© Copyright Arthur Hagopian 2016

One

He picked up his pen again.

He picked up his pen again. ".   .   .   Therefore,   it   is   our   personal   wish,   born   out   of   our   own   free   will,   to   abdicate   from   the   sacred Throne   of   St   James.   .   ."   he   wrote,   then   paused   for   a   moment,   letting   his   eyes   languish   lovingly   over   the ungainly, battered copper box squatting on his desk. It had never worn a lock, and never would. Reverentially, he   pried   the   lid   open   and   gazed   inside,   enraptured.   He   could   not   bring   himself   to   handle   the   delicate contents, as if afraid the ethereal entity at his finger-tips would vanish at the slightest touch. He lowered the lid back and returned to his writing. ".   .   .   and   devote   our   life   to   solitary   meditation   and   prayer,   at   an   undisclosed   location,   away   from Jerusalem." It   had   been   a   difficult   decision   to   make,   but   he   had   no   regrets.   He   never   would.   There   were   no   more idle   dreams   under   his   pillow.   His   work   in   Jerusalem   was   over   and   he   was   leaving   the   city:   His   Beatitude, Archbishop   Mihran   Der   Samuelian,   99th   Armenian   Patriarch   of   Jerusalem,   had   sat   on   the   throne   St   James, the brother of Christ, for the last time. He   signed   the   paper,   folded   it   carefully   and   slipped   it   into   an   envelope   which   he   then   placed   in   the   top drawer   of   his   desk.   The   bombshell   would   not   be   dropped   till   after   the   forthcoming   Preliminary   Peace Conference   which   he   would   chair.   Once   he   had   made   his   opening   speech   and   blessed   the   assembly   he would,   quietly   and   without   fanfare,   vacate   the   stage,   leaving   the   Arab   and   Israeli   protagonists,   who   had finally reached agreement on a comprehensive Middle East peace accord, to run the show themselves. It   had   been   a   herculean   task,   fraught   with   danger   and   vexation,   but   the   idea   that   had   germinated   in   his soul,    had    finally    borne    fruit.    Without    the    relentless    prodding    of    the    powerful    new    Chairman    of    the Commonwealth   of   Independent   States,   the   President   of   Armenia,   who   had   fortuitously   seized   upon   the Patriarch's   initiative,   he   doubted   peace   would   have   been   achieved.   But   it   was   coming   at   last,   bringing   an   end to   half   a   century   of   internecine   bloodshed   and   banish,   hopefully   forever,   the   phantoms   of   nuclear   holocaust hovering   like   vultures   on   the   Middle   Eastern   horizon.   In   a   few   days,   the   leaders   of   the   irascible   antagonist nations   would   gather   in   the   Monastery's   mellifluously   named   "Quarter   of   the   Pine   Groves,"   to   initial   the   first draft   of   the   accord.   There   would   be   no   more   war   any   more,   for   the   nations   that   had   waged   war   had   now agreed to turn their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning forks. He   glanced   casually   at   the   antique   clock.   Well   past   midnight.   The   Monastery   lay   peacefully   in   the   arms of   Morpheus,   but   the   man   he   wanted   to   meet,   perhaps   for   the   last   time,   would   not   be   asleep   yet.   Old Deacon   Zohrab   had   always   kept   odd   hours.   His   tiny,   humble   cell   was   one   of   the   few   places   on   earth   where the   Patriarch,   august   prince   of   the   Church,   felt   he   could   shed   his   inhibitions   and   find   his   true   self,   away   from the   oppressive   influence   of   the   artificial   trappings   of   power   and   opulence   in   which   he   had   been   domiciled   for over   a   decade.   He   had   always   felt   like   an   intruder   in   the   glittering   edifices   he   had   been   forced   to   inhabit   by virtue   of   his   position   as   Primate   of   the   Armenian   Diocese   of   America   and   later   as   Patriarch   of   Jerusalem.   The glitter   was   all   a   sham.   Christ   did   not   live   in   palaces.   