Wednesday, April 15, 2015

An Armenian Monk Teaching His Pupil

Grigor Khlat'etsi (1349-1425)
Grigor of Khlat (Akhlat) Instructing his Pupil, Self-portrait 
From The Four Gospels Illuminated 
Vellum; 23.5 x 16 cm
Inv. Nr 3714 Fol. 14v 
Matenadaran, Erevan

The 1700th anniversary of Armenian Christianity in 2001 was a notable milestone in the history of the Christian Church.

It was commemorated by an Apostolic Letter by Saint John Paul II

He wrote:
"Seventeen centuries ago, dear brothers and sisters of the Armenian people, this shared conversion to Christ took place for you. It is an event that has deeply marked your identity, not only personally but as a community, so that we are entitled to speak of the "Baptism" of your nation, even though Christianity actually reached your land much earlier. 
Tradition attributes its origins to the preaching and work of the holy Apostles Thaddeus and Bartholomew. 
With the "Baptism" of the Armenian community, first received by the civil and military authorities, the people acquired a new identity that was to become a constitutive and inseparable part of Armenian life. 
It would no longer be possible to think that faith did not figure as an essential element among the components of this identity. For Armenian culture itself would receive an extraordinarily powerful impetus from the proclamation of the Gospel:  its Armenian aspect would give a profoundly characteristic note to this proclamation, which would eventually be a driving force for an unprecedented development of the national culture. 
The invention of the Armenian alphabet, a decisive factor for the stability and definition of the people's cultural identity, would be closely associated with the Baptism of Armenia, and would be desired and conceived as a true and proper vehicle of evangelization, even more than as a way to communicate concepts and information. 
The new alphabet, the work of St Mesrop-Masthoc", in collaboration with the holy Catholicos Sahak, would enable Armenians to receive the best features of Syrian and Greek spirituality, theology and culture, and blend them all in an original way with the specific contribution of their own genius. 
The conversion of Armenia, which occurred at the dawn of the fourth century and is traditionally dated to the year 301, made your ancestors realize that they were the first officially Christian people, well before Christianity was recognized as the religion of the Roman Empire."

There were many exhibitions commemorating the event including one entitled Treasures From The Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art

The fascinating catalogue of the exhibition can be as a .pdf file from downloaded from the website of The Getty Publications Virtual Library

The catalogue has many interesting essays, images and entries

Of the above image, we read:
"Provenance: Copied in the Monastery of Tsipnay, under the shelter of the Church of Holy Nshan and St Stephen by the weary and thoughtless scribe Grigorvardapet in the Armenian era 868 (1419) ,during the catholicate of Poghos (II Garnetsi, 1418-30) and reign of Kara Yusuf (d. 1420), for the priest Yohannes. 
Grigor was born around 1340—5 in Khlat, son of Dser, hence his nickname Dserents.  
Grigor of Khlat (Akhlat) was one of the leading teachers of the late fourteenth and first decade of the fifteenth century. The devastating raids of Timur [ Tamerlane] that started in 1386 continued until 1426, the year when Grigor was martyred for not denouncing his Christian faith.  
The scribes of Armenian manuscripts copied in the Akhlat record: 
'He [Tamerlane] made the Armenian homeland like a desert bishops and vardapets [celibate priests], monks, priests — took to flight and wandered about in foreign lands and became strangers.' 
In 1427 a monk from the Monastery of Medsop' complained that Mass had not been celebrated for six years.  
A large collection of Armenian manuscripts was destroyed. For the first time since the ninth century there was a decline in the number of manuscripts produced.  
T'ovma Metsop'etsi (1378-1446) in his History of Tamerlane and His Successors twice mentions Grigor, who in spite of having to move from monastery to monastery, for 55 years copied manuscripts, 'day and night with restless vigilance'. 
Arak'el Baghishetsi (c. 1340 - 1454) confirms this observation by adding that: 
'he copied every hour,summer and winter, autumn and spring, night and day, at home and outside, in the monastery, in the village and in town. And thus not only when he was young but also in ripe old age, until the day of his martyrdom.' 
And what was his purpose? 
' He copied and sold [manuscripts] and gave the proceeds to the poor', and    'encourged all vardapets and monks to do the same'.
Grigor started copying manuscripts at an early age. In 1415 in a manuscript he copied in Jerusalem he states, 
'I am sixty-six years old and a monk for forty-eight years and these sermons [Yachakhapatumchark', attributed to Saint Gregory the Illuminator] I have not come across in my country' [Mat. mss. no. 8775, fol. 315r]. ...
The miniature exhibited is unique in Armenian iconography.  
Grigor, having been the founder and instructor in the primary monastic schools at Medsop'ay, Tsip'navank' and Tat'ew (1409- 10), is here represented seated on a high chair. 
He has in his left hand a rod, and a small black board in his right hand on which is inscribed the words 
'Blessed is the man who [never follows the advice of the wicked or loiters and does not take the path of sinners]' (Psalms 1: 1). 
In front of the monk stands a student, hands folded close to his chest like a sinner; and behind him slightly to the right sits, cross-legged on the floor, another figure, holding fresh rods, which the master would require for punishment.  
Another interpretation would be that the novice standing in front of the monk has strayed from the 'right path' and the teacher is reminding him of the famous words of the Psalmist: 'Blessed is the man...'.  
The role of the Gospel was to guide Christians away from wickedness by accepting the virtuous precepts of the Gospels.  
This interpretation is supported by the next miniature on fol. 15r, which presents the sponsors of the manuscript sitting facing each other.  
The sponsor Yovhannes holds the Gospel while his father, the priest Daniel, is preparing himself with open arms to receive the manuscript, a source of 'light and salvation'."