Arab Times, Kuwait
Dec 5 2007


Armenians prepare for Christmas

KUWAIT : Until the fifth century AD Christians celebrated Christmas,
Baptism and Epiphany on Jan 6. It was only later the date got changed
to Dec 25, says His Grace Dr. Goriun Babian, the Archbishop of
Diocese of Armenian Church in Kuwait and the Arabian Gulf Countries.
He was talking to the Arab Times ahead of the Christmas celebration
on Jan 6 by the Armenian Orthodox Christians, numbering around 5,000
in Kuwait at their Church in Salmiya. Dr Goriun Babian was born in
Beirut, Lebanon, and studied in the Theological Seminary of the
Armenian Catholicossate of Cilicia, Antelias in Lebanon. He was
ordained celibate priest in 1961, in Antelias. He was the Vice
Prelate of the Armenian Church in Jezire (Syria), from 1962 to 1967,
and was consecrated Bishop in 1980. In 1986, he was granted the title
of Archbishop by His Holiness Karekin II for his services to the
Armenian Church and for the promotion of understanding between Islam
and Christianity.


Impetus

In 2001, after almost 25 years of service in Isfahan and South of
Iran, as Prelate, he returned to the Armenian Catholicossate in
Antelias, Lebanon to be appointed by His Holiness Aram I Catholicos
of the Holy See of Cilicia, as Catholicossal Vicar and Prelate of
Kuwait and Arab Gulf Countries. His mission was to reorganize and
give new impetus to the spiritual and cultural life of the 15,000
Armenians living in the region. Dr Goriun Babian has participated in
several symposiums and conferences in many parts of the world, and
lectured on a wide variety of subjects from art to theology. He is
also a prolific writer and his doctorate thesis has been published as
a book called `The Relations between Armenian and Georgian Churches.'
Quoting original Christian sources he said Prophet Jesus Christ
(PBUH) was baptized by John the Baptist, when the Holy Spirit came
upon him and God's voice spoke: `This is my Son, the beloved one, in
whom I am well pleased ( Mt. 3.17).' This divine occurrence took
place exactly 30 years after Prophet Christ (PBUH) was born on Jan 6.


The Archbishop attributed the aberration of the date of Christmas to
Roman pagan traditions. `When Rome accepted Christianity as its state
religion, people went on celebrating their old pagan feasts.
Therefore, the then Popes thought of advancing Christmas by a few
days, to make it coincide with a pagan festival celebrating the
birthday of sun god Mitra. This was done with the intention of
phasing out vestigial pagan festivities in the new Christian Rome.'
In 451 AD, at the Council of Calcedon, the Eastern and Western parts
of the Roman Empire decided the two feasts - Christmas and Epiphany -
should be celebrated on separate days. When asked how the Armenian
Christians retained the original custom, the Archbishop said,
Armenians were the first nation in the world to declare Christianity
as the state religion of their kingdom, in 301 AD, even before
Constantine the Great did so, in 325 AD. `Therefore Armenians feel a
sense of responsibility to keep the original Christian tradition.'


Dr Goriun Babian was quick to add, that dates however do not really
matter, `and it is the keeping of the spirit of Christmas that is
more important.' On Christmas we have to remember the message of the
angels to the world and the mission of Jesus Christ. Armenians,
despite these minor differences, take part in the merry-making on Dec
25 with the rest of the world. The Archbishop went on to stress the
importance of giving gifts in the Armenian Christian culture.
Armenian children receive their gifts on the first day of the New
Year. Children wake up to find their gifts under the Christmas tree.
`Some interpretations trace the tradition of giving gifts to the
three Magis, who brought gifts to baby Jesus. He also spoke about the
New Year. Throughout history different nations had different
calendars, he said. Some nations used lunar calendars, while some
others used solar calendars. According to pre-Christian Armenian
calendar, the New Year began on August 11. Armenians, he added,
attach lot of significance to the New Year, even if it does not have
much religious connotation.


New Year, he said, gives us an opportunity to stop and think about
the year that has gone by, helps us remember those who passed away
and pray for them, and is also a time for self-evaluation, repentance
and taking new decisions to improve our lives, make ourselves better
men, made in the image of God. `Christmas trees, though a later
innovation, represents the tree of life, which is eternal.' The
Armenian culture has an interesting approach to Santa Clause. `We
believe the Christmas Father comes down from Mount Ararat, which is
in today's Turkey, though historically it was part of Armenia. This
is the famous mountain where Noah's arc rested during the flood. St.
Hagop (St. Yaqoub) in the 4th century climbed up the mountain to find
relics of the arc. Tradition has it, that he descended from the
mountain with a relic from the arc, given to him by an angel in his
dream. According to Armenian customs, a Holy Mass is celebrated on
the eve of Christmas, Jan 5. The next day, on Christmas morning, a
High Mass is held, by the Archbishop of the Diocese. `At the end of
Divine Liturgy we have an interesting religious ceremony, by which
the Baptism of Jesus Christ in the Jordan River and the Epiphany, are
performed.'

Sanctify

`We bless the water first, special prayers are said and the Holy Oil
(called in Armenian Muron) is poured into the water to sanctify it.
Then a big cross is put in the water, as hymns are sung, revoking the
scene of the Holy Spirit descending on Christ.' A young boy plays the
role of Prophet Jesus' (PBUH) godfather. He wears a Church apron. The
Archbishop kisses the Holy Cross and hands it over to the boy. `It's
an emotional moment for the faithful. When this ceremony is over, the
members of the congregation walk up to the altar and drink the
sanctified holy water. They kiss the cross, which symbolizes Christ.'
A week before Christmas, Armenians observe a fast avoiding meat,
fish, dairy products and eggs. This dietary regimen is supported with
good deeds of charity and so on. `This purifies us both physically
and mentally. The fast is broken on the eve of Christmas with special
soups, eggs, spinach and rice.' The Archbishop concluded, thanking
the royal family and the government of Kuwait for `the religious
freedom and harmony that every community enjoys in the state.'

By Valiya S. Sajjad
Arab Times Staff

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