Q: Why do we observe the Sabboth on Sunday when the Armenian word for Saturday – Shapat – is similar to the Hebrew word for Sabbath – Shabas or Shabat?
A: The Armenian word for Saturday is indeed Shapat, a loan word from Syriac, a Semitic language and a dialect of ancient Aramaic spoken by the Christians of northern Syria and Iraq. Christianity first penetratedArmenia from these regions during the first and Second centuries, and the earliest church vocabulary in Armenian was enriched with loan words particularly from Syriac.
Armenians in pre-Christian times followed a solar calendar that divided the year, consisting of 365 days and having no leap year, into twelve months of thirty days and a 13th month consisting of 5 days. Each of the thirty days of the month had a name. The concept of a seven-day week acquired wide use inArmenia only after its conversion to Christianity.
Following early Christian tradition, Armenians called the first day of the week the Lord’s Day in memory of the Resurrection, which according to the gospels (Matthew 28:1-6; Mark 16:9; Luke 23:1-5; John 20:1-9), had taken place at the dawn of the first day of the week. The Armenian word for Sunday, which is Geeragee is from the Greek kyriake [‘of the Lord’], short for the Greek kyriake hemera, meaning ‘the Lord’s day,’ which is first mentioned in Revelations 1:10: I was in the spirit on the Lord’s day.
For Christians since the time of the Apostles, Sunday has replaced Saturday as a day of worship, gathering, fellowship and breaking bread (Acts 20:7). This is also clear from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, 16:1-2, wherein he bids the faithful of Corinth to follow the direction he had given to the Christians of Galatia to make contributions on the first day of the week. Other early Christian authors also speak of Sunday as a festive day. The Synod of Laodicea, which presumably met in A.D. 365, formalized this with its 29th canon:
Christians must not Judiaze by resting on the Sabbath, but must work on that day, rather honoring the Lord’s Day [that is, Sunday]; and if they can, resting then as Christians. But if any shall be found to be Judaizers, let them be anathema from Christ.
The Armenian version of these canons translates the Lord’s Day as Sunday. An abbreviated version of this canon also appears as number 28 in a set of canons attributed by St. Gregory the Illuminator. The fourth Century Apostolic Canons of Instruction includes the following canon about Sunday:
Canon2 – The apostles appointed and firmly ordained that on the first day of the week, [that is] on every Sunday, there should be celebration, service and [the celebration of the Dominical mystery of the body and blood of the Lord… because on the first day of the week the creation of the creatures took place, and on the first day of the week the Lord Christ rose from the dead, and on the first day of the week he arose upon the world, and on the first day of the week prior to Pentecost our Lord ascended up to heaven, and on the first day of the week he will appear as the end of the world with paternal glory and with the angles of heaven.
The above excerpts from the Holy Scriptures and early canonical literature punctuate the antiquity of observing Sunday as the Lord’s Day and as the day that replaced Sabbath in Christian practice.
Q: Why do we pray for the deceased?
A: The most basic teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ is: A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another (John 13:34). This love is best expressed when we as loving brothers and sisters and as the true followers of the Lord come together to experience His presence in our midst: For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them (Mat. 18:20). In such an atmosphere of binding love and Divine presence our prayers unite and come out as if from a single source. This is what the Lord had in mind when he taught us the Lord’s Prayer and stressed the use of the collective first person plural throughout.
Praying in one voice and as one person does not only indicate that we are all in agreement in our faith in God and in our expression of love towards each other, but also that we pray for each other. Prayer that is offered in unison will reach God: Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven (Mat. 18:19). Praying together is strongly stressed by St. Paul, who in his letter to the Romans, 15: 5-6, states: May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our lord Jesus Christ.
Common prayer is the very essence of the Church. And we must understand that while offering private prayers should be a part of our daily practice, they do not take the place of common prayer, since, according to the Holy Scriptures, we experience the presence of Christ in our midst as a group or a family, provided that we set aside our sinful ways and adhere to the divine command of love.
One may assume that all of this applies to those of us who are alive, since according to the general understanding, once a person passes away, he stops communicating with others and committing sin, and the sins committed during his lifetime are not a part of the record so to speak. The deceased will be judged at the great tribunal of the Last Judgment for the life they have led on earth. Consequently, why offer prayers for the deceased? Similar questions have been asked over the centuries and some Christians reject the practice of praying for the dead. The Armenian Church is obviously not one of those Christian groups.
Prayers for the dad, which are well attested from the Old Testament, and requiem services are based on an understanding derived from the Holy Scriptures and particularly from the New Testament. We believe that the faithful who are deceased are still the Lord’s: If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living (Rom 14:8-9). The faithful who are dead are merely asleep in Christ. This concept, which is in St. Paul’s epistles (1 Cor 15; 1 Thes 4 and 5) is one of the basic teachings of the Armenian Church, and the term ‘asleep’ in its past participial form [nunchetsyal] is used formally in reference to a deceased person.
Like the faithful who are alive, the faithful who are deceased are a part of the corporate body of Christ and therefore of the Church. Those who are asleep in Christ and have reached the end of their earthly lives in the faith are refereed to as the ‘first born’ or theVictoriousChurch.
The Scriptural evidence also suggests that those who are asleep in Christ pray for themselves and for us. That the souls of the deceased are conscious and concerned about the living is best reflected in Christ’s story about poor Lazarus and the rich man. The latter begs the patriarch Abraham to send someone to his five brothers will alive to warn them of that is in store for sinners (Luke 16).
The indissoluble union of the living and theVictoriousChurchis also the basis for seeking the intercession of the saints before God. Asking a saint for his/her intercession merely means that we ask him/her to pray for us.
Q: What are the different requiem services in the Armenian Church?
A: In the Armenian tradition there are different rituals after the funeral service s and the interment of a Christian. These are also held at various intervals. For convenience we shall refer to them as requiem services. The Book of Rituals [Mashdots] has special services for:
- the morning after the internment, when the ritual is held at the grave site; (For deceased clergymen, services are held at the grave site for six consecutive days.)
- the morning of the seventh day [yotnorek] of the internment, when the ritual is held at the grave site; (For deceased clergymen, services are also held on the 15th day.)
- the fortieth day [karasoonk] of the internment:
- for laymen the fortieth-day requiem is the same as the seventh-day service
- for clergy there is a special forthwith-day service
- in the case of both deceased laymen and a clergymen the fortieth-day requiem is usually held on the closets (Saturday or) Sunday, when the name of the deceased is mentioned by the celebrant during the Divine Liturgy, particularly during the special prayers offered for the decease;
- the first anniversary [dareleets] of the internment:
- for laymen the first anniversary requiem is the same as the seventh-day service
- for clergy there is a special first anniversary service
- the requiem is usually held on a (Saturday or) Sunday that is the closest to the date of the first anniversary, when the name of the deceased is ethioned by the celebrant priest during the Divine Lityurgy, especially during the special prayers offered for the deceased;
- memorial days: the common requiem service [hokehankeesd], which follows the Divine Liturgy on five memorial days that follow the five major feasts during the year; the requiem for memorial days at the grave site can also be held on any day.
- In most modern Armenian cemeteries, the Divine Liturgy is celebrated in the cemetery chapels.
In the past, all requiem services required the preparation of food and its distribution to the poor. This was the Armenian Christian way of providing for the deprived. This tradition has evolved today and is partially observed in the form of the hokejash.
The blessing of Madagh is in most cases a requiem service, and the blessed food or meat is distributed to the poor and the public at large in memory of a deceased person/persons, whose name/names is/are mentioned in the prayer read by the clergymen.
Besides these, it must be noted that prayers for the deceased are said during the liturgical hours and the Divine Liturgy, and a short requiem service is required during the Night Hour, of the Divine Liturgy will be celebrated on that day.
These services, practices and traditions give us an opportunity to pray for our deceased dear ones and to receive consolation through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Q: What is the proper mourning period for the deceased?
A: Before examining the duration of the mourning period and the services following the internment, another question frequently raised by parishioners must be answered. Does one start calculating the time of mourning from the day when the deceased has died or from the day of his internment? This was never an issue in the old days, since the deceased was buried on the day he or she died. If the death occurred later in the day, the burial took place on the following day. Today, in countries where there is a wake prior to the burial, time should be calculated from the day of the burial services and the internment.
Service on the day after the internment
Different traditions about the length of the mourning period after the demise or the internment of an individual are citied in the Old Testament. The services in our Church that follow the internment are derived from ancient Hebraic practices. Our service at the gravesite on the day after the burial seem to fall back on the one-day mourning and fasting that is recorded in Samuel 1:12 and more clearly in Samuel 3:35. In the first instance King David mourns for King Saul and his son Jonathan and in the second, for Abener. The mourning accompanied by fasting continues after the burial until sunset.
Service on the third and seventh days
The Old Testament mentions a second-day fasting/mourning period especially in connection with the burial of the remains of King Saul and his three sons (1 Samuel 31:13). A seven-day mourning/fasting period was traditional among the ancient Hebrews as also seen in the case of Joseph mourned for seven days for his father Jacob (Gen. 50:10). A seven-day period is also mentioned in Job’s case, when his three friends commiserated with him, weeping, and rending their robes, sprinkling dust upon their heads and sitting on the ground for seven days and nights (Job 2:12-13).
