Archive for the ‘Meeting with a remarkable man’ Category

On reaching Echmiadzin I went directly, as was the custom, to worship at all the holy places. I then went into the town to look for a lodging, but it was impossible to find one, since all the inns (hotels did not exist then) were full and more than full; and so I decided to do as many others did—simply establish myself outside the town under a cart or wagon. But as it was still early, I decided first of all to do my errand, that is, find Pogossian and give him the parcel.

He lived not far from the main inn in the house of a distant relative, the Archimandrite Surenian. I found him at home. He was about the same age as I, dark, of medium height, and had a small moustache. His eyes were very sad, but at times they burned with an inner fire. The right eye was slightly crossed. At that time he seemed to be very frail and shy.

He began asking me about his parents, and having learned in the course of the conversation that I had not succeeded in finding lodgings, he ran off and, returning almost immediately, proposed that I should share his room.

I of course accepted, and went at once and brought back all my paraphernalia from the wagon. And I had just finished arranging a bed for myself with Pogossian’s help, when we were called to take supper with Father Surenian, who greeted me affably and asked me about Pogossian’s family and about things in general in Alexandropol.

After supper I went with Pogossian to see the town and the sacred relics. It must be said that during the festival there is a great deal of movement all night in the streets of Echmiadzin, and all the cafés and askhani are open.

That whole evening and all the days following were spent with Pogossian. He took me everywhere, as he knew all the ins and outs of the town. We went to places where ordinary pilgrims do not have access and even to the Kanzaran, where the treasures of Echmiadzin are kept and where one is very rarely admitted.

During our talks we discovered that the questions which were agitating me also interested him; both of us had much material to share on these questions, and little by little our talks became more intimate and heart-to-heart, and a strong tie was gradually formed between us.

Pogossian was nearing the end of his studies at the Theological Seminary and in two years was to be ordained a priest, but his inner state did not correspond to this at all. Religious as he was, he was none the less extremely critical of his environment and strongly averse to living among priests whose mode of life seemed to him to run entirely counter to his own ideals.

When we had become friends, he told me a great deal about the hidden side of the life of the clergy there; and the thought that on becoming a priest he would have to live in this environment made him suffer inwardly and feel deeply distressed.

After the holidays I stayed on in Echmiadzin for three more weeks, living with Pogossian at the house of the Archimandrite Surenian; and thus I had the opportunity more than once of talking about the subjects which agitated me with the archimandrite himself, and also with other monks to whom he introduced me.

But during my stay in Echmiadzin I did not find what I was looking for and, having spent enough time to realize that I could not find it there, I went away with a feeling of deep inner disillusionment.

Pogossian and I parted great friends. We promised to write to each other and to share our observations on the questions which interested us both.

One fine day, two years later, Pogossian arrived in Tiflis and came to stay with me.

He had graduated from the seminary and had been in Kars for a short time with his parents. Now he had only to marry in order to obtain a parish. His family had even found a bride for him, but he was in a state of complete indecision and did not know what to do. He would spend days on end reading all kinds of books that I had, and in the evenings, on my return home from work as a stoker at the Tiflis railway station we would go together to the Moushtaid and, walking along the deserted paths, we would talk and talk.

Once, while walking in the Moushtaid, I jokingly proposed that he should come to work with me at the railway station, and I was greatly astonished when the next day he insisted that I should help him get a place there. I did not try to dissuade him, but sent him with a note to my good friend the engineer Yaroslev, who at once gave him a letter of introduction to the station-master, who took him on as assistant locksmith.

So it continued until October. We were still engrossed in abstract questions and Pogossian had no thought of returning home.

Once at the house of Yaroslev I made the acquaintance of another engineer, Vasiliev, who had just arrived in the Caucasus to survey the route of the proposed railway between Tiflis and Kars. After we had met several times, he proposed one day that I should go with him on the survey as overseer and interpreter. The salary offered was very tempting—almost four times as much as I was earning. I was already tired of my job, which was beginning to interfere with my main work, and as it also became clear that I should have much free time, I accepted. I proposed to Pogossian that he should go with me in some capacity or other, but he refused, as he had become interested in his work as a locksmith and wished to continue what he had begun.

I travelled with this engineer for three months in the narrow valleys between Tiflis and Karaklis and managed to earn a great deal, having besides my official salary several unofficial sources of income of a rather questionable character.

Knowing beforehand which villages and little towns the railway was to go past, I would send someone to the power-possessors of these villages and towns, offering to ‘arrange’ for the railway to be laid through these places. In most cases my offer was accepted and I would receive for my trouble a private remuneration, at times in the form of a rather large amount of money.

