To the Prelates,
National Representative Assemblies and
Executive Councils, and
The Faithful People of
The Holy See of Cilicia
On the eve of the New Year filled with the mystery of the Epiphany, we greet you from the Catholicosate of the Holy See of Cilicia in Antelias, with pontifical blessings, fatherly care, and Christian love, wishing you a year filled with divine goodness and grace.
According to the tradition we have instituted, we dedicate each year to a unique value, major concern, or special event relevant to our people, our church, and our homeland, and invite our faithful to examine the given theme through different activities, with a realistic approach and serious evaluation, aimed at making our communal life more productive.
Taking into account the active presence and unique role of the Armenian mother in our church and community life, with this Pontifical Letter we declare the year 2013 to be,
YEAR OF THE MOTHER OF THE ARMENIAN FAMILY
Throughout our history, mothers have become not only a role model for the Armenian people, reflecting the sacred spiritual, moral, and national values and virtues in her life; not only the steady pillar of the family and the dedicated educator of her children, but also a person deserving the utmost respect for her committed participation in the sacred mission of protecting and defending the Christian faith, and strengthening the nation and homeland, by her exemplary behavior, solid attitude, and infinite sacrifice in the most crucial moments of our history.
Therefore, it is necessary to reevaluate the model of the mother in the Armenian family with a comprehensive approach, particularly in face of the concerns and challenges she confronts in current times, and the unique role attributed to her.
It is necessary first to turn to the Bible as the foundation of our Christian faith, life, and thought.
The Mother in the Bible
The Bible is the source of divine revelation. The church must always look at the Bible to receive its inspiration and direction regarding any teaching, principle, or value related to its life and mission.
In fact, there are many references to the mother in the Old and New Testaments.
God’s commandment: “Honor your father and your mother” (Exodus 20:12) is the basis of the biblical teachings. We read in the prophecy of Isaiah: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” (66:13). And the book of Proverbs says: “Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old” (23:22). Another passage in Proverbs says: “Hear, my child, your father’s instruction, and do not reject your mother’s teaching; for they are a fair garland for your head, and pendants for your neck” (1: 8-9).
In the New Testament, the supreme model of the mother is St. Mary, the Holy Virgin. The selection of Mary by God as the exemplar mother to become the mother of the Only Begotten Son of God (Matthew 1:20), the care exhibited by the Virgin towards the infant Jesus born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:6-7), the role of the Virgin in the spiritual and intellectual growth of Jesus (Luke 2:22-24) and then the constant presence of the Virgin alongside her son during His apostolate (John 19:25) and, on the other hand, the deep respect showed by Christ towards His mother (John 19:26), are eloquent manifestations of the authentic image of the mother and the exemplary mother-son relationship based on mutual love and nurturing.
Indeed, the mother has been so much respected that even “Jerusalem above” has been characterized as “our mother” (Galatians 4:26).
The presence of the mother in the Bible may be summarized with the following points:
a) The mother is the basis of the family; her role is not only to guarantee the survival of the family by giving birth to children, but also to educate. The maintenance of a healthy family in the moral and spiritual sense is the first and foremost duty of the mother.
b) Taking into account the singular mission given to the mother by divine directive, she is called to express moral and spiritual values and principles in her life and deeds.
c) It is necessary that children obey their mother, following her directions and example.
d) St. Mary, Mother of God, is regarded as the example of true motherhood.
The Mother in the Teachings of the Church Fathers
The fathers of both the universal church and the Armenian Church have given particular importance to the mother, with the Bible as the natural axle of their teachings, and the Virgin as the exemplary mother.
It is worth to briefly recall some words of our church fathers.
John Chrysostom, referring to Isaiah 66:13 (“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you”), says that God graces His children with love, care, and peace, like a nurturing mother.
Augustine, noting Deuteronomy 5:16 (“Honor your father and your mother, as the Lord your God commanded you, so that your days may be long…”) and Ephesians 6:1-3 (“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. Honor your father and mother . . . so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth”), says that respect and honor showed to the mother open wide the doors of heavenly goodness before us.
Cyril of Alexandria quotes Luke 2:44, where Joseph and Mary “started to look for him [Jesus] among their relatives and friends,” and says that parents have always to look for their children to prevent them from getting lost in the dust of sin and lawlessness.
Origen cites Luke 2:27, “The parents brought in the child Jesus” to the temple, and says that by doing this Joseph and Mary teach parents to bring children to church.
The fathers of the Armenian Church have also frequently referred to the role of the mother.
Quoting Proverbs 29:15 (“The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child”), Nerses of Lambron underscores that the demands of the mother towards her children teaches them to lead responsible lives.
Hovhannes of Erzinka underlines particularly the educational role of the mother, noting that if she fails in her responsibility, she will be responsible before the tribunal of God for the evils committed by her children.
Parsegh of Mashkevor emphasizes the importance of prayer and suggests mothers teach their children how to pray.
Krikor of Tatev says that the mother deserves high respect and honor, because she has a very important duty to form the image of God in the child.
Hovhan Mandakuni describes the model of the Armenian mother with such power that he regards her as the “mother of mothers.”
Khrimian Hayrig suggests mothers teach the Gospel to their children so they learn to love their brother, their friend, and their fellow humans.
In view of this cluster of testimonies taken from the fathers of the universal church and the Armenian Church, we consider necessary to make the following observations:
a) The fathers of the universal church and the Armenian Church have generally referred to the duty of parents towards their family and children, considering father and mother as one entity, but particularly emphasizing the role of the mother.
b) They have underlined the educational role of the mother and have regarded her as the authentic expression of Christian virtues within family and social life, and consider the Virgin Mary to be the unique model of motherhood.
c) The fathers of our Church have depicted the Armenian mother not only as a shining presence of Christian values and virtues in the family, but also as a person called to have a pivotal role in national life.
