Trip Start Sep 28, 2005
18Trip End Oct 03, 2005
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Echmiadzin was the capital of Armenia from 184-320AD and remains the spiritual home of the Kotholikos, the head of the Armenian Church.
The church grounds are alive with activity, a testament to unshakeable faith that people should journey from throughout Armenia and the world to be blessed by the Kotholikos and attend service.
There walkways between trees and cross stones on display
Black robed, serious monks move around the grounds, later they will usher the crowds like benevolent bouncers. Inside, chanting from the head monks and choir music are as awe-inspiring as the gilted walls and domed roof of Echmiadzin cathedral.
There are no physical constraints here, no rows of pews like western cathedrals. Instead it's almost as if the church is geared to letting people find their own space to stand and be immersed in their faith and prayers.
The raised altar and jostling crowds await the arrival of the Kotholikos. It's easy to pick the Armenian Diaspora amongst the crowds, many coming form the United States to pay homage.
More moving for me is the family standing across from us: a mother with three sons. The middle boy, barely a teenager has a protective grip on his younger brother who stands in front of him. They look around expectantly.
The music and the excitement fever pitch as the monks gently bid people to step back and create a path for arrival of the Kotholikos.
Finally he arrives amid camera flashes and an excited crowd jostling for a look at this holy man. The Kotholikos touches those nearest him and makes the sign of the cross in blessing to those out of reach.
He comes to the family opposite us and gently blesses each with a touch on their forehead. Mother and sons dissolve into tears, even the protective teenager. Seeing them overwhelmed almost overwhelms me and yet again, for some inexplicable reason, I find myself blinking back tears.
The Kotholikos moves through the crowd and the frenzy calms, as many people head outside to the sunshine. The choir and incantations continue and after a while we politely depart what is sure to be a lengthy service.