written by Khoren Bandazian
July 15, 2017.
The time before a vacation is hectic. Especially if you are going to be away for a while. Before my trip to Israel I was very busy and didn’t get a chance to think or study where we would be going so I left with no expectations. I knew about the Armenian Church in Jerusalem and obviously the birth of Christianity in the Holy Land, but never had a deep appreciation for the area where we were headed. Needless to say, after visiting the region, I am forever changed and awakened.
On June 28, my family along with several others, embarked on a pilgrimage to visit the holy Christian sites in Israel arranged by Vartan and Adi Abdo. The first half of the trip was based in Haifa. From there we explored the area of the Galilee. We visited the sites where Jesus walked, preached, performed miracles and lived His daily life. The second half of the trip was based in Jerusalem. From there we saw the old city, the centers of the world’s three major religions and toured other significant Christian holy sites in the southern part of Israel- namely, Bethlehem, the Jordan River, among others. We met with Patriarch Nourhan Manougian and walked the Armenian Quarter of Jerusalem. We toured extensively the Cathedral of Sts. James. We talked with local business owners. We shopped at their stores. We visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. We walked the Via Dolorosa. We visited the Western Wall and the Dome on the Rock. We saw all of the major sites one would expect to see on such a trip.
However, what I did not expect to see was the surprising presence of the Armenian Church in the most unlikely places- in Jaffa where the Crusaders and pilgrims arrived on their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in Bethlehem at the Church of the Nativity, in Jerusalem at the Tomb of Virgin Mary, the Armenian Convent, the Armenian Seminary, the Armenian cemetery and complex. In addition, seeing the remains of fourth and fifth century Byzantine churches discovered underneath the Armenian Churches only further testifies to the ancient presence of Armenians in the region. The assets of the Patriarchate are truly impressive in the Holy Land.
Armenians have left Israel for better opportunities. Less than 1,000 remain. Only a handful of businesses remain in the Armenian Quarter. The assets of the Armenian Church are in need of significant repair, maintenance and operation. These properties are some of the most valuable in Jerusalem. Obstacles are constantly places on work for renovations. Yet thousands of Christian pilgrims come to the Holy Land every year and because it seems our Church is constantly playing defense, it cannot take advantage of these opportunities.
What can we do as a people to help? Visit these sites. Visiting and shopping at the Armenian shops will provide support to those that still remain. Visiting will also show the Church that they have the power of the Diaspora behind them. We have to do for “Armenia in the Holy Land” what we have done for the Armenian nation. I cannot emphasize enough the difference between hearing stories about these assets and seeing them in person. If you have the opportunity, I encourage all Armenians to make a Holy Land pilgrimage, explore the roots of Christianity and see for yourself the treasures of the Armenian Church in the region.