He   didn't   even   have   a   place   to   lay   down   His   head.   And yet,   His   representatives   on   earth   wallowed   in   luxury.   Here,   in   the   abject   poverty   of   a   blind   man's   dank,   dark cell   which   smelled   of   the   foul   snuff   his   errant   sheep,   the   Deacon   was   perpetually   enmeshed   in,   Mihran   would feel true to his nature and shed all his burdens of office. He   unlocked   the   side-entrance   to   his   bed-room,   turned   off   the   light,   and   stepped   out   onto   the   roof.   A martial   shadow   instantly   materialized   out   of   the   stygian   darkness.   He   nodded   in   its   direction.   The   man nodded   back,   and   retreated   into   the   shadows   that   had   spawned   him,   his   light   sub-machine   gun   and   visored helmet, emblazoned with the Star of David, glinting briefly in the moonlight. He   stood   still   for   a   moment,   as   if   uncertain.   A   gentle   breeze,   peppered   with   a   tentative   chill,   caressed the   still   youthful   features   that   belied   his   70-odd   years.   He   looked   up   at   the   star-studded   sky,   as   if   searching for   a   sign,   a   tiny   flash   of   approval   from   the   heavens.   Then   he   sighed   and   descended   the   iron   staircase leading to the vast convent courtyard adjoining the priestly cells. He   walked   softly,   in   keeping   with   time-worn   habit   of   muffling   his   slippered   footsteps.   His   passage   was punctuated   repeatedly   by   the   abrupt   emergence   of   more   armed   figures,   their   radios   crackling   with   static   and coded   messages   in   Arabic   and   Hebrew.   One   of   the   more   foolhardy   security   agents   flashed   a   torch   in   the   face of the man in the dark robe, and won a prompt abrupt reprimand from an unseen superior. "We   beg   your   pardon,   Beatitude,"   said   the   Arab   Captain,   who   hovered   in   the   shadows,   his   head wrapped in a checkered kaffiya.   "You understand our men are rather excited and edgy." "It's perfectly all right, officer," he said softly. "Please don't blame the man." "Of   course,   we   would   have   appreciated   your   giving   us   advance   notice   of   your   movements.   But   we realize that is not always possible for Your Beatitude," added the Captain. "Good night, officer," he said. " Tisba'h   'ala   kheir ,"   the   Arab   replied.   He   then   turned   to   his   radio   and   spoke   a   few   words   in   Hebrew.   The Patriarch   smiled   with   grim   satisfaction   as   he   recognized   the   once   daunting,   unfamiliar   words.   Despite   his ten-year   tenure   in   the   city,   and   his   sporadic   on-again   off-again   dilly-dallying   with   the   language,   he   had   never gotten   around   to   learning   Hebrew   until   about   six   months   before,   when   he   realized   that   to   bolster   his credibility   with   the   Israelis,   to   whom   he   was   trying   to   sell   his   peace   formula,   he   simply   had   to   speak   their tongue. With Arabic, he had few problems, since he had had a chance to pick it up when he was a child. There   was   no   light   in   the   Deacon's   cell   -   but   then   what   would   a   blind   man   do   with   a   lantern?   It   seemed to   Mihran   as   he   stood   at   the   threshold   of   the   dark   room   that   whenever   he   had   been   seeking   a   catharsis   in the wake of a major crisis or a fateful decision, he had invariably found himself here. He   knocked   softly   before   pushing   the   door   in.   The   huge   wooden   frame   creaked   on   its   hinges   and   as   it opened, the unmistakable pungent smell of cheap snuff assailed his nose. He shook his head and stepped in. "Zohrab? Are you awake?" he called out, letting his eyes grow accustomed to the darkness. "Please come in, Serpazan," came a cracked voice from the vicinity of the bed. "I   hope   I   am   not   disturbing   you,"   Mihran   said,   finding   himself   a   chair.   He   had   to   transport   its   assorted contents to the floor before he could sit on it.
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