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.
On February 14, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation to the Temple. Tiarn’ndaraj, or Candlemas as it is known in the West, symbolizes the presentation of the 40 day-old Christ Child to the Temple in Jerusalem.
In accordance with the Law of Moses, the infant Christ was brought to the Temple by Mary and Joseph and presented to God. A man named Simeon was there, to whom it had been revealed that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord. Simeon held the infant in his arms, blessed God, and said, “Lord, let your servant now depart in peace, for my eyes have seen your Salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people. A Light to lighten the Gentiles, and the Glory of Your people, Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
In the tradition of the Church, Evening Services (Nakhatonak) are conducted on the night preceding the Feast Day. At the conclusion of the service, the priest lights a candle from the Holy Altar, and distributes the flame to all present. With great care, the faithful take the lit candles home to their families.
The morning of the Feast Day, Divine Liturgy is celebrated in Armenian Churches throughout the world. The hymn offered during the Liturgy commemorating Tiarn’ndaraj glorifies Simeon’s articulation of “a Light to lighten the Gentiles”. The hymn praising Simeon also lauds the Mystery of the Incarnation.
Many additional customs have been inherited from the past, including the blessing of the four corners of the world in the Andastan Service, the blessing of newlywed couples, as well as offering prayers for the crops and fertility of the fields.
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.
The Armenian Church has defined the period of Great Lent as a time of abstinence and repentance for the faithful. Each Sunday during this period is named after an event in the Holy Bible that contains the message of the day. According to the calendar, the days prior to weekly fasts, as well as Great Lent, (with the exception of the fast preceding Holy Nativity) are called Barekendan. The word Barekendan means “good living” or “good life”, as we are called to live cheerfully, joyfully, and to be happy on these days preceding fasting periods.
On these days of Barekendan, the angel’s words addressed to the prophet Elijah are fulfilled: “Arise and eat, otherwise the journey will be too great for you” (1 Kings 19:7). The Armenian Church thus allows her faithful to organize games, festivals, carnivals and large, plentiful meals to observe the feast, as it is followed by a period of fasting and abstinence.
The Eve of Great Lent, as Great Barekendan is also called, commemorates the human bliss, which Adam and Eve enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. It also symbolizes the heavenly right, according to which, mankind could eat all types of fruit, except the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. Barekendan is the manifestation of the virtues of the soul, through which people can transform mourning to joy, and torment to peace. It is with this comprehension, with bowing of our souls, penitence, fasting and hope for mercy, that each Christian individual should take his first step on the long, 40 day journey of Great Lent, culminating with the Glorious Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The period starting from the day following the Great Barekendan and lasting till the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, is called Great Lent. In the period of the Great Lent, people, refraining from bodily pleasures and sins, get prepared for the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ by means of abstinence and repentance. Both spiritual and moral and bodily abstinence are considered to be important.Our church fathers have called the period of the Great Lend as “Karasnordats”, as the period of fasting lasts 40 days. This period of the Great Lent is also called “Salt and bread”, as in the past during the period of the Great Lent people have eaten only salt and bread.
In the New and old Testaments there are many testimonies concerning the period of Great Lent. Moses fasted for forty days and only then received the Lord’s rules and canons. However, this period is related to 40-day period of temptation of Christ in the desert, following which our Church fathers established this period of fasting.
Fasting may be of three kinds: usual fasting, rigorous abstinence and absolute fasting. In case of usual fasting people can eat only food of vegetable origin. In case of rigorous fasting people refuse to eat any food even of vegetable origin. And in case of absolute fasting people refuse to eat any kind of food, including even bread and water.
During the period of the Great Lent curtains in the churches are closed in commemoration of the fact that after sinning Adam was exiled from Eden and the doors were closed before him.
St. Theodoros the Captain is a Saint recognized by all traditional churches of Christendom. The Armenian Church commemorates this Saint on the first Saturday during the period of Great Lent.
According to hagiographers, St. Theodoros was born to God-fearing and pious parents in the village of Saroo, near the town of Amasia. He was a soldier in the Roman Army, and rose through the ranks, eventually becoming a Captain.
In the beginning of the fourth century, Rome was under the rule of the Emperor Diocletian. Instead of worshipping at the temple of the pagan goddess Rea, as he had been instructed to, St. Theodoros burns the temple to the ground, thus demonstrating that pagan idols were false. For this act, Diocletian imprisons St. Theodoros, and he suffers severe tortures. In the year 306 A.D., he is martyred by being set on fire.
St. Theodoros is also known as the “Slayer of the Dragon”, as he was said to have defeated a great and mighty dragon due to his courage and faith.
The second Sunday of the period of Great lent is called the Sunday of Expulsion. The basis of the mystery of and the name of the day can be found in the Holy Bible, the Book of Genesis: “So the Lord God sent him out of the Garden of Eden and made him cultivate the soil from which he had been formed” (Genesis 3:23). Prehistory is the following. The human being, listening to the deceitful words of Satan, disobeyed the divine commandments and ate the forbidden fruit, As punishment the human being, the human being, of course, didn’t die at once, but was deprived of the eternity granted by God and was cursed Since then man must work hard and sweat to make the soil produce enough food, and woman will have pain in giving birth to her offspring. And in end God said to the human being: “You were made from soil and you will become soil again” (Genesis 3:19).
The church Fathers have given the Sundays of the Period of great lent such names and mysteries which symbolize the mankind’s way of life – birth, sinning, regret and repentance. This should serve for the human being as an occasion for thinking of himself/herself and his/her lifer so that the period of great Lent should be fruitful and productive.
St. Cyril of Jerusalem is one of the prominent Patriarchs of Jerusalem. He has been repeatedly persecuted by the supporters of the Arian heresy, he has been exiled, and however, eventually again has become the Patriarch of Jerusalem. He has participated in the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. Many sermons and speeches of the Patriarch Cyril about Christian doctrine have been translated into Armenian. His letter addressed to the King Costandios on the occasion of the apparition of the Holy Cross in the sky of Jerusalem is up to date read in the Armenian churches. Patriarch Cyril’s collection of sermons is instructive and edifying for those who are preparing for baptism. According to the tradition the basin in which Patriarch Cyril has been baptized is inside the Chapel of St Stephen of the Church of St. Hakob (St. James), of Jerusalem.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of the Patriarch Cyril twice during the year.
St. Cyril the Bishop is the contemporary of St. Cyril the Patriarch. His secular name is Huda. According to the hagiographical sources, well knowing the locality, Bishop Cyril helps the queen Heghine (Helen) to find the Holy cross of Christ, Witnessing the wonder-working power of the Holy Cross Bishop Cyril is baptized together with his mother, Anna, and after the baptism is renamed “Cyril”. Later he is ordained a bishop and during the period of exile of the Patriarch Cyril he takes his place for a time. Being subjected to severe torments, Bishop Cyril and his mother have been killed during the persecutions realized by the King Julianos the Betrayer.
The third Sunday of the period of Great Lent is called the Sunday of the Lost Son according to the Parable of the Lost Son told in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 15:15-32), the content of which is the following. There was once a man who had two sons. Upon the request of the younger one he divided his property between his two sons. After a few days the younger son sold his part of the property and left home with the money. He went to a country far away, where he wasted his money in reckless living. He spent everything he had. Then a severe famine spread over that country and he was left without a thing. In that time of trouble he remembered his father’s house, regretted for his reckless living and returned to his father’s home. Seeing that his younger son has regretted, the father received him joyfully. Whereas the elder son complained, saying that during all those years he had worked for his father like a slave and had never disobeyed his orders, and however, he had never deserved such honor. His father answered him: “My son, you are always here with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and to be happy, because your brother was dead, but now he is alive; he was lost, but now he has been found.”
The elder and the younger sons are the righteous and the sinful souls, and father’s receiving his lost son means that in the same way God receives the regretting sinner. The allegoric meaning of the parable is in the elder son symbolizing all those who are righteous or think that there are righteous. The parable admonishes all of them not to be self-conceited.
St. John (Hovhannes) of Otzoon, who has also been recognized as “the Philosopher”, is one of the greatest fathers of the Armenian Church. According to hagiographers, he possessed both spiritual and mental brilliance. During the 11 years of his reign (717-728), Catholicos Hovhannes managed to withstand Byzantine and Arab pressures and incursions, while struggling mightily against sects. Hovhannes of Otzoon endowed to us a rich and priceless literary legacy. His work entitled “Canons of the Armenians” is the first voluminous collection in Armenian history, which contains ecclesiastical canons and laws. He is also famous as the author of numerous sermons and church hymns. Among the most important initiatives undertaken by Catholicos Hovhannes of Otzoon, is the church council convened in Dvin in 725, with the aim of reforming the Armenian Church. He also convened the meeting in Manazkert in 726, dedicated to the goal of strengthening the union of the Armenian and Assyrian Churches.
The tomb of Catholicos Hovhannes is in the Church of Srbanes (St. Hovhannes) in the village of Ardvi, near his birthplace of Otzoon. The church has remained a sanctuary for the faithful of the Armenian Nation.
The names of Vartabeds (church divine or archimandrite) St John (Hovhan) of Vorotan (1315-1388) and St. Gregory of Datev (1346-1410) are closely interrelated. Gregory of Datev, the greatest Vartabed and theologian of the Armenian Church, studied under Hovhan of Vorotan, and later raised the famous school founded by his teacher in the Monastery of Datev. Gregory of Datev authored numerous significant theological works. Included in his literary legacy are the “Book of Questions” and the collections of his sermons. He is closely associated with Hovhan of Vorotan, because as a result of the notes and records made by Gregory, a portion of the literary legacy of Hovhan has survived to this day.
Finally, the blessed memory of St. John the Patriarch of Jerusalem is commemorated on the same day, along with the aforementioned three fathers of the Armenian Church. St. John was Patriarch of Jerusalem in the 4th Century. He is remembered to this day as being a great orator and a defender of Christianity through his sermons.
The fourth Sunday of the period of Great Lent is called the Sunday of the Steward, and the message of the day teaches us with the parable of the unjust steward. This parable is mentioned only in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 16:1-13). In the parable, a wealthy man learns that the steward of his house (the supervisor of his holdings) is squandering his possessions. The rich man calls the steward, asking for an accounting, having decided to release him from employment. The steward, realizing that he may soon be without work, begins to act accordingly so that in the near future, others may accept him into their homes. The steward calls those men who have debts to his employer, and he relieves them of a portion of their debts. Following this act, the wealthy man praises the steward for his contrivance.
At first glance, it seems as though there is a great contradiction in this commendation. But the unjust steward grants back to the debtors, only that which he had added to the debt originally for his own gain. Thus, the wealthy man is not injured by the actions of his steward. The master praises the steward for resigning himself from the gains that the steward would have realized in these transactions. Thus, high praise is given to resignation, or abstinence, which is one of the foundations of Great Lent.
