This article was originally published in the Glendale News-Press on Aug. 14
In a relatively brief but nevertheless emotional moment, clergymen from the Armenian Apostolic Church drew a small congregation at Adventist Health Glendale on Thursday and, following the cultural custom, blessed grapes for all in attendance.
Snack bags with green and purple blessings also were distributed to the hospital’s staff members and patients — many of whom readily accepted the help, given the most recent surge of the coronavirus pandemic. It was a spiritual service that the hospital had to forgo last year, when the traditional indoor ceremony was canceled due to COVID-19 health mitigation mandates.
The ceremony returned Thursday, held this time in the outdoor Orfi’s Garden located in between the hospital’s east and west towers.
“It was very, very rewarding to be here, and it gives us hope,” said Alice Issai, president of Adventist Health Glendale. “Perhaps hope is in the future and the light is at the end of the tunnel.”
Bishop Torkom Donoyan, prelate of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church in America, led the Thursday ceremony, which is held typically around Aug. 15 and observes the first feast after the traditional harvest of pre-Christian times — which, throughout the Levant and certainly in Armenia, included grapes. The fruit also has a special tie to Christianity for its necessity in winemaking, and in modern times the ceremony also observes a dedication to the Virgin Mary.
“This past year and a half has truly been such a difficult time for the entire world, and full of challenges,” Donoyan said. “We hope and pray that this pandemic will come to an end soon and that this virus will vanish from our lives through the grace of God and our collective efforts.
“May these grapes we bless today bring blessing and healing to all of us,” he added.
The ceremony alternated between Armenian prayers and hymns and their English translations, after which the clergymen and hospital officials alike handed out the grapes and water bottles, sharing a moment outside and socializing for the sake of it, after more than a year of expedited interaction and isolation.
Issai, an Iranian Armenian immigrant, noted how special it is that the organization she manages plays host to this blessing, which carries a clear emotional connection for her and other Armenians affiliated with the hospital. The ceremony provides an opportunity for observers to set aside their typical responsibilities for a moment and instead focus on their “divine duties,” she added.
“We’re not just celebrating the first harvest, but celebrating the farmers and those who have a part in making sure that grapes become available to us,” Issai told the audience. “Additionally, it gives us an opportunity to celebrate the multiple blessings that God has bestowed upon us and who has given us the opportunity to serve this community and help our sisters and brothers of this city.”
To kick off the brief moment on Thursday, Nelu Nedelea, director of mission and spiritual care at Adventist Health Glendale, led the group in the opening prayer:
“Loving God, the eternal one, we bow before you to welcome you at this special celebration. We’ve been through a lot of difficult moments in the past year and a half — and today is not a difficult moment. This is a celebration; this is a happy moment. Our happiness in this ceremony would not be complete without your presence. Be with us, bless us, bless everyone that’s listening, that’s seeing and is part of this ceremony.”