Notwithstanding these citations that have a direct bearing on our practice of holding a seventh-day service at the gravesite, 14th century theologian St. Gregory of Datev, states in his Book of Questions (p. 391) that our tradition is based on the Divine command citied in Numbers 19:11-12:
He who touches the dead body of a person shall be unclean seven days; he shall cleanse himself with the water on the third day and on the seventh day, and so be clean; but if he does not cleanse himself on the third day and the seventh day, he will not become clean.
St.Gregory of Datev also refers to a third-day service, which is no longer observed for laymen. In a Christian context the seventh-day cleansing precess is for the deceased. The prayer of the seventh-day service [yotnorek] states: Receive [O lord] his/her soul in a place of light and in a place of rest, among the saints and the ranks of the righteous, and rest him/her in the lap of Abraham with your other illustrious saints. The key worked here is the Armenian soorp [saint], which means ‘one who has been cleanses.’ The seventh-day service also marks the end of intense mourning on the part of the bereaved.
The forty-day mourning period
The fort days of mourning [karasoonk] says St. Gregory of Datev, has as precedent the wailing over Jacob/Israel. But his comment and our tradition are based neither on the Hebrew Scriptures nor on the present reading of the Septuagint, but on the ancient Armenian version of the Bible, which reads: and the embalmers embalmed [literally, covered] Israel. And his forty days were fulfilled; for so were the days numbered of those who were buried.
We see in the Old Testament, and know from various Armenian writers that besides wailing for the dead and other similar expressions of grief, the bereaved abstained from eating rich foods, drinking and even bathing. The association of mourning with fasting and example of Jacob presumably led to the present practice of observing a forty-day mourning period we observe today. The practice was probably further developed under the influence of the forty-day Lenten period, during which the Church requires absolute abstinence from rich foods. The Fortieth day of the internment marks the end of mourning, when the bereaved make a request for and participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, then go to the gravesite for a requiem service. Today the requiem service is held in the church, with a shorter service at the gravesite.
First anniversary requiem
The significance of the first anniversary [dareleets] of the internment and the annual observance of the burial are not clear, but the Book of Rituals does mention the dareleets and the tradition has been retained. At the first anniversary the family of the deceased makes a request for and participates in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, and proceeds to the gravesite for a requiem service. Today the requiem service is held in the church, with a shorter service at the gravesite. The other anniversaries can be observed in the same manner. The annual observance is probably ancient, since it was faithfully implemented in the case of martyrs.
In the case of the karasoonk, the dareleets and the subsequent annual observances, the bereaved ask for the celebration of the Divine Liturgy. This is important to know, since the Divine Liturgy is celebrated for both the living and for the members of the ‘victorious church.’ In the Medieval times, people made substantial donations to monastic institutions and requested for the celebration oft eh Divine Liturgy on behalf of the souls of their beloved. The inscriptions on the walls of monasteries bear witness to this practice.
Q: What are the sacraments or “mysteries” of the Armenian Church?
A: The sacraments of the Armenian Church, referred to as Mysteries [khoroort] in Armenian, are:
1) Baptism: the Mystery whereby a person is cleansed of his/her original sin by means of the consecrated (water blessed with Holy Chrism or Myron) water and the prayers of the rite of Baptism. As a result of the cleansing in the font of the church a person is reborn in Christ and is accepted as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ. Christ commanded his disciples to baptize: All authority in heaven and on earth has been given th3e name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observer all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20) He also stated, He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. (Mark 16:16).
2) Chrismation is the sealing of the blessing with Holy Chrism [Myron]. The Mystery, specifically the Holy Chrism, is the symbol of the grace from above and of the Holy Spirit. The application of the Holy Chrism to the forehead, eyes, mouth, ears, heart, back and feet of the baptized faithful seals him/her to keep intact the Divine gifts given to him/her.
3) Penance is feeling remorse for the sins one has committed. The faithful Christian must first accept in his heart his sinfulness, confess his sins before God in the presence of a priest, make a commitment not to repeat what he has done and try to cleanse himself by fasting, praying and doing good deeds.
4) Holy Communion, the Mystery of Mysteries, is putting oneself in union with Christ by partaking of His body and blood. Receiving Holy Communion is essential for salvation. The body and the blood of the Lord will not only cleanse one of his sins, but also make him an adopted child of God the Father.
5) Matrimony is the Mystery whereby a Christian man marries a Christian woman in order to form a permanent and indissoluble union with God’s blessing. In Christ’s words, So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder. (Mathew, 19:5-6).
6) Anointing of the sick is the Mystery whereby the sick, particularly those who are about to die, are anointed with blessed oil, which is different from Holy Chrism. The purpose of the Mystery is to cleanse the sick from their sins. In the Armenian Church the anointing is actually applied at the time of the baptism, since one has no knowledge when he will become sick or when he will die. Over the centuries the tradition has fallen out of practice in the Armenian Church and the anointing has been replaced with the practice of the priest laying his right hand o the hand-cross on the head of the sick.
7) Ordination is the Mystery whereby an individual is ordained by laying of hands. A Christian must be ordained in order to serve in church, to preach the Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to perform the sacraments and act as God’s instrument in the Mystery of Divine grace being granted to the faithful. While all the ordained – including clerks, sub-deacons and deacons – serve in church, only priest and bishops can perform the sacraments.
Q: Why is the body of a deceased clergyman consecrated with Holy Chrism during the Burial Service in Church? Were laymen also anointed in the old days?
A: In the days of old the Armenian Church may have anointed the bodies of laymen with Holy Chrism (Greek: Myron, Armenian: Myooron), but there is no evidence for such an assumption. The Latin rite of the extreme unction, one of the seven sacraments of the Roman Catholic church, which was administered to the sick or on a person about to die, may have given rise to the assumption. Since 1972, the Roman Catholic Church has adopted the term ‘Anointing of the Sick,’ and does not restrict the rite to people who are about to die.
In the Armenian Church the extreme unction is actually administered at the time of the Baptism, particularly at Chrismation. In addition, the Armenian Church ahs the tradition of anointing the sick with blessed oil or water into which Holy Chrism has been poured during the Blessing of Water service in memory of the Lord’s Baptism at Theophany.
The anointment of the body of a deceased clergyman with Holy Chrism has nothing to do with extreme unction or anointing the sick. Otherwise the rite would have been administered prior to death. Our present practice goes back to the early years of Christianity in the East where deceased clergymen, monks and “holy people,” were anointed with oil right after the delivery of the Kiss of Peace during the Divine Liturgy.
The tradition of anointing is described in the Ecclesiastical Hierarchy of Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite, who admits that the funeral of clergymen differs from that of laymen. The significance of the oil, according to Dionysius, is parallel to that of the oil of the Baptism. In the first cause the oil seals the initiated to face the challenges and temptations of life, and in the second case it indicates that the deceased priest has successfully ended his struggle and mission in this life and is ready to embrace eternity. In both cases, the oil/chrism serves as a seal of protection. Note that anointing the dead was an ancient tradition in theMiddle Eastand the relics of martyrs and saints were also anointed with oil.
In the Armenian tradition, the ordinary oil used for funerary purposes was replaced with Holy Chrism, and instead of the Chrismation at Baptism, the anointment at ordination was considered to be the parallel to the anointment of a deceased clergyman. Thus, in both situations the presiding bishop anoints the forehead and the palm of the right hand. The consecration of the ordination and the final anointment of the deceased put the clergyman, for the last time, in a position of being an intermediary between the flock and Christ.
In the present burial service, as in ordination, the anointing precedes the Kiss of Peace, and the kiss is actually received from the priest who has just been anointed. During the Divine Liturgy, the Kiss of Peace is derived directly from the chalice resting on the altar – the crucified Christ who is on the cross [the alter] is pouring on us the grace of the Holy Spirit. The medium is the celebrant priest who passes the “greeting” to the deacon and the congregation.
At an ordination or at a funeral of a deceased priest, the Kiss of Peace is derived both from the chalice on the altar and the Holy Chrism, the symbol of the Holy Spirit. Having received the anointment by chrism, the newly ordained and the deceased clergyman pass the Kiss of Peace to the congregation, the former doing it for the first time and the latter for the last time.
The liturgical background and practice are important for understaind the symbolism of anointing the deceased clergyman. The meaning of the symbolism is explained in the prayers read just before and after the anointment and the Kiss of Peace. The presiding bishop at the clergyman’s funeral reads the prayers on behalf of the entire congregation and implores God to accept the “greeting” [voghchuyn] of the deceased priest top the congregation. He also asks Christ to hear the congregation’s supplications and pour like an abundant spring the grace of the Holy Spirit on the deceased clergyman, who is referred to as a “precious treasure” and a “temple of His sacred will.” These expressions refer to the deceased clergyman’s function as a mediator between the congregation and Christ and as the administrator of the sacraments. As a priest the deceased clergyman had been constantly in spiritual and physical contact with holiness. He served in body and soul as an instrument of God in this material world in order to carry out His will.