Lent teaches mankind about the ability we each have to resign ourselves from all forms of temptation, the beginning of which is self-control and self-denial. Christ says, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). This parable admonishes every one of us that the journey towards salvation must include self-control and resignation. The allegorical meaning of the parable is in the wealthy man symbolizing God, and the unjust steward symbolizing the sinner. For an extended period of time, the sinner carelessly wastes the graces granted by God, until God calls him for an accounting of his life. The unjust steward symbolizes all who, upon regretting their actions, forgive those who have sinned against them, and become seekers of righteousness and the just.
According to Archbishop Malachia Ormanian, the 24th day or the fourth Wednesday of the period of Great Lent, is called Mijink symbolizing that the first half of the period of Great Lent has already passed. Since that day church hymns written by Stegh are sung during the Peace Service held in the evenings on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday.
According to the folk tradition the housewives bake unleavened cake and put a coin in it while baking. The current year will be successful for the member of the family who will have the coin in his/her portion.
The Forty Holy Martyrs martyred in approximately 320 AD were Christians from various towns and cities of Lesser Armenia. They served as soldiers in the royal regiment of Sebastia. Upon the decree of Roman Emperor Likianos, interrogations were organized by Lucias, Duke of Caesarea, to reveal the Christian soldiers. Forty of the soldiers remain steadfast in their faith, defy the judges by their brave answers, and are imprisoned. One cold winter night the soldiers are thrown into a lake near Sebastia, to freeze them to death. Only one of the forty soldiers, being unable to endure the torments, comes out of the water, and tries to find salvation in a bathhouse built on the bank. The lone soldier dies and becomes deprived of both earthly and heavenly life.
At dawn, halos are seen encircling the heads of the soldiers. One of the guards charged with the execution of the forty, witnessing the holy phenomenon accepts Christ and throws himself into the lake to be martyred along with the others. In the morning it becomes apparent that through a divine miracle, the forty soldiers have been saved from freezing. This infuriates their captors who execute them and thus, they become martyrs. The martyrs’ remains are buried in Sebastia, where subsequently a Forty-domed Cathedral is built. The Cathedral of Sebastia stood for nearly one thousand years until the invasion of Tamerlane and the Mongols at the end of the 14th Century. The name of the “Forty Martyrs Cathedral” has survived to this day.
The fifth Sunday of Great Lent is called the Sunday of the Judge. The message of the day teaches us with the parable of the widow and the Judge. This parable comes to us in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 18:1-8). The parable tells the story of a widow who repeatedly came to a judge, who neither feared God nor respected man, and pled for her rights. For a long period of time the judge refused to act, but in the end, he fulfilled her request, to put an end to her continuous appeals. Otherwise, he feared that she would continue to return indefinitely.
After telling this parable, the Lord assures everyone, that if a man as corrupt and unfair as this judge decided in favor of the widow, then God surely would judge in favor of his own people and grant the requests of all those who submit to Him through prayer. This parable exhorts us to always and continually pray, as prayer symbolizes the soul’s eternal striving and thirst for God. The parable also contains an appeal from Christ. After telling the parable, Christ says: “But will the Son of Man find faith on earth when He comes?” In His words, Jesus gives a reference to the Second Coming, and sadness and anguish are felt in the Lord’s remark. It is truly painful for the Savior that many people may be subject to just, yet cruel judgment, instead of becoming the inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
This feast is the first one among the three commemoration days dedicated to the memory of St. Gregory the Illuminator, the first Catholicos of All Armenians. According to the Armenian Church Calendar, it is celebrated on the eve of the Fifth Sunday during the period of Great Lent. The feast is dedicated to the torments which St. Gregory suffered during his imprisonment.
According to historical sources, St. Gregory the Illuminator was the son of Anak Partev, a knight and nobleman, who killed the Armenian King Khosrov Arshakouni. In retaliation, Anak is executed by the Armenians. His son, Gregory, lived and studied in Caesarea, and was brought up as a pious Christian. Gregory returns to Armenia as an adult and becomes a member of the royal court. King Tiridates (Trdat), the son of King Khosrov and heir to the throne, appoints Gregory as the Chancellor of the Armenian Kingdom. Tiridates, learning that Gregory is a Christian and the son of Anak, subjects him to severe tortures and commits Gregory to death, by imprisoning him in a deep underground pit.
In 301 A.D., after spending 13 years in the pit, St. Gregory the Illuminator is freed from the dungeon and emerges to spread the Light of Christ in Armenia. He thus becomes the first pontiff of the Armenian Church, baptizes the royal family, and evangelizes the whole of the Armenian Nation. Armenia becomes the first nation in the world to officially proclaim Christianity as her state religion.
St. Gregory the Illuminator is recognized by all of Christendom as a Saint, and he is commemorated in all traditional Christian Churches.
The Sixth Sunday of Great Lent is called the Sunday of Advent. This Sunday teaches us about the first Advent of Christ – His Incarnation: His Holy Birth when God became Man. This proved the Truth found in the Scriptures that by the coming of the Savior, a second chance was given to mankind to be guided on the path leading towards salvation.
This Sunday also symbolizes the Second Advent. In the Gospels and Apostolic Letters there are many references dedicated to the Second Advent, where our Lord warns us about His return. In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Christ says, “…Watch out and do not let anyone fool you. Many men, claiming to speak for me, will come and say, “I am the Messiah!” and they will fool many people. You are going to hear the noise of battles close by and the news of battles far away… Countries will fight each other; kingdoms will attack one another. There will be famines and earthquakes everywhere… And you will be hated by all nations for my Name’s sake… Many false prophets will appear and fool many people. Such will be the spread of evil that many people’s love will grow cold. But whoever holds out to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:4-13).
The message of this Sunday is a call for endurance, piety and modesty. Through these we can patiently wait for the Glorious Resurrection of Christ, the purification of our souls and the triumph of the True Faith. All Christian Churches celebrate the feast of the Sunday of Advent.
On the 41st day of the period of Great Lent, the Armenian Church commemorates Lazarus being raised from the dead.
The Gospel according to St. John (Jn 11:11-46) relates the story. Lazarus was from a family loved by Jesus Christ. He was the brother of Mary and Martha, who often received Jesus. Lazarus dies after succumbing to an illness. Upon hearing that His friend has died, Christ goes to visit the family, and says to Martha, “I am the Resurrection and the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies…” Christ asks Martha if she believes this, to which she replies, “Yes, Lord. I do believe that you are the Messiah, who was to come into the world.” Christ, standing before the grave, commands Lazarus to come forth, and he appears, being restored to life. By doing so, Christ proves that He is, in fact “Life and Resurrection”.
The Gospel story telling about the raising of Lazarus contains the passage: “Jesus wept.” The Jews, seeing Jesus expressing grief, said: “See how much he loved him!”
The raising of Lazarus is an example of the coming resurrection of all those who have fallen asleep in Christ. The weeping of Jesus demonstrates His great love towards mankind.
One week before the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of Palm Sunday, celebrating the Triumphant Entry of Christ into Jerusalem.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem riding atop a donkey and the people gather to meet Him with reverence, thus fulfilling the words of the prophet from the Old Testament.
The Gospel of St. Matthew, in relating the story, refers to the prophecy, “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled, that which was spoken by the prophet, saying “Tell the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you! He is humble and sitting on an ass, and a colt, the foal of an ass.” (Mt 21:4-5).
On His arrival, a large crowd of people gathers to greet Him, and spread their cloaks on the road before Him, while others cut branches from palm trees and place them on the path. The crowd exclaims: “Hosanna! Blessed is the King of Israel that comes in the Name of the Lord” (Jn 12:13).
On Palm Sunday, churches are decorated with branches from willow trees and palm trees. Following a solemn morning service, the blessed branches are distributed to the faithful. This passage from the Gospels reminds each of us about the Coming of Christ, and teaches us to live in a manner that can make us worthy to stand before the Lord and exclaim: “Hosanna (Praise God)! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“The Parable of the Ten Virgins” is commemorated (Mt 25:1-13). This parable from the Gospel, tells the story about the five foolish and the five wise virgins. The message exhorts us to be vigilant and prepared for the Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
On Holy Tuesday, during the Evening Service, ten young women approach the Holy Altar of the Church. Five of the girls have burning candles or oil lamps in their hands, symbolizing the wise maidens, and the other five have extinguished candles or unlit lamps in their hands, symbolizing the foolish maidens.
On April 7, the Armenian Church celebrates one of her greatest feasts - the Annunciation to St. Mary. In the Gospel of Luke we learn that the Angel Gabriel brings the good news to the Virgin about the birth of the Savior (Lk 1:26-38).
According to Holy Tradition and the Evangelist, the Angel Gabriel appears to St. Mary while reading a passage from the prophecy of Isaiah, in which it is written about the birth of the Emmanuel from a Virgin. The Angel greets Mary, telling her, “Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a son, and shall call His Name JESUS.”
The Angel Gabriel further explains to Mary, “The Holy Sprit shall come upon you, and the Power of the Highest shall overshadow you, therefore also that which is Holy which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” St. Mary could foresee the torments and sufferings that she would endure. However, by giving mankind an excellent example of obedience to the Divine Will, she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.” Beginning from the moment when the Holy Virgin expressed these words, she was with child.
This Gospel story is one expression of why the Armenian Church accords high honor to motherhood, and appreciates the role of women in family life, and the lives of mankind.
Upon the Pontifical order of His Holiness Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians, the Feast of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary is proclaimed as a day of “Blessing of Motherhood and Beauty”. On that day, a special blessing service is conducted in the Armenian Churches.
Holy Thursday is dedicated to the Last Supper of our Lord Jesus Christ and symbolizes the establishment of the Sacrament of Communion. In the morning, Divine Liturgy is celebrated in our churches. Following the Evening Service, the Service of the Washing of the Feet is conducted. Christ, displaying true humility and humbleness, washed the feet of his disciples after the last Supper (Jn 13:1-16). Following His example, priests in the Armenian Church humble themselves and kneel down on the bema, in front of the Church altar, and wash the feet of 12 children or servants of the church, anointing their feet with blessed oil.
In the evening of the Holy Thursday, a solemn service is held, which is the introduction to Good Friday. It symbolizes the Crucifixion, Death and Burial of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Gospel readings during the service recall the prayer of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, His betrayal, arrest, and the denial of Peter.
Good Friday,is the day of commemoration of Christ’s tortures, Crucifixion, Death and Burial. The Service of the Crucifixion is conducted, following which, the Service of His Burial is held. It is during the Burial service that the symbolic Tomb of Christ, decorated with flowers and candles, is processed around the Church for the faithful to witness and participate.
On Holy Saturday, Christ’s destruction of hell and His liberation of righteous souls are commemorated. According to Church tradition, the new day begins following the Evening Service. An evening Divine Liturgy is celebrated, at the end of which the good tiding of the glorious resurrection of the Savior is proclaimed: “Christ is Risen from the dead; Blessed be the Resurrection of Christ!” The period of the Great Lent is thus concluded.
The feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ or the Easter Feast starts on the eve and is continued after the midnight. On the eve a solemn Candlelight Divine Liturgy is celebrated and a solemn Divine Liturgy is celebrated. Following the conclusion of the Liturgy, the assembled faithful welcome each other on the occasion of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ conveying the great tiding: “Christ is Risen from the dead” and receive the answer: “Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ” and take lit candles home, symbolizing the Light that Christ brought into the world. The Divine Liturgy celebrated on the eve is the end of the Great lent and the start of the festive ceremonies.
The Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ or the Easter Feast is one of the five major feasts of the Armenian Church. The main origin of the feast is the following.
The king of Egypt didn’t agree to allow the Hebrews to travel into the desert to offer sacrifices to Lord the God, and the last punishment of God on the king of Egypt that should force the king to let the Hebrews out of the country was the death of every first-born son and every first-born of all cattle in Egypt. In order to save the Hebrews from that punishment the Lord spoke to Moses and by means of Moses ordered the Hebrews to kill a lamb and taking some of the blood and put it on the doorposts and above the doors of the houses. On the night when He would go through the land of Egypt to kill every first-born male, both human and animal, He would see the blood on the doors and would not let the Angel of Death enter the house. He would pass over and wouldn’t harm the Hebrews when punishing the Egyptians. Finally, after that punishment, the king allowed the Hebrews to leave the country, and the Hebrews left Egypt. So, mankind obtained life thanks to the Blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, in order to reach the Christians’ blessed land - the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Mystery of Easter is the mystery of Jesus Christ, His Salutary Holy Blood shed for mankind and His Rising from the dead for mankind. The Son of God should incarnate, be subjected to tortures, be crucified, buried and the third day raise from death (Ps 15:9-11, 29:4, 40:11-13, 117:16-17, Ho 6:2-3).
Following the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ His body was taken off the cross and placed into the tomb and the entrance to the tomb was closed by a large stone and the soldiers were ordered to control the entrance to the tomb. After three days the three women, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, Mary Magdalene, Mary, the Mother of James and Joseph, and the wife of Zebedee brought spices and perfumes to anoint the body of Jesus. They found the stone rolled away from the entrance to the tomb, so they went in but they didn’t the body of the Lord. They stood there puzzled about this, when suddenly two angels dressed in white appeared and said to them, “Why are you looking among the dead for one who is alive? He is not here, ha has been raised” (Lk 24:5-6). The women returned from the tomb and told all these things to the eleven disciples and the rest. According to Peter more than 500 people saw Christ who had risen from the dead. So, this is the evangelical tiding of the fact of Easter or Holy Resurrection.
Resurrection of Christ became the basis of the Christian doctrine and faith. “If that is true, it means that Christ has been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe” (1 Co 15:13-14).
Christ rose from the dead, by means of His Death He destroyed Death and granted eternal life. “I am the Resurrection and I am the Life. Whoever believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (Jn 11:25).
Christ died for the salvation of mankind and by His Blood took away the sin in the world, so that we should inherit eternal life.
On the day of the Easter feast people dye eggs red as a symbol of fruitful life, salvation and joy. St. Gregory of Datev considers the egg to be the symbol of the world, the shell of which is the sky, the membrane is the air, the white is the water and the yolk is the earth. Dyeing eggs red symbolizes the salvation of the world by means of Blood of Christ.
The Armenian Church celebrates the Easter Feast on the first Sunday following the full moon of the vernal equinox, with 35 days moveability, during the period from March 21 –April 26.
The Armenian Church traditionally celebrates evening Divine Liturgy on the evening prior to Jesus Christ’s Glorious Resurrection (Easter). Following the conclusion of the Liturgy, the assembled faithful take lit candles home, symbolizing the Light that Christ brought into the world. The Divine Liturgy celebrated on the eve is the start of the festive ceremonies.
On Sunday, the day of the feast, a morning service is conducted the Andastan Service is performed wherein the four corners of the world are blessed, afterwards the Divine Liturgy is celebrated. That day the faithful welcome each other on the occasion of the Glorious Resurrection of Christ conveying the great tiding: “Christ is Risen from the dead” and receive the answer: “Blessed is the Resurrection of Christ.”
Fifty-day period beginning from the Easter Feast – the Holy Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ - and lasting till Pentecost in the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church is called Hinounk or Hinants period. That period is dedicated to the mystery of Resurrection of the Lord, and that is why it is Dominical period.
The name “Hinounk” comes from the word hisuonk (fifty). The first forty days of the period are dedicated to the appearings of Rosen Christ: “For forty days after his death he appeared to them many times in ways that proved beyond doubt that he was alive. They saw him, and he talked with them about the Kingdom of God” (Ac 1:3).
The last ten days of the Hinants period are dedicated to the Ascension of Christ.
Hianats period is concluded with the Feast of Ascension. According to the Church laws there are no fasting days during all fifty days of Hinants period, which means that all people can eat everything during that period.
This Sunday is called New Sunday because of three reasons.
Firstly, Easter means freedom and the new Sunday is a day of double freedom. God has set us free from sins, and however we are under the influence of passions. And when God does everything in a new way order to set us free from needs, it is called New Sunday.
This Sunday is called New Sunday also because of our resurrection. On the first Sunday Christ raised us from the dead thanks to His Soul and Power, and on the second Sunday he will raise us from the dead bodily, so that raising from the dead we will become immortal.
And finally, this Sunday is called New Sunday because we celebrate the feast of our soul saving in spiritual joy and fete.
The second Sunday following the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is the Sunday of the World Church. It commemorates the first Church of Jerusalem, established by Christ.
On the first day of the Jewish festival of Passover, Jesus instructs two of the Apostles, Peter and John, to go into Jerusalem and meet a man, who would direct them to a house where Christ and His Apostles could celebrate the Passover Feast. Peter and John are led to the “Upper Room” of a house, where they make the necessary preparations for the meal. Later that evening Christ and the Twelve Apostles sit together to eat supper.
Christ speaks to them and says, “I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer: For I say unto you, I will not any more eat thereof, until it be fulfilled in the Kingdom of God. And He took the cup, and gave thanks, and said, "Take this, and divide it among yourselves: For I say unto you, I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come.” And he took bread, and gave thanks, and broke it, and gave unto them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you: this do in remembrance of me.” Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new testament in my blood, which is shed for you.” (Lk 22:15-20)
This “Last Supper” was the event where Jesus Christ established the Sacrament of Holy Communion, which we celebrate every Sunday during the Divine Liturgy in Armenian Churches throughout the world. The Upper Room in Jerusalem is considered to be the first Church, as founded by Christ.
The Sunday of the World Church is also called “Green” Sunday, which according to Archbishop Malachia Ormanian, is the popular name of the feast and is linked with the awakening of nature in the springtime.
In the Calendar of the Armenian Church, the third Sunday following the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ is known as Red Sunday.
The color “red” has been used throughout history to represent many things. One of the symbolic meanings is the blood of the martyrs who were sacrificed for Christ, His Holy Church, and their Christian faith. During the early years of Christianity, faithful followers of Jesus Christ were subjected to severe persecutions and torments. Many elected to die rather than betray their principles of life and faith, which the Incarnate God - Christ Jesus - had endowed to them and all of mankind. The psalmist writes, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of the saints” (Psalms 116:15).
Today, martyrdom is far less often an occurrence in the lives of Christians, yet it does happen. However, the greater struggle is the one against sin, which we can see manifested in many ways throughout the world. The battle against wickedness and evil, which will be victorious in the end, is the current expression of the significance of Red Sunday. The Apostle Paul writes that Christ Himself endured such opposition, that we should not grow weary in our battle against wickedness. In his letter to the Hebrews, Paul says: “In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” (Hebrews 12:4). We are to use the opportunity of Red Sunday to once again remind ourselves of Paul’s exhortation to remain steadfast in the Lord, and to continue our daily labors of goodness and righteousness.
In the Armenian Apostolic Church on the days of the feasts dedicated to the memory of St. Gayane and her companions a Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all Armenian Churches. On the eve of the feast ceremonies are held, which start after the evening service, and Church hymns and songs, dedicated to the nuns, are sang.
St. Gayane lived during the period of the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletianus (284-305 years) who subjected Christians to persecutions. She was one of the 37 nuns who left Rome for Armenia.
During the first 20 years of his reign Diocletianus didn’t persecute Christians despite his being heathen. However, since 303, under the pressure of Caesar Galerius, he subjected Christians to severe persecutions. He issued 4 edicts against Christians which envisaged Christians’ removal from the army, confiscation of church property, first of all buildings and ritual books, church servants’ arrest and capital punishments, subjecting Christians to torments pursuing the goal to make them to give up their beliefs and faith. Persecutions agitated the whole empire, Christians were martyred for the sake of Christ. It was during this difficult period that Gayane and her companions left Rome.
Diocletianus informed about it the Armenian King Tiridates suggesting him either to return one of the nuns – Hripsime, or to get married to her. Becoming aware of the nun’s story, himself wished to get married to Hripsime. King’s servants searched and found Hripsime and started to convince her to obey the king’s will who was captivated by her dazzling beauty and wished to get married to her. Hripsime rejected him saying that she as well as the other nuns had already become the bride of Christ and couldn’t marry.
Becoming angry, the king ordered to subject her and the other nuns to severe torments. Her tongue and womb were cut, eyes were put out and her body was dismembered. Abyss Gayane and two of the nuns also were subjected to severe torments for encouraging Hripsime to endure tortures for the sake of Christ. Executioners pierced their feet, hang them, tore off their skin, cut their abdomens and afterwards beheaded them. The remaining 33 nuns were put to sword and parts of their bodies were thrown to the beasts for eating.
Nine days later St. Gregory the Illuminator found the relics of the nuns and burying the relics, built martyriums in those sites, where in the future the Monasteries of St. Hripsime, St. Gayane and St. Shoghakat were erected.
This feast is dedicated to the Apparition of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem. At noon on May 19, 351, a bright, luminous cross appeared over the skies of Jerusalem, centered over an area spanning from the Mount of Olives (where Christ was betrayed and arrested) to Golgotha (where Christ was crucified). Awestruck, the faithful of Jerusalem rush to church to give thanks and glorify the Lord. Bishop Cyril (later St. Cyril of Jerusalem) subsequently wrote a letter to Emperor Constantine of Byzantium wherein he describes the miraculous and beautiful scene. St. Cyril tells Constantine that the apparition is a true testimony of the orthodox faith of Christianity.
Further, St. Cyril exhorts the Emperor that the appearance is a sign for him to remain steadfast in his faith, and to stop defending the heretical movement of Arianism and its promulgators. The Armenian translation of the Bishop’s letter has been preserved by the Church, and is read each year on the Feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross. The Armenian Church celebrates this feast 28 days following Easter Sunday.
The Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord on the fortieth day following the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Savior Jesus Christ.
