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Monday, 13 February 2012

About LOVE... Armenian Style

             Instead of St. Valentine, we Armenians have our own patron of LOVE, and he is Sourp (Saint) Sargis. The origins of the beautiful legend of Sourp Sargis are unknown, but this legend has made him the most popular saint for Armenians.

             There are a few different versions of the Sourp Sargis tale. I like the one which portrays St. Sargis or "Sergius" as a Roman commander a miracle worker whose army of 40 soldiers defeated an enemy of 10,000.

                          Saint Sargis on his white horse returns every year during the month of February

According to the legend, after the great feast to celebrate their victory, all forty soldiers and St Sargis himself were tricked and intoxicated by a "ruler" who then asked forty damsels to thrust sharp daggers into the hearts of sleeping young men and kill them (and we complain of violence in today’s movies!). Just one of the girls, enchanted by the beauty of Sargis, disobeys the order and instead of killing St. Sargis, she kisses him. Sargis awakes, and distraught by what he sees, he jumps on his white horse, not forgetting his savior (of course), and dashes away while a powerful storm rages outside...

             Since then, a rider on a white horse has become the symbol of love in Armenian culture. The holiday of Saint Sargis doesn't fall on a specific date, but is tied to the calendar in a similar fashion as Easter. It always falls on a Saturday, usually during the first week of February. It is believed that the night before St. Sargis Day is the coldest night of the year. That superstition was certainly true in Tehran as I was growing up, but it is not always true in Southern California.

              There is an interesting tradition in Armenian culture connected to St. Sargis day. On the evening before the holiday, unmarried girls and guys pray to the saint, asking for his help in their love affairs. Before they go to bed they eat a special salty cake with no other food or drink, so that in their dreams they will see their destined lover or their future spouse giving them water.

              My mother remembers one night when she had not yet met my Dad. On the Friday of Sourp Sarkis, after her aunt made her eat the salty cake, she dreamed that she was at work. She used to work at the Iranian National Railroad as a draftswoman. In Iran, at work places it was customary to have a guy to serve tea to workers. Mom dreamed that she was very thirsty and she asked the guy in charge of the teahouse to give her water.

              The following morning her aunt asked her if she had had a dream. She answered that she had seen Mammy (the guy at the teahouse) giving her a glass of water. Little did my mother know that she would meet my Dad at her office and they would get married. At the age of 92, she still remembers the glass full of clear water that Mammy gave her in her dream.

              My Sourp Sargis dream came to me a few years before I met my husband. In my dream I was in a store and I was negotiating with the owner of the store, who was a young guy. When I told my dream to my mom the next morning she said maybe you'll meet a young businessman and marry him. That's what happened! I met the most ambitious guy who at age 21 had his own advertising business.

              When I was raising my own family here in America (as we say "Odar aperoom" on foreign shores), I was somehow distracted by daily challenges and never told my daughters about the tradition of Sourp Sargis. So they never had significant dreams foretelling their future husbands.

              In Armenia it is acceptable to celebrate the Feast of St. Sargis not only according to church rites and prayer, but also according to various folk traditions. This year the holiday fell on February 4, and I was lucky to find a clip on the Internet showing a reenactment of the legend outside of the Sourp Sarkis church in Yerevan. At the end of the ceremony, which included dances and a play, a young guy dressed in costume as the Saint, rode on his white horse. The audience, parents and youngsters, were outside of the church watching the play. They were all bundled in warm clothes from head to toe.

              Don't you think that there must be a connection with Armenian Saint Sargis and St. Valentine.   Another version of the legend tells that St. Sargis same way as St. Valentine was martyred by an Iranian king.  And isn't that strange that both holidays fall in the dead of the winter? You be the judge...

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