As according to the Church the day is changed at 17:00 p.m., after the evening service, the feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ starts on the eve, in the evening of January 5, and is continued after the midnight, on January 6. On the eve a solemn Candlelight Divine Liturgy is celebrated. Following the conclusion of the Liturgy, the assembled faithful take lit candles and lamps home symbolizing the divine light and the blessing of the Church. Lighting lamps symbolizes the light of the Bethlehem Star which guided the way of the magi to the baby Christ.
Each year, on January 6, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ, which is the commemoration of the Birth and Baptism of Jesus Christ. God was incarnated and appeared to the people. During the Baptism of Jesus God the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17) and the Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the form of dove, so God appeared to the people for the second time. So, both Theophanies revealed by means of the Birth and Baptism of Jesus Christ are celebrated in the Armenian Church jointly on January 6. The feast starts on the eve, in the evening of January 5, and is continued after the midnight. On the eve a solemn Candlelight Divine Liturgy is celebrated and on January 6 a solemn Divine Liturgy is celebrated. At the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy Blessing of the Waters Service is conducted symbolizing the Baptism of Christ in the River Jordan at the commencement of His ministry. By means of His Baptism Jesus blessed water.
Celebrant priest pours out the Holy Chrism drop by drop into water and blesses the water. According to the tradition people take some blessed water with them to use it as a medicinal remedy for the sick. After Blessing of the Waters Service the priests visit the houses of the faithful to proclaim the Christmastide Good News of the Birth of Jesus Christ and hence the tradition of Blessing of the Houses was formed.
The Birth of Jesus happened in this way. “In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. … And everyone went to his own town to register. So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Lk 2:1-7) The Son of God was born in poverty, in a manger. The witnesses of His Birth were the shepherds living out in the fields nearby, whom the angels had appeared and brought the good news of the Birth of the Savior singing: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” (Lk 2:18)
Soon afterwards some men who studied the stars came from the East and worshipped Baby Christ, presented him gifts and returned to their countries.
Following the five Major Feasts (Nativity and Theophany, Easter, Transfiguration, Assumption of Virgin Mary, and Exaltation of the Holy Cross), the calendar of the Armenian Apostolic Church instructs us to observe a special Day of Remembrance, Merelots, in memory of those who are asleep in Christ, the Lord.
According to the orthodox teachings of the church, the departed - although not present physically - continue to be members of Christ’s Church. Therefore, “it is a holy and pious thought to pray for those who have fallen asleep in godliness.” 2 Maccabees 12:45
Traditionally, on Merelots Mondays, the faithful attend church to participate in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, where the names of their loved ones are remembered during the Requiem Service. Visiting the graves of the deceased and offering prayers, incense, and flowers is another pious tradition cherished by the faithful.
Now, why did the church fathers single out Merelots Mondays as opposed to Requiem Service, which can be held on most Sundays?
In general, Sundays are considered to be dominical days in the church calendar, i.e. days dedicated to the Lord. As St. Justin the Martyr (150 AD) notes, “it is on Sunday that we assemble because Sunday is the first day, the day on which God transformed darkness and matter and created the world, the day that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.” In other words, Sundays, and especially the days of the five Major Feasts, are days of worship, celebration, community, feasting, and family gatherings in the life of the church. In order not to diminish the luster of Dominical Sundays, the church fathers had the wisdom to assign Merelots Mondays right after the Major Feasts.
Unfortunately, in the Diaspora, and more specifically in the United States, the celebration of the Divine Liturgy on Merelots Mondays are not customary because of people's work schedules. Those who don’t know the significance of the Major Feasts, rush to the graves of their loved ones without partaking in the Divine Liturgy and in the salvific Sacrament of Eucharist. Often times, people become frustrated because priests cannot accompany them and pray at gravesites on Sundays.
For this specific reason, our holy fathers have established the Merelots – a day of remembrance, prayer, and almsgiving.
Note: One way to celebrate the life of a loved family member or a friend is to donate either altar flowers or candles for the Divine Liturgy.
Each year, on January 13, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Feast of Naming of Our Lord Jesus Christ. As Evangelist St. Luke writes in his Gospel, according to the Jewish tradition “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.” (Lk 2:21). “Jesus” is a Hebrew word meaning “Savior”. According to the Gospel according to Luke when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to give her the good tidings of the birth of the Son of the Most High, he said that Mary would name the baby “Jesus”. “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus.” (Lk 1:31).
Parallel to the name “Jesus” the name “Christ” is given to the Savior, which is a Greek word meaning “Consecrated” and corresponding to the Hebrew word “Messiah”.
On the Feast of Naming of Our Lord Jesus Christ a Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all Armenian Churches. On the eve of the feast, following the evening service a special service is conducted.
The birth of St. John the Baptist is described in details in the Gospel according to Like (Lk 1:5-25). One day Zechariah, father of St John the Baptist, was doing his work as a priest in the Temple and was burning incense on the altar. An angel of the Lord appeared to him and said that God had heard his prayer and his wife would bear him a son. Zechariah had to name him John. Zechariah didn’t believe the angel as he was and old man, and his wife was old, too. And because he hadn’t believed the angel he became unable to speak and remained silent until the birth of John.