Now that he has completed his mission in this life, we pray: that “by means of the this holy oil with which we anoint,” his remains which have been in contact with holiness, “receive the power of healing and repelling the dark host of demons and [may be] a great glory to life and a splendid hope to those professing the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” We find similar expressions used for the relives of saints for the same reason.
The bishop also begs Christ, always in the congregation’s name, to accept the administered unction so that the deceased would attain the laurel of victory – in other words, dwell in the company of martyrs and saints. He also asks God “to make his memory shine in His church and amidst His people.”
These statements concur with the examples cited in the prayers taken from the Scriptures. The priest is likened to Old Testament figures that foreshadowed Christ as high priest and with the Holy Apostles that were given the priestly authority by Christ. Finally reference is made to the face that the priest as celebrant of the Divine Liturgy is like Christ. Though his demise marks the end of his priestly function in this life, the holiness with which his body has been in contact does not fade away. The seal or the chrism protects the body, so that it may continue to be a source of inspiration for the growth of our faith.
The funeral ceremony for a priest, like that of ordination, is a very moving experience and it indeed nourishes faith. In a way it is like the consecration of an inanimate object wherein holiness dwells.
Q: What other languages was the Holy Bible translated to before the Armenian version?
A: Forming a chronological chart of the ancient versions (translations into ancient languages) of the Holy Bible is a very complex task.
The Hebrew Old Testament had been translated into Aramaic at different times and places. Aramaic was the lingua franca (common language) of the ancientMiddle Eastand the major means of communication especially for the merchant class. The Old Testament in Aramaic is known as Targum, or Targumim in the plural form. According to the Hebraic tradition, it originated at the time of the return of the Jewish people from their exile inBabylonia(after 538 b.c.).
A Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament was produced inEgyptin the court of King Ptomely II Philadephus (283-246 b.c.). According to tradition, seventy scholars worked on this translation. The version is known as the Septuagint (‘seventy’ in Latin). The Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches, including the Armenian Church use this version of the Old Testament, which also includes the apocryphal books that are not a part of the present Hebrew and Protestant canons. There is plenty of evidence indicating that the Septuagint was the Old Testament version used throughout the early Christian Church. It was revised in the course of the first and Second centuries for further accuracy.
Before anything is said about the Christian Scriptures, it is important to note that the books of the Bible (48 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament) were not originally bound under one cover until the ninth century in the West and the 12th century inArmenia. At the earliest phase, the Bible would be circulated in parts; the earliest translations also appeared piecemeal.
Since the Old Testament already existed in Greek, the early Christian Bible incorporated the Septuagint version into the Christian Bible and adde3d to it the Gospels, Acts of the Apostles, the epistles and the Revelation of John, which were in Greek. Some scholars believe some of the material in the New Testament may have been originally written in Aramaic, but these originals had already disappeared before the formation of the Christian canon of the Holy Scriptures, which finalized in the fourth century.
Parts of the Greek New Testament were first translated into Latin at the end of the Second century. The Septuagint was also available in a Latin translation. The Vulgate version, which ultimately replaced the older translations, includes some older translations (later edited bySt. Jeromein the late fourth century), some ofSt. Jerome’s translations and also the apocryphal books.
Parts of the Old Testament had already been translated to Syriac, a dialect of Aramaic, at an early time by Jewish immigrants in Northern Syria and particularly inNorthern Iraqwhere in the first century the royal family had converted to Judiasm. In the Second century a Syrian by the name of Tatian harmonized the four Gosples, which he presumably read in Greek and produced a “concordance,” or a single harmonized text. The four Gospels were not translated into Syriac until about the fifth century and they are contemporaneous with the Armenian version. The Syriac version known as the Peshitta is a revised edition of all the earlier translations into Syriac and is from the fifth century.
Parts of the Holy Bible were translated into Coptic, a later form of ancient Egyptian, in the course of the third century. From the fourth century there are fragments in both the Sahidic and the Bohairic dialects.
The Gothic, a Germanic language, version was produced in the second half of the fourth century. Parts of the New Testament and a small part of the Old Testament have survived.
Some of the Ethiopic versions of the New Testament are also early and may pre-day or may be contemporaneous with the Armenian version.
Q: What are the books of the bible used by the Armenian Church?
A: The official bible of the Armenian Church is the New Revised Edition. The books of the bible according to Armenian Church canon law are the following:
v The Book of Joshua
v The Book of Judges
v The First Book of Samuel
v The Second Book of Samuel
v The First Book of Kings
v The Second Book of Kings [The Armenian lists the Books of Samuel and the Kings as First, Second, Third, and Fourth.]
v The First Book of the Chronicles
v The Second Book of the Chronicles
v The First Book of Esdras [The Second Book exists, but is uncanonical.]
v The Book of Ezra
v The Book of Nehemiah
v Esther [The Armenian includes the apocryphal sections]
v The First Book of the Maccabees
v The Second Book of the Maccabees
v The Third Book of the Maccabees [The Fourth Book does not exist in Armenian]
v The Song of Songs
v The Wisdom of Solomon
v Ecclesiastes or the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach
v The Book of Job
v The Book of the Prophet Isaiah
v The Book of the Prophet Jeremiah
v Lamentations of Jeremiah
v The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel
v The Book of the Prophet Daniel [Includes: the Song of the Three; Daniel and Susanna; Daniel, Bel, and the Snake]
v Letter of James
v The First Letter of Peter
v The Second Letter of Peter
v The First Letter of John
v The Second Letter of John
v The third Letter of John
v Letter of Jude
v First Corinthians
v Second Corinthians
v First Thessalonians
v Second Thessalonians
v First Timothy
v Second Timothy
v Revelations [Translated into Armenian only in the 8th century; completed, revised and reedited at the end of the 12th century]
Q: Who selects the Bible verses that are read during Holy Badarak?
A: The Scriptural readings in the Armenian Church are compiled in a large book called Joshots Keerk, Armenian for ‘Lectionary.’ The Jashots Keerk contains all the selections that are read at the Noon Hour or Jashoo Zham and includes non-Scriptural material such as the calendar, as well as homilies and prayers, and so on, that are read on special occasions. It does not include selections that are read during the different offices or hours, during special services and the sacraments.
The Armenian Jashots Keerk is based on the fourth century lectionary of the Church of Jerusalem, which was brought to Armenia and adapted for liturgical use in the Armenian Church sometime after the invention of the Armenian alphabet in 405 but before the middle of the fifth century. Since the lectionary of the Church of Jerusalem has not reached us, modern scholars use the Medieval versions of the Armenian lectionary in order to reconstruct the Jerusalem lectionary. Over the centuries the fathers of the Armenian Church enriched the lectionary with additional selections. The major editorial changes were made in the 12th century.
The Jashots Keerk begins with Armenian Christmas (January 6) and ends with January 5. On fasting days (Wednesday, Fridays, special fasts preceding major feasts and Lent) there are no reading from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophets, from the Apostolic epistles, and the four Gospels. On the first four days of the Fast of the Catechumens, which falls during the third week before the beginning of Lent, there are no Scriptural readings at all. During the course of the year, the entire New Testament, with the exception ofSt. Paul’s letter to Philemon and the Book of Revelation, is read more than twice.
The Scriptural readings for all the occasions are to be found in the Book of Hours [Zhamakeerk] and the Book of Rituals [Mayr Mashdots]. All of these selections were made centuries ago by the fathers of the Armenian Church. Thanks to these arrangements, on a given day or during a given service the same selections are read in the Armenian churches throughout the world.
Saints and Feasts
Q: How is commemorating a saint different than remembering him or her?
A: Commemorating a saint is different from remembering him/her. Commemoration is a liturgical practice, as the name of the saint is mentioned and his/her intercession is sought during the liturgical hours of the day and during the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, if the Divine Liturgy is celebrated on that day. Since the liturgical calendar is based on the date of Easter and since there are several dominical days and about 150 days of fasting during a given liturgical year, saints can be commemorated only on a limited number of days:
- The period between the Octave of Theophany and the beginning of Lent,
- The Saturdays of Lent,
- The period after the six-day celebration of Pentecost,
- The period after Transfiguration,
- The period after the nine-day celebration of Assumption,
- The period after the six-day celebration of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross,
- The advent season.
As a result, only a limited number of saints can be commemorated, most of them in groups, and their feast days depend on the movable date of Easter.
The selection of the days of commemoration has nothing to do with dates of martyrdom or burial. The present arrangement, based on the seven-day-per-week cycle of the old lunar calendar, goes back to the 12th and 13th centuries, when the fathers of the Armenian Church put the church calendar in its final form as we know it today. Thereafter only minor changes were introduces in the 18th century.
There appears to be no specific reason why Vartanants and Ghevontyantz are celebrated in February and not at any other time. The 12th and 13th century fathers used an old calendar, also lunar in nature, inherited form the fourth century Church of Jerusalem that had several nondominical and non-fasting days that were open/. They simply filled in the unoccupied days with fasts of saints.
