Monthly Archives: October 2011

September 25, 2011, Day 55 – Yerevan, Armenia




September 25, Day 55, Yerevan, Armenia

Today was Sunday and many Armenians went to their Gregorian Catholic churches. As I said yesterday it was slightly different from both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christian. They celebrated Christmas on January 6th same as Orthodox Christians. Armenian churches did not show the crucifixion of Jesus on their crosses. According to Karin our guide, when praying they wanted to think of happy thoughts and if they looked at the crucifixion they didn’t think of happy thoughts.

Their religion was named Gregorian Catholic after St. Gregory. Legend said that Diocletian, the Roman pagan who persecuted Christians was looking for a wife and sent for pictures of all the beautiful virgins in his Roman Empire. 32 Christian girls fled the Roman Empire settling in Armenia because they did not want to be married to a non-Christian. Then the Armenian king, Tiridates, fell in love with one of the 32 virgins, Rhipsime, who refused to marry him. He tortured and killed this girl who was made into a saint by the church for her martyrdom.

Another  Legend said that St. Gregory healed  King Tiridates from a fatal sickness. Originally the King was a pagan and tortured  St. Gregory for being a Christian. The King sent him to jail and even put him into a snake pit. But when the King got sick, the King’s sister had a vision that St. Gregory could heal the King, which he did. The King then became a Christian and ordered Christianity to be the official religion for his state in 301 AD.

We visited the spiritual center of Armenia where the Patriarch of all Armenians lived in Echmiadzin, approximately 25 kms. From Yerevan. There was a seminary school at the church complex where they took 50 priests each year to teach. Boys entered the seminary at age 12 and went to school for five years. At that time, age 17, the boys had to decide whether they wanted to do the vow of celibacy or not. It they wanted to go high up in the church they must pledge the vow of celibacy. If they wanted to stay at the secular priest level they did not have to give a vow of celibacy. They  could marry and have children at the secular priest level.

What was interesting was that the church wanted the married priests to be married for at least one year before their ordination and the candidates should be between the ages of thirty and fifty. If they became widowers the priests could only marry again if they left the clergy.

This church was built in the fourth century and the bell tour was added in the seventeenth century. The inside of the church was in the shape of a cross; whereas, the outside was shaped like a rectangular.

Because it was Sunday, a service  was being held with several priests attending the service. It must have been a special service because there were lots of people attending the service all dressed up in their Sunday best. At one point the priests walked out of the church in a line and went behind a wall for some time. Then they all paraded back in towards the church where people lined up to be touched on their head  by the main priest wearing a purple robe. He would put his handout and they would kiss his ring! I think he must have been the Patriarch for the Church of Armenia. We were very lucky to be able to view this situation, even if we didn’t completely understand what or why it was happening.

We then went back to Yerevan and I took the afternoon off. The rest of our group went to the museum and handicraft market!

That night as we walked back to our hotel from dinner the main square in front of the hotel, called Republic Square, had a spectacular water fountain lit up and timed to music. Located in the middle of the square, it was on with lights and music every evening until 11 pm. It drew a crowd each night to watch the water  shoot up in time to the music. It was very beautiful and pleasant to watch.

September 23rd, 2011, Day 53 – Bakuriani, Georgia to Yerevan, Armenia

September 23rd, Day 53, Bakuriani, Georgia to Yerevan, Armenia

Today we were entering Armenia and all of us were looking forward to seeing what this new country, to us,  was all about.

Leaving Bakuriani  we first stopped at the village school where there were only 7 students from grades 1 to 3! Three boys and four girls. It was a one room school house where the children were grouped into three sections by grade. A grandmother was in the class with the teacher to make sure her grand daughter behaved! She was very strict with her granddaughter. They take school work very seriously. We had a nice visit with them and handed out Canadian stickers and gifts. I took automatic photos and handed them out to all the kids. We all had lots of fun!

On the way up to the village of Bakuriani yesterday, we had stopped to feed two little puppies. Today on the way down the mountain from the village we had some more food and water for them. They were really cute. I hope someone picked them up to take care of them.

We stopped to visit a church  called Timotesubani, that used to be a church and monastery. An Orthodox Church built of stone and brick.  It was built during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries because different sections were added onto in different centuries. The monastery at this church complex was being renovated when we stopped.

The top of the church had a beautiful blue stone that came from their local mountains. The door of the church had Georgian symbols carved into it. Round balls which represented the sun from their pagan days. And on the balls were  crosses with the horizontal part bent down. The reason for the bend was that Saint Nino who brought Christianity to Georgia made the first cross from grape vine stems tied with her hair.  Because grape vines did not grow straight the horizontal part bent down at both ends.

