Thursday, March 26, 2020

A Reflection on the End of the World

How do we picture the return of Christ? Do we imagine a spectacle like none other, in which a trumpet is blown and Jesus comes out of the sky for all to see in his radiant glory? Do we conjure images of the end of the world from movies and literature? Maybe a virus sweeps over the globe causing panic and fear that this could be how it all ends. Or an interpretation of Scripture (various interpretations of the book of Revelation aside) about the Apocalypse which includes an epic Battle of Armageddon?
Perhaps there is another way of understanding the return of Christ that escapes our attention. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles (1:10-11) we hear “two men” tell those watching Jesus ascend to heaven say,
Why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.
What does it mean for Jesus to come in the same way he went into heaven? Most, if not all, icons of the ascension of Christ portray his ascension ambiguously, in that viewer cannot tell whether he is ascending to heaven or coming to earth. As a result, he is depicted as continually present in the midst of his people. That is, we are already living under the kingship of Jesus Christ while we also await his coming again bringing with him the fullness of his Kingdom. In other words, the advent of Jesus is both anticipated and already upon us.
Armenian Church miniature depicting the Ascension of Christ
The promise of Christ’s return, his coming again as illustrated in the icons of his ascension, is exactly what takes place in Badarak (Armenian Eucharistic Celebration), the profundity of which is incomprehensible. Just as Jesus ascended, he returns to us in Badarak within the midst of his people. In Badarak, we enter beyond time and space into God’s time, his eternal presence, where this is no before or after, and we joyfully share in the “marriage supper of the lamb” (Revelation 19:9), the feast at the end of the age, a meal that has not yet been eaten, and yet paradoxically, it is shared and eaten whenever we commune at the chalice. Badarak is not a dramatic retelling or an act of remembrance, but the coming of the Kingdom in our midst. As we sing in the hymn for the kiss of peace, “Christ in our midst has been revealed; he who is, God, is here seated,” we the Church, as theologian Vigen Guroian writes, are lifted up into the “Apocalypse,” into that which is hidden, that which is coming, the Advent of Jesus Christ himself, where we meet and are welcomed by the Lord at his Second Coming, “and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (I Thessalonians 4:17)
The last Sunday of Great Lent in the Armenian Church is referred to as the Sunday of Advent. When we think of the word “advent,” which means “coming,” (գալուստ) what comes to mind? It sounds like the future tense. We may think of the “second coming” of Christ. We picture in our minds a future arrival of Jesus Christ in power and glory followed by a future and final judgment, the end of all things. But are Christianity and the end of all things only future oriented? In the Christian sense, the “end” is not a point in time, or the conclusion of a linear historical timeline. The End is a person, Jesus himself. 
[Jesus] was destined before the foundation of the world but was made manifest at the end of the times for your sake. (I Peter 1:20)
But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26b)
Armenian Orthodox Bishop celebrating Badarak
Jesus Christ is the Beginning and the End, the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Almighty who is, was, and is to come (Revelation 1:8, 22:13). He is the revelation of the End of all things, the fulfillment of all things, the reconciliation and healing of all things, the purpose toward and in which all things live, move, and have their being (Acts 17:28). Jesus Christ is the Eschaton.
Now that we have come to the end of the world, or rather Jesus Christ himself who is the End of all things has come to us, why would we stare into the sky waiting for his return like those in the first chapter of Acts? Or why would we wait for something like a virus to invoke the idea of the world ending? Economic collapse does not mean the end of the world. Separated families, friends, and loved ones is not the end of the world. Not even the closing of Churches, as chilling and salvifically depriving as that may be, signifies the end of the world. No matter what pandemic is ripping through the globe, this is not how the world ends, not when we have faith in the End himself, Jesus Christ.
None of this is to say that Jesus is not coming again, a second time. He is coming again, but he is already here, and so we already experience a foretaste of his return, one that reveals his holiness in us.
St. Peter Armenian Church, Watervliet NY
And so the End is present, but not how the world perceives it. No matter our circumstances, we are empowered and enlightened now, through baptism, to live as a “new creation” (II Corinthians 5:17) as St. Paul teaches. Through Christ we forgive not just our friends and family, but our enemies. We pray for those who persecute us. We give and expect nothing in return. When struck, we turn the other cheek. The lame walk, the blind receive their sight, bread and fish are multiplied, storms are calmed, our sins are forgiven, and the sick are healed. We can close the doors of our churches, but still find ways to come together to pray and commune with God and with one another – a communion that transcends physical proximity. The end of the world is one in which faith, hope, and love endure no matter what’s out there; when we are given the capacity to love like God loves; when a 72 year-old Catholic priest in Italy with Coronavirus gives up his ventilator for a younger person, in the process laying down his own life.
We know the End is present because in a time and situation like today, we resonate with the words of St. Paul in his letter to the Thessalonians:
In all things, give thankful praise, for this is what God desires for you through Christ Jesus. (I Thessalonians 5:18, trans. from Krapar)
When we can still utter the last words of our beloved St. John Chrysostom:
Փառք քեզ, աստուած, փառք քեզ . յաղագս ամենայնի, տէր, փառք քեզ: Glory to you, God, glory to you. For everything, Lord, glory to you.
That is the version of the end of the world Jesus wants us to believe and live today, because, again, as we joyfully sing during Badarak, the End himself,
Christ in our midst has been revealed; he who is, God, is here seated.
...and present in our holiness. So that we may glorify the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Book Summary: "The Festal Works of St. Gregory of Narek"

