Saints & Feasts
of The Armenian Church
anniversaries of significant events and dates related to important individuals
are commemorated in secular life. Likewise, the Church commemorates events
and Individuals significant in our spiritual lives.
The purpose of an ecclesiastical
feast is not an excuse for celebration but rather, celebrations are a means
by which we may awaken our own spirituality. In this way the individual
may be more receptive to the spiritual strengthening of grace, divine order,
and to the intercession of the saints, thus, serving as a means, through
prayer, to invoke reflection and rededication.
The Armenian Church celebrates three
types of feasts and ecclesiastical celebrations: dominical Feasts, Saints'
Days, and Days of Abstinence.
Dominical Feasts refer not only to
those feasts connected to Christ's mission of redemption and those events
connected thereunto, but also to those feasts and celebrations dedicated
to the Holy Mother of God, the Holy Cross and the Church. This is so because
all of the above-mentioned are commemorated in honor of and in the name
of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Saints' Days commemorate those who
have been canonized because they have lived exemplary lives of Christian
virtue and sanctity.
Days of Abstinence are intended as
a time for repentance, meditation, and reflection. It is also a time of
prayer--for ourselves, for others, and for the repose of the souls of those
who have fallen asleep in the Lord.
Dominical feasts take preeminence
in all cases. The mason for this is that Christ, His ministry and the person
of the Holy Mother of God is an axis for and a means of our salvation,
The Saints' days, which are numerous,
are compelling and spiritually inspiring. They put us in contact with the
divine plan of salvation as it is witnessed here on earth through martyrdom
or the virtuous behavior of exemplary individuals chosen by the Lord.
During days of abstinence we try
to strengthen our souls by means of reflection, meditation and through
ritual, keeping our physical beings from pleasure and enjoyment. Lent has
two meanings for us; physical and ritualistic. On such days ritual Is strictly
penitential and we are careful to abstain from certain foods; during such
periods the Church nevertheless celebrates the commemoration of the saints.
The most ancient manner of abstinence
Is fasting, which means to refrain from eating at all for an entire day
or for a number of days. Through time, strict adherence to fasting has
been modified to certain hours of the day rather than the entire day. This
method also has been modified to mean only refraining from rich foods.
On the Eves of the Feasts, It has also been permitted to partake of fish
and dairy products, which is yet another modification of abstinence. This
method has been widely used by the Roman Catholic Church and to some degree
by the Orthodox Churches but remains in our Church a practice permitted
only on the eve of a major feast.
In the Armenian Church, lent (fasting
or abstinence) means to refrain from all meat and animal by-products and
to partake only of those foods which are plants or grown in the earth.
Dominical feasts are divided into
three categories. They are the propers of Dominical feasts, feasts of the
Holy Mother of God and Dominical observances.
of Dominical Feasts
There are three feasts In this category:
Theophany, the Transfiguration and the Resurrection.
In the early days of Christianity,
Dominical feasts fell Into two groups: A) observances of Christs earthly
ministry and B) the final events of His ministry of salvation. The first
group commences on January 5th and concludes on January 13th with the great
day of celebration being January 6th, no matter which day of the week it
is. This day is called Theophany, the "Revelation of God."
The second group is called the 'Resurrection',
and begins with Palm Sunday, lasting until Pentecost (the Advent of the
early times, the Feast of Theophany was celebrated together with a number
of observances as Is recorded in the Holy Gospels. They are: the Annunciation
of the archangel Gabriel to the Holy Virgin Mary; the Birth of our Lord
Jesus Christ, with the glorification of the heavenly hosts, the veneration
by the shepherds and the coming of the Magi; the Circumcision; the Naming
of our Lord; the Presentation to the Temple; the Flight to Egypt and Return;
the Baptism at the River Jordan; the Temptation in the Wilderness and the
Testimony (Witness) of St. John the Forerunner. This group of feasts was
celebrated from the 6th to the 13th of January. Of them the most prominent
was the Birth and Baptism of our Lord Jesus Christ, with special importance
afforded to the Baptism. These two were celebrated together (called Theophany,
"the revelation of God,") on January the 6th no matter on which day of
the week it fell. The reason for this double celebration is that at Christ's
baptism He was revealed as God and Savior. The voice of the Father and
appearance of the Holy Spirit in dove-form likewise was a revelation of
the Holy Trinity and one Godhead.
Until about the second half of the
second century, both in the East and the West, the Baptism of Christ was
held In preeminence above all other celebrations, even to that of the Birth
of our Lord. it was also in that same period that In the West a need arose
to separate the Feast of the Birth from Theophany by celebrating It on
December 25. This was also designed to discourage Christians from partaking
In a major pagan festival on that day. This custom eventually became accepted
in the East as well, particularly in Jerusalem where it was very difficult
to celebrate Christís Birth In Bethlehem and His Baptism at the River Jordan
on the same day. Therefore, by the end of the fourth century, all churches
were celebrating Christ's Birth on December 25, with the exception of the
Armenian Church, which did not feel the need to deviate from the ancient
The other observances connected with
Theophany also did not retain their previous status. With consideration
of the Canonical Church Year and after some time, the Annunciation was
changed to April 7th (in other churches near March 25). Feasts of the Holy
Mother of God became special occasions of pious celebration and specific
ritual; the Presentation to the Temple was changed to forty days after
the Nativity -- February 14 (in other churches February 2). The Circumcision,
Name Day of our Lord and the Temptation in the Wildemess were recalled
during the octave of Theophany (to January 13); the Coming of the Magi,
the Escape to and Return from Egypt am also recalled during that period.
The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38,
The Nativity: Matthew 1:18-25,
The Baptism: Matthew 3:1-17,
The Naming and Circumcision:
The Presentation to the Temple:
The Flight to Egypt: Matthew
The Temptations in the Wildemess:
Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13
previous group of religious observances, titled Theophany, dealt with Christ's
birth, childhood, and youth as recorded in the Holy Gospels. As we shall
see later in this chapter, those observances connected to the final events
in our Lord's life, e.g., His Final Entry into Jerusalem, His Betrayal,
Passion, Crucifixion, Death, Burial, Resurrection and Ascension are grouped
together under the title of Resurrection.
