ARMENIA – In October, fighting broke out between two former Soviet-held countries, Armenia and Azerbaijan. The short war resulted in more than 5,000 dead and 100,000 displaced.
A cease-fire ended the fighting in November, but Armenia has been wracked by ongoing strife since then.
Now it’s winter in Armenia. The cold weather might be brutal, but the citizens of this historically Christian nation make it through by drawing on warm traditions of faith and family.
The first recorded celebration of Christmas was in the year 336 AD when the Roman emperor Constantine declared December 25th would be celebrated as the day of Christ’s birth. But more than 30 years earlier, Armenians were commemorating the birth of Christ on a different day – January 6th. And it’s still celebrated that way here today.
“We celebrate Christmas on the eve of Christmas, the night of January 5th, and that’s when we celebrate the candlelight liturgy and that’s when we announce the birth of the Christ,” said Armenian worshipper Seda Grigorian. “And the next day, in the morning January 6 again we have liturgies all over, at churches all over the world.”
More than 95% of Armenians claim Christianity, and so religious holidays like this one are very important here, following the traditions passed down by the Armenian Apostolic Church for millennia.
The Hagartsin Monastery is located in the northern part of Armenia in a town called Dilijan. And Christians here have been celebrating Christ’s birth in this spot for over 1,000 years. This year’s celebration is a little subdued, and there’s a reason for that. CBN News talked to one of the priests here to find out why.
Bishop Bagrat Galstanyan, Primate of the Tavush Diocese, Armenian Apostolic Church noted, “It’s about our existence, our identity, everything.”
Galstanyan is not talking about the Armenian church, though that is central to life here in Armenia. He’s talking about their homeland, part of which was just lost in a short but intense conflict with their eastern neighbor, Azerbaijan. Starting in September 2020, the Azeri army moved in to take over lands where Armenians have lived for thousands of years, and the loss is deeply felt among the people here.
“It’s traumatic, let’s say, and we still need time to truly analyze and understand what happened to us and why it happened, and make a strong commitment for revival,” Bishop Galstanyan said.
“This year we are not celebrating the holidays, the New Years’ and Christmas, in a festive way because as you know Armenia was hit by a devastating war in 2020, which left us with heavy losses,” said Grigorian. “We lost our historic lands.”
Normally the capital city of Yerevan is heavily decorated with lights for the Christmas season, but this year between the COVID virus and the war, the mood is subdued. Nevertheless, these worshippers are putting their faith in God for the future.
“This is a moment of mourning. This is a moment of reflection,” Grigorian explained. “And this is a moment of also appreciating what we have, and also the birth of Christ is also allowing us to think about the rebirth of our nation and of our dreams, and hopefully being able to stand up again and protect our land.”
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