Armenian Liturgy

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The liturgical usages and practices indigenous to the Church of Armenia, which is sometimes referred to as the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Armenian Orthodox Church, or simply the Armenian Church. Along with the Coptic, Ethiopian, Syriac (Jacobite), and Malankara Orthodox Churches, the Armenian Church is one of the socalled Oriental Orthodox Churches, united by their rejection of the Council of Chalcedon, but in liturgical rite, history, and spirituality quite distinct from one another. Today the Armenian Liturgy is used by an estimated 6,000,000 faithful of the Armenian Church, as well as approximately 344,000 members of the Armenian Catholic Church in communion with Rome. Officially, the liturgical language is Classical Armenian (Grabar), which differs decidedly from the eastern and western modern Armenian dialects. The vernacular is increasingly used in the celebration of the sacraments, but not habitually in the Divine Liturgy or the Daily Office.

The Armenian Liturgy is one of the five liturgical families of the Christian East. Although scholars long considered the Armenian Liturgy to be but a branch of the Byzantine liturgical family, recent scholarship has demonstrated beyond doubt the independence and distinctiveness of the ancient liturgical tradition of the Armenian Church.

Compared with other liturgical rites east and west, several remarkable features characterize Armenian Liturgy. The christological controversies of the fifth and subsequent centuries embroiled the Armenians in polemics with the Greeks, who wrongly accused them of confessing Eutychian monophysitism. For centuries the Armenians became absorbed in christological apologetics and speculation, which left its mark on the liturgy. The high Alexandrian christology promulgated by the Armenian Church is reflected in many facets of its liturgical expression. The Armenian anaphora of St. Athanasius, while addressed to the Father, is christological from the outset. The opening discourse on God's creation found in conventional Antiochene Eucharistic prayers is reduced in Armenian Athanasius to a mere mention. Other christological emphases include a christological doxology that always precedes the Lord's Prayer, and the perpetuation in Armenia of the unified celebration of Christ's birth and baptism on January 6, which became for the Armenians a symbol of the perfect divinity and perfect humanity of Christ in one nature.

The Armenian Church's preservation of the original eastern date of Christmas (January 6) is but one manifestation of the remarkable protective tendency of the Armenian Liturgy. The Armenian Liturgy often preserves ancient structures and usages long since supplanted in other rites. In Armenian Sunday Matins, to cite one example, the Cathedral Vigil exhibits today the same lucid structure that the Spanish pilgrim Egeria described toward the end of the fourth century. Scholars are increasingly turning to the Armenian Liturgy as an important witness for the historical reconstruction of early liturgical structures and practices.

Origin and Historical Evolution of the Armenian Liturgy. The Gospel was brought to Armenia from two ancient Christian centers: Edessa and Caesarea in Cappadocia. These two cultural poles, one semitic, the other hellenistic, shaped the Armenian Liturgy in its formative stage. Philologists have confirmed the Armenian patristic claim that the early fifth-century Armenian translation of the Bible was based on Syriac texts imported from Edessa and Greek prototypes brought in from Caesarea. Much early Armenian ecclesiastical terminology derives from Iranian or Syriac, and Armenian initiation rites share a striking resemblence to East Syrian paradigms. These examples attest to early influence from Edessa. From the other cultural pole came the Armenian Eucharistic Prayers, which are all of the West Syrian type, and several seem to be translations or reworkings of Greek originals. The Caesarean connection is to be explained not only by its proximity to historical Armenia in eastern Asia Minor, but also because St. Gregory the Illuminator, who converted the Armenian King Trdat [Tiridates III] (298330) to Christianity, received his episcopal consecration by the hand of Metropolitan Leontius of Caesarea, probably in 314 a.d.. Thus Armenia fell under the general jurisdiction of the great Cappadocian see. In the wake of the partition of Armenia between Persia and Rome in 387 a.d., the authority of Caesarea over the affairs of the Armenian Church waned, and by 389 a.d., Catholicos Sahak I acceded to the patriarchal throne of St. Gregory without reference to Caesarea.

