At the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, marked 105 years since the start of the Armenian Genocide on April 24, 2020, with solemn observances at several locations in Armenia.
Restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic made this year’s Martyrs Day very different from the norm. Typically an occasion of intense activity and large, closely packed public gatherings, the 2020 commemoration saw Armenians across the world prohibited from coming together physically. Instead, they united in symbolic ways and over various media platforms.
In the days prior to April 24, the leader of the worldwide Armenian Church had encouraged Armenian faithful across the world to observe the occasion in their homes, by dimming the lights and reciting prayers by candle light on the evening of April 23, and by observing a minute of silence at noon on April 24. On both occasions, local churches were instructed to toll their bells for three minutes in memory of the Genocide Saints.
Catholicos Karekin II acknowledged the unusual circumstances of this year’s Martyrs Day in his message to the faithful. But he affirmed that Armenians stood together in a more fundamental sense.
“Even in our present situation, isolated in our homes, we still stand together in the saintly presence of our immortal martyrs. And thus we stand in spiritual solidarity,” he said. “ In that united spirit, we vow to aspire to the highest vision of our free and independent homeland: to labor in the cause of its security, prosperity, and advancement; to fortify the mighty foundations of the diaspora; and to assert the moral necessity of universal recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.”
Wreaths, Flame, Relics
In Armenia, April 24 dawned as a dreary, overcast day, which seemed all the more desolate due to the marked lack of people. Amid a light but constant patter of rain, the Catholicos and his retinue ascended to the hilltop Dzidzernagapert Genocide Memorial, to lay wreaths and flowers at the eternal flame.
His Holiness also presided over a memorial Divine Liturgy celebrated at the ancient St. Gayane Monastery. The celebrant for the service was Fr. Karekin Hampartsumyan—a member of the Brotherhood of Holy Etchmiadzin and director of its homiletics center—who in a sermon quoted the Hymn to the Holy Martyrs: “They did not exchange the adamantine resolve of their faith for the soft luxuries of fleeting life; but by falling to the ground like a grain of wheat, they gave fruit by the hundredfold to one another.”
A final ceremony in the afternoon took place on the outdoor plaza of the Mother Cathedral, before the great khatchkarof the Covenant of Prayer, erected in the time of Catholicos Vasken I as one of the earliest public monuments dedicate to the memory of the Genocide martyrs. There, His Holiness Karekin II led the sparse gathering of clergy in the special Intercessory Prayer of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, composed in 2015 when the martyrs were formally acknowledged as saints of the church.
Throughout the sacred observances of the day, the Catholicos of All Armenians held thejewel-studded reliquary containing precious relics of the Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide. Cast in silver on the reliquary lid is a three-dimensional relief of the beloved martyrs icon, consecrated in 2015 during the canonization ceremony. His Holiness held the reliquary as he blessed the Armenian faithful of the world—in the same way that he has lately brought forth other sacred relics of the church (the Holy Lance of Keghart, and the fragment of the True Cross, for example) for blessings during the pandemic crisis. Those taking part in the services had an opportunity to venerate the Relics of the Genocide Martyrs on behalf of all the children of the Armenian Church.
Read the entire Martyrs Day message of His Holiness Karekin II below. (Click here to read the original Armenian.)
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Message of His Holiness Karekin II
On the Feast of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide
Dearly Beloved Armenian People of the Homeland and Diaspora:
Today we pay our tribute to the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, who gave their lives for the sake of faith and homeland.
During the Genocide, our people bore witness to the massacre of one and a half million of their children; to the destruction of their national-spiritual values, sanctuaries, monasteries, churches, villages and cities; and to the loss of the great part of their historic homeland.
Our Martyrs, having suffered terribly like Christ, came “to know the power of his resurrection, and participated in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,and so somehow attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10-11). Steadfast in their faith, they were irresistible in spirit, moving from death to eternal life, and proving worthy of the unfading crown of sainthood.
Dear faithful, due to the pandemic crisis, this year we cannot visit the Dzidzernagapert Memorial, gather in our churches, nor stand beneath the memorials we have erected to honor the memory of our holy martyrs.
Yet even in this situation, isolated in our homes, we still stand together in the saintly presence of our immortal martyrs. And thus we stand in spiritual solidarity. In that united spirit, we vow to aspire to the highest vision of our free and independent homeland: to labor in the cause of its security, prosperity, and advancement; to fortify the mighty foundations of the diaspora; and to assert the moral necessity of universal recognition and condemnation of the Armenian Genocide.
We shall make these dreams come true with a consciousness of duty towards our entire people, through national solidarity, and with a unified effort to uphold our homeland and a vibrant future for all Armenians.
Dear pious people, on this cherished day, we invite you to join in heartfelt prayer, asking our Sainted Martyrs to intercede with God on our behalf: that our lives may know peace and solidarity under the gracious blessings of the Risen Christ; that may we overcome the trials we face; and that the Lord’s blessings will protect our country and people throughout the world, today and forever. Amen.