St. John the Baptist, who should baptize the Savior, had been aware and rejoiced for the birth of Jesus even before his birth. According to the Evangelist, when St. Mary, Holy Mother of God, visited Elizabeth, mother of St John the Baptist, the latter, being filled with the Holy Spirit cried out, “Why should this great thing happen to me, that my Lord’s mother comes to visit me? For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby within me jumped with gladness” (Lk 1:43-44).
Continuation of the words of Elizabeth are the message of this feast addressed to all Christians throughout the world, “How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s message to you will come true!” (Lk 1:45).
The Fast of Catechumens is peculiar only to the Armenian Church. It begins three weeks before the Great Lent. In ancient times people could eat only bread and salt during the fast of Catechumens. On those days it was not allowed to celebrate Divine Liturgy either.
The meaning of the Fast of Catechumens is the purification of the five human senses from pagan impurity. In the ancient Church there was a custom to fast during five days before baptism. St. Gregory the Illuminator ordered King Tiridates and others to fast for five days before baptism in order to get freed of the evil. That is the reason also for fasting of Catechumens to be called “fast of salvation” from the evil.
According to the tradition, the fasting of Catechumens was initiated by St. Gregory the illuminator in memory of the above-mentioned practice.
There are two explanations regarding the name of this feast.
It is called the fast of Catechumens:
1. As the precursor of the Great Lent, and
2. As the first Armenian fast.
On the fifth day of the fasting of Catechumens, on Friday, the remembrance day of the Prophet Jonah is celebrated, but it is celebrated not as the feast of Prophet Jonah, but as the memory of an example of great repentance and abstinence which Jonah urged. At times, wrongly, the fasting of Catechumens was called the fast of St. Sarkis, because the Armenian Church celebrates the feast of St. Sarkis on Saturday following the fast. In Middle Ages the Byzantine and the Georgian Churches blamed the Armenian Church for the fasting of Catechumens, relating it to St. Sarkis, to whom they ascribed sorcery. According to the testimonies of Armenian medieval writers. Greek and Latin Churches also had the fasting of Catechumens in ancient times.
Prophet Jonah is one of the minor prophets of the Holy Bible. In the Book of Jonah of the Old Testament is a narrative describing the adventures of the Prophet Jonah. By the Lord’s command Jonah was sent to Nineveh to preach the heathens and tried, in every way, to disobey God’s command. However, in the end his attempts were in vain. By the Lord’s command, a large fish swallowed Jonah, and he remained inside the fish for three days and three nights. Only after Jonah’s prayer and redemption did the Lord allow the fish to free Jonah. This time he obeyed the Lord’s command and went to Nineveh. On the first day, Jonah started into the city. He proclaimed: “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.” The Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, even the king, put on sackcloth. When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened.
Later Christ brings the example of the Prophet Jonah to the Pharisees asking for a divine sign.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of the Prophet Jonah always during the period of the fast of Catechumens symbolizing that thanks to sincere repentance one may deserve God’s mercy.
By the order of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Feast of St. Sarkis the Captain and his soldiers-companions is proclaimed day of blessing of the youth.
Captain St. Sarkis is one of the most beloved saints among the Armenian nation. Together with his 14 soldiers-companions he was martyred for the sake of Christian faith.
During the period of reign of the king Kostandianos the Great (285-337) St. Sarkis, being very courageous, was appointed the prince and General in chief of the region of Cappadocia bordering Armenia. When during the period of reign of the king Julianos the Betrayer (360-363) the persecutions against Christians started by God’s will St. Sarkis and his only son – Martyros, came to live in Armenia, and the Armenian king Tiran, grandson of Tiridates, received them very well. From Armenia St. Sarkis and his son went to Persia, and started serving in the army of the Persian king Shapouh as the captain of regiments. Become aware of the fact that Sarkis was Christian the king Shapouh ordered him to worship the fire and offer sacrifice to the heathen gods. But the captain immediately refused to obey the order saying, “We should worship one God - the Holy Trinity, which has created the earth and the heaven. Whereas fire or idols are not gods and the human being may destroy them.” After these words the saint destroyed the temple. The annoyed crowd fell on the saint and his son. First the son of the saint was martyred. The saint was put into prison and remaining unshaken in his faith was beheaded. After the martyrdom of the saint light appeared over his body. 14 soldiers-companions of the saint also were martyred for the sake of Christian faith. For the Armenian nation St. Sarkis is one of the most beloved. It isn’t casual that St. Mesrop Mashtots brought the relics of the saint to the village Karbi (Ashtarak Region) and the Church of St. Sarkis was built over his relics.