Despite its movable nature, the liturgical year does have certain set dates, of which January 6 is a good example. If a saint’s commemoration coincides with a dominical feast that has a set date, the precedence is given to the dominical feast. For example, the Presentation of the Lord in theTemplealways falls on February 14. Occasionally Vartanants may coincide with that feast. In such situations the precedent is given to the Feast of the Presentation and Vartanants is moved from the Thursday preceding the beginning of Lent to the Monday of the same week.
Q: How does the Armenian Church view Mary, Mother-of-God?
A: While there is no uncertainty in the Armenian Church and the Roman Catholic Church that Mary was indeed the mother of Jesus, the two churches maintain differences in the beliefs and traditions regarding her conception and her death.
Briefly stated, the Armenian Church venerates the Holy Virgin as the Theotokos [Greek] or Asvadzadzeen [Armenian], which means “Bearer-of-God.” We believe she was born human and therefore not free of original sin at the time of her conception. When Christ was conceived in her of the Holy Spirit, and not of human seed, she was cleansed of all sin and continued after His birth to live a sinless, stainless life. She died and was bodily carried to heaven as the ancient tradition maintains according to Armenian Church doctrine.
The Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 491-492), the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ our Savior, “was redeemed from the moment of her conception.” This teaching, which has a long history in the West but was unknown in Armenian circles, was not accepted as a Roman Catholic dogma until 1854, when Pope Pius IX issued an encyclical (Ineffabilis Deus) declaring that Mary “from the first moment of her conception…was by God’s grace and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ…immune from all stain of original sin.”
In the Armenian tradition there is no mention of the Holy Virgin’s conception until the 14th century. It was during the late Cilician period that he Armenian Church fathers became aware of some of the questions about the Holy Virgin’s conception under discussion among the theologians of the Roman Catholic Church. The Feast of the Virgin’s Conception, which is now celebrated on December 9, was not introduced into the Armenian tradition until the 17th Century, and it was done so under Western influence.
The earliest Armenian discussion about the Conception of the Virgin is to be found in St. Gregory of Datev’s Book of Questions, where he upholds the view that is traditional in the East. According to this, the Holy Virgin was free of the seven cardinal sins and all the forgivable sins, but show as now immune from original sin, with which all humans are born. According to St.Gregory of Datev, the Holy Virgin was cleansed of original sin by the Holy Spirit at the time of Annunciation. Christ, taking body from the Holy Virgin, took the original sin of mankind on himself and took it with him onto the cross: He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Peter 2:24). The Armenian Church’s view of the Holy Virgin in this matter is best summarized by the 12th Century Catholicos St. Nerses the Graceful, who states: The Virgin Mary, from whom he took flesh, was of the peccable nature of Adam [the nature being] united with the divine nature of God, the peccable became impeccable…
The Eastern Orthodox and the Armenian veneration of the Assumption of the Holy Virgindoes not differ from that of the Roman Catholic dogma, which implies that Mary did not die because of her immunity from original sin. The Assumption has been declared a dogma ever since 1950 by Pope Pius XII.
Mary, The Ever-Virgin
The epithet ‘Ever-Virgin’ is used not only by Orthodox Christians, but also by Roman Catholics. The Catechism of the Catholic Church ahs a section on the subject of ‘Ever-Virgin’ consisting of three paragraphs (499-501).
The Armenian Church, like the other ancient churches, believes that the virgin birth of Christ did not dissolve the virginity of Mary, since Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit and not by human seed. She continued to live a sinless, stainless and a pure existence after giving birth to the Savior of the world, since she had been cleansed by the Holy Spirit in order to serve as the receptacle of the Word of God.
Joseph’s other children
As for the Biblical personalities James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, they are called brothers of Christ in Matthew 13:55, where some sisters are also mentioned but their names are not given. In chapter 27:56 Matthew refers to James and Joseph as being the children of another Mary who were close relatives of Jesus. The Greek words for brother and sister, namely adelphos and adelpha, can also mean male and/or female relative, and hence the confusion about Mary having other children. The view that Joseph had children from previous marriage who were Jesus’ stepbrothers is a traditional one that we encounter also in Armenian writings.
Q: Do other Christian denominations honor or acknowledge Armenian Saints? Do we honor or acknowledge saint other than the shared saints like the Holy Apostles?
A: During the course of the liturgical year, the Armenian Church commemorates hundreds of saints of both Armenian and non-Armenian origin, saints of non-Armenian origin comprising the majority. It is almost impossible to give a precise number, since many saints are associated with groups and some of these are in the thousands.
All saints are remembered usually on the day of their execution and/or burial. Of these only a few hundred are commemorated. While the remembrance day is set by month and date, the commemoration-day is not, since the liturgical year is based on Easter Sunday, which has no set date and moves between March 22 and April 25.
On the commemoration day of a saint the deacon and the priest seek his/her intercession in some of the biddings and ascriptions. In churches named after a saint, the Divine Liturgy may be celebrated on the particular saint’s day during the weekday and the saint’s/saints’ name/names is/are mentioned during the Eucharist.
On the day of remembrance, the life of the saint is read in church by a reader and his/her intercession is sought. The reading, according to the present practice in the St. James Monastery inJerusalem, takes place in church in mid-afternoon and is not considered to be one of the liturgical hours.
The saints of the Armenian Church can be categorized into three major groups: Old Testament saints, New Testament saints and post-Biblical saints. The Armenian Church shares with the other ancient churches the Old Testament, the New Testament and many of the post-Biblical saints, that is those who flourished until 451, the year when a major split on theological grounds occurred among the Christian Church of the East.
Among the post-Biblical saints there are some that are of Armenian origin. A few of these, particularly the ones from Armenia Minor andCappadociato the west of Greater Armenia, are well known to Westerners and are accepted as major saints. One of the best known is St. Blaise or Blasius, who is still very popular in the Latin West and is considered to be the patron of the sick. As for the saints of Greater Armenia, many of them are of Armenian origin, but there are some who are not.St.Gregory the Illuminator – the only saint of the Church of Armenia who is well known throughout the Orthodox , the Latin and the Anglican worlds – is a good example, since according to tradition he was of Parthian ancestry and according to modern studies, a Greek-speaking missionary of Cappadocian origin.
Q: Who are the saints mentioned during the Divine Liturgy and why are they singled out?
During the course of the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, right after the celebrant blesses the bread and the wine and prays that God make them truly the body and blood of our Lord (called the Epiclesis), he continues to beg the Lord quietly so that through the Holy Sacrifice He may “give rest to all who aforetime have fallen asleep in Christ, to the forefathers, deacons, and the whole clergy,” as well as “to all the laity, men and women, who have died in the faith.” Following this prayer, he mentions, out loud, the names of:
- Mary, Mother-of-God,
- St.John the Baptist,
- the pronto-martyr Stephen,
- And all the saints.
Thereafter the deacons begin to chant and mention , without giving names the holy Apostles, the prophets, the vartabeds, the martyrs, all the holy patriarchs, the apostolic bishops, the presbyters, the orthodox deacons and all the saints. If the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated on the commemoration day of a saint, they give his name. After the response of the clerks, the deacons mention by name the leaders of our church:
- St. Thaddeus
- St.Gregory the Illuminator
- St.Mesrob Mashdots
- St.Gregory of Nareg
- St.Nerses the Graceful
- St.Hovhannes of Vorotun
- St.Kreekor of Datev
- St.Movses of Datev
- the Kreekoreesians
- the Nerseesians
In a second presentation of names, the deacons chant and mention the holy anchorites:
- St. Paul
- the abbotSt.mark
- the Hovannesians
- the Simeonians
- the Vosgians
- the Sookians
The third presentation includes the names of the early Christian kings:
- St. Abgarius
- St.Constantine the Great
This section in the Divine Liturgy is referred to as the Diptychas, which is a Greek derivative from di, meaning two andptychon, meaning folder. The reading was originally presented aloud from a two-leaved folder, on which the names of the saints were written. For a brief history and commentary on the liturgical symbolism and significance of the diptychs Abp. Tiran Nersoyan’s notes on the Divine Liturgy, (Divine Liturgy, 1950, pp. 307-308) are very useful. The following is a section of tat note that explains the Biblical foundation of why we pray for the deceased, be they saints or ordinary folk:
St. Paul says that the Eucharist is an anticipation of God’s judgment. It is an occasion on which God’s judgment is pre-exercised (1 Cor. 11:29-32). The judgment is the act of God by which each soul receives his reward or punishment in accordance with his merits in the sight of God. The judgment moreover is the moment when the souls of the faithful “are gathered together” in the Kingdom of Heaven. That is the reason why the dead are mentioned in the Holy Sacrifice.
The souls of those who have died in Christ and the souls of the saints belong to the corporate body of Christ, i.e., the Church, and therefore they cannot be left out of any vital act of the Church. Prayers “for them that are asleep in Christ” will link their souls with those of the living, so that “the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love (Eph. 4:16).
Thus the Diptychs signify and emphasize the fact that the souls of the dead are part of the living body of Christ and that they also rise with Christ.
