Today as we celebrate the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God, bless and distribute grapes in our churches, we also reflect on and explore the spiritual meaning and importance of the symbolism of grapes, vineyard and wine in the Holy Bible. The Old Testament often highlights the relationships of a gardener to his vineyard to illustrate God’s care and love for humanity. We know that the first miracle of our Lord was in the wedding of Cana where he converted water into wine. We also remember the parable of the vineyard and how Christ depicted himself as the vine and the faithful as the branches. As Armenian Christians, we proudly remind our non-Armenian friends about the story of Noah descending from the ark and planting the first vineyard in Armenia.
From Zvartnots to Aghtamar and to the architectural characteristics of Tamanyan’s Yerevan, from the ancient illuminated paintings to frescos preserved on the walls of Armenian monasteries, we find depictions of grapes and vineyards in every expression of sacred Armenian arts.
Why did this particular biblical symbolism resonate so strongly with Armenian Christianity? Why did Armenians create an entire liturgical service dedicated to blessing grapes and attach it to a major feast day?
Of course, wine is used for the Holy Communion which gives it very special importance. But from the most ancient times, Armenians also have mastered the art of cultivating and growing grapes. They had intimate knowledge and understanding of the delicate relationship of a gardener with his vineyard. And through this knowledge and experience, they were able to connect with the biblical depictions and stories of grapes, vineyards and gardeners and understand their true spiritual meaning and importance.
An experienced gardener will often intentionally plant his vineyard in low-yielding soil and marginal conditions. In such poor and harsh conditions, the vines are stressed and have to work much harder to produce fruit. This produces amazing results because though they will produce less fruit, the grapes will be much more concentrated and flavorful.
By contrast, vineyards that produce wine for mass production have it easy. They are planted in fertile soil and an ideal climate. They produce massive amounts of grapes, but they lack the complex, intense flavors needed to make great wine.
The biblical symbolism of a gardener and vineyard are vital because they explain most clearly and precisely how God often works, impacts and functions within our lives. He sometimes allows us, his beloved children, to be subjected to hardship and difficulties. Though unpleasant and often painful, these stressful conditions transform us in more ways than we can discern. They bring the best of us forward by helping us to forge new personal qualities and characteristics, forming new perspectives and discovering new opportunities. Like a skilled gardener walking through his vineyard and examining the health and well-being of every vine and branch, God moves through the events and experiences of our lives sometimes like a gentle breeze by softly guiding and correcting the direction of our thoughts, plans and hopes, and sometimes by painfully trimming and removing things that are harmful, destructing and preventing us from growing, transforming and embracing who we truly are and what we do, achieve and experience in this life.
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