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

While many in the West think of Christmastide ending on the so-called ‘twelfth

night’, Armenians celebrate Christmas in Israel and Palestine on 19 January.

         “While   they   were   there,   the   time   came   for   the   baby   to   be   born,   and   she   gave   birth   to   her   firstborn,   a son.   She   wrapped   him   in   cloths   and   placed   him   in   a   manger,   because   there   was   no   room   for   them   in   the inn.” (Luke 2. 6-7). Christmas in January             And   yes,   before   some   smart   aleck   interjects   to   remind   me   that   I   have   got   my   dates   hopelessly mixed   up,   just   remember   that   Armenians   in   the   Holy   Land   celebrate   the   feasts   of   the   Nativity   and Epiphany   together   (hence   Theophany)   according   to   the   old   liturgical   practice.   In   other   words,   they follow   the   Julian   calendar   that   existed   before   Pope   Gregory   XIII   changed   it   to   the   Gregorian   calendar in 1582 and in so doing brought Christmas to 25 December for the majority of Western Christians. The Bethlehem of my Childhood    I   remember   so   clearly   those   young   and   early   teen   days   when   my   mum   and   dad   would   take   me   by   car on   a   20-minute   ride   from   Jerusalem   to   Bethlehem   on   Christmas   Day   so   that   we   could   visit   the   Basilica   of the   Nativity.   We   used   to   enter   the   church   through   the   small   wooden   door,   and   then   go   gingerly   down   the narrow   steps   that   led   to   the   manger   where   Jesus   the   Christ,   our   Lord   and   Saviour,   was   born   some   two thousand years ago.             Having   said   a   prayer   or   two,   and   having   witnessed   the   round-the-clock   holy   masses   that   took   place   in different   languages   in   that   narrow   candle-lit   space,   we   headed   for   the   old   town   of   Bethlehem   where   we had a falafel sandwich (with turnip pickles of course) before returning to Jerusalem.             Bethlehem   was   so   peaceful   and   welcoming   then,   and   the   Christmas   season   was   a   real   occasion (perhaps   even   a   family   ritual)   for   us.   It   brought   Christmas   home   to   me,   and   reminded   me   of   the   ancient roots of my family who had settled in Jerusalem after they fled the Armenian genocide. The Bethlehem of my Adulthood             For   the   past   few   years,   though,   this   little   town   of   Bethlehem   that   witnessed   the   birth   of   the   Prince   of Peace   (Isaiah   9.6)   has   become   a   solitary   prison   of   trepidation,   despair   and   uncertainty. The   magic   of   this town,   as   it   affirmed   the   Mystery   of   the   Incarnation,   has   been   ruined   by   an   unjust   political   reality   that has been debilitating at best and devastating at worst.             Alas,   Bethlehem   is   now   fearful   and   unwelcoming,   surrounded   by   an   ugly   separation   wall   (covered with   graffiti   by   many   Palestinian   and   foreign   artists   including   the   British   street   artist   Banksy)   as   well   as the   ominous   checkpoint   300   that   discriminates   willy-nilly   between   one   human   being   and   another. All   this on   the   day   when   we   are   reminded   that   Jesus’   mother   could   not   get   into   a   room   in   the   inn   either!   So Christmas   is   no   longer   about   the   joy   of   the   Nativity   as   much   as   it   is   about   negotiating   checkpoints   in order to enter Manger Square and revere the Son of God in his lowly birthplace. My prayer for Bethlehem             I   have   one   fierce   prayer   for   Christmas   2016.   I   hope   that   this   little   town   –   let   alone   the   Holy   Land   as   a whole   as   it   extends   from   Palestine,   Israel   and   Jordan   onto   the   other   countries   that   witnessed   the biblical   story   –   would   re-discover   peace,   justice,   nonviolence   and   harmony.   I   hope   that   the   joyful   news witnessed   by   the   three   magi   (Matthew   2.11)   and   which   King   Herod   failed   to   destroy   despite   his   crimes against humanity (Matthew 2.16), would re-visit this town and also this land.            After   all,   Christmas   is   not   solely   about   family   reunions.   Nor   is   it   solely   about   meals,   drinks,   mistletoes and   gifts   alone!   At   its   heart,   and   as   the   popular   carol   Little   Town   of   Bethlehem   sings,   it   is   about   the birth of a little baby born of Mary "where meek souls will receive him still."     Merry - Armenian Jerusalemite - Christmas to you all!     ( January 8, 2016) ----------- ©   Harry   Hagopian   is   an   international   lawyer,   ecumenist   and   EU   political   consultant.   He   also   acts   as   a   Middle   East   and inter-faith   advisor   to   the   Catholic   Bishops’   Conference   of   England   &   Wales   and   as   Middle   East   consultant   to   ACEP (Christians        in        Politics)        in        Paris.        He        is        an        Ekklesia        associate        and        regular        contributor ( http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/HarryHagopian ).   Formerly   an   Executive   Secretary   of   the   Jerusalem   Inter-Church   Committee and   Executive   Director   of   the   Middle   East   Council   of   Churches,   he   is   now   an   international   fellow,   Sorbonne   III   University, Paris,   consultant   to   the   Campaign   for   Recognition   of   the   Armenian   Genocide   (UK),   Ecumenical   consultant   to   the   Primate of   Armenian   Church   in   UK   &   Ireland,   and   author   of   The   Armenian   Church   in   the   Holy   Land.   Dr   Hagopian’s   own   website   is www.epektasis.net  Follow him on Twitter here: @harryhagopian
Armenian Patriarch in Bethlehem
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