It's been an enriching experience for me to read the reflections of this year's CYMA participants regarding their service project in beard (see My True Armenian Experience, A Dream Within a Dream, Chinnari and Thoughts, and A Story About Berd). Of course, one of the most important aspects of this program is to actually help realize, through financial and physical support, God-pleasing projects. This year our participants fundraised through the Survivor's Walk event, and supported, amongst other efforts, the renovation of the courtyard of the ancient Mayrivank monastery in the town of Berd in the province of Tavush.
From reading the blogs on this website you can tell what an amazing experience this was for CYMA, but I thank God that just a couple days ago I was able to witness how CYMA help improve the lives of the people of Berd.
On Wednesday, August 24, and opening ceremony was held to mark the completion of the Mayrivank renovation. A multitude of faithful gathered to see the beautifully completed project, and pray in the small chapel. The program was prepared by the church youth group of of Berd and officiated by community pastor Fr. Aram Mirzoyan. I was forunate to represent the Western Diocese, and several clergy came as representatives of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. It was a truly joyous occasion and it was concluded with the baptism of Fr. Aram’s infant son, Hayk. This was the first sacrament performed at the ancient chapel in generations.
As the project began on July 23, Fr. Avedis Abovyan addressed the CYMA participants and said that when "we work on a church, our work becomes a prayer to God." We soon came to found out that our prayers would be answered. On the second day of our work, we discovered an ancient tablet on which was written the founding history of the monastery dating back to the 12th century. We also found several cross-stones or khatchkars.
As much as was possible, we excavated these items carefully, but after our departure groups of experts came to examine what we had found. During the opening I was shocked to see that one of these ancient khatchkars was able to be completely restored. It now adorns the entrance to the chapel.
The next day I visited the Berd Museum, we all historically significant items from the area are stored and displayed. I was very happy to see that the tablet and several other items were taken there and appropriately exhibited. Some of these items will continue to be studied to see what they can tell us about the history of the monastic community in the region.
What is important to remember is that CYMA's mission was not simply to restore the courtyard of an old chapel. It was restore a holy place to such a state that it can be used by the faithful that live in that community.
Decades of strong Soviet influence in the region had taken its toll on the faith of the people. By 1940 all church structures in Berd and the surrounding area had either been destroyed or abandoned for the earth to reclaim. For almost 70 years the town of Berd did not have a priest to serve the people. The clergy were banned from having any presence in the life of the community.
Mayrivank is in fact the only standing spiritual structure within the town limits of Berd. Restoring its courtyard, and subsequently finding its hidden treasures, effectively restored the monastery and the Church to its rightful place in the consciousness of the community.
The Christian Youth Mission to Armenia congratulates the people of Berd and the surrounding villages on this blessed occasion. CYMA participants and their youth have already established strong bonds, and we pray that God will make fruitful their relationships for the good of the people and a brighter future.
For more photos of the opening ceremony view the entire photoset on Flickr.