Armenia appeared out of nowhere: a great fortress facing the hills of Georgia. There it was, just in front of us, a wall of mountains which seemed unfriendly and unwelcoming. The roads are bad, the villages are small and remote, the people are poor. Now and again, the ruins of the old Soviet buildings interrupt the scenery, following an evil plan to destroy every ounce of identity of this nation: their faith, their past, their mountains.
I felt afraid and in danger. Armenians themselves are very much like their mountains – they seem unfriendly and unwelcoming, there is a lack of trust in their eyes which creates an instinctive response in you.
And yet, for no apparent reason, I was overcome with love for these people from the moment I saw the walls of their forgotten monasteries. It was as if the ancient rocks were calling to me, revealing to me some great secret about the Armenians. I felt pain behind their lack of trust. It felt they were hiding their true selves from us and holding on to a mask, which must be their own instinctive response to the horrors of their history – a shield in front of all the atrocities they had to survive throughout the millennia. These people have been here for so long – since at least 4000 BC! – that the earth in which they are buried when they die is (literally!) the dust of their ancestors; they find their rest in the flesh and bones of their forefathers.
I want to share this experience with you, so that you may always listen to Christ’s voice in your heart and never judge based on what is readily visible, as I did. Behind apparent unfriendliness, deep wounds may hide. Behind apparent coldness, there may be a heart that suffered beyond what it can humanly endure. I felt humbled by this nation. I felt the need to prostrate and ask for forgiveness for my rush to judge.
If you have a chance, go to Armenia. There is so much beauty here – profound, spiritual beauty. Learn from my mistake and look beyond the surface. Start with a visit to the Armenian Genocide in Yerevan; that is the key through which you need to read their lives. Keep in mind at all times that this was the first state to adopt Christianity as its official religion. At the end of the 3rd century (officially, the year is 301) Armenia became the first Christian nation of the world, a decision followed later by St Constantine.
I pray to God that I may return one day. There is a spiritual treasure hidden deep in the people and the mountains of this Armenia. This is a nation that suffered beyond measure – this WILL be followed by Grace beyond measure. One can feel this Grace even now, almost physically: it’s out there, hiding in these tough mountains and quietly waiting for Its time.