When I returned to Tiflis I had collected, including what remained from my previous earnings, quite a substantial sum, so I did not look for work again but devoted myself entirely to the study of the phenomena which interested me.

Pogossian had meanwhile become a locksmith and also found time to read a great many books. He had recently become especially interested in ancient Armenian literature, of which he procured a large quantity from the same booksellers as I.

By this time Pogossian and I had come to the definite conclusion that there really was ‘a certain something’ which people formerly knew, but that now this knowledge was quite forgotten. We had lost all hope of finding any guiding clue to this knowledge in contemporary exact science, in contemporary books or from people in general, and so we directed all our attention to ancient literature. Having chanced to come across a whole collections of ancient Armenian books, Pogossian and I became intensely interested in them and decided to go to Alexandropol to look for a quiet place where we could give ourselves up entirely to study.

Arriving in Alexandropol, we chose as such a place the isolated ruins of the ancient Armenian capital, Ani, which is thirty miles from Alexandropol, and having built a hut among the ruins we settled there, getting our food from the neighbouring villages and from shepherds.

Ani became the capital of the Bagratid kings of Armenia in the year 962. It was taken by the Byzantine Emperor in 1046, and at that time was already called the ‘City of a Thousand Churches’. Later it was conquered by the Seljuk Turks; between 1125 and 1209 it was taken five times by the Georgians; in 1239 it was taken by the Mongols, and in 1313 it was completely destroyed by earthquake.

Among the ruins there are, by the way, the remains of the Patriarchs’ Church, finished in the year 1010, the remains of two churches also of the eleventh century, and of a church which was completed about 1215.

At this point in my writings I cannot pass by in silence a fact which, in my opinion, may be of interest to certain readers, namely, that these historical data which I have just cited concerning the ancient Armenian capital Ani are the first, and I hope the last, that I have taken from information officially recognized on earth; that is to say, it is the first instance since the beginning of my writing activities in which I have had recourse to an encyclopedia.

About the city Ani there still exists one very interesting legend, explaining why, after being called the City of a Thousand Churches for a long time, it came to be called the City of a Thousand and One Churches.

This legend is as follows:

Once the wife of a certain shepherd complained to her husband about the shocking misbehaviour in the churches. She said that there was no place for quiet prayer and, wherever one went, the churches were as crowded and noisy as beehives. And the shepherd, heeding her just indignation, began building a church especially for his wife.

In former times the word ‘shepherd’ did not have the same meaning as it has now. Formerly a shepherd himself was the owner of the flocks he grazed; and shepherds were considered among the richest people of the country; some of them even possessed several flocks and herds.

When he had finished building the church, this shepherd called it the ‘Church of the Shepherd’s Pious Wife’, and from then on the city of Ani was called the City of a Thousand and One Churches. Other historical data assert that, even before the shepherd built this church, there were many more than a thousand churches in the city, but it is said that during recent excavations a stone was found confirming the legend of the shepherd and his pious wife.

Living among the ruins of this city and spending our days reading and studying, we sometimes, for a rest, made excavations in the hope of finding something, as there are many underground passages in the ruins of Ani.

Once, Pogossian and I, while digging in one of these underground passages, noticed a place where the consistency of the ground had changed, and on digging further we discovered a new passage, which turned out to be a narrow one, blocked at the end with fallen stones. We cleared the stones away and before us appeared a small room with arches crumbling with age. Everything indicated that it had been a monastic cell. There was nothing left in this cell but broken pottery and pieces of rotten wood, doubtless the remains of furniture; but in a kind of niche in the comer lay a pile of parchments.


Read Full Post »


SARKIS POGOSSIAN, or as he is now called, Mr. X, is at the present time the owner of several ocean steamers, one of which, cruising among his favourite places, between the Sunda and Solomon Islands, he commands himself.

By race an Armenian, he was born in Turkey, but spent his childhood in Transcaucasia, in the town of Kars.

I met Pogossian and became friends with him when he was still a young man, finishing his studies at the Theological Seminary of Echmiadzin and preparing for the priesthood.

Before I met him I had already heard about him through his parents, who lived in Kars not far from our house and often came to see my father. I knew that they had an only son who had formerly studied at the ‘Temagan Dprotz’ or Theological Seminary of Erivan, and was now at the Theological Seminary of Echmiadzin.

