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Saints & Feasts of The Armenian Church

The Feasts

he 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

Dominical feasts are divided into three categories. They are the propers of Dominical feasts, feasts of the Holy Mother of God and Dominical observances. 
 
The Proper 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 Holy Spirit). 

Theophany

n 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 canon. 

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. 
 
Readings: 
The Annunciation: Luke 1:26-38, 56 
The Nativity: Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-21 
The Baptism: Matthew 3:1-17, Mark 1:4-11 
The Naming and Circumcision: Luke 2:21 
The Presentation to the Temple: Luke 2:22-40 
The Flight to Egypt: Matthew 2:13-23 
The Temptations in the Wildemess: Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13 

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 Transfiguration

he 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 Christ. 

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. 
 
Readings: 
Matthew 17:1-9 
Mark 9:2-10 
Luke 9:28-36 

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 Resurrection

f 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 of 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 saints. 

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 'light.' 

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." 
 
Readings: 
The Raising of Lazarus: John 11:1-44 
Palm Sunday: Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-10, Luke 19:2840 
John 12:12-19 
Holy Week: Matthew 26:1-27:66, Mark 14:1-15:47, Luke 22:1-23:56, John 13:1-19:42 
Resurrection-Easter: Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-12, 
John 20:1-18 
Decapitation of St, John the Baptist: Mark 6:14-29 Ascension: Mark 16:19-20, Luke 24:50-53 Pentecost: Acts 2:1-4 

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 Feasts of the Holy Mother of God

he 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: 

  • 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 Gospels are: 
    • When Jesus was 12 years old, the trip to Jerusalem, His being lost, sought after by His parents and found in the Temple. 
    • 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. 
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. 

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: 

1. Her Nativity 
2. Her Presentation to the Temple 
3. The Annunciation 
4. The Conception of St. Anna with Mary 
5. The Purification 
6. The Assumption 
7. Discovery of the Belt (girdle) 
8. Discovery of the Box (chest) 
Readings: 
Annunciation - Luke 1-26-38 
Nativity - Matthew 1:18-25, Luke 2:1-21 
Visit to Elizabeth - Luke 1:39-56 
Christ's Presentation to the Temple - Luke 2:22-40 
Jesus as a child is lost - Luke 2:41-52 
Wedding in Cana - John 2:1-11 
Capernaum - John 2:12 
At the Cross - John 19:25-28 
After Ascension - Acts 1:14 
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 Dominical Observances

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.

Feasts of the Holy Cross

he 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 for Christians. 

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 in 326. 

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 hymns. 

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. 

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 Feasts of the Holy Church

t 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 in detail. 

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 In Gethsemane. 

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.) 

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 Saints' Days

he 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. 

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 The Angels

ngels 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. 
 

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References to angels are numerous in both the New and Old Testaments. The readings for the Feast of the Holy Angels are: Genesis 18:33-19:2 
Job 38:4-7 
Isaiah 6:1-7 
Ezekiel 1:1-20 
Hebrews 1-6-14 
Matthew 18:10-14 
Pious Customs of the Armenian Faithful  - Continue >
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Updated 30 August 1999 ..
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