Church Not a Cat Walk Team Editorial, 31 October 2011
We live according to long-established laws—civil, moral, humane and religious. We also live by rules–written or unwritten. There are rules and etiquette guidelines which nobody tells us about but we somehow—innately, by osmosis or otherwise—observe. Such rules govern, for instance, our manner and the way we present ourselves at church. Team Editorial, 31 October 2011
We live according to long-established laws—civil, moral, humane and religious. We also live by rules–written or unwritten. There are rules and etiquette guidelines which nobody tells us about but we somehow—innately, by osmosis or otherwise—observe. Such rules govern, for instance, our manner and the way we present ourselves at church.

Whether one is a believer or not a civilized person, when within the walls of a house of worship, respects the faith demonstrated by the clergy and the congregation. These are givens which one would assume do not require a reminder. Unfortunately, the absence of decorum by some North American Armenian faithful at Badarak Holy Mass forces us to comment.
A female worshipper’s long, curly and bottle-blonde tresses spread like a fan well below her uncovered shoulders. Perhaps she rejected the traditional hair covering because it would have hidden her physical allures. Once in a while (in case the men had not noticed her silken locks?) she would sway her big hair, like a lion gently shaking his golden mane.
A man in his early forties had his hands in his pockets throughout Badarak, except when he was not kneeling. His hefty belly projecting way ahead of his torso, the man’s posture seemed to say, “I am not impressed: make me another offer.” When the collection plate was passed around, the man with the generous belly dropped all of 25 cents in it. He didn’t seem to be embarrassed by the clinking sound his miserly metal made as it hit another coin. As everyone knows, a North American altar boy can’t buy even a single candy with 25 cents.
Another man had his dark sunglasses resting on his head, as if he was passing through the church on his way to the beach or some other sybaritic venue.
A number of women were dressed in tight pants and seemed to precariously balance themselves on high heels. The concept that at church the faithful should cover their physical attributes rather than expose them is obviously a bizarre or arcane idea to these women who ostensibly had come to church to re-live the passion of Christ. Someone should tell them what passion means in the context of Badarak.  
A middle-aged man had brought along bottled water. He noisily guzzled from the bottle and then furtively wiped his mouth with his sleeve.  
A girl in her late teens, dressed in layered shirts, exposed her glossy, suntanned shoulders. Two of her friends were chewing gum… once in a while a cell phone rang shattering the ecclesiastic aura.
One doesn’t have to be religious to object to the above disgraceful behavior. In addition to insulting the Christian faith and Armenian traditions, these insolent or ignorant people also insult the priest, the Armenian people, our history and culture.
What did the rest of the faithful think about these fashionably-dressed barbarians? What did the poor priest, reciting our 1,500-year-old Badarak… the words of Christ, Nerses Shnorhali and Krikor Naregatsi …think as he watched the shameless, uncouth, if not sinful, pageant from the altar? Would he hesitate to condemn such behavior from the pulpit, fearing that he might lose a number of his congregants?
To paraphrase the lyrics of “Eleanor Rigby,” where do these people come from? Who were their parents? What school did they go to? What makes them behave the way they do? Do they realize that there’s a difference between a cat walk, the beach, the street and the house of God?
At the beginning of Badarak Armenians recite “Havadamk”—the cornerstone of the Christian faith. At the end of that collective statement, they say that those who don’t believe the doctrines expressed in “Havadamk” should leave the church. Perhaps the Armenian Church should put an addendum to “Havadamk”—a few words which would remind people, who do not respect the sacred ground, that they should take their uncovered hairs, their tight pants, their shades, stilettos, bottled waters and chewing gums and vacate the church post haste.
A youthful Christ grabbed the whip and lashed at the money-changers of the temple, driving them out.  In the same spirit perhaps someday an Armenian priest should order these brazen “faithful” out of the house of God. Their presence is a “beeghdz” the Armenian Church and congregations have tolerated long enough.
  1. The duty of the Church Councils

    It must be the duty of members of the Church Council to watch the attitude of church visitors, within the church, believers or not, conscious or unconscious, to respect the internal atmosphere of the church, and invite them to respect the faithfuls attending the Mass, Sourp Badarak.