Following His Resurrection and defeat of death, Christ remained on earth for forty days, and continued to appear to His disciples. On the fortieth day, Christ is seen by His disciples for the last time. He blesses them and leaves them with instructions, after which He ascends into heaven.
Two of the Gospel writers, St. Mark and St. Luke, testify about Christ’s ascension. There is also an account of it in the Acts of the Apostles.
Following a final meeting of Christ with the eleven remaining apostles, St. Mark writes, “So then, after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God.” (Mark 16:19)
St. Luke gives a little greater detail as he writes, “And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.” (Luke 24: 50-53)
But by far the most beautiful account of the Ascension can be found in the Book of Acts: “And when he had spoken these things, while they beheld, he was taken up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as he went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; which also said, Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11). The hymn that is sung in the Armenian Church on Ascension Day mentions the miraculous event of Christ’s Ascension into heaven and the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles.
In the Armenian Church, the day of Jesus Christ’s Ascension is also commemorated for another reason as well. On this date in 1441, the See of the Catholicosate of All Armenians was returned to its historical origins. Following a resolution of the National Assembly gathered in Vagharshapad, the Patriarchal See was relocated from the city of Sis in Western Armenia to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. Following his vision of Christ striking the ground with a golden hammer, St. Gregory the Illuminator had founded the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin in 303. However, less than 200 years later, in 484, the Patriarchal See was forced to relocate, and for the next 1000 years, settled in various cities throughout Armenia. The decision to return the throne of the Catholicos to the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin was the fulfillment of a national dream for the Armenian people.
On the Sunday following the Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord, the Armenian Church celebrates “Second” Palm Sunday. The name of the feast has been derived from Palm Sunday, which precedes Easter. In the week leading up to His betrayal, crucifixion and resurrection, the “first” Palm Sunday symbolized the triumphant entry of Christ into Jerusalem where people met Him with great joy and glorified His Holy Name. The Second Palm Sunday is the commemoration of the triumphant entry of the Ascended Christ into the Heavenly Jerusalem, where the angels meet him with great happiness and delight.
According to tradition, during St. Gregory the Illuminator’s imprisonment in the pit, he was visited every day by the same angel. However one day, the angel did not come. The following morning, St. Gregory inquires to the reason for his absence, to which the angel responds that during the Ascension, Christ had passed through the ranks of the Angels, and they celebrate that feast each year. The angel visiting St. Gregory was from the fourth class of angelic hosts, and thus, on the fourth day following the Ascension, his rank of angels commemorates and celebrates Christ’s Ascension to heaven every year.
St. Gregory of Datev, one of the greatest theologians of the Armenian Church, has a famous interpretation of this event. Prior to His Ascension, the ranks of angels, except for the lowest class, who served Christ during His earthly life, were not aware of Christ’s incarnation for the salvation of man. St. Gregory’s commentary states that when the Lord was passing through the ranks of angels, they were surprised and asked, “Who was that powerful king?” The angels accompanying Christ thus informed them. This dialogue of angels is presented in the Holy Bible, in the book of Psalms:
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be ye lifted up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.”
“Who is this King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, the LORD mighty in
“Lift up your heads, O ye gates; even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.”
“Who is this King of glory?”
“The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory.”
The angelic dialogue is exhibited for us, when it is heard during the Divine Liturgy, as the deacon approaches the celebrant priest with the chalice during the Great Entrance (Verapehroom).
Second Palm Sunday is one more reminder of the Ascension of Christ and grants us the hope for ascending to heaven after our deaths, and being in the bliss of God’s presence.
Prophet Elijah is one of the major prophets of the Old Testament, distinguished for his loyalty to the Lord, for his zealous struggle against idolatry spread in Israel by the apostate king Ahab and his idolatrous wife, Queen Jezebel.
Prophet Elijah lived in the IX century B.C. In the First Book of Kings (17-18) and the Second Book of Kings (1-2) is told about the activity of the Prophet Elijah. Evangelists also mention the name of the Prophet Elijah.
In the First Book of Kings it is told that being the true herald of the Word of God Elijah, by the Lord’s will appeared before the apostate king Ahab and warned about the upcoming drought. His prophecy came true and after three years the Prophet again went to the king Ahab. Proving the weakness of the idolatrous, Prophet Elijah prayed God asking to send down fire for the sacrifice and a heavy rain. It is also told that thanks to the divine grace the Prophet Elijah helped the widow in Zarephath making so that her bowl wouldn’t run out of flour and her jar wouldn’t run of oil, also restored the widow’s dead sun to life.
Noble Hripsime was one of the 37 Christian nuns who together with the Abyss Gayane lived during the period of the reign of the Roman King Diocletianus (284-305 years) in the Monastery of St. Paul located in the mountains of Rome.
Pretty Hripsime captivated the King by her dazzling beauty, who wished to get married to her. Disobeying the king, the pious nuns, led by their Abyss Gayane, ran away from Alexandria. According to the tradition, Holy Godmother appeared to them and told them to leave for the Araratian country - Armenia. So, the nuns went to Vagharshapat. On their way, passing by the Mountain of Varague, Hripsime buried in the earth a relic from the wooden Holy Cross, which she always had on her neck. The relic was found by a miracle in the 7th century and since then the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varague started to be celebrated in the Calendar of the Armenian Apostolic Church along with the other feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross.
The Armenian King Tiridates, becoming aware of the nun’s story, himself wished to get married to Hripsime. Hripsime was brought to the palace, and Gayane was also brought to the palace to convince Hripsime to obey the King. But even in that way the King did not manage to get married to Hripsime and becoming angry, ordered to kill all the nuns. Nine days later St. Gregory the Illuminator found the relics of the nuns and burying the relics, built martyriums in those sites, where in the future the Monasteries of St. Hripsime, St. Gayane and St. Shoghakat were erected.
Nuns’ mardyrdom is a turning point in the history of the Armenian nation. After their martyrdom St. Gregory the Illuminator was brought out of the pit after more than 13 years’ imprisonment to spread the light of Christ in Armenia.
In the Armenian Apostolic Church on the days of the feasts dedicated to the memory of St. Hripsime and her companions a Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all Armenian Churches. On the eve of the feast ceremonies are held, which start after the evening service, and Church hymns and songs, dedicated to the nuns, are sang.
In the year 301 AD, the deliverance of St. Gregory the Illuminator from the pit, was the catalyst that began the “Great Conversion” of Armenia from the darkness of paganism to the Light of Christianity.
Following the martyrdom of the Christian nuns, led by St. Hripsime and St. Gayane, upon the order of the Armenian pagan King Tiridates, the ruler becomes seriously ill. The sister of the king, Khosrovidoukht, has a dream where it is revealed to her that the only remedy for the king’s condition is to free St. Gregory, still imprisoned in the dungeon, and that he alone could cure the malady. Thirteen years following his imprisonment in the “deep pit” of Artashat, the royal court submits to the request of Khosrovidoukht and frees the Christian Gregory. With the intercession of Gregory’s prayers, the king recovers, Gregory becomes the patron saint of the Armenian Church, and Tiridates, and his wife - Queen Ashkhen, become ardent supporters in Gregory’s efforts to preach Christianity throughout Armenia, and baptize the Armenian nation.
Pagan temples and statues are destroyed in Armenia, and replaced with Dominical Crosses in their locations. Christianity is proclaimed by the King and the Catholicos to be the state religion of Armenia, the first nation in the world to do so. St. Gregory is sent to Caesarea, where he is consecrated as the first Pontiff of the Armenian Church, and becomes the first Catholicos of All Armenians.
The feast of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s Deliverance from the Pit is one of the greatest of the Armenian Church. A solemn Divine Liturgy is celebrated in all Armenian Churches on this day.
One of the most celebrated feasts of the Armenian Church is the day when the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin was established, according to the inspired vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator.
According to tradition, and hagiographic sources, following the declaration of Christianity as the Official Religion of Armenia in 301 AD, St. Gregory has a famous vision, wherein the Only Begotten Son of God – Jesus Christ, descends from Heaven, his face lit aglow, and with the strike of a golden hammer designates the site where the Mother Cathedral for the entire Armenian nation is to be founded. Hence, the name of the spiritual center for the Armenians, “Etchmiadzin”, means “the Descent of the Only Begotten” (Etch - descent, mi - only, dzin - begotten.)
St. Gregory relayed the story about his vision to the Armenian King Tiridates, under whose royal auspices and support the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin was built. King Tiridates and Queen Ashkhen participated in the construction, as did the entire capital city of Vagharshapat by bringing stones from the biblical mountain of Ararat to lay the foundations. In the site marked by Christ, a Holy Altar of Descent was built.
According of Patriarch Malachia Ormanian, from the days of her establishment, the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin has been the residence of the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians. Thus, it is the Mother See of the Armenian Church, and as such, her universal, spiritual and administrative headquarters.
Another title bestowed upon the cathedral is “Catholic” - not to be confused with the Roman Catholic faith. Catholic is a Greek word meaning “Universal”. Theologically, the cathedral has been called “catholic” as a description of the catholicity (universality) of the Church.
The feast of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin is celebrated 64 days following Easter. A Divine Liturgy is celebrated, and during services, a special hymn is sung, written by the eighth century Catholicos Sahak of Dzorap, telling of St. Gregory’s vision and the Cathedral’s construction.
St. Nersess the Great, Catholicos of All Armenians (353-373) is one of the most prominent Armenian Pontiffs. According to historical sources he is from the family and lineage of St. Gregory the Illuminator, and grandson of the Armenian Patriarch Houssik.
Following the death of Catholicos Paren I (of Ashtishat), Nersess is a chamberlain (chief attendant or steward) for the Armenian King Arshak. Although a layman at the time, he is found to be the most deserving candidiate for the throne of the Catholicos, and under the compulsion of the King is ordained as a priest, and consecrated as Catholicos. The Armenian Pontiff becomes the first great reformer of the Church and a renowned benefactor of his nation. Upon Nersess’ initiative, a National Ecclesiastical Council is convened in Ashtishat in 354. Upon his initiative, decisions are made which are intended to regulate and bring order to the spiritual-ecclesiastical life, based upon the defined moral principles of the family. Nersess the Great establishes numerous monasteries and schools. He builds hospices, residences and hospitals for the ill, homeless and the poor. The Catholicos was always with his flock. The Armenian people won the battle of Dzirav due to St. Nersess’ unceasing prayers for victory on a nearby mountaintop, as the war was being waged on the field below.
For his devout activity Nersess the Great is also called the “Illuminator of Hearts”.
Bishop Khad was a supporter of Nersess the Great, and was instrumental in the implementation of the Catholicos’ initiatives and undertakings. Historian Pavstos Buzand identifies Bishop Khad as the coadjutor of the Armenian Pontiff, St. Nersess the Great.
The Commemoration Day of the discovery of the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator is one of the three significant feast days dedicated to the memory of the Patron Saint of Armenia.
