Friday, April 17, 2015

Sunday of the World Church

Odzun Monastery, Lori Province, Armenia (2012)
This Sunday (April 19, 2015), according to the Armenian Church calendar, is “Sunday of the World Church” «Աշխարհամատրամ Կիրակի». Little is definitively known about the origin of this feast day, or why it is also referred to as “Green Sunday” «Կանաչ Կիրակի». What we do know comes from the hymn/sharagan of the day which contains the theme of blessing/consecrating a chapel (a more accurate translation of the feast day is, “Sunday of the World Chapel” implying the physical building of a church «մատուռ», rather than the word for Church (Yegeghetsee/Եեկեղեցի), which implies a community of believers).

Again, which specific church/chapel is unknown, but it was most likely located in Jerusalem. An excerpt of the hymn (translated by Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan) that we sing during our morning service «Առաւօտեան ժամ» tells us what Armenian Christians believe the Church, which includes the building, to be. Why do we meet there to worship? Is the building merely a meeting point? Or is the church building and architecture a reflection of the living and believing community within its walls? What can it say concerning what we believe about God?

We worship you, Christ, who made yourself known to us through the holy apostles, Lord God of our Fathers. Having become your disciples by the holy apostles, we learned to glorify you in the temple of your holiness, which you founded upon the rock of faith, Lord, God of our Fathers. Come, people of the nations, let us joyfully celebrate the inauguration/dedication of the holy church, praising the Lord God of our Fathers. Together with the bodiless multitudes, all nations forever praise and highly exalt Christ the King who comes today into the holy church. Come into the church, people whose faith is in the Holy Trinity. Praise God. Joyfully celebrate to the edges of the table, and highly exalt him forever.

I Peter 2:5 – “like living stones, you are being built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”

Friday, April 03, 2015

Great and Holy Friday: Do We Mourn or Celebrate?

The Entombment of Christ
Monastery of St. George, Balu, 1437
In the Armenian Church, on Holy Friday of Holy Week, we celebrate the ‘Service of Burial’, where we prepare and place a figure of the tomb of Jesus in the center chancel. We decorate the tomb with candles and fresh flowers, and place burning incense within it.

It’s one of the many beautiful traditions of the Armenian Church, but what is it that we are really doing besides carrying on tradition? Are we metaphorically and visually going back in time to mourn the death of Jesus Christ? Are we reenacting the drama of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus, as we solemnly memorialize and honor His death?

As with any liturgical celebration of events, and contrary to what may be popular belief and practice, the Church isn’t at all participating in nostalgia. It’s much, much deeper, and here’s why…

When we partake of Holy Communion, we are not eating and drinking to the memory of the Last Supper or Jesus’ crucifixion. As St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning Holy Communion, “is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?”

Also, when we are baptized, it is not the memory of Jesus’ death and burial into which we are baptized. Rather, when we are immersed in water at baptism, we are truly and mystically united to Jesus’ actual death, burial, and resurrection. And it just so happens that the ‘Service of Burial’ on Holy Friday is a recalling of our Baptism. Read the following from Romans 6:3-5…

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

From our perspective, the events of the Last Supper, and Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are past events on the linear timeline of history. But from God’s perspective, time is not linear. It is not a reenactment of the sacrifice of Jesus when we celebrate Holy Communion, but a participation in the one eternal sacrifice. Likewise, our baptism is not a static event locked into the past, but an ongoing and active event in our daily lives, and so every moment lived for God is a participation in the actual event of Jesus’ death and burial.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t approach our services on Holy Friday without solemnity. In fact, we are instructed to sing with a special solemn melody, but what we do not do is go back in time and pretend to mourn for the crucifixion of Jesus all over again.

As Christians, we know how the story ends. And so our attitude, as with any service throughout the Church year, should be one of celebration.

Holy God
Holy and mighty
Holy and immortal
You who were buried for us
Have mercy on us

Gratitude to Fr. Daniel Findikyan and Fr. Stephen Freeman for this insight.