The Festal Works of St. Gregory of Narek: Annotated Translation of the Odes, Litanies, and Encomia

Abraham Terian
Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN, 2016

Dr. Terian, Professor Emeritus of Armenian Theology and Patristics at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, has done the fields of Armenian Studies, Theology and Liturgical Studies, as well as the Armenian Church in general, a tremendous favor. His newly published book is a translation, from Classical Armenian, of all of the odes (songs of praise), litanies (petitionary prayers), and encomia (expressions of praise) composed by St. Gregory of Narek (945-1003). These formerly little known works are liturgical pieces composed for the various dominical and other feasts of the Armenian Church.

Scholars actually know rather little about the life of St. Gregory of Narek, most of it having been gleaned from his own writings, and from a brief biography by St. Nerses of Lambron (1153-1198). Gregory (Grigor) was born ca. 945, the third and youngest son of another important Armenian theologian, Bishop Khosrov Antsevatsi. As a widower, Bishop Khosrov sent two of his sons, Hovhannes and Grigor, to the monastery of Narek. Located near the southern shore of Lake Van, and founded by Gregory’s maternal cousin, Anania, the monastery of Narek is where Gregory spent his entire adult life.

Across his lifetime, St. Gregory produced a variety of written works including homilies, hymns, biblical commentaries, and other various admonitory or cautionary letters and treatises. His most renowned work is his prayer book, commonly referred to as the Book of Lamentation, written with the help of his brother, Hovhannes. St. Gregory died ca.1003, but his influence lives on as one the most revered saints of the Armenian Church. He has also gained the popularity of those outside the Armenian tradition; last year Pope Francis declared St. Gregory a Doctor of the Catholic Church.

In general, Gregory’s writings tend to be extremely sophisticated and complex both linguistically and theologically, so translating his works is particularly challenging. Furthermore, as a mystic, St. Gregory developed an extraordinarily intense sense of God’s presence. Consequently, his language and worldview are rather different from most of us today. This is surely one reason why, prior to Terian’s work, many of these texts were neglected or misunderstood.

Indeed, Terian is uniquely competent in Classical Armenian, medieval theology and mysticism, and Biblical exegesis. He is also a poet, sensitive to the movement and structure of the genres in which St. Gregory thrives. As important, Terian lives a life of faith making him not only aware of the sacredness of St. Gregory’s texts, but also of the Armenian Orthodox tradition from which these texts were born.