    I am not from Paris, but I know a member of the Church Council of Sourp Megerditch Church of Paris. He is young and always present at the Sourp Badaraks. He watches people for their attitude and presentation during the Holy Mass. Respectfully all accept his comments and instructions.
    Corrections of wrong attitudes of visitors to the church must be watched by the Priest and the Church Council. Perhaps the visitors must also be instructed about church regulations.
  2. “Church Not a Cat Walk” thoughts
    "Church Not a Cat Walk" is an interesting article with much to think about.

    I wonder, though, if perhaps the people described in the piece did not know any better, that they were merely products of their society. Whatever the reason or reasons for their demeanor or conduct, I cannot help but think that at least they were attending church, especially the youth. That in itself–youth in the church–is wonderful and rings of hope for the future of the Armenian nation. Perhaps, the examples outlined by the author could possibly become inspirational sermons for us all.

    Yes, "Church Not a Cat Walk" is an interesting article with much to think about! Already, I am thinking of one particular Gomidas story, and some of the many Mulla Nasradeen stories.

    1. Not a Walk for Nasraddin Khoja Either

      It is common knowledge that dressing up for Sunday is not what it used to be. Most mainstream Evangelical churches now offer two types of Sunday church services calling them “traditional” and “contemporary”. Speaking of personal experience, the pastor does away with his jacket and tie going from the former to the latter to blend with the attending congregation some of whom present themselves in jeans and sandals with coffee cups even though the “contemporary” service is held later. 

      The Armenian Apostolic church is our traditional church and those of us attending its services should show common courtesy and dress properly and not present ourselves in dresses that may not attract any attention in the malls or on the streets but are a sore sight in the church and out of place. There is simply no justifiable reason for any of us, young or old, woman or man not to show upmost respect to “yeghetsin haygagan” and dress up property when attending its mass if not on par for an evening cocktail, but decently. 

  3. Respectful attitude

    Respectful attitude is required in houses where people pray: Churches, Mosques or Temples. In churches dressing appropriately, in silence, hands out of the pockets, crossing your face (khatchagnkel) when it is time. We go to the church for praying. If it is to meet friends, in the church court there is space for meeting and discussions. We need our youth to get collected in the church, and all the other youth centers. This is the aim of all Armenian Organizations.

    Remember, when visitng an Islamic country you can not enter a Mosque with your shoes and uncovered head (for ladies). You will enter bare foot and covered head. That’s religion, faith and respect. Ask your mothers, and grand mothers.

  4. I agree…but

    I agree with what you are saying in principle, but not how you are saying it. Christ welcomes all to worship in his house, without judgment. You do not have the right to judge others (see Scripture). Do I believe decorum and dress needs addressing – yes. Do I think it is limited to North Americans? No.

    Last time I was in Etchmiadzin – and I am not from North America – I saw locals on cell phones and smoking right at the entryways. This is not limited to one population – and we do wrong to yet again pit Armenian against his/her fellow Armenian. The real issue is – respect for Christ, the Eucharist, and the mystery taking place.

    I think this editorial gets lost in the personal attacks rather than encouraging education, respect, and the sanctity of the Badarak.

    1. To “Last time I was..”

      What you saw in Etchmidzin, it is to remark that Armenians in Armenia have forgotten and lost the tradition of our church, of our faith, including the Ayatolla Karekin II. During the Soviet Regime they have lost their faith and almost they did not have even the christian feeling, most of them were not even baptized until now. We,  Diasporans can teach them, including Ayatolla Karekin II  what our Church Tradition, constitution is.

      What Ayatolla Karekin II does is: Գիրկերնիս նստած մօրուքնիս կը փետտէ.