Pogossian’s parents were natives of Turkey, from the town of Erzerum and had moved to Kars soon after it was taken by the Russians. His father was by profession a poiadji and his mother an embroideress in gold, specializing in breast-pieces and belts for djuppays Living very simply themselves, they spent all they had to give their son a good education.

1 A potadji is a dyer. A person of this profession can always be recognized by his arms, which are blue to the elbows from the dye that can never be washed off.

2 A djuppay is the special costume of the Armenian women of Erzerum.

Sarkis Pogossian rarely came to see his parents and I never had an opportunity to see him in Kars. My first meeting with him took place the first time I was in Echmiazdin. Before going there I returned to Kars for a short time to see my father, and the parents of Pogossian, learning that I would soon be leaving for Echmiadzin, asked me to take their son a small parcel of linen.

I was going to Echmiadzin for the purpose—as always—of seeking an answer to the question of supernatural phenomena, in which my interest not only had not diminished but had grown even stronger.

I must say here, as I mentioned in the previous chapter, that having become extremely interested in supernatural phenomena, I had plunged into books and also applied to men of science for explanations of these phenomena. But failing to find answers that satisfied me either in books or from the people I turned to, I began to seek them in religion. I visited various monasteries and went to see men about whose piety I had heard, read the Holy Scriptures and the Lives of the Saints, and was even for three months an acolyte of the famous Father Yevlampios in the monastery of Sanaine; and I also made pilgrimages to most of the holy places of the many different faiths in Transcaucasia.

During this period I happened again to witness a whole series of phenomena which were unquestionably real, but which I could in no way explain. This left me more bewildered than ever.

For example, once when I went with a company of pilgrims from Alexandropol for a religious festival to a place on Mount Djadjur, known among the Armenians by the name of Amena-Pretz, I witnessed the following incident:

A sick man, a paralytic, from the small village of Paldevan was being taken there on a cart, and on the road we fell into conversation with the relatives who were accompanying the invalid and talked with them as we went along.
This paralytic, who was barely thirty years old, had been ill for the past six years, but before that he had been in perfect health and had even done military service. He had fallen ill after his return home from service, just before his wedding, and had lost all use of the left side of his body. In spite of various treatments
by doctors and healers, nothing helped. He had even been specially taken for treatment to Mineralne Vodi in the Caucasus, and now his relatives were bringing him here, to Amena-Pretz, hoping against hope that the saint would help him and alleviate his sufferings.
On the way to this holy place we made a special stop, as all pilgrims usually do, at the village of Diskiant to pray at the miraculous icon of Our Saviour, which was in the house of a certain Armenian family. As the invalid also wished to pray, he was taken into the house, I myself helping to carry the poor man in.
Soon afterwards we came to the foot of Mount Djadjur, on the slopes of which the little church with the miraculous tomb of the saint is situated. We halted at the place where the pilgrims usually leave their carts, wagons and vans, at the end of the carriage road. From there the further ascent of a quarter of a mile must be made on foot, and many walk barefoot, according to the custom there, while others even do this distance on their knees or in some other special way.
When the paralytic was lifted from the cart to be carried to the top, he suddenly resisted, wishing to try to crawl up by himself as best he could. He was put on the ground “and he started dragging himself along on his healthy side. He did this with such difficulty that it was pitiable to watch him; but he still refused all help. Resting often on the way, he finally, after three hours, reached the top, crawled to the tomb of the saint, which was in the centre of the church, and having kissed the tombstone, immediately lost consciousness.
His relatives, with the help of the priests and myself, tried to revive him. We poured water into his mouth and bathed his head. And it was just as he came to himself that a miracle occurred. His paralysis was gone. At first the man was stupefied; but when he realized that he could move all his limbs, he sprang up and almost began to dance; then, all of a sudden recollecting himself, with a loud cry he flung himself prone and began to pray.
All the people there, with the priest at their head, immediately
fell on their knees and began to pray also. Then the priest stood up, and amidst the kneeling worshippers, held a service of thanksgiving to the saint.

Another incident, which puzzled me no less, took place in Kars. That year there was terrible heat and drought in the whole province of Kars; almost all the crops had been scorched; a famine threatened, and the people were becoming agitated.

That same summer there arrived in Russia from the patriarchate of Antioch an archimandrite with a miraculous icon—I do not remember whether of St. Nicholas the Miracle-worker or of the Virgin—to collect money for the relief of the Greeks who suffered in the Cretan War. He travelled with this icon chiefly to places in Russia with a Greek population, and he also came to Kars.

I do not know whether politics or religion was at the bottom of it all, but the Russian authorities in Kars, as elsewhere, took part in organizing an impressive welcome and in according him all kinds of honours.

