The Grouping of Feasts
in the Armenian Church
by Fr. Zaven Arzoumanian
By virtue of their nature the feasts
and their observance in the Armenian Church are grouped into three categories:
(a) Dominical Feasts: to commemorate
the life and the ordinances of Jesus Christ, and to venerate the memory
of the Mother-of-God St. Mary.
(b) Saints Days: to commemorate
the lives of the Biblical and historical saints. The latter have reached
the level of sainthood by canonization.
(c) Fasting Days: to repent
and pray for our own souls and for those departed in Christ.
A. Dominical Feasts
1. Pertaining to Jesus
All Sundays of the year
Raising of Lazarus
2. Dedicated to the Mother-of-God,
Second Palm Sunday
3. Dominical Commemorations:
belt and box
Feasts of Cross:
Feasts dedicated to the establishment of the Church
Cross of Varak
B. Saints Days
World Church Sunday
Four days during the Exaltation week
In the Armenian Church saints are
observed on weekdays: Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. Sundays
are dominical days and are dedicated to the Resurrection.Wednesdays and
Fridays are fasting days.
Eighty-nine saints are derived from
the Bible and are known as Biblical Saints. The rest are from the first
five centuries of Christianity. They represent the Apostolic Fathers of
the second century and the church Fathers of the three ecumenical councils
to the end of the fifth century.
The Armenian Church later added more
saints through the fifth and fourteenth centuries mainly from Fathers of
the Armenian Church.
1. All Wednesdays and Fridays, except
for those during the fifty days following Easter.
2. Weekdays preceding major feasts
Nativity (6 days)
Easter (Holy Week, 6 days)
Transfiguration (5 days)
Assumption (5 days)
Exaltation (5 days)
Great Lent (48 days including Palm Sunday
and Holy Week)
Fast of Catechumens (5 days)
Fast of Elijah (5 days, seasonal: before
Fast of St. Gregory (5 days)
Fast of the Cross of Varak (5 days,
seasonal: before Fall)
Fast of Advent (5 days)
Fast of St. James of Nisibis (5 days,
seasonal, before Winter)
Why Armenians Celebrate Christmas
on January 6th?
by Hratch Tchilingirian
"Armenian Christmas," as it is popularly called, is a culmination of
celebrations of events related to Christ's Incarnation. Theophany or
Epiphany (or Astvadz-a-haytnootyoon in Armenian) means "revelation of God,"
which is the central theme of the Christmas Season in the Armenian Church.
The major events that are celebrated during the Armenian Christmas season
are the Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem and His Baptism in the River Jordan.
The day of this major feast in the Armenian Church is January 6th. At the
end of the solemn Christmas Divine Liturgy, a ceremony called "Blessing of
Water" is held in the Church to commemorate Christ's Baptism.
It is frequently asked as to why Armenians do not celebrate Christmas on
December 25th with the rest of the world. Obviously, the exact date of
Christ's birth has not been historically established - it is neither
recorded in the Gospels. However, historically, all Christian churches
celebrated Christ's birth on January 6th until the fourth century. According
to Roman Catholic sources, the date was changed from January 6th to December
25th in order to override a pagan feast dedicated to the birth of the Sun,
which was celebrated on December 25th. At the time Christians used to
continue their observance of these pagan festivities. In order to undermine
this pagan practice, the church hierarchy designated December 25th as the
official date of Christmas and January 6th as the feast of Epiphany.
However, Armenia was not affected by this change for the simple fact that
there were no such pagan practices in Armenia, on that date, and the fact
that the Armenian Church was not a satellite of the Roman Church. Remaining
faithful to their Church traditions, Armenians continue to celebrate
Christmas on January 6th until today.
Traditionally, Armenians attend church services on Christmas Eve and then
share a meal with family and friends. There are variations of local customs
based on the different regions of the world where Armenians live (in some
100 countries). In Armenia, January 6th is a national holiday.
In the Holy Land, the Orthodox churches use the old Julian calendar, which
is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar (introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in
1578), to determine the dates of religious feasts. Accordingly, the
Armenians celebrate Christmas on January 19th and the Greek Orthodox
celebrate on January 7th.
On the day before Armenian Christmas, January 18th, the Armenian Patriarch,
priests, seminarians and the faithful travel from Jerusalem to the Church of
Nativity of Christ in Bethlehem, where elaborate and colorful ceremonies
take place. In the large square of the Church of Nativity, the Mayor of
Bethlehem and City officials greet the Patriarch and his entourage. A
procession led by Armenian scouts and their band advance the Patriarch into
the Church of Nativity, while priests, seminarians and the faithful join in
the singing of Armenian hymns. Afterwards, church services and ceremonies
are conducted in the Cathedral of Nativity all night long and until the next
day, January 19th.