DAY OF THE DEAD: THE ARMENIAN WAY

On Faith
http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/f aithbook/2008/03/day_of_the_dead_the_armenian_w_1. html
March 31 2008
DC

Easter has come and passed. Now what?

Well, for us Armenian Orthodox Christians, the Monday after any
major feast day - Easter, being the most significant of them all -
is a kind of 'Day of the Dead' as celebrated in some Latin American
cultures, though without the painted skulls and all-night camping out,
etc. The term we use for it is "Merelotz."

It is a day when families all get together to visit the graves of
their dead, and priests will pray over the deceased. In olden times,
people would flock to the cemeteries in the thousands, priests and
deacons sought after without mercy, an all-day event. In Armenia,
and some other eastern countries where the Armenian Diaspora is large,
this is still largely upheld. But the U.S. is one of those countries,
where, for convenience sake, it is no longer celebrated on Monday
but the Sunday following (thus, we remembered Merelotz today), and
a Requiem Service replaces the grave visits.

Why am I reflecting upon this? Well, a number of reasons. We are in
the wake of celebrating Easter, and the message of the resurrection is
quite fitting here I thought. But also because I am a traditionalist,
and am always disappointed to see tradition - in this case religious
tradition - modified. But I suppose, that is how the Church has
survived all these years - through adaptation.

Despite my zest for maintaining tradition (much like the theme
of Fiddler on the Roof, an all-time favorite of mine, as well as a
cornerstone of my childhood), I have to admit that I myself have never
been to the cemetery on Merelotz. But this is because I have no family
members buried in this country. My roots in this country only extend
back to my parents who emigrated to the U.S. So I've never really
had the experience of visiting the grave of a family member in this
sense. While I don't look forward to the day that I will have this
experience, I realized today how much more completely my life will
come full circle. As much as I am conscious of death and dying, I've
never felt my own personal loss, the loss of my own flesh and blood.

I think our day of Merelotz is a beautiful commemorative act,
and I wish more Armenians remained faithful to the tradition in
its original form, because I do think such acts really contribute
to healing. Imagine going into a cemetery and it being flooded with
people and clergy, of the air being saturated with the sound of prayers
being recited and hymns being sung? Consolatory, no? If not that,
then at least what a reminder it must serve of the universality of
the human experience! In a world of 6 billion plus people, it can
still be often quite lonely, so sometimes a little reminder such as
this can be inspiration and consolation enough for us in our lives.

Ani Nalbandian is a junior at the College of the Holy Cross in
Worcester, Mass. She studies history and is enrolled in the premedical
program.