Between these two groupings, Theophany
and Resurrection, falls the three-year period of our Lord's ministry, during
which He preached and performed miracles. These are recalled throughout
the entire Church year without special celebration and in particular on
Sundays and penitential days, and as they am taught through the ritual
(sharagans, prayers, etc.) and the reading of the Holy Gospels. The only
exception is that of the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus
In the summer of the third year of
Christ's ministry, the Transfiguration took place on the summit of Mount
Tabor. The Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches celebrate the Feast
of the Transfiguration on August 6th. Saint Gregory the Illuminator established
the celebration of the Feast of the Transfiguration in our church on the
first day of the month of Navasart, which corresponds to the first day
of the Armenian calendar year, August 11. It is most likely that Saint
Gregory did this to discourage the pagan New Year celebrations which took
place in Ashdishad and around the nearby Innagyan Temple (which later became
the Monastery of Soorp Garabed in Moush) which were the primary holy sites
in pagan Armenia.
During the pontificate of Catholicos
Movses II, Yeghivartzi, the Armenian calendar underwent modification in
551 AD, at which time the date of the Transfiguration was also changed.
In light of the fact that a major feast, that of the Assumption of the
Holy Mother of God, was being celebrated in August, the Feast of the Transfiguration
was separated from the New Year (Navasart) and tied to the dominical observance
of the Resurrection. Thus, the date was moved forward to a Sunday fourteen
weeks after the Feast of the Resurrection (seven weeks after Pentecost).
It thus was tied to the Feast of the Resurrection and became a variable
feast. As in the case of Easter, there may be a 35-day variation wherein
it may fall on a Sunday between June 28 and August 1.
Although this Christian feast was
separated from the pagan festival, it nevertheless retained the common
name Vartavar. Some customs also remained, such as decorating the church
with roses or other flowers, spraying one another with water, and the releasing
of doves which are truly the last customs of ancient pagan Armenia still
practiced. By practicing these customs, however, pious Christians have
modified their meaning and have given them a new meaning in light of the
Holy Scriptures, thereupon recalling the Great Flood, the dove of Noah
and other such symbolic references.
The Feast of the Transfiguration,
Vartavar, is celebrated for three days with the exception of the Eve of
the Feast on the previous Saturday. It is the third major or tabernacle
feast of the Armenian Church and for this reason the following Monday is
a day dedicated to the repose of all souls.
the final acts of our Lord's earthly ministry, it is most convenient to
classify them by using the name of the one of primary importance, namely,
the Resurrection. This classification of feasts connected to the Resurrection
encompasses a sixty-four day period which begins with the Saturday prior
to Palm Sunday and dedicated to the Raising of Lazarus and concludes with
the seven-day period of abstinence dedicated to the prophet Elijah and
ending on a Saturday. This would comprise the Raising of Lazarus, Palm
Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter Sunday to the Ascension (Thursday), a forty-day
period, and from the Ascension to Pentecost (another ten days), which is
followed by the six days of abstinence dedicated to the Prophet Elijah.
In the early church there was much
discussion and debate as to the proper day for the celebration of Easter.
The basic concern was whether to celebrate it on the day of the Judaic
Feast of Passover or on the closest Sunday thereto. This discussion was
ended in 325 AD by the decision of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea wherein
it was decided that the Feast of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ
would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the full moon after the
vernal (spring) equinox. This decision and particularly the celebration
of Easter on a Sunday was based on the fact that it was a Sunday on which
Christ rose from the dead, or in other words, It was the second day of
Passover of that year in which our Lord was crucified and died.
The Feast of Theophany and related
observances are celebrated by precise chronological (solar calendar) equations
and are not variable, no matter on which day of the week they may fall.
Likewise, the Feasts of the Holy Mother of God, the Holy Cross-, and the
Church are celebrated by using the solar calendar. Easter, however, and
the religious observances connected to it, are calculated by the lunar
calendar and like the Passover, are variable within a 35-day period. Therefore,
Easter may fall between March 22 and April 25. (The variation of the celebration
Easter between the Eastern and Western churches is strictly related to
the calendar and the equations thereof, and in no way are theological).
Easter and its related observances encompass a 24-week (168-day) period,
which includes the 10-week period prior to Easter, from the Fast of the
Catechumens to the Feast of the Transfiguration.
The first observance related to the
Feast of the Resurrection is the Remembrance of the Raising of Lazarus,
which foretold our Lord's own miraculous Resurrection. It serves as an
Introduction to the glorious Resurrection of our Lord and not as a commemoration
of Lazarus and his sisters which is celebrated separately. The first view
we have of that glorious event is on the following day, Palm Sunday. This
is Christ's triumphant entrance into Jerusalem as Messiah.
Sometimes Palm Sunday is referred
to as Advent In reference to Christ's coming as the Messiah to Jerusalem
and to His Passion. For that reason it is connected with Christ's Second
or Final Coming and Is celebrated in our church in the evening with the
special ritual of the 'Opening of the Doors,' a foreshadowing of the Last
Judgment and divine justice (compassion).
The week following Palm Sunday is
known as Holy Week (Avak Shapat) and each day of that week, Monday through
Saturday, is prefixed with the word Holy, which in a way reflects the week
prior to Theophany wherein the holy days (Avak Doner) are dedicated to
The first three days of Holy Week
are not dedicated to any particular observances. The readings from the
Holy Gospels describe that period from His entry into Jerusalem until the
fulfillment of the divine plan of Salvation. The lections from the Old
Testament describe the Creation, the fall of man, sin, the Flood, the escape
of the righteous by means of the Ark, and the destruction of Sodom and
Gomorrah, reminding us of the need +for the Incarnation and Salvation.
The daily sharagans describe this both beautifully and compellingly. Holy
Wednesday's lections and hymns are particularly concerned with the Betrayal,
which was the first event in the mystery of the divine plan of Redemption.
Holy Thursday is the celebration
of the Passover Sacrifice, the Last Supper and the establishment of the
sacrament of Holy Communion. The midday Liturgy is celebrated during which
the faithful prepare themselves through penance and by receiving absolution.
That evening, with great ceremony, the ritual of 'Washing of the Feet'
takes place, which, according to the Holy Gospels, symbolizes humility.
