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A thousand years ago St. Gregory of Narek (951-1005) set out, with much trepidation, on a sublime mission to translate the pure sighs of the “broken and contrite” heart into an offering of words pleasing to God. Beginning each prayer with the incantation “speaking with God from the depths of the heart,” he referred to himself as “a living book (Prayer 39b)” and to his book as a compendium of prayers for all times and nations – “a testament. its letters like my body, its message like my soul (Prayer 54e).” Thus, the man equated himself with the book, and ever since, the book has been equate with this saintly man. So the book like the man came to be known affectionately as Narek.
C Two cups in two hands
one filled with blood, the other with milk,
two censers flickering
one with incense, the other with crisp fat,
two platters piled with delicacies,
one sweet, the other tart,
two goblets overflowing
one with tears, the other with brimstone,
two bowls at the finger tips
one with wine, the other with bile,
two windows of sight
one crying, the other erring,
two refiner’s cauldrons
one heating, one cooling,
two outlooks on one face
one mildly affectionate, the other fiercely raging,
two lifted hands
one to strike, the other to shield,
one dejected, the other angry,
two rebukes at a time
one for now, the other for later,
two hideouts for doubt
one “at least,” the other “perhaps,”
two sighs in one mouth,
one for misfortune, the other for confusion,
two impulses in one heart,
one of doubtful hope, the other of certain doom,
two downpours from one dark cloud,
one of arrows, one of stones,
two thunderous downpours
one of hail, the other of fire,1
two sorrows of a painful night,
one disease, the other death,2
two insults to sad mourning,
one of rebuke, the other threat,
two suns on opposite horizons
one dark, the other blazing.3
D And if a fist is raised,
he cringes as if it is for him.
If a hand bearing gifts is extended,
he thinks it is for someone else.
If someone swaggers, he cowers.
If another’s head is high, his hangs low.
If evil is recalled, he sighs.
If the saintly are remembered, he is ashamed.
If the next life is mentioned, he trembles.
If someone blesses him, he curses the blesser.
If someone praises him, he puts himself down.
If he is criticized, he agrees.
If viciously ridiculed, he considers it just.
If someone wishes his death, he seconds it.
If death thunders in, he barely raises his head.
His book of rights slammed shut,
his hope of being heard abandoned,
his path of action checked,
he would not hesitate at suicide
to gain release from this dead end,
if that did not foreclose salvation.
In the words of the soulful wise man,
truly, woeful is the sinner
standing in doubt at the fork in the road.4
E Why don’t you take pity, benevolent God,
upon my wailing and sighing,
you, whose name is exalted for saying,
“I am the merciful Lord”?5
Grant your goodness
in the face of my slavish wickedness,
your sweetness before my bitterness
at being condemned to death,
your beacon for my lost self, found again,
your mercy upon my brazen waywardness,
your humility before my destructive impudence,
your right arm to protect me from peril,
your hand to save me from drowning,
your finger to mend my incurable wounds,6
your spirit to defend my traumatized soul,
your patience for my insolent ingratitude,
your strength upon anointing a scoundrel like me,
your commandments as atonement for my sins,
your foot as a refuge for a runaway like me,
your arm protecting a fugitive like me,
your light guiding a wayward soul like me,
your wisdom reassuring a doubter like me,
your blessedness for accepting the cursed like me,
your goad as encouragement for the disheartened like me,
your cup as comfort for the grieving like me,
your will as relief for the anguished like me,
your love calling even those despised like me,
your word to steady those wavering like me,
your bloodshed for wounded souls like me,
your care for my ever increasing, unseen pains,
your mentorship for choosing me in my despair,
your communion rejoining those cut off like me,7
your spark of life under death’s shadow like me,
your serenity for those troubled like me,
your welcome for those harshly persecuted like me,
your beckoning voice to those who have strayed like me,
for you rule all with mercy.
With you there is no darkness,
and without you no goodness,
and yours is the glory forever.
1. Ex 9,23-24.
2. Lm 1,2, 2Co 7,10.
3. Ap 6,12 Ap 7,16.
4. Si 2,14.
5. Ex 22,27.
6. Mc 7,33.
7. Rm 11,23.