Blessing with salt
A ceremonial process to exorcize bad spirits and bad influences.
Our Church was across the street from the Father Divine Mission. Sometimes I would look in the window of the mission. There was a prominent picture of Father and Mrs. Divine. Father Divine was black and Mrs. Divine was white. I would look at the picture of the two and wonder about them. Why were they divine? In my naive state of mind, I was convinced that almost everyone in the world was Armenian. Some years later I was shocked to find out that there were also other Armenian Churches in Philadelphia. It was a strange thought.
I loved going to Church. My great auntie, Morkor, and I would often take the trolley from our house to the North Philadelphia subway station at Broad street. Then we would board the subway and get off at Columbia avenue. We would walk the three blocks to Oxford street. On the way we would talk about many things. She taught me Armenian prayers, havahdov khosdohvaneem – I profess my faith in God the Almighty – written by Nerses Shnorhali . I would say these prayers before going to sleep every night. She was a very proper and decent woman who had suffered greatly during the massacres but somehow was able to keep her dignity and self composure.. She was my second mother. I never heard her say anything bad about the Turks. She never spoke about what happened to her. I only found out later and it was horrible.
Sometimes she would do the “ahgh sharel.” This was an Armenian ritual for exorcising demons and bad spirits. She would prepare salt with prayers and holy water. She had her “Narekgahtzi” prayer book. It was a book of Armenian prayers by Krikor Narehgahtzi, the great Armenian hermit priest who lived in a cave above lake Van in eastern Turkey or ancient Armenia. He wrote prolific and powerful prayers in Armenian to be recited at appropriate times during the day and night.
The prayers were for different times throughout the day and also some were specific for certain important days of the year like Christmas. She would draw a cross on the white salt and murmur the prayers, touch the water, sprinkle it on me and then take some of the salt and begin to move her hand in a circle over my head and say prayers. I would sit in front of her and just look at her intense concentration as she exorcised the demons from me and any bad spirits that might be lingering in my body or mind. I was never sure if I was any better after the ceremony than before. It was fun seeing her do the ritual and being so close to her. Now that I think back about it, it is overwhelming.
She once told me that in the old country, Malatia, when she was a child, she remembers witnessing Sunday Church services during the Eucharist when the Priest holds the cup of wine and says “Ahrek gehrek, ahysseh eem mahrmeenuhs,” take, eat, this is my flesh, see how wonderful is the taste. This, of course, is the statement of Jesus during the last supper when he broke bread with his disciples and offered it to them saying this is my flesh. She told me that at that very crucial moment in the liturgy she observed that the feet of the priest were not touching the ground. He was levitating above ground as he recited these very emotional words. When she told me this I was impressed. Years later reflecting on whether such a thing is possible, I came to the realization that it doesn’t matter. She was so enthralled my the passion of the moment that she saw such a thing. In fact, the Armenian Church from ancient times decided to separate itself from the Roman Church because it did not want to further contemplate in a rational sense the reality of the nature of Christ. They said that many things are a mystery and that these mysteries are revealed during the celebration of the mass. Rationalizing how many angels can fit on a needle head or whether Christ was God become man, or man become God, or both or none was not necessary. Therefore, the Orthodox Churches put emphasis on the celebration of the liturgy and the mysterious trans-substantiation of matter to spirit that takes place where the ordinary bread and wine actually become the blood and flesh of Christ.
The fact that my auntie saw the priest levitating was important because it reflected the state of faith and wonderment she had experienced during the liturgy. This is what the Church is talking about when they say that there is a mystery that is revealed during the liturgy. There are experiences that happen in the mind and heart of the faithful person that cannot be explained rationally but yet are just as real as the so called experiences of the empiric world. It is true? For my auntie it was absolutely true. Just like Saint Bernadette, the simple French peasant girl from Lourdes, claimed that Mother Mary appeared to her during a fifteen day period in Lourdes and talked to her. Later, the Holy Mother produced a spring of fresh water near the cave where she appeared and that spring manifested miraculous healing powers.
Are these things true? I am not absolutely sure. Yet, I want to believe that they are because I love the supernatural. The outside the box experience that is not drug induced but comes from intense experience of other states of realities, other dimensions than the three we normally experience.
I have had many experiences that would be classified as supernatural that have convinced me of other states of reality. From my experience, these states of consciousness are attained by intense love for God. This is the secret that is accessible to all people. What is difficult is letting oneself love so intensely. We become very vulnerable and naked by such love.
I realize today that my Morkor gave me all the love she was capable of as well as taught me to love God. It is very humbling and sometimes as I grow older it seizes me and I feel like crying because I don’t remember reciprocating that love with her. I think about it today and realize I was not able to learn how to love intensely. Such feelings only began to arise in my heart when I met my spiritual master. It was from that point on that I realized my urgent need to feel and express such love. I learned that such expression can be shared by giving and taking food, gifts, and precious thoughts.
If we see life as a quest for attaining intense states of love, then there are only a few moments of real life in a long lifetime. That is why those moments are so vividly remembered even though they occurred in a distant past. We can’t remember so many details of past events, but we can vividly remember tender moments of sincere expression of love as if they just happened.
The mystery of faith cannot be unraveled by dissertations. Faith means believing something is true and exists although you cannot see it or experience it directly with the senses. I know I was one year old and sitting on the lap of my mother in 1947, but I can’t experience it nor do I remember it. Then how do I know it happened? I can only remember things that happened when I was perhaps 5 or 6 years old. I have the conviction that my mother held me on her lap when I was a baby as did my Morkor, and father, and brothers. But I can’t prove it today although I have faith and conviction it happened. I could ask my brothers and they would probably say it happened. But they might also not remember specifically but speak like myself with the conviction that it must have happened because that was normal.
Faith in God is normal. Lack of faith is strange. Just like having a father and mother is normal. Not having a father and mother is actually impossible. Every child that is born has a father and mother. There is no history in this world of a human being born without a father and mother. One may not know who they are, but it is sure they existed. Even a test tube baby has a father and mother.
Convincing oneself that there is no original father is not normal. It a huge stretch to arrive at such a conclusion and it usually happens due to a broken history of love. Like rivers flow to the ocean and love also flows naturally to God. If man builds a dam and hinders the natural flow it becomes a broken history of the flow. The water still finds its way to the ocean but is slowed and must bypass obstacles. I am for tearing down the dams because they just get in the way of the natural flow.
Rivers naturally flood because that is the natural way to re-fertilize the land with precious minerals from the mountains. We are creatures of love and as our love goes from one person to another it finds its way eventually to God if we don’t artificially hinder its path.
There was once a woman named Zuhleila, who was a favorite wife of a Pharaoh’s had many privileges because she pleased the Pharaoh. The Pharaoh’s chief minister was Joseph who was a Jewish boy that was left for dead my his jealous brothers but who survived and eventually left Palestine for Egypt and miraculously became the chief minister of the Pharaoh. Joseph was very handsome and very smart. Zuhleila fell in love with him and was so desperate in her love that she couldn’t hide it. The Pharaoh became upset and banished her from the court and she fell into complete poverty and disrepute. She ended up a miserable beggar in the street. One day Joseph was on royal parade and he saw her begging in the street. He stopped and looked down on her. She smiled at him and said, “My dear Joseph, I learned to love from my intense love for you by which I lost all worldly possessions and safety. Due to this experience a wonderful world of love has opened up for me and now I have found my true love for God. I cannot thank you enough for your kindness in opening the vast river of love that was in my heart.” Zuhleila came to wonderful states of love through her worldly love for Joseph. This is the natural flow of love that actually cannot be stopped but only temporarily hindered.