The ritual, which was established in the 1lth century by Catholicos Krikor
Vugayaser, was originally practiced in more simple fashion. The priest
would wash and bless with oil the feet of all the faithful in the vestibule
(Narthex) of the church, Later, this ritual became more elaborate and was
performed on the bema. The Odes and 'Discourse on Love' were added at a
later time, which show how this ceremony has been embellished.
On Holy Friday, the Evening Service
(Khavaroom)' and Midday Service of the Crucifixion are performed in remembrance
of Christ's Betrayal and Passion (suffering).
On Holy Friday afternoon the Burial
Service is performed which can also be considered as the Rite of the Descent
from the Cross. The Trisagion (Soorp Asdvadz) is sung on bended knees and
is traditionally dedicated to Joseph of Arimathea who, according to tradition,
sang it as Christ's body was taken down from the Cross.
Holy Saturday is dedicated to the
Savior's Burial and the sealing of the Tomb. The Divine Liturgy is celebrated
at the end of the day (dusk), "Now after the Sabbath, toward the dawn of
the first day of the week..." Matt. 28:1. For that reason it is called
Jurakalooytz (Candle mass) because it was at that time that in all homes
every lamp was lit to signify the beginning of a new day.
The term Jurakalooytz, although similarly
used for the Candle mass prior to the Feast of Theophany, was most likely
first used only for the Feast of the Resurrection. It was initiated in
Jerusalem in reference to the special ritual performed Easter Eve at Christ's
Tomb (Service of the Light). From ancient times until the present the faithful
of the Eastern churches gather there with great anticipation to express
their faith and piety during the compelling and inspiring service of the
From Easter to the Sunday of Pentecost
is a fifty-day (50) period called Quinquagesima. As part of the Quinquagesima
the first forty-day (40) period culminates with the Feast of the Ascension
which is celebrated on the Thursday of the sixth week. This entire period
is dedicated solely to the mystery of the Resurrected Savior's encounters
with His Apostles and followers during that period with the exception of
only four special remembrances, which do not detract from the preeminence
of the Resurrection.
The first of these is the Decapitation
of St. John the Baptist that is remembered on the first Saturday or the
seventh day of Quinquagesima. It is remembered by the lection (during the
Morning Service) of the Gospel of St. Mark, which describes the occurrence.
The second is New Sunday, which is
the first Sunday after Easter, the eighth day of Quinquagesima. Its purpose
is to emphasize the wondrous Resurrection, with only minor variables in
the hourís services.
The next is the Sunday of the World
Church, which follows New Sunday and commemorates the establishment in
Jerusalem of the first Christian Church. According to some, it was founded
in the Chapel on Zion where the Upper Room was and where our Lord established
the Sacrament of Holy Communion. (According to others it is the Cathedral
of the Holy Sepulcher/Holy Resurrection).
The last is the fifth Sunday of Quinquagesima
when the Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross over Jerusalem is celebrated,
which took place during the time of Emperor Constans of Byzantium and Patriarch
Cyril of Jerusalem. (See Feast of the Holy Cross).
After the Feast of the Ascension,
which is celebrated in commemoration of our Lord's ascent into heaven,
the ensuing nine days until Pentecost compoundly celebrate the Resurrection
and the Ascension.
The seventh Sunday of Eastertide,
which falls within this ten-day period, combines an ecclesiastical and
national tradition, which is recalled in the sharagan of the day. According
to tradition, an angel visited St. Gregory the Illuminator daily during
his imprisonment in Khor Virab, yet on that day the angel did not appear.
On the following day when the saint asked the angel about his absence he
explained that each day a rank of heavenly hosts celebrated Christ's Ascension
and since it was the fourth day and he belonged to the fourth rank he took
part in the celestial celebration. This Sunday is also known as the Second
Palm Sunday because the gospel readings of Sunday recall Christ's triumphant
entry into Jerusalem (the same as Palm Sunday).
The final feast of the Resurrection
grouping is that of the Advent of the Holy Spirit, which takes place on
the fiftieth day of Quinquagesima, a Sunday (10 days after the Ascension).
It commemorates the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles In the Upper
Room in tongues of fire, granting power and grace to them for the establishment
of the Christian Church.
In ancient times this feast was celebrated
only one day, since the next day the Fast of Elijah commenced. In the 12th
century, St. Nerses the Graceful established the seven-day celebration
of Pentecost retaining the fast. Aside from the 64 days of the above-mentioned
period all Sundays of the year am dedicated to Christ's Resurrection. Other
churches, while dedicating Sundays to the Resurrection, also celebrate
other feasts and Saints Days on Sunday. In the Armenian Church, Saints
Days are never celebrated on Sunday. Only a few Dominical are celebrated
on Sunday, i.e. Transfiguration, Assumption of the Holy Mother of God,
Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Discovery of the Holy Cross etc. but always
with the emphasis on the Resurrection, with the reading of the Myrophores
(Gospel of the Oil Bearing Women) and the mood of all ritual being that
of the Resurrection. Those lections from the gospels, which include both
the Burial and Resurrection of our Lord, are read in the morning only during
Great Lent and then only those verses dealing with the Burial. Yet, the
concept of the Resurrection is recalled during the ensuing Liturgy when
the deacons beseech the Lord saying, "make us worthy of thy Resurrection."
The Raising of Lazarus: John
Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11,
Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:2840
Holy Week: Matthew 26:1-27:66,
Mark 14:1-15:47, Luke 22:1-23:56, John 13:1-19:42
28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12,
Decapitation of St, John the
Baptist: Mark 6:14-29 Ascension: Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53 Pentecost:
of the Holy Mother of God
Holy Mother of God serves as an excellent example of Christís redemptive
grace and is an inseparable part of Christ's dominical economy.
In the 5th century at the holy Ecumenical
Council of Ephesus, where the Nestorian heresy was condemned, the Holy
Mother's position as "Mother of God" and "Bearer of God" (Asdvadzamayr-Asdvadzadzin)
was doctrinally established.
Only those aspects of St. Mary's
life, which are directly related to Christ or His dominical economy, are
mentioned in the Holy Gospels. The remainder of her biography is attributed
to Holy Tradition which is common to all the ancient churches and which
is covered in much of the most ancient of ecclesiastical literature.