According to Holy Tradition, following Armenia’s conversion to Christianity, in his final years, St. Gregory led an ascetic life in the cave of Mane on the Mountain named Sepuh where he died in 326 A.D. Shepherds, finding his body, buried him not recognizing the Armenian Pontiff. One of his students, Garnik from Basen sees a vision, where Gregory identifies the location of his relics. The relics were thereupon transferred to the village of Tordan, in the province of Daranagh, and buried there.
The relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator are one of our most revered within the Armenian Church, as well as all Christian Churches. Following their discovery, some were taken to various places for safekeeping, among them Vagharshapat (Etchmiadzin), Byzantium, and Italy. The Right Hand of the Saint, preserved in the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, is one of the most important sanctities of the Armenian Church, and is used by the Catholicos of All Armenians during the blessing of the Holy Chrism (Muron). To commemorate the day, Divine Liturgy is celebrated in our Churches.
Catholicos St. Sahak Partev and Archimandrite St. Mesrop (Vardapet) Mashtots are the founders of Armenian literature and ecclesiastical bibliography.
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.
St. Mesrop Mashtots was born in 360 A.D. and studied the Greek and Persian languages from childhood. He initially served as a scribe in the royal court. Leaving secular life behind, he becomes a monk and lives an ascetic life. During his preaching of the Gospel, St. Mesrop feels the necessity to create a distinct Armenian Alphabet and to have the Holy Bible translated into Armenian. For in those years, the Bible was only available in Greek and Syriac. In Armenia, there once were ciphers, or symbols, which were used by the former pagan priests. Following the Great Conversion of the Armenian nation to Christianity, the symbols fell into disuse, and the only remaining copy was in Mesopotamia with a bishop named Daniel the Syrian. Upon the order of King Vramshapouh, the symbols are brought to Armenia from Bishop Daniel. However, while teaching his new students by means of those symbols for a short period of time, Mesrop soon finds them to be lacking, as they were imperfect and defective. Together with his students he departs for Mesopotamia, and visits the cities of Antioch, Edessa, and Samosata, to conduct further research. In 404/405 A.D., St. Mesrop creates the Armenian Alphabet through Divine Grace. For the first time in the history of the nation, the Armenian people had a specific and distinctive alphabet.
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”.
St. Mesrop Mashtots passed away in Vagharshapat, and was buried in his home village of Oshakan. According to tradition, during the entire journey of transferring the remains of
St. Mesrop to Oshakan, a canopy of light fell upon the pilgrims and accompanied them until they reached the tomb. The Church of St. Mesrop Mashtots, which exists to this day, was built over his grave.
In 287 A.D. Tiridates (Trdat), from the royal house of Arshakouni, assumes the throne which once belonged to his father and becomes Tiridates III, King of Armenia. His name is inextricably linked with the Patron Saint of the Armenian Church, St. Gregory the Illuminator. In 301 A.D. the king releases the Christian Gregory from imprisonment and proclaims Christianity to be the State Religion of Armenia. In doing so, the king becomes the greatest advocate of spreading Christianity throughout the country.
The names of Queen Ashkhen and the King’s sister, Khosrovidoukht are closely related to the Great Conversion of Armenia as well. Princess Khosrovidoukht’s vision of a cure for the King’s incurable illness causes St. Gregory the Illuminator to be liberated from the dungeon of the deep pit. Gregory then is free to begin the process of spreading the light of Christianity, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
According to Greek historian Agathangelos, the King, the Queen and the Princess meet St. Gregory upon his return from Caesarea, to where he had traveled to receive episcopal ordination. Following a period of fasting and preparation, Gregory baptizes the three of them. They are followed by the baptism of the royal court and the nobles of Armenia. Through the baptism by Gregory, Tiridates becomes the first king in the world to rule over a Christian country. History also reveals that Tiridates, Ashkhen and Khosrovidoukht personally participate in the construction of the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin. The stones they used to build the cathedral were brought to Vagharshapat from the slopes of Biblical Mount Ararat.
This is the Sunday preceding the week prior to the fasting period preceding the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Transfiguration called in the Armenian Apostolic Church Fast of Transfiguration lasting from Monday to Friday. Saturday, the last day of the fasting period, is the eve of the feast, which means that that day people can eat fish and dairy products.
The Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is one of the five main “Tabernacle” feasts of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Holy Church. It commemorates the transformation or the “transfiguration” that came over Jesus while He was praying. Christ’s face shone like the sun and his clothes became a radiant and gleaming white. The Apostles Peter, James and John witnessed that event which occurred on a high mountain named Tabor.
Evangelists St. Matthew, St. Mark and St. Luke testify about the transfiguration of Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 17:1-13; Mark 9:1-12, Luke 9:28-36).
“... As they looked on, a change came over Jesus: his face was shining like the sun and his clothes were dazzling white. Then the three disciples saw Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus. So Peter spoke up and said to Jesus, “Lord, how good it is that we are here! If you wish I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was talking, a shining cloud came over them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am pleased – listen to him!” When the disciples heard the voice, they were so terrified that they threw themselves face downward on the ground. Jesus came to them and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid!” So they looked up and saw no one there but Jesus. (Matthew 17:2-8)
In the Armenian Church, the Feast of the Transfiguration of Our Lord Jesus Christ is celebrated 98 days following Easter. The Feast also is known by the common name of “Vardakas”. This day is associated with an old Armenian tradition of pouring water on one another. Some sources attribute the tradition as a remnant of an Armenian pre-Christian celebration. The Monday following the Feast is a Memorial Day.
The Prophet Isaiah is the first of the four major prophets of the Old Testament. He was born and spent almost his entire life in the city of Jerusalem, in the eight century B.C. The 66 chapters of the Book of Isaiah are considered to be an ocean of wealth, concerned with issues related to God, justice, sin, religion and various social ills. Being an educated and intelligent man, he was the spiritual guide to four kings of Jerusalem, expressing God’s will on many national matters. His book, written in an unsurpassed style and spirit, is the link between the Old and the New Testaments.
Isaiah is also called the “Evangelist Prophet” for his prophesizing on the coming of the Messiah - Jesus Christ. In the Book of Isaiah, Chapter 61, the prophet comes forth as a servant sent by the Lord’s Soul “to bring the good news to the poor and to take care of the desperate and hopeless.” Christ would later read the words of Isaiah in the synagogue in Nazareth, as He became the realization of that mission in the world (Luke 4:16-21).
According to tradition, Isaiah was killed by particularly brutal means.
St. Thaddeus the Apostle and St. Sandoukht the Virgin are two of the most venerated saints in the Armenian Church, as the “Great Conversion” of the Armenian nation to Christianity is significantly connected with their names.
Following the Ascension of Christ, according to the Lord’s message: “Go then to all peoples everywhere and make them make them my disciples...”, Thaddeus departs for Edessa. There he preaches the Gospel, and among his numerous miracles, also heals the king of Osrhoene named Abgar. In the year 44 A.D., Thaddeus travels on to Armenia and enters the domain of the pagan King Sanatrouk. After preaching in various parts of Armenia, St. Thaddeus converts many to Christianity, who become the foundation for the Armenian Church. The Apostle Thaddeus, while in the region of Artaz, gains access to the royal palace and converts Princess Sandoukht, the daughter of the king, to Christianity.
The Armenian King Sanatrouk becomes aware of his daughter’s conversion and exhorts her to return to her native heathen religion, but his efforts are in vain. The enraged king imprisons both the Virgin Sandoukht and St. Thaddeus and subjects them to severe torments. Another effort is made to persuade the Virgin to give up Christianity by the governor of the royal palace, an Armenian prince. This effort only ends with the prince becoming a Christian as well. The king, able to bear no more, finally orders the death of the Apostle Thaddeus and his own daughter, Sandoukht. They are martyred together in Shavarshan, the summer residence of the royal family.
Aristakes was St. Gregory the Illuminator’s youngest son. He led a monastic life from a very early age. He was consecrated a bishop by his father, and became one of St. Gregory’s most valued supporters. In 325 A.D. he participated in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea, representing the first Catholicos and the entire Armenian Church. Following St. Gregory the Illuminator, he became Catholicos of All Armenians.
He was killed in 333 A.D. by Arkeghayos, a prince of Greater Armenia, for criticizing some incorrigible behavior of the king, and was buried in the village Til.
Vrtanes was St. Gregory the Illuminator’s elder son. He was married and had two sons – Grigoris and Housik. Following the death of his brother, he ascended to the Catholicosal Throne.
Although Christianity was already fairly well accepted as the official religion, some remnants of paganism and heathenism continued in remote areas and smaller villages. One region that had substantial resistance was the province of Daron. Vrtanes organized annual festive Christian celebrations in this province to gradually eliminate their pagan beliefs and practices.
Vrtanes died in 341 A.D. and was buried in the village Tordan, near the relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator.
Grigoris was the elder son of Vrtanes. He was sent by the Armenian Church to spread Christianity among the neighboring nations of Armenia. He was martyred upon the order of King Sanesan, the head of the nomadic Mazkut tribe. His remains were buried by the deacons who served with him, in the village of Amaras, in Artsakh. In 489 A.D. upon the order of the Aghvan (Caucasian Albanian) King Vachagan, the Church of St. Gregory was built on this site.
Housik was the younger son of Vrtanes. He married with the daughter of the Armenian King Tiridates and had two sons – Pap and Antiochus. In 341 A.D. he was elected as the Catholicos of All Armenians.
He resisted and challenged the will of King Tiran, who wished to hang the portrait of Julianus the Betrayer in a church. He was severely beaten, martyred, and was buried in the village of Tordan, province of Daranaghi.
Bishop Daniel Assyrian was famous for his saintly way of life. As he grew older he led an ascetic and isolated life in the province of Daron. Following the martyrdom of Housik, he was invited to be the Catholicos of All Armenians.
During the very first meeting with King Tiran, he strictly castigated him on the murder of the Pontiff Housik. The king summarily ordered the death of Daniel by strangulation. His remains are buried in the Monastery of Hatsyats Drahkt.
The sons and grandsons of St. Gregory the Illuminator are remembered and commemorated by all Armenian Churches throughout the world for their service to the Church, their faithfulness to Christianity, and their commitment to the Armenian people.
The names of St. Joachim (Jehoiakim) and Anna are closely related to Jesus, as they are the parents of the Holy Mother of God.
According to the tradition, wealthy Joachim was a descendant of King David, and Anna was the daughter of a priest. One day, when performing a service in the cathedral, the priest tells Joachim to stand in the end, as he had no son. Becoming upset, Joachim comes out of the Cathedral and immediately climbs up the mountains, vowing not to descend the mountain until the visit of God. Following his example, Anna, staying at home, devotes herself to prayer and repentance. And once, when Anna sees in the garden the birds playing with their nestlings, becomes sad and cries, as she wasn’t granted the grace of being a mother. Just at that moment the Angel of God visits Anna, telling her that God will be granting her a son who will be the mother of the Savior of the world. Joachim also has the same vision and becoming very happy, gives alms to the poor. The parents decide to devote the baby to the Church. The baby is named Mary, which means “Illuminated”.