When the general intercessions are made during the Diptychs, the faithful should remember and pray for the faithful of the past ages, who lived and died in Christ and who carried forward and handed down the faith to the succeeding generations. The members of the congregation would recall and realize the fact that they belong to the same spiritual family under the fatherhood of God and that the souls of the dead in Christ speak and work in and through them.
During the Special Intercessions each one of the faithful should remember and pray for their own dead, belonging to the immediate circle of their family, relatives, friends, and acquaintances. They should also especially remember and pray for them for which the prayers of the congregation have been requested through announcement in the church.
In the earliest Armenian liturgy from first decades of the fifth century, which is attributed to St. Basil, bishop of Caesarea, the Diptychs consisted of a long prayer, wherein the celebrant mentions only the names of the bishop (hayrabed in Armenian) and the presiding king(s). This does not mean that the diptychs at the time did not include the names of martyrs and saints. On the contrary, there is evidence in the works of our fifth century writers that the names of saints and martyrs were indeed mentioned during the Diving Liturgy, but these names were not included in the written text of the liturgy.
During the second half of the fifth century, the Liturgy of St. Basil was replaced with another Cappadocian Liturgy, which forms the core of our present liturgy. Some of the anmes mentioned during the Diptychs were incorporated in the text of the liturgy. The text that we have from the 10th century includes the names of the Holy Mother-of-God, John the Baptist, Stephen the Proto-martyr, Peter, Paul and St. Gregory the Illuminator. These were the only names mentioned during the Divine Liturgy under ordinary circumstances. But Bishop Khosrov of Antzev (10th century), in his Commentary on the Divine Liturgy (St. Vartan Press, 1991), instructs that besides the Mother-of-God,St. John the Baptist andSt. Stephen, the names of other saints should be mentioned only on Easter Sunday and be grouped according to categories, such as patriarchs, prophets, apostles, bishops, martyrs, priests, deacons, chosen women, women martyrs, saintly kings, saintly princes, holy vartabeds, virtuous fathers and martyrs, abbots and all the ascetics.
During the period from the 10th century to the end of the 12th century, the names of a select list of saints representing some of the above categories, and for the most part corresponding to the names we mention in our present practice, were incorporated into the text of the Divine Liturgy.
First and foremost among the saints mentioned during the Diptychs is the Holy Mother-of-God because of her special relationship with Christ. The Holy Virgin is greatly venerated by the Christians of the East and particularly Armenians, who have many churches and monasteries dedicated to her. The first and foremost among thee is the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. During the liturgical year we commemorate Mary’s Mothehood on January 5, her Conception by the Holy Spirit on April 7, the discovery of her chest on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost, her birth on September 8, her Dormition and Ssumption on the Sunday nearest August 15, the discovery of her belt on the third Sunday after the Assumption, her presentation in the temple on November 21, and her conception by St. Ann on December 9. In the fifth/sixth centuries, the feasts of the Virgin were all held during the Octave of Theophany, that is, the period from January 6 to January 13.
The Holy Virgin’s name is followed by those of two other biblical figures, St.Johnthe Baptist and St. Stephen the proto-martyr. In the Armenian Chruch St.John is honored not only as the person who baptized Christ, but also as Christ’s fore3runner [Garabed].St. John is also very popular among the Armenians, since his relives were brought by St. Gregory the Illuminator and distributed to various sites inArmenia where churches and monasteries were built bearing his name. The side altar in the southern apse of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin is dedicated to him. He is commemorated on at least three different occasions during the course of the liturgical year; his birth is noted right after the Octave of Theophany, his execution is marked six days after Easter, and the laying of his relives eleven days after Pentecost.
St.Stephen, as his epithet indicates, is the first martyr of the newly established Christian Church. St. Stephen was also a popular saint inArmenia, which many churches and monasteries dedicated to him. The side altar in the northern apse of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin and the ancient vestry/chapel attached to the north wall of St. James Cathedral inJerusalemare dedicated to him. He is commemorated in late December.
The present litany of the deacon does not include any names for the listed categories of apostles, prophets, [deceased] vartabeds, martyrs, patriarch, bishops, presbyters and deacons. Names of such people were probably excluded because of the growing number of saints in these categories. Instead we now mention the name(s) of the saint(s) on whose day of commemoration the Divine Liturgy is being celebrated. In the Eastern World the Divine Liturgy is rarely celebrated during the week when the saints’ commemorations are observed. But in the monasteries the Divine Liturgy was frequently celebrated on weekdays for the souls of benefactors, and in Holy Jerusalem it is still celebrated on a daily basis over the tome of Christ and elsewhere. During such liturgies the saint(s) whose name(s) is/are registered in the official calendar of the church [Donatsooyts] is/are mentioned during the Diptychs.
The leaders of our church deserved special attention, since among them were the great fathers and saints of our church. Among these are the two Apostles of Armenia, Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew, who were the first to have preached the faith in our country. It’s curious that the lat 12th century text of the liturgy used by Archbishop Nerses of Lampron does not include the name of St. Bartholomew. Both Apostles are commemorated together in late November or early December. St. Thaddeus is also commemorated with St. Santookhd on the Saturday following the feast of the Transfiguration.
The name of St. Gregory the Illuminator follows those of the two apostles for obvious reasons, since he is considered to be the enlightener of the entire Armenian nation. We commemorate him on three different occasions, the first marks his entering the deep pit on the Saturday following the fifth Sunday of Lent, the second marks his delivery from the deep pit on the Saturday following the fifth Sunday of Lent, the second marks his delivery from the deep pit on the Saturday following the first Sunday after Pentecost, and the third marks the discovery of his relics on the Saturday following the Third Sunday after Pentecost.
His two sons, Areestages and Vrtanes, who ascended to their father’s position as chief bishops ofArmenia, are also important figures on the history of our Church.St.Areesdages did not only participate in the Holy Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, but also died as a martyr. His participation in the Council of Nicaea would have qualified him as a saint, since the Church venerates the 318 patriarchs of that convocation. His elder brother, St. Vrtanes, to our knowledge died in peaceful circumstances, but was miraculously saved from being killed by a pagan mob.
St.Vrtanes’ two sons, Hooseeg and Greegorees, were both martyrs. St. Hooseeg succeeded his father as chief bishop of Armenia. He was persecuted by the Armenian King Deeran for his adherence to the orthodox faith and was clubbed for speaking out against the iniquities of the king. The severe injuries that he suffered were the cause of his untimely death. St. Greegorees had been assigned as the pastor of the Caucasian Albanians and the Georgians. While preaching the moral principles of the Gospels he aroused the wrath of a semi-barbaric Albanian tribal leader and his subjects, who had him executed in a most barbaric manner.
Nerses, whose name is mentioned after Greegorees, is the renowned fourth century church father St. Nerses the Great, the most important bishop ofArmeniaafter ST. Gregory the Illuminator. He was St. Hooseeg’s grandson who ascended the throne of his ancestors and reformed the Armenian Church by establishing the earliest charitable institutions in the land. Inseparable from his name are those of Bishop Khat and Bishop Daniel. The former was Nerses’ vicar and assistant. Daniel, on the other hand, had been St. Gregory’s pupil and the person who administered the possessions and jurisdictions of the Gregorid chief bishops. He was renowned for his saintly life and his devotion to the Church.
St.Gregory’s children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and their associates are commemorated together on the Saturday following the Second Sunday of Transfiguration. St.Areesdages is also commemorated with the 318 patriarchs of the Council of Nicaea on the Saturday following the Third Sunday of assumption. The discovery of St.Greegorees’ relics has a special day of commemoration, which falls on the Monday following the fifth Sunday of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. St. Nerses the Great and his associate Bishop Khat are commemorated together on the Saturday following the Second Sunday after Pentecost. The hymn of that day suggests that the feast marks the discovery of his relives in the 13th century.
The last in the line of the bishops from the family of St. Gregory was St. Sahag the Parthian. His name is associated with the beginning of Armenian literature and the translation of the Holy Scriptures into Armenian. Closely associated with his name is that of St. Mesrob Mashdots, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet. It’s important to note that in the liturgy that Abp. Nerses of Lampron had before his eyes, the section on the fathers of the Armenian Church ended with St. Sahag the Parthian. St Sahag is commemorated twice a year, the first on the Saturday right before the Sunday preceding the Poon paregentan Sunday (beginning of Lent), and on the Thursday following the fourth Sunday after Pentecost. On this occasion he is commemorated as a Translator (Tarkmaneech) with his associate St. Mesrob Mashdots.
