Etchmiadzin is one of nine cities and 22 different organisations and faiths that joined as founding members of the Green Pilgrimage Network, launched at Assisi, Italy, during ARC's Sacred Land Celebration, October 31-Nov 2, 2011. The founder members from Etchmiadzin are:
The Armenian Orthodox Church
The City of Etchmiadzin, Armenia
His Grace Bishop Hovakim Manukyan, Director for Inter-Church Relations, Armenian Apostolic Church, gives the closing prayer of the first session of the GPN at Assisi, 2011.
Etchmiadzin is 20 kilometres from the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and the spiritual centre for seven million Armenians throughout the world, and it has been a centre of spirituality since Armenia became the first nation to adopt Christianity as a state religion in 301 AD.
Today, Etchmiadzin has a population of almost 60,000, with over 200,000 pilgrims visiting the city each year. Its Cathedral is one of the oldest in the world – one reason why the city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Green Pilgrimage Actions
Etchmiadzin’s plan has been drawn up by the Armenian Interchurch Charitable Round Table Foundation, the Armenian Orthodox Church and the Municipality of Etchmiadzin. It includes:
HRH Princess Michael of Kent; The Hon Mrs Sara Morrison, Vice President Emeritus of WWF International; Samvel Madoyan of the Municipality of Etchmiadzin; Dr Karen Nazaryan, Armenian Apostolic Church commemorating Etchmiadzin, Armenia, becoming a founder member of the Green Pilgrimage Network.
a programme of planting thousands of trees in the site of an ancient holy forest around the city, and of creating new parks;
a hospitality project setting up environmentally friendly bed and breakfasts with local families; and
the provision of local, traditional food for pilgrims.
In addition theologians training at the Gevorgyan Theological University will have their power supplied by solar panels, and the water they use will be managed to reduce wastage.
Progress so far
APRIL 2012 Dr Baghdasaryan from the Armenian Round Table sent inspiring news to ARC about the "Green Hospitality Project", a canteen for pilgrims at the Cross of Armenian Unity, an NGO which trains vulnerable children in skills that include traditional cookery as well as carpet weaving, painting, computer literacy, pottery, etc.
The “Green Hospitality” project is a small open air canteen where about 100 people at a time can get “green” traditional food. The interesting thing here is that 40 young girls and boys (some of them with disabilities) first got training in Armenian national cooking here. Then when Etchmiadzin joined the Green Pilgrimage Network, they started to include the targets outlined in ARC's GPN Handbook: 70 percent fresh or unprocessed, 50 percent local, 30 percent organic and 100 percent free-range eggs. Three of them proved easy to achieve, but the organic element was a problem.
“Organic certification body exists in Armenia, but small farmers cannot afford paying for certification. The way out was involving farmers who started with organic but stopped due to financial problems,” Dr Baghdasaryan writes.
The centre includes five open air pavilions with tiled roofs, furnished with old fashioned tables and chairs. The canteen yard has been improved by planting it with local varieties of trees including apricot, peach, pomegranate and walnut trees which are being taken care of using only organic methods of land cultivation and plant treatment. It is worth mentioning that the cooking in the traditional Armenian fireplace (tonir) only uses wood from ecologically approved sources. Food is made according to the environmental standards set by ARC.
The project presentation ceremony was highlighted by local and national TV companies, as well as in the Armenia Now information website. Booklets presenting “green hospitality” were published and distributed among tourist companies, guests, etc. Contacts are established with 10 tourist companies to invite groups to eat in this new place, where food is both local and healthy.
In 2011 about 2300 visitors to Etchmiadzin made use of “green” national cuisine and though the 2012 pilgrim season has not yet started they have already received 300 guests so far. A very promising development is that the canteen was included in the Etchmiadzin city guide under the title of “green hospitality place”. You can watch a beautiful short film about the Green Hospitality at Etchmiadzin here:
JULY 2013 During the extraordinary meeting of the GPN in Trondheim, Norway, Etchmiadzin were able to offer advice to representatives from Kano, Nigeria, about dealing with the large numbers of polybags that litter the city. These bags are the usual way in which clean water for drinking is sold and are freely discarded once used. Delegates from Etchmiadzin described how The Armenian Inter-Church Charitable Round Table Foundation (ACT) has set up a scheme to cut and weave plastic waste into sturdy bags and other useful household items. They offered to make a short video to share the process with Kano and others with similar problems. This was a great example of how the Network means that green lessons learned in one place can offer solutions to problems faced in another.
Download the full Green Pilgrimage Network handbook here
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ARC at a glance
ARC is a secular body that helps the major religions of the world to develop their own environmental programmes, based on their own core teachings, beliefs and practices.