During the fifth century, the nascent Armenian Liturgy was strongly influenced by the liturgy of Jerusalem. Already in the fourth century Armenian pilgrims and monks began traveling to the Holy Land. St. Euthymius (377473), founder of an important fifth-century lavra on the Dead Sea, and teacher of St. Sabas, was an Armenian by birth. A sixth-century source counts seventy Armenian churches and monasteries in the Holy Land. The Armenians' fascination with the Church in Jerusalem led them to translate into Armenian the lectionary of the Holy City, which contained not only the scripture readings to be read at liturgical synaxes throughout the year, but also detailed rubrical information regarding the litugical life of the Holy City. The Armenian Lectionary (Čašoc ) maintains the contours of the fifth-century Jerusalem lectionary. Similarly, the shape of the Armenian liturgical year and the system of feasts evolved, with little adaptation initially, from that of Jerusalem.

A long period of byzantinization of the Armenian Liturgy reached its apex early in the second millennium. Conspicuous Byzantine influence is to be found in the Armenian Divine Liturgy, including the Liturgy of the Word, in some of the daily offices, especially Vespers, and in other ceremonies such as the Rite of the Dedication of a Church. It cannot be ruled out, however, that some liturgical usages common to the Armenian and Byzantine Liturgies may go back to a common Cappadocian root.

Beginning in the twelfth century, crusading Latin and Frankish armies passed through the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia on their way to the Holy Land. This, for the first time, brought the Armenians into sustained contact with the Christian West. In 1318 Pope John XXII (13161334) created a Latin metropolitan see in Armenian Nakhijevan and ordered the establishment of Latin schools, which he entrusted to the Dominican missionaries. The encounter proved fruitful for the Armenians as, with remarkable openness, they adapted certain western liturgical traditions to their own use. While Rome was rarely reluctant to coerce other churches, including the Armenian, to reform their liturgical rites along Roman lines, it has been demonstrated that a number of Latin features in the Armenian Liturgy were not the result of an imposed "latinization," but were integrated by the Armenian hierarchy with great discretion. Latin influence is palpable in Armenian ordination rites, penance, the beginning and end of the Divine Liturgy, and in some liturgical vestments. The calculated integration of Latin usages into the Armenian Liturgy reveals both a sensitivity to liturgical structure and an openness to outside influence which are unusual among the eastern rites.

As in all rites, the steady development of the Armenian Liturgy essentially ceased with the emergence of printed editions of the liturgical books. The first edition of the Armenian Divine Liturgy (Pataragamadoyc' ) was published in Venice in 1513, with editions of the Ritual (Maštoc' ), Hymnal (Šarakan ) and Book of Hours (Čamagirk' ) appearing by mid-century.

The Armenians boast a singularly rich tradition of liturgical commentaries on their church services. Besides explanations of the Divine Liturgy, no less than eight authors between the seventh and fourteenth centuries penned commentaries on the Daily Office, a literary genre apparently unknown in Greek literature. There are even allegorical commentaries on the Lectionary (Č ašoc ) and on occasional rites such as the Foundation and Dedication of a Church. Most of these liturgical exegetical works have yet to be edited and studied.

Divine Liturgy. Like all ancient churches the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church (Patarag) comprises two main components: the Liturgy of the Word or Synaxis, and the Eucharist proper. To these a preparatory introduction and a final blessing, gospel reading, and dismissal were added fairly late, both under Latin influence.

Since at least the tenth century the only Eucharistic Prayer used in the Armenian Liturgy is attributed to St. Athanasius, probably because the elegant depiction of Christ's incarnation in its preface is strikingly reminiscent of Athanasian christology. The Anaphora of St. Athanasius has a traditional Antiochene or West Syrian shape: the Preface leads to the Sanctus, with Christ's Words of Institution embedded within the Anamnesis, followed by the Oblation. The Epiclesis comes next, from which flow the anaphoral Intercessions, accompanied by the diptychs.

