Armenian Jerusalem
This project has been supported by the Gulbenkian philanthropic Foundation, the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem, and members of the worldwide Armenian community. Reproductions of the genealogical documents [domar’s] are courtesy Photo Garo, Jerusalem. Copyright © 2007 Arthur Hagopian
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Artwork by Oren Gourlay Hagopian

        The words flow out powerfully in a resurgent stream, like the waters of the River

Jordan, unstoppable, evocative, seeking to stir, rouse us into an emotional or spiritual

contemplation.

    Always seeking the light, soaring towards the light.

           As   he   walks   along   a   dark   and   silent   street,   his   head   down,   he   is   shadowed   by   the   moon.   The   wind   blows dispassionately, as if intent on throttling the silence.             Self-centered,   he   is   seeking   answers   from   God,   but   when   he   stumbles   against   a   beggar,   he   relents   and asks forgiveness for his egoism and mercy for the hapless man.             Meet   the   poet,   the   Very   Reverend   Father,   Pakrad   Berjekian,   Vicar   general   of   the   Western   Diocese   of   the Armenian Church in America, former Chairman of General Assembly of the Brotherhood of St James in Jerusalem.             A   priest   and   a   poet.   Not   a   first   -   he   is   preceded   by   such   illustrious   Armenian   greats   as   Ghevont   Alishan,   St   Nerses   the   Gracious,   Megerditch Khrimian   ("Hayrig"),   Khoren   de   Lusignan,   Sayat   Nova):   another   beacon   of   light   for   literature,   not   only   Armenian,   but   universal.   What   Berjekian writes, finds echoes in all languages, all over the world.                         There   was   a   time   when,   in   his   teens,   the   words   would flow   from   the   end   of   a   lead   pencil,   black   on   white,   wafting onto   a   sheet   of   lined   paper,   scratching   long   lines   of   vivid emotion.                  The   lead   pencil   is   long   gone   now,   replaced   by   the serrated   black   rows   of   a   computer   keyboard.   No   scratching paper.   just   a   luminescent   screen,   where   his   somber   visage   is reflected,    a    background    censor    zealously    marking    the outpouring of words.             He   was   only   17,   a   novice   seeking   a   life   of   spiritual enlightenment   as   a   seminarian   in   Jerusalem,   immersed   in the   quest   of   service   to   God   and   his   community,   when   he   felt the first inklings of a poetic stirring in his soul.             He   remembers   his   first   bashful   attempts   at   putting   down the   cascade   of   ideas   filling   his   mind.   He   was   fortunate   in having   as   his   mentor   an   acclaimed   poet,   and   fellow   priest, the   late   Patriarch,   Archbishop   Yeghishe   Derderian.   Under   his tutelage,   Berjekian's   budding   skills   developed   and   the   young seminarian   forged   ahead   with   his   dreams   of   capturing   the world in rhythm and rhyme.             "Derderian   read   everything   I   wrote   and   helped   me   with   his critique," Berjekian confides.             The   years   rolled   by   and   he   became   ordained   a   celibate priest of the Holy See of Jerusalem.             There   never   was   any   conflict   between   the   chalice   and   the pen.   Every   time   he   lifts   the   golden   cup   during   holy   mass,   his eyes   brim   with   tears,   but   his   hands   are   sturdy   as   a   rock,   as   in awestruck   reverence,   he   offers   his   prayers:   there   is   nothing before   him   but   the   blood   and   body   of   Christ   which   he   is consecrating.             And   when   he   sits   down   to   craft   his   poems,   there   is   no other   thought   other   than   capturing   the   "tsunami"   of   emotions pleading for utterance.                 Berjekian's    style    is    heedless    of    quantitative    linear considerations.             "The   important   thing   is   the   theme   and   the   imagery   and the message. The   beauty   is   in   the   imagery   and   its   flow   with   a   tsunami   of emotions," he explains.             "I   do   not   look   or   explore,   feelings   and   thoughts   may   rush through   my   mind   simply   by   observing   a   natural   scene   or   by hearing some heart touching music," he explains.             "Personal   injustices   or   malicious   acts,   or   any   kind   of   happy moments may have an impact on my urge to write," he adds.             "Feelings   create   images   in   me   which   come   out   in   words   imagined   in   my   own   way.   For   example,   I   watch   the   rain,   and   often   see   in   the   rain   the image of a harp played by divine hands resulting in a heavenly music."             Writing   under   the   pen   name   Pakradouni,   derived   from   an   ancient Armenian   hereditary   nobility,   he   has   produced   three   books   so   far   with   such catching titles as: "Looysn Ooshatzadz" [The Light is Late],"Hokiyi   Hamerk" [Concert of the Soul], and "Hooysi Navag" [The Boat of Hope].             It   is   a   universal   truth   that   the   life   of   a   priest   is   one   of   personal   penance   and   sacrifice,   embedded   in   pledges   of   obedience,   poverty   and celibacy, in a world where temptation beckons us at every step.             Berjekian   knows   that   abandoning   and   renouncing   the   world   and   all   its   riches   in   favor   of   serving   God   and   man,   demands   a   lifelong commitment, bolstered by an indomitable will and an indefatigable zeal.             No   stranger   to   hard   work   and   dedication,   he   had   been   tasked   with   the   oversight   and   protection   of   the Armenian   Patriarchate's   real   estates   in Jerusalem,   and   when   he   was   sent   to   the   US,   he   was   assigned   Vicar   of   the   Western   Diocese   and   supervisor   of   all   Saturday   schools   functioning under its authority.             [The   Jerusalem   Patriarchate   is   the   second   most   important   source   of   spiritual   rejuvenation   for   all   Armenians   after   the   Mother   Church   at Etchmiadzin,   Armenia.   One   of   its   fundamental   tasks   is   the   training   of   priests   at   its   theological   seminary:   Armenian   churches   around   the   world rely upon Jerusalem to replenish the ranks of their clergy when they run down].     Berjekian had chosen a career that is relentlessly difficult and demanding, but at the same time, immeasurably rewarding.             Wrapped   in   a   world   of   spirituality,   and   a   heavy   cloak   to   ward   off   the   merciless   weather,   he   would   walk   the   streets   of   the   Old   City   of Jerusalem   on   cold   winter   nights,   to   assume   his   duties   as   a   celebrant   in   the   Cathedral   of   the   Holy   Sepulchre,   his   heart   bursting   with   a concatenation of thoughts, feelings and emotions.     The midnight trek is part of the trauma and torment that is the lot of an Armenian priest.     But for Berjekian, it is also a precious period of quiet reflection, and there is a smile on his face as he plods on.     For he knows how to turn pain into song, as he says in his "Orchestra of the Soul".     "My wound that festered of eve     "Is transmuted into song today."     (Jan 1, 2017)