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Armenian church celebrates Nativity Jan. 6

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  • Rev Fr John Brian
    http://suburbanjournals.stltoday.com/articles/2009/01/03/madison/life/0104gc j-armenianxmas.txt Armenian church celebrates Nativity Jan. 6 By Scott Cousins
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 5, 2009

      Armenian church celebrates Nativity Jan. 6

      By Scott Cousins <mailto:scousins@...>

      Now that Christmas is over, the Rev. Stephan Baljian, pastor of St. Gregory
      the Illuminator Armenian Apostolic Church in Granite City, can start
      worrying about ... Christmas.

      Unlike most of Christianity, members of the Armenian Apostolic Church - part
      of the Oriental Orthodox Church - celebrate the birth of Jesus on Jan. 6.

      As a purely religious celebration, the difference in date stems in part from
      history, partly from theology, and partly from the tenaciousness of the
      Armenian people, according to Baljian.

      The congregation includes about 70 families from throughout the Metro East
      and St. Louis area.

      Granite City has had an Armenian community since the early 20th century when
      they came to work in the area's factories.

      "As Armenian-Americans, we've adapted and we've grown up sort of celebrating
      two Christmases," Baljian said. "We'll have one where we sort of have the
      traditional celebration with presents and Christmas trees and things, and
      one that's strictly a religious holiday.

      The church will hold services Monday evening at 6 p.m., and again at 9 a.m.
      Tuesday morning.

      Tuesday's service also includes the "blessing of water," a commemoration of
      the baptism of Jesus, in which oil and water are mixed, blessed with the
      cross, and then distributed among the parishioners.

      "The real challenge is for the school children and people who are employed,
      being able to take a personal day for religious reasons," Baljian said.
      "Sometimes it's not just the employers who need the convincing, sometimes
      it's the actual individual themselves who need a little bit of prodding and
      a little bit of reminding to say, 'Hey, this is worth it to take a day

      Historically, the kingdom of Armenia was the first to embrace Christianity,
      in about 301. Rome became Christian about a decade later, and the
      combination of conversion of pagan celebrations into Christian and splits
      between Roman Christianity and the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches
      led to different customs and theology, including the celebration of

      Theologically, the Armenian church celebrates both the Nativity and the
      Epiphany on the same day.

      Unlike western churches - including both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
      - Oriental Orthodox churches like the Armenian celebrate Epiphany as the
      baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, rather than the arrival of the Magi,
      or wise men.

      "For us, it doesn't matter if it's in December, in January, in April or in
      August," he said, referring to the question of when Christ was actually
      born. "What is important to understand of the Armenian celebration of the
      Nativity and the Epiphany on the same day means that they are uniquely bound
      together theologically. It reflects our theological position.

      "The events chronologically are separated by 30 years, but to the early
      church they signify one event - one revelation of God," he added. "It
      doesn't matter if it is at his birth or 30 years later at his baptism, he is
      the son of God."

      Baljian said he considers it a "real miracle," that Armenians have been able
      to keep their own traditions despite centuries of pressure from what he
      called "the big boys," the Roman Catholic and Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox)

      "The fact that we can follow a distinctive tradition, a distinctive line of
      Christian history, is just amazing because we're a small number of people,"
      he said. "We were basically a ravaged homeland, and for several centuries we
      were under conquest, or we didn't have a homeland at all - all of the
      terrible tragedy that has befallen us. But at the end of the day we can
      still rise up with Rome, with Byzantium, and say 'No, we have our own
      distinct Armenian tradition.'

      "I was talking to one of my parishioners yesterday, she sort of had an
      interesting perspective," he said. "Growing up, they would always take their
      Christmas tree down on Jan. 1, take all the ribbons and the bows. There
      would be no remnant left of what an American Christmas was, so as not to
      detract or take away from what Armenian Christmas is. (She said,) 'In our
      house it was strictly a religious celebration, and we didn't mix and

      [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
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