In the photo, the Catholicosate is hidden by the buildings on the right, and that’s downtown Beirut in the distance, left.
A few minutes through the traffic of the commercial district, brings me around a corner, down a side street and into a beautiful open valley. There is much construction on the cliffs and steep hillsides, apartment buildings, with condos selling in the hundreds of thousands (USD), I’m told.
Sunday services, at the Catholicosate, begin with chants, readings and prayers at 8 a.m. and continue until the Divine Liturgy at 10 a.m., ending around 12:15, more than four hours of services altogether. For this first Sunday, I followed the advice of the dean, Fr. Norayr and arrived with most of the senior monks around 9:30 a.m.
The Divine Liturgy itself was more than impressive, the Cathedral filled with lights, incense, and the chants of priest, deacons and the seminary choir. Through it all, very present, that inexpressible spiritual power of what Armenians call the “Khohoort khorin” — the “unfathomable mystery” (opening words of the liturgy’s first hymn.)
Click here for a sample of music from the Divine Liturgy: “Censing” sung by the Komitas Chamber Choir of Armenia.
Bishop Nareg Alemezian, Ecumenical Officer for the Catholicos, has invited me to take my place for worship in what might be called the chancel, the area just below the raised floor of the sanctuary, along with the monks of the brotherhood. At one point, during the liturgy this morning, two of my pew mates leave to escort his Holiness, the Catholicos Aram the First, across from his residence, into the cathedral, to his throne under its marble canopy beside us (see sanctuary photo, an earlier post, below). It is wonderful to see the deep respect the monks demonstrate for him.
I am not quite ready to take my camera to the Liturgy, perhaps next week. (Only one celebration of the Divine Liturgy each week, except for major feasts.) I see other cameras around and suspect mine would not be offensive, but will wait and ask permission, of course.
It was particularly good to meet my new students who served today as deacons and members of the choir. In the courtyard after the liturgy, we exchange handshakes, bows and a few words of greeting. They are extremely polite and actually seem pleased to meet their new teacher.