Behind the sun and cross on the door were decorations with wine because Georgia grew grapes for wine and because their first cross from St. Nino was made with grape  vine branches. At the bottom edge of the door, animals were carved into it, with the head of an eagle and the body of a lion. That was a symbol of strength. Up the middle between these two animals was the tree of life, another symbol of Georgia, Turkey and even Iran.

The entrance to the church had an arch called an “Ivan” (Iwan) that resembled mosques we visited in Turkey. Because both the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks invaded Georgia, the Georgian churches also had Muslim Islamic  influences. Persian influences were the pagan designs, the arches had the pointed Islamic influences and the crosses were the Christian influences. All three religions had been combined into one religion which today in this country was Georgian Orthodox Christian.

A gravesite was behind the church amongst the trees which was another pagan tradition.  Each head stone had a photo of the person engraved into the stone. And each grave had a little fence around it.

It was a beautiful day for driving with all the fall colours and sunny weather. We drove off the highway taking backroads to the Armenia Border. These roads were all gravel with tons of pot holes. A full day of bumpy massages.

Later we drove through a farming community where all the villagers were outside working. And right in the middle of one field was a statue of Stalin! Unbelievable that some people actually liked him. You never knew what you were going to see while driving!

Next we passed a few shepherds on a hill up the mountain with tons of sheep. We stopped to ask how many and he replied over two thousand sheep! I believed him, it was an amazing site. They had dogs with them to help herd their sheep. These dogs were very big and not friendly to strange people plus they did not speak English. Wisely, we stayed in our cars while we gave the shepherds Canadian hats.

Lots of the sheep were huddled under the odd tree eating away. The grass under a tree must have been more tender from the shade of the tree because the sheep sure crowded each other to get at that particular grass!

The scenery driving through a mountain pass was absolutely stunning, fall colours of the trees, green grasses, blue skies and grey mosses on the top of the hill! Gorgeous!

At the very top of the mountain we were stopped by  Georgian police. They just looked at our passports and then we took some photos with them! Very friendly. I learned here that a polygon was where they trained soldiers to fight.

When we got to the bottom of the mountain we drove through villages where the farmers grew potatoes in black soil. According to Inga, this was the best part of Turkey for potatoes. She said that Georgians paid extra for potatoes from this area!

After lunch I got locked in the bathroom of the restaurant while everybody else were in the cars waiting for me. I couldn’t get anybody’s attention so eventually I climbed out the window and  jumped down to the parking lot!  Then ran to the car. Hope they figured out how to open the door!

Next we drove through an Old Believers section in Georgia,  Canadians  know them as Dukabors. Their houses looked very Russian, with blue shutters and decorated wood above the windows and doors. They even spoke Russian rather than Georgian. They had round faces with rosy cheeks, blonde and blue eyes.

The Armenian border was made up of a series of construction trailers. We had to check in with a guard to pay a road tax, go buy insurance at a different office, go back to the guard, then to another office to pay for the insurance and back to the guard to show the paid receipt. Our Armenian guide’s name was Karin, who spoke very good English. She helped us get through the Armenian bureaucracy at the border. Everyone was very nice and we handed out Canadian stickers to them.

The Armenian flag had three horizontal stripes, golden orange, blue and red. The soldiers at the border wore camouflage hats much like an Australian hat.

We had a little snag with Bob and Debbie’s visas for Armenia. Bob had Debbie’s number and Debbie had Bob’s number on their visas. So when the border guard looked in his computer the numbers were transposed and did not agree to their visas. Finally after a couple of hours and a decal placed on our windshield for insurance we were allowed to enter Armenia! But we were worried that this would not be the end of the Coventry’s visa problem because they were flying home from Armenia. We did not want them to miss their plane because their numbers were transposed in the  Armenian’s computer system.

The bank where we paid our taxes and insurance at was called Ararat Bank. This name was after Mount Ararat which was located in Turkey. According  to our guide, Karin, Mount Ararat was the symbol of Armenia and Lenin when he was the leader of The Soviet Union, gave Mount Ararat to Turkey because they had agreed to become Socialists.  But Turkey never did become a socialist country and Armenia lost their mountain and their symbol!

Armenia was one hour ahead of Georgia. And just as we finished up at the border crossing it was very dark with a thunder and lightening storm! Made for some tricky driving and Russ was in a hurry because it had been a long day. Our driver could not exceed his company’s speed limit.  So Russ decided to go ahead of our guides to reach our hotel as soon as possible. Not so sure this was a good idea because we got lost in one of their small cities on the way to our destination. We drove round and round the city’s square several times before finding our way to the highway. As soon as we sped up on the highway, we had to pass our driver and guide again because they had gotten ahead of us while we were lost.  A little humble pie to give them would have been nice!

We got to our hotel very late and just wanted to go to sleep bur Karin, our guide had made reservations at a local restaurant. She had been calling them every couple of hours to set back the time we would arrive at their restaurant. Even though it was 11 p.m. They were waiting for us. So off to dinner we went!

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