Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sharing Armenia with you

We thought that we would share a few more things with you that will help you understand where we live and what it is like here.  We won't be posting a blog every week like we have in the past but we will email you when we do put up a new post.  As we go forward with new experiences we want most to share with you the work that we are engaged in.  The pictures we share this week show you where we live from the outside, some of the uniqueness of these people from cleaning ways to money and then to share how Christianity first began in Armenia

 Our apartment balcony is the one below the green and white curtain balcony and right behind the street lamp.  It is too cold to be out on the balcony and we are not sure it would hold two of us safely.  When looking out that window, you can see Mt. Ararat on a clear day!  We have seen one clear day in the 3 1/2 weeks we have been here.  It is winter and there is smog hovering over the city and so it is not clear most of the time in the winter we understand.  We will see what summer brings.
 Another view here, and you can see we are on a busy street so it is quite noisy at night, but we get use to it and we are tired enough that we can sleep quite well.
 This is to show you type of stone they use on most all of the buildings in Armenia, like our apartment building.  It is called Tuff which is pronounced with the "u" sounding like the oo's in tooth.  Since most of the city has buildings made from this Tuff, it is extremely hard to find any wood anywhere.  Most everything is plastic or metal or stone.  Even inside.  In some parts of Armenia, outside the city, there are many who look hard for wood to burn to keep warm.  In our apartment building is natural gas to heat the  boiler that circulates hot water through the radiator for heat.  Gas for the stove.

Here is a couple of pictures of the Marchutney (or Mar-chut-ni) we told you about earlier.  They are everywhere and they pack riders in like sardines.  It is a public transportation that is helpful for everyone to get around in.  Many have to stand in it while riding.

This show the mops that they use here.  They are quite unique.  You just wrap a wet towel around it and mop the floor!  It is put together with a single nail.

This is the brooms they use, mostly on the sidewalks outside their doors, or in the hallways or in front of businesses.  They sweep all the time.
 These photos show the Armenian currency.  On the paper currency above I've written off to the side the value in US dollars.  If you are unable to read them just divide by 383.  There are 383 DRAM to the dollar. We deal with the 10,000, 5,000 and 1,000 Dram the most.  The picture below is of the coins.  We use all of them along with the bills when purchasing items.  But you can see that numbers here are very high and so when shopping we have to do a quick calculation to know how much we are spending.  For example, we bought a clothes iron for 6500 Dram. That comes to about $16.97.

The Mission President and his wife invited Elder Eyre and I (Sister Eyre) to attend church in the Artashat branch which is in little town (Artashat) about 20 miles south of Yerevan.  The people there were so sweet and kind.  We love meeting Armenian people in different places of Armenia.  Afterwards we visited one of the fathers of a missionary that was sent to Russia on his mission.  The father was not a member.  He showed us pictures that his son sent.  Afterwards and before dark they wanted to take us to see the Khor Virap monastery.

We are now going to take you to a place that we stopped in to see, called Khor Virap ( the "a" is pronounced with a "aw" sound and the "i" is pronounced as an ee sound).  This place will help you understand the beliefs of how Christianity first started in Armenia.  
We didn't take this picture but it shows Khor Virap from a distance with beautiful Mt. Ararat in the distance.We stopped by Khor Virap before we left to go back home to Yerevan.  They wanted us to understand the historical beginnings of Christianity here.
In this first picture we are looking down at the place we parked and in the far distance is a little hill that looks like a lot of dark rocks cover it.  It is actually a cemetery.  I would love to get pictures of it but we didn't have time to stop.  Next time.
Here we are climbing a "little" pathway up to the monastery of Khor Virap.  This is a historical and architectural monument.  It is built on the side of a chain of low hills looking out across the guarded border to Turkey and Mt. Ararat.  You can see the border (in the picture below) where the lights are in the distance .  If it had been lighter you could see the guard towers at the border, and Mt. Ararat in the distance.
 We took the above picture when we were leaving.  It was getting dark.

The man in front is Armenian and is an Area Seventy.  His son is in back with the white scarf.  They both speak pretty good English.  His son Artur went on a mission in Armenia.  The sister missionaries are to the right and the lady between them helped interpret and works for the guy on the left who is not a member of the church but likes the church members and is a community media guy, working for the T.V. station and has written many segments with video of what the church does in Armenia.  He is very influential and respected.  He can also be "rough" as he has worked for the KGB and we want to remain in good standing with him or he could really hurt our efforts here.  Walking up those steps you see in the above picture, and through a little tunnel you come to see this part of the monastery grounds (below).

The monastery is one of the sanctuaries of the Armenian Apostolic Church and a pilgrimage site.  This is supposedly the location of the municipal gaol (jail) of Artashat, one of the ancient capitals of Armenia before Yerevan.
We are about to enter the building erected over the pit.

 Sorry for the blur, but this is the inside of the building pointed out in the above picture.  It is a chapel were you can see a priest who was there to explain to us the story of Gregory the Illuminator:

Upon the order of King Tiridates III, Grigor, one of the associates of the king, was thrown into the gaol (jail) for professing Christianity.  He spent 13 years there.   
 A painting showing the imprisonment and torture of St. Gregory.
At one end of the chapel the entrance to the pit is shown here.  This is looking down the ladder from the top.  Elder and Sister Eyre and President Carter decided to brave it and go down into the pit.  It is about 40-50 feet deep.  I knew that if I didn't go down I would regret it because I am adventurous and I wanted to see for myself what it was like for Gregory during those 13 years.

