This Sunday, September 26, is the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak, a holiday that is unique to the Armenian Church and is celebrated two weeks after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. After coming to Armenia, the Hripsimiants Virgins lived near Mount Varak. They had brought with them a fragment of the True Cross. Fleeing persecution, they sought refuge on the mountain where Hripsime hid the cross among the rocks before fleeing to Vagharshapat. In 653, a hermit named Todik found the hidden cross by following a brilliant light that illuminated the mountain and guided him inside the church to the altar where he found the cross. The light shone for twelve days. In memory of this event, Catholicos Nerses the Builder established the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varak. He wrote the beautiful hymn, “By the Sign of Your All-Powerful Holy Cross” (Nshanav Amenahaght Khachit).
The Monastery of St. Nishan, also called Varakavank, was built on Mount Varak, which is in the southeastern region of Van. It was home to one of the greatest libraries and museums, filled with ancient and contemporary books and works of art. The Monastery became even more prominent when Khrimian Hayrik established a publishing house and a school there, hoping to make the monastery an educational center. He founded the first newspaper to be published in historic Armenia, Artziv Vaspurakani (The Eagle of Vaspurakan). The massacres and deportations of 1915 destroyed Hayrik’s hopes and plans, as well as so much more. Varakavank was destroyed by the Turkish army on April 30, 1915, during the siege of Van.
By the sign of your all-victorious cross, O Christ, lover of mankind, keep us from the unseen enemy, for you alone are the King of Glory, blessed forever. On it you stretched out your spotless hands and shed your blood for the salvation of the universe for you alone are the King of Glory, blessed forever. At your second coming when the holy sign shall appear, once again make your servants worthy of renewal for you alone are the King of Glory, blessed forever.
May your cross be our refuge by its flame-like radiance; it is named the tree of life; you crushed the enemy and unloosed the sentence of death for the salvation of the universe. Sending up praises the heavens rejoice and the earth rejoices at the discovery of the holy cross like the four-winged rock which enlightened this world by its sun-like rays. Jerusalem rejoiced, believers were glad; they adorned themselves in marvelous garment for they saw the victorious sign; all creation was adorned with its light.
(Canon to the Cross of Varak from the Liturgical Canons of the Armenian Apostolic Church)