HEREIN YOU WILL FIND THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE SAINTS OF THE ARMENIAN ORTHODOX APOSTOLIC CHURCH WITH BIOGRAPHICAL INFORMATION.
Courtesy of the Late V. Rev. Fr. Ghevont Dz. V. Samoorian.
St. Peter the Patriarch was the Bishop of Alexandria. [300A.D.].
A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Peter survived the persecutions of Emperor Diocletian and served as a confessor for the suffering Christians. Made head of the famed Catechetical School of Alexandria, he was a vigorous opponent of Origenism before receiving appointment as bishop. He composed a set of rules by which those who had lapsed might be readmitted to the faith after appropriate penance, a settlement, which was not to the liking of extremists of the community. Thus, in 306 when the persecutions began again, Peter was forced to flee the city. The partisans of Melitius, Peter’s chief critic, installed their favorite as bishop of Alexandria, thereby starting the Melitian Schism, which troubled the see for many years. Peter returned to Alexandria in 311 A.D. after a lull in the persecutions, but was soon arrested and beheaded by Roman officials acting on the decree of Emperor Maximian. He is called the “seal and complement of martyrs” as he was the last Christian slain by Roman authorities. Eusebius of Caesarea described him as “a model bishop, remarkable for his virtuous life and his ardent study of the Scriptures.”
St. Blaise was a bishop of Sebastia in Armenia who was martyred under the reign of Licinius in the early fourth century.
The legend of his life that sprang up in the eighth century tells us that he was born into a rich and noble family who raised him as a Christian. After becoming a bishop, a new persecution of Christians began. He received a message from God to go into the hills to escape persecution. Men hunting in the mountains discovered a cave surrounded by wild animals who were sick. Unafraid, Blaise walked among these animals, and cured them of their illnesses. Recognizing Blaise as a bishop, the men captured him to take him back for trial. On the way back, he talked a wolf into releasing a pig that belonged to a poor woman. When Blaise was sentenced to death by starvation, the woman, in gratitude, sneaked into the prison with food and candles. Finally, the governor of the region killed Blaise.
St. Absolom was St. Peter the Patriarch’s deacon [300-311 A.O.].
A man full of the Holy Spirit he worked tirelessly to proclaim the Gospel and turn people to the Light of Christ. He fell asleep in the Lord as a martyr suffering a similar fate to that of his patriarch.
St. Anthony was born in the year 251 A.D. in Egypt to very pious parents.
His education was limited, however he attended church with his parents and intensely observed the services, wanting to enrich his spiritual growth. His parents died when he was eighteen years old. He lived with his sister and took care of family affairs. One day when he attended the liturgy, he heard the words that Jesus had spoken to a wealthy young man, “If you will be perfect, go and sell all that you have and give it to the poor and come follow me….”
He was so impressed by these words that he decided to do as Christ had told the young man. He sold off his plots of farmland, gave the money to the poor and entrusted his sister to a Christian home for virgins for at this time there were no monasteries. Those who wanted to meditate would build cells a short distance from the city and live there. This is what Anthony did. In the area lived an old hermit. Anthony followed his example by praying, meditating and fasting in order to overcome the many temptations, which are common in young men. He drilled himself by remaining awake days at a time, eating once a day, sometimes once every two days and sleeping on the ground. The philosophy behind his actions was that young men should torture their bodies as much as possible so that their resistance to physical and spiritual sickness would be higher.
The years passed. To further his spiritual struggle, at the age of 35 he departed for the desert where he found a derelict fortress in which he barricaded himself. Completely isolated, but for a good Christian who brought him food every six months or so, he pursued with greater severity his ascetic way of life, constantly battling Satan’s temptations. As the years passed many men came to him, expressing the desire to follow his example by living the life of a hermit and undergoing spiritual struggles. He taught his brothers to prefer their love for Christ over everything else. Even though St. Anthony lacked education, his words were full of faith and divine wisdom. His reputation and ascetic figure added a heavenly charm to his teachings.
In time, this setting became the first monastery, established in 305 A.D. It is for this reason that Saint Anthony is generally known as the father of monasticism. From this one brotherhood many more sprouted throughout the known world. Rules were soon established which were to be followed by all hermit monks. During the time of the persecutions under Emperor Maximianos, Anthony and several other monks traveled to Alexandria to encourage and comfort the many suffering Christians. In 325 A.D., Anthony and his monks helped defeat the Arian heretics at the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea.
Many miracles are attributed to this religious father. His fame reached even Constantinople. Constantine the Great and one of his sons would write letter to St. Anthony asking for his blessing and advice. St. Athanasius, who knew Anthony and wrote his biography, said, “Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his wordly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God.”
Saint Anthony fell asleep in the Lord in 356 A.D. at the age of 105. He instructed two of his monks to bury him secretly. This they did, and his resting place is still unknown.
St. Tryphon was a martyr for Christ and was popular in the early Eastern Church; also called Trypho.
He was allegedly a gooseherder who lived near Apamea [modern Syria] and was executed at Nicaea [modern Turkey] under Emperor Trajanus Decius. During the Decian persecution he was taken to Nicea about the year 250 A.O. and put to death in a horrible manner after he had converted the heathen prefect Licius. Fabulous stories are interwoven with his legend. He is greatly venerated in the Greek [Byzantine] Church, which observes his feast on February 1. Many churches were dedicated to him, and the Eastern Emperor, Leo VI, the Philosopher [Died 912] delivered a eulogy upon Tryphon.
St. Barsauma [or Barsimaeus] [d. 250 A.D] was the Bishop of Edessa in Syria, once believed to have been martyred but now credited with being a successful evangelist only.
He was noted for converting many to Christianity in his era.
St. Onouphrius [4th Century] became a monk at a coenobitic monastery near Thebes, which he left to lead a eremitic life. For 60 to 70 years, Onouphrius lived alone in the desert and wore only his hair and a loincloth of leaves. Sought to imitate the solitude and privations of St. John the Baptist. He was said to have been buried by Paphnutius who had come to him to learn if the hermit’s life was for him; he buried Onouphrius in a hole in the mountainside, which immediately disappeared. Died c. 400 A.D.
St. Theodosius, Roman Emperor (also known as Flavius Theodosius), born in Spain, about 346; died at Milan, 17 January, 395.
Theodosius is one of the sovereigns by universal consent called Great. He stamped out the last vestiges of paganism, put an end to the Arian heresy in the empire, pacified the Goths, left a famous example of penitence for a crime, and reigned as a just and mighty Christian emperor. He was already married to Aelia Flacilla, by whom he had two sons, Arcadius and Honorius (his future successors) and a daughter Pulcheria. A great part of the emperor’s activity was now spent in establishing the catholic and orthodox faith and repressing Arianism. In February, 380, he and Gratian published the famous edict that all their subjects should profess the faith of the Bishops of Rome and Alexandria. The conventicles of the heretics were not to be called churches. During all his reign Theodosius took severe measures against the surviving remnants of paganism. In 388 a prefect was sent around Egypt, Syria, and Asia Minor for the purpose of destroying temples and breaking up pagan associations.
The legend of the Seven Children of Ephesus has its origins in the third century A.D. at a time when Ephesus was ruled by the Emperor Decius, who was a terror to Christian believers. Fleeing persecution, seven Christian youths left Ephesus and found a cave outside the city walls. They sealed themselves in and went to sleep. Two hundred years later in the fifth century A.D. an earthquake opened up the cave and awakened the sleepers. They crawled out of the cave and wandered back to Ephesus to find a changed city. Christianity had taken hold. The seven sleepers were entombed in the cave after their deaths. Soon after their deaths, the Grotto became a holy shrine for a cult, which worshipped the seven sleepers. In actuality, however, it is a Byzantine-era necropolis with several tombs cut into the rock.
St. Athanasius [Father and Doctor of the Church], b. c.295, d. 373.
Known as the “champion of orthodoxy,” was bishop of Alexandria and a defender of the Christian faith during the 4th century crisis of Arianism. He received a classical and theological education in Alexandria, where he was also ordained deacon and appointed secretary to Bishop Alexander. As a theological expert at the Council of Nicaea, which gathered in 325 to condemn the Arian rejection of Christ’s divinity, Deacon Athanasius defended the unity of Christ as both God and man. In 328 he succeeded Alexander as bishop of the see over which he was to preside for 45 years. Seventeen of them were spent in exile, imposed on him said to be Theotokos [Arm. Asdvadzadzin; Eng. God-bearer]: the term if applied to Mary, might lead lay folk to suppose that Mary was mother of the divine nature of Christ, whereas she was mother only in respect of his human nature. The term might be thought to imply that he who was born of Mary was not man but God. He therefore suggested the title Christotokos or Mother of Christ.” Cyril now took an interest in the dispute and sent protestations to Rome concerning the utterances of Nestorius. He persuaded the bishop of Rome, Pope Celestine I to convoke a synod at Rome, which condemned Nestorius, and then did the same at his own synod in Alexandria. Celestine directed Cyril to depose Nestorius, and in 431 Cyril presided over the third Ecumenical Council at Ephesus, attended by some two hundred bishops, which condemned all the tenets of Nestorius and his followers before the arrival of Archbishop John of Antioch and forty-two followers who believed Nestorius was innocent. When they found what had been done, they held a council of their own and deposed Cyril. Emperor Theodosius II arrested both Cyril and Nestorius but released Cyril on the arrival of papal delegates who confirmed the council’s actions against Nestorius and declared Cyril innocent of all charges. Two years later Archbishop John, representing the moderate Antiochene bishops, and Cyril reached an agreement and joined in the condemnation, and Nestorius was forced into exile.
During the remainder of his life Cyril wrote treatises that clarified the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation and that helped prevent Nestorianism and Pelagianism from taking long-term deep root in the Christian community. He was the most brilliant theologian of the Alexandrian tradition and highly revered by the Church of Armenia. Accurate thinking, precise exposition, and great reasoning and skill characterize his writings. Among his writings are the authorities so he could publicly proclaim his faith. Martyr. Beheaded in 304 A.D.
St. Polyeuctus of Melitene was an officer in the Roman legion.
Convert. In his zeal as a new convert, he tore up Valerian’s imperial edict of persecution of the Christians, then smashed idols being carried in pagan procession. Tortured and martyred. His story was well known to the ancients who built several churches with his name, including a huge one in Constantinople in which it was customary to swear legal oaths. His Acts were widely read, and formed the basis for theatrical tragedy. Beheaded in 250 A.D. in Melitene, Armenia.
St. Grigoris Rajig (d. 549) was a Persian by birth from the Rajig family.
Grigoris was originally named Manjihr. At a very young age, he moved to Armenia and adopted the Christian faith and his new name. Grigoris entered a monastery near the capital city of Dvin and was so renowned for his piety and strong faith that the monastery was eventually named Rajig Manjihr. He was tortured and finally beheaded by the Persian governor of Annenia for having ignored the governor’s command to renounce his faith and return to Persia.
St. Vahan of Goghtn (Koghtnatsi) (d. 737 A.D.)
Was taken into custody as a young child with many other children of Armenian nobility who had been killed. He was moved to Damascus where he received his education and, like the other children, received Islamic training. He was well liked by the Arab leaders and attained a high position in the court. While serving in the court, the Arab overlords granted the captured Armenian children, who had grown to adulthood, the right to return home.
Vahan promised his overlord that he would come back but after returning to Armenia, his overlord died and Vahan felt he was released from his promise. Vahan married and established himself over the lands of his father who was killed prior to his captivity. The Arab overlords, however, demanded Vahan’s return and started to pursue him. He fled from one place to another over a number of years, leaving his family and home. At each place he went, the populace became endangered because of his presence so he finally decided to surrender himself, explain his desire to remain in Armenia and practice his own religion.
The person governing Armenia had him immediately thrown into prison and after many different kinds of torture, he was finally beheaded. His life and martyrdom were recorded and according to some traditions, his sister wrote the melody and lyric of the hymn dedicated to this saint.