 This is the ladder that leads down into the deep pit.  It doesn't really show it here but the ladder is very steep and vertical until the last 10 rungs, shown here.  You have to hold on tight, and the walls surrounding you are very narrow.
 This is at the bottom of the pit with a painting of St. Gregory on the wall behind Elder Eyre who just stepped off the base of the ladder.  This ladder is an addition to allow visitors to access the pit.  Of course Gregory didn't have that privilege when he was here for the 13 years.
 Sister Eyre making her way down into the pit.  As stated above, it is between 40 and 50 feet deep.
 As you can see, the pit is illuminated with candles and pictures.  Actually it was quite warm down there with the candles etc.  There was no heat or light when Gregory was imprisoned here.  His company was serpents and scorpions.  Of course I didn't see any or I could have ascended that ladder in record time with Elder Eyre at my heels, unless he beats me to the ladder first!

  The floor of the pit.  It is a straight wall, even though from the picture it looks stair stepped.

 This is looking up the ladder from the bottom of the pit.  The light is near the top, but there is at least another 10 feet to go.  For some reason, it was very scary and more difficult going up than coming down.

The following is the story:  
Armenia became a Christian nation in 301 A.D.  This is the story of “Gregory, the Illuminator” who brought the teachings of the Christian religion to this country.  
The house of Anak Partev was commanded to be destroyed on the charge of treason by the Armenian King Khosrov.  From this destruction only two small babies were saved.  One of the babies was given to the land of Iran and the other, a boy by the name of Gregory, was given to the land of Greece.  Growing up in the city of Casaria, Gregory was raised by a man who taught him to have faith in Christ.  He learned the bible and the teachings of the Christian religion.  
When Gregory found out what was done to his father, he decided to volunteer as a servant for Khosrov’s son, Trdat III.  He hid his true identity and obediently served the king.  When Trdat sensed that Gregory was of the Christian faction, he began to subject Gregory to fierce persecution and eventually horrible torture.  Gregory valiantly suffered this all for the name of Christ.  It was finally ordered by the king that Gregory was to be tied, head and foot, and thrown into the Khor Virap pit (which translates “deep pit”) of the Ararat region - a pit from which there is no escape.
Gregory remained in this pit for 13 years.  A widow in the area received a command in a dream that she was to lower food in a basket into this pit.  And thus Gregory was fed for all those years.......
While not including all of the details of the story, we will just say that the King was a wicked man and did bad things to many.  While sitting on the throne, the curses of the Lord came upon him and his head became that of a wild pig.  Also, devils fell upon the entire city and destruction came upon all.  
At that time, a vision of God appeared to the king’s sister, whose name was Khosrovidoukht.  She told everyone of the dream, saying, “Tonight in a light someone came to me and told me that these curses will not be lifted from you until you send someone to the city of Artashat to bring out the bound Gregory.  He will teach you of the medicine to cure your pains.”
They quickly sent someone with thick, long ropes to pull out Gregory and brought him to Vagharshapet.  When they were all gathered in the place of worship, Gregory began speaking to them, saying, “Come to your knees, all of you, that the Lord may cure you of these curses!”
They all came to their knees and Gregory prayed with great power and energy that the king and the rest of the city be healed.  That very moment, all the people were freed from their pains and the king, who was standing in the midst of the people, suddenly trembled and was freed from the curse, receiving his own skin, face and body, new and soft like that of a baby.
Seeing the wonderful works of the Lord, the king commanded that Gregory eradicate all remaining objects of heathen worship, that they be remembered no more.  Gregory did so and immediately began to preach to all and bring them to the obedient service of Christ.  Then they took up the heathen altars, laid the foundation for a church, and erected an altar to the glory of Christ. Then he took the king, the queen, and all other rulers of the land to the river Yeprat and baptized them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
King Trdat put all the people under oath to obey the commandments of God, have faith in Jesus Christ, and glorify Him now and forever.

That story tells you pretty much how Christianity started in Armenia.  

As we were leaving, we took this picture that shows the sanctuary well after the sun has set, although it was quite overcast.
 Looking down from a viewpoint (the  sanctuary above is to our backs) that overlooks the sacrificial tables, that even used today.  This is used to sacrifice small animals, like birds.

We are happy that Armenia is a Christian nation and it should be said here that they remain very strong in their belief in God.  They believe in Christ and because of that they have enemies to the east and west, Turkey and Azerbaijan.

We love the Armenian people.  When we attend church we get hugs and kisses from very sweet and loving people.  It is a privilege to be here and we want to make the most of our time as we help strengthen the members in this area and share our testimonies with them.

We are learning that the first baptisms in the 1880's in Turkey were Armenian.  As the first LDS Missionaries visited the mid-east in the late 1800's they found the Armenian people could readily recognize and accept the restored Gospel, but heavy persecution kept many from joining the church.  And so it continues today, but without the heavy persecution, although we have learned where we can tread and where we can't.  The testimonies of the many members are full of spiritual experiences and their strength is felt when we meet with them.

Until next time, may the Lord bless you with happiness as we enter into a new year.  Our intent for the future blogs will be to get down to the personal level with the people and the customs and the experiences we are having here.  Like the bread, particularly Lavash.  No mass produced pre-packaged bread here.  We are still trying to find food that is palatable for us as it is different than what we are use to and when we buy something we think is one thing, we find out it is yet another and so we go forward learning...

We love you all.  We love our mission and we still very much love each other!!

Elder and Sister Eyre

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