Khor Virap and Mount Ararat
October 22, 2012
New York, New York
My Dear Friend John,
Cc: Friends and Family
As I come to the end of my journey in Armenia, I am once again thinking of you and your Armenian ancestors. Just 30k south of Yerevan, I am standing at the Khor Virap Monastery – a site revered by Armenians both here and in the “Diaspora.”
The Monastery is reminiscent of other elegant structures I have seen in southern Armenia. The stone work and masonry appear to be strong and resistant to earthquakes. Just inside the entrance gates, visitors pose in front of a large khatchkar – a medieval carved headstone.
The church displays many fine oil paintings. My favorite is the Madonna and Child. In this particular rendering, the Child is holding a perfectly symmetrical bunch of purple grapes. (I learned that wine production is an ancient tradition in this region of the world. In Armenia, wine goes back to about 4100 BCE.)
The Monastery sits on a rather low hill near the Araks River. To the north, south and east lie the utterly flat sunny-misty agricultural plains of golden pastures and green vineyards. In the far distant south and east I recognize the faint outlines of the bold and stark mountain ranges that I had the privilege to cross.
But to the West! To the West!
It is to the west, John, that Armenian pilgrims cast their longing eyes.
Facing west, printed on a large board at the edge of the Monastery grounds, I read:
8 But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded. 2 Now the springs of the deep and the floodgates of the heavens had been closed, and the rain had stopped falling from the sky. 3 The water receded steadily from the earth. At the end of the hundred and fifty days the water had gone down, 4 and on the seventeenth day of the seventh month the ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat. 5 The waters continued to recede until the tenth month, and on the first day of the tenth month the tops of the mountains became visible.
6 After forty days Noah opened a window he had made in the ark 7 and sent out a raven, and it kept flying back and forth until the water had dried up from the earth. 8 Then he sent out a dove to see if the water had receded from the surface of the ground. 9 But the dove could find nowhere to perch because there was water over all the surface of the earth; so it returned to Noah in the ark. He reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark. 10 He waited seven more days and again sent out the dove from the ark. 11 When the dove returned to him in the evening, there in its beak was a freshly plucked olive leaf! Then Noah knew that the water had receded from the earth. 12 He waited seven more days and sent the dove out again, but this time it did not return to him.
13 By the first day of the first month of Noah’s six hundred and first year, the water had dried up from the earth. Noah then removed the covering from the ark and saw that the surface of the ground was dry. 14 By the twenty-seventh day of the second month the earth was completely dry.
15 Then God said to Noah, 16 “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. 17 Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.”
18 So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. 19 All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.
The Bible is clear, John: “Noah’s ark came to rest on the mountains of Ararat.”
To the west of the monastery, in the distance, Mount Ararat explodes from the earth, an anomaly in this otherwise flat agricultural region.
Enormous. Mysterious. Cloud-wrapped. Snow-capped. The inactive volcanic cone towers over everything on the surrounding plain.
Ararat - Արարատ լեռը (Armenian), Ağrıdağı (Turkish) - is actually twin peaks. Great Ararat: 5137m – 16,854 ft. Little Ararat: 3895m -12,779 ft.
John my friend, Mount Ararat is the Place!
Who can gainsay the Near East Narrator?
Who will challenge the Chronicler?
Mount Ararat is Biblical History.
The Home of the Gods in Armenian mythology.
The Holy Mountain, revered by the first nation to accept Christianity 1700 years ago.
The icon of Armenia.
John, when you climb the hill to the Khor Virap Monastery, you too will cast your longing gaze to the Holy Mountain. Tragically, just across the border in Turkey, so close is Ararat, and yet so far!
Inaccessible is the Home of the Gods.
Just out of reach is our G-d.
Yet, we, the sons and daughters of Noah, are commanded to sail beyond the mountain. To do His will. To respect the receding waters around us. To care for the dry land we inhabit together.