Was a Roman by birth, who lived at Alexandria, where her father, Philip, was sent by the Emperor Cornmodus (180-192 A.D.) to be governor of Egypt. Eugenia received a fine upbringing and was noted for her good disposition
and beauty. And having become acquainted with the Epistles of the Apostle Paul, she yearned with all her soul to become a Christian and so in secret from her parents, in the company of her two servants, attired in men’s garb, she set out to a monastery for men. There, together with her servants she accepted holy Baptism. By her ascetic feats Saint Eugenia acquired the gift of healing. One time a rich young woman turned to her for help. Seeing what before her seemed a young monk, this woman burned with an impure passion, and upon being spurned, she contrived a slander about a forcible attempt. Saint Eugenia came to trial before the governor of Egypt, i.e., her father, and she was forced to reveal her secret. Her parents were exuberant, finding before them one over whom they had long grieved. After a certain while they all accepted holy Baptism. But Philip, upon the denunciation of pagans, was displaced from the post of governor. The Alexandrian Christians chose him as their bishop. The new governor, fearing the wrath of the people, did not dare openly try to execute Philip, but instead dispatched assassins. While Saint Philip was in prayer, they inflicted wounds upon him, from which he died three days later as a martyr.
Having thus become widowed, Saint Claudia [wife of Philip] and her daughter and servants set out to settle near Rome. There, Eugenia continued with monastic life. She and Claudia brought many young women and widows to Christ. After the course of several peaceful years, the emperor Galienus (260-268) began anew the persecution against Christians, and many of them found refuge with Saints Claudia and Eugenia. Both Saints Eugenia and Claudius were martyred for proclaiming the Gospel without fear. Both her brother Sergius and Apito and the Two Eunuchs who traveled with Eugenia suffered the same fate.
Saints Marcarius and Eugenius
They were two priests who lived during the time of Julian the Apostate, and were subjected to severe tortures and then banished to the deserts of Arabia where they continued their evangelization and died peacefully. They were crowned with martyrdom upon their decapitation in 362 A.D.
Saints Valerius, Canditus, and Aquila[s] – (4th Century)
These martyrs were from Trabizon who during the persecutions of Diocletian and Maximian fled from the city to nearby mountains. Ultimately they were arrested and brought before the tribunal. When they refused to renounce their faith they were imprisoned, subjected to starvation and then tortures of thirst. They endured Asmonaeans or Hasmonaeans is the Proper name of the family, which is derived from Cashman, great grandfather of Mattathias. The Maccabees were a [family of Jews] priestly family, which under the leadership of Mathathias initiated the revolt and resisted the tyranny of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, King of Syria, and after securing Jewish independence [and conquering Jerusalem] ruled the commonwealth till overthrown by Herod the Great. The standard of independence was first raised by Mattathias, a priest of the course of Joiarih. He seems, however, to have been already advanced in years when the rising was made, and he did not long survive the fatigues of active service. He died B.C. 166, having named Judas–apparently his third son- as his successor in directing the war of independence. After gaining several victories over the other generals of Antiochus, Judas was able to occupy Jerusalem except the “tower,” and purified the temple exactly three years after its profanation. Nicanor was defeated, first at Capharsalama, and again in a decisive battle at Adasa 161 B.C., where he was slain. This victory was the greatest of Judas’ successes, and practically decided the question of Jewish independence; but shortly after Judas fell at Eleasa, fighting at desperate odds against the invaders. After the death of Judas, Jonathan his brother succeeded to the command, and later assumed the high-priestly office. He died 144 B.C., and was succeeded by Simon, the last remaining brother of the Maccabaean family, who died 135 B.C.. The efforts of both brothers were crowned with success. On the death of Simon, Johannes Hyrcanus, one of his sons, at once assumed the government, 135 B.C., and met with a peaceful death 105 B.C. His eldest son, Aristobulus I., who succeeded him 105-101 B.C., was the first who assumed the kingly title, though Simon had enjoyed the fullness of the kingly power. Alexander Jannaeus was the next successor 104-78 B.C. Aristobul us II. and Hyrcanus III. Engaged in a civil war on the death of their mother, Alexandra, 78-69 B.C., resulting in the dethronement of Aristobulus II, 69-69 B.C., and the succession of Hyrcanus under Roman rule but without his kingly title, 63- 40 B.C. From 40 to 37 B.C. Antigonus, a son of Aristobulus II, ruled, and with his two grandchildren, Aristobulus and Mariumne, the Asmonaean dynasty ended.
The 7 Maccabees, their mother Solomonia [Shamuneh], and their teacher, the Priest Eleazar are also commemorated on this day. First, the priest Eleazar, an honorable 90 years old, was told to eat swine’s flesh, which would be a sure sign of apostasy from the Law of God. He refused, and even refused when his misguided friends, who highly esteemed him, offered to give him another kind of meat to eat, and tell the king it was pork, so the appearances would be that he ate pork, but he would keep the law in a physical way. He refused, and was tortured and burned. The wicked king Antiochus, called by some “Epiphanes”, then tried to force the seven athletes of God, all brothers, and noble offspring of Solomonia, to eat swine’s flesh. They too were tortured in horrible ways terrible to contemplate, one at a time, with the rest looking on. Each had the skin flayed from his face, and was burned in a hot griddle. After their martyrdoms, all of which were encouraged by that true lover of God and true and wise mother, Solomonia, she threw herself into the flames and joined her sons to share in the rewards each so firmly believed in and deserved.
Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Jonah, Zaphaniah, Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi.
There are twelve books known as “The Minor Prophets.” These prophets are not less important than those called “Major Prophets.” Their books are simply shorter. Some of the Minor Prophets lived in Israel; others in Judah. Some preached in the large cities; others in the rural areas. Jonah preached to Assyria. Obadiah ‘s message was directed toward Edom. The dates of the Minor Prophets range from the ninth century before Christ to the fifth century before Christ. All of the Minor Prophets were servants of God who proclaimed His will to people in need of repentance.
St. Sophia [Wisdom] Was the Legendary mother of the three virgin martyrs. The daughters suffered martyrdom during Hadrian’s persecution [2°d C.] of Christians and Sophia died three days later while praying at their graves.
Aristakes, the youngest son of St. Gregory the Enlightener.
Was ordained by his father. He entered the service of the church at a young age, remained celibate and represented the Church of Annenia at the First Ecumenical at Nicea in 325 A.D. According to Armenian Historians he was martyred around 333 A.D.
Vrtanes, the eldest of St. Gregory’s two sons succeeded his brother Aristakes to the Patriarchal throne in 333 A.D. He worked tirelessly to eradicate Paganism in the provinces of Armenia and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Housik, the youngest son of Vrtanes, was consecrated Patriarch of the Armenians at a young age. He courageously defended the authority of the church against secular intervention. He was martyred in 347 A.D by a prince that he chastized for meddling in ecclesiastical affairs.
Gregoris was the eldest son of Vrtanes. He was responsible for spreading the Gospel to the neighboring countries of Caucasian Albania and Georgia where he was also martyred. St. Gregoris Church was built over his remains in 489 A.D.
Daniel, an Assyrian by birth, spent many years in Armenia studying under the tuteledge of St. Gregory the Enlightener. He assisted in the conversion of Armenia to Christianity and became Patriarch after Housik. The Armenian Prince Diran had Daniel killed [strangled] in 348 A.D. only one year after Catholicos Hoosig’s martyrdom, after Daniel challenged Diran’s attempts to put an end to the descendents of St. Gregory ascending the Patriarchal throne.
The Fast of the Catechumens occurs three weeks before Poon Paregentan, the eve of Lent, or 10 weeks before Easter. It is comprised of 5 days of severe fast (dzom) wherein nothing is consumed from Dawn to Dusk. On Thursday [of the year 2003], the fourth day of the fast, the church commemorates Jonah the Prophet and reflects on the repentance of Nineveh as an example of broad repentance.
St. Nerses the Grace-filled points out the fact that when Saint Gregory the Enlightener emerged from his agony in the pit of Khor Virab, the central message of his evangelistic mission was the five days of severe fast (dzom) “like unto those of Nineveh”. This, he pursued as a means of healing and enlightenment and preparation for conversion to the Christian faith.
According to St. Gregory of Datev, it is possibly called arachavorats because it is the first of the aghoohats fasts, preceding those of Great Lent when, in ancient times the poverty-stricken would eat only the poorest meals oftentimes subsisting on bread and salt. Also, the beginning of this fast to Easter marks 70 days, which in earliest times were observed by all Christians, and to this day still observed by the Copts and the Ethiopians. In the Book of Epistles (Kirk T’ghtots) the exhortation of Stephen, the Bishop of Antioch comments at length concerning the consuming of olive oil, fish and other animals. Of the Fast of the Catechumens, the scribe Thomas appends “But we fast eating only bread and salt.”
B. Thompson, a writer on contemporary religious holidays, reports: The original time frame for preparing catechumens was changed from 40 hours to more than two months. Cathecumens were instructed for three to four hours daily and required to stand through every church service, segregated from the regular congregation. Subject to constant lectures and warnings from the clergy, they fasted daily until sunset, kept continent and neither bathed nor cut their hair. They were exorcised on Holy Saturday afternoon, before the Easter Vigil began. Following midnight, they were led to the place of baptism where they were immersed in the sacred waters, baptized, anointed and dressed in white linen to greet the dawn and take their first communion as Christians.
It appears, therefore, that selected and screened candidates found worthy were presented during this strict fast for the purposes of spiritual purging and “orientation” whereupon they entered into Great Lent and a period of forty days of fasting, learning, self-discipline, reconciliation, cleansing and purification in preparation for Baptism.
Jonah, the fifth of the Minor Prophets.
Was the son of Amittai, and a native of Gath-hepher (2 Kings). He prophesied during the reign of Jeroboam II, the King of Israel, from 793-753 B.C. He may have been a member of the company of prophets mentioned in connection with the prophet Elisha’s ministry.
The chief interest in the Prophet Jonah centers around the story of Jonah and the whale and the collective repentance of the Ninevites. The story is as follows; the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amathi, saying: Arise and go to Niniveh, the great city that was guilty of evil plots against God [Nahum 1:9], great cruelty, and immorality, and preach in it: “because its wickedness has come up before me.” [Jonah I :2] But the Prophet, instead of obeying the Divine command, “rose up to flee into Tharsis from the face of the Lord” that he might escape the task assigned to him by the Lord. Ninevah was a powerful and wicked city. Jonah had grown up hating the Assyrians [Ninevites] and fearing their atrocities. His hatred was so strong that he didn’t want them to receive God’s mercy. Jonah was actually afraid that the people of Ninevah would repent [4:2,3] and receive God’s good graces. Jonah’s attitude is representative of Israel’s reluctance to share God’s love and mercy with others, even though this was their God given mission [Genesis 12:3]. They, like Jonah, did not want non-Jews to obtain God’s favor. The story continues with Jonah then boarding a ship, but a violent storm overtakes him, and on his admission that he is the cause of it, he is cast overboard. He is swallowed by a great whale providentially prepared for the purpose , and after a three day’s sojourn in the belly of the whale, during which time he composes a hymn of thanksgiving, he is cast upon dry land. After this episode he again receives the command to preach in Niniveh. He finally proceeds to Nineveh and enters “after a day’s journey” into it, foretelling its destruction in forty days. A general fast and repentance [Jonah 3:5] is immediately commanded by the King of Ninevah and his authorities, in view of which, God relents and spares the wicked city. The pagan people of Ninevah believed Jonah’s message and repented. What a miraculous effect God’s words had on those evil people! Their repentance stood in stark contrast to Israel’s stubbornness. The people of Israel had heard many messages from the prophets, but they had refused to repent. The people of Ninevah only needed to hear God’s message once. Then, Jonah, angry and disappointed that the Lord has spared the Ninevites, wished to die. He expostulates with the Lord, and declares that it was in anticipation of this result that on the former occasion he had wished to flee to Tharsis [he was afraid that the Ninevites would repent and come into God’s favor]. He withdraws from Nineveh and, under a booth, which he has erected he awaits the destiny of the city. In this abode he enjoys for a time the refreshing shade of a gourd [vine], which the Lord prepares for him. Shortly, however, the gourd is stricken by a worm and the Prophet is exposed to the burning rays of the sun, whereupon he again murmurs and wishes to die. Then the Lord rebukes him for his selfish grief over the withering of a gourd, while still desiring that God should not be touched by the repentance of a city in which “there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand persons that know not how to distinguish between their right hand and their left, and many cattle as well.” The message here is clear. God responded in mercy by canceling his punishment on Ninevah. God had said that any nation on which he had pronounced judgment would be saved if they repented [Jeremiah 18]. Here, the Ninevites chose to follow God by preparation [by fasting] for the Lord’s mercy through repentance and then collectively accepting God’s message. This pleased God and in turn showed great mercy to the Ninevites by including them as members of His people. On the other hand, God became disappointed with the Jews because they did not want to share God’s message with the Gentiles, just as they resisted that role in St. Paul’s day [l Thessalonians 2:14-16].
