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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 Christ: 

  a.  Epiphany: 

  • Nativity
  • Naming
  • Presentation
  • Baptism
  b. Transfiguration (Vartavar)
  • All Sundays of the year
  • Raising of Lazarus
  • Palm Sunday
  c.  Resurrection:
  • Holy Week
  • Ascension
  • Second Palm Sunday
  • Pentecost
2.  Dedicated to the Mother-of-God, Virgin Mary 
  • Birth
  • Presentation
  • Annunciation
  • Assumption
  • Discovery of belt and box
3. Dominical Commemorations:

  a.  Feasts of Cross: 

  • Discovery
  • Apparition
  • Exaltation
  • Cross of Varak
  b.  Feasts dedicated to the establishment of the Church
  • New Sunday
  • World Church Sunday
  • Four days during the Exaltation week
  • Holy Etchmiadzin
  • Shoghagat
B. Saints Days

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.

C.  Fasting Days

1. All Wednesdays and Fridays, except for those during the fifty days following Easter.

2. Weekdays preceding major feasts as follows:

  • 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 Summer)
  • 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)

Armenian Christmas

Why Armenians Celebrate Christmas on January 6th?

by Hratch Tchilingirian

he "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.


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