A Birthday in the Sacristy

In the September 2012 issue of ONE, Lviv-based journalist Mariya Tytarenko wrote about an Armenian Apostolic congregation’s efforts to rebuild church and community. Presented below are some of the thoughts and impressions she recorded on site.

After the Divine Liturgy in the Armenian Apostolic Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Lviv, I was invited to join the choir in the church sacristy for a special event.

“Don’t even hesitate,” Andriy Shkrabiuk, a chief cantor of the choir said. “You’ll have a chance to get some extra information for your article that you’ll never get just by interviewing us!”

I was curious. When it’s cold in the church, Father Thaddeos Gevorgian, whom everybody calls in Armenian ter hair, conducts a homily after the Divine Liturgy in the much warmer sacristy. Since there had been a homily during the Divine Liturgy, I assumed this would be something else.

I followed the choristers, who had accepted me into their little “family” the first time we met, last Sunday. That was 26 February — Mardi Gras, or Bun Barekendan in Armenian, which marks the beginning of the Lenten fast.

Romana Melnyk was carrying a hyacinth in a flowerpot. “It’s Yulia Tsviakh’s 23rd birthday today, and this is her favorite flower,” she whispered as we entered the sacristy.

Romana, 35 years old, is Ukrainian, but her husband is Armenian. Her parents still have not accepted her husband, whom she married against their wishes. “I’m very stubborn,” she had remarked on the circumstances of her marriage, as well as her first impression of the church choir in May 2001: “I was born to sing here!” Since then, she has been a soloist in the choir.

Archbishop Grigoris Bouniatian, the Primate of the Armenian Apostolic Eparchy of Lviv, is inside the sacristy speaking with Karlo Sargsian, the president of the Armenian community in Lviv.

“You’re lucky,” Andriy said, “Although Lviv has a cathedral for the Armenian Apostolic Diocese in Ukraine, Archbishop Grigoris is a rare guest here since he is usually away traveling to other regions of the country. He almost lives in his car.”

We all stood around a large table, and everyone greeted each other in turn in three languages: Ukrainian, Russian and Armenian, along with translations from Armenian into Ukrainian, since many of us, including Yulia, didn’t know any Armenian. There are only five Armenians in the 12-person choir.

Yulia looked very happy, especially after Archbishop Grigoris and Father Thaddeos had given her their blessings. She treated everyone to cake and drinks — juice, in observance with the Lenten fast.

“I’m Armenian; that’s why I’ve never raised a toast drinking juice in place of cognac,” Karlo joked, raising a toast to Youlia’s health.

“Oh, I’m used to drinking juice,” 26-year-old Solomiya Kachmar responded cheerfully. She was in her seventh month of pregnancy. When I asked her whether it was not too cold for her to sing in the church during the two-and-a-half-hour Liturgy, she answered: “Not at all! Just the opposite — my blood circulates better when I sing!”

“It’s because Solomiya is pregnant,” 25-year-old Marichka Dolna interrupted. “I get cold really quickly, whether I’m singing in the choir or playing the organ.” Marichka said she plays organ for the church every Saturday from 3:30 to 5 PM.

Another Marichka — 20-year-old, half-Ukrainian and half-Uzbek Marichka Rubaieva — didn’t sing today because she had been away for a year, and Andriy didn’t allow her to join the choir without a rehearsal. When I asked her how she felt today, standing outside the choir, she answered: “I realized how much I missed all this.”

When I was about to leave the company of this wonderful Armenian-Ukrainian group, Andriy said to me while putting on his favorite Stetson hat: “I bet you’ll soon be singing in our choir!”

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