Jesus brought this story to light when the Jews asked for a “sign”– a miracle to prove the Messiahship of Jesus. He answered that no “sign” would be given them other than the “sign” of Jonah the Prophet. For as Jonah was in the whale’s belly three days and three nights: so shall the Son of man be in the heart of the earth three days and three nights.
Jonah tried to run from his assignment and ended up spending three days and three nights in the belly of the whale. When Jonah got out, he grudgingly went to Ninevah, preached God’s message and saw them repent. By contrast, when Jesus came to his people, they refused to repent. Jesus tells us that his Resurrection [“the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth”] will prove that he is the Messiah. Three days after his death Jesus will come back to life, just as Jonah was given a new chance at life after three days in the fish. Jesus said that at the Great Judgment, the men of Ninevah will stand up to condemn the Israelites for their failure to repent [Matthew 12:39-41].
Just as the Ninevites fasted and repented from their wicked ways, so too are the people of God, during this preliminary fast before Great Lent, to repent and reconcile themselves to God and one another as they enter into the most penitential season of the year. Then and only then, can these people of God truly live as God’s chosen, the New Israel. Jonah’s Prayer of Thanksgiving [Jonah 2: 1-10]
From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said:
“In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. Your hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ the engulfing waters threatened me, the deep surrounded me; seaweed was wrapped around my head. To the roots of the mountains I sank down; the earth beneath barred me in forever. But you brought my life up from the pit.
O LORD my God. “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs. But I, with a song of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. Salvation comes from the LORD.”
And the LORD commanded the fish, and it cast Jonah onto dry land.
St. Sarkis lived during the fourth century
And was from Caesarea of Cappadocia in Asia Minor (Modern Turkey). He rose through the military ranks as a consequence of his valiant campaigns and even became a trustworthy and faithful general to Emperor Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman and Byzantine Emperor. At the accession to power of Emperor Julian the Apostate in 361 A.D., Sarkis took refuge with his son Mardiros in Armenia. Later when the Pagan Emperor Julian fought against the Persians, Sarkis and his son went to Persia to join the Persian army in the service of Persian King Shapur II. Sarkis along with Mardiros fought with great bravery against Julian’s defeated army. Sarkis was also able to convert many Persian soldiers to Chritianity. King Shapur II eventually discovered his faith and embraced Zoroastrianism instead. Zoroastrianism was a dualistic faith believing in the existence of 2 gods: One that is all good and one that is all evil. The king gave him this option because he did not want to lose the faithful and courageous service of his top general. Both Sarkis and his son steadfastly refused to abandon their faith. King Shapur’s promises of higher positions and of wealth did not cause Sarkis and Mardiros to alter their firm stand. They would rather die than deny Christ. Finally, the king executed both Sarkis and Mardiros. After the death of St. Sarkis, fourteen of his soldiers who had become Christians came to bury the Saint. These soldiers also met a martyric death at the hands of the Persian king for simply burying their teacher in Christ. Also called St. Serge in English.
Saints Adom and his Soldiers (c. 451)
Were two armies of Armenian soldiers led by Adovm Knooni and Manajihr Rshdooni in the fifth century preceding the Battle of Avarayr. Adovm Knooni and Manajihr Rshdooni had been commissioned by their Persian commanders to leave Armenia and proceed to one of the most distant outposts of the empire for the purpose of keeping the Armenian soldiers far away from Armenia and thus preventing them from helping the Armenians in case of a revolt. The commanders recognized the Persian plot, turned their backs on their assignment, and returned to Armenia with their armies. The Armenian soldiers were pursued, captured and martyred by the Persian forces because they believed in Christ.
The Holy Sookiasians were members of the Royal Court converted and baptized by the Voskyan priests, after whose deaths they became hermits and lived at mount Sougaved [named after Soukias, the leader of the saints] in Armenia. After a number of years, the Caucasian Albanian king Gigianus called them back to court in his presence, but they refused. The king, having been angered by their refusal to return to court and worship the pagan gods had the Sookiasians impaed, tortured and burned to death. Prior to their death, the saintly men petitioned the Lord for mercy and praised His holy name. Two of the younger saints were not apprehended but died later in their mountainous retreat and were buried by shepherds. The date of the martyrdom of the Sookiasian saints is about 130 A.D.
The Feast of the Presentation of Christ to the Temple on the Fortieth Day
According to Mosaic law a mother who had given birth to a male child was considered unclean for seven days; moreover she was to remain three and thirty days “in the blood of her purification;” for a female child the time which excluded the mother from the sanctuary was even doubled. When the time was over the mother was to “bring to the temple a lamb for holocaust and a young pigeon or turtle dove for sin;” if she was not able to offer a lamb, she was to take two turtle doves or two pigeons; the priest prayed for her and so she was cleansed [Leviticus 12:2-8]. Forty days after the birth of Christ, Mary complied with this precept of the law, she redeemed her first-born from the temple [Numbers 18:15] and was purified by the prayer of Simeon the just, in the presence of Anna the prophetess [Luke 2:22]. No doubt this event, the first solemn introduction of Christ into the house of God, was in the earliest times celebrated in the Church of Jerusalem. We find it attested for the first half of the fourth century by the pilgrim of Bordeaux, Egeria or Silvia. The day (14 February) was solemnly kept by a procession to the Constantinian basilica of the Resurrection, a homily on Luke 2 and the Divine Liturgy. But the feast then had no proper name; it was simply called the fortieth day after Epiphany. This latter circumstance proves that in Jerusalem Epiphany was then the feast of Christ’s birth (on January 6). From Jerusalem the feast of the fortieth day spread over the entire Church, and later on was kept on February 2, since within the last 25 years of the 4th century the Roman feast of Christ’s nativity (25 December) was introduced. In Antioch, it is attested in 526 and in the entire Eastern Empire it was introduced by the Emperor Justinian I (542) in thanksgiving for the cessation of the great pestilence, which had depopulated the city of Constantinople. The Armenian Church calls it: “The Coming of Christ [the Son of God] into the Temple” and still commemorates it on the 14th of February, forty days after the birth. This feast is also called Derendas, which means Candle Mass Day. Armenians traditionally would burn wood during this feast. Today, candles or lanterns are lit in peoples’ homes instead.
The Holy Voskian priests.
According to tradition, the Armenian King Sanadrook sent these five leaders to Rome as ambassadors. On their way they met the Apostle Thaddeus who converted and baptized them. Their leader, Voski, whose name they bear, led them to the mountains in one of the eastern provinces; there they lived as hermits for over forty years whereupon they started to preach to the Royal Court. There, they converted Queen Satenig’s relatives who were Caucasian Albanians and called the Sookiasians. The Voskian priests were martyred by Prince Ardavast in 107 A.D.
Saint Isaac [Sahak] Bartev our Patriarch
Catholicos or Patriarch of Armenia (338 – 439), otherwise known as ISAAC THE GREAT and sometimes as PARTHEV owing to his Parthian origin. He was the son of Saint Nerses the Great [also called Nerses the Parthian] and descended from the family of Saint Gregory the Enlightener. Left an orphan at a very early age, he received an excellent literary education in Constantinople, particularly in the Eastern languages. After his election as patriarch he devoted himself of the religious and scientific training of his people. Armenia was then passing through a grave crisis. In 387 A.D. it had lost its independence and been divided between the Byzantine Empire and Persia; each division had its head an Armenian but feudatory king. In the Byzantine territory, however, the Armenians were forbidden the use of the Syriac language, until then exclusively used in the Divine worship: for this the Greek language was to be substituted. Because of the use of Greek, the country gradually hellenized in the Persian districts where Greek was absolutely prohibited and Syriac greatly favored. Hence, the ancient culture of the Armenians was in danger of disappearing and national unity was seriously compromised. To further evangelize the people and preserve its national character, Isaac invented with the aid of Saint Mesrop, the Armenian alphabet and began to translate the Bible. Their translation from the Syriac Peshito was revised by means of the Septuagint, and even, it seems from the Hebrew text (between 410 and 430). The liturgy also, hitherto Syrian was translated into Armenian, drawing at the same time on the Liturgy of St. Basil of Caesarea. Isaac had already established schools for higher education with the aid of disciples whom he had sent to study at Edessa, Melitene, Byzantium, and elsewhere. Through them he now had the principal masterpieces of Greek and Syrian Christian literature translated, e.g. the writings of Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil, the two Gregorys (of Nazianzus and of Nyssa), John Chrysostom, Ephrem, etc.; therefore ushering in the Golden Age of Armenian literature. Through Isaac’s efforts the churches and monasteries destroyed by the Persians were rebuilt, education was cared for in a generous way, the pagan worship of Ormuzd which Shah Yezdigerd tried to set up was cast out, and three councils were held to reestablish ecclesiastical discipline and canon law. Isaac is said to have been the author of liturgical hymns. Two letters, written by him to Theodosius II and to Atticus of Constantinople, have been preserved. A third letter addresses to Proclus of Constantinople was not written by him, but dates from the 10th century. Neither did he have any share, as was wrongly ascribed to him, in the Council of Ephesus (431), though, in consequence of disputes which arose in Armenia between the followers of Nestorius and the disciples of Aacis of Melitene and Rabulas, Isaac and his church did appeal to Constantinople and through Proclus obtained the desired explanations. A man of enlightened piety and of very austere life, Isaac owed his desposition by the king in 426 to his great independence of character in 430 he was allowed to resume his patriarchal throne. In his extreme old age he seems to have withdrawn into solitude, dying at the age of 110. Neither the exact year nor the precise month of his death is known, but it seems to have occurred between 439 and 441. There are several days of commemoration to him in the calendar of the Armenian Church.
St. Mark (d. 389 A.D.)
The bishop of Arethusa, on Mount Lebanon proclaimed the Gospel by establishing Christian churches and shouldering the responsibility of bringing order to the church. The destroyed a local pagan temple, enraging the pagan populace. Emperor Julian the Apostate ordered that Mark and other Christians rebuild the temples that they had destroyed. Mark fled rather than comply, but he surrendered when members of his flock were arrested. He was tortured by being dragged through the streets, but he remained so loyal to Christ and the Church that he was set free when Emperor Julian pardoned him. In some reports Mark died as a martyr.
St. Pionius (d. 250 A.D.)
A priest from Smyma, was put to death with a group of fifteen companions under Emperor Trajanus Decius. They were arrested during a liturgical celebration. Known for his wisdom and abilities as a preacher, Pionius and his companions were ordered to make sacrifices to the gods and, after they refused, they were put to terrible tortures before being burned at the stake.
St. Cyril the Deacon and companions suffered and were martyred at Heliopolis by pagans under the direction of Julian the Apostate, c. 362 for preaching the Gospel.
St. Benjamin the Deacon was martyred in Persia, by torture, for refusing to cease preaching Christianity, c. 421.
Saints Abdelmseh (or Abdmseh), Ormisdan and Sayin were Persian Christians who suffered and were maryred for preaching and defending the truth of the Gospel in the fourth and fifth centuries.