      Իր աղօթքն է, «Տուր մեզ զհաց մեր եւ թող մեզ զպարտից մեր».

      Concerning us, in the Diaspora, the church is not a Basketball or Tenis Court. If they don’t intend to visit the church for prayers, then they can meet in the Armenian cultural, sportive centers.

      In the paintings, Christ among faithful ladies, we see all correclty dressed and heads are covered. Respect must stay traditional, and Tradition must be respected, even by Ayatolla Karekin II.


  5. Cat’s A Walking

    As a member of the Armenian Church and someone who is fighting to keep her true essence at the root of her existence, I find that commentary revolving around church goers’ attire and behaviors defeats our biggest goals.

    I agree that certain behaviors are unpleasant and I am not excusing some of them, but I do believe that if we do a good enough job at delivering and hearing Christ’s message we would not even notice the expression of a woman’s sensuality or what she chooses to wear. I find that commentary around the mundane is a poor excuse for one’s ability to stay focused and connect with God during the Badarak.

    This is about being distracted and wanting to shut people out because they may be distracting is not good enough reason to eliminate them from the Church. The Holy Badarak is our time to connect, whether you’re in tight pants or not – it is a process and a personal journey.

    Teaching our people how to connect is the goal here – not what to wear or how to sit or how to act. If you teach people how to build a relationship with God there will be a natural rhythm that takes place in the Church and everything else will fall into course.

    Let’s stop the dialogue on who wears what and start the dialogue on how to express ourselves as Christians in positive forms.

    1. Christians in Positive Forms

      I am under the impression that we, God’s children, wear appropriate attire to attend a wedding reception, or a dinner dance or for a job interview out of social considerations, if not outright fear, that there will be earthly repercussions for not having dressed properly for the occasion.

      There are no heavenly repercussions for distasteful dressing in His house of worship that we call church. However, as far as I am concerned appropriate and respectful dressing when attending church services is very much an inherent part of "the dialogue on how to express ourselves as Christians in positive forms" especially when it comes to our own centuries old Armenian Apostolic Church. 

      1. Cat Walk Talk

        I wanted to share my response to this article from my podcast Compass published in November. You can listen by following this link:

        Tuesday, November 29, 2011 Compass #10: The tendency to fill emptiness with "stuff" extends to the church as well. The problem of relevance (or irrelevance) for the ancient Armenian Church is expounded inadvertently by an elitist blog. The compass leads the conversation to nakedness and burqa-dress praying, as a new generation opts for superficiality rather than a hard look at Christ’s teachings in a world plagued by hunger, disease and genocide. Watch out! Without a compass you’re sure to fall into the post-Thanksgiving consumerfest. Fr. Vazken returns as this week’s guest to ride out the compass-wave.

        We love to hear from our listeners.  Please address questions and comments to [email protected]
        Produced by Suzie Shatarevyan for
        Look for Compass on
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  6. Western Attitudes…

    Very interesting editorial and one that makes some valid observations. We (the Diaspora generation) were not born and geared with the North American mentality (even though we now live in the West) and, therefore, we will have some form of decorum when entering the House of God, as we were brought up to believe by our elders and Society.  However, where the comment refers to North Americans and that should also incorporate Canada, the ‘new’ generation in their tight and low, torso-level jeans (showing their G-strings or Calvin Klein underwear) is something of a Western culture, including Western Europe as well. Has this reached the Near Eastern shores? I am not sure and I do not think society there would allow, let alone enter the House of God in such attire.

    There is another thing which perhaps could bring these well-meaning Western-North American-European generation who go to our Apostolic churches for whatever reason or motive, is probably sometimes  to let go of the Badarak which to most sounds pre-written bumblings, rather than a proper ‘sermon’, the kind I grew up with in the Armenian Evangelical Churches (being Apostolic myself) whereby the pastor DOES actually give a sermon, a message in plain Armenian, rather than recite from a hymn book or krapar scriptures. It would help those ‘cat walkers’ perhaps if the priest gave a sermon, a modern-day, a realistic, true-to-life sermon which handles such issues and perhaps send a message to these people when they decide to come to church  next time (did I say IF?) that they may reconsider what they wear, or drink or the true purpose of their attendance to church.


