Grape blessing and festival in Fresno to include traditional Armenian food, music and dancing
Prayers are for all crops, not just grapes
In the drought, ‘There are a lot more prayers for the farmers’
The blessing of the grapes is an annual Armenian service and event that offers the first crops of the new harvest to God. The 2015 blessing of the grapes will be held at the California Armenian Home on Sunday. Video: Craig Kohlruss/[email protected]
BY CARMEN GEORGE
While cutting and bagging bunches of large green grapes Saturday morning, 89-year-old Bob Tusan grins as he shares a star quality of his favorite fruit.
“When you eat grapes, they make you younger,” says the third-generation grape farmer as he works alongside 20 others behind Holy Trinity Armenian Apostolic Church in downtown Fresno.
The group is preparing for Sunday’s 102nd annual Armenian Grape Blessing at the California Armenian Home in southeast Fresno, where grapes will be the centerpiece of the popular festival that includes traditional Armenian food, music and dancing.
After the blessing, 1,200 pounds of grapes filling 60 boxes will be for sale.
“A lot people, they don’t eat any grapes until they’ve been blessed,” Tusan says. Has he been waiting?
A man beside him quips a warning, “Don’t lie, don’t lie.”
“I got to taste them,” Tusan follows, smiling, “to see if they are ripe.…When they’re ripe, then we bless them.”
The origins of the grape blessing go back to ancient Armenia, Rev. Vahan Gosdanian says, where priests held solemn ceremonies in vineyards around harvest time.
“During the prayer, we bless all the crops, but they chose the grape because the grape is considered the queen of all the fruits,” Gosdanian says.
This royal designation is linked to Jesus Christ giving wine to his disciples during the Last Supper, he says, and statements that Christ made like, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”
Levon Baladjanian, the festival’s chairman, says he sees grapes as the symbol of Armenia, “the homeland,” along with being the staple of Armenian-American farmers in the central San Joaquin Valley.
Of the grape blessing, he says, “I think it gives people the feeling that the harvest is like the springing of a new life for the year, and that’s why you always hope the harvest is successful and on time.”
As California’s drought drags on, Baladjanian says the grape blessing is only growing in importance.
“There are a lot more prayers for the farmers.”
Tusan and his Sanger neighbor for the past 76 years, Jack Bedoian, are among those whose grapes are suffering. Tusan had to drill deeper wells and now only waters every other row of grapes.
“So, we’ve got problems,” he says. “It’s all bad.”
Of the grape blessing, he adds, “As you get older, it has more meaning to you.”
Though around a quarter of his age, 23-year-old Andrew Esguerra also finds deep meaning in grape blessing.
“Like the vine replenishes the grapes, it’s kind of like God feeding us through our faith,” Esguerra says.
The root of the festivities for Gosdanian lies in giving thanks to God for his many blessings.
“We enjoy God’s blessing every day. We just have to count them,” he says. “Like they say, ‘Just count your blessings.’ You just have to see them. They are all around us, every minute, blessings and miracles.”
For Gosdanian, one of those joys is living in the Valley.
“It’s the world capital of grapes,” he says, “so we are blessed.”
Carmen George: 559-441-6386, @CarmenGeorge
Religious leaders, community members and parishioners came together Saturday, July 18 evening at St, Mary’s Armenian Monastery near the Armenian Genocide Memorial Monument for the traditional blessing of Muron (Holy Chrism or Holy Water) presided over by His Holiness Aram I, Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.
The preparation and blessing of the Muron takes place every seven years. This year it coincided with the anointment of the 1.5 million victims of the Armenian Genocide and brought special significance to the recommitment to the Armenian Cause.
The ceremony was attended by religious leaders, ecumenical guests, diplomats, government officials and parishioners who had made the pilgrimage from the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and elsewhere, Asbarez reports.
A procession toward the Armenian Genocide Martyrs Monument, where the ceremony was held, kicked off the festivities, with the Catholicos being escorted under a canopy—known as a baldaquin—held by four laymen, representing different prelacies in the Diaspora.
They were followed by two bishops who carried the case containing the right hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator, a relic that symbolizes the direct involvement of the founder of the Armenian Church in the process of preparing and blessing of the chrism. Joining the procession were also four clerics who carried containers of Muron from the Holy See of Etchmiadzing, remnants of the previous batch of the Muron from the Cilician Catholicosate and the essence of rose and balsam, the key indriendient of the chrims. The procession was followed by 12 other clerics
The ceremony began with a procession toward the Martyrs Monument where the ritual was held. His Holiness walked towards the monument under a canopy held by four laymen, who represented the Diaspora. They followed two bishops who carried the case that contains the relic of the right hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator. Four bishops carried containers of the Muron that had been brought from Holy Etchmidadzin, the old Muron from the Catholicosate of Cilicia, and the essence of rose and balsam. Twelve other bishops led the way.
During the blessing of the oil, Catholicos Aram I was assisted by prelates of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, two representatives of the His Holiness Karekin II, Catholicos of the Holy See of Etchmidadzin, Bishop Vazken Mirzakhanian the primate of the Armenian Church in Georgia and Bishop Vartan Navasartian, the Primate of the Australia, as well as two representatives from the Patriarchate of Constantinople: Archbishop Aram Ateshian, the Locum Tenens, and Bishop Sahak Mashalian.
The ceremony began with readings from the Bible and special prayers recited by Aram I and the bishops, beseeching the intercession of the Holy Spirit. To the original mixture of oil, spices, herbs and essence of different plants, prepared 40 days ago, His Holiness added the essence of rose and the Holy Muron from Etchmiadzin, symbolizing the unity of the Armenian Church. He then added the old Muron, which is the remnant of the healing oil St. Thaddeus brought to Armenia and the Holy Muron which was blessed by St. Gregory the Illuminator. At the end, His Holiness mixed everything in the special Muron cauldron and stirred it with the right hand of St. Gregory the Illuminator.
When the Holy Muron was blessed, His Holiness Karekin II’s message was read by a representative of Holy Etchmiadzin.
“I greet His Holiness Aram I with brotherly love. On the occasion of the blessing of the Holy Muron, we join you with our prayers and intercede with our recently sanctified martyrs and all our saints and ask God to grant us His peace, protect us and lead us to Him. The blessing of the Holy Muron is an invitation to us to renew our faith in Him, recommit ourselves to safeguarding our spiritual heritage and national identity. It is also an invitation to serve together for the glory of our Church and for the prosperity and strengthening of our homeland and the diaspora,” Karekim II’s message.
After receiving the message, His Holiness Aram I blessed the people with the relic of St Gregory the Illuminator.
After the ceremony, the Catholicos greeted His Holiness Karekin II, the patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople, the heads of other churches and the international ecumenical guests. He then explained the special place of the Holy Muron in the Armenian Church: for children to become members of the church, for priests to become ordained and serve the Church. He said that through anointment the members of the community are strengthened in their faith and are filled with love and hope.
“Historically,” he said, “the faith, love and hope of the Holy Muron has always empowered Armenians to endure the dark days of their history, safeguard their identity and rebuild their lives.” He continued, “Within the Armenian Church the Holy Muron has been the bond between the two Holy Sees.”
His Holiness then concluded, “The blessing of the Holy Muron today, on the 100th Anniversary commemorations of our Genocide is an invitation to our people to deepen their Christian faith, arm themselves in love and, with the power of hope in God, continue demanding justice.”
The weekend events at the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia also included the inauguration of the Armenian Genocide Museum at the Bird’s Nest Orphanage.