The Holy Leontine (Ghevontian) priests.
Catholicos Hovsep of Hoghotsim; Bishops Sahag and Tatig; Priests Levontius (Ghevont), Mousheh, Arshen, Manuel, Abraham, Khoren; Deacons Kachach and Abraham (454 AD).
After the Battle of Vartanantz, the above saints were abducted by the Persian King and placed in custody. During a later battle, the Persians suffered a great loss and under the evil influence of the pagan priests, their losses were attributed to the fact that the Armenian priests had not been punished. Some were taken separately and the remainder in groups, tortured mercilessly and then martyred. Historians have recorded the martyrdom of each of the saints.
St. Ghevont the Priest serves as a particular inspiration as he was an advisor to St. Hovsep and St. Vartan and delivered an inspiring homily to the troops prior to the Battle of Avarayr. He was born in the last part of the fourth century in the village of Ichevan, was highly educated and assisted St. Sahag and Mesrob in the translation of the Bible into Armenian. After the Battle of Avarayr, Father Ghevont was taken to Persia and exiled with Catholicos Hovsep to the land of Yergan (south of the Caspian Sea), where he was tortured and martyred. St. Hovsep (Catholicos) was born in 396 A.D. and was educated by Mesrob Mashdots. He was an excellent administrator and was known as a gentle servant of Christ. He became Catholicos in 444 A.D. and served for eight years until he was exiled and martyred. He died in 454 A.D. at the age of 58.
These saints are especially loved and honored by the Armenian people because they were martyred for their strength of faith and love of Jesus Christ.
Saints Vartan our Commander and his 1,036 Martyrs who died in the Great Battle (of Avarayr).
National Holiday for all Armenians.
On the Thursday preceding Great Lent, Armenians commemorate an important event in their history; the religious war waged between pagan Persia and Christian Armenian in the year 451 A.D.
The hero of this war was St. Vartan the Brave. All those who gave their lives in this war are called collectively the “Vartanians.” Armenia, the first country in the world to proclaim Christianity as its state religion (301 A.D.) lived peacefully under its own kings, and then under Persian rule and during the first half of the fifth century Armenia developed its culture with great zeal as the Bible was translated into Armenian, and Christianity flourished throughout the nation.
Armenians, who formally shared many pagan religious similarities as the Persians, showed signs of alienation from them after accepting Christianity. In order to force the Armenians to revert back to the Persian religion, the King of Persia decreed that all Christians under his rule should abandon their new religion and accept Mazdeism, the distinctive feature of which was the worship of the Sun and Fire. The Armenians, clergy and ruling princes, responded by boldly answering this royal decree that they had not the slightest intention of abandoning the Christian orthodox faith. They wrote a letter to the Persian King in which they said:
“Our religion is not like a garment that we might change according to the circumstances; it is part and parcel of our bones and blood and personality… we serve you loyally in your army and pay you taxes faithfully if you leave us alone in the matter of religion. If you try to force your will upon us we are ready to suffer, and to be tortured and even to die. However, you should know in advance that there is no power on earth which can force us to change our religion because our covenant is not with man but with the Almighty God.”
The Persians countered this boldness with a heavy hand. They sent a huge army to Armenia comprising 220,000 strong, to crush the resistance and to convert the country to paganism by force. In 451 AD on the field of Avarayr, near mount Ararat, a band of 66,000 semi-trained and poorly equipped Armenian fighters, under the leadership of Vartan Mamigonian, their commander in chief, stood waiting for the invading army of Persians.
Vartan Mamigonian was the descendant of a noble Armenian family. From his mother’s side he was the grandson of Sahag the Catholicos, the chief translator of the Bible from the Greek (and Syriac) into Armenian. Vartan was, at the time the head of the Mamigonian House, a very influential and renowned ruling family in Armenia. Vartan knew full well that the Persians outnumbered his men, that they were well equipped and that they were going to use their hordes of elephants against him, but he put his trust in God and preferred honorable death to servility. The day before the battle, the Armenian soldiers spent the night in prayer and devotion. The entire army prayed and received Holy Communion. The head of the Church, Catholicos Hovsep, was there together with his clergy. Father Ghevont, the zealous among the clergy, together with Vartan Mamigonian, encouraged the soldiers with an inspiring speech.
Finally, the clash with the Persian forces began. The Armenians inflicted great losses on the enemy. In this battle, which lasted only one day, and in the subsequent guerilla wars, 1,036 Armenians fell, against the Persian loss of 3,544 soldiers. The battle of Avarayr came to an end with the fall of Vartan the brave. The Armenians, seeing that they were left without a commander, withdrew to their castles and inaccessible mountains to carry on a guerilla war.
In this battle Vartan and his comrades suffered a military defeat; but in reality they had proven to be a formidable foe and ultimately they were victorious. They lost the battle but in the end they won the war and attained their aim for which they were fighting. The Persians eventually stopped their scheme of converting the country to their religion, when they realized how steadfast the Armenians were in their faith and convictions. Their defeat became a moral victory. Some thirty years later, a nephew of Vartan, Vahan Mamigonian, brought this religious resistance to a successful end by dictating simple terms to the Persians: a) full religious freedom, b) home rule for the country, and c) replacement of corrupt officers with men of dependable character.
Vartan has become the most outstanding hero of the Armenian nation. He, with his comrades in arms, together with millions of others following their example throughout Armenian history, laid down their lives so that future generations of Armenians could worship their Lord and God freely.
The war of St. Vartan was fought exclusively on the issue of freedom of conscience, and as such, it constitutes a glorious event in the struggle of humanity for freedom of religion. Vartan and his valiant men were the pioneers of freedom of conscience in the middle of the fifth century. As a result of such battles in our history and the fine spirit, which the Vartanians displayed, the Christian faith has survived in Armenia throughout the centuries and even under the most deplorable circumstances.
Saints, the One hundred and fifty Fathers of the Holy Council of Constantinople
Ecumenical Council of Constantinople – Second Ecumenical Council: Held in Constantinople in 381.
Under Emperor Theodosius the Great. 150 Bishops were present. Macedonius, somewhat like Arius, was misinterpreting Church’s teaching on the Holy Spirit. He taught that the Holy Spirit was not a person (“hypostasis”), but simply a power (“dynamic”) of God. Therefore the Spirit was inferior to the Father and the Son. The Council condemned Macedonius’ teaching and defined the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. The Council decreed that there is one God in three persons (“hypostases:”) Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Holy Fathers of the Council added five articles to the Nicene Creed regarding the Holy Spirit, the Church, Baptism and Resurrection.
Premier Carnivale (Poon Paregentan)
It is the last Sunday, which precedes the sixweek period (40 days) of Great Lent. It falls seven weeks prior to the Resurrection (Easter Sunday) and is movable within an interval of thirty-five days, along with the Feast of the Resurrection (Easter), from February 1 to March 7. The theme of this day recalls man’s existence while living in perfect harmony with God in the Garden of Eden. The hymns and odes of the day recall the story of God creating mankind in His image and likeness, placing man in a bountiful garden paradise without sin and allowing man to share in His divinity.
Poon Paregentan ushers the faithful into the Lenten period of strict fasting, penance and reconciliation, with its ultimate destination of Easter, the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In the Armenian Church all Sundays of Lent have a theme. The Church provides these themes for the purpose of communicating the reality of Christian life and to prepare the penitents for communion with Jesus Christ.
First Sunday – Sunday of the Eve of the Great Fast of Lent
Second Sunday – Sunday of the Expulsion
Third Sunday – Sunday of the Prodigal Son
Fourth Sunday – Sunday of the Steward
Fifth Sunday – Sunday of the Judge
Sixth Sunday – Sunday of the Advent
1st Day of Great Lent
Great Lent (Arm. Medz Bahk, Eng. Great Fast), is also called Karasnortk (Literally, Fast of the Forty; Latin, Quadragesima; Grk. Tessarakoste) since it lasts forty days.
The days of lent are referred to as Karasnortagan and the Sundays, Karasnortagan Giragi. Great Lent is the longest of the fasts prescribed in the liturgical calendar and it begins on the Monday following Poon Paregentan and lasts for forty days (six weeks) up until the Friday prior to Lazarus Saturday.
Great Lent is therefore “the” preparatory spiritual journey with its destination of Easter, “the Feast of Feasts.” It is the preparation for the “fulfillment of Pascha, the true Revelation.”
The Liturgical Structure of Lent
Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when catechumens were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days and rededicates himself to the church through prayer, fasting and learning. (Matthew 4:2).
To understand the various liturgical particularities of the Lenten period, we must remember that they express and convey to us the spiritual meaning of Lent and are related to the central idea of Lent, to its function in the liturgical life of the Church. It is the idea of repentance. In the teaching of the Armenian Church however, repentance means much more than a mere enumeration of sins and transgressions to the priest. Confession and absolution are but the result, the fruit, the “climax” of true repentance. And, before this result can be reached, become truly valid and meaningful, one must make a spiritual effort, go through a long period of preparation and purification. Repentance means a deep, radical reevaluation of our whole life, of all our ideas, judgments, worries, mutual relations, etc. It applies not only to some “bad actions,” but also to the whole of life. At every moment of life, but especially during Great Lent, the Church invites the penitent to concentrate attention on the ultimate values and goals, to measure life by the criteria of Christian teaching, to contemplate human existence in its relation to God. This is repentance and it consists therefore, before everything else, in the acquisition of the
Spirit of repentance, i.e., of a special state of mind, a special disposition of our conscience and spiritual vision.
The Lenten worship is thus a school of repentance. It teaches us what repentance is and how to acquire the spirit of repentance. It prepares us for and leads us to the spiritual regeneration, without which “absolution” remains meaningless. It is, in short, both teaching about repentance and the way of repentance. And, since there can be no real Christian life without repentance, without this constant “reevaluation” of life, the Lenten worship is an essential part of the liturgical tradition of the Church. The neglect of it, its reduction to a few purely formal obligations and customs, and the deformation of its basic rules constitute one of the major deficiencies of Church life today.
Posture of the Church
During Lent the Church maintains a penitential posture that is physically displayed by the closing of the altar curtain on the eve of Poon Paregentan as a symbolic representation of the expulsion of Adam and Eve, the first human beings, from the Garden of Eden. The faithful are thus ushered into the Lenten period as penitents seeking to return to their Creator through prayer, forgiveness and instruction. Also, during Lent it has become the practice of the church to not offer Holy Communion during the Divine Liturgy.
6th Day of Great Lent. Saint Theodore the Captain
Saint Theodore – Born is Pontus and became a Roman soldier. He ultimately became a captain in the Roman army during the reign of emperor Licinius. Theodore had been born of Christian and religious parents, and schooled in the teachings of religion. Many knew the bravery of the saintly soldier after he, with the help of God, killed a giant serpent living on a precipice in the surroundings of the city of Euchantum. The serpent had devoured many people and animals, holding in terror all the surrounding countryside. Saint Theodore, having armed himself with a sword and a prayer to the Lord, vanquished it, glorifying amongst the people the Name of Christ. For his bravery Saint Theodore was appointed military-commander-captain (stratelatos) in the city of Heraclea, where he carried out a dual obedience, combining his official military service with the apostolic preaching of the Gospel among the pagans subject to him. His ardent persuasion, reinforced by his personal example of Christian life, turned away many from the pernicious “false-gods.” Soon nearly all of Heraclea had accepted Christianity.
During this time the emperor Licinius (307-324) began a fierce persecution against Christians. Wanting to decapitate the new faith, he resorted to making persecution against the enlightened adherents of Christianity, in which he saw it as the fundamental threat to the dying paganism. Among such a threat was also Saint Theodore, a passionate proponent of the Gospel.
Exposed as a Christian, the military tribunal decided he was a good soldier who had made a mistake. They told him to reconsider, and set him free; wherein he promptly burned down a ‘pagan temple. Arrested again, he was ordered to apostatize. Finally, he was tortured and then tied to a cross and hung. He endured all of these tortures while reciting the Psalms, and was then ultimately martyred by decapitation. Martyred in 319 A.D. at Heraclea, Thrace.