    1. Clarification is Due

      I was baptized in the Armenian Apostolic Church, but I chose to get married in Armenian Evangelical Church and am a hagortagan antam of the denomination. We chose to have our elder son be baptized in Armenian Apostolic Church, the other in Armenian Evangelical Church. I attend mostly Armenian Evangelical Church services and attend Badarak at the Armenian Apostolic church as well.
      Vatche’, for clarification I would like to note the following. There was a time when Sunday school and of course sermon were features of the Armenian Evangelical Church. However, that is not true any more. The children at Armenian Apostolic church attend Sunday school and after the Badarak the priest delivers a true-to-life sermon in plain Armenian and English as well. 
  7. When You Pray

    May be the whole thing is overblown and contradicts the teachings of Jesus: Matt: 6:6 “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
    Matt: 6:5 "And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full."
  8. “For Clarification”

    Vatche’, for clarification I would like to note the following. There was a time when Sunday school and of course sermon were features of the Armenian Evangelical Church. However, that is not true any more. The children at Armenian Apostolic church attend Sunday school and after the Badarak the priest delivers a true-to-life sermon in plain Armenian and English as well.

    Thank you Garabed. I was one of those children back in Lebanon when Sunday school and, indeed, Sunday church was mandatory at the Armenian Evangelical Schools and it  did not do me any harm. I now notice my niece and nephew going – albeit willingly and without any pressure – to the Sunday school or ‘ church youth meetings’ – (badanyatz and yeridasartaz) in Canada and this is something that fills me with hope and encouragement not only for reasons of faith, but also for valid reasons of staying Armenian!

    The Armenian Apostolic church has always had a nationalistic ‘air’ about it rather than a religious one. The latter was ‘assigned’ to the elderly, whereas the Evangelical church has (or had) no age group distinctions and the main emphasis has been the Christian faith.


    1. Sunday School

      I have attended Sunday schools  (Armenian Apostolic Church both Echmiadznagan and Antelias) in Lebanon back in 1960s. It all depends who the teacher was. For us, it was never nationalistic, except sometimes when there were visits by the clergy. In fact, the Evangelical church was not nationalistic at the time. It was more or less Puritanism. That has changed. Evangelicals now are no different from the Armenian Apostolic Church with their messages.

      I was also a Sunday school teacher back in early ’70s in both denominations. I could never understand why Evangelicals rejected everything Armenian, of course, not anymore. The Evangelicals used to invite American missionaries as guest speakers, who often knew nothing about Armenians and often were so hurtful when they addressed us, as if we were pagans and knew nothing about Christianity. That was history. Not anymore.

  9. Stop Living in the Past

    I agree with both sides of the arguments. Here are some points to ponder:

    A) It’s not only the dress; the respect we used to show is not there anymore.

    B) Some churches, like Echmiadzin, are touristic places and the attendees go there once and don’t have to be believers.

    C) We have to admit that times have changed and so should the rules, even for churches.  "in our time we used to do…" concept is old, get over it. Stop living in the past.

    D) It’s good that even people like that are still attending church. If we enforce the ‘old’ rules we might lose them and then complain that church attendance has declined.

    E) I once attended an Anglican church where I found a more modern approach to God and religious rules. That’s the only way to encourage the new generation to attend church–speak their language.

  10. Personal Opinion

    It is a good article. I personally wear a suit with a tie and my wife and my family dress properly. Women cover their hair, men do not. It’s not really a rule but it’s not proper to cover hair and wear a hat in church.

    I am wondering if the author of this article goes to church?