The Armenian Mother in Armenian Life
The mother has always had a central presence in Armenian history. Her dominant role is evident in religious, cultural, political, social, and humanitarian spheres of our life, and even in the liberation movement. Armenian history cannot be fully understood without referring to her mission, and equally the unique role of the mother in the Armenian family cannot be understood without examining Armenian history.
Mothers have brought an active participation to the mission of the Armenian Church and to the life of our nation, and with their modest lifestyle, devoted service, and exemplary dedication, have enriched our collective life, occupying positions of leadership in the decisive moments of our history. Our ancient writers (Agathangelos, Khorenatsi, Yeghishe, and others), as well as the Catholicoi of our church, from St. Gregory the Illuminator to St. Nerses Shnorhali and our spiritual fathers of modern times, have characterized the role of mothers with exquisite text.
Perhaps, Armenian culture has represented the figure of the Armenian mother, as well as her special place and role in our history, in the most vivid way, through letter and color, sound and form. In general, our literature, particularly poetry, has portrayed the mother in the Armenian family and the profound feelings our people have about her.
In fact, from Mateos Mamourian, who asked “Who taught prayer to my delicate mouth to adore God?,” to Taniel Varoujan, who wrote about the sadness and expectation of the mother waiting for the return of her emigrant son; from Alexander Dzadourian, who honored mothers who gave “heroic sons” to the nation and the homeland, to Bedros Tourian, who sang “Oh, forgive me… I have seen the tears of my mother!…”; from Hovhannes Shiraz, who recalled “My mother is the god of our house,” to Moushegh Ishkhan, who raised to the skies the prayer of the elderly Armenian mother, “It is enough, Dear Lord, give us back our home and place”; from Jacques S. Hagopian, who depicted in simple but eloquent words the prayerful life of the Armenian mother (“They burnt their souls like lanterns day and night so the piety of God would descend instead of darkness”), to dozens of other poets, all of whom have walked the footsteps of their mothers. And our mothers have walked along time, and even above time, as the guiding light in the turbulent life of the Armenian people.
Is it possible not to remember and not to pause before those revered mothers who lived “for faith and for homeland” and gave their life “with purpose-driven death” (Yeghishe)? How can we not remember those mothers who became church and school in the deserts of Deir-ez-Zor, who paved walls of faith with the epic of Sartarabad, who armed the mountains of Artsakh with the fire and blood of their vows, and who deserved love, even veneration, from church and nation?
For Armenians, the mother is unique as an authentic expression of faith, dedication, resolve, and love. In the words of the poet:
I wandered through countries, I crossed many roads,
I saw deprivation and pain, I saw love and laughter,
But I did not see, I did not find a heart as brave
and as noble as your soul, my sweet and good mother.
These words written by the Armenian American writer Hamasdegh depicts the genuine feelings of an Armenian towards his mother, and may be applied to mothers of all times, known and unknown.
Finally, how can we not recall the following lines by Baruyr Sevag about the deep faith, infinite love, and vast sacrifice of mothers?
Let us come today to kiss as children
these hands that have given us birth,
have nurtured us,
have kept us,
have never tired of us,
have cleaned, done laundry,
always tolerant, always toiling
rough and cracked,
but which, for us, are like silk,
these tender hands.
Avedik Isahakian captures the heart of mankind when he says: “The best woman is the mother. The heart of the mother is the heart of humankind, the heart of the universe. It is worth to come to the world just to have a mother.”
The Mother of the Armenian Family Today
Facing New Challenges
Human words, despite their power and beauty, are unable to express the pure feelings, the infinite love, and the deep gratitude the children of our nation have for their mothers, who are the source of their existence. Truly, it is not by accident that our wise ancestors gave the distinction of “mother” to our most sacred realities and values: Mother Church, Mother Armenia, Mother Tongue…
The Armenian mother is the synonym of eternal values, supreme ideals, sublime virtues, and strong principles. The Armenian mother is the pedestal of our existence, the source of our power, the citadel of our identity, and the inspiration of our struggle.
Thus, without the radiant presence of the Armenian mother, our life is parched. Without her educational mission, our life is colorless. Without her committed presence, our life is impoverished.
In the face of the terrible waves of history, we remained Armenian thanks to our mothers.
In the face of current assimilating trends, we remain Armenian thanks to the mothers of Armenian families. We will remain Armenian even in the face of future challenges thanks mainly to them.
Today, as we observe the life of our people, we ask ourselves: Is the Armenian mother up to her mission? How faithful is she to her sacred calling? Questions need to be addressed seriously and realistically by our mothers and families.
We know it is not easy to be a mother and, particularly, to be a mother to an Armenian family. We know it is not easy to be a mother in today’s world.
We need the mother that inspires faith, strengthens will, instills hope, and transmits love. In other words, who forms the Christian and the Armenian person, and sacrifices herself on that path.
Let us never forget that the Armenian mother became a church where there was no church; a school where there was no school; a homeland when there was no homeland.
This is the task and authentic calling for the mothers of Armenian families today and forever.
We highly respect Armenian mothers.
* * *
By declaring this year the “Year of the Mother of the Armenian Family,” we expect:
a) To reflect on the sacred mission of the Armenian mother in our life;
b) To reaffirm our deep love and respect for the Armenian mother;
c) To remind the Armenian mother the importance of maintaining her unique role and true image.
Therefore, in view of these expectations, we suggest that our prelates, clergy, executive councils, and all community organizations reaffirm, recall, and reevaluate the unique place and role of the mother within the life of our church and community through special initiatives.
We pray to Almighty God to grace our mothers with His heavenly graces in order that they may continue their vocation with renewed dedication and faith.
With warm paternal love,
Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia
January 1, 2013