The odes and litanies vary in length ranging from 10 to 165 lines, and are in the form of poetry. The subjects apply to the various feasts celebrated throughout the church year, with headings such as Ode for the Blessing of Water, Ode for the Coming of the Holy Spirit, and Litany for St. Gregory the Illuminator. Given their content, erudite tone, and the fact that they call for communal musical participation, the assumption is they were composed for public and liturgical use. Although various odes and litanies are chanted in our current liturgical worship, particularly on festal occasions, how the festal works of St. Gregory were employed, if they were used at all, is unknown. Similarly, we do not know the setting of the encomia, lengthy prose texts dedicated to praising subjects such as the Holy Virgin, the Holy Cross, and the Holy Apostles.

Gregory’s poetry is replete with vivid imagery and descriptors, drawn from his panoramic view of Scripture. Employing various literary techniques, he takes advantage of the flexibility of his native tongue and creates evocative compound words to express his theology, as is his custom in his Prayer Book. Common to all three genres presented in this book is a sense of the worshipping community’s joyful praise. By contrast, his famous Book of Lamentation contains markedly more introspective prayers written in the first person.

Read, for example, these lines from his Ode for the Raising of Lazarus (p. 43):
The Gift able to transform the speechless, dead body,
The dead body wrapped in burial clothes, to be clothed
and sealed with breath again by the Caller to Life.
The seal of death was broken as were the torments of hell,
The torments by the (evil) one who cannot harm the blessed assembly.
The great Hebrew assembly, a galaxy of thousands, praises in song the glory,
The glory of the One who bestows light, now and eternally.
Although the subject of the ode is the raising of Lazarus, St. Gregory is able to link that event with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, and ground the entire theme in the divinity of Christ. This ode affirms that it is not the story of the person of Lazarus that draws the attention for Armenians, rather what it tells us about Jesus Christ. The raising of Lazarus becomes a visible testimony that death will be a temporary chapter in our lives because Christ is the ‘Caller to Life,’ the Creator who breathes us into living beings.

The festal works of St. Gregory can be read by anyone today for personal edification, while they also appeal to specialists in the field of liturgics. Reading them will not only enhance one’s experience and understanding of the feasts of the Armenian Church, but will be an exercise in theology and a way to contemplate Scripture. Terian’s work also raises the question of incorporating these pieces into today’s Armenian liturgy, thereby allowing them to flower in a contemporary context. Thanks to Abraham Terian, we once again have the profound privilege to hear the voice and message of the Armenian Church come through St. Gregory of Narek.

This article is featured in the Volume 2/Number 4 issue of The Treasury.

Monday, November 21, 2016

"Advent" in the Armenian Church?

Most of us are at least familiar with the season of Advent, the period of time in the church calendar when many faithful prepare and look forward to the coming of Christ, celebrated on Christmas. Some of us may even participate in various Advent activities, such as keeping an Advent calendar, a daily prayer journal, or perhaps lighting an Advent wreath.

But when it comes to liturgy, things are not always as they seem. Often we assume that where two things appear similar they must be the same. This is what we find with the season of Advent, which, contrary to common assumptions, does not exist in the Armenian Church.

What is Advent?

In the Roman rite of the Catholic Church and some Protestant traditions, the season known as Advent begins on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. The word “advent,” from Latin adventus, means “coming,” specifically the coming of Christ into the world. So liturgically and in custom, the season of Advent focuses on the two comings (or advents) of Jesus Christ: his first coming in the flesh at his birth, and his final coming in glory and majesty.

As a liturgical season, Advent is purely a Western Christian phenomenon that came into existence only after Christmas itself was established on December 25. (Throughout the Christian world, except for the city of Rome, January 6 was the earliest date of Christmas, as it is today in the Armenian Church). In other Eastern Christian traditions, year-end seasons show great variety in theme and purpose, some of which, most notably those of the Syriac language, devote the season to Mary, the Mother of God.

