An excerpt from

The Ship On The Mountain

by Gostan Zarian (1885-1969)

Translated from the Armenian by Shant Norashkharian.
First published in Boston, 1943, by Hairenik Publishers and republished (date unknown) by Varantian Publishers. Permission has been obtained from the Hairenik Association to offer this over the World Wide Web.


Excerpt No. 1 (Pages 81-87)

As he was coming down he stopped in front of the ancient church which stood above the monastery.

What a miracle it was, that this temple still remained standing! Built on the foundations of a former pagan altar, from the first centuries of Christianity, it had witnessed fierce, dreadful centuries loaded with events and eras molded with iron blood. Dead were great nations, gone were peoples and races, yet it had remained standing.

Unmaintained, orphaned, miserable.

A twisted roof, stones emptied of their cement and eaten by seasons. The broken windows were full of mislaid stones, the doors destroyed, the rafters fallen down.

It was a poor silhouette. A soul beggar.

Inside a few candles were shimmering. Herian, whose attention and mind were directed downward, where Zvart was, wanted to pass by the church in a hurry, but did not, and instead stopped in front of the door and without negotiating with himself, entered inside.

As if someone was calling him.

The church was empty. Humid, cold. There was the smell of honey-candle and putrid vegetation. He stood in front of the altar, the only lighted area. A large Bible with yellowed pages sat open. Small candle-holders supported dripping candles. The murky lights of the flames were disturbing the surrounding darkness by throwing large shadows.

When his eyes started to get used to the darkness, pictures from the wall of the altar stared at him. Slowly they awakened and grew larger. The wall flashed out long bodies, chiseled faces, deep-fallen black eyes, untidy beards, and bony, unnatural hands, which, creeping over the ravaged chests squeezed some worn-out books.

Herian's eyes met their eyes.

Fierce, huge, phosphorous eyes.

The pictures, leaving the wall, were advancing toward him inconspicuously.

Herian stepped back.

At that instant, something hanging from the roof moved. Perhaps it was a bat or... He looked up. He saw nothing. He looked at the pictures, as their enlarged eyes dominated him. They pushed his stare inward, they subdued it.

He could not move anymore. An uncertain battle started within him. His awareness became veiled, it lost its clarity.

A pair of candles blinked, washed a few shadows as they shimmered, and died.

The darkness became even deeper. And, suddenly, from the depth of the church, he heard footsteps. Herian turned around and was astonished. In front of him stood Peter Mark.

Mark, the Armenian from India, whom he had met at the restaurant.

"Hello, Captain, hello..."

He stretched his tanned and hairy hand and greeted Herian warmly. The hand was cold, and the arm -Herian later remembered- unusually long.

"I saw you as you came inside and waited for you to finish your prayer...Truly, these are special places, with which to communicate, it is worthwhile to cross thousands of kilometers, as I have done...Special, momentous places..."

" My pleasure, Mr. Mark...I was not expecting..."

" I believe, that one must always, always expect...I was expecting to see you, as these pictures were expecting to see me and you...for centuries...the boundaries of the soul, Captain, no matter which way you choose to reach them, constantly expand and go farther, the depth of the soul is great and its potentialities are limitless..."

He smiled slowly under the nose and at that moment his face took the form of a mask which had come out of Indian wall-sculptures.

Peter Mark was wearing a gray suit with yellow lines, sewn in English style. The pants were unusually high, and the coat, which had narrow shoulders, stuck to his body and seemed small. The collar around his neck was high, and his hand was holding a straw hat which had a very wide brim.

Strangely, his abstract statements did not correspond to the way he dressed. As if those were not his own clothes. However, his voice was convincing, sometimes sharp but other times it became dull, deep; yet specially convincing were his very black, very shiny eyes, which -how could one explain- were identical to the pictures which were hanging in front of the altar.

Thirsty, grabbing, ravishing.

As he spoke his neck stretched like a duck. The few candles which were still flickering on the altar were casting shadows around the pointed bones of his cheeks, they set holes under the eyes, they sharpened his chin and made his bursting throat swell even more.

When he became sad he stammered slightly.

"Let me tell you, Captain, please consider this point. Everything in the world is turning, revolving, to enable itself to return to itself...The sun, the star, the human being...A while ago, as I was standing there, I was thinking...People pass by small phenomena without paying much attention to them...They do not see, they do not look...However, please consider, even so-called rational science builds the universe on molecules and the laws of gravity...As soon as the apple breaks off the tree it is pulled by the earth, and by that same Newtonian law, the moon stays on its orbit and so do all heavenly bodies...I am trying to say that, all existing phenomena are related to each other, and whether small or big, they are equally important to the universe...I would say, or would you believe, that even the first steps of a newly-born infant may influence the course of the stars..." He fell silent and searched Herian's eyes. He gazed and remained quiet for quite a while. To end his silence, Herian wanted to say something. He also wanted to show him that he understood his statements.

"Well...of course", he started with a very loud voice and without conviction, "if one thinks well..."

"Let me finish my thought, and then you may state yours", interrupted Mark and continued. "First, I must confess to you. In our land, I often feel like a foreigner...A foreigner, to the external, outer life...That is not what I was expecting, it was not...I think the reason is that, when one lives far from his environment, he starts seeing everything in a different way...I would not say always accurate, but rather large and deep...From afar he looks at his land, as if he was standing on a mountaintop and looking at the fields below. He opens his arms wide open with the horizon, and looks with his inner eyes...the eyes of his soul...not as a personality, but as the self. But Captain, perhaps all this does not interest you..."

"I beg you, do not say that. it does...indeed..."