The oil-bringing women are the witnesses of Christ’s torments. They are the first to give the good tidings of the Resurrection of our Lord. The Oil-Bringing women followed Christ during all the time of realizing His earthly mission. The church calls them “Oil-Bringing Women” as on Sunday, in the morning, they hurried to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus by the aromatic oils prepared by themselves.
Thanks to their devoutness they were first to see the Rosen God and told about it the Apostles. They were in the upstairs during Pentecost and together with the Apostles received the graces of the Holy Spirit.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of St. Joachim and Anna together with the oil-Bringing Women.
The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus was convened in 431 A. D., during the reign of the King Theodosius Small. 200 Pontiffs participated in the Council with the goal to criticize the false teaching of Nestorius, Patriarch of Constantinople. According to his teaching there were two independent - divine and human natures in Christ, contrasting each other. Nestorius preached that Christ was born as a simple man and only later Divinity was settled in His Person, and therefore, the Holy Virgin Mary was not Godmother, but the mother of a simple man.
The Ecumenical Council of Ephesus condemns the teaching of Nestorius and adopts the teaching of St. Cyril of Alexandria as an orthodox teaching, according to which the divine and human natures of Christ do not exist separately, but are united unmixedly, without confusion - one Lord, one Jesus, one face and one united divine and human nature. St. Mary is not the mother of a simple man, but she is Godmother as she gave birth to the Son of God. So, the formulation of St. Cyril of Alexandria: “One is the nature of the Incarnate Word of God” was adopted.
The Armenian Church has not participated in that Ecumenical Council but has adopted its resolutions and ecumenical authority together with the previous Ecumenical Councils.
This is the Sunday preceding the week prior to the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, Holy Godmother, one of the major feasts of Armenian Apostolic Church and one of the seven feasts dedicated to St. Mary. The fasting period lasts from Monday to Friday.
The Feast of “Shoghakat” of Holy Etchmiadzin commemorates the inauguration of the Cathedral of the Mother See. The fifth century Greek historian Agathangelos tells us of St. Gregory the Illuminator’s divine vision, wherein our Lord Jesus Christ descends from Heaven and strikes the ground with His golden hammer. In view of biblical Mount Ararat, in the city of Vagharshapat, the place where the Only Begotten descended identified the site for the foundation of the new cathedral of the Christian Armenian Nation. The vision of Gregory became known as “Shoghakat”, as the Saint saw a fiery column descending from the sky.
The foundation was laid in 301 A.D. and the Cathedral of Holy Etchmiadzin was consecrated in 303 A.D. on the day of the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. We learn from Archbishop Malachia Ormanian that as the Mother Cathedral of the Armenian Church and Nation is dedicated to St. Mary, the feast of her foundation and inauguration is celebrated in the Armenian Church on the Saturday preceding the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God.
For 1,700 years, the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin has been, and continues to be, the spiritual heart and center of the Armenian Church, and is her most sacred sanctuary. Her spiritual, national and historical significance has only increased through the centuries. Through the vision of St. Gregory, God Incarnate descended upon the soil of Armenia and predetermined her future, making Armenia the first nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its official religion.
Each year on the Sunday closest to the date of August 15, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, the Holy Mother of God. In the Calendar of the Armenian Church, this feast is the fourth of five major feasts that are commemorated, and is the oldest one dedicated to St. Mary.
In the Holy Bible, there is little information concerning the details of St. Mary’s life. As a result, the story of her Assumption has been preserved and passed on to us through the Holy and Sacred Tradition of the Apostolic Church.
Following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the Holy Virgin remains in Jerusalem, and lives under the care of St. John the Evangelist. For nearly 12 years, St. Mary lives by praying, fasting, and often visiting the empty tomb of her beloved Son. During one such visit to the tomb, the Archangel Gabriel appears and gives her the news of her imminent assumption to heaven. St. Mary relays the news to her relatives and all Christians, asking them to bury her in the valley of Gethsemane. St. Mary also asks the Apostle John to celebrate a Divine Liturgy, so she may receive Holy Communion one final time. After receiving Holy Communion, St. Mary returns to her room. As the Apostles prepare to mourn her death, St. John asks the Mother of God to leave an image of her face on a board of wood. St. Mary takes the board, crosses herself and brings it close to her face. Moistening the board with her tears, she asks God that by means of the board, people would be cured from disease. As the Apostles surround St. Mary, an indescribable light appears. The Son of God and the angels of heaven appear in the room. Seeing Christ, St. Mary dies.
St. Bartholomew the Apostle was absent and did not participate in the burial service of St. Mary. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he wishes to see St. Mary for the last time. Per his request, the Apostles open the tomb, yet they do not find the remains of St. Mary. According to His promise, Jesus Christ had delivered His mother to His heavenly kingdom. The Apostles give the board of St. Mary to St. Bartholomew for consolation.
According to Moses of Khoren, St. Bartholomew brings the board to Armenia. It is kept in the Province of Andzav, in a location called Darbnots. Years later, a church is built there in honor of St. Mary, and a convent is opened.
On the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary, the Ceremony of the Blessing of the Grapes is conducted, and the harvest for the entire year is blessed on that day.
The Armenian Church has a deep and abiding respect towards St. Mary. Special emphasis is placed on her being a mother, her honesty, her unique spirit of humility, her virtuous behavior and her unselfish dedication. For Armenian women, the Holy Virgin is the embodiment of virtue, pious motherhood, and the protector of family sacredness.
This council is the First Ecumenical Council in the history of the Church, which was convened upon the order of the King Costandianos the Great in the town Nicaea near Constantinople, in 327 A. D. 318 prominent pontiffs representing the Universal Church participated in the Council. The reason for convening the council was priest Arios of Alexandria, who preached that Christ was not without beginning, that he was created upon the Will of God before times and centuries, in order the creation of God to be realized by means of Christ. The only one not having birth, the only one eternal and without beginning is God the father. Son has been created not from the essence of the Father, but from nothing. There was a time when the Son did not exist. Although the Son has received all the virtues of the Father and is adopted, he is not pure as the Father is, he is changeable, as all human beings.
Because of such viewpoints of Arios the Divinity of Christ was denied and the entire Christian doctrine was endangered. Archbishop Alexander of Alexandria opposed to Arianism. In his sermons he stressed that God is eternal, and Son is eternal, Father and Son are of the same time. Father does not precede the Son even for a moment, Father has always existed and Son has always existed. The false teaching of Arios is condemned during the first Ecumenical Council and it is declared to be heresy.
Aristakes, son of St. Gregory the Illuminator, also participates in the first Ecumenical Council. The doctrinal formulation adopted by the Council, which is known as Nicene Creed, is brought to Armenia by Aristakes and is presented to St. Gregory the Illuminator. The latter added to it the following passage: “As for us, we shall glorify him who was before the ages, worshipping the Holy Trinity and the one Godhead, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto ages of ages. Amen.”.
The Nicene Creed, adopted in Nicaea, and the passage added by St. Gregory the Illuminator, are up to date used in the rites of the Armenian Apostolic Church without any change. Aristakes brings to Armenia also 20 canons adopted by the Council of Nicaea, which are also ratified by St. Gregory the Illuminator.
This is the Sunday preceding the week prior to the Exaltation of the life giving Cross of the Lord. Fasting period is from Monday to Friday.
The birth of the Holy Mother of God in not described in the Holy Bible. We learn about from the Holy Tradition of the Church. Parents of the Holy Virgin, Jehoiakim and Anna did not have children for many years. Once, when Anna goes to the garden to pray, suddenly God’s Angel appears to her and tells her that she will have a baby. Anna thanks God for hearing her prayers and promises to present her baby to God. Jehoiakim also has the same vision. He also renders glory to God for deserving him that grace and offers sacrifice. Anna gives birth to a girl, who is named Mary, which means “Illuminated”. It was she whom God granted the grace to be the Mother of God. As mother she worried, suffered for her Son, but never opposed to God very well understanding the importance of the mission entrusted to her by God.
Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is the last one of the five major feasts of the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is the most important feast among the feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross, as it is dedicated to the history of the return of the Holy Cross from imprisonment, its elevation and glorification. In the Armenian Apostolic Church the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross is celebrated on Sunday during the period between September 11-17. This year that date is September 17, and the Monday following the Feast is a Memorial Day.
In 610 A. D, the Persian King Khosrov with a large army attacks the Byzantine Empire. Enthusiastic about the initial victory, in 614 A. D. the Persian army enters Jerusalem. Many people are killed and many are imprisoned. Pontiff Zakaria, the Patriarch of Jerusalem is imprisoned, too. However, the Persians are not satisfied and enter the Church of Holy Sepulcher and take the Holy Cross kept in the Church. The Holy Cross had been found and installed in the Church for the Christians to worship by Heghineh, the mother of the King Costandianos, in the beginning of the 4th century.
In 628 A. D., the Byzantine army led by the King Herakles fight against the Persians to return the Holy Cross. The Armenian army regiment, led by Mzhezh Gnounie, supported the Persian army. With the Lord’s help the Byzantine army wins the battle.
The Holy Cross is solemnly brought to the Armenian town Karin, from where it is carried to Constantinople, and then - to Jerusalem. On the way the Holy Cross was raised for the people to see and worship.
For Christians the Cross is God’s power and strength and pride of all prides, on which Christ’s innocent blood was shed. By means of the Cross Jesus proved His love towards mankind, and the Cross became for us the symbol of hope, love and saving.
St. Gevorg the Captain (St. George the Warrior) was from Cappadocia. He was born in a pious Christian family. Becoming a soldier of the Roman Army in a short period he deserves the honor of becoming Captain thanks to his courage and devotion. During the council convened by the Roman Emperor Dioklethianos he opposes to his plans on Christians’ execution, and thus the fact that he is Christian, is revealed. The King, becoming surprised and astonished, orders to imprison the Captain and subjects him to severe torments. Many people, among them the Queen Alexandria, become Christians thanks to the preaching of St. George. A magician is ordered to prepare two kinds of remedies for trying the saint and changing his faith. By the first cup the saint should change his mind, and drinking the second cup, he should die. St. Gevorg drinks both cups, but thanks to the power of his faith towards God he remains alive. He also raises a man from the dead.
After the King’s repeated requests St. Gevorg finally agrees to offer sacrifice to the idols. However, reaching the heathen church he breaks all idols one by one. For this act the King orders to behead St. Gevorg and he is martyred in about 303 A. D.
St. Adoktos (Adauctus) has been martyred in 320 A. D., in the Armenian Melitene, during the reign of Maximianos. He has been a state servant in Ephesus. Not willing to marry her daughter – Kalistene, with the Heathen King, he takes her away to the East. For being Christian upon the King’s order he is deprived of his title and property and is exiled to Melitene. The local governor also fails to convert Adoktos to the heathen religion. Remaining steadfast and unshaken in his faith, the saint is beheaded. His wife and the other daughter - Pelopia, bury him. Costantsa - sister of the Emperor Kostandianos, defends and protects Kalistene, he transfers the relics of his father to Ephesus, where a chapel is built over the saint’s tomb of in the future.