In fact, a growing number of scholars even question whether Advent in the West originally had any connection with Christmas at all, believing that Advent’s proximity to Christmas is more accidental than deliberate. It is possible that Advent originally functioned as a time of preparation for baptism, when the Feast of Epiphany was an important day to conduct that sacrament, just as Easter is today in many Christian traditions.

What about the Armenian Church?

In the Armenian Church, we do not have the season of Advent, nor do we have a period that resembles it. Often confused as “Advent,” our church calendar includes a year-end period referred to as Յիսնակ / Heesnag, from the word յիսուն / heesoon, which means “fifty.” Heesnag is the period of about 50 days at the end of the Armenian Church year between the season of the Cross and the Feast of Theophany. It begins on the Monday nearest November 18 and ends on the Eve of Theophany, January 5. Depending on how close the Sunday of the Exaltation of the Cross is to September 14, the first day of Heesnag falls between November 15 and 21 and consists of exactly 50 days only in certain years. Otherwise the exact duration of Heesnag fluctuates between 48 and 52 days.

Rather than being one continuous period of fasting, Heesnag contains three short, five-day bursts of fasting, which are not connected liturgically or thematically. Equally spaced in the beginning, middle, and end of Heesnag, the following ancient one-week fasts ultimately give some shape to the 50-day period:
  • Fast of Heesnag (Յիսնակամտի պահք / Heesnagamdee bahk), beginning on the Monday closest to November 18. An inauguration of Heesnag, this fast may just function as the threshold of one period of the church calendar to another.
  • Fast of St. James of Nisibis (Ս. Յակոբայ պահք / Soorp Hagopah bahk), the five days preceding the commemoration of St. James of Nisibis. Originally an ancient winter seasonal fast, in popular imagination it became associated with St. James, the Bishop of Nisibis (308-338).
  • Theophany Fast (Աստուածայայտնութեան պահք / Asdvadzahaydnootyan bahk), the five days preceding the Feast of Theophany set aside to prepare for the celebration of the revelation of Jesus’ divinity at His baptism and the revelation of His humanity in His birth.
The structure of the period suggests that these three one-week fasts preceded the conglomeration of the entire period that came to be known as Heesnag. In other words, at a later stage these fasts came to define the entire period between the season of the Cross and Theophany. This would explain why the commemoration of saints continues during most of the period of Heesnag, because in the Armenian Church, as a rule, fasting is incompatible with the commemoration of saints.

Heesnag is not Advent

Outside of the five-day Fast of Heesnag, there is no evidence that the 50-day period known as Heesnag ever functioned as a liturgical season of the Armenian Church. That is, there exist no designated customs, hymns (sharagan), course lectionary readings, or liturgical variables that would serve to unify this period. (Although the Տօնացոյց / Donatsooyts (the directory of feasts) designates Sundays during Heesnag as “First Sunday of Heesnag, Second, Third, etc.,” liturgically, they are Sundays “of the Resurrection”). During Great Lent, for example, the Armenian Church appoints families of hymns to be sung, along with consecutive Bible readings to be read from one day to the next. These hymns and readings, as well as liturgical variables, give the period of Great Lent a “seasonal” character with a specific theological and catechetical message, or function. Heesnag, on the other hand, has no such organization or cohesiveness, and as a result, does not have the character of a church “season.”

Instead, Heesnag is simply a transitional period that takes place between the season of the Cross and the Feast of Theophany. It is filled with three intense fasting weeks, two dominical feast days (the Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple on November 21, and the Conception of the Mother of God by Anna and Joachim on December 9), and the commemoration of some of the greatest heroes of the Christian faith, saints who provide flesh and blood examples of how to believe and follow Jesus Christ. Sadly, these heroes are largely unknown by many Christian American-Armenians. One reason is perhaps that Heesnag is often obscured by “Advent.” So rather than celebrate a liturgical season that is foreign to our tradition, let us participate in the designated fasting periods, as well as turn our attention and devotion to the great saints who are commemorated during Heesnag.