  11. Every social occasion has its appropriate code of dress

    On Sunday 30th October I celebrated Divine Liturgy in the Cathedral Church in Burbank. During communion, one communicant approached the altar with his hands in his pockets, others extended their palm of their hands to requesting communion to take home for their relatives, and others were offering donation to the priest.

    The presence of the various denominations (Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals) within the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church is the source of the confusion.

    To understand the code of dress in the Armenian church one should start with the prayer said by the celebrant before vesting. This is a prayer for the priest but its implications are much wider. It applies to the congregation as well.

    "O Lord almighty who hast granted us to put on the same heavenly garment… divest myself of all ungodliness which is a garment of defilement, and that I may be adorned with thy light”. Every social occasion has its appropriate code of dress. One does not attend a Funeral service wearing dress fit for a Wedding or Baptism. One does not attend a friend’s birthday party wearing sport gear. One does not attend Divine Liturgy wearing basketball shorts and footwear. The solemnity of an occasion is physically displayed by the garments one adorns himself/herself with.

    I am sure this is understood by every single Armenian but I wonder why not for the Divine Liturgy?

    Rev. Dr. Nerses Nersessian

    St. Yeghiche Armenian Church, London

  12. Cat’s walk

    Dear friends,

    Everyone goes to church for a reason. Most of the time I go because of outside pressure. If I do not hear spiritually up and new explanations I leave the church upset with the priest, because he was not creative enough to take me one level higher.

    I do pray in my house and thank God for all I have. If you are in the church and your eyes are on who is coming and who is wearing what and pay attention to such things then you already are spiritually off target. The whole concept is love, that is what Christ came for.

  13. Thank goodness they are attending

    I solemnly feel with what is being said conecrning the attire, but please do understand that we are the only people in the western hemisphere who are still attending church. The catholics’ numbers are dwindling and so are the anglicans and the rest with ever increasing numbers of christians converting to islam. I am speaking about this when I am living in london and I see an ever increasing number of people who claim to be agnostic or atheist.

    Dear all, glasses, tight skirts or whatever that might not seem perfectly appropriate, all should be still welcome as long as the numbers are kept high and the people who are merry and laughing after the sermon are plentiful. So please stop complaining and thank God that we are still coming

    P.S. I passed by the church (non-Armenian) said my prayers and was wearing summer slippers. The point is faith and ideology behind come first and not the attire.


    1. Have you been to mega

      Have you been to mega churches in US? Have you seen the converts from Islam to Christianity in Africa? Only the spoiled west is looking leaving Christianity, while the poor and meek are looking for the real thing.

    2. Dressing Like Muslims in the Mosque

      As far as I am concerned, “faith and ideology behind come” hand in hand with the attire and of course I am not referring to bow tie dressing.

      Many may be converting to Islam but none of these converts will dare to enter the mosque without having observed the ritual of cleansing themselves and taking off their shoes or wearing shorts and carrying cups of coffee in their hands into the mosque.
      As far as I can tell, respectful dressing and conduct in the mosque are mandates for observant Muslim and I do not see why it should not be for the Christian attending a church service.
      I believe that it is the permissiveness in conduct and in dress that is driving many to convert to Islam, not the other way round.
  14. Respectful church dress

    Thank you for speaking out on this subject. I am tired of seeing females especially attening church in jeans or shorts and skimpy tops. I was raised at a time when women wore hats and gloves to church alongside proper respectful attire. If I had gone to church as a teenager bare legged or in trousers/pants my father would have taken a cane to me.

    I still attend church in a neat respectful knee length skirt or dress and ALWAYS wear tights. I still wear a hat and gloves in Winter. Fortunately our church has recently welcomed several new members from the local university. I’m delighted to report that all the new female students attend chuch and mid week bible classes in long sleeved blouses, buttoned up cardigans knee length skirts or dresses and black tights. They recognise that God’s House is not a fashion parade  or catwalk.

    Caroline Baker – London

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