St. Romanos the Singer (the Melodist) is considered to be the author and creator of the church hymns’ canons. He has served as a deacon in the Church of St. Sophia, of Constantinople. Many people have mocked at him for his being unable to sing and read well. Once St. Mary appears to him in his dream and giving him a paper roll, orders to eat it. After the dream Romanos is granted the virtue to create and sing church hymns and songs. St. Romanos passes away in 556 A. D.
All Christian Churches each year solemnly celebrate all feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross. The Armenian Apostolic Church, in difference to the other Christian Churches, celebrates another purely national feast dedicated to the Holy Cross, which is famous as the Holy Cross of Varak. The Armenian Church celebrates this feast two weeks after the Feast of Exaltation of the Holy Cross, that is - the Sunday during the period of September 25 - October 1.
According to the historian Agathangelos, St. Hripsime and her companions, running away from the Roman Emperor Dioklethianos, who started persecutions against Christians, reach to Armenia and find shelter in Vagaharshapat. However, before reaching Vagharshapat they stop at the Mountain Varak, which is to the southeast from the Lake Van. Taking off from her neck the relic of the Lord’s Wooden Cross, St. Hripsime gives it to the praying monks living on the mountain and asks them to preserve it in one of the caves. Thus, the sacred relic remains hidden till the seventh century.
In 653 A. D. the monk Todik and his disciple Hovel pray at the Mountain Varak and ask God to show the place of the relic. Suddenly 12 bright columns appear around the mountain and the sign of the Cross is seen among the columns. For 12 days the bright columns remain visible even from distant sites. This joyful news spreads everywhere.
Nerses the Creator Catholicos who was the Catholicos of All Armenians of that period, and Captain Vard, son the Knight Theodoros, learning about that miracle, go the Mountain Varak to personally witness it. With the support of the Armenian people the Pontiff builds a magnificent church, which in honor of the miracle is named Holy Cross Church. The Pontiff Nerses also writes the marvelous church hymn “By means of the most powerful sign”, which is sung in the churches on the day of the feast.
The sacred relic remains at the Mountain Varak till 1021 A. D. Later the Armenian King Senekerim Artsrouni brings the relic to Sebastia. After the latter’s death the relic is again transferred to its old place and remains there until 1651 A. D. when the relic is taken to Khoshab. In 1655 A. D. the relic is placed in the Church of Holy Godmother, in Van, which is renamed to Church of Holy Sign. The relic was preserved there till 1915 A. D.
Besides the 12 Apostles, Jesus also had 72 disciples, whom he sent to “preach the Good News to all nations”. Unfortunately, those disciples’ names are not mentioned in the Gospels. In the New Testament the word “disciple” is used of the followers of the Jesus Christ. Christ sent out his apostles and disciples “like lambs among wolves” two by two, to go ahead of him to every town and place where he himself was about to go, saying them: “Whoever listens to you listens to me; whoever rejects you rejects me; and whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me…” (The Gospel according to Luke 10:16). There are hardly any differences between the 12 apostles and the 72 disciples, they have the same power and authority and the same mission (The Gospel according to Luke 10:9; 9:1). However, the names of all 72 disciples, like the names of the 40 innocent children martyred in Bethlehem, are known to God only and are written in the sacred book of the Heavenly Kingdom.
For the Armenian people the Feast of the Holy Translators is one of the most favorite and beloved national-ecclesiastical feasts. Nearly two hundred disciples of St. Mesrob Mashtots and St. Sahak are known by the general group name “Holy Translators”. The disciples of the above mentioned group of Holy Translators are known as “Junior Translators”. Celebrating this feast, the Armenian Apostolic Church pays tribute of respect to the bright memory of St. Mesrob Mashtots, Yeghishe, Moses of Khoronk, philosoppher Davit Anhaght, whose sacred work and mission later has been continued on by St. Gregory of Narek and St. Nerses the Gracious. The word “Translator” means "Interpreter”. Comprehending and precisely understanding the demands of that period, the Holy Translators initiated the sacred work of creating the Armenian alphabet and literature. By the strength of their faith they dispersed the darkness and warmed the human souls. Thanks to the Holy Translators the Holy Bible was translated into Armenian and the Armenian peoples obtained the possibility to read the Holy Book in the native language. By means of their activity the Holy Translators contributed to the spiritual-cultural awakening of Armenia. After the translation of the Holy Bible, many books of Church Father were translated into Armenian, and thanks to this fact many translations, the original copies of which haven’t been preserved, presently exist only in the translated variant and thus the translations have obtained the value of the original.
Evangelist St. Mathew is one of the twenty apostles of the Lord. He is the author of the first Gospel. The name of Matthew is the Greek version of the Hebrew name meaning God-given. His Hebrew name has been Levi. In the past he has been a tax collector in Capernaum. Then obeying to God’s will he has sold his property, distributed the money to the poor and has become on the followers of Jesus Christ. He has preached the Word of God in Parthia and Palestine.
Evangelist St. Mark was the nephew of Barnabas. He was born in Jerusalem. He was named also John. It was the house of his mother – Mary that was the place of prayer for the apostles. It is supposed that it was the place where Our Lord Jesus Christ had the Last Supper and where the Church was founded during the Pentecost. He has been the interpreter of St Peter, as well as the friend of St. Paul and Barnabas. He is the author of the shortest Gospel. He has preached the Word of God in Egypt, where he has been martyred he is the founder of the Coptic Orthodox Church.
Evangelist St. Luke is the author of the third Gospel. He was born in Antioch. According to the tradition he is one of the seventy-two disciples of Jesus Christ. According to St. Paul he has been a physician. Listening about the Lord’s Preaching, Luke goes to Palestine and follows the Lord. He has preached the Word of God in Achaia, Libya, Egypt and Teba. He has written “The Acts of the Apostles” upon the request of Theophilos of Rome. According to the tradition he has been martyred in Teba.
Evangelist St. John is the author of the fourth Gospel, three letters and the Revelation. He deserved the title of the “beloved disciple” of Christ. He was the son of the fisherman Zebedee and the brother of James. He is considered to be one of the two disciples of St. John the Baptist who followed Jesus (See Jn 1:37). Afterwards the Lord called him to Galilee and gave him the authority of apostle. John became one of the closest Disciples of Christ. Together with James and Peter he witnessed the “transfiguration” that came over Jesus while He was praying on a high mountain named Tabor, went to the valley of Gethsemane. Together with St. Mary, Holy Godmother, he stood near the cross and at the moment of crucifixion Jesus asked him to take care of the Holy Mother of God. Together with Peter he was the first who went to the tomb of Christ and later met Him near the Sea of Genneseret (or Sea of Galilee or Lake Kinneret or Lake Tiberias). Later we see him during the persecutions of Christians in Jerusalem and his success in preaching in Samaria. After the descent of the Holy Spirit John went to Asia Minor and settled down in Ephesus where he took care of the churches founded by Paul and wrote down the Gospel there. Roman Emperor Titus Flavius Domitianus (Domitian) exiled him to Patmos where he was given (and recorded) a vision from Jesus. In Patmos or Ephesus he wrote also his letters addressed to the faithful flock.
During the period of reign of Roman Emperor Nero he returned to Ephesus where he passed away in 100 AD, in Ephesus, at the age of 95.
The Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross is one of the four feasts dedicated to Christ’s Holy Christ.
In 327 AD Heghineh, the Mother of the Byzantine King Kostandianos, visits Jerusalem with the aim to search the holy Cross of the lord. A Jew, named Judas, helps the King’s mother to search the site where Christ was crucified – Golgotha. In the result of searches the wooden crosses of Christ and the two criminals crucified together with him are found. For recognizing the Lord’s Cross, the remains of a young man are put on the crosses in turn. On one of the crosses the young man rises to life and thus the Lord’s Cross is identified. After that miracle the Jew converts to Christianity and later becomes the Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem. After the discovery of the Holy Cross Heghineh renovates the Holy Places of Jerusalem and builds the Church of Holy Resurrection of Golgotha, where later the Lord’s cross is installed.
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the Feast of the Discovery of the Holy Cross on the Sunday during the period October 23-29.
The Pontiff St. John the Chrysostom is one of the most prominent and gracious Fathers of the Universal Church. He was born in Antioch, in 347 AD. He has studied in the Theological School of Antioch and has advanced his skills in rhetoric art in the School of Libanios. Since the young age he has led an ascetic life. In 381 AD he has been ordained as deacon by Meletios of Antioch and in 386 he has been ordained as priest by Flavianos. Thanks to his brilliant and eloquent speeches and sermons he has deserved the title “Chrysostom”.
In 398 AD he is elected the Patriarch of Constantinople against his will and zealously initiates renovation and reconstruction works of the capital city, which was far from the Christian mode of life and lived immoral life full of conflicts and disputes. Amorality and religious indifference were dominant among the people, the court and the clergy. St. John the Chrysostom condemns and criticizes all forms and manifestations of amorality and for criticism he raises the Queen Eudoxia’s anger. The Patriarch Theophilos of Alexandria also, who wished to become the Patriarch of Constantinople, also stands against St. John the Chrysostom. Basing on groundless slander and calumny by the ecclesiastical council held in 403 AD., an order is issued to exile the saint. However, during the night of exile such terrible earthquake and fires happen that the Queen calls the Patriarch back to his residence. St. John the Chrysostom continues to criticize the wrong and immoral mode of life of the court. Ignoring the people’s sympathy towards the Patriarch and the protection of the Western Church, the King Arkadios and the Queen Eudoxia again issue an order to exile the saint. The saint is exiled to Pontos and is martyred in the town Komana. His last words are: “Glory to You, God, glory to You, glory to You to for everything.” The saint’s remains are buried in the Church of St. Apostles, of Constantinople, in 438 AD.
St. John the Chrysostom is the author of many interpretations, speeches, odes, epistles and letters, which have positively influenced on the history of the Christian mind. His works have been translated into Armenian still during his life.
By this feast the Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of all those saints, whose names are not included in the Church Calendar, but whose names are registered in the sacred book of the Heavenly Kingdom.
Many people have been subjected to severe torments and have been martyred during the wars for the sake of faith. Unfortunately, we do not know their names. So the Church has established this feast in the Church Calendar in order to commemorate their memory. They are persons who shed their blood for the sake of Christ and His Church.
According to the Angelology of the Armenian Church the angels are unfleshly, spiritual, independent, always moving, asexual, immortal creatures and God’s servants. According to Church Fathers, the angels, as luminous creatures, have been created the first day of Creation, together with the light. By the God’s order they are servants, they have been created to serve the human being. Therefore, they are servants who despite their being dyophysite, participate in the earthly life, act together with the human being living in time and space, they act for the human being. The angels are called the messengers and agents of God, who realize God’s will. According to Dionysius of Areopagus (Areopagite), there are nine orders of angels – Angels, Archangels, Virtues, Powers, Principalities, Dominations, Throne, Cherubim and Seraphim.