St. James, the Bishop of Nisibis, was a miracle worker and much-loved saint of the Armenian Church, who is mentioned in every Badarak (Divine Liturgy). According to Armenian tradition, St. James was the first cousin of St. Gregory the Enlightener. He is credited with attending the Council of Nicaea as a signatory in 325, and also with discovering a piece of Noah’s ark. St. Nicholas, the Bishop of Myra (who has been morphed into the character of Santa Claus), was also much-loved by Christian Armenians, and is actually commemorated twice in two weeks due to a quirk in the Armenian Church calendar.

Other saints from this period worth getting to know better include, Sts. Thaddeus and Bartholomew our First Illuminators, St. Abgar the First Christian King, St. Ignatius, The 20,000 Martyrs of Nicomedia, The Holy Fathers of Egypt, St. Basil the Great, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and the beloved St. Ephrem the Syrian. Just before the Fast of Theophany, four days are designated for the commemoration of major saints, those who are “witnesses to the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ:” Sts. David the Prophet and the Apostle James, St. Stephen the First Deacon and First Martyr, Sts. Peter and Paul, and the “Sons of Thunder,” Sts. James the Apostle and John the Evangelist.

When we overlook our own tradition, we overlook distinctive aspects of the life experience of the Armenian Church’s Christian witness, subtleties which the Armenian Church found important. As attractive as the customs of other Christian traditions may be, with Heesnag the Armenian Church offers her people a distinctive Christian vision, which we must believe is not only unique and beautiful, but also instructive and life-giving in its own way. In part, Heesnag shows us how the Armenian people since antiquity have uniquely experienced the Christian faith and Jesus Christ himself.

This article is featured in the Volume 2/Number 4 issue of The Treasury.

For further reading:
  1. Paul F. Bradshaw and Maxwell E. Johnson, The Origins of Feasts, Fasts and Seasons in Early Christianity. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2011, pp. 158-168.
  2. O. Sekulian, Յիսնեակ-Յիսնեկաց [Advent], Bazmavep vol. 96, 1982, p. 29.
  3. M. Daniel Findikyan, “Saints Nicholas in Armenia” in David A. Pitt, Stefanos Alexopoulos, Christian McConnell, eds. A Living Tradition: On the Intersection of Liturgical History and Pastoral Practice. Essays in Honor of Maxwell E. Johnson. Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2012, pp. 59-74.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

St. Simeon the Stylite

Երանելի Սիմէոն Սիւնակեաց
One of the more interesting saints that we commemorate in the Armenian Church (on the Monday of the second week of the Cross) is St. Simeon the Stylite, a monk who lived in Syria in the late 4th and early 5th centuries. The son of a shepherd, Simeon was born in Sis around the year 390.

At the age of 13, Simeon heard a reading of the Beatitudes from the Gospel of Matthew, which permanently altered the way he would live his life. At the age of 16, he decided to join a monastery where he lived an extreme form of asceticism, which resulted in alienating him from his monastic brothers.

He eventually left the monastery to continue his strict style of asceticism, first living in a hut, and then inside a circle of stones in the open air. He then constructed the first of 3 pillars, the final pillar being 60 feet high, with a platform about 6 feet square, on which he lived for 28 years!

It’s not entirely clear why St. Simeon climbed the pillar, but while living on its platform, enduring all weather conditions, he devoted his time to prayer, fasting, preaching, and ministering to pilgrims. As a result of him working with the sick, intervening for the poor, defending the oppressed, giving insight into the church politics of the day, and acting as an arbiter and counselor, his fame stretched all the way from Britain to the Persian Empire.

