Gregory of Narek : biography
Grigor Narekatsi (or Krikor, Grigor Naregatsi, Գրիգոր Նարեկացի) (951–1003) is a canonized saint. He was an Armenian monk, poet, mystical philosopher and theologian, born into a family of writers. His father, Khosrov, was an archbishop. He lost his mother very early, so he was educated by his cousin, Anania of Narek, who was the founder of the monastery and school of the village. Almost all of his life he lived in the monastery of Narek (in Vaspurakan, Greater Armenia, now Turkey) where he taught at the monastic school. He is the author of mystical interpretation on the Song of Songs (977) and numerous poetic writings. Narekatsi’s poetry is deeply biblical and is penetrated with images, themes and realities of sacred history, distinguished with intimate, personal character. The mystical poem "Book of Lamentations" (published in 1673 in Marseille) has been translated into many languages and has played a significant role in the development of the Armenian literary language.
For Narekatsi, peoples’ absolute goal in life should be to reach to God, and to reach wherever human nature would unite with godly nature, thus erasing the differences between God and men. As a result, the difficulties of earthly life would disappear. According to him, mankind’s assimilation with God is possible not by logic, but by feelings.
Numerous miracles and traditions have been attributed to the saint and perhaps that is why he is referred to as "the watchful angel in human form".
In 1984-1985, Alfred Schnittke composed Concerto for Mixed Chorus singing verses from Gregory’s Book of Lamentations translated into Russian by Naum Grebnev, according to the Russian edition Kniga Skorbi, transl. by Naum Grebnev, Preface by Levon Mkrtchian, Sovetakan Grokh, Yerevan, 1977.
The monastery of Narek was completely destroyed in the 20th century after the Armenian Genocide and a mosque now stands on the site.
St. Gregory of Narek
Born c. 950 to a family of scholarly churchmen, St. Gregory entered Narek Monastery on the south-east shore of Lake Van at a young age. Shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, Narek Monastery was a thriving center of learning. These were the relatively quiet, creative times before the Turkic and Mongol invasions that changed Armenian life forever. Armenia was experiencing a renaissance in literature, painting, architecture and theology, of which St. Gregory was a leading figure. The Prayer Book is the work of his mature years. He called it his last testament: "its letters like my body, its message like my soul." St. Gregory left this world in 1003, but his voice continues to speak to us.
Written shortly before the first millennium of Christianity, the prayers of St. Gregory of Narek have long been recognized as gems of Christian literature. St. Gregory called his book an “encyclopedia of prayer for all nations.” It was his hope that it would serve as a guide to prayer by people of all stations around the world.
A leader of the well-developed school of Armenian mysticism at Narek Monastery, at the request of his brethren he set out to find an answer to an imponderable question: what can one offer to God, our creator, who already has everything and knows everything better than we could ever express it? To this question, posed by the prophets, psalmist, apostles and saints, he gives a humble answer – the sighs of the heart – expressed in his Book of Prayer, also called the Book of Lamentations.
In 95 grace-filled prayers St. Gregory draws on the exquisite potential of the Classical Armenian language to translate the pure sighs of the broken and contrite heart into an offering of words pleasing to God. The result is an edifice of faith for the ages, unique in Christian literature for its rich imagery, its subtle theology, its Biblical erudition, and the sincere immediacy of its communication with God.
- Alfred Schnittke. Choir Concerto (Concerto for Mixed Chorus). Valery Polyansky directs the Russian State Symphonic Cappella. Duration: 45 minutes (43’44"). CHANDOS CHAN 9332 (CD)
- Alfred Schnittke. Choir Concerto. The Danish National Radio Choir with Stefan Parkman. Chandos Records CHAN 9126. © 1992 Chandos Records (CD)
- Alfred Schnittke. Compositions for Choir a Capella. Concerto for Choir in 4 Parts, verses by Grigor Narekatsi, Book of Lamentations, or Kniga Skorbi, translated into Russian by Naum Grebnev. Chamber Choir of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatory. Art Director and Conductor Boris Tevlin. Sound director Petr Kondrashin. SFT. © Boris Tevlin 2002. (CD)
- Collected Songs Where Every Verse is Filled with Grief, arranged by the Kronos Quartet (Davig Harrington, 1997) from Alfred Schnittke’s "Concerto for Mixed Choir." Recorded: 1993-97 Length – 8 min 13 sec Studio / Live: Studio. Performers: Dutt, Hank — Viola ; Harrington, David — Violin; Jeanrenaud, Joan — Cello; Sherba, John — Violin.
Grigor Narekatsi. Lamentations of Narek. Mystic Soliloquies with God. Edited and translated by Mischa Kudian. Mashtots Press. London 1977.
Grigor Narekatsi. Kniga Skorbi, translated into Russian by Naum Grebnev, Preface by Levon Mkrtchian, Sovetakan Grokh, Yerevan, 1977
St. Grigor Narekatsi. Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart. Translation and introduction by Thomas Samuelian. Yerevan: Vem, 2001.
Kéchichian, Isaac, s.j. (introd., trad. et notes). Grégoire de Narek: Le Livre de Prières. Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1961.
Mahé, Annie et Jean-Pierre (introd., trad. et notes). Grégoire de Narek: Tragédie, Matean Olbergut’ean, Le Livre de lamentation. Louvain: Peters, 2000 (Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium; vol. 584. Subsidia, t. 106).