KAREN KARABIAN–STAFF WRITER
Fresno’s Armenian youth were united in one place at one time. Children, as young as five, gathered inside St. Paul’s church hall. They sat among older brothers and sisters, they sat beside my fellow college classmates. We were all drawn together for one reason — to witness the Catholicos of Armenia.
St. Paul’s rally had already begun and I impatiently stood at the door looking in. I scanned the rows of chairs angled in a half circle, desperate to find a vacant seat. I ventured into the room, I wanted to maneuver between the rows of chairs, race up toward the front like a child, and break the bond which held the audience captive. If only I could touch his valiant robe or witness the intense faith in his eyes I would somehow know more, be more. I wavered back and forth stretched up on my toes, hoping to spot His Holiness above the heads in front of me. But when I caught my first glimpse of Karekin I disappointment fell over me.
I had envisioned a man with powerful presence, a man with flawless stature. I wanted to be overpowered by a sense of greatness and prestige. Why didn’t the Armenian Catholicos, his life a living sermon, move me? Then he spoke.
It wasn’t the words, but the grace and passion that came forth from those words. The crowd was silenced and I was reverent. I saw an invisible light radiate through him. Certainly not a great feat for someone who has devoted his life to fellowship with Christ. It was obvious that it was not the merely position that made him the leader of the Armenian Church but his true Christian heart that made him the Catholicos of All Armenians.
Throughout the night a few brave souls stood up and voiced questions regarding race, religion, faith, culture, and church service. Brave seems accurate because I would cower from the attentive gaze of Karekin I and his entourage.
The thought of exchanging words or facing that gracious smile intimidated me. The Catholicos does smile, unlike his entourage, whom he referred to as overprotective policemen. I was charmed by his humor. Unfortunately, many of his punch lines were in Armenian that I didn’t understand. But the laughter that swept the room was infectious and I felt included in his anecdotes.
His commitment to connecting with Armenian youth was so effortless it could only be genuine. And without a doubt, a connection was made. It wasn’t as though he was brought down to our level of righteousness and understanding, but rather he honorably elevated us up to his. At that point I realized the realm of his greatness.
He spoke to us as a father, a friend, and as a man, destined to unify two worlds. He was not quick to judge or reluctant to praise. I agree that his hopes of reviving the Armenian culture and passing on tradition lie within the hands of the youth. There was a definite charge aimed at the Armenian youth to keep our culture alive.
My classmate raised the question of why we do not have two church services– one in Armenian the other in English. Karekin answered, “If we say the Lord’s Prayer in English in America, French in Canada, and Turkish in Turkey, then where does the Armenian language live? Once the language is lost, you have destroyed a culture, and the only people left who will preserve such traditions.”
The Catholicos had to concede to the clock and answer questions with hurried responses. One could tell it left him incomplete. It left us incomplete, as if we were losing our only chance to hear this man. The faith and morality he preaches are not part of his job but the whole of his life. His rare honest virtue is inseparable from who he is and all he has. I was inspired by his unwavering devotion to the Lord.
He left behind a gold cross. The word Etchmiadzin is etched in Armenian on the back. The cross when worn, unifies all those in attendance, and it is a visible start in the effort to link the Armenian church and the Armenian people around the world.