YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–The historic commemoration of 1700 years of Christianity in Armenia was officially launched today with the planting of trees at the ancient monastery of Khor Virab by His Holiness Karekin II–the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenia’s. One hundred dignitaries and faithful in attendance planted trees as both a tribute to Armenia’s enduring culture as well as a symbol of new hope and vitality.
This 17th Centennial celebration heralds a year of activity beginning today and continuing through December 2001.
St. Gregory the Illuminator–patron saint of the Armenian Apostolic Church–survived 13 years of imprisonment at the ancient monastery Khor Virab and on his release inspired King Trdat to proclaim Christianity as Armenia’s state religion in AD 301. Trees planted at Khor Virab will form a greenbelt around the base of the knoll in order to preserve the original setting and landscape of this historic monument.
"These trees planted today will protect Armenia’s sacred soil and visibly demonstrate our eternal dedication to these sacred monumen’s of faith," said His Holiness–Karekin II–as a part of his blessing.
Armenia’s ancient churches were largely neglected under 70 years of Soviet rule. Their restoration and revitalization–as sanctuaries for reflection–communion–worship and renewal–will be a key focus of activity. In addition to the repair of 40 church buildings–17,000 trees – ten for each year of Christianity’s adoption as the official state religion – will be planted at the grounds of over 3 dozen historic church sites–including St. Gayane–St. Hripsime–and Geghart.
Armenia’s trees and forests–reduced from 25 percent of land coverage to 9 per cent over the past two hundred years–are a renewable natural resource that is vital to economic recovery. Trees also play a critical role in restoring local ecosystems. They protect topsoil–retain water–provide food–oxygen–shade–and create a welcoming oasis for all forms of life.
All 17,000 trees placed at church sites during this year-long commemoration will be native trees–grown near Yerevan by an Armenian-American non-governmental organization–the Armenia Tree Project. "These trees must thrive if they are to heal our land and restore our church sites," asserted 17th Centenary Committee Chair–Archbishop Hovnan Derderian. "For this task–we have selected the Armenia Tree Project because of its seven year track record of working with Armenia’s to plant trees in order to provide fruit–nuts–wood–fuel and environmental benefits which will improve the standard of living."
Founded in 1993 to assist Armenia’s economic and social development–the Yerevan Armenian Tree Project office manages two state-of-the art tree nurseries–partners with farmers to harvest–preserve and market Armenia’s precious fruits–and creates urban greenbelts to beautify and restore public land. Working side-by-side with residents–the Armenian Tree Project has planted over 240,000 trees and harvested over 100 tons of fresh fruit and donated to schools–hospitals–senior centers–and other public institutions. Armenian Tree Project has a full-time staff of 43 employees in Armenia.
The 17th Centenary Committee has planned a full calendar of activities aimed at spiritual re-awakening. The Jubilee events include a pilgrimage from Khor Virab to Etchmiadzin in January; the Feast of Holy Etchmiadzin on June 16-17–2001–including a ringing of the belfries of Christendom around the world; the summer Youth Pilgrimage; the Consecration of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral in Yerevan; and–the Blessing of Muron (Chrism) in September.