2nd Sunday of Great Lent. The Expulsion.
The message of the Sunday of Expulsion, continuing on the theme of Paregentan Sunday, commemorates Adam and Eve’s fall and banishment from Paradise as a result of their sin of disobedience toward God and His law (read Gen. 2:1-24 and 3:8-19). After the expulsion man became subject to death, pain and every human imperfection.
Adam and Eve disobeyed the command of God, “Of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Genesis 2:17). Eve was tempted by a serpent to eat the fruit of the tree (“you will not die, you will be just like God”). After she did, she convinced Adam to eat of it as well. Adam and Eve then made aprons of fig leaves to cover their lower parts. After this act of disobedience God expelled them from the Garden of Eden.
The act of disobedience damaged the unity of humankind with God and lead, according to the biblical story, to man’s mortality, fall and expulsion from paradise. Prior to the fall, man experienced a state of innocence in paradise, with freedom of unity and communication with God, and possession of immortality and harmony in the cosmos.
During this Lenten period, Christians fast in preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, striving to return to dependence on God and experience a healing of the relationship between God and humanity. The ultimate goal therefore is an even closer union with God and closer likeness to God than existed in the Garden of Eden.
13th Day of Great Lent.
Saints Cyril Patriarch of Jerusalem and the other Cyril, bishop (Cyriacus Judas) and his mother Anna.
Saint Cyril of Jerusalem (Doctor of the Church) b: 315? d: 386 – “Make your fold with the sheep; flee from the wolves: depart not from the Church,” Cyril admonished catechumens surrounded by heresy. These were prophetic words for Cyril who was to be hounded by enemies and heretics for most of his life, and although they exiled him from his diocese he never left his beloved Church.
Cyril’s life began a few years before Arianism (the heresy that Jesus was not divine or one in being with the Father) and he lived to see its suppression and condemnation at the end of his life. In between he was the victim of many of the power struggles that took place. We know little about Cyril’s early life. Historians estimate he was born about 315 and that he was brought up in Jerusalem. He speaks about the appearance of the sites of the Nativity and Holy Sepulcher before they were “improved” by human hands as if he were a witness. All we know of his family were that his parents were probably Christians and he seemed to care for them a great deal. He exhorted catechumens to honor parents “for however much we may repay them, yet we can never be to them what they as parents have been to us.” We know he also had a sister and a nephew, Gelasius, who became a bishop.
He speaks as one who belonged to a group called the Solitaries. These were men who lived in their own houses in the cities but practiced a life of complete chastity, ascetism, and service.
After being ordained a deacon and then a priest, his bishop, Maximus respected him enough to put him in charge of the instruction of catechumens. We still have these catechetical lectures of Cyril’s that were written down by someone in the congregation. When speaking of so many mysteries, Cyril anticipated the question, “But some one will say, If the Divine substance is incomprehensible, why then do you discourse of these things? So then, because I cannot drink up all the river, am I not even to take in moderation what is expedient for me? Because with eyes so constituted as mine I cannot take in all the sun, am I not even to look upon it enough to satisfy my wants? Or again, because I have entered into a great garden, and cannot eat all the supply of fruits, would you have me go away altogether hungry? I am attempting not to glorify the Lord, but not to describe him, knowing nevertheless that I shall fall short of glorifying God worthily, yet deeming it a work of piety even to attempt it at all.” When Maximus died, Cyril was consecrated as bishop of Jerusalem. Because he was supported by the Arian bishop of Caesarea, Acacius, the orthodox criticized the appointment and the Arians thought they had a friend. Both factions were wrong, but Cyril wound up in the middle. When a famine hit Jerusalem, the poor turned to Cyril for help. Cyril, seeing the poor starving to death and having no money, sold some of the goods of the churches.
Actually, the initial cause of the falling out between Acacius and Cyril was territory not difference in doctrine. As bishop of Caesarea, Acacia had authority over all the bishops of Palestine. Cyril argued that his authority did not include Jerusalem because Jerusalem was an “apostolic see” — one of the original sees set up by the apostles. When Cyril did not appear at councils that Acacius called, Acacius accused him of selling church goods to raise money and had him banished.
Cyril stayed in Tarsus while waiting for an appeal. Constantius called a council where the appeal was supposed to take place. The council consisted of orthodox, Arians, and semi-Arian bishops. When Acacius and his faction saw that Cyril and other exiled orthodox bishops were attending, they demanded that the persecuted bishops leave. Acacius walked out when the demand was not met. Acacius returned but left again for good when his creed was rejected — and refused to come back even to give testimony against his enemy Cyril. The result of the council was that Acacius and the other Arian bishops were condemned. There was no final judgment on Cyril’s case but it was probably thrown out when Acacius refused to testify and Cyril returned to Jerusalem.
This was not the end of Cyril’s troubles because Acacius carried his story to the emperor — embellishing it with details that it was a gift of the emperor’s that was sold to a dancer who died wearing the robe. This brought about a new synod run by Acacius who now had him banished again on the basis of what some bishops of Tarsus had done while Cyril was there.
This exile lasted until Julian became emperor and recalled all exiled bishops, orthodox or Arian. Some said this was to exacerbate tension in the Church and increase his imperial power. So Cyril returned to Jerusalem. When Acacius died, each faction nominated their own replacement for Caesarea. Cyril appointed his nephew Gelasius — which may seem like nepotism, except that all orthodox sources spoke of Gelasius’ holiness. A year later both Cyril and Gelasius were driven out of Palestine again as the new emperor’s consul reversed Julian’s ruling.
Eleven years later, Cyril was allowed to go back to find a Jerusalem destroyed by heresy and strife. He was never able to put things completely right. He did attend the Council at Constantinople in 381 where the Nicene Creed and orthodoxy triumphed and Arianism was finally condemned. Cyril received justice at the same Council who cleared him of all previous rumors and commended him for fighting “a good fight in various places against the Arians.”
Cyril had eight years of peace in Jerusalem before he died in 386, at about seventy years old. Cyril is author of the Catecheses, or Catechatical Lectures on the Christian Faith. These consist of an introductory lecture, then eighteen lectures on the Christian Faith to be delivered during Lent to those about to be baptized at Easter, and then five lectures on the Sacraments to be delivered after Easter to the newly baptized. These have been translated into Armenian and English, and are the oldest such lectures surviving. (It is thought that they were used over and over by Cyril and his successors, and that they may have undergone some revision in the process).
Every year, thousands of Christian pilgrims came to Jerusalem, especially for Holy Week. It is probably Cyril who instituted the liturgical forms for that week as they were observed in Jerusalem at the pilgrimage sites, were spread to other churches by returning pilgrims, and have come down to us today, with the procession with palms on Palm Sunday, and the services for the following days, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. We have a detailed account of Holy Week observances in Jerusalem n the fourth century, thanks to a Spanish nun named Egeria who made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and kept a joumal. Saints Cyril (Cyriacus) and his mother Anna – St. Judas Cyriacus, may possibly have been a local bishop who died or was killed during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. On the other hand, he has been conjecturally identified with Judas, bishop of Jerusalem, who was slain during a riot in the year 133. The local traditions however, tell us of Judas Quiriacus, a legendary Jew who is supposed to have revealed to the Empress Helen, the place in which the Holy Cross lay hidden, and after being baptized and made bishop of Jerusalem, to have suffered martyrdom under Julian the Apostate. A fantastic account of his dialogue with the emperor Julian, and of the torments endured by him and his mother Anna, is furnished in the so-called “Acts” of his martyrdom.
3rd Sunday of Great Lent.
Sunday of the Prodigal Son.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son teaches the lesson of God’s Fatherly love and forgiveness for those who repent. The parable describes the passion of a caring father for his run-away son. Day after day, the father had been scanning the horizons for any sign of his lost son. Although in the first century a father would typically wait until a son showed some sign of respect before addressing him, here the father threw all social conventions aside. He could not wait to see his son. He started walking toward him. With open arms, he embraced his son, pulling him tightly to himself. God is like this loving father. He wants to welcome sinners back home with open arms.
Through the parable of the Prodigal Son, Jesus presents a vivid illustration of God’s mercy for repentant sinners.
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.” And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry. “Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.” (Luke 15:11-32)
20th Day of Great Lent. Saint John, Patriarch of Jerusalem and our Holy Father John Otsun, and our Doctors, John of Orodni and Gregory of Datev.
Saint John, Patriarch of Jerusalem (386-417 A.D.), succeeded St. Cyril of Jerusalem as Patriarch of Jerusalem. Born between 350-356 A.D., he spent time growing up with the monks of Nitria in Egypt. It was at the monastery of Nitria that he learned about Christianity and the teachings of Origen. He was esteemed very highly, possessed a sharp mind and intellect and delivered eloquent homilies. The clergy held him in high esteem and Pope Anastasius called him a man of divine virtues. Throughout his tenure as Patriarch however, he became the subject of criticism because of his indecisiveness in condemning questionable teachings about the Lord. He is also said to have had dealings with Jerome, Augustine and Chrysostom among others. He died in 417 A.D. in failed health.
Saint John of Otsun (Hovhan Otsnetsi) (c. 728 A.D.) was Catholicos between 717 and 728 A.D., Otsnetsi is remembered as one of the most outstanding of the Armenian Church Fathers. Born in the province of Dashratz in the village of Otsun, he studied with Teotoros Krtenavoree, who was the most celebrated theologian of the time. He received the title of philosopher and was educated in the Hellenic school of thought. He, however, did not bend to Hellenistic politics and during Arab rule in Armenia, endeared himself to the Arab overlords and ushered in a period of tolerance and cooperation. By means of his farsightedness, statesmanship, and piety, he secured some basic and important rights for Armenian Christians such as general religious freedom, the right to worship freely, and exemption from taxes for the church and clergy. He was also able to put a stop to the forced conversion of Christians to Islam. During his second year as Catholicos, he called a Council of Bishops in the city of Tvin where he established thirty-seven canons and organized a collection of the canons of the Armenian Church. These canons were the first such book and it was in time added to and finalized.
St. John of Otsun is also remembered for his literary and official battles against the numerous sects, which plagued the church at this time. As a writer, he is remembered for his contributions in the Book of Hymn (Sharagans) as well as his many epistles (letters)and essays. Respected for his personality, for being righteous, pious, brave, and humble, in addition to being a great statesman and writer, St. John Otsnetsi was greatly loved by the Armenian people. During his latter years, he retired to a mountain monastery, living under severe conditions, as a monk. Armenian Church writers and historians remember his name and he is revered s a saint by all.
Saint John of Orodni (Hovhannes Vorodnetsi) (1315-1388 A.D.) was born in the village of Vaghantan within the county of Vorodn during that period of Armenian history when the Unitors were trying strenuously to Latinize the Armenian Church and thereby undermine her orthodox faith. St. John of Orodni gathered many clergy and encouraged theological study as well as a proper education of the masses in order to safeguard the orthodox faith of the Armenian Church. He was a member of the monastery of Kailitzor where he served as an instructor and was very beloved of his students. Later, he moved to the monastery of Datev where he continued his teaching and educational pursuits. During this period, he was offered the Archepiscopal See of the Siunik Province but refused in order to continue his work. Extant among his many works are commentaries on the Gospel of John and the Pauline letters; he was also one of the leaders of the Armenian Church in defending her autonomy and the purity of her theology. Most of his life was dedicated to the battle against the Unitors and the preservation of the orthodox faith. He was loved and respected by his many students and followers.