Accordingly, St. Mary was of the
house of David, daughter of Joachim and Anna of Nazareth (originally Bethlehem).
Anna, being barren, prayed for a child and made special vows, which were
answered by the birth of her only child, a daughter whom she named Mariam
(Mary). Although Mary was born naturally (having both a father and mother)
she is considered morally pure and immaculate. It is for this reason that
the church not only celebrates her birth but also her conception, which
the Greek Orthodox and we celebrate on December 9, and the Roman Catholic
Church on the 8th. The concept of her being morally immaculate later developed
into the question of her Immaculate Conception (from Anna), a doctrine
adopted by the Roman Catholic Church in 1854. Our church, on the other
hand, does not accept this, as it attributes to Mary that which belongs
only to Christ; only Christ was immaculately conceived. Yet, her purity
is unquestioned. According to the teaching of the Armenian Church, at the
time of the Annunciation when the Holy Spirit entered her she was cleansed
of all sin (original sin) as she was to be the vessel in which God manifest
was to be incarnated.
Feast of the Conception of St. Mary.
Although chronologically the first In the events of the Holy Mother's life,
this feast entered in the church calendar relatively late and has no specific
hymn have its own.
Feast of the Birth of the Holy Mother
of God. The second feast of the Holy Mother is her birth, which is non-variable
and celebrated alike by all traditional churches on September 8. There
is no information concerning her birth and, in fact, the place of her birth,
whether Nazareth or Bethlehem; nor the date. Based on the Jewish tradition
of that time, it is safe to say she was between 14 and 18 years of age
when the Annunciation took place.
Presentation to the Temple of the
Holy Mother of God. The third feast of the Holy Mother of God is the Presentation
to the Temple at the third year, which is non-variable and is celebrated
by all the traditional churches on November 21. The meaning of this feast
is that since Maryís parents made a vow, she was presented to the Temple
at an age when she could be separated from her parents.
According to tradition, she stayed
therefor awhile and at seven was given over to the care of pious widows
and maidens who lived at the Temple. One of them was the prophetess Anna.
After another seven years, Mary became betrothed to Joseph the Carpenter.
The other commemorations concerning
Mary's life are recorded in the Holy Gospels, and perhaps belong more to
the commemorations of Christ's life, as they are an integral part of His
plan of redemptive economy. They are:
None of the above has been commemorated
with a special feast; they are all connected with the commemoration of
Christís redemptive economy after the Ascension.
The Annunciation, which on one hand
is part of the fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy and plan. On the other,
it was the most important event in Mary's life.
The Visit to Elizabeth, which is a celebration
of Mary's maternity. The Roman Catholic Church celebrates this feast separately
on July 2 as a manifestation of God.
Christís 40th Day Presentation to the
Temple, which is called by some the Sanctification of St. Mary. In Jewish
tradition, mothers present themselves to the temple 40 days after giving
birth for purification.
Other incidents recorded in the Holy
When Jesus was 12 years old, the trip
to Jerusalem, His being lost, sought after by His parents and found in
The Wedding Feast of Cana where He changed
the water into wine at His mother's request.
Her search for Him in Capernaum.
At the foot of His Cross on Golgotha
After the Ascension, her constant presence
with the Apostles.
After the Ascension of her divine
Son, the remainder of St. Mary's life comes to us through Holy Tradition.
It states she lived out the rest of her days in Jerusalem cared for by
St. John the Evangelist. She died In Jerusalem some 15 years after Christ's
Ascension and was buried in her family tomb in Gethsemane.
The other tradition which states
that the Holy Mother died in the City Ephesus is not a very reliable one
and was most likely formulated because St. John the Evangelist had lived
in that city. Nevertheless, the church on the occasion of her "death" offers
the greatest respect with great solemnity and rituals. This non-variable
commemoration is the oldest of all those dedicated to the Holy Mother and
is celebrated by all churches on August 15. The Armenian Church celebrates
this feast on the nearest Sunday to the 15th of August (August 12-18) which
was adopted at the time of St. Nerses the Graceful if not later. Its commemoration
lasts for nine days and not three as it did previously.
The Holy Tradition concerning the
death of the Holy Mother appears nearly identically in the traditions of
all the ancient churches and was presented in the abridged fashion in the
Sharagan "Arevelk Kerarpin" by Giragos Vartabed:
The Holy Virgin lived in Jerusalem
after our Lord's crucifixion for fifteen years after which she passed away.
All the Apostles, save Bartholomew, who was absent at that time, conducted
her funeral with great ceremony and hymns at her cave-like tomb in the
Garden of Gethsemane. After a short while, St. Bartholomew returned and
wished so dearly to see the Holy Mother one last time that he convinced
the Apostles to open the tomb.
Upon opening the tomb, they could
not find the body of the Holy Mother. Angels' voices were heard for three
days and nights. They interpreted the angels' singing as a sign that our
Lord had assumed (taken up) His Mother into heaven as He had promised her.
They found the empty tomb a confirmation of that promise for she had not
been dead but had fallen asleep. For this reason, the church refers to
the end of her earthly life as "the dormition" rather than "death."
The concept of her Assumption is
a most ancient one as is witnessed in sacred prose and poetry dedicated
to the Holy Mother. Yet, it did not become a basic teaching (doctrine)
of the church until the ninth century. And it wasn't until the 12th century
that the feast was titled "the Assumption."
We should note that the Service
of the Blessing of the Grapes is customarily performed on the Feast of
the Assumption. This however is a special service dedicated to the autumnal
harvest of which the grape is usually the first fruit (in Armenia usually
harvested middle to late August) and also from which the wine of Holy Communion
is made. There is however no canon stating that this service must be performed
on that particular Sunday.
Concurrent with the tradition of
the dormition is the Commemoration of her Image. According to tradition,
as solace to St. Bartholomew for being unable to attend her funeral or
see her, he was given a veil with the image of the Holy Mother, which she
had blessed and given to St. John the Evangelist. According to Armenian
Church tradition, St. Bartholomew brought that with him to Armenia and
placed It at '"Tarpnyatz Kar" In the province of Antzevatz. There was established
a convent of faithful nuns who honored and protected this relic. Sisterís
Hoosig, Vormztad and Makovdoor are remembered as leaders of that convent.
