By David Luhrssen
On Feb. 14, priests of the Armenian Church’s Eastern Diocese gathered from across Wisconsin and Illinois at St. John the Baptist Armenian Church, Greenfield. They came to celebrate Ghevontiants, a holiday on the church calendar especially dear to clergy for its commemoration of St. Ghevont and the priests who accompanied the Armenian freedom fighters at the Battle of Avarayr (451). While Armenia’s military commander at the battle, Vartan Mamigonian, is honored by the more familiar holiday of Vartaniants, Ghevontiants, which recognizes Ghevont the Priest (Ghevont Yerets), is a reminder that Avarayr was essentially a spiritual struggle, not a war for land or conquest.
Seldom has any Midwest area diocesan parish witnessed so many clergy celebrating liturgy together as at Greenfield’s Ghevontiants commemoration. St. John’s pastor, Rev. Fr. Nareg Keutelian, was joined by Very Rev. Fr. Aren Jebejian (St. Gregory the Illuminator, Chicago), Rev. Fr. Yeprem Kelegian (St. Mesrob, Racine), Rev. Fr. Tavit Boyajian (SS. Joachim & Anne, Palos Heights), Rev. Fr. Paren Galstyan (Holy Resurrection, South Milwaukee, and St. George, Waukegan) and Rev. Fr. Hovhan Khoja-Eynetian (St. James, Evanston). Deacons Dikran Kelekian from Waukegan and Levon Saryan from Racine also took part.
Father Hovhan conducted the choir and preached an inspiring sermon on the enduring meaning of Ghevontiants, which, along with Vartanants, marks the first battle in history fought for freedom of conscience. Although Armenia lost the Battle of Avarayr, the persistence of the Armenian faithful against their oppressors eventually won the war. Without their victory, there might not be an Armenian Church (or an Armenian people) today.
Following a requiem for the deceased clergy of the Eastern Diocese who served in the Midwest parishes, a light luncheon was served in St. John’s Culture Hall.