September 7, 2011
Back to Marseille...Pictured here is the Eglise Armenienne, au Prado, where my parents were married long ago, and I was baptized here a couple of years later. It is kind of small but has a lovely layout and courtyard. My father often brought me on Sundays, even on those rare occasions when my mother was home preparing for the family to come after the service. This was usually on visits from the Patriarch when all my grandparents wanted to be in attendance so it made more sense for everyone to come dine at our place which was closer than the country homes of my grandparents where we usually had our Sunday family dinners.
Now my paternal grandfather was very indulgent and would at these occasions slip me a delicious piece of bubble gum when he could sense my stomach was growling during those longer services with the visiting dignitaries. He knew I wouldn't cause any trouble since I never got the hang of how to blow a bubble with it but adored the yummy taste. My grandmother took it all very seriously, and was known to sigh when she heard too much chattering, glancing up to give a deadly disapproving eye to the offender. You see, my grandmother was a strong personality not nearly as indulgent as the priests! Luckily for me, she adored and loved me to pieces and there was no bad side to her for me to get on; she thought I was perfect! Well, that's grandmas, even the tough ones! I was the first grandchild in thirteen years, so she was darn happy to see me and I gratefully reaped the benefits of her warm affection for me....and dearly loved her back.
Armenian churches are a little bit different in that they don't proselytize and most of the clergy (99.9%) have a high tolerance for however the congregants behave and it is not at all unusual at certain times during the service to hear personal conversations, even critiques of the local priest or visiting clergy. They have their antenna and radar out for long winded sermons and you will know about it far in advance should such a rarity present itself. Most Armenian priests are very intelligent, have a "l'argesse d'esprit" and no false illusions that this unruly crowd will sit through the whole sermon, so they spare themselves the grief and keep it short and sweet. Every once in a while, you will get an archbishop close to retirement whose fuse with the frailties of his flock is short, so he may throw in a long one on purpose just to tick somebody off.
All this came to my mind as I was thinking how kind and thoughtful it was of my father to along with my mom raise me in this tradition, with the option to make my own mind up later. In fact, sometimes in the U.S., I would go to church services with various friends in the neighborhood to see what their traditions were. It wasn't until my father was in his 70s that he mentioned he was an atheist but respected the tradition and fellowship that came with our church so wanted me to experience it and as an adult make up my own mind about my beliefs. Just another reason he remains my hero.