The convent was also known as "Hokvotz" or "Hokeyatz" and until recently
was a place of pilgrimage to the Holy Image (Veil) despite the fact that
the relic was not in view. It had been secreted in the walls of the convent
to protect it against the constant attacks and pillaging. Since there are
no relics of the Holy Mother's earthly body (as she was assumed into Heaven),
her personal belongings became articles of pious devotion. As they were
secretly kept during the time of persecution of the early church, they
began to appear in later times.
The first, her belt or girdle, was
discovered in Jerusalem in the fifth century during the reign of Emperor
Argadeos. This important article of clothing and decoration for Eastern
women was later translated to Constantinople and placed In the Cathedral
dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, where it was recorded to be at the
time of Empress Zoe's miraculous recovery more than half a century later.
The second is her box or case, in
which she kept her veil. According to tradition, two aristocratic brothers
made a vow to go to the Holy Land. In a village of Galilee, most likely
Nazareth, and many people were making pilgrimages to a certain Jewish woman's
home where there was a box to which many miraculous cures were attributed.
Through cunning, they were able to have another box made like the one they
saw and switch it with the box of the Holy Mother. They returned to Constantinople
where they were received with great ceremony and the box was placed in
the Cathedral dedicated to the Holy Mother.
The celebration of the Discoveries
of the Belt and Box of the Holy Mother of God were introduced into the
Armenian Church during the revisions made by Catholicos Simeon Yerevantzi
(Catholicos 1763-1780) to the Directory of Feasts (Donatzouytz). The Discovery
of the Belt is celebrated on the second Sunday following the Feast of Assumption
and the Discovery of the Box on the fifth Sunday after Pentecost.
Prior to Catholicos Simeon's revision,
these were listed as voluntary celebrations and most Likely was celebrated
only in Constantinople for a long period of time. Later in Western Armenia,
not only were these commemorations celebrated but also so were others connected
to the Holy Mother's personal items deemed relics. After the 13th century,
when the Latinís established their empire in Constantinople by means of
the crusades, many ecclesiastic antiques and relics were translated from
Byzantine to Europe.
The Armenian Church celebrates eight
feasts of the Holy Mother of God. They are:
Presentation to the Temple
Conception of St. Anna with Mary
of the Belt (girdle)
of the Box (chest)
Annunciation - Luke 1-26-38
Nativity - Matthew 1:18-25, Luke
Visit to Elizabeth - Luke 1:39-56
Christ's Presentation to the
Temple - Luke 2:22-40
Jesus as a child is lost - Luke
Wedding in Cana - John 2:1-11
Capernaum - John 2:12
At the Cross - John 19:25-28
After Ascension - Acts 1:14
This section includes the Feasts
of the Holy Cross and the Holy Church, which are truly dominical in that
the 'Cross' was the 'vehicle' and the 'Church' the 'result' in God's redemptive
plan. Both have been venerated throughout Christianity not only as honorable
items but also as spiritual aids. The 'Cross' was the means by which Christ's
blood was spilled thereby establishing the Holy Sacrament. The 'Church'
is the institution in which one lives a sacramental and virtuous life,
and is caretaker of our souls until the Great Judgment and the establishment
of Christ's eternal kingdom.
of the Holy Cross
Exaltation of the Holy Cross-is the major feast celebrated in honor of
the Holy Cross-. Other churches commemorate this feast on September 14:
in our Church it is celebrated on the closest Sunday to the 14th making
it variable between September 11-17. The Feast of the Exaltation of the
Holy Cross-is solidly based on a glorious historical event.
Recorded in ecclesiastical chronicles
and in accordance with Holy Tradition, the Holy Cross-was ceremoniously
elevated only on three occasions before the faithful for veneration. The
first Bishop of Jerusalem, St. James the Apostle, elevated a cross, blessing
the faithful and according to tradition sang for the first time, "We bow
before thy Cross, O Christ..." (This dagh or treasure is sung frequently
in our Church, especially during Holy Week.) Reference was made to a Cross
instead of the Holy Cross since at the time of St. James-- because of the
pressure employed by the Jews and the subsequent Roman persecutions-- the
name of Christ was still being whispered with much trepidation. Therefore,
it was quite impossible to go to the dung-heap on Golgotha in which the
Holy Cross-had been discarded after the crucifixion and rightfully display
it for the veneration of the faithful. This tradition, established by St.
James, points out that even in the earliest times of Christianity the Holy
Cross, because of the Great Mystery it represents, was an article of devotion
The second occasion when the Holy
Cross-was elevated ceremoniously before the faithful for veneration was
when it was 'discovered,' by Queen Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine
According to ecclesiastical chronicles,
an informed Jew from Jerusalem by the name of Juda was forced to disclose
the place where the Cross-was buried. Three crosses were found, one of
them being our Lord's, the others belonging to the two criminals crucified
with Him. In order to authenticate the true cross, the body of a youth
who had recently died was placed on each. When he was placed on the third
cross he was resurrected and thus the true and Holy Cross-was discovered.
At that time, Bishop Cyril, Patriarch of Jerusalem elevated the Holy Cross-before
the faithful who, having witnessed the miracle, were awe-inspired and venerated
it. The commemoration of this historical event is celebrated on the closest
Sunday to October 26 (variable from October 23-29), and is called Discovery
of the Holy Cross.
Finally, the third and most auspicious
occasion on which the Holy Cross-was elevated and venerated was upon its
return from captivity. In 610 King Khosrov of Persia waged war against
Emperor Heracle of Byzantlum, conquered Jerusalem, and took the Holy Cross-into
captivity to Persia in 614 AD Heracle regrouped and went against the Persians
again. At that time the general of the Armenian troops was Mjejh Knouni
who also managed to gather troops from Persian Armenia. Khosrov suffered
a great defeat and was murdered by his son Gavad Shiroh, who died a year
later and was succeeded by his son-in-law Khoryam. Khoryam ascended to
the Persian throne through Emperor Heracle's assistance on the condition
that the Holy Cross-is returned. After accepting that condition, the Holy
Cross-was returned to the Christians in 629. Its ceremonious journey from
Persia to Garin, from Garin to Constantinople and finally back to Jerusalem
was extremely emotion-evoking; it was elevated constantly along the way
for the spiritual comfort of the faithful and everywhere it became a symbol
of pious worship. It was this occasion, which gave reason for the Feast
of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross-, which the Greeks started to celebrate
on September 14.
