Wednesday, September 26 began a little sluggish as Gary and I were still recuperating from our early flight from the day before. Our driver, Davit, had arrived at 10:00 a.m. as agreed, but we were only able to get out of the B&B by 10:15. The plan for the day was to begin from the furthest point and make our way back “home”. The drive to Dilijan is about one and a half hours. It is found in the northern part of Armenia – some call it the Switzerland of Armenia, because as soon as travelers go through the last tunnel before entering the area, the landscape changes, the dry, barren, rugged hills become vibrant green living colors of life. The town is surrounded by the forests of Dilijan National Park. On our way out of Yerevan, there is a huge eagle statue sitting on top of a hill and Davit honked the horn three times, when he saw the statue. He said, if you honk your horn three times while you are passing this statue, you will have a good and safe journey.
We were on our way to a newly renovated monastery in Dilijan, but Davit suggested to take us to one of his favourite places, “Parz Lij (Clear Lake)”, which is a small lake located in the eastern part of the National Park. “Parz” in Armenian means clear, however for me it also means “simple”. He explained to us that the road to this lake was so warped that not many people go to visit (many local Armenians did tell us later “We have never been to ‘Parz Lij’ as the road is so bad”). However, recently he had heard that they had surfaced part of the road. He was right. The last six-kilometers of this road was full of potholes and bumps that took us more than 30 minutes to drive – thank God Davit is a patient and calm driver, as he had to maneuver many obstacles. What a clear, simple, and beautiful lake indeed – full of geese, different birds flying around and a quiet place all around. There were a few people hanging around having a picnic and that included a few people from Iran, and a couple were having their engagement pictures taken by a professional photographer who was driving an SUV – he knew what the road was like.
After “Parz Lij”, we made our way to Haghartsin Monastery (built in the 10th-13th century). I have to say that part of my heart’s desire has always been to visit ancient Armenian Churches in Armenia to photograph them – and here we were at the very first church – Be still my heart!
We were told that during the dedication of this monastery, there was an eagle soaring over the dome of the church buildings, I say buildings, because there was more than one sanctuary. Therefore, because of that eagle the name of the monastery is Haghartsin (playing-eagle or soaring eagle – “Hagh” meaning “game” in Armenian and “Artsin or Artsiv” meaning eagle). We were also told that back in 2011, Dr. Sheikh Sultan Bin Mohammed Al Qasimi donated money to renovate this monastery in its entirety. A few Armenians are thrilled by this Inter-faith gift and others are not – we can never please everyone.
While we were going through the different buildings and the grounds, we saw a rainbow formed by the sun’s rays entering through the windows that shone upon the altar. This rainbow was not committed to one spot, I counted, there were more than eight spots in that one sanctuary – there is something about rainbows that makes us feel safe – the covenant of God with Noah – reminding us of God’s Wings of Peace – Our Sanctuary. In the back yard of these precious, ancient buildings was a tree that had been hit by lightning, burnt out, yet, there was greenery starting to grow at the base and on the sides – the tree had not given up! I could have stayed there a whole week and enjoy the beautiful nature; valleys full of babbling brooks and waterfalls; mountain tops full of eagles, birds and trees; sanctuaries full of PRESENCE beyond any previous experiences; and the rainbows found at different spots, formed out of the sun rays entering through small openings of the windows, helping you sense that you are walking on Holy Ground. Every moment, every breath a holy one.
We continued with our schedule to head out to Lake Sevan. However, we felt the need to stop for lunch. Thanks to Davit, we ended up stopping at a unique restaurant in Dilijan, named URENI (The Armenian name for the Weeping Willow tree). It is a restaurant assembled of small cottages, each having a large family dining table. They also have a large reception hall for weddings and baptisms. The cottage we got was enough for 8-10 people. Groups, families can dine privately. But, as Gary brought to my attention, the poor waitresses had to do so much walking back and forth to serve everyone, but they still served us with a beautiful smile. After being filled with delicious, fresh food we made our way to Lake Sevan, which is known to be the Sea of Armenia, for it is the largest body of water in Armenia and the Caucasus region. It is situated at 1,900 m. above sea level. The Holy Cross church sits at the top of a hill where a 230-step climb will take you to the top and leave you breathless both from the climb and the scenery. The climb is so worth it – you see Lake Sevan sparkling with all her glory. The place was busy with many tourists and everyone down below was trying to sell a souvenir or two to all the visitors in a little strip of kiosks.
The day continued to Tsaghkadzor, another retreat area, like Dilijan. We headed to Kecharis Monastery, where we saw 4th Century burial plots and many, many more Khachkars (Armenian Crosses that are carved in rocks). One thing I learned during this first day was that when someone says, “let’s go to this monastery”, get ready to see a few sanctuaries, not just one.
Throughout this first day, as much as it was AMAZING to see these ancient churches where some are still used to celebrate worship, I was also impressed by the billboards on the highways and boulevards, in Armenia, where they promote famous Armenians and Armenia herself. One of the billboards read, “Armenia, An Open-Air Museum”. Yes, there are a few billboards promoting products to sell, but I can comfortably say that most of the billboards I saw were honoring famous Armenians and promoting the country’s heritage.
So, tonight I think to myself, about the tunnels of life that we pass through. Often the dry wilderness seems unending with our personal hardships, but we all know in hindsight we are capable to do all things through God’s Grace. The amazing living, vibrant colors of green and gold (as Fall Season had started knocking on Armenia’s Door) are possible and the dry lands help us appreciate these beautiful moments. Like the burnt tree after lightning strikes still gives way to new life and the ancient buildings be renovated by other faith leaders, it just reminds me that God is God of ALL, creation and creatures. The gift of seasons reminds us that for everything there is a season – do not despair, God is with you always. So, beloved, take one day at a time, sometimes we need to take one breath at a time, as we go through tunnels in our lives, and remember that God is closer to us than the breath we breathe. Amen.
Signing off… Wednesday, September 26, 2018, 10:47 p.m. – Five-Dove Bed & Breakfast Davitashen, Armenia