As they all come from every quarter, each road is like a river: one can see collected in that spot a human sea into which rivers from all sides debouched. For it is not only inhabitants of our part of the world who pour in, but also Ishmaelites, Persians and the Armenians subject to them, the Iberians, the Homerites, and those who live even further in the interior than these. Many came from the extreme west: Spaniards, Britons and the Gauls who dwell between them. It is superfluous to speak of Italy..

St. Simeon died on top of his pillar on September 2, 459, his body being discovered in a position of prayer. A mere 50 years after his death, inspired by the life and faith of St. Simeon, the Byzantine emperor Zeno had an enormous octagonal basilica and monastery complex constructed around the pillar (19 miles northwest of Aleppo, Syria), of which only ruins remain. The only writings that survived are of those who saw St. Simeon and disciples who served him.

As counter-cultural as his life may sound, St. Simeon the Stylite understood the counter-cultural nature of the Beatitudes, the cornerstone of what it means to be a Christian. Their message is the same today as it was when Jesus first delivered them. That is, there is a paradigm in which we are the center, and there is the Christian paradigm with Christ at the center.

Holy Simeon imitated his teacher, Christ. Calling on him, he made the lame walk, cleansed lepers, made the dumb speak, made paralytics move about with ease, healed the chronically ill. Each one he warned and exhorted, “If someone asks you who healed you, say, “God healed me”. Do not even think of saying, “Simeon healed me”, otherwise you will find yourself again in the very same difficulties.”

Today, we are called to the same kind of dedication as St. Simeon the Stylite. This is not a challenge or suggestion to live on top of a pillar (although a modern-day monk has taken that challenge). It is a call to live the Beatitudes, to follow Jesus, to remove the clutter from our lives, and whatever it takes, to sacrifice all distractions that would get in the way of being in communion with God and loving His creation.

Սուրբ Սիմէոն, բարեխօսեա՛ վասն մեր։
St. Simeon, pray for us!

For excerpts above and amazing stories about St. Simeon, get this book!

Friday, September 25, 2015

The Holy Cross of Varag

Holy Cross Monastery at Varag (photo: Vartan A. Hampikian)
“But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” ~ Galatians 6:14

In the Armenian Orthodox Church, there is a season of the Cross which begins with the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the Sunday nearest September 14th, and ends on the Sunday nearest November 18th. Within this season, there is a feast particular to the Armenian Church - the Feast of the Holy Cross of Varag, the celebration of the discovery of a true piece of the cross on which Jesus was crucified.

According to tradition, in the 3rd century, St. Hripsime and her companions brought a relic of the Holy Cross to Mt. Varag when they sought refuge from persecution, and left it to the local priests for protection.

The location of the relic remained unknown until the 7th century, when a monk by the name of Totig had a vision of a cathedral with twelve pillars on the summit of Mt. Varag. In the midst of the cathedral was a radiating cross. The cross slowly descended down the mountain and rested over the altar of the monastery of Varag. Totig and his student Hovel rushed to the church and found that the vision revealed the location of the relic of the Holy Cross that St. Hripsime entrusted to the priests!

Catholicos St. Nersess the Builder certified its authenticity, and ordered that the Armenian Church dedicate the third Sunday of the Cross to venerating the Holy Cross of Varag, although today, the location of the relic remains unknown.

The hymn sung during the Morning Service of the Armenian Church on the Feast of Varag speaks of the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ to our Christian faith. (Translated by: V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan)

You shined today the light of your unspeakable divinity upon the Cross,
On the mount of Varag.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

You made known today the appearance of your awe-inspiring second coming,
By the sign of your Cross, beaming it on earth.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

You gave a sign to those who fear, and a weapon against the enemy.
With it, protect those who believe in your holy name.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

He adorned today the sign of the Cross,
With a heavenly light brighter than the sun.
Bless the Lord and exalt him forever!

He revealed today the redemptive sign to the angels,
By descending to the mount of Varag.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

Come all you saved by the life-giving Cross,
Bowing down to Christ our Savior upon it.
Blessed is the Lord God of our Fathers!