In our church, the Feast of the Exaltation
of the Holy Cross takes place with great ceremony and includes the ritual
of the Procession and Blessing of the Four Corners of the Earth which is
performed that day. It is most likely that this particular ritual reflects
the deep feeling and emotion aroused in Armenia when the Holy Cross was
elevated and brought through on its return to Jerusalem from Persian captivity.
In the southeastern section of the
Valley of Garine lies a group of hills; its tallest peak, until recently,
was known as Khachapayd (Wooden Cross). On a small plateau of that mountain,
which has an elevation of 9000 feet, is a spring of fresh cold water, which
has become a place of pilgrimage. According to tradition, the Persians
had a change of heart after relinquishing the Holy Cross and tried to attack
and regain it. The Armenians left the Holy Cross-at that place and repelled
the attack with all their strength. Upon their return they saw the pure
spring water flowing from the place they left the Holy Cross and thus it
became a place of pilgrimage. At the foot of that same mountain is the
Monastery of the Holy Cross-to which the faithful go on pilgrimage on the
Feast of the Holy Cross.
The Feast of the Exaltation of the
Holy Cross, one of the Five Tabernacle (Daghavar) Feasts of the Armenian
Church, is preceded by a fast (Monday through Friday) as precedes the feasts
of the Transfiguration and Assumption. In connection with this feast are
also celebrated the Eve of the Feast (Navagadik), Day of Remembrance (Merelotz),
and post-festive celebration (7 days) of which and aside from the Eve of
the Feast, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday are feast days dedicated to
the Holy Church. Theologically, Feasts of the Holy Cross-and the Holy Church
differ only slightly since both are related to our Lord's redemptive economy.
The second feast of the Holy Cross-is
that of the Discovery of the Holy Cross-, which has been described previously.
The Apparition of the Holy Cross
is the third feast of the Holy Cross and is celebrated on the fifth Sunday
of Quinquagesima after Easter. This commemoration is in remembrance of
the apparition of the sign of the cross over the city of Jerusalem from
the Mount of Olives to Golgotha in 351 AD Its apparition was so luminous
that it was shining brighter than the sun's light. It was seen by both
cleric and lay persons who rushed to the churches to praise the Lord for
this miraculous sign. Cyril, Patriarch of Jerusalem at that time, had recently
composed a stem yet respectful letter to Emperor Constans of Byzantlum
for reinstating the Adam heresy within the church and disrupting its peaceful
functions. Admonishing the Emperor, the patriarch reminded him of the orthodox
faith of his father Emperor Constantine the Great and cited the apparition
as a further proof to convince him to return back to orthodoxy. The Armenian
translation of this encyclical is read on this feast during Antastan prior
to the Gospel lection.
The fourth and final feast of the
Holy Cross-is that of the Holy Cross-of Varak. The previously described
feasts of the Holy Cross-are common to all traditional churches, however
this feast is particular to the Armenian Church. It is our feast of the
Holy Cross and is an exemplary reflection of our national Church.
In the 7th century (660 AD) a solitary
monk by the name of Totig who lived on Mount Varak, had a vision that upon
the summit of that mountain was a cathedral with twelve pillars in the
midst of which was a brilliant cross. A little later the cross in the apparition
moved slowly down the mountain and rested upon the holy altar of the Monastery
of Varak. Totig and his student Hovel rushed to the church and prostrated
themselves before a holy relic there, which the vision revealed to be truly
a piece of the Holy Cross.
St. Hripsimeh and her companions
had brought with them a relic of the Holy Cross to Mount Varak when they
sought refuge there during their persecution and left it to the keeping
of pious priests, when they fled the area. After the death of the priests,
the relic remained hidden in the secret place where it was buried. Many,
like Totig and Hovel, for love of the Holy Relic, passed their lives as
monks In seclusion in those mountains, praying for its revelation.
With great jubilation Totig took
the good news of the revelation of the sacred relic to the Catholicos at
Vaspouragan. The Catholicos, St. Nerses III the Builder, rushed to Varak
with General Vart Rushdouni, son of King Theotoros, whereupon he certified
the authenticity of the Holy Relic. He thereupon ordered that each year
the Sunday closest to September 28 (Sept. 25 - October 1) or the second
Sunday of the Exaltation be dedicated to the Holy Cross-of Varak. It is
most likely that it was then that he wrote the enthrallingly beautiful
sharagan, Nshanav Amenahaght Khatchivt, 'By the sign of thine all powerful
Holy Cross,' which is one of the most moving and popular of our church
To complete the history of the relic
of the Holy Cross at Varak it should be stated that the relic discovered
by Totig first was placed in the church at the Monastery of Varak; later
it was moved to lower Varak or the church of the Monastery of the Holy
Sign and remained there until 1021. In that year when Senekerim Adzouni,
King of Vaspouragan, immigrated to Sebastia, he took with him the Holy
Relic and placed it in the church of the Monastery of the Holy Sign, which
he had erected. Upon his death, according to his will, the Holy Relic along
with his remains was returned to Varak where they remained unmolested until
1651. In that year Suliman and Zomar, pashatyrant rulers of the Khoshap
province, ravaged the monastery at Varak and stole the Holy Relic as part
of the pillage. These two suffered horrible deaths. In light of this, their
successor Abraham Bey, viewed the Holy Relic to be cursed and tried to
give it to Abbot Bishop Bedros of Hokvotz monastery who insisted it be
returned from whence it was stolen. On orders from Abraham Bey, Armenians
came and took the Holy Relic; feeling that the church of the Holy Mother
of God in Van would be safer, they translated the Holy Relic to that Church.