When the archimandrite arrived in any town, the icon was carried from church to church, and the clergy, coming to meet it with banners, welcomed it with great solemnity.

The day after the archimandrite arrived in Kars, the rumour spread that a special service for rain would be held before this icon, by all the clergy, at a place outside the town. And indeed, just after twelve o’clock on that same day, processions set out from all the churches, with banners and icons, to join in the ceremony at the appointed place.

In this ceremony there took part the clergy of the old Greek church, of the recently rebuilt Greek cathedral, the military cathedral, the church of the Kuban regiment, and also of the Armenian church.

It was a day of particularly intense heat. In the presence of almost the entire population, the clergy, with the archimandrite at their head, held a solemn service, after which the whole procession marched back towards the town.

And then something occurred to which the explanations of contemporary people are absolutely inapplicable. Suddenly the sky became covered with clouds, and before the people had time to reach the town there was such a downpour that everyone was drenched to the skin.

In explanation of this phenomenon, as of others similar to it, one might of course use the stereotyped word ‘coincidence’, which is such a favourite word among our so-called thinking people; but it cannot be denied that this coincidence was almost too remarkable.

The third incident occurred in Alexandropol, when my family had returned there for a short period and we were living again in our old house. Next door to us was my aunt’s house. One of the lodgings in her house had been let to a Tartar who worked for the local district government either as a clerk or a secretary. He lived with his old mother and his little sister and had recently married a handsome girl, a Tartar from the neighbouring village of Karadagh.
Everything went well at first. Forty days after her marriage the young wife, according to the Tartar custom, went to visit her parents. But there, either she caught cold or something else happened to her, for when she returned she did not feel well, had to go to bed, and gradually became very ill.
They gave her the best of care, but in spite of being treated by several doctors, among whom, I remember, were the town doctor, Resnik, and the former army doctor Keeltchevsky, the condition of the sick woman went from bad to worse. An acquaintance of mine, a doctor’s assistant, went every morning, by order of Dr. Resnik, to give her an injection. This doctor’s assistant, whose name I do not remember—I only remember that he was unbelievably tall—often dropped in to see us when I was at home.
One morning he came in while my mother and I were drinking tea. We invited him to join us at the table and in the course of the conversation I asked him, among other things, how our neighbour was getting on.
‘She is very sick,’ he replied. ‘It is a case of galloping consumption and doubtless it will soon be “all over” with her.’
While he was still sitting there, an old woman, the mother-in-law of the sick woman, came in and asked my mother’s permission to gather some rose-hips in our little garden. In tears she told us how Mariam Ana—as the Tartars call the Virgin—had appeared that night to the sick woman in a dream and bade her gather rosehips, boil them in milk, and drink; and in order to calm her the old woman wished to do this. Hearing this, the doctor’s assistant could not help laughing.
My mother of course gave her permission and even went to help her. When I had seen the assistant off I also went to help.
What was my astonishment when, the next morning on my way to the market, I met the invalid with the old woman coming out of the Armenian church of Sev-Jiam, where there is a miraculous icon of the Virgin; and a week later I saw her washing the windows other house. Dr. Resnik, by the way, explained that her recovery, which seemed a miracle, was a matter of chance.

These indubitable facts, which I had seen with my own eyes, as well as many others I had heard about during my searchings— all of them pointing to the presence of something supernatural— could not in any way be reconciled with what common sense told me or with what was clearly proved by my already extensive knowledge of the exact sciences, which excluded the very idea of supernatural phenomena.

This contradiction in my consciousness gave me no peace, and was all the more irreconcilable because the facts and proofs on both sides were equally convincing. I continued my searchings, however, in the hope that sometime, somewhere, I would at last find the real answer to the questions constantly tormenting me.

And it was this aim which took me, among other places, to Echmiadzin, the centre of one of the great religions, where I hoped to find at least some slight clue leading to the solution of these inescapable questions.

Echmiadzin, or, as it is also called, Vagarshapat, is for the Armenians what Mecca is for the Moslems and Jerusalem for the Christians. Here is the residence of the Catholicos of all Armenians, and here also is the centre of Armenian culture. Every year in the autumn big religious festivals are held, to which come many pilgrims not only from all parts of Armenia but from all over the world. A week before the beginning of such a festival all the surrounding roads are filled with pilgrims, some travelling on foot, others in carts and wagons and still others on horses and asses.

I travelled on foot, in company with other pilgrims from Alexandropol, having put my belongings in the wagon of the Molokan sect.

Read Full Post »