The cross... What was once looked upon as a torture device and instrument of death is now gazed upon as the source of healing and life. Through the eyes of faith, the mystery of the cross transforms our tragedies into blessing. Lord, we believe; help our unbelief!

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” ~ I Corinthians 1:18

Saturday, June 20, 2015

St. Gregory the Enlightener and Relics

The right hand of St. Gregory the Enlightener
According to the Armenian Church calendar, the Feast of the Discovery of St. Gregory the Enlightener’s Relics is commemorated on the Saturday of the 4th week of Pentecost. (In Christianity, relics are physical remains or personal effects of a saint, which are then preserved for purposes of veneration and honor).

In the 5th century, a hermit named Karnig had a vision, which guided him to discover the burial place and body of St. Gregory. As was customary, the remains of the saint were distributed as relics to various monasteries and churches. Today, some of his relics are located in Holy Etchmiadzin, Jerusalem, Antelias, and Naples. The relic in Etchmiadzin is kept on display in an arm-shaped reliquary, and used once every 7 years to bless the Holy Myron.

St. Gregory the Enlightener taught something that is very unique to the Armenian Church; that each person has their own Փառք/Park (glory) surrounding them. A person’s Փառք is the character or quality of who that person is, and what they do. He taught that a Փառք is an actual thing, and after a person dies it remains in the person’s bones, as well as with items the person touched. And it can also be passed on to others. This is one of the reasons why relics are important in the Armenian Church.

At St. Vartan Cathedral, located in Manhattan, NY, there is a bone fragment from a martyr of the Armenian Genocide kept as a relic. It is preserved underneath a khachkar where the faithful light candles and pray. If you ever find yourself at St. Vartan Cathedral, light a candle in front of that khachkar and while you venerate the bone relic, think of the endurance of that martyr; his or her Փառք. Then ponder your own Փառք; the wisdom and grace that God has granted you to live for Him. What else makes up your Փառք? How can you add to it? How will it be inherited by others? And how can you invite others into the Փառք (Glory) of God?

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Why Does the Armenian Church Refer to Easter as 'Zadeeg'? «Զատիկ»

Although we commonly use the word Easter in the Armenian Church, why do we officially refer to the ‘Feast of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ’ as Zadeeg «Զատիկ»?

Originally, the word zadeeg «զատիկ» meant ‘sacrifice’, referring to the Passover sacrifice, where an animal was set aside as an offering to the Lord. This meaning is derived from the verb zadel «զատել» which means to put aside, separate, or set apart. Today, the word Zadeeg «Զատիկ» is simply translated as ‘Passover’, so if one were to read the Armenian translation of the Bible, any time word Passover is used, it would read Zadeeg «Զատիկ», but the idea of setting something aside or apart remains.
  1. Setting aside a sacrificial Passover lamb was part of the larger event that ultimately delivered the Israelites from death and separated and freed them from Egyptian bondage and slavery as they passed through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. That event inspired the Jews to annaully celebrate their deliverance and separation from the Egyptians through a feast; a Passover meal (Exodus 12:3,11).
  2. The event of Passover in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is the Passover Lamb (John 1:29). Thus, for Christians, the implication behind Zadeeg is that those baptized into the Church are freed from the slavery of sin and death; set apart as the New Israel (Galatians 3:27-28, 6:16). Jesus offered Himself on the cross for our deliverance; not just sacrificing His life, but giving it so that we can share in it through Communion; through His Body and Blood.
  3. Lastly, when Christians began to celebrate Easter/Zadeeg, it was purposefully separated from the Jewish celebration of the Old Testament Passover. Again, although Zadeeg translates as Passover, it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 5:7-8), whom the Jews reject(ed) as the Messiah. And “as we are united to Jesus Christ, our life becomes an unending deliverance or ‘passover’ from evil“ (Orthodox Study Bible).
“Christ, the spotless Lamb of God is offered in sacrifice of praise”
~ Holy Badarak of the Armenian Orthodox Church