TABERNACLE FEAST – ASSUMPTION OF THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD (VERAPOKHUM)
The Armenian word used for the Assumption, “Verapokhoum,” appears to mean, in modern Armenian, “change again.” However, in classical Armenian it means “transport up.”
After the Crucifixion, Jesus’ much loved disciple, the Apostle John, became the guardian and supporter of Mary, the Mother of God. The approval for it (John 19:26-17, cited above) must be taken as evidence that although Jesus was continually busy with His traveling and teachings, He really was concerned with the welfare of His dear mother.
All the apostles were present at the burial except Bartholomew, who was not in the city or was possibly even out of the country. Mary had had a premonition that Bartholomew might be exceedingly distressed for being denied the opportunity of paying his last respects at her funeral. As a consequence, she gave a portrait of herself to the Apostle John to give to Bartholomew.
The portrait was in fact given to Bartholomew. Tradition has it that the Apostle Bartholomew, the first enlightener of the Armenians, took the portrait with him to Armenia, where because of persecutions he was obliged to hide it in a place called Darbnots Kar, in the province of Antsevatsyats. A convent was built on that same site, and the nuns there were to protect the portrait.
Back in Jerusalem, in spite of his having been especially favored with the gift of the portrait, Bartholomew was not satisfied. He insisted on going to the grave, and for a last time to be near the Mother of God. It is that event that gave rise to the greatest of feasts dedicated to the Holy Mother of God, the Tabernacle Feast of the Assumption.
The apostles were gathered in the cemetery, trying to satisfy Bartholomew’s demand. However, Mary was not there! The three days and nights of angelic songs and heavenly melodies had been for her in sleep, and not for her in death.
All churches of Christendom accept the doctrine that the body of the Mother of God was carried up into heaven – the Assumption.
THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD AND THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
During the early centuries, Mary as an archetype became a serious doctrinal issue being debated by newly formed religious communities.
However, as Christianity more and more became the state religion, ecumenical councils were being held to consider various doctrinal issues and arrive at a consensus on those doctrinal principles and beliefs.
Early in the 5th century a theologian from Antioch named Nestorius, who became Patriarch of Constantinople (428-431), claimed that Mary had given birth to an ordinary mortal, Jesus.
An ecumenical council (the third of such councils) was convened at Ephesus in the year 431 to deal with that and other doctrinal issues. The council, consisting of representatives from all the churches, including the Armenian Church, formally accepted and declared the doctrine that Mary was the Mother of God, object of reverence and worship.
Patriarch Nestorius was dethroned as a heretic and exiled to Egypt. From the beginning, the Armenian Church has recognized Mary as Mother of God, and has made its position known in that faith.
Many hundreds of churches have been built over the centuries and named after the Holy Virgin, or Mother of God.
As an example, in the Armenian world, though the Cathedral of the Catholicate of the Great House of Cilicia is named after St. Gregory the Enlightener, the chapel of its seminary, in the mountain city of Bikfaya, is named after the Holy Mother of God. Pilgrimages to that site take place each year on the feast day of the Assumption.
Today, in all centers where there is a large Armenian population, there will surely be a Church named after the Mother of God – Sourp Asdvadzadzin.
For Armenians she has been known as “Parekhos” (Intercessor) and “Amenorhnyal i Ganays” (Most Blessed of Women). The Armenian people have built special holy sites and chapels dedicated to her; they bear names as “Sirahayatse” (The Vision of Love), “Kaghtsrahayatse” (The Vision of Sweetness), “Partzrahayatse” (The Vision of Exaltation), “Khuntragadare” (The Grantor of Supplications, “Hokyats Diramayre” (The Mother of the Lord of Souls), “Charkhapane” (The Foiler of evil), etc.
With the Holy Mother of God being regarded as the special guardian of the female sex, Armenian mothers and girls have been particularly zealous in observing the abstinence prescribed for this religious feast.
THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD AND THE ARMENIAN FAMILY
As perfection of virtue in women and purity of love and spotlessness, the Holy Mother of God has become the ideal in the minds of females.
Even in the earliest centuries, the reverence and supreme feeling of love shown in Armenian families for Mary have had their expression. That shows in the popular practice during the days of the Feast of Assumption of celebrating the name-days for those bearing the names Mariam, Marie, Maria, Marine, Maro, Mayranouysh, Maritza. Also included are the following names:
•Takouhi, Takoug: The queen, the pride, the love, the pinnacle of womanhood.
•Srpouhi, Srpoug, Sourpig: Sanctity of such a level to be worthy of bearing God the Son, through the Holy Spirit.
•Makrouhi: The spotless being of faith, love, unpretentiousness, sincerity and dedication.
•Isgouhi: Truly combining those spiritual virtues in a woman that generations of training and teaching have sought to instill.
•Arpenig, Arevig: Being as necessary as the Sun for life; being an inseparable part of life and nature.
•Aghavni: Gentle as the bird that symbolizes peace, innocence, joy, and harmony in life.
•Margarit: Being sacred, spotless, priceless, and forever worthy like the Holy Virgin.
•Yeranouhi, Yeranik, Yeranyak (Yeranouhi – Blessed): Like the woman mentioned in the Gospel who blesses the one who gave birth to Jesus.
Apart from the names listed above are many more flattering names expressing similar noble qualities. All are appropriate to be celebrated, identifying persons to be congratulated during the occasions of pure and precious family gathering.
Azniv, Antaram, Arousyak, Arous, Lousine, Pergrouhi (Pergroug), Berjouhi, Berjoug, Yerchanig, Soultanig, Vergine,Lousaper, Lousarpi, Lousntak, Denchali, Dirouhi
BLESSING OF GRAPES
An old tradition among Armenians, both beautiful and righteous, was for the first and best fruits to be given to God, in thanks and gratitude, when the harvest was ready.
