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Armenian Orthodox start to replant their sacred forest - with a celebration

April 16, 2009:

Orthodox Christians in Armenia today held a major tree planting celebration on a devastated area of former forest land, historically significant to all Armenians and spiritually significant to all Orthodox Armenians.

This is one of the activities taking place under the Armenian Seven Year Plan created as part of the wider ARC-UNDP Faith Commitments for a Living Planet.

Hundreds of elm-saplings were planted in order to recreate the Nersisyan Forest, which was created in the 19th century by the Catholicos of all Armenians, Nerses V Ashtaraketsi (1843-1857).

It originally stretched for 100 hectares around the Mother Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin in the city of Vagharshapat, and became one of the wonders of Araratyan valley. However after the 1915 genocide the forest became a graveyard for some of the thousands of refugees who fled from Western Armenia. And during the 1990s energy crisis it was further devastated when most of trees were cut down for fuel.

The Church management had by then lost control of the forest, and there was nobody to replant or look after the trees. However, recently the Church re-acquired the administration of some 8.5 hectares and its leadership is determined to treat the area with a Christian ethos of ecology and care.

A small area was made into a playground and the rest is to be replanted as a forest, thus improving the area and making it an “irreplaceable green place for pilgrimage and rest.”

Etchmiadzin is one of the first places to join the Green Pilgrim Cities network, being created through ARC following the Windsor Celebration. The planting of these elms is a symbol of how care of nature is, according to the teachings of the church, fundamental to the process and experience of being a Christian.

“The tree planting is recognized as a symbol of a special duty of every Christian and as a God pleasing endeavor,” explained Dr. Karen Nazaryan, Executive Director of Armenia Inter-church Round Table Foundation, which was one of the backers of the event.

Before the actual panting, people participated in a Divine Liturgy in the Mother Cathedral after which they gathered in the Nersisyan forest, where the ceremony of Andastan, or the “Blessing of the four corners” took place.

His Holiness Karekin II spoke about care for the God-created world and nature, and he conveyed blessings and appreciation to those who undertook the initiative of rehabilitating and bettering the forest area.

There were speeches by Very Rev Fr Hovakim Manoukyan, Head of Inter-Church Relations Department of the Mother See, Dr Karen Nazaryan, Executive Director of Armenia Round Table Foundation, Ms Dafina Gercheva, the UNDP Resident Representative.

Dr Nazaryan made particular mention of Armenia Round Table’s connection to ARC, introducing examples of ARC’s work worldwide, including our Green Pilgrimage Programme which includes Etchmiadzin, and has at its heart the promotion of green pilgrimage and nature protection. Etchmiadzin translates as “the place where the Son of God descended.”

Those present enthusiastically engaged in tree planting and all agreed that the area looked much better and refreshed afterwards.

The event was created with the blessing of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Armenia Round Table in collaboration with the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, UNDP Armenia Office and Armenia Tree Project Charitable Foundation.

For the Armenian 7-Year Plan to protect the living planet click here.

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