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St. Grigor Narekatsi Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart.

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1 St. Grigor Narekatsi Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart

2 THE LIFE St. Grigor Narekatsi was one of the greatest poets in the history of the Armenian Church. His poems focused on the mystery of his relationship with God. Narekatsi was born circa 950 to a family of scholarly churchmen in the village of Narek on the southern shore of Lake Van. He grew up in an atmosphere infused with ritual and Bible. He was educated and encouraged by his father, bishop Khosrov Andzevatsi and his uncle, the famous scholar Anania, and spent his entire life at the monastery of Narek.

3 THE EPOCH Shortly before the first millennium of Christianity,Narek Monastery was a thriving center of learning. These were relatively quiet, creative times before the Turkish and Mongol invasions that changed Armenian life forever. Armenia was experiencing a renaissance in literature, painting,architecture and theology, of which St.Gregor was a leading figure. Armenian creativity flourished also with church-building, miniature painting, music and science.

4 THE NAREK At the request of his brethren, Narekatsi set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our Creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question he gives a humble answer - the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations or simply THE NAREK. Narekatsi considered his sublime mission to translate the pure sighs of the “broken and contrite” heart into an offering of wards pleasing to God:

5 The voice of sighing heart, its sobs and mournful cries, I offer up to you,O seer of Secrets, placing the fruits of my wavering mind as a savory sacrifice on the fire of my grieving soul to be delivered to you in the censer of my will. Compassionate Lord, breathe in this offering and look more favorably on it than upon a more sumptuous sacrifice rich with smoke. Please find this simple string of words acceptable. Do not turn in anger. (Prayer 1). The Narek is a comprehensive course of prayer and meditation based on a distillation of biblical wisdom and Christian doctrine. Where some theologians analyzed with the head, St.Gregor plumbed the depths of the heart in search of God’s loving truth. Beginning each prayer with the incantation

6 “Speaking with God from the depths of the heart”, he referred to himself as “a living book” and to his book as a compendium of prayers for all times and nations – “its letters like my body, its message like my soul (Prayer 54e). Thus, the man equated himself with the book, and ever since, the book has been equated with saintly man. So the book like the man came to be known affectionately as Narek.

7 The Narek is a masterpiece of intuitive and direct communion with God.According to tradition, St. Grigor saw God, to which he gives witness in Prayers 5c and 27f, where he regrets his wrongdoing “toward the one, whom I saw with my own eyes.” St. Grigor also testifies that the book, an “edifice of faith”. (Prayer 10b), was written by the finger of God and it was, it appears, his second attempt to compose the book: (Prayer 34j).”It is full of metaphors and images:

8 Two cups in two hands, one filled with blood, the other with milk, two censers flickering, one with incense, the other with crisp fat, two platters piled with delicacies, one sweet, the other tart, two goblets overflowing one with tears, the other with brimstone, two bowls at the finger tips one with wine, the other with bile, two windows of sight one crying, the other erring, two refiner’s cauldrons one heating, one cooling, two outlooks on one face one mildly affectionate, the other fiercely raging, two lifted hands one to strike, the other to shield.(Prayer 30c)

9 A CURE FOR BODY AND SOUL For St. Grigor, prayer was powerful medicine for the body and soul (Prayer 28f, 35a,42b, 43b). And he was in need of powerful medicine. His body was collapsing, while he was besieged by doubt from within and criticism from without. The work of his mature years, various passages in the Book of Prayer seem to indicate that St. Grigor, although only in his fifties, was suffering from a life-threatening, debilitating illness (Prayer 18k).

10 In this Book of Prayer Narekatsi pleas for God to be a healer not a judge. St. Grigor had a profound belief in the power of praye to make us whole (e.g., Prayers 3e, 53a, 66a). He grasped the power the power of the book he was inspired to compose. From his original manuscript, some 150 copies of his work were copied by hand and passed from generation to generation. The Narek is considered so full of strength and life, and to have healing and magical powers that IT WAS AND STILL IS placed at the side or under the pillow of the sick in hopes of curing their illnesses.

11 THE TRANSLATION Written shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, the prayers of St. Grigor of Narek have long been recognized as gems of Christian literature. St. Grigor called his book an”encyclopedia of all nations”. Although he wrote in Classical Armenian, he believed he was inspired to write this book for all people and hoped that it would be translated and recited by many nations, by people of all stations and in all times serving as a guide to prayers. (Prayer 3b, 55a, 66a, 88b, 90f).

12 The English translation of The Armenian Prayer Book by Grigor Narekatsi is a four- -year labor of love by linguist Thomas Samuelyan. He holds his Ph. D. in Linguistics from the University of Pennsylvania, Columbia University and St. Nersess Seminary. In a sense, the entire Book of Prayer is a search for a way to teach prayer by example, like that the Apostles when they asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray(Luke 11:1).” In short, these are prayers aimed at learning how to pray.

13 2003 is the year of 1000th anniversary of THE NAREK. Different conferences and forrums are held in the honor of St. Grigor Narekatsi and his masterpiece – THE NAREK.


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