In our present practice, during the diptychs we also mention the names of the following saints: St. Mesrob Mashdots, St. Gregory of Nareg, St. Nerses the Graceful, St. John of Vorotun, St. Gregory of Datev, St. Movses of Datev, the Kreekoreesians and the Nerseesians. We have already mentioned St. Mesrob. St. Gregory of Nareg, who lived in the 10th century, was a saintly vartabed who lived and flourished in the monastery of Nareg to the south of Lake Van. St. Gregory spent all of his life as a solitary studying and teaching the Holy Scriptures. He is best known for his Biblical commentaries and a collection of prayers which are compiled in his Book of Lamentations, popularly referred to as Nareg. St. Nerses the Graceful presided as catholicos of All Armenians from 1166-1173. Renowed for his saintly life, ecumenical spirit and poetical talent, he enriched the Armenian Hymnal, the Book of Hours and the Lectionary with numerous songs, hymns, prayers and rubrics. Internationally recognized as one of the greatest ecumenists of his time, St. Nerses was a great Armenian theologian who defended the orthodoxy of our faith. St. Gregory of Nareg and St. Nerses the Graceful are commemorated with the rest of the Holy Translators (Tarkmaneechk) on the Saturday following the fourth Sunday if the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The feast of the Holy Translators is usually in mid-October.
St.John of Vorotun and his pupil St. Gregory of Datev are foremost representatives of learned doctors of the alter Middle Ages. They lived in the course of the 14th century. Both men were well versed in ancient Greek philosophy to Christian theology. St. Gregory familiarized himself with the European scholastic tradition and wrote an extensive work called Book of Questions, which is still a very useful source for students of Armenian theology. These saints are commemorated on the Saturday following the Third Sunday of Lent.
St.Movses of Datev, Catholicos from 1629-1633, was the leader of the 17th century movement that revived the Armenian Church and motivated the young generation to turn to spiritual and intellectual pursuits. He restored the dignity and the authority of the Catholicate of All Armenians.
In churches under the jurisdiction of the Armenian patriarchate of Jerusalem, mention is made during the Divine Liturgy of two other local saints, Patriarchs Gregory Baronder and Gregory the Chain bearer. The frist lived in the first half of the 17thcentury and the second in the 18th century. Both men were instrumental in saving the Armenian belonging inJerusalem and paying off the heavy debts of the patriarchate.
The Kreekorians and the Nerseesians are the catholicos of the Bahlavoonee clan, who presided from 1066-1203, and certain bishops of the same family. Originally one of the noble houses formed under the early Bagratid kings in the second half of the ninth century, the Bahlavoonee emerged as a very important family, in whose ranks were generals, statesman and the most learned Armenian layman in the Middle Ages, namely Prince Gregory Magistros, who later became the Byzantine Duke of Mesopotamia. Gregory was the ancestor of the Bahlavoonee line of catholicos. The first in the line was his son Prince Vahram, who was renamed Gregory at the time of his ordination as a priest. Kreekorian and Nerseesian catholicos include the following:
- Catholicos Gregory II surnamed the Martyrophile (1066-1105);
- his nephew Parsegh (Basil, 1106-1113);
- Martyrophile’s grand nephew Gregory III (1113-1166);
- Gregory III’s brother Nerses the Graceful (1166-1173);
- Nerses the Graceful’s nephew Gregory IV Dgha (1173-1193);
- Nerses the Graceful’s grand nephew Gregory V Karavezh (1193-1194);
- Nerses the Graceful’s other newphew Gregory Abeerad (1194-1203);
Bishops of the same Bahlavoonee family included the prelates of the city o fAni as well as the renowned theologian and liturgist Nerses of Lampron, the archbishop of Tarsus. Some scholars based on medieval texts, think that he name of Catholicos Bedros Kedatarts (1019-1058) and that of his nephew Khacheek II (1058-1065) should be added to the above list.
The list of the anachorites or hermits consist mainly of the names of the renowned “Egyptian fathers,” namely Sts. Paul, Anthony, Paulus, Macarrius, Onophrius, the abbot Mark, Serapion, Nilus, Arsenius, Evagrius, Barsumas, and the Armenian hermits, namely the Hovannesians and the Simeonians, as well as the non-Armenian Vosgians and the Sookiasians. The Egyptian fathers, who are commemorated as a group on Thursday following the Second Sunday of Advent, are all contemporaries who lived in the fourth century. The first and earliest anchorite among them wasSt. Paul, who had fled to the deserts of the Thebaid during the persecutions against the Christians under the Emperor Decius in A.D. 249-251. He lived in the desert for ninety-seven years and died at the age of 114. St. Anthony, who was a late contemporary ofSt. Paul, was the founder of the ascetic movement inEgyptand a true champion of the faith. Paulus was an elderly farmer who joinedSt.Anthony in his old age and became an anchorite. Macarius was one ofSt.Anthony’s disciples who lived in the Thebaid desert. Onophrius was still another anchorite fromEgypt. St. Evagrius, a learned man not of Egyptian origin but fromPontuson theBlack Sea, spent his last years in the Egyptian desert, where he was instructed by Macarius and because of his austere way of life became renowned among the anchorites. Evagrius is an important Christian writer. Some of his works, translated into Armenian in the fifth century, have survived. Another disciple of Macarius was Serapion who converted people to the Christian faith during his sojourn inAthensandRome, and ultimately settled down in the Egyptian desert as an anchorite. Nilus and Arsenius were also not natives ofEgypt. Nilus had been a disciple of the renowned St. John Chrysostom, Patriarch of Constantinople. He ultimately chose the ascetic way of life and spent his remaining years in the Monastery of Sinai. Nilus is also a Christian author some of whose works were translated into Armenian. Arsenius was of Roman origin; he went to live in the Egyptian desert, where he spent the rest of his life as an ascetic. St. Marcus the Abbot, an Athenian by birth spent most of his life as a hermit inAfrica. Barsumas, a fourth century bishop ofEdessawas persecuted by the Arian heretics. He was exiled toEgypt, where he spent the rest of his life as an anchorite. The Egyptian fathers were commemorated as a group on the Thursday following the second Sunday of the advent.St.Anthony, however, is commemorated as a major saint during the period right after the Octave of Theophany.
The Hovannesians and Simeonians, who are early fourth century anchorites, are associated with St, Gregory the Illuminator. According to tradition, these saints and their followers, all of them anchorites, lived on a hill in Western Armenia, which was at that time Roman territory. On an occasion when St. Gregory visited them and was about to leave, they asked him if he would visit them again. His answer was that if he could not visit them in life, he would come to them in death. At the end of the fifth century, as some of the relives of St. Gregory were being transported to Constantinopleupon the request of the Roman emperor Zeno (A.D. 474-491), some of St. Gregory’s bones were buried on the above hill, which was named Chorehankeesd [“Mule-rest”]. At that site the Byzantines built a magnificent church in honor of St. Gregory. In the 17th century the site was in Armenian hands and functioned as a monastic institution.
The Vosgians and the Sookiasians are saints of only the Armenian Church. The Vosgians were Roman emissaries sent to the court of the Armenian king Sanadroog for diplomatic reasons. While on their way to the Armenian court, they met the Holy Apostle Thaddeus who converted them and ordained their leader, Vosgee [the Armenian translation of the Greek Chrysos, ‘gold’] by name, as a priest. After the martyrdom of the Holy Apostle, the five comrades withdrew to the remote regions of the country situated at the sources of theEuphratesRiverinWestern Armeniaand lived as anchorites for forty years. Their missionary work led them to death. The Vosgians’ martyrdom took place at the beginning of the Second century. Sookias and his comrades buried their bodies and withdrew to the remote area where the Vosgians had lived.
The Sookiasians were, like their relative queen Satenig, of Alan [modern Ossetian] origin and of noble birth. These eighteen men lived in the wilderness until an emissary from the king of the Alans came to take them back to their land. The Sookiasians refused, knowing well that they would be forced to become apostates. The emissary put sixteen of them to death, sparing only the two youngest among them. These men escaped and continued to live in the mountains as anchorites until the end of their lives. The Vosgians and the Sookiasians are commemorated on the Thursday before the Sunday preceding the Poon Paregentan Sunday (beginning of Lent).
The Armenian Church recognizes as saints a number of kings and princes. Of these only four are mentione3d by name during the Divine Liturgy. Chronologically the first among these is the legendary King Abgar, who according to ancient tradition going back to the third century was a contemporary of Christ and the ruler of thekingdomofOsroene, withEdessaas its capital. The same tradition, based on a document known as the Doctrine of Addai, maintains that Abgar wrote to Christ, inviting him to come toEdessaand heal him from an ailment that could not be prevented by ordinary medication. Christ is said to have sent his disciple Addai (Thadeus) to heal the king. Historical studies over the past 150 years have shown that Abgar was the name of nine successive kings of Edessa, and that the first Abgar to be converted to the Christian faith lived at the beginning of the third century. Although Abgar’s name does not appear in most of the manuscripts of the Divine Liturgy known as Abp. Nerses of Lampron, it does exist in the present text of the liturgy. Today we still venerate Abgar as the first Christian king. He is commemorated on the Saturday following the fourth Sunday of Advent.
The Roman emperor Constantine(306-337) is historically the most important political figure in the history of the entire Christian Church. Although he is said to have converted in his deathbed, he is responsible for the policy of toleration towards Christians and Christian worship within the confines of theRoman Empire. His policy of toleration, initiated in 313 A.D., turned Christianity from an underground religion to an openly practiced faith and ultimately paved the way for the acceptance of Christianity as the state religion of theRoman Empirein the early 390s. We venerateConstantineparticularly for convening the Holy Council of Nicaea, universally recognized for the first of the three Ecumenical Councils.Constantineis commemorated with his mother, the Empress Helena, on the Tuesday following the Third Sunday after Pentecost.
