THE DIVINE LITURGY
The center of the liturgical life of the Church is the Divine Liturgy or Sourp Badarak in Armenian. It is also called Holy Eucharist which is a Greek word meaning “Thanksgiving”. The Liturgy itself is a beautiful yet complex arrangement of hymns and prayers, full of symbolism and tradition. The Liturgy of the Armenian Church is recognized by many scholars to be one of the most engaging and spiritually moving rituals for its participants.
Church attendance is an important manifestation of one’s faith. As true and devout Christians, we must join the community of our fellow Christians in prayer. We must therefore make the effort to attend as often as possible. If for any good cause, one cannot stay for the full duration of the service, it is permissible to attend only a portion of it.
Some parents of small children hesitate to come to Church services because of the embarrassment a small child might cause by crying or misbehaving in Church. There is no need to hire a baby-sitter. Bring the child along! A child’s cry is music to the ears of God.
CONDUCT DURING LITURGY
For the faithful, the Divine Liturgy is the highlight of their spiritual lives. If for any reason, you need to enter or exit the Church sanctuary during services, please remember the following rules:
- try to make as little noise as possible when walking in or out as not to disturb the other faithful;
- when entering or exiting the Church sanctuary doors, please turn, face the altar and cross yourself, before stepping through the door frame;
- refrain from entering or exiting during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer (Hayr Mer), the Creed (Havadamk) and the reading of the Gospel.
Contrary to popular belief, there is no “dress code” in Church. God does not care if you come to Church dressed in a suit and tie or not, as long as you come!
Nevertheless, all faithful are asked to dress humbly and conservatively. Flashy clothing or any form of dress that might draw attention or disturb the rest of the congregation should be avoided. Cellular telephones and electronic devices such as iPhones and Blackberries should be turned off before entering the sanctuary.
One of the devotional traditions of the Armenian Church, as in all Eastern Churches, is the beautiful practice of burning candles. The act is symbolic of the sacrifice of the Christian soul in order to shine with divine graces, on the example and through the intercession of the saints.
Candles are available in the narthex (Gavit) and they can be obtained for an offering. While lighting the candle, the person crosses himself, offers a prayer, and asks for the intercession of a particular saint, the saints of the Church in general or that of God Himself.
Active participation is at the heart of Christian worship. Texts of the Divine Liturgy are available in the narthex to make your attendance more meaningful and spiritually rewarding. If you really want to “get something out of” Church attendance, you should be willing to be part of it. It is not enough to just sit in Church. We must participate personally and individually in the service. People are encouraged to sing the hymns and to respond with the help of the text.
THE KISS OF PEACE
During the Liturgy, the priest will greet a deacon in peace with a Holy Kiss who will repeat it to a few members of the congregation (usually members of the Parish Council). They will, in turn, place their right hand on their chest (their heart), tilt their heads forward and whisper the same words to some of the gathered faithful. They, in turn, are asked to repeat by whispering the same words to the faithful standing next to them. This is called the Kiss of Peace (Vokhchouin in Armenian).
The Kiss of Peace is a blessing of great importance in the Liturgy. It is a symbolic expression of fellowship, as Christians share the revelation of Christ. Tilting the head forward is a remnant of a form of salutation used at the time of Jesus. The whispering is a reminder of the early days of the Church when Christians had to worship in secret of the pagan authorities. The person giving the greeting says:
Christos ee mech mez haydnetsav (Christ revealed himself amongst us)
The person receiving the greeting responds:
Orhnyal é haydnootyunn Christossi (Blessed is the revelation of Christ)
The Eucharist itself or Communion (Haghortoutiune in Armenian) is a thanksgiving meal indirectly connected with the Jewish Passover meal of the Old Testament, a ritual supper in commemoration of the liberation of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Jesus ate the Passover meal with His disciples (what we now call “the Last Supper”). Christ transformed the Passover meal into an act in remembrance of Him, of His life, death and resurrection. He is the new and eternal Passover lamb who frees humankind from the slavery of evil, ignorance and death and transfers them into the everlasting life of the Kingdom of God. At the Last Supper, Christ took the bread and wine and ordered His disciples to eat and drink it as His own Body and Blood. This has become the centre of Christian life, the way Christian people experience the presence of Christ in their midst.
Holy Communion is always offered during the Divine Liturgy, except during the lenten period (the period of forty days before Easter). Every faithful of the Armenian Church is required to take Communion regularly. According to the teachings of the Armenian Church, Holy Communion is the fulfillment of a genuine desire of the Christian to reconcile with God. It must be preceded by spiritual preparation and penance. Church canons require that a person preparing for Holy Communion totally abstain from food that morning as evidence of one’s faith that spiritual nourishment is more essential that physical food. Those who are taking medications or have valid medical reasons are exempt from fasting.
The main elements of penance are a sincere sorrow for sins and an open heartfelt confession. Group or public confession is the common practice nowadays, using a prescribed confession form made during the Divine Liturgy, just before the administration of Holy Communion. However, this does not eliminate the possibility of individual or private confession. Those who desire individual confessions can arrange for an appointment with the priest.
FINAL BLESSING AND KISS
At the end of the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant priest will face the congregation, holding a Bible in his hands. it is traditional for the faithful to come forward and, one by one, kiss the Bible as an expression of their love for Jesus.
THE DISTRIBUTION OF MAHSS
Mahss means “portion” in Armenian. It is unconsecrated and unleavened bread, blessed during the Divine Liturgy and distributed to the congregation at the end of the services. It is a reminder of the early Christian tradition of the “agape” or love meal, which the community shared after the offering of the Eucharistic sacrifice. Mahss is also taken to members of the household who were unable to attend services that day. If you want an additional portion of mahss for a loved one, do not hesitate to ask. When distributing mahss, the person giving it says: “May this be to you a share and a portion from the Holy Sacrifice.” The person receiving it says: “May God be my portion forever.”
PRAYERS FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS
During the Divine Liturgy, the celebrant priest prays for all the faithful. He will be more than happy to offer special prayers for any living person or a joyous occasion such as a wedding anniversary or a birthday, etc. Parishioners are asked to call the Church telephone and leave a message or call a member of the Parish Council with their request prior to the beginning of the Divine Liturgy. It is customary to make a monetary donation on such occasions, the amount of which is voluntary and/or to donate the altar flowers or candles. These donations represent the personal sacrifice of the faithful requesting the prayer.
Parishioners must bear in mind that it is the obligation and sacred responsibility of the faithful to make the necessary means available to the Church to continue her physical existence and accomplish her mission in the world. Therefore, a donation is always welcome and tax deductible.