The church was also called Holy Sign because of the relic, where it remained
until the Genocide of 1915.
of the Holy Church
has-been previously stated that the Holy Cross and Holy Church are closely
related to one another, the Holy Cross being the 'vehicle' and symbol of
salvation and the Holy Church being the 'result' and 'fulfillment.' It
is for this reason that there are similarities in the performance of rituals
related to these two and especially in the sharagans (hymns) dedicated
to them. Often the celebrations are concurrent or performed consecutively
as is most evidently witnessed in the seven-day period following the Feast
of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The word yegeghetzi (church) is the
Armenization of the original Greek ecclesia. Its meaning is multifold:
a) community of believers, b) that community's executive assembly, c) a
temple of worships for believers and d) a place to congregate to perform
rituals. Viewing all of these simultaneously, the church represents a divine
establishment founded by Christ. This abstract concept can be further described
by: Source, from which flow the graces of God; Foundation, the institution
of faith; Bride, united with Christ spiritually (Ephesians 5:23) as is
attested by the Apostle in relation to bride and bridegroom; Mother, who
gives spiritual birth to the faithful flock, etc.
The concept that the church is a
divine establishment founded by Christ is that which is glorified with
solemn celebrations. The greatest of these may be the most solemn and sacramental
ritual which we perform when the foundation of a new church is laid or
at the eve of and time of the consecration of a church; likewise, when
a ruined church is renovated or a desecrated church is re-sanctified. All
of these are delineated in the Book of Ritual (Mashdotz) carefully and
As feasts of the Holy Church we celebrate
New Sunday and The Sunday of the World Church.
These Sundays follow immediately
after the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter). New Sunday is the commemoration
of the establishment of the Holy Church. The sharagan for that day proclaims
the conversion of the pagans and the ministry of the Apostles to preach
the Good News to the entire world. Sunday of the World Church commemorates
the establish. Merit of the first Christian church in the Upper Room where
our Lord established the sacrament of Holy Communion. It was also the place
where the Apostles and faithful gathered and where the Holy Spirit descended
upon the Apostles on Pentecost. (Acts 2:42). This room, which became the
first chapel of worship for Christians and model for all churches, was,
according to Holy Tradition, the home of St. James the Greater, first Bishop
of Jerusalem. (According to another tradition it was the home of the evangelist
Mark.) In any case, it is important that the early Christians, following
Pentecost and Ascension, had their own special place of worship, which
was the first Christian church. The Sunday of the World Church is a commemoration
of the concept of its establishment.
The second group of celebrations
of the Holy Church are connected with the Feast of the Exaltation of the
Holy Cross and are commemorated within the seven-day period of its celebrations:
first, the Saturday prior to the Feast of the Exaltation, then the following
Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. (Mondays following major feasts are always
Merelotz). These four days of commemoration are connected with the Feast
of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross because they commemorate the four cathedrals
that King Constantine's mother, Queen Helena, had built after the discovery
of the Holy Cross; the Cathedral of Christ's Tomb near Golgotha, the Church
of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Ascension on the Mount
of Ascension and the Church of St. Mary, the Holy Mother of God's Tomb
The first of those, which takes place
on the Saturday prior to the Exaltation of the Holy Cross Is the commemoration
of the Navagadik at the Cathedral of the Holy Resurrection (the Holy Sepulchre)
which is confirmed by the Sharagan of that day: "From the newly miraculous
navagadik In Jerusalem, brightly vested in glory doth show thy Holy Cross."
The other three days commemorate the three previously mentioned cathedrals.
In the Armenian Church, the Feast
of the Tabernacle [Ark of the Covenant] is also commemorated with Feasts
of the Holy Church. This is celebrated on the Saturday prior to the Feast
of the Transfiguration. Although the Ark of the Covenant is a sanctity
particular to the Old Covenant and which was honored with the greatest
solemnity in Judaism, we honor it because in the tabernacle we perceive
a preliminary picture of the Church of Christ.
This concept is based on the Christian
belief of the perpetually of the church. Even prior to the Holy Gospels
(Christ) and as preparation for them, God In His wisdom revealed Himself
to mankind gradually through Adam, Noah, Abraham, and Moses and through
the prophets. The church was existent from the beginning as a means for
proper human morality, and the teaching of the truth. It continued through
the millennia in a natural progression. It is for that reason that the
Old Testament is accepted as part of the Holy Scriptures, and is considered
as a preamble to the New Testament. We commemorate 'the forefathers,' 'patriarchs'
and 'prophets' as God's saints, and as examples to the Apostles and the
Saints of 'the Church.' It is for this reason also that we commemorate
the Tabernacle (Ark of the Covenant), the Holy of Holies as an example
and model of the church. It is in that same spirit that the hymn of the
day proclaims: "Who from the beginning established your church with wisdom,
O, Father of Wisdom, who revealed to Moses upon Sinai."
There are two other feasts dedicated
to the concept of the Holy Church. And although they commemorate specific
events in the spiritual life of our nation, they likewise Invoke the concept
of the universal Christian Church, in its most basic and authentic form,
that of the Universal, Apostolic, One and Holy Church of Christ. These
attributes of the True Church become most evident in the Feasts of the
Universal (catholic) Church of Holy Etchmladzin and Holy Shoghagat.
The Feast of the Universal Church
of Holy Etchmiadzin is commemorated two weeks after Pentecost, which is
the Sunday immediately following the Saturday celebrating the Deliverance
of St. Gregory the Illuminator, which was recorded by Agathangelos. In
the vision he saw the shape of a cathedral with pillars and arches amidst
clouds. And blinding lights. In Vagharshabad, at the place of the ancient
Armenian pagan temple, Christ 'the only-begotten' (Etch-Miadzin) descended
and struck the earth with a golden hammer. This feast commemorates the
final eradication of paganism in Armenia and the establishment of the Holy
Armenian Church and her pontifical authority. On one hand, it is a commemoration
of our national church, the assertion of its Individuality and its support
by the Armenian government. On the other, as part of the universal church,
it gave form to the church, which had existed for three centuries, established
by the Apostles, and based on the truth of the Holy Gospels.
The Feast of Holy Shoghagat takes
place on the Saturday prior to the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy
Mother Of God. It is referred to in the Directorium as Feast of Shoghagat
of Holy Etchmladzin according to the vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator.
