For the first time, we met Monte in Shahumyan. I, Father Grikor Markosyan, and Shahen Meghryan stood near the Surb Astvatsatsin Church, watching the restoration work on the interior decoration of the temple. Monte approached us – he had arrived with his squad to defend Shahumyan.
Shahen Meghryan introduced us. Monte introduced himself as Avo. I heartily thanked him for his arrival in Artsakh and wished him good service.
Subsequently, Monte often invited me to Martuni to hold a liturgy, to baptize, to marry. Sometimes, I sent priest Grikor there. We often met Monte in Stepanakert, in Shushi, in Martuni. There was little time, but we always tried to talk, talk, at least in fits and starts.
We talked about the history of the Armenian people, about our future. Monte was an endless patriot, he selflessly loved the Armenian people, pained for them, and was ready to do everything in his power to have a positive impact on their fate and to rectify our history.
Monte was a very religious person. He sought to raise the morale and faith of the people and to introduce them to Christianity, to the Church. He himself constantly kept the church fasting as far as the military situation allowed. Monte dreamed of seeing the Armenian people absolutely moral.
Monte was a deeply religious person and attached great importance to the spiritual education of an individual. Once, priest Grikor Markosyan, rector of the Gandzasar monastery, and chaplain of the Artsakh Defense Army arrived in Karachinar of the Shahumyan district to support the soldiers with word and deed. The priest was in civilian clothes and had an assault rifle on his shoulder. Behind his belt was a TT pistol, a gift from the squad commander. Monte had also arrived in Karachinar with his fighters.
He did not know Ter Grikor, but for some reason, he fell into talk with him and suddenly spontaneously said:
“No, guys, that won’t work, we definitely need a priest – to baptize, take communion before the battle.”
The fighters looked at each other cheerfully but said nothing, and Father Grikor, a man of great humor, answered:
“Why do we need a priest? He must be maintained, fed, and we are barely making ends meet. We do not need a priest.”
“Are you baptized?” Monte asked.
“And you are saying we don’t need a priest?”
“It’s not the time to think about a priest.”
“You don’t understand anything, you are a Turk!” Monte said indignantly and began to enthusiastically tell soldier Grikor about the importance of spiritual education of soldiers. Father Grikor indulgently listened to him and said:
“You know, I think there is a priest in the church of Verin-Shen.”
The next morning, Monte walked from Karachinar to Verin-Shen and found the Church of Surb Astvatsatsin. Before him appeared Father Grikor in full vestments and a cross in his hands. Monte recognized him immediately.
“Bless me, Father!” he said joyfully to the priest.
“Lord bless you, my son.”
Monte took a closer look and exclaimed in surprise:
“Is that really you?! Forgive me, Lord! Why didn’t you tell me?” Monte began to apologize for yesterday’s words. They laughed and hugged each other.
Sometime later, Monte asked Bishop Pargev, the leader of the Artsakh Diocese, to send a priest to Martuni on the eve of the military operation.
“What do you think, who will come?” he asked his fighters.
“Most likely, the bishop will send a military priest,” one of the fighters answered.
“You will see, it will be Father Grikor,” Monte said firmly.
Bishop Pargev indeed sent Father Grikor to Martuni. When he entered the Martuni club where the fighters were waiting for him, everyone laughed, and Monte joyfully explained:
“I told you that it was he who would come!”
Father Grikor greeted and blessed those present. Under his robes was visible an assault rifle. The priest immediately took the bull by the horns:
“In battle, I will be with you, and I will hold the liturgy after the battle,” he said firmly and, winking at the fighters, added, “If by the will of the Lord I remain alive.”