This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

November 19 -- Feast of Saint Nerses the Great

Catholicos Garegin II
Nerses actual title as archbishop or patriarch of Armenia was Catholicos of All Armenians.  Here's a picture of Garegin II, the current Catholicos of All Armenians.  Here's a link to the post on Gregory the Illuminator, the first Catholicos of Armenia.  Gregory gets a nod here because he was Nerses' great-grandfather. 

Whoa!  Check out that monument hanging around Garegin's neck.  I'm not really a bling fan, but combine something like that with a wooden staff, a cassock, maybe the hood, and a respectable beard and it can work.  Garegin's rocking the look.  Nerses too, I'll bet. 

Nerses the Great (the Pleasant, the Happy)
So the unfortunate truth about Armenia is that no one had a good time there.  Not for centuries, anyway.  I don't know about today, but from the time the Romans began to wander East (so, Pompey Magnus?) on, the Armenians had cause to be nervous.  They had been happily Zoroastrian, doing the fire ceremonies and everything, but some well-meaning Greek Christians introduced them to the Word of God.  This naturally gave them a cultural affinity for Rome over Persia, which led to their status as Poland of the South, i.e. the place we invade and and slaughter to demonstrate our prowess.  True, they weren't alone in this; Mesopotamian (i.e. Parthians, Iraqis) had their share of being both ball and field in the football game between the mighty empires. 

In the midst of intrigue and war, Nerses stepped up to be the Catholicos of All Armenians.  He was a widower with two grown sons, both of whom went on to hold high positions in the Church.  To discuss his connections might conjure a sense of political favoritism, maybe even corruption. Be assured of his religious sincerity and his assiduous work, but first, be informed of these connections.  His uncle was King Tiran, whose distaste for the reforms of Catholicos St. Husik was so strong that he ordered the patriarch executed.  Don't feel too bad about it though -- Tiran was captured by the Persians, blinded and held hostage.  The Armenians submitted to Persian domination in order to get their king back, but Tiran then abdicated in favor of Arshak II, whose sword-bearer (Nerses) he elevated to the vacant spot of Catholicos. 

Nerses the Cranky Old Man
Nerses was, as I said, assiduous and sincere.  He constructed hospitals, schools, and monasteries.  He promulgated rules tempering the treatment of slaves and promoting the concept of human equality (as it was understood in fourth century Christian doctrine).  He forbade self-mutilation as a ritual of grieving.  He outlawed revenge killing and marriage between first cousins.  Some of this (perhaps the revenge-killing prohibition) got him exiled by Arshak.  He visited the imperial court at Constantinople, where he suffered a second exile by the Emperor for taking the wrong side of the Arian heterodoxy (remember, that's the fifty cent word that couches the term heresy).  As I say, you can't fault the man for his sincerity. 

Tom Hagen and Frankie Five Angels talk about the right thing
Arshak II, trapped between the weakening Romans and gathering Persians, trying to maintain the independence and Christianity of Armenia, slipped from the razor's edge.  Like his predecessor, he wound up in a Persian prison.  Unlike Tiran, he didn't make it out.  The Albanians pulled the Tom Hagen - Frankie Pentangeli move, smuggling in a blade so that Arshak could make a quick, noble exit. 

This allowed King Pap to come to the throne.  Yeah, his name was Pap.  Sometimes it is translated as Bab, but I don't think that helps much.  Actually, maybe a little.  Babs was one of the bunnies on Tiny Toon Adventures, but Pap is just a smear.  And that's sort of how I feel about Pap, who restored the Catholicos to his seat, but then poisoned him when they had a falling out over Pap's many grievous and self-indulgent sins. 

Tough times call for tough people.  The Armenians have had a couple millennia of tough times.  And they couldn't do better than Nerses for a model of courage when the going gets tough.

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