Archangel Gabriel, whose name means “God’s man”, is God’s direct servant, who is granted the grace to evangelize the Lord’s mysteries. It was Archangel Gabriel, who was sent by the Lord to bring the good news to the Virgin about the birth of the Savior, and to Zechariah – to bring the good news about the birth of John the Baptist.
Archangel Michael, whose name means “Who is like God?”, is the advocate for the Heavenly King’s glory and His people’s protection, who is granted the virtue to govern and rule. The name of Archangel Michael is mentioned in the Holy Scriptures for four times (The Book of Daniel,10:13, 12:1, The Letter from Jude 1:9, The Revelation to John 11:7).
Before becoming Christ’s disciple Apostle Andrew has been the disciple of St. John the Baptist. He was the brother of the Apostle Peter and was a fisherman. After the Ascension of the Lord and the Descend of the Holy Spirit Apostle Andrew has preached in Northern Greece and in Scythe.
Apostle Phillip was from the town Bethsaida. Perhaps he also has been the disciple of St. John the Baptist. He has preached in Asia Minor. Apostle Philip has been martyred and crucified in the town Heliople.
This is the beginning of Advent - the period of “Fifty Days” (Hisnak or Yisnak) beginning with the Sunday nearest to the 25th of November and ending with the Saturday next after the Sunday nearest to the 6th of January, the Feast of Holy Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Thus it covers a period of seven constant days.
One of the feasts dedicated to the Holy Virgin is the presentation of three-year-old Mary (Holy Mother of God) to the temple. All Christian Churches celebrate this feast of November 21.
According to the Holy Tradition of the Church, after Mary’s becoming three-year-old, the parents of the Holy Virgin, Jehoakim and Anna, fulfilling their promise, bring Mary to the Temple and present her to God. Mary remains in the Church till her engagement.
Establishment of the feast is related to the Cathedral, which was built by the King Justinianos in honor of St. Mary, the Holy Mother of God, in the place of the old Jewish temple, on the hill Moria. The cathedral had been consecrated on November 21, 543 AD.
After 638 AD, when the Cathedral, built by the King Justinianos, is converted into a Moslem temple, the celebration of the feast spreads throughout the entire Christian world. The Feast of presentation of St. Mary to the Church has been included in the Armenian Apostolic Church Calendar in the nineteenth century.
Pontiff St. James of Nisibis is one of the authoritative and beloved saints of the Universal Church. He has deserved the epithet “Thaumaturge” (Wonderworker) for the numerous miracles relating to his name. According to hagiographical sources St. James was from a Parthian dynasty and the nephew of St. Gregory the Illuminator. When the family members of Anak the Parthian were killed nurses secretly fled to Caesaria taking with them baby Suren and James where they were educated in Christian spirit. Soon baby James and his sister Sakden were taken to Persia and for a while lived in the royal palace. However, James refused from safe and well-to-do life and became a hermit. He left for Nisibis where he met hermit St. Maruge, who was famous for leading a life befitting saints. Learning from the hermit Maruge that many people despite their conversion to true faith were skeptic and suspicious about the existence of Noah’s Ark James decided to climb the mountain in order to see the Ark and bring a piece of it. Despite his inflexible will-power he couldn’t reach the peak and after long sufferings he had a short nap. The angel visited him in his dream and put a piece of the Ark under his head. According to the tradition in the place where St. James had lain down appeared a cold stream having healing and miraculous qualities. In the future a church bearing the saint’s name was built nearby the stream. The piece of the Ark is up to date kept in the museum of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. He is one of the clergymen participating in the Nicene Council in 325. After the death of the Bishop of Nisibis God appeared to Maruge and told him that St. James was the deserving candidate for the Bishop of Nisibis. St. James passed away in 350, after leading the flock for a long time.
Bishop St. Mielitus was born in Melitene, Armenia Minor. In 358 he was the Bishop of Sebastia. In 360 he ascended the throne of Antioch. He struggled against the Arians. In 381 he presided the Second Ecumenical Council convened in Constantinople but unfortunately passed away before the end of the Council.
According to the tradition St. Abgar was the first Christian king of the 1st century, the son of the Parthian king Arshakunie Arsham. He was also called “senior man” as he was the wisest of all and of genius. Historian Moses of Khoronk, Assyrian historian Labubnia of Yedessia, Greek historians Procopis and Yeusebius have told about the king Abgar. He built the city of Yedessia in the site where the Armenian army protected the ford of the river Euphrates from the Roman captain Casius. Later the king moved the royal palace and all idols from Nisibis to that city.
It is during the period of reign of the king Abgar that Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born. And Abgar, who was incurable, becoming aware of the wonders worked by Christ, believed in Christ and by means of his delegates sent a letter-petition to Jerusalem, to the Savior, asking Him to come and heal him. In the response letter it was said, that Christ still had important things to do in Jerusalem, but He should send one of His disciples to the king to heal him. After the Ascension of the Savior Apostle St. Thaddeus came to Yedessia, healed the king Abgar, the sick, preached the Gospel and appointed Adde, the silk-weaver, to be his successor. Jesus had sent his portrait to Abgar and it was kept for a long time in Yedessia, and later in the churches of various cities and towns.
After that the king Abgar sent letters to the king Tiberius and the king Nerseh of Assyria exhorting them to admit Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior.
The king Abgar passed away probably in the first half of the 1st century.
Prophet St. David was the great-grandson of Boaz and Ruth. The Holy Bible depicts him as a psalmist, gifted, wise, handsome man and orator. He was a shepherd. During the battle against Philistines he killed the giant Goliath. After the death of Saul he became the king of Israel and founded the city Jerusalem. He is the author of the book of Psalms and one of the greatest and influential figures of the Old Testament. Special importance is accorded to the fact that he is the offspring of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. James, brother of Jesus, is the combining link between the Evangelical saints and the saints mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles. He is one of the important figures of the Initial Church and the first Bishop of Jerusalem. Jewish historian Hovsepius characterizes him as “righteous”.
According to hagiographical sources some people forced him to get on the tower and slander against Jesus. However, getting on the tower, he started to speak about Jesus the Messiah who sat on the right side of God and would come to judge the world fairly. Many people were converted, but others threw the saint down from the tower. According to the tradition St. James is buried in the Cathedral of St. James of the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem. One letter from James has been preserved.
in order to symbolize the merging the Old and New Testaments in Christianity.
The Armenian Apostolic Church commemorates the memory of the Prophet St. David and Apostle St. James, brother of Jesus, during the main feasts preceding the Feast of the Holy Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
St. Stephen is one of the most beloved saints of the Universal Church, the first person martyred for the sake of Christ’s doctrine of love.
According to the hagiographical sources he was from the royal dynasty of Judas and was the son of law-abiding parents. Still a young man he was the servant of the chief priest Kayipaya. According to the same sources when the Lord was taken to home, Stephen took off the cloth from his head and spread it under the Lord’s feet thus expressing his true and sincere love. This naturally annoyed the chief priest and he turned Stephen out. Stephen witnessed the death and burial of the Lord but rejoiced with the apostles for the Glorious Resurrection of Christ. According to St. Gregory of Tatev he went to the apostles Peter and John and was baptized. At the moment of baptism an aureole (crown) appeared on the water. After that miraculous event he was called “Stephen” meaning (crowned). From the Acts of the Apostles it is known that after the Pentecost apostles served the tables and gave subsidies to the poor. From day to day increased the number of those who believed in Christ. As the apostles were unable to meet the needs of everybody, asked their disciples to choose 7 persons of good reputation for serving the tables. According to St. Luke the Evangelist one of them was St. Stephen, “… a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 6:5). By the power received from Christ apostles ordained him deacon. Thanks to his God-granted virtues and power Stephen worked wonders. Many people tried to argue with him, but no one was as wise as Stephen. So, some ill-willing persons persuaded some people to say that Stephen scolded God and the Prophet Moses. Inciting the people, the priests and the lawyers they took Stephen to the court. In his speech in his defense Stephen proved that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and reproached the Jews for their cruelty. He was stoned out of the city and his cloths were put before a man whose name was Saul and who later became the Apostle Peter. In the beginning he persecuted Christians but later he knew the true God – Jesus Christ, and became the most zealous preacher of the Gospel. St. Stephen was the first person martyred for the sake of Christ and that’s why he is called Protomartyr.
According to the tradition Gamaliel, the teacher of the Apostle Peter, and Nicodemus, his brother, who were secrete disciples of Jesus, buried the saint’s body in their farm. Soon a priest named Lukianus discovered the relics. And Pontiff Hovhan of Jerusalem put them in St. Sion. In the V century Princess Juliane found the saint’s tabernacle in Jerusalem and took it to Constantinople, and later – to Venice and buried it in the Church of St. George (St. Gevorg) island.
St. Peter was one of the 12 apostles of Christ. He was the brother of Andrew. He was one of the beloved apostles of Jesus and the witness of Our Lord’s transfiguration and the other important events related to Jesus. Peter was a fisherman. His name given during the circumcision was Shmavon, or Simon (in Greek). About this apostle for the first time was written in the Gospel according to John, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter) (Jn 1:42). Peter was born in the village Bethsaida and later was moved to the town Capernaum where Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law. Peter is more famous from the part of the Gospel when he said that Christ was the Son of the living God. And Jesus stated that being the Savior of the world and the Son of God He would build His Church (See Mt 16:15-19).
During the night when Jesus was arrested Peter denied Jesus thrice and later deeply regretted for his deed. After the Pentecost it was Peter that explained to the people assembled what had happened and spoke about Incarnated Jesus. One of the important deeds of Peter was bringing the heathens to the church. Peter was arrested by the King Herod but escaped the prison by a miracle.
According to the tradition Peter was martyred in Rome and was crucified head-down. Two letters from Peter have been preserved.
St. Paul is the thirteenth Apostle of Our Lord Jesus Christ. He was born in the town Tarsus of Cilicia in the beginning of the first century. His parents were citizens of Rome who according to Heronimus had came from Galilee. First he studied in his native town and then he continued his education in Jerusalem, where his teacher was Gamaliel. Paul was a tent-maker by trade and this circumstance often helped him during the trips, when he earned his living by means of making tents. According to his own words Paul had been a Pharisee, had strictly obeyed the law and persecuted the Christians. However, on his way to Damascus Jesus appeared to Paul, after which Apostle Paul (whose name was initially Saul) became one of the greatest preachers of Christ’s commandments. He was baptized by the apostle Ananias. He has made several trips and preached the word of God. Fourteen letters from Paul have been preserved.
According to the tradition Paul was beheaded in 67 AD in Rome.
Eve of the Fast of Christmas is always celebrated on December 29, that is - 7 days before the Feast of Holy Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Christmas) and is ended on January 5, the eve of the feast.