If this devout practice existed in the era before Christianity, and its expression was to render to the gods, then that idea continued on to the present, but with this difference – it was directed to the church and through it to the needy.
We should point out that the Jews had a tradition of “First Fruits” being given to the temple.
The grape enjoyed preeminence among all fruits because it was the source of wine that is used in the Sacrament of the Divine Liturgy, in the Holy Communion, and in Holy Matrimony.
ASDVADZADZNI TAT (Mother of God Root)
During her childbearing labor the Mother of God held a root in her hand and was quickly relieved of pain. This root is soaked in water and the water is given to a woman in extended labor in order to mitigate her pain.
ASDVADZADZNI KAR (Mother of God Stone)
The Mother of God’s milk was so plentiful that the nursing infant Jesus was unable to consume it all. Therefore, Mary would go to a cave and release the excess milk to bring comfort to her breasts. According to tradition, the milk produced the friable clay-like stones which pilgrims visiting Jerusalem often bring back with them.
PSHATENI (Oleaster Tree)
Once John the Baptist happened to come upon Mary in the street. In order to hide from her (Jesus’) godfather, Mary went under a nearby oleaster tree and bent down some branches to cover herself. From that day on, the branches of the oleaster tree are bent downward.
ORIGIN OF THE CROCUS FLOWER (“Chiytem” or “Chiktam”)
When Mary was spreading egg yolk over unleavened bread, word came to her that her beloved Son had been betrayed and arrested. Without pausing to wash her hands she ran to learn about her son’s condition. Along the way thousands of flowers sprang up from the spots where drops of the yellow yoke had dripped from her hands. These flowers come up every year at Easter time, and are known as crocuses.
ARDER ISLAND NEAR THE VILLAGE OF NAREG
Gregory of Nareg had a burning desire to see the Mother of God with the infant Jesus on her lap. Once that view of his desires did appear to him from the little island that lay just opposite the chapel. Fascinated, he went over the water and knelt before the Mother of God, who spoke to him, saying, “Ar zDer ko, zor khuntreir” (to your Lord, according to your wish). From this, the island has been known by the name of “Ar- Der.”
DISAPPEARANCE OF THE DEVILS
When Christ’s mother and her sister, with heads bent over the grave of the Lord, were deeply mourning their great loss, devils (which in those times lived among the people and were visible) were seeking to attract the attention of the mourners and were banging on them. The Mother of God turned to them and said, “Anerevouyt linek” (be ye invisible). From that day on devils have been invisible to people.
GLOSSARY – NOTES
MOTHER OF GOD IN INTERNATIONAL ART: Mary, Mother of God occupies a very important part of the most valuable works of art created by the world’s most famous and skilled painters: Botticelli, Leaonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Hovnatanian brothers, Toros Roslin, Sourenyants and others.
MOTHER OF GOD IN LITERATURE: Treatises, commentary, and other writings on the Mother of God, in countless languages, could fill a whole library.
The Armenian Church and its literature have also been endowed with a rich heritage of works on this subject. An extensive bibliographical reference list has been prepared by Tamar Dasnabedian. The list appears in the last three 1991 issues of the monthly “Hask,” published by the Catholicate of Cilicia; the title of the list of 283 works is “Tsutsak S. Asdvadzadzni Veraperyal Jareru.”
EPHESUS: Ancient Greek city of Asia Minor, on the western shore of Anatolia on the Aegean Sea. It has been important in all fields of endeavor. It was taken by the Turks from Byzantium in 1288; the inhabitants were annihilated. The city has been in ruins since 1391. Ephesus has been famous for the Temple of Artemis, one of the “Seven Wonders of the World.”
ANTSEVATSYATS: Region in the southwestern part of the Province of Vasburagan.
FIRST CENSUS OF AUGUSTUS CAESAR: The Evangelist has emphasized that this was the first population census, because ten years after Jesus’ birth there was a second census (Acts 5:37)
AGE TWELVE LAW: Jesus went to Jerusalem when He was twelve years of age, because Jewish males at the age of 12 became subject to the Law. It was obligatory to go to Jerusalem at Easter and submit to the canons on abstinence and prayer.
CANA: Small city in Galilee, about 5 miles from Nazareth. Mary was alone in Cana because Joseph had already died. The wedding at Cana took place during the first months of Jesus’ teachings.
PROPHET ISAIAH: Lived in Jerusalem during the 8th century B.C. Was the author of the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Isaiah, Chapters 1 to 33 and 36 to 39. The remaining chapters belong to a second prophet Isaiah who lived a century and a half after the first Isaiah.
MARY (also called Holy Virgin, Mother of God, Bearer of God (Theotokos, Gr.): These titles were given by decision of the Ecumenical Council. By the 4th century she was also called the “Unutterable Virgin.” Other names are Virgin Mary, Blessed Mary.
It should be mentioned here that the Roman Catholic Church made a number of important canonical declarations regarding the Mother of God in 1854, and in our own times in 1950 and 1964. In succession, they were declarations made “Ex Cathedra” of “Immaculate Conception,” belief in “Assumption bodily into Heaven,” and finally, “Mother of the Church” (by Pope Paul VI).
MEMORIAL DAY: With Assumption being a Tabernacle Feast, the following day, Monday, is Memorial Day. Divine Liturgy is performed in churches followed by visiting cemeteries to pray for the souls of those who have “fallen asleep.”
Courtesy of “Feasts of the Armenian Church and National Traditions” by Garo Bedrosian, 1993