Drtad was the first Christian king of Armenia. His association with St. Gregory the Illuminator is well known. Drtad is the first Christian king to have declared Christianity as the state religion of a country. We venerate him for this and for his pious works. He is commemorated with his wife Queen Ashken and his sister Princess Khosroveetookhd on the Saturday following the fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
In some of the manuscripts of the Divine Liturgy known as Abp. Nerses of Lampron and in some of the manuscripts and editions of the present liturgy the name Theodosius is in the plural, indicating two emperors of the same name. Yet in church we mention only one Theodosius and that is Theodosius I (379-395). Theodosius II (408-450) was the grandson of Theodosius I. Theodosius I was responsible for banishing the remnants of paganism in the Roman Empire and in establishing Christianity as the state religion. He also summoned the Holy Council of Constantinople in 381 A.D., which is universally known as the Second Ecumenical Council. Although his grandson Theodosius II was the emperor who summoned the Third Ecumenical Council atEphesusin 431, and was presumable venerated for that reason, he is not a commemorated saint of our church and his name does not appear in the church calendar. A major reason for dismissing his name from the text of the Divine Liturgy is due to the fact that Theodosius II left unanswered the plea of the Armenians for help in their religious struggle against ZoroastrianPersiain 449-451 and because of that the armies led by St. Vartan Mamigonian suffered defeat at the battle of Avarayr. Theodosius I is commemorated with the Children of Ephesus during the period following the Octave of Theophany.
The Diptychs also include various groups of unnamed deceased Christians: besides saints in general, there are the twelve Apostles, the prophets of old, holy vartabeds, martyrs, all of the holy patriarchs, bishops, presbyters and orthodox deacons, as well as the holy pastors and chief-pastors of Armenia, all the holy fathers and their disciples, pious kings and God-fearing princes, all the faithful – men and women, old and young of every age who have died in faith.
Q: What is the Feast of the Ascension?
A: The feast of Ascension marks the ascent of our Lord Jesus Christ into heaven on the fortieth day after His glorious Resurrection. The timing is clearly specified in the Acts of the Apostles, where it is stated that Christ presented himself alive to the Apostles, “appearing to them during forty days and speaking of thekingdomofGod.” [Acts 1:3] On the fortieth day, after he finished his words to the Apostles, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of sight.” [Acts 1:9] The Gospel according to Mark sums up the same story as follows: “So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” [Mark 16:19] The same account is also in the Gospel according to Luke: “While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven.” [Luke 24:51] There are also several references to this event in some of the other books of the New Testament. From ancient tradition we know that the Ascension of the Lord took place on theMount of Olives. To this day the Brotherhood of Saint James inJerusalemholds vesper service and vigil on the eve of Ascension Day at the sanctuary on theMount of Olives.
The Ascension is an important dominical feast that has been celebrated in the universal church since ancient times. Modern Scholarship traces its observance at the earliest in the fourth century. It is always celebrated on a Thursday, the fortieth day after Easter. In the Armenian Church the observance of the feast begins on Wednesday evening during vespers. According to the rubrics in the calendar of Holy Etchmiadzin, instead of the vespers hymn that is proper for the day, the hymn dedicated to the feast on Ascension is chanted from the center of the nave on the church by tall the clergy, clad in copes (a liturgical vestment), the deacons and the clerks.
On Thursday morning the Night Hour and the Matins are said with all the variables that are proper for Ascension Day. At the end of the Matins the clergy, the deacons and the clerks go on a procession, singing the Ascension hymn, and after Scriptural readings they hold the Antasdan [Blessing of the Fields service].
The Divine Liturgy is also solemnly celebrated on Ascension Day as it is on other feast days that fall on a weekday. A few hours after the end of the Divine Liturgy, in mid-afternoon, the clergy, deacons and clerks congregate and go on procession singing one of the Ascension hymns. After Scriptural readings, the Antasdan is held for the second time on that day, at the end of which the Matins are said.
Besides being a dominical feast, Ascension marks the anniversary of the reestablishment of the Holy See at the Monastery of Holy Etchmiadzin in 1411, after operating in exile for almost one thousand years.
As with other feasts, Ascension and the Resurrection of the Lord are celebrated over the following nine days until Pentecost.
Ascension was a festive day in the Armenian folk tradition and a time that was particularly cherished by young girls. Little amounts of water were fetched from seven springs and pebbles from seven hills and these were placed in a large container. Each girl in the village would be covered with a large cloth. As an elderly woman sitting by the container pulled an item at random, she would make a wish for the owner of the item. Yung girls believed that wish would come true during the course of the year. The process was called veejag. In various parts ofArmenia the wish came ready-made in the form of folk-songs and folk poems, of which hundreds have survived and been printed. This was the Armenian version of Chinese fortune cookies.
Q: How should we explain the celebration of Christmas on January 6 in the Armenian Church to our families and children?
A: Parents could explain to their children that even at the time of the Holy Apostles the traditions in the Christian churches in the different parts of the world were not uniform and that Christmas was probably not observed at all in the very early Church. Parents could add that by the end of the third century Christmas in Rome was held on December 25, which coincided with a major pagan feast, while in the Eastern churches it was observed on January 6. The Armenian Church has maintained that ancient tradition t this day whereas the Greek-speaking Christian world switched to the Latin tradition at the end of the fourth century. Children should know that both traditions are old and must be respected, and that as good Christians they must focus on the spirit of the Nativity of the Savior and not the differences in traditions.
According to the Armenian Catholic tradition we celebrate Christmas on December 25 and on January 6 we celebrate the baptism and theophany (Asdvadzahaydnutiun) of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Q: Why does our lent begin on a Monday instead of on Ash Wednesday?
A: All the ancient churches observe Lent [Medz Bahk, meaning “Big Fast”] over a period of forty days. The Latin nameQuadragesima corresponds to the Armenian Karasnortats Bahk [‘Fast of Forty Days’]. The traditions differ in how to calculate the forty-day period.
In the Western Church Lent originally began six weeks before Easter. Since Sundays during that period were not fasting days, the Quadragesima was four days short. As a result, four days were later added and the beginning of Lend was set on Ash Wednesday, which is six-and-a-half weeks before Easter.
In the Eastern churches the forty-day period is calculated differently. Holy Week, which immediately precedes Easter and is a period of fasting, is not included as a part of Lent but as a separate unit of time. Lent is our tradition begins six weeks prior to Palm Sunday , and is actually of forty-two days duration. The first Sunday of Lent is the Poon Paregentan [‘Good-living Day’]. All the curtains in the church must be closed on the Saturday evening preceding Poon Paregentan.
Liturgically Poon paregentan is the first day of Lent, but the fasting begins on the Monday following Poon ParegentanSunday (the Monday preceding Ash Wedensday). Throughout the Lenten Period we must abstain from all metas, milk products and fish. We continue to fast during Holy Week until after the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday evening. Unlike other Eastern Christians, we refrain from breaking our fast on Saturdays and Sundays. The Meal on Holy Saturday evening may include all kinds of oil and honey, but the Church is now more lenient in regard to the use of these products.
Q: Does the Armenian Church have a feast dedicated to the Archangels?
A: The Feast of the Archangels does not have a set date in the Armenian Churh calendar, since the Armenian liturgical year is based on the date of Easter, which is a movable feast.
The name of the feast is: Don Srports’ Hreshdagabedatsun Kaprielee Yev Meekayeli [Feast of the Holy Archangels Gabriel and Michael]. It is always observed on the Saturday proceeding the ninth Sunday on the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross falls on a Sunday between September 11 and 17. The feast of the Archangels falls in early to late November on the 54th day after the Exaltation.
In Hebraic tradition there were seven archangels, as stated in Tobit 12:15. In the Old and the new Testaments the most frequently named are Gabriel:
- Daniel 8:16; 9:21;
- Luke 1:19; 1:26;
Passages naming Michael:
- Daniel: 10:13; 10:21; 12:1;
- Jude: 1:9
- Revelations: 12:7
Passages naming Raphael:
- Tobit: 12:15
- Enoch: 10:7.
In his Book of Questions, St Gregory of Datev, p. 144, mentions six others: Anayel, Uriel, Dakuel, Barkiel, Adoniel and Panuel.
In our Church we commemorate Gabriel and Michael. Raphael and the others’ names are not mentioned in our liturgical calendar for unknown unknown.
Among the Armenians, the names Gabriel and Michael appear frequently as personal names. The name Raphael, especially in its modern form Rafael, was used less frequently, and it appears from as early as the seventh century.
On the Feast of the Holy Archangels we celebrate the name day of all those who bear the Christian names Gabriel, Michael and Raphael, as well as their diminutives- for example, Kapo, Misha, Rafik and so on.
Q: Who was St. James of Nisbis and what has endeared him to Armenian Christians?
