Annual Armenian Picnic Shares Food, Fellowship

By Phyllis Sides – Journal Times

Journal Times, WI
June 25 2007

Sunday was a day of firsts for the Very Rev. Daniel Garabedian, pastor
of St. Hagop Armenian Apostolic Church. St. Hagop’s is Garabedian’s
first parish – he became the church’s pastor in September. On Sunday,
Garabedian attended the first of what he hopes will be many of
St. Hagop’s annual Armenian Madagh or picnic. It also was the first
time he blessed a Madagh meal.

"Everything is new to me," said Garabedian, who is from New Jersey.

"But I’m sure they will help me. Everyone has been so good to me. I
like the friendliness of the people. It’s been like fathers, mothers,
aunts, uncles and cousins. Like family."

The tradition of Madagh has its roots in the Old Testament tradition
of offering up lambs as sacrifice, Garabedian said. "It comes through
the Jewish roots of Christianity blessing the meat. Lambs were chosen
because they were obedient. We don’t sacrifice the animal anymore.

It’s symbolic, and today the blessing is done with beef."

At an outdoor altar set up near the cooking pits where the traditional
meal of bulgur pilaf and beef stew was prepared.

Garabedian was assisted by deacons Dikran Mahdasian, Sarkis Mahdasian,
Stephan Fronjian and sibling candle bearers Arkel and Azniv Khaligian
and the choir. Garabedian offered the blessing in Armenian and
English. He also explained the blessing of the harvest and why prayers
were offered facing the four directions of the Earth.

St. Hagop’s has held the traditional Madagh picnic since 1938.

Preparing the meal is a two-day affair. The pit is dug and the
fire is started Saturday evening so cooking can start at about 5
a.m. Sunday. They have to start early so the food will be ready by
11 a.m. for the blessing of the meal. The meal is served after the
blessing, and it is shared with everyone who attends the picnic. The
public is invited to attend the picnic, said Zohrab Khaligian said,
father of Arkel and Azniv.

"There are so many people outside the Armenian community who come so
many times they are part of the extended family," Zohrab Khaligian

In addition to the Madagh meal, the picnic features marinated beef
kebab and chicken dinners, sarma (stuffed grape leaves), penelee
(cheese puffs), khurabia (butter cookies) and other Armenian delicacies
and pastries. Live Armenian music and dancing, children’s entertainment
and a cash raffle also were featured.

"The word Madagh means ‘offering’ and goes back to the time of Abraham,
who was willing to offer his only son, Isaac, to God to prove his love,
faith and obedience to the Lord," Khaligian said.

"When God witnessed his testimony, he asked Abraham to spare his son
and offer a ram instead.

"Today, St. Hagop’s Madagh is an expression of that same love,
faith and gratitude to the Lord for all that He has bestowed on us,"
Khaligian said. "Armenians throughout the world have designated places
of pilgrimage where they go to worship and offer a meal of Madagh to
the community."

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