Golgotha Church in Yerevan
19 Jul 2015
|Sunday. We are staying at a guesthouse on the property of Golgotha Church. Golgotha is a small but very committed and passionate Armenian evangelical church. Last time I was here, I taught a Chrisitan education class here at the church for church leaders from Baptist and evangelical churches around the area. The church is involved in lots of great ministry. So, you would think they would be hesitant to ask some American to preach on Sunday. Hm.
So, I decided to preach a character study on John Mark...the disciple who abandoned Paul and Barnabas on their First Missionary Journey which led to their splitting up and heading in different directions. How can a kid who abandoned these super apostles ever be of any worth. Well, in 2 Timothy Paul asked for Mark to come to him because "he is good for my ministry." I was preaching with an interpreter...always a bit of a challenge. Somehow, it seemed to work. Several people talked about this as a thought-provoking teaching. I think Armenians are a lot quicker to identify with Paul than Barnabas. Paul called for only the best in John Mark. Barnabas believed in him when he had a hard time believing in himself. Both were important for John Mark to develop into the man of God he was intended to be.
But, you didn't ask me to repreach the sermon here. I guess I was just glad to raise an issue that seems appropriate for their culture. Not something I understand so I can only attribute it to God.
After church I stood at the back of the church and received handshakes and a few kisses from the Armenians who attended. Pastor Garik seemed very excited I was here. "Professor Kelly told me 2 years ago he would return and hoped to bring students. I am so glad he has done just that," he told his people. Pastor David had sent a small gift for him. He did not open it while I was with him, but he seemed genuinely pleased at the gesture. Go pastor David!
We got some pizza for lunch. Not exactly Italian, but Italian-ish. The don't really use sauce on their pizza, so they serve it with ketchup. Um, i thiought it tasted great without the ketchup. We ordered the El Diablo pizza with hot peppers. As it turns out, hot in Armenia is not really enough to burn your tongue--ketchuup or no ketchup.
Charlie and Wendy went home after lunch and Keith drove the three of us to Gerhardt, a very old Christian monastery. The oldest sections of the church were carved directly into the face of the mountain. Very cool carved chambers. We stopped along the way to grab some pictures of Mout Ararat, the mountain the ark is supposed to have come to rest on. The Armenians are sometimes called the People of Noah and are confident in telling you they descended from Japheth, Noah's son.
Inside the chapel at Gehrhardt, an Armenian Apostolic priest was performing a Baptism. I honestly was so intrigued I stayed to watch the entire experience. It was not Baptist at all, but not much like a Catholic or Orthodox Baptism either. First, the baptismal candidates included a teenager and two young adults. It seemed that they had chosen this for themselves, rather than it being something done to them. I suspect the three were brothers. Someone who could have been their father, though he seemed a little young, along with a woman who could have been their mother stood beside them. The Baptism proceeded with much singing and chanting by the priests. They began at the front of the church, but moved everyone to the side where a baptismal basin was located. The three candidates unbottoned their shirts and rolled up their pants to their knees as the priest sang and poured drops of water into the baptismal basin. The men came to the basin one by one, placed their arms deep into it and leaned over it as the priest used his hand to spread the water over their faces, over their neck down the front of their shirts toward their hearts, and then down the back of their necks, and finally to their legs and feet. Ok, this was not emersion, but it was also not sprinkling or pouring. I have never even heard of this kind of baptism. After each received the baptism, the father figure used a town to dry them.
When all the candidates had received the baptism, the priest opened a little bottle of oil. He said something about Christ as he systematically anointed their head, eyes, nose, mouth, ears, heart, hands, and feet. It seemed like he was meaning that as a believer each of their members should be living for Christ. He dipped a little cross in the baptismal fount and then asked the mother and father figure to tie them to the neck of the 3 men. Finally, he took them to the front again and he and the other priest presented them to those gathered. Then, the priests simply left.
I suspect that all of this was merely ritual for the candidates, but it was an intriguing ceremony. I suspect that these practices date way back to a time when the Armenian Church had not been darkened by Soviet times. I suspect that this baptism was a very real experience once...as it might be for some today. I suspect it was once an attempt to reflect the grace of Christ in a very real way. Perhaps it will find fresh meaning for Armenians again some day.
We wandered around the monastery for a while, then went up to what Keith called the Choir loft. Apparently, at some time in the past, the monastery let a woman with a unique talent for music develop a choir--all men. They would not allow her to show herself in the chapel, but they built her a room with amazing acoustics above the chapel. She could lead the men to sing and the music would roft down into the chapel. Interesting. There was a young Armenian man standing in the choir room when we entered. I took a chance and spoke to him in English: So, are you going to sing? He didn't catch my words. I repeated, this is the choir room; why don't you sing for us. He finally caught on and laughed and shook his head no. That started a conversation. He was a Russian Armenian named Gageek. (Keith told me it is an Armenian name.) He is studying in a linguistics program here in Yerevan. We ended up taking a picture with the two of us, his aunt and uncle, and Samari. OK, truth be told, I think they just wanted a picture with Samari. Everyone wants a picture with Samari. I think it is freaking Samari out just a little. We walked outside and I stood and talked with Gageek while Keith took Samari and Michael into the gift shop. I liked Gageek. Hoping to connect with him on line.
We left Gehrhardt and bought some hand made Armenian candy made from fruits and nuts. We got a couple of different kinds, not really sure what they are called. But they were pretty tasty. We drove to Garni, a first century site that was once the site of the worship of the sun prior to the conversion of the country to Christ. The temple itself was made with steps set at an unusual angle designed to make you bow before the sun. The temple sits at the top of a big ravine. The wind currents that blow up from the ravine cool the area. The people once hung wet sheets at the top of the ravine to catch the wind. It was the first attempt at Armenian air conditioning.
Dinner was more traditional Armenian, kabobs and such. We came home tired and ready to unwind and get ready to depart for camp in the morning. We're going to the bank first thing to try to recover the money I lost in the exchange machine at the airport when we first arived. Hopefully, they will believe me and give the money back. :)