Four other Armenian anaphoras survive in medieval manuscripts, all of them apparently early translations from Greek. These anaphoras seem to have been used in Armenia during the first millennium. The most important of them is ascribed to St. Gregory the Illuminator, but is actually an early form of the Anaphora St. Basil of Caesarea. Armenian-Basil closely resembles the most primitive known form of this prayer, preserved in Coptic. The anaphoras attributed to St. Sahak Part'ew and St. Cyril of Alexandria are close derivatives of Armenian-Basil. The Armenian anaphora ascribed to St. Gregory Nazianzus (the Theologian) is addressed to the Son. Other anaphoras translated by the Armenians include the Byzantine recension of Basil's anaphora, and the anaphoras of St. John Chrysostom, St. James, St. Ignatius of Antioch (a Syriac anaphora), and the Roman Canon.

The early eighth-century commentary on the Daily Office by Bishop Step'anos of Siwnik' (c. 735) depicts the outline of the present Armenian Liturgy of the Word, before successive waves of Byzantine influence. The Synaxis opened with Ps 93, evidently accompanying an introit procession. This was followed by a procession with the gospel book while the people sang the Trisagion. A litany precedes Scripture readings from the Old and New Testaments. Unlike the Byzantine Liturgy, where the Old Testament lesson was supplanted very early by new developments in the structure of the Enarxis, in the Armenian Liturgy a lesson from the Old Testament is always read during the Armenian Liturgy of the Word. Scripture readings are followed by the recitation of the Nicene Creed, recited by the people in the plural form, "We believe in one God " Only the Armenian and Roman liturgies recite the Creed immediately following the Gospel, though the Armenian usage predates the Roman by three centuries at least.

To this skeleton, several Byzantine elements were added later, including the three antiphons and their prayers (only remnants of which remain today), and some other prayers. It seems that the Synaxis maintained a degree of autonomy in Armenia, conducted apart from the Eucharist in certain circumstances. This is probably yet another remnant of the liturgical life of early Jerusalem, where the Liturgy of the Word and the Eucharist sometimes took place at different shrines in the city, the faithful processing from one stational church to the next.

As a result of contact with the Crusaders, the Armenians prefaced the Synaxis with an introduction comprising a new entrance procession of the priest and ministers, the confession and absolution of the celebrant using Armenian renderings of the Confiteor and the Misereatur, and the celebrant's ascent of the altar accompanied by Psalm 43, as found in the Dominican and other western rites.

Likewise, a new conclusion was appended to the liturgy including the reading of the Prologue of the Gospel according to John. It is noteworthy that the Dominicans, too, concluded the Mass with the Prologue of John. The new introduction and conclusion of the Divine Liturgy very gradually took hold in Armenia, but did not become universal for centuries thereafter. As late as the middle of the seventeenth century, some manuscript euchologies still did not contain the innovations.

The two most important commentaries on the Armenian Divine Liturgy are by Xosrov Anjewaci (c. 963), who scrupulously interprets the prayers phrase by phrase. In so doing, he provides our earliest extant text of the anaphora of St. Athanasius. The commentary of Nersēs Lampronac'i (1198) is unabashedly allegorical but invaluable in its attention to the details of the ritual.

Since at least the sixth century, the Armenians use unleavened bread and pure wine (without the addition of water) for the Eucharist. These distinctive usages provoked centuries of hostility by the Greeks and Latins, who time and again set the abrogation of these usages as the condition for ecumenical relations. Only the Armenians and Latins use unleavened bread for the Eucharist. Yet an historical connection cannot be made because unleavened bread came into widespread use in the West only in the eleventh century. By contrast, the earliest probable reference to the use of unleavened bread in the Armenian Eucharist dates to the late sixth century. While the origins of the usage are unknown, there is no evidence that the Armenians ever used leavened bread in the Eucharist. Nor is there any evidence that they ever mixed water in the chalice. The age-old Christian custom of consecrating a mixed chalice at the Eucharist originally had no theological pretensions. From time immemorial it was customary in many areas to cut table wine with water, a domestic custom that inevitably found its way into the liturgy, and in time inspired various theological interpretations.