Saint Gregory of Datev (Krikor Datevatzi) (1346-1410 A.D.) was born in 1346 in the province of Vaiotz Tzor. He was one of the famous students of Hovhannes Vorodnetsi and while on a pilgrimage with his mentor to Jerusalem in 1373, received Holy Orders. Later he was to receive from his teacher the degrees of Doctor of the Church (Vartabed) and finally Supreme Doctor of the Church (Dzayrakooyn Vartabed). Like Vorodnetzi, he was well versed in Latin and had studied all the great Greek philosophers. In that style, he wrote the famous “Kirk Hartzmantz” (Book of Questions), a work of practical theology, and two collections of sermons, the style and depth of which set a new standard for Armenian preaching. Although Gregory spent most of his life in the Monastery of Datev, he did travel to other monasteries where he taught and gathered students. Men marveled at his genius and clarity of thought and wherever he went students and admirers followed him. He increased the number of students and novices in each monastery that he visited.
St. Gregory added the granting of the doctoral staff to celibate priests and the prayers for the granting of the Veghar (hood) as well as the degree of Supreme Doctor of the Church to the Book of Ritual (Mashdotz). He was a great defender of the faith, spiritual leader, wonderful preacher, and pious and humble believer. St. Gregory of Datev is often called the “Second Gregory the Enlightener.”
Sunday of the Steward.
The Sunday of the Steward instructs us to use one’s possessions prudently and wisely. Here, Jesus uses the example of a shrewd manager to reveal the foolishness of hoarding earthly riches. The lesson of the parable revolves around the shrewd manager realizing his own predicament, that he would be judged for the dishonest way he had handled his master’s possessions. He tried to obtain friends who would provide for his welfare later, by decreasing what was owed to his master. His shrewd action would guarantee his future welfare.
With this parable, Jesus is pointing out that everyone should follow this manager’s example. Instead of frantically holding on to one’s possessions that will soon disappear, people should give possessions away, especially to those in need (Luke 12:33). Money will not last but people, God’s Word, and His Kingdom will.
He also said to the disciples,”There was a rich man who had a steward, and charges were brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. And he called him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Turn in the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ And the steward said to himself, ‘What shall I do, since my master is taking the stewardship away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and l am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do, so that people may receive me into their houses when I am put out of the stewardship.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He said, ‘A hundred measures of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’ The master commended the dishonest steward for his shrewdness; for the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal habitations. “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they scoffed at him. But he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. (Luke 16:1-15).
27th Day of Great Lent. The Holy (Saints) Forty Children that were martyred at Sebastia.
The memory of the Forty Martyrs (Arm. Karasoun Mankounk) of Sebastia is celebrated each year on the Saturday following the mid point of Lent. It commemorates the lives of 40 brave youth who chose to die rather than renounce their Christian faith at a time when the spread of Christianity hung in the balance. In the first decade of the 4th century, the Roman Emperor Licinius intensified his anti-Christian crusade, ordering renunciation of the faith by any army personnel discovered to be Christian. The investigation quickly disclosed that a battalion in Sebastia, who were recognized for their military prowess, harbored Christian sympathizers.
Forty young men confirmed that they were Christian, boldly declaring that although they were faithful to the Roman King; they also would remain faithful to their heavenly King who supplied them with hope, motivation, and courage. After various repeated attempts to convert the youth back to pagan faith, the King ordered a more severe punishment. In the heart of the winter of 316, the forty youths were left naked, neck deep in the ice-cold water of a lake. One of the forty could not endure the torture and ran out of the lake to a hot bath provided to tempt the Christians to renounce their faith. He died immediately after submersing himself in the hot water. But late that night a light shone from the heavens, forming halos over the heads of the soldiers. Seeing this, the security guards were thrown into confusion. One of them declared on the spot the undeniable truth of Christianity, and threw himself into the lake in place of the apostate youth.
The forty young men became the most inspiring testaments to Christianity in the East, and a church with forty cupolas in their memory could be found in Sebastia before the 14th century invasion of Tamerlane. The forty youth are remembered in various Armenian services as well as this day of commemoration.
5th Sunday of Great Lent. Sunday of the Judge.
The Sunday of the Judge, reminds us of the importance of prayer and of the virtues of humility, fear of God, justice and protection of the weak. The Parables of the Widow and the Judge, and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector illustrate the results of the proper practice and importance of persistent prayer with a humble heart.’ In the former parable, Christians, like the widow, should not give up praying to God even when facing indifference and powerful opposition. If a helpless widow wins her case by persistent pleading before a callous judge, how much will God’s elect find quick justice before a loving and righteous Father?
After encouraging the disciples to be persistent in prayer, in the latter parable, Jesus teaches them how to pray. This parable sharply contrasts the prayer of a Pharisee with that of a tax collector. Jesus commended the tax collector for his humble, contrite and “justified” prayer to God and contrasted that with the hypocrisy of the Pharisee’s sense of self-righteousness.
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying,’Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself,’Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.” And the Lord said, “Hear what the righteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off. would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18: 1-14)
34th Day of Great Lent. Feast of Saint Gregory the Enlightener’s Terrible Passion and Entrance into (the Pit of) Virab.
The Pit of Virab (Khor Virab) has become a place of historical pilgrammage for Armenian Christians. Khor Virab, which is built like a fortress, is where St. Gregory the Enlighter was imprisoned in a deep “Pit” for 14 years, by King Tiridates III in 287, after the saint refused to acknowledge the goddess Anahit.
6th Sunday of Great Lent. Sunday of Advent.
The Sunday of Advent, the Last Sunday of Lent, reminds us of the end of the present order of the world, the second coming of the Christ, the resurrection of the dead, the Last Judgment and the creation of a new earth and a new heaven.
The Gospel for Matins according to St. Mark articulates Jesus’ prophecy about the future end times. Jesus gave His followers a prophetic picture of the end times, including events leading up to it. He also talked about future events connected with His return to earth to judge all people. Jesus predicted both near and distant events without putting them in chronological order. Jesus warns His followers about the future to provide them with a guide to live by glorifying God in the present age to prepare for the future fulfillment of the Kingdom. Many predictions Jesus made in this passage have not yet been fulfilled, but they were made to help the faithful remain spiritually alert and prepared at all times as the Church eagerly waits for His Second Coming.
And as he came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, “Look, Teacher, what wonderful stones and what wonderful buildings!” And Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” And as he sat on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, Peter and James and John and Andrew asked him privately, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign when these things are all to be accomplished?”
And Jesus began to say to them, “Take heed that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places, there will be famines; this is but the beginning of the birth-pangs. “But take heed to yourselves; for they will deliver you up to councils; and you will be beaten in synagogues; and you will stand before governors and kings for my sake, to bear testimony before them. And the gospel must first be preached to all nations. And when they bring you to trial and deliver you up, do not be anxious beforehand what you are to say; but say whatever is given you in that hour, for it is not you who speak, but the Holy Spirit. And brother will deliver up brother to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death; and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.
But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains; let him who is on the housetop not go down, nor enter his house, to take anything away; and let him who is in the field not turn back to take his mantle. And alas for those who are with child and for those who give suck in those days! Pray that it may not happen in winter. For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be. And if the Lord had not shortened the days, no human being would be saved; but for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. And then if any one says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. False Christs and false prophets will arise and show signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But take heed; I have told you all things beforehand.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. “But of that day or that hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning, lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. And what I say to you I say to all: Watch.” (Mark 13:1-37)
The Midday Gospel reading according to St. Matthew further demonstrates Jesus’ disdain and abhorance for the religious leaders when he exposed their hypocritical attitudes through a pronouncement of judgment.
But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sad’ducees, they came together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question, to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think of the Christ? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David, inspired by the Spirit, calls him Lord, saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet’? If David thus calls him Lord, how is he his son?” And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did any one dare to ask him any more questions.
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called masters, for you have one master, the Christ. He who is greatest among you shall be your servant; whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither enter yourselves, nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you traverse sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? So he who swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; and he who swears by the temple, swears by it and by him who dwells in it; and he who swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by him who sits upon it. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity. You blind Pharisee’ first cleanse the inside of the cup and of the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautifull, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our Fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?
Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechari’ah the son of Barachi’ah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all this will come upon this generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 22:34-23:39)
40th Day of Great Lent. End of Great Lent.
Feast of the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin Mary. (Theotokos)
The Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary comes nine months before Christmas (Nativity) on the seventh of April. It is the celebration of the announcing of the birth of Christ to the Virgin Mary as recorded in the Gospel of Saint Luke. Because the feast of the Annunciation normally falls during the season of Great Lent, the curtain of the altar is opened and the Divine Liturgy is celebrated.
The Midday Gospel Reading from St. Luke demonstrates Mary’s faithful response and willingness to say “yes” to God and fulfill all prophecies by bearing the Christ-child, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Mary is thus greeted with an exalted salutation by the angel Gabriel because, in her destiny to be the mother of Christ, she is the most blessed woman of all time.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?” And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. [Luke I :26-38]
Remembrance of the Raising (Resurrection) of Lazarus.
The joy that permeates and enlightens the service of Lazarus Saturday (John 11:55-12:11 on Saturday and John 1 1:1-46 on the Matins of Sunday) stresses one major theme: the forthcoming victory of Christ over Hades. “Hades” is the Biblical term for Death and its universal power, for inescapable darkness that swallows all life and with its shadow poisons the whole world.
But now – with Lazarus’ resurrection – “death begins to tremble.” A decisive duel between Life and Death begins giving us the key to the entire liturgical mystery of Pascha (Resurrection). Already in the fourth century Lazarus’ Saturday was called the “announcement of the Resurrection” (Pascha). For, indeed, it announces and anticipates the wonderful light and peace of the next – The Great – Saturday, the day of life-giving Tomb (Great Saturday).
Lazarus, the friend of Jesus, personifies the whole of mankind and also each man, as Bethany – the home of Lazarus – stands for the whole world – the home of man. For each man was created as a friend of God and was called to this friendship: the knowledge of God, the communion with Him, the sharing of life with Him: “in Him was Life and the Life was the light of men” (John 1:4). And yet this Friend, whom Jesus loves, whom He has created in love, is destroyed, annihilated by a power which God has not created: death. In His own world, the fruit of His love, wisdom and beauty, God encounters a power that destroys His work and annihilates His design. The world is but lamentation and sorrow, complaint and revolt. How is this possible? How did this happen? These are the questions implied in John’s slow and detailed narrative of Jesus’ progression towards the grave of His friend. And once there, Jesus wept, says the Gospel (John 11:35). Why did He weep if He knew that moments later He would call Lazarus back to life? The Armenian Church teaches that all the actions of Christ are both Divine and human in one and same person, the Incarnate Son of God. He who weeps is not only man but also God, and He who calls Lazarus out of the grave is not God alone but also man. And He weeps because He contemplates the miserable state of the world, created by God, and the miserable state of man, the king of creation. “It stinketh,” said the Jews trying to prevent Jesus from approaching the corps, and this “it stinketh” can be applied to the whole of creation. God is Life and He called the man into this Divine reality of life and “he stinketh.”
At the grave of Lazarus Jesus encounters Death – the power of sin and destruction, of hatred and despair. He meets the enemy of God. And we who follow Him are now introduced into the very heart of this hour of Jesus, the hour, which He so often mentioned . The forthcoming darkness of the Cross, its necessity , its universal meaning, all this is given in the shortest verse of the Gospel “and Jesus wept.”
We understand now that it is because He wept, i.e., loved His friend Lazarus and had pity on him, that He had the power of restoring life to him. The power of Resurrection is not a Divine “power in itself,” but the power of love, or rather, love as power. God is Love, and it is love that creates life; it is love that weeps at the grave and it is, therefore, love that restores life. This is the meaning of these Divine tears. They are tears of love and, therefore, in them is the power of life. Love, which is the foundation of life and its source, is at work again recreating, redeeming, restoring the darkened life of man: “Lazarus, come forth!” And this is why Lazarus Saturday is the real beginning of both: the Cross, as the supreme sacrifice of love, and the Common Resurrection, as the ultimate triumph of love. On Saturday evening (the eve of Palm Sunday) a hymn of the Armenian Church relates: With the raising of Lazarus by which the dead were given hope, the descendents of Adam were (also) raised. Thus, as we emerge from our Lenten penitence, we are first greeted by Christ’s promise of the Resurrection of all mankind.
