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By Nvard Chalikyan
Finnish monk, Professor of Theology Serafim Seppälä has for years been studying the Armenian culture and history and has a number of publications on this topic, among them a 500-page book on Armenian art and culture; he is currently working on another book on the topic of the Armenian Genocide. In the interview with Panorama.am, Father Serafim speaks about his works and his unique personal experience with Armenia, which he says is the last corner of the Middle Eastern cultures where the old Christian tradition is still preserved and which he calls the home of his soul.
Father Serafim, you have been engaged in Armenian studies for years and you have a number of books written on cultural and religious issues related to Armenia. How did you as a Finnish Orthodox Monk first get interested in Armenia? What topics have you studied in particular?
I was interested in Armenia before I became Orthodox, but it is a long story. As a young student in the 90’s, I wanted to become a Christian but I did not know what kind of Christian I should be. There were dozens of different denominations in Helsinki and I visited all of them. The Orthodox church was the last one on my list! Before that I already visited an Armenian church in Istanbul.
I was studying Oriental studies and Semitic languages in Helsinki, also reading a lot of books on the history of Christianity. I became convinced that Christianity by its spirit is an eastern religion, and the Oriental Churches are the closest to the original. Then I went to Jerusalem for a year and experienced them all: the Syrian Orthodox, Copts, Ethiopians and Armenians. I lived in the Armenian quarter, in a tiny hut on the roof of an Armenian house.
So it was for me a personal and academic pursuit. I translated spiritual literature from Syriac (Aramaic) into Finnish, but I never had a chance to study Armenian. Then I became Orthodox, and some years after that I went to a monastery. The monastic years were very busy. Each day 14 hours of church and work, and in the nights I was preparing a PhD.
Then by surprise, I got a job from the University and the Church blessed me to go. Only then I was able to fulfill my dream and go deeper with Armenia.
What interesting discoveries have you made while studying Armenia?
For me everything Armenian surviving from pre-Genocide times is a revelation of supreme Beauty. Vaspurakan Miniatures, duduk tunes, folk dances, sharakans, Sayat Nova, Artsakh carpets, even reminiscences of tight rope dances! I never encountered such beauty anywhere. Combining this with the history of massacres and bloodshed, the combination is absolutely unique.
These things are the home of my soul. It hurts me every time when I see or hear these precious pearls being replaced by Western rubbish in Yerevan.
Armenia is the last corner of the Middle Eastern cultures where the old Christian tradition is still in the heart of the whole culture from operas to holy caves. This is so precious.
I am not blind for the practical problems of Armenia, but there are practical problems in all countries. An ultimate example: people make much more suicides in well-to-do Finnish villages than in poorest Armenian villages. Why? Could it be that there is still something precious in poor Armenian villages, something that the Finns lack?
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Photo: Areg Amirkhanian