" Thank you...I say, that the self... it must be different...don't you agree?...It ought to be different...the self is above understanding and time...it is a unity, wider, larger than our everyday comprehension. The self stands among us as a non-changeable presence, whose premises are decisive and to a certain extent eternal...am I making myself understood?"

"Very well..."

"Thank you...The member of the community, the child of a nation, the social person -and everyone of us is a social person- presents himself first and foremost with his character... One this way, another that way...Character is formed from different elements...Who knows? Genetic qualities, one's abilities in life, his energy, his virtues or, on the other hand, his vices, shortcomings, the influences of external factors...I am saying, that character is the personality: suggestive, changing, defined by time...The self is different. It stands under the layers of our experiential personality. It is not character, it is not changeable, it is not defined by time, but it is firm, permanent, like a torch which never burns out. And there, right there lies the question: The essential human existence must reach to that torch; it must spread the light, because that light comes from the sun itself, it comes directly from the entire universe...I forgot your name, Captain..."

"My name is Ara Herian.

"Thank you. Very nice name, indeed, very nice...Then, Ara, let us understand. That light is the way. In the far East there are very great thinkers and among them there is one, to whose fountain of wisdom I always approach with thirst, and his name is Lao Tse. Have you heard of him? Well then, Lao Tse has said: "When they lose the Way, they still have the Virtue. When they lose the Virtue, they still have the Morality. When they lose the Morality, they still have the Law. When they lose the Law, they still have the Custom. Yet the Custom is only the external Morality and from there starts the assimilation..." He said, first the Way. The Way, that is The Self. It is very interesting, isn't it?"

"Very."

"Now, let me tell you. I walked in the fields and mountains of this land, I visited cities and villages, I listened to men and women and my heart cringed. The Armenian nation, Mr. Captain, has lost the Way and kept the customs only...It has lost the Spirit and kept the form...We are defeated!"

He folded his arms on his chest as his face turned grave.

"I am saying this, because I met you here, in this special place, where fate brought us together to see each other, to talk and to think. Understand: I come from far places, with a heart full of thirst and torment...running after myself...and behold, they have lost the traditions. They have scattered here and there. They say nation, they say country. Before even coming here, I recognized my true land, as it is...not merely as an area, but as a being full of light and mystery...I do not know, have you ever thought about this? The scientists of the West consider an area as a neutral place, which contains objects and movements. For them an area is a physical thing, and an event is just an event. All without interaction, without unity. If we think the same way, it shall be our end and the way will be closed.

"Fine", said Herian with interest, "and how ought we understand our land?"

"Let me tell you, Captain, let me tell you... There are lands, for instance in America, which are not mixed, not cultivated with spirit. They are merely physical masses, ruled by the basic laws of nature and the whims of men...On the other hand, there are lands, which belong to Spiritual geography, where every natural phenomenon is caused by the spirit and every human action participates in that spirit. It is a living, magnetic, psychic, supernatural area where all the signs are marked, and where every movement, every action, every stated word, receives utmost significance. Behold, in our land, as the self has been transformed to personality, as it lost its human/divine nature, as it was forced into mediocre states, as it forgot its spiritual tradition, dualism came between the self and the land. The only phenomenon that corresponds to this geography, are these buildings in one of which we now stand..."

"As a religious, Christian expression?"

" No, no, more than that...they have come from farther places and they are more than the religion to which we was imposed on us...They are built by the lights of Armenian rocks and mountains, they integrate the self with the land and show us the way, about which we were talking...I wandered everywhere and everywhere I searched for them...In some areas they still remain standing, like a frozen song which is expressed with stones, wounded here and there by the centuries, winds and people, but, ruined or not, they witness an irresistible urge, an internal and internally energized attitude, a spiritual precondition, without which there is not and cannot be true life...There, within them, the boundaries are drawn, unity is discovered, the divine is born. The naked brightness of those lines, which is flight and power, which is absolute form and wholeness, has come from long and arduous wars, which the spirit of our race has fought against chaotic forces of night and magic, as, prior to that, the shining Olympic principle had fought with serpent-gods and god-serpents, ghosts, beings with animal heads, underground pagan fire and against other dark, obscure phenomena. Here, Captain, the Armenian, for the second time, and in a different way, has lit that torch, which in ancient times the Corians had lit as a sign of victory against the Creto-Minoan world. The Armenian had found his spiritual unity, his light, which he had spread over the four corners of the world..."

He stopped, and thought for a minute.

"The supreme goal of every race", he continued, "is to spread the human and the visible, in the universe and in the invisible. The Armenian Temple was the first and the most important step to reach that goal. The spirit was integrated, the style discovered, the ladder stood upright, but no one would rise...The night and chaos came back, the Armenian race lost the torch that it had found and entered into an earth-shaking era.

"The blame is not on us...history...external circumstances"! complained Herian.

"I know, it is customary to say so. It is wrong. Spiritual strength and unity are invincible. External events visit us only when we are internally ready to receive them. It is the Spirit Itself which creates external circumstances, and It alone invites them over...No, no, I do not agree with you...Let me say simply, that again the race is faced with decisive days, terrible, horrible days...Events invade us in unexpected ways, one after the other...they come armed with the steel of days, they strike us and we, surprised and saddened, ask why? Why? Therein is the problem...

"Why?" Whispered Herian.

"Why?...A while ago you were looking at the stares shining from these walls...I was following your every movement and when I approached you, it was because at the same time, I was experiencing like you a chaotic moment...Why, you say, why?...Look at them, and they will tell you...! My respects, Captain, my respects... And Peter Mark disappeared. He was lost in the dark. Herian wiped the cold drops of sweat from his forehead and left.

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Feedback/Comments: The email address of Shant Norashkharian is:
MASSISSAR@AOL.COM

* Yeghitsi Luys *