Daily Office. The Armenian Book of Hours [Žamagirk' ] contains The Office of the Night [Gišerayin žam ], Morning [Arawōtean žam ], Sunrise [Arewagali žam ], the Third, Sixth, and Ninth, so-called "Little Hours"; the Evening [Erekoyan žam ], and two compline offices: Peace [Xałałakan žam ], and Rest [Hangstean žam ]. Apart from the gradual accretion of variable diaconal proclamations and prayers, and the proliferation of ecclesiastical poetry, the basic shape of the daily offices has changed little since the 7th and 8th centuries, when Armenian theologians began to compose allegorical commentaries on them. Catholicos Nersēs IV of Glayec'i (1173), called Šnorhali ("the Grace-filled"), greatly enriched the Night, Morning, Sunrise and Peace offices by adding hymns that are as elegant poetically and musically as they are profound theologically.

The Armenian hours are predominantly cathedral in character, featuring fixed psalms appropriate for the hour of the day, effusive hymnody, processions and other rituals. The prominent exception is the Night Hour, which, after an invitatory of fixed psalms (3, 87, 102, 142), features the recitation of the psalms in numerical order, an ancient trait of monastic worship. The Armenians divide Psalms 1148 into eight "canons," one of which is sung each night. Each canon is associated with an Old Testament canticle.

Monasteries in Armenia, Jerusalem, and Lebanon conduct the daily cursus in full, although the Night Office is often delayed until early morning and conducted together with Matins. Many parish churches in Armenia conduct Matins and Vespers every day, with the Sunrise Office and compline offices used primarily in Lent. This is also the practice in Armenian parishes in the Middle East, Europe, and America. Given that most people in the diaspora live quite a distance from an Armenian Church, liturgical services there tend to be concentrated on Saturdays and Sundays.

Sacraments. The limitation of the number of sacraments [Xorhurt' ] to seven is a late development in Armenia, under Latin influence. As late as the mid-tenth century, the Armenian liturgical commentator Xosrov Anjewaci could still consider funerals, erecting an altar, and blessing church vessels on the same level as baptism, ordination, and marriage.

Baptism. Armenian initiation rites are characterized by their ancient structure and theology. The ritual envisions baptism as a rebirth "of water and the Spirit" (Jn 3:5) to become the sons and daughters of God, and as an imitation of Christ's baptism in the Jordan. The Pauline theology of dying and rising with Christ in baptism (Rom 6) is marginal, as is its apotropaic aspect. The Armenians no longer have a pre-baptismal anointing. Baptism is by triple immersion in the name of the Holy Trinity. The newly baptized are then sealed on nine parts of the body with holy chrism and then led to the altar where they will worship and receive holy communion for the first time.

Ordination. Armenian ordination rites diverge sharply from those of any other eastern church. In 1185, the Armenian bishop Nersēs Lampronac'i (1198) translated the new Pontificale romanum seculi XII, incorporating its Franco-germanic ordination rites into the ancient Armenian ceremony. The result is an elaborate ritual (Jernadrut'iwn ) comprising the quadruple repetition of the ancient ordination hymn, "The divine and heavenly grace," the laying on of hands, anointing of the forehead and hands, and the traditio instrumentorum. Immediately following ordination, the new priest spends forty days in seclusion and spiritual preparation. Only then does he celebrate his first Divine Liturgy.

The Armenian rite of episcopal ordination blends Byzantine, Latin, and indigenous Armenian elements. There is also an elaborate ceremony of enthroning and anointing a Catholicos.

To the minor and major orders are added the ten monastic orders of Vardapet, or teacher, unique to the Armenian Church.

Reconciliation. Like all eastern churches, the Armenians consider reconciliation to be a continual process not limited to confession and absolution. The Daily Office incorporates specific penitential prayers and hymns, most notably Ps 51, the penitential prayer par excellence. The Armenian Church has two ancient offices of public reconciliation. The first is a one-time reconciliation following a grave sin, and is modeled after baptism. The other is an elaborate synaxis of psalmody, lections, and prayers on Holy Thursday to reconcile sinners to God before Easter. This office includes the splendid deuterocanonical Prayer of King Manasseh, to which the Armenians added a christological appendix, proclamation, and priestly prayer of reconciliation.

