Armenian music.  Included in her repertoire of songs were inspirational and emotional versions of the Armenian patriotic anthems “Sardarabad” and “Artyok Ovker En.”

The audience immediately began singing along, adding to the palpable feeling of pride and appreciation for Armenia’s staunch defense of Christianity throughout the ages, embodied in the words of Yeghishe Vartabed, chronicler of the Vartanantz War: “Death, unanticipated, is death; death, anticipated, is immortality.”

By Steve Nigohosian

Click here to view photos by Albin Lohr-Jones.

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