Great and Holy Week
In the Armenian Church, the final week of Christ’s life is called “Great Week” (Arm. Avak Shapat; Grk. Megali Evdomas). In the west, the traditional churches have termed it simply “Holy Week” which the Armenian Church finds satisfactory. During this week, a strict fast is observed until after the Jrakalooyts Divine Liturgy.
Each day of this week has a theme:
Great Monday – The sterile fig tree, which bears no fruit and is condemned by Christ.
Great Tuesday – The wise virgins who unlike their foolish sisters, were vigilant and prepared when the Lord came to them.
Great Wednesday – The fallen woman who repents and gives her wealth to Christ, as contrasted to Judas who betrayed Christ for money.
Great Thursday – The Passover meal (commemoration of the establishment of the Holy Eucharist), which Christ celebrated with His Twelve Apostles; also, Judas’ betrayal and Christ’s washing the feet of His Apostles. Late Thursday night (into Friday morning) also marks the arresting of Christ, His imprisonment, trial, torment and passion.
Great Friday – Commemorates the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ.
Great Saturday – continues the burial and at night proclaims the Resurrection at the Jrakalooyts Divine Liturgy.
Easter Sunday – Resurrection (Paschal of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ).
Great Week is the culmination of the religious experience of the faithful who have just emerged from the long penitential period of Great Lent. Great Week is preceded immediately by Lazarus Saturday, wherein Christ offers us the hope of Resurrection. On Palm Sunday, He triumphantly enters Jerusalem in fulfillment of the prophecies; and having chosen the way of the Cross, He invites the faithful to witness His passion that they might share in His Resurrection.
Palm Sunday (Arm. Dzaghgazart; literally “Girded with Flowers”] is the feast of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem Having raised Lazarus from the dead, Christ was hailed by the people as the Messiah and new king of Israel. By entering Jerusalem, riding on the white ass, the Old Testament prophecy was fulfilled (Zechariah 9:9). The people hailed him shouting “Hosannah! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” And they spread flowers and palm branches before Him. The ode (Arm. dagh) for Palm Sunday brightly illustrates His coming: Today, the created rejoice, with gleeful blessing. Heaven and earth come together, Resound in applause. Today on Mt. Zion, the Nard has spread its fragrance. The rose glows with color, of intense red violet.
On the morning of Palm Sunday, palms are blessed in church and distributed to the faithful. The faithful follow in procession as they celebrate the great and triumphal victory of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. With this, we also enter into Holy Week and accompany the Lord through His passion by saying, “Cry aloud, Hosanna, blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”
The Gospel reading for the Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy is as follows:
And as they went out of Jericho, a great crowd followed him. And behold, two blind men sitting by the roadside, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, “Have mercy on us, Son of David!” The crowd rebuked them, telling them to be silent; but they cried out the more, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” And Jesus stopped and called them, saying, “What do you want me to do for you?” They said to him, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they received their sight and followed him. And when they drew near to Jerusalem and came to Beth’phage, to the Mount of Olives, then Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village opposite you, and immediately you will find an ass tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. If any one says anything to you, you shall say, ‘The Lord has need of them,’ and he will send them immediately.” This took place to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on an ass, and on a colt, the foal of an ass.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon. Most of the crowd spread their garments on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. And the crowds that went before him and that followed him shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord Hosanna in the highest!” And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this ?” And the crowds said, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.” And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you make it a den of robbers.” And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them. But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant; and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read, ‘Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast brought perfect praise’?” And leaving them, he went out of the city to Bethany and lodged there. (Matthew 20:29-21:17).
In the evening, after the Palm Sunday Divine Liturgy, the faithful gather at the Doors to accomplish the Service of the Opening of the Great Doors (Arm. D’rnpatsek). Just as, through the raising of Lazarus, Christ opened the doors for the resurrection of all mankind; and, in like manner He showed us the way of the Cross and invited us to witness His passion and share in His resurrection , so also, the Church symbolically opens its doors that the faithful may enter into the kingdom of God and come before His throne. In this manner, the faithful follow Christ (the second Adam) who redeems our sins and leads us back to into Paradise from whence Adam was expelled due to his disobedience.
The faithful gather at the porch of the Church while the priest kneels before the great doors (in Western countries this is done inside the church, on the bema, before the drape of the apse). As he raps heavily on the door three times, the priest laments:
Open to us Lord, the door of mercy.
From within a voice demands:
Who are they to open the doors of the Lord?
The priest answers:
Not only the just, but also those who confess and repent.
And the voice from within exclaims:
But this is the door of haven from all troubles-the House of God!
And the priest concurs, saying:
Truly, the Holy Church is our Mother, hope of life, truth and salvation, and the way to Christ.
After the priest has again pleaded to “Open the Doors”, the voice from within arouses the faithful saying:
There I see Our Lord Christ seated upon the Holy Throne calling his servants, saying: “Where I am, so also shall my servant be.”
Following another plea from the priest, the voice answers:
The tremendous trumpet of God calls in a tumultuous sound “announcing: There comes the groom – gather yourselves before Him!
The priest calls out anxiously:
Here! I and my children with me, listen to Christ with one will and heed His word’
And the voice bursts forth:
Come ye, who are blessed by the Father. Inherit the kingdom which was prepared for your from the beginning of the world.
And the priest cries out:
Open the doors of justice for I would enter and confess to the Lord.
The great doors of the church open and the people enter with resounding joy, singing:
Open to us the gate of your mercy Lord, and make us worthy of your dwellings of light together with your saints.
Undoubtedly the emotion and spiritual deepening caused by this beautiful service is equally as inspiring today as it has been throughout the centuries, filling the faithful with the grace of the Holy Spirit and with anxious anticipation to participate in Christ’s passion and resurrection on the great day of Easter.
The theme of Great Monday is that of the sterile fig tree that did not bear fruit and was condemned by Christ. (Matthew 21:18-22)
In the morning, as he was returning to the city, he wai hungry. And seeing a fig tree by the wayside he went to it, and found nothing on it but leaves only. And he said to it, “May no fruit ever come from you again!” And the fig tree withered at once. When the disciples saw ii they marveled, saying, “How did the fig tree wither at once?” And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and never doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ it will be done. And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
Christ was disappointed in finding that the people of the covenant (Israel) bore no fruit. Israel, like the barren fig tree, failed to bring forth the fruits of repentance. Nevertheless, Christ points out that faith can move mountains, and can overcome death and despair.
The theme of Great Tuesday is the wisdom of the wise virgins who, unlike their foolish sisters were prepared for the Lord when he came. The reading (Matthew 25:1-13) clarifies what it means to be ready for Christ’s return (Second Coming) and how we should live until He comes again:
“Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buyfor yourselves.’ And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, ‘Lord, lord, open to us.’ But he replied, ‘Truly, I say to you, I do not know you.’ Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.
The message is clearly identified at the end of the passage wherein Matthew records: “Watch therefore, for you now neither the day nor the hour” when the Lord shall come.
Great Wednesday carries the theme of the sinful woman who repents giving her wealth to Jesus and kissing His feet, unlike Judas, who betrayed Christ for money. The Gospel (Matthew 26:3-13) relates:
Now when Jesus was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper, a woman came up to him with an alabaster flask of very expensive ointment, and she poured it on his head, as he sat at table. But when the disciples saw it, they were indignant, saying, “Why this waste? For this ointment might have been sold for a large sum, and given to the poor.” But Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you trouble the woman? For she has done a beautiful thing to me. For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me. In pouring this ointment on my body she has done it to prepare me for burial. Truly, I say to you, wherever this gospel is preached in the whole world, what she has done will be told in memory of her.”
The sinful woman, unlike the Apostles who were preoccupied with the imminent danger surrounding Christ, demonstrated the fullness of her repentance in anointing Jesus and kissing His feel The apostles did not understand, and chastised her for wasting what might have been used for the poor. Christ defended her action as one of beauty and devotion knowing that this anointment was in anticipation of His death.
Remembrance of the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ. Morning – The Last Supper
Great Thursday marks the Lord’s Supper. It was at the Passover meal wherein Christ broke and distributed unleavened bread, and passed the cup of wine telling the disciples that this was His Body and Blood of the New Covenant:
Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain one, and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand; I will keep the passover at your house with my disciples.'” And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the passover. When it was evening, he sat at table with the twelve disciples; and as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me, will betray me. The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.”
Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I shall not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. (Matthew 26:17-30)
Through this covenant Christ demonstrated that man (a creature of God) could participate in the kingdom of God – indeed could be in communion at His table in His eternal kingdom. In the Gospel according to Luke (22:28-31) he relates: “You are those who have continued with me in my trials; as my Father appointed kingdom for me, so do I appoint for you that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom.”
Evening – Washing of the Feet
A stirring part of Great Week is accomplished at this time when the people gather at the door of the church (in the narthex; Arm. kavit) and the priest comes to his knees, as did Christ, and washes the feet of twelve men, as was done to the disciples. The hymns and mood are spell-binding as the priest anoints their feet with oil and washes them. The Gospel gives us this account in John 13:1-17.
Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And during supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, rose from supper, laid aside his garments, and girded himself with a towel. Then he poured water into a basin, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel with which he was girded. He came to Simon Peter; and Peter said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not know now, but afterward you will understand.’ Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.’ Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no part in me.” Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, “He who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet, but he is clean all over; and you are clean, but not every one of you.” For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “You are not all clean.” When he had washed their feet, and taken his garments, and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
Herein are we taught humility and love.
Great (Good) Friday.
Commemoration of the Passion, Crucifixion and Burial of our Lord Jesus Christ.
During the night there is a vigil and the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
The last evening services are dedicated to the betrayal, arrest, torture, passion, and trial of Christ up to the hour of crucifixion. On this late evening, perhaps the most beautiful and stirring music of the entire Christian Church is chanted. The mood is deeply silent and mournful. The Church witnesses the passion of Our Lord in almost complete darkness as twelve lighted candles (one of them black, symbolic of Judas the traitor) are lit representing the twelve Apostles. The hymns are ethereal and filled with passion and faith. Six sets of laments are changed, each followed by a Gospel reading depicting Christ’s betrayal, imprisonment, torture, trial, sentence and finally his crucifixion. As each one of these chants is accomplished, two candles are extinguished. In the end, with the exception of one candle symbolizing the light of Christ, the church is plunged into total darkness as the bishops, priests, deacons and people pour forth their very spirit and resound with an earthshaking voice the Christ of Crucifixion – Daradzyal
From hand to hand and foot to foot,
stretched across wood upon wood,
the bitter fruit (of crucifixion)
transforms life into death
between two unrighteous ones.
Here was the naked figure of the law-giver
whom the blind (unbelievers) could not see,
Except for one of the thieves.
This hymn continues to depict the final hour, telling us how He (Jesus) was given vinegar to quench His thirst for water, and His wound inflicted by the spear of the soldier. And as His mother watched, the heavens roared and the ground heaved, giving forth the skull o fAdam, and saving the thief in the final hour.
The thundering roar of the chant Daradzyal suddenly ceases. With the church almost in total darkness the clergy and clerks sing with great lament the hymn Ardzat-sirootyamp (For the Love of Silver) painfully reliving the betrayal and passion:
Obsessed with a greed for silver,
Judas betrayed his great teacher
To the Jews, for thirty pieces of silver.
“The one I kiss,” he said; “Arrest Him.”
Oh, treacherous kiss,
Signal and cause of death.
He (Judas) divested himself
Of the Divine Holy Spirit;
And, he vested himself in Satan,
And took Satan upon himself and wore him.
On that night when our Savior was betrayed,
To die upon the cross,
He ascended the Mount of Olives
And praying, he said this:
“Father, take this cup from me.”
You, who sits with the Cherubim,
O Word of God
Today, for us, you sat in humility
At the Mount of Olives.
We praise you with unceasing songs.
You who are consubstantial
To your paternal Mystery.
You revealed to your disciples,
The mystery of your coming.
We praise you with unceasing song.
