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Grapes blessed for hope

Varujan Tomassian was recovering from heart surgery at Glendale Adventist Medical Center on Wednesday, but thanks to a special gift of grapes brought by local clergy, the Glendale resident was all smiles.

Tomassian was the first patient at the center to receive a bundle of the blessed fruit in connection with the ancient Armenian religious tradition known as the Blessing of the Grapes.

The ritual, which stems from teachings in the Old Testament, is traditionally celebrated on the second Sunday in August — harvest time in Armenia, said the Most Rev. Muron Aznikian of the Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church in La Crescenta.

But for Glendale Adventist patients, many of whom expect to be in the hospital on Sunday, the tradition was brought to their bedside on Wednesday.

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Tomassian may be out of the hospital by Sunday, but if doctors say he needs more bed-rest, he will be at peace knowing that he didn’t miss out on a cultural celebration that he grew up honoring, he said.

“I am one of the first ones to receive the grapes,” said Tomassian, who had been serving as a translator for the U.S. Army in Iraq when one of his heart valves became infected in April. “Everyone waits to Sunday, but not me, so I am happy.”

The special delivery of the grapes to patients came after a half-hour morning service in the hospital’s chapel.

Aznikian was joined by clergy from St. Mary’s Armenian Apostolic Church in Glendale, including the Rev. Ardak Demirjian, the Rev. Gomidas Torossian, Deacon Raffi Keshishian and Deacon Herayr Tejirian.

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In their traditional black robes, the group led about 60 hospital employees, patients and family in traditional songs and blessed large baskets full of grapes in English and in Armenian.

Though grapes have evolved into the symbolic focus of the ceremony, the blessing extends to all fruits of the earth, Aznikian said.

“Through the grape, we bless all vegetables and fruits of the gardens and vineyards,” he said.

The blessing also extends to the recipients of the grapes, including hospital patient Simaugul Karapetyan.

Receiving the blessed grapes gave Karapetyan a sense of hope, she said.

“If we accept that hope, we live through that hope,” she said, through a translator. “I feel more peaceful and a lightness in my spirit.”

Glendale Adventist has been celebrating the Blessing of the Grapes for more than a decade as a way to recognize the hospital’s vast Armenian patient population, said Irena Aghassian, one of the center’s three in-house chaplains.

Glendale Memorial Hospital is scheduled to celebrate the tradition at 2 p.m. today in the hospital’s main auditorium at 1420 S. Central Ave. Archbishop Hovnan Derderian of the Armenian Western Diocese is slated to preside over the service.

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