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Pope Francis will inaugurate a statue of the Armenian saint Gregory of Narek, Doctor of the Church, in the Vatican Gardens on April 5. Narek is considered “a central, almost heroic figure” in Armenian history, for having “shaped Eastern Christian thought,” reads a statement from the Armenian Embassy to the Holy See released on April 3.
This saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church spent much of his life at the monastery of Narek, south of Lake Van. A theologian and great mystic author, he deeply explored the themes of divine mercy, spiritual combat, and the love of the mystical life.
He died around 1005, leaving abundant written works, including a commentary on the Song of Songs and many poems, hymns, and odes. His sacred Elegies, where his mystical experience is expressed, are still today one of the main prayer books of the Armenian Church.
Gregory of Narek also wrote odes celebrating the Virgin Mary, songs, and panegyrics. He had a great devotion to Mary, which served as a starting point for him to gain a deeper understanding of the doctrine of the Incarnation.
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An appeal to Divine Mercy
His masterpiece nevertheless remains the Book of Lamentations, which he completed at the end of his life. A monument to the classical Armenian language, he described it as a series of “conversations with God from the depths of the heart,” addressed to all, both the powerful and the poor.
“I laid its foundations,” writes Gregory of Narek, “built it, furnished it, polished it, decorated it, concluded it, and completed it, as a beautifully homogeneous work; I gathered all my writings, me, Gregory, cloistered monk, derisory poet.” He did this, he said, in order “to soothe the evils of both the soul and the body.”
In writing this book, Gregory of Narek was convinced that a life “free of corruption” is possible, even here below. A true appeal to divine mercy, this book, says the Armenian Embassy, is a work of “very elevated poetry that has the power of a lament but is capable of eliciting divine forgiveness.”
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Second Doctor of the Church from the East
Gregory of Narek was recognized as the 36th doctor of the Church by Pope Francis on April 12, 2015. He became the second doctor to come from an Eastern Church, after Ephrem the Syrian, declared in 1920 by Benedict XV. At the ceremony raising Gregory to the status of Doctor of the Church, Pope Francis referred to “the first genocide of the 20th century”: that of the Armenians a hundred years ago.
The Supreme Pontiff visited Armenia one year and three months later. On that occasion, the president of the country, Serzh Sargsyan, gave the pope a statuette of St. Gregory of Narek to thank him for his pilgrimage to the first Christian nation.
The pope was so pleased by the statue that the Armenian head of state commissioned a bronze replica two meters tall to be made by an Armenian sculptor living in France, David Erevantzi. This is the statue that will be inaugurated in the Vatican Gardens this April 5, in the presence of the president and of Patriarch Karekine II Nersissian, Catholicos of all Armenians.
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