You who are the Creator and
Giver of Life to all,
Today, you revealed the hidden
Mystery of your Trinity,
To Your Holy Church.
We praise you with unceasing song.
A disturbing silence seizes upon the faithful. Then with the light of Christ hidden from the faithful…in a trembling, distant and lamenting sound the voice of a young tortured male cries out the words of Christ to His mother. This touching lament is found nowhere in the recorded ledgers of the liturgical books of the Armenian Church and was apparently introduced through peious provincial Armenian tradition. And here are the heart rendering words of Christ to His mother as expressed only in the Armenian Church, on this one night of the year, at the moment of Christ’s crucifixion.
Where are you my Mother – Our es Mayr im
Where are you my mother, sweet and tender?
Your love consumes me.
My eyes have filled with burning tears,
I have no one to wipe them.
They spat upon me, beat and whipped me.
And they put a crown of thorns on my head.
They offered me to a wooden cross,
I am covered with blood.
I asked for water, and was given vinegar
By the hand of the unrighteous.
Take heed, my mother, whom I love
With all my heart.
As long as there is life in me,
I shall wait anxiously for you.
Lets you should arrive too late,
And find me dead.
During the night there is a vigil and the fulfillment of the Scriptures.
Night – Khavaroom
The last evening services are dedicated to the betrayal, arrest, torture, passion, and trial of Christ up to the hour of crucifixion. On this late evening, perhaps the most beautiful and stirring music of the entire Christian Church is chanted. The mood is deeply silent and mournful. The Church witnesses the passion of Our Lord in almost complete darkness as twelve lighted candles (one of them black, symbolic of Judas the traitor) are lit representing the twelve Apostles. The hymns are ethereal and filled with passion and faith. Six sets of laments are chanted, each followed by a Gospel reading depicting Christ’s betrayal, imprisonment, torture, trial, sentence and finally his crucifixion. As each one of these chants is accomplished, two candles are extinguished. In the end, with the exception of one candle symbolizing the light of Christ, the church is plunged into total darkness as the bishops, priests, deacons, and people pour forth their very spirit and resound with an earthshaking voice the Chant of Crucifixion – Daradzyal.
From hand to hand and foot to foot,
stretched across wood upon wood,
the bitter fruit (of crucifixion)
transforms life into death
between two unrighteous ones.
Here was the naked figure of the law-giver
whom the blind (unbelievers) could not see.
Except for one of the thieves.
This hymn continues to depict the final hour, telling us how He (Jesus) was given vinegar to quench His thirst for water, and His wound inflicted by the spear of the soldier.
At noon on Friday the Church in deep sorrow commemorates the Crucifixion and death of our Lord Jesus Christ with readings, psalmody and hymns. The readings from the Old Testament refer particularly to the Messianic prophecies, which reflect upon Christ’s passion, crucifixion and death upon the Cross.
The services in the evening concentrate on the entombment of Christ. Herein is read the Gospel of Matthew (27:57-61):
When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. And Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen shroud and laid it in his own tomb, which he had hewn out of rock. And he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and departed. Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there sitting opposite the sepulchre.
And a white tomb is placed in the chancel of the church adorned with flowers. In many churches during the services the tomb is taken in procession around the church, whereafter the faithful approach to venerate: and kissing the Gospel, take a flower from the tomb.
Jrakalooyts – Lucernarium of Easter
The Evening Services of Holy Saturday inaugurate the Paschal celebration, for the liturgical cycle of the day always begins in the evening. Saturday evening, the Church takes off its penitential nature, opens the curtain of the altar and begins to pray in great anticipation of the Resurrection.
Prior to the Divine Liturgy, the Old Testament readings of the creation and the prophecies are read and the faithful prepare to enter the rapture of the Resurrection. These lessons from the Old Testament are all centered on the promise of the Resurrection, all glorifying the ultimate Victory of God, prophesied in the victorious Song of Moses after the crossing of the Red Sea, the salvation of Jonah, and that of the tree youths in the fiery furnace.
Finally, at the Jrakalooyts Liturgy the altar curtain opens, and the clerks proclaim the introit for Easter, “Christ is Risen from the Dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life.” This phrase gives great meaning to Great Saturday because Christ’s repose in the tomb is an “active” repose. He comes in search of His fallen friend, Adam, who represents all en. Not finding him on earth, He descends to the realm of death, known as Hades in the Old Testament. There He finds him and brings him life once again. This is the victory: the dead are given life. The tomb is no longer a forsaken, lifeless place. By His death Christ tramples down death. The entire Church then elatedly resounds with the rapture of joy and love in His Resurrection exclaiming “Hail Jerusalem – the Lord is Risen.”
Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ
It is non-fasting until the Ascension.
In the center of our liturgical life, in the very center of that time which we measure as a year, we find the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Resurrection is the appearance in this world, completely dominated by the time (and therefore by death) of a life that will have no end. The one who rose again from the dead does not die anymore. In this world of ours, there appeared one morning someone who is beyond death and yet in our time. Thus Resurrection is the central theme of Christianity and it has been preserved in its purity in the Armenian Orthodox Tradition.
The center, the day, that gives meaning to all days and therefore to all time, is that yearly commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection at Easter. This is always the end and the beginning. We are always living after Easter, and we are always going toward Easter. Easter is the earliest Christian feast. The whole tone and meaning of the liturgical life of the Church is contained in Easter, together with the subsequent fifty-day period, which culminates in the Feast of Pentecost; the coming down of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles. This unique Easter celebration is reflected every week in the Christian Sunday, which we call in Armenian “Harootyan or” (Resurrection Day). If you open a calendar, you will find that all Sundays are centered in that paschal mystery, the day of Resurrection. In fact, the English word Sunday is translated into Armenian as Giragi, which comes from the Greek Kyriaki heemera, meaning Day of the Lord. Thus, in the Eastern Church tradition, the very name of the day (Giragi) represents the Paschal mode of its celebration as Resurrectional. Tied into this mode is the fact that Pentecost is the fulfillment of Easter. Christ ascended into heaven and sent down His Holy Spirit. Christ ascended into heaven and sent down His Holy Spirit. When He sent down His Holy Spirit into the world, a new society was instituted, a body of people, whose life, though it remained of this world and was shared in its life, took on a new meaning. This new meaning comes directly from Christ’s Resurrection. We are no longer people who are living in time as in a meaningless process, which makes us first old and then ends in our disappearance. We are given not only a new meaning in life, but even death itself has acquired a new significance. In the Introit at Easter we say “He trampled down death by death.” We do not say that He trampled down death by Resurrection, but by death. A Christian still faces death as a decomposition of the body, as an end; yet in Christ, in the Church, because of Easter, because of Pentecost, death is no longer just the end but it is a beginning. It is not something meaningless which therefore gives a meaningless taste to all of life. Death means entering into the Easter of the Lord. This is the basic tone, the basic melody of the liturgical year of the Christian Church. Christianity is, first of all, the proclamation in this world of Christ’s Resurrection. The spirituality of our church is paschal in its inner content, and the real content of the Church life is joy. We speak of feasts; the feast is the expression of joyfulness of Christianity.
If we have a message, it is that message of Easter joy, which finds its climax on Easter night. When we hear “Christ is Risen,” then the night becomes in the terms of St. Gregory of Nyssa, “lighter than the day.” This is the secret strength, the real root of the Christian experience. Only within the framework of this joy can we understand everything else.
And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And looking up, they way that the stone was rolled back; — it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen…” (Mark 16:2-6).
Thus, we must continually say Lord, Glory to your Resurrection!
7th Day of Easter.
Commemoration of the Beheading of Saint John the Baptist.
After the Baptism of Our Lord, St. John the Baptist was thrown into prison by Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch of Galilee. (After the death of Herod the Great, the Romans divided Palestine into four parts, each to be ruled by a Roman henchman. Herod Antipas was appointed the ruler of Galilee by the Roman emperor Augustus.) The Prophet of God openly denounced Herod for having abandoned his lawful wife, daughter of Aretas, the Arabian king, and for cohabiting unlawfully with Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. On his birthday Herod gave a banquet for his nobles, dignitaries and officers. Salome, Herodias’ daughter,danced before the guests and greatly pleased Herod. In gratitude to the maiden, Herod swore that he would give her whatever she asked, even unto one half of his kingdom. Following the advice of her wicked mother, Herodias, Salome asked for the head of John the Baptist on a salver. This saddened Herod for he feared the wrath of God which would visit him if he were to murder the prophet whose words he himself had heeded in the past. He was also afraid of the people who loved the Forerunner. But because of his rash promise, made in front of his guests, he felt obliged to order St. John to be beheaded and his head given to Salome. Tradition has it that the mouth of the severed head of the prophet of repentance opened just once more to utter these words: “Herod, you should not have the wife of Philip your brother.” Salome took the head on the salver and brought it to her mother. The enraged Herodias took a needle and with it repeatedly stabbed the tongue of the prophet and buried his holy .head in an unclean place. But the pious Johanna, wife of Herod’s steward Huza placed the head in a clay vessel and interred it on the Mount of Olives where Herod owned a piece of land. The body of St. John was claimed the same night by his disciples and buried in Sebaste, the place where his villainous execution had taken place. Herod continued to rule for a while after the murder of St. John. Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea sent to him Christ, who was bound with ropes, and Herod mocked Him.
God’s judgment befell Herod, Herodias and Salome even in their lifetimes. As Salome was crossing the frozen river Sikoris, she fell through the ice and was crushed by it in such a manner that her body floated in the water while her head stayed above ice. As once her feet had danced on the ground now her limbs writhed helplessly in the icy water. Thus she remained until the sharp ice severed her neck. Her headless body was never found; her severed head was brought to Herod and Herodias just as the head of St. John the Baptist had been brought to them as an earlier time. The Arabian king, Aretas, moved his armies against Herod to avenge the shame of his discarded daughter. Having suffered defeat, Herod incurred the wrath of Caesar Gaius Caligula (37-41 A.D.) and was exiled, together with Herodias, to Gaul and thence to Spain. Tradition has it that they both perished there in an earthquake.
8th Day (octave) of Easter.
New Sunday (Which is called Second Easter)
The Sunday which follows Easter Sunday is called New Sunday because it is the first Sunday after the Resurrection (Easter). Aside from the Resurrection of Christ, this day also reflects the calling of and conversion of the pagans to Christianity; and, the growth and expansion of Christ’s Church. Hence, it falls into the Church’s listing of holy days.
ANALOGICALLY, New Sunday or Nor Giragi also reflects the new relationship of God’s people. The Christian Church had replaced the tribe of Judah as the new “Israel.” Israel means “people of the covenant.” The word Israel is not a geographical location, but rather the name or reference to a people in a special covenant or relationship with God. With their denial of Christ, the Israel of the Old Testament (old covenant) relinquished their role as the “Israel” of God’s covenant. The “new” sons of Zion (Arm. Sioni Vortik), being the Body of Christ (the Church = Arm. ecceghetsi = Grk. Ecclesia) is in fact the “new” Israel. Therefore, in its role of Israel, the people of the covenant (Christian Church) are the heirs to or recipients of the promise of salvation through Christ’s death and resurrection.
By virtue of its being the eighth day of Easter (octave) and a day similar to Easter it has been called Grgnazadig (Easter Repeated). The Church has wisely chosen the Gospel of John’s prologue as its reading for “New Sunday” because it powerfully proclaims Jesus as the Son of God, the Word made flesh. Although Jesus took upon Himself full humanity and lived as a man, he never ceased to be the eternal God who has always existed, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and the source of eternal life. This is the foundation of all truth.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came for testimony, to bear witness to the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light. The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not. He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, fill of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.'”) And from his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
Sunday of the World Church. Green Sunday
Commemorates the establishment in Jerusalem of the first Christian Church where Christ met with the Apostles in the upper room. The designation of Green Sunday may have had something to do with the season of spring. During the Divine Liturgy it has become the custom for the church to be decorated in green and for the clerics to wear green vestments.
The reading for today, John 2:23-3 alludes to newness or transformation.
Additional saints’ information to follow.