The Apostolic Church has always been primary to Armenian identity, marking the intersection of geographic, mythic, social, and, of course, religious aspects of the sacred. It is an ancient spiritual tradition that finds expression in sacrament and liturgy, but this potent blend of old-testament mysticism and new-testament piety is also woven into the fabric of everyday life, The key to this tradition might be the prayer book of St. Gregory of Narek (950-1003), which is a beatific guide to prayer and deeper faith. St. Gregory was, above all else, a man of the book, and his prayers often reflect the act of writing as a form of contemplative practice--the blessing of words but also their inadequacy to give voice fully to the divine--a practice that, through confession, points to transcendence.
If I were to fill a basin of the sea with ink,
and to measure out parchment the length and
breadth of a field of many leagues
and were to take all the reeds of the forest and
woods and turn them into pens,
I still would not be able to record even a fraction of
my accumulated wrongdoings.
If I were to set the Cedars of Lebanon as a scale
and to put Mount Ararat on one and my iniquities on the other,
it would not come close to balancing. [9a]
The Armenian Apolostic Church is the world's oldest national church. Thanks in part to the evangelism of St. Thaddeus and St. Bartholomew, Christianity began to spread in Armenia shortly after the death of Christ. Early in the 4th century, the Kingdom of Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion. The conservatism of the Church and Armenia's eager embrace of modern liberal traditions are in constant tension or dialog, depending on one's perspective, and seem to define generational boundaries, as well, though not absolutely.