The reason this feast is celebrated at the time of the Assumption is that
the Mother Cathedral of the Armenian Church (Holy Etchmladzin) is named
in honor of the Holy Mother of God. The title of the feast, Shoghagat,
refers to the vision of St. Gregory and the dropping of the rays the same
as 'Etchmladzin.' After some time, the Mother Cathedral became commonly
known as Etchmiadzin whereupon the name 'Shoghagat' referred to that of
the other three churches the Illuminator built where he first saw the ray
of light. (At that particular site one of the martyred virgin companions
of St. Hripsimeh was burned, and it was believed her name was Shoghagat.)
word saint in the church means just and God pleasing. In the early days
of Christianity believers called one another saints. That soon fell into
disuse and the term 'saint' was reserved for those who lived a virtuous
life, who became renowned for their faith and service to the church, those
who became martyred for the faith and those worthy of heavenly favor.
The most obvious measure of sainthood
is 'martyrdom' since for mankind the greatest sacrifice Is the relinquishing
of one's life for the love of one's faith and beliefs. When offered willingly
and with devotion and faith this sacrifice sanctifies one's past transgressions.
It is for this reason that the 'baptism of blood' is considered sufficient
for those martyrs who had not received the sacrament of baptism prior to
their martyrdom. Another measure of sainthood is 'to bear heavenly witness'
which is made manifest through miracles. There are references, as well,
to pious and worthy individuals In the Holy Scriptures. Our church does
not possess a vehicle of canonic law as does the Roman Church in order
to canonize saints. Generally, it has been through the piety of faithful
believers and through their acceptance of the exemplary spiritual strength
of an individual that the faithful themselves recognize and honor them.
Whereupon, the proper ecclesiastical authorities, after being likewise
convinced of their spiritual strength and exemplary behavior through miracles
or martyrdom, canonized them through inclusion in the Directorium. There
are still those, however, who have been honored by the faithful, whose
graves or relics venerated, yet who still remain uncanonized and are not
remembered in the Directorium (Donatzooytz).
There are two categories of saints
in the Armenian Church: those that are 'celebrated' and those that are
'commemorated.' The former are celebrated by means of recollection during
the Hours Services and during the Divine Liturgy, the latter by the daily
reading of their biographies and/or martyrdom from the Haysmavoork (Book
of Martyrologles and Lives of the Saints). Naturally there are those saints
who have remained unknown. It Is for that reason the church celebrates
'ALL SAINTS DAY' commemorating all saints, "old and new, known and unknown."
By old and new we are not to understand the Old and New Testaments but
the saints who have remained unknown to us from the time of our Lord until
the present. This feast, which is celebrated in all traditional churches
and which is viewed as a major feast by Roman Catholics, is listed in our
ancient Directoria to be celebrated only those years when the season of
the Holy Cross is extended by one week. (The reader should remember that
the period preceding the Feast of the Holy Cross is based on Easter and
is thus variable.)
According to the apostolic decree,
"The martyrdom of His saints are honorable before the Lord," therefore
it is their martyrdom that is most often commemorated. It would be logical
to commemorate Saints' Days on the anniversaries of their martyrdom. However,
more often than not it was impossible to accurately record those dates
and for that reason it has been impossible to do. It has been especially
difficult in our church to do so since, from ancient times Saints' Days
have not been commemorated on Dominical Feasts or on Days of Abstinence.
And since the remaining 100-120 days of the year are insufficient to include
all the saints' commemorations, the Canon of the Day of Martyrdom is incorporated
in our church only in the reading of the Haysmavoork.
Important incidents from the lives
of the saints, which have impact on our lives as Christians, are commemorated
as well. Accordingly, in our church we do have a small number of such parallel
commemorations: for example, the commemorations of the Birth of St. John
the Forerunner (Baptist), his beheading and the translation of his relics.
Likewise with the Holy Apostles and prophets, we commemorate them as a
group, then in pairs or singly. Again, we have three feasts of commemoration
dedicated to St. Gregory the Illuminator, two for the Holy Translators,
commemorations to the twelve great patriarchs of the church in general
as well as separate commemorations for each one, etc.
In the canon of the commemoration
of the saints, the practice of group commemorations is peculiar to our
church, with those saints who bear strong similarities to one another being
commemorated together, for example: forefathers, patriarchs, prophets,
apostles, teachers (vartabedatz), sons and grand* children (St. Gregory),
Vartanantz, the Holy Translators, etc.
Although some may find fault in the
Armenian Church for its commemoration of saints outside her own tradition,
one must bear in mind that these all belong to the first through fifth
centuries when the Universal Church was still in existence and had not
been divided into specific churches. Therefore all those saints, which
all ancient churches still commemorate presently, are considered saints
by all of traditional Christendom, By retaining the commemoration of those
early saints, the Armenian Church accents the fact that in its mission
to its people, as the mother and fortress of the faith of the Holy Gospels,
It is and shall remain "Apostolic" and "Universal," augmented by its strong
national spirit. In view of this, the Armenian Church has always maintained
its original position in matters of faith and creed. In matters of national
commemorations, it has exercised economy as is clear from the Directorium.
After the fifth century the saints' commemorations that have been added
are less In number than those preceding and then only when the worthiness
and God-pleasing conduct of the saint was well established and unquestionable.
are preeminent and considered holy in all of God's creation. They are those
spiritual beings who remained steadfast in grace and from the beginning
refused the charm of evil, dedicating themselves to the perpetual glorification
of the Creator.
Although their creation Is not recorded
specifically in the story of Creation, in the Book of Job (38:7) it is
written, "When the morning stars sang together, and all the angels of God
shouted for joy;" It Is implied that they were created prior to the stars,
In other words, on the second day of Creation. Both the Old and New Testaments
abound with references confirming the existence of the angels. In harmony
with the plan of Creation certain creations were credited with only body,
others with body and spirit; it is logical, therefore that certain creations
were only of the spirit. One group of those spiritual beings was able to
defeat evil and obtain everlasting joy through the exercise of free will
and conscious decision while the other group, defeated by evil, lost their
holiness. The first group of good and holy beings is called 'angels' the
latter are called 'devils' or evil spirits.
In Christian understanding as established
by the Holy Scriptures, the angel's duty is the glorification of God...
The Armenian Church commemorates
the feast of the angels, archangels, and all the Heavenly host specifically
mentioning Michael and Gabriel on the Saturday preceding the Eighth Sunday
after the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. In accordance with Holy Scripture
the Armenian Church recognizes nine ranks of angels. They are angels, archangels,
virtues, powers, principalities, dominions, thrones, cherubim, and seraphim.