A: St. James of Nisbis, who is greatly honored by the Armenians, is one of the saints of the Christian Church ofMesopotamia. He was born in Nisibis, a town in northwesternMesopotamia. Non-Armenian Christian sources refer to him as the Moses of Mesopotamia because of his missionary zeal, tireless preaching, eremitic lifestyle, miracles and works. His date of birth is assumed to be sometime in late third century.
According to the Armenian tradition, St. James was of Parthian origin and the son of King Deeran of the Hephthalites and of Khosrovoohee, St. Gregory the Illuminator’s paternal aunt. The same source maintains that he was nurtured and educated with St. Gregory in the town ofCaesarea. This is one of the reasons why he was greatly venerated by the Armenians throughout the Middle Ages and in modern times.
At a young age James became a solitary and was renowned for his disciplined life. He lived in total silence on the summits of mountains, exposed to the elements and sheltered by wooded areas and caves in the winter. He avoided the use of fire and lived on wild fruits and plants. He covered himself with clothing made of coarse goatskin. In this way he concentrated on life of prayer and meditation. After a while, he came down from the solitude of the mountains and joined a monastic institution headed by the solitary Maruke. James’ fame as a holy man spread throughoutMesopotamia.
During his early years, St. James went toPersia, where King of Kings Sapor II (309-279), a might foe of the Armenians, was severely persecuting the Christians.St.James chose that particular time in order to encourage the Persian Christians to stand firm in their faith. He was fortunate to avoid arrest and torture inPersia. Under Roman rule he became a confessor (one who confesses his faith in Christ and suffers torture) during the persecutions of the Emperor Maximinus Daia inSyriaand westernMesopotamiain the early fourth century.
Upon the demise of the bishop of Nisibis, the Christians of that city elected St. James as their new bishop and compelled him, much against his will, to assume the responsibilities of the Episcopal office. Meles, the bishop ofAntioch, ordained him a bishop. In 325 he was one of the 318 bishops summoned to participate in the Holy council ofNicaea(the first of the three ecumenical councils). His name appears among the signatories of the canons of the Holy Council and is classified in the Armenian translation of these next to the names of two other bishops fromMesopotamia. During the sessions of the Council St. James played a leading role, meriting the attention and command of St. Athansius and other bishops of the Eastern as well as theWesternChurch.
Among his followers and immediate attendants there was a young Syrian, whom he had baptized and tutored in the fundamentals of the faith. That person, named Ephrem, ultimately became one of the most important Christian writers of all time and a saint of the Eastern Church. Ephrem’s writings were translated into Armenian in the fifth century and the Confession that we read every Sunday before Holy Communion consist of excerpts from one of his penitential writings.
St. James is best known for his attempt to climbMt.Araratto acquire a piece of Noah’s Ark. While resting on the slope of the mountain from his tedious journey, the saint fell asleep. In his sleep the angel of the Lord appeared and told him that God had spared him from the rigorous climb and that upon wakening he would fine a piece of the ark by his head. The saint did indeed find a petrified wooden plank, which he took with him to his see. The plank is now preserved in the treasury of Holy Etchmiadzin and is on display. At the site where he rested, a monastery was later built and named after him. In 1840 the monastery and the nearbyvillageofAgori, which was an altitude of 8,000 feet on the slope ofMt.Araratwere totally destroyed by a massive earthquake.
In the different versions of St. James’ Life in Armenian there are many stories about his miracles in and outside ofArmenia. Folklore holds that in a village named Ardamed, the thirsty saint asked the girls and women assembled at a spring to fetch water for their household needs for water and they refused, making fun of his unkempt appearance. Also they disrespected him by not covering their exposed ankles, a behavior that was considered to be shameful in Medieval times. Upset by their disrespect, St. James cursed them. The spring suddenly dried up and the women’s hair turned white. Realizing their wrongdoing, the inhabitants of the entire village begged for mercy. He blessed them and the water began to flow again, but the women’s hair remained white to remind them of what they had done. Tradition maintained that all the girls of that village had a steak of white hair from birth and eyewitness maintained this to be so even centuries after the event.
Another folktale, recorded in the second half of the fifth century, is about a tyrannical and sadistic Armenian prince called Manajeehur who ruled in the district of Rushdoonik to the south ofLake Van. Manjihur, one of the high officials of the king ofArmenia, not heeding the saint’s entreaty and admonition, had many commoners dumped into the lake so that they would drown. He then had his men chase the saint out of the land, andSt.James cursed him. He first lost his entire family, a wife and seven children, and then he himself was stricken with an unbearable ailment and perished. These ancient folktales demonstrate the great respect that our ancestors had for the men of God.
St.James was instrumental in encouraging the people of Nisibis to defent their city against the attempts of Persian King of Kings Sapor II to seize it on different occasions. The city at the time was within the perimeters of the Roman Empire. The final attempt in 350 attracted the attention of the Western historian Edward Gibbon in his multi-volume history The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
During times of peace St. James was engaged in building a cathedral in Nisibis and tending to the spiritual needs of his flock. As for his literary output, the homilies in his names, which exist in Armenian translation, are now ascribed to a Persian Christian named Afrahat.
St.James died soon after the Persian siege of 350 and was buried in Nisibis. When the Persians took the city in 363, the pious Christians exhumed the body of their beloved bishop and took it elsewhere. Ultimately his relives were distributed to various churches, as was the common practice with the relics of confessors and martyrs. Some ofSt.James relics were kept in Armenian monasteries and churches.
Besides being commemorated with the 318 holy patriarchs on the Council of Nicaea, St. James is honored in mid-December, on the Saturday preceding the fourth Sunday of Advent. He also has a set day of remembrance on December 15, when his life is read from the menology [Haysmavork]. The 10th century poet St. Gregory of Nareg has an encomium dedicated to St. James and the 12th century catholicos and poet St. Nerses the Graceful is the author of the hymn (“Victorious and holy patriarch”) that is, to this day, chanted in our churches on St. James’ day of commemoration.
Q: How are martyrs remembered on the exact day of their demise?
A: Originally martyrs were commemorated on the day they were executed and buried. The execution and burial usually took place on the same day. Since the majority of the cross-examinations, judicial procedures ad executions were recovered at a later time. This gave an opportunity to the local bishop until the time of burial to investigate the circumstances of the execution by inquiring among eyewitnesses to verify and authenticate the event as martyrdom. In other situations when the martyrdom took place at distant place and relics of the martyrs were taken to various regions, the local bishop would ask for verification and authentication from the local bishop in whose jurisdiction the event took place. Upon receiving the authentication, the local bishop would honor the imported relics and lay them in a martyrium with psalmody and great ceremony.
In the early period of Christianity, the tradition was to honor the martyrs annually at their burial site or at site where parts of their relics were placed. The annual remembrance usually took place on the day of burial. We read about his tradition in Koryoon’s description of St. Sahag the Parhian’s [catholicos from 387-438] burial: a large group of men raised him with psalms…and going day and night for several days, arrived in Taron, the very village of Shtishat. And there they placed him…and after performing the customary rites, everyone returned to his place. Every year coming together at that month, they observed his memory. This clearly indicates that as late as the mid-fifth century there was no universal observance or commemoration of saints in parish churches. That custom was introduced at a later time.
To this day we observe part of the ancient tradition of remembering the martyrs on the day of their execution or burial. The observance involves reading the life of a saint or several saints in church, a tradition that is still maintained inJerusalem, where the life is read in the mid-afternoon, not as a part of the daily liturgical cycle.
Q: Does the Armenian Church observe unique fasts or commemorations during the penitential period of the Advent?
A: The Advent in the Armenian Church is approximately two weeks longer than it is in the Western churches, and that is why it is called Heesnag, ‘a fifth-day period.’ Heesnag is introduced by a week of fasting. In 2004, that fast begins on Monday, November 16 and continues throughout the week. The fast is officially known as “the Fast of the Beginning of Heesnag.” During the week there are no commemorations of saints.
A second week-long fast precedes the “Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Christ our God.” During this and the previous fast there are no commemorations of saints.
There is no other unusual fasting during the remaining weeks of Heesnag; the Wednesdays and Fridays are regularly observing as fasting days.
The Armenian Church celebrates a number of feasts and observes some important commemorations during the fifty days ofHeesnag. The Feast of the Presentation of the Holy Virgin in theTemple is always celebrated on November 21, even if it falls within the first week of the fasting. On such occasions, the feast is celebrated liturgically, but the fasting prevails in dietary matters. The same practice is also observed during the Feast of the Conception of the Holy Virgin bySt. Anna, which is always celebrated on December 9.
During the Heesnag we commemorate some of the important and major saints of the Christian Church. Among them are: fourth century founders of Christian theology St Gregory the Wonderworker andSt. Basil of Caesarea; the Holy Apostles Thaddeus and Barthmolomew, the enlighteners of Armenia; the Egyptian fathers; the early bishops of the church such as ST. Clemens, St. Ignatius, St. Polycarpus, St. Nicholas; St. James of Nisibis; and at the very end of the year, King David is commemorated as a prophet, and we honor the Holy Apostle James Brother of the Lord, St. Stephen the Protomartyr, the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul, the Holy Apostles James and John, both of them surnamed as Sons of Thunder.