By Barlow Der Mugrdechian
Hye Sharzhoom Advisor
The Year 2000 was ushered in with fes tivities throughout the world, but the millennial celebration of the Birth of Christ was celebrated with a unique series of events centered in the Holy City of Jerusalem. For Armenian Christians, these events took on an even greater significance, as the leadership of the Armenian spiritual and political worlds arrived in Jerusalem.
Armenian Christians in the Holy Lands are under the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Armenians celebrate New Year’s Eve according to the old Julian calendar, so the equivalent of December 31/January 1 is celebrated on January 13/14. Likewise the Birth of Christ is celebrated on January 6 according to the newer Gregorian calendar, but on January 18 according to the older calendar.
My ten day visit to Jerusalem, January 10-January 20, spanned the millennial activities planned in the Holy Sites. In 1999, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem had issued an invitation to Armenian Christians throughout the world to visit Jerusalem for the millennial celebration of Christ’s birth. For the first time in history, a Catholicos of All Armenians, in this case His Holiness Karekin II, would be visiting the Holy Lands on Christmas. At the same time, the President of the Republic of Armenia, Robert Kocharian, was planning to arrive in Jerusalem on January 17 to participate in the celebrations and to become acquainted with the Armenians of the Old City.
Along with the visit of these leaders, the Patriarch of Constantinople, His Beatitude Archbishop Mesrob Moutafian was also leading a group of pilgrims from Turkey to the Holy Lands.
Christmas Eve was celebrated with singing in the courtyard of the St. James Monastery. The seminary students, the many clergy who had come from throughout the world, and the faithful gathered to sing “Glory to God in the Highest,” followed by joyous celebrations that lasted well after midnight. The crisp, cool night, was punctuated with the sounds of fireworks.
The next morning, His Beatitude Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, received pilgrims from abroad in the second-floor reception room of the Patriarchate. He greeted the faithful and distributed the traditional oranges to the people.
On Monday, January 17, there was a feeling of anticipation in the air, as His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of All Armenians, was schedule to arrive at the Jaffa Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem. He had been making his first pontifical visit to the Holy Land, arriving in Amman, Jordan several days earlier. He was escorted from Amman to Jerusalem by an convoy of cars, led by the Patriarch of Jerusalem.
By 4:00 PM in the afternoon, scouts from the local Homenetmen and Hoyetchmen clubs, with their colorful uniforms, had begun the official reception party. More than twenty bishops of the Armenian Church were in Jerusalem for the special events, and they too were in the procession to greet the Catholicos. Several thousand people had gathered at the Jaffa Gate to greet the Catholicos.
When the official delegation arrived, the sound of trumpets, bagpipes, and music rent the air, with much shouting and noise. The Catholicos was greeted by the two Patriarchs, and escorted from the Jaffa Gate to the St. James Monastery in a ceremonial procession which attracted the attention of many tourists. Upon entering the monastery, he entered the St. James Church, where he addressed the crowded faithful. Following the message, the traditional achahampouyr took place.
It is hard to describe the feelings which were expressed and felt by the pilgrims from Turkey, Holland, from Europe, and the more than 400 Armenians from the United States,who had arrived for a very special occasion.
Armenian Christmas eve and Christmas day activities centered on the city of Bethlehem and the Church of the Grotto. The official convoy, headed by the Catholicos and the Patriarchs arrived at 11:00 AM and a Divine Liturgy was celebrated by His Holiness Karekin II at 4:00 PM in the afternoon. Following the Liturgy, the people had a chance to meet with His Holiness and the other clergy.
The highlight of the day was the midnight Divine Liturgy celebrated in the grotto where Jesus Christ was born. Attending the special ceremony were Robert Kocharian, President of the Republic of Armenia, and Yasser Arafat, Head of the Palestinian Authority.
The making of new acquaintances and visiting the holiest sites in Christianity, while at the same time participating in religious services with the Catholicos and two Patriarchs contributed to a special ten days filled with unforgettable moments.