Sts. Atomians were the Armenian captains Atom Gnouni and Manajihr Reshtouni who together with their regiments served in the Persian royal court during the period of reign of the idolater king Hazkert. Upon the excitation of archimagi king Hazkert started persecutions against Christians in order to eradicate Christian faith in Persia. Captains Atom Gnouni and Manajihr Reshtouni received an edict from Hazkert inviting the captains together with their regiments to the royal palace with the intention of forcing them to apostasy. At first the Armenian captains obeyed the order, but being aware of the trap prepared by the king they started back home and on their way home they stopped in the province of Andzevatsyats. Becoming aware of the numerous Persian Army persecuting them soldiers of the captain Atom Gnouni, encouraged by the prophesy of a saint hermit living on the mountain preferred voluntary martyrdom. Persian Army reaching the Armenian regiment surrounded them and killed the saints by words. Whereas Manajihr Reshtouni and his soldiers reached his native land – Reshtounik, where he confessed his being Christian and was martyred in 449 AD.
St. Sarkis, Patron of Youth and love
In Armenia it is accepted to celebrate the Feast of St. Sarkis not only according to church rites and prayer, but also according to various folk traditions. St. Sarkis the Captain is the patron of youth. Many miracles happen thanks to his intercession. On the day of the feast young people pray the saint asking him to make their prayers audible to God. St. Sarkis is the realizer of the love longings.
There are many legends about St. Sarkis and one of them is the following.
Poor bard Gharib loved Shah-Sanam who was the daughter of a very rich man. Shah-Sanam loved him, too, but because the bard was poor, the Shah-Sanam’s father was against their marriage as he wished to marry his daughter to a rich man. Bard Gharib decided to go to foreign countries to earn money and to accumulate wealth. But before leaving for foreign countries bard Gharib asked Shah-Sanam to promise to wait for him for seven years providing that if he were late even for one day the young woman might marry according to her father’s will.
That seven-year-period was a very difficult period for bard Gharib. He couldn’t see his beloved, had no news of her, and nevertheless, he wasn’t disappointed and waited for the time when they would meet, make up family and live together all their life.
Working day and night for seven years bard Gharib accumulated wealth and started his way back to the motherland. However, on his way back he faced many difficulties and hardships. It seemed to him that he wouldn’t be able to reach his beloved. So, he prayed with honest heart and righteous mind for the help of St. Sarkis asking.
Listening the prayer of the bard St. Sarkis immediately appeared sitting on his white horse, seated him on the back of the horse and in one moment brought him to Shah-Sanam. Seeing the bard’s strong will, their sincere and deep love and devotion, Shah-Sanam’s father blessed their union.
Fast of Catechumens established by St. Gregory the Illuminator precedes the feast. On the eve of the feast, in the evening, young people eat salty cookies and relate the appearance of their future bride or bridegroom in their dream to eating of the salty cookie. Also, on the night preceding the feast of St. Sarkis the faithful people place a tray full of gruel before the door believing that while passing near their door at dawn St. Sarkis will leave his footprint on the gruel symbolizing the fulfillment of their dreams.
People in love present each other cards, flowers or sweets on the occasion of the feast.
On the day of the feast a Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all churches named after St. Sarkis. Following the Liturgy a special ceremony of blessing of young people will be offered.
Pontiff St. Sahak Partev was the elder son of Catholicos St. Nersess the Great, and the last Catholicos of the Armenian Church who descended from the lineage of St. Gregory the Illuminator. He became Catholicos of All Armenians in 387 A.D., and reigned for an astounding 52 years. Being talented in music and educated in the rhetorical arts, philosophy and linguistics, St. Sahak greatly contributed to the development of Armenian national culture. He was the strongest advocate for the creation of an Armenian Alphabet, and became its chief patron.
Following the creation of the Armenian Alphabet, St. Sahak and St. Mesrop opened a school for translators in the city of Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin). There they begin the translation of the Holy Bible into Armenian and did it so perfectly, that centuries hence the Armenian Translation is called the “Queen Translation of the Breath of God”. The first sentence translated from the Holy Bible is the opening verse of the Book of Proverbs: “To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding”.
The Feast of St. Ghevond the Priest and His Companions is dedicated to the blessed memory of the Armenian priests who fought alongside St. Vartan and the entire Armenian Nation for their Christian faith in 451 A.D. in the Battle of Avarayr.
The eldest among them was Priest St. Ghevond, and among his companions were Catholics Hovsep, Bishop Sahak of Syunik, Bishop Tatik of Basen, Priest Mushe or Mushegh, Priest Arshen, Priest Samuel, Deacons Abraham and Kajajn.
After the Battle of Avarayr the Persian King Hazkert took revenge on Armenians and ordered to kill the brave priests.
According to the tradition the day of the Feast of St. Ghevond the Priest and His Companions is the day of the clergy.
During different periods of history the Ecumenical Church has faced various problems of doctrinal, administrative and organizational nature, solutions to which have been provided during the Ecumenical Councils. One of such councils was the Second Ecumenical Council convened upon the order of the King Theodosios in Constantinople, in 381.
As the result of Arian disputes a new heresy had appeared, the head and supporter of which was Bishop Makedon of Constantinople, who denied the deity of the Holy Spirit. The Ecumenical Council convened in Constantinople on that special occasion, re-endorsed the definition of the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea and stack for the formulation “One deity, three persons”.
Accepting the Ecumenical Council, the Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of 150 Patriarchs participating in the Council.