Armenian News Network / Groong


A Sunday Morning in Brussels

Armenian News Network / Groong
November 16, 2006
Travel Wire

By Ruth Bedevian


ArmChurchBrussels
Armenian Church in Brussels
( R. Bedevian)

On our most recent trip to Armenia my husband and I made a stop over in Brussels before returning to the USA. Our taxi cab turned right onto Kindermonstraat and with no trouble at all we found Eglise Armenienne Apostolique Sainte Marie-Madeleine. Father Mesrob Barsamian, ordained in Holy Etchmiadzin and a former staff bearer for His Holiness Karekin II, was the guest celebrant. Father Mesrob is presently studying for his masters in theology at Strasbourg University in France and makes the 6 hour journey by train about two times a month to celebrate liturgy, baptize and marry the Armenian faithful in this small pocket of Armenian life in the French/Dutch/Flemish, German-speaking country of Belgium - a country whose physical size is about that of Armenia.

As always we feel comfortable in a foreign land when we enter an Armenian church. Thoughts carried us to St. Leon Armenian Church in Fair Lawn, NJ as we sang the same hymns and prayed as the deacon censed the church. Being the Sunday closest to October 26, it was the Feast Day of the Discovery of the Holy Cross (Kyood Khach)- when in 327 A.D. the Empress Helena (mother of Constantine) sent an army to find the true cross upon which Jesus was crucified. After a long search in Jerusalem, three crosses were discovered - the one upon which Jesus was nailed and two others upon which the thieves were hung. Father Mesrob continued in his sermon to relate the miraculous account when a deceased man was placed before each cross and came to life in front of the cross of Jesus. Addressing the congregates who literally filled the church to overflowing, he emphasized the importance of the cross and its message for Christians worldwide.

Kissing The Gospel
Kissing The Gospel
( R. Bedevian)
There has been an Armenian presence in Belgium from as early as the 4th century. Since the nearby city of Brugge was an important trading center, it attracted Armenian merchants who were the first to arrive; then followed the Armenian priests and intellectuals (Daniel Varoujan, the renowned poet who was a victim of the 1915 massacre of intellectuals by the Ottoman Turks, studied in the nearby University of Ghent in 1905). However, the community never blossomed into large numbers as did other Diasporan cities. Following 1915, Belgium witnessed an increase in Armenian population due to the Genocide and ensuing dispersion of Armenians from Turkey. The present community stems from that first generation of refugees from Turkey. In the 1970s following the fall of the Shah, many Armenians emigrated from Iran. French-speaking Armenians from Lebanon came as a result of the 1975-76 civil war. Recent arrivals from Armenia and a large number from eastern Turkey (largely Kurdish-speaking) bring the approximate total of Armenians in Belgium to a maximum of 5000.

Stained Glass
Stained Glass in Brussels
( R. Bedevian)
The present church structure was erected and consecrated on May 6, 1990 by the generosity of benefactors Mr. and Mrs. Khachig and Madeline Khatchigov. Interesting was the the absence of stained glass windows in a country where stained glass windows are the norm in churches - although, of course, Armenian architecture predates the introduction of stained glass. Only one window prominently displayed above the altar drew one's attention. An excellent choir composed of 5 women and 4 men, including the choir director, sang in professional timing with the altar servers and priest. A young acolyte remained very well poised throughout the Liturgy (Badarak) and the subsequent Repose of Soul Service (Hokehankisd). Three stole bearers and a sub-deacon served at the altar. The color of the walls was a soft rust. The pews were made of 8 wooden chairs that were connected into one piece. The black leather cushions were roomy and comfortable. Seven rows on either side of the center aisle and about 16 seats on the north wall brought the total seating to 128 persons. The interior was standing room only!

Deacon and Acolyte
Deacon and Acolyte
( R. Bedevian)
Following litury we gathered in the community hall which is beneath the church. We talked with Father Mesrob ever so briefly since a family was awaiting the baptism of its infant. We also enjoyed making the acquaintance of the arch deacon, Garabed Bedrosian, whose son, Vatche, we learned was the seven year-old acolyte. Having no full time priest, the parish depends upon the devotion of parishioners to volunteer their time and talents to manage the work of the church. Deacon Garabed arranges for visiting clergy and acts as liaison with the Diocesan center in Paris for marriages and baptisms. Interestingly, he told us that he attended the seminary in Jersusalem. Asked what happens when there is a death, he said a priest is sent immediately, most often from Paris as it is a 2 hour train ride. The church does not have an Armenian school, but we were told that there are six Armenian schools in the community. Father Mesrob also told us that in Strasbourg, where he is studying, there is a small community of about 500 families who have emigrated from Armenia. They rent a local Roman Catholic church and celebrate the liturgy. In nearby Kehl, Germany there is also a community of Armenians, primarily from Istanbul, who likewise do the same.

In this French, Dutch, Flemish and German-speaking country we discovered a microcosm of the Armenian world and we found harmony with the scent of the incense rising with the singing of the hymns (sharagans) and the familiar sounds of Armenian. We are indeed at home away from home.

--
Ruth Bedevian continues her visits in Armenia. Many of her articles are at:
	http://www.groong.org/orig/armeniahousemuseums.html
Redistribution of Groong articles, such as this one, to any other media, including but not limited to other mailing lists and Usenet bulletin boards, is strictly prohibited without prior written consent from
Groong's Administrator.
Copyright 2006 Armenian News Network/Groong. All Rights Reserved.

| Introduction | Administrative | Posting Rules | Armenian News | World News | Feedback |