By Arthur Hagopian
JERUSALEM — A thousand years ago, a monk in a distant monastery in the western Armenian province of Reshdunik, picked up a reed pen and began etching out what would later become known as the first great Armenian mystic and liturgical poetry.
Krikor Naregatsi (Gegory of Nareg), who spent his entire life in the monastery, died at the relatively young age of 50, but what he has left behind has outlived his time and age: as long as one Armenian heart beats anywhere in this world, his inspired odes and lamentations will continue to find an echo there.
His writings, described by critics as “literary masterpieces in both lyrical verse and narrative,” have only been known in their original golden Grapar (Classical Armenian) to a select cadre of Armenian scholars, an oversight now boldly atoned for by the eminent expert on Medieval Armenian literature, Dr. Abraham Terian.
His “groundbreaking” and “magnificent” new book, The Festal Works of St Gregory of Narek (461 pp, the Liturgical Press, Minnesota, 2016) is the first translation (embellished with 54 pages of introduction and an array of explanatory notes) in any language, of the surviving corpus of Naregatsi’s festal works. Terian’s mellifluous English and his mastery of Grapar, have made this onerous task a joy and a celebration.
Like all other Jerusalem Armenians, Terian’s first encounter with Naregatsi occurred at a tender age, when at the graduation ceremony of primary students at the Armenian parish school he, like all his classmates, was handed a copy of a Naregatsi prayer book, the “Aghotamadyan” as a parting gift, to be his guide and inspiration for the days ahead.