In the late middle ages, Armenian penitential practice came increasingly under Latin scholastic influence. Today a brief office of public confession and absolution hailing from this late period has become widespread in parish churches. Private confession is also practiced.

Matrimony. Following Eastern practice, Armenians refer to the sacrament of marriage as "Blessing of the Crown" [Psak ōrhnel ]. The ceremony originally took place during the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Word. The crowning of the bride and groom is accompanied by a long benediction which, like the Old Testament lections appointed for the ceremony, recalls the blessed unions of the patriarchs and their wives. In recent times, the exchange of vows and rings has been added to the ceremony, as well as the sharing of a cup of wine, a symbol of bounty.

Anointing of the Sick. Since ancient times the Armenians have anointed the sick with oil blessed by the priest. At various times, the Armenians translated and used both the elaborate Greek ritual, as well as a Latin form. In addition, they composed prayers of their own. In current usage, the anointing has fallen out of use, having given way to the prayer alone.

Liturgical Year and Sanctoral. The liturgical year of the Armenian Liturgy is characterized by the mobility of its feasts, by the emphasis on Sunday, and by the celebration of Christmas on January 6. The liturgical year revolves around the two principal Christian feasts of Theophany [Asduacyaytnutiwn ] and Pascha [Zatik ].

The Armenian calendar preserves the shape of the liturgical year as presented in the fifth-century lectionary of Jerusalem. After the Bible, this document was among the first writings to be translated into Armenian from Greek by St. Mesrop Maštoc' (439) and his school, shortly after the invention of the Armenian alphabet.

The Armenians celebrate Christ's nativity and his baptism together on January 6. This is the original date of Christmas in the East, before it was transferred to December 25. The Presentation of the Lord to the Temple is celebrated forty days later, on February 14, and the Annunciation to Mary is nine months before Christmas, on April 7. The Armenian calendar has only three other fixed feasts, all pertaining to the Mother of God: her birth (September 8), her Presentation to the Temple (November 21) and her Conception to Joachim and Anna (December 9).

All other feasts and saints' commemorations are moveable and depend upon the day of the week. Major feast days must be celebrated on Sunday, the dies dominica. The Assumption of the Mother of God (Verapoxum ) and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Xač'verac' ) are celebrated on the Sundays falling closest to August 15 and September 14 respectively. Wednesdays and Fridays are days of abstinence, and have a penitential theme (unless one of the six fixed feasts above falls on them). Saints' commemorations are celebrated exclusively on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the latter reserved for the most important saints. Accordingly, saints' days are not attached to a particular date, but are defined in relation to the closest major feast and a day of the week. For example, the feast of St. Constantine the Emperor and his mother, Helena, is always celebrated on Tuesday of the fourth week after Pentecost, the precise date changing from year to year. Every feast day of the liturgical year except for the six fixed feasts is determined in this way, making the Armenian liturgical year highly variable from year to year.

The Armenians calculate Easter according to the Nicene definition. The Gregorian calendar was adopted in 1923 for civil and liturgical use, making the Armenian Church one of the few eastern churches to celebrate Easter on the same date as the Catholic and Protestant world. Only the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem follows the Julian calendar because of the status quo of the Holy Places.

Lent begins on the seventh Monday before Easter. It is preceded by a one-week Anterior Fast (Arajaworac' pahk' ) beginning on the third Monday before Lent.

Advent (Yisnak ) begins on the day after the Sunday nearest November 18. It lasts between six and seven weeks, depending each year on the duration of the period between Assumption (Sunday closest to August 15) and Theophany (January 6).

The Armenians celebrate four feasts of the Cross: Exaltation (Sunday nearest September 14); Apparition (commemorates the appearance of the cross in the sky over Jerusalem on May 7, 351; celebrated on the Sunday closest to May 7); Discovery of the Cross (seventh Sunday after Exaltation); and the Apparition of the Cross on Mount Varak, commemorating the miraculous 7th-century discovery of a fragment of Christ's cross in Armenia (third Sunday after Exaltation).

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[m. d. findikyan]

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