“Christ is risen from the dead, Alleluia! Come, all you peoples, sing to the Lord, Alleluia!” From Easter until the Feast of Pentecost, if Divine Liturgy is celebrated by the Armenian Apostolic Church, these words from the Jashu Sharagan are sung. Every day for fifty days. Essentially, in the liturgical life of the Armenian Church, during this period, every day is Easter! The variables are all for Resurrection days, usually reserved for Sundays and Feast days. This fifty-day period encompasses the Feast of the Ascension on the Fortieth day, after which the liturgical variable change slightly, though all fifty days until Pentecost are considered Eastertide. There are no fasting days, which occur on Wednesdays and Fridays during most of the rest of the year. And outside of exceptional fixed-date commemorations, such as the April 24th Commemoration of the Holy Martyrs of the Armenian Genocide, there are no saints’ days. We sing hymns identical or nearly identical to those sung on the actual day of Easter. Liturgically, the days are almost indistinguishable from Easter.
This is perhaps the ultimate expression of the organization of time and experience by the Armenian Apostolic Church. Though we have discussed this subject before, the ability of the liturgy to mold us, to act upon as the ultimate source and expression of Armenian Christian existence, bears continued reflection. During this period of Eastertide, we can delve deeper into the “deep mystery,” the khorhurt khorin, of the Badarak and of salvation through Jesus Christ.
For the contemporary Christian, the liturgical khorhurt khorin is perhaps even more difficult to contemplate than the overarching mystery of the economy of salvation, the Incarnation of God through His Son Jesus Christ and Christ’s death and resurrection which are commemorated on Easter. As the great Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann suggested, secularism, our modern division of time and experience into separate, distinct spheres of activity, is the negation of humanity as homo adorans, humanity as a worshipping animal. If true worship is a constant, thankful, awe-filled response to the glory of God and free gift of salvation, then it is not something that is sequestered merely into a few hours on Sunday morning. Rather, it should structure the everyday and mold the daily experience of the Christian. If we, then, live in a world where our time is broken down and divided into spheres of activity—work, leisure, worship, family-time, etc.—it becomes incredibly difficult for the rhythms of liturgy to work on us. The deep mystery of the Badarak is of course the celebration of the life-giving resurrection of Jesus Christ—precisely the celebration of Easter, week in and week out, every time we celebrate Divine Liturgy. Yet there is also a deep mystery in the structuring of the daily experience of the worshipper through the liturgy. If we let it, the liturgy works upon us as a source of the rhythm of life.
|Worship Traditions of Armenia and the Neighboring Christian East||Edited by Dr. Roberta Ervine of St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, this volume collects some of the most vivid writing on how worship and liturgy shape the Armenian experience.|
|For the Life of the World||Included in this collection of Fr. Alexander Schmemann’s essays is “Worship in a Secular Age,” which includes his discussion of the sequestering of worship.|
|Le lectionnaire de Jérusalem en Arménie : le ̆Căsoc||An edition of the Armenian Lectionary, the fundamental book of liturgical readings, prepared by the renowned Armenologist Charles Renoux.|
How does liturgy do this? First, the complex calendrics of the Armenian Apostolic Church organize the entire year. Just as we are currently in the season of Eastertide, prior to Easter is Holy Week, before that Great Lent. In the Fall, there are a series of feasts dedicated to the Holy Cross. Christmas is preceded by a period of preparation commonly known as Advent. Just as seasons of weather allow for different possibilities—no one tries to go swimming in a frozen lake in the middle of winter—the different Church seasons lend themselves to different activities and experiences. During Lent and Holy Week, before Easter, we fast nearly every day. After Easter, in the period we are in now, there is no fasting. Every day is a celebration of the glorious Resurrection of Christ! Hence, if we were closely observing the liturgical calendar throughout the entire year, then we would experience different seasons of the year differently.
Next, outside of proscribed longer seasons such as Eastertide, each week has days with different characters. In a “normal” liturgical week of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are given over to the commemoration of specific, sometimes multiple, saints. Saturdays are usually reserved for the most well-known saints: the apostles of Christ, St. Gregory the Illuminator, or the Holy Translators. Wednesday and Friday are the usual days of fasting. Sunday, of course, is the day of the Lord, the celebration of the Resurrection. In monastic settings, these different liturgical days, marked with slightly different prayers in the daily offices of the Armenian Church, would have been given over to different kinds of activity. Fasting, of course, limits the potential for physical activity. In a self-sufficient monastery where agriculture and craft helped sustain the monks, the monks would find it very difficult both to fast and work in the fields. So, the character of each day is different: a fasting day isn’t just about not eating meat. The prayers of the services are different and in fact there is less physical activity. What work one does or the kind of experience of the day changes based on the three major “categories” of days.
Finally, during the liturgy itself, we are given the profound opportunity to enter into God’s time. In one of the Easter hymns, we sing Aysor Haryav, Today He Rose! This “today” is not merely the historical moment two thousand years ago. In a profound sense, every celebration of Badarak is the Resurrection. The nshkhar, the bread that becomes the body of Christ, in Armenian thinking is not merely a “symbol” of Christ’s body. It is the body of Christ. Through Divine Liturgy, and in the singing of our hymns such as Aysor Haryav, we are given a chance to experience time outside of our linear human experience. It is a deep mystery that an event two thousand years ago is also happening now. This deep mystery is ultimately outside human conception. Yet, through liturgy, we can briefly experience and apprehend that mystery.
There are other ways that the Armenian Apostolic liturgy organizes time and experience for faithful worshippers. As Fr. Schmemann discerned, this is increasingly difficult in our fragmented modern world. Yet if we let it, the experience of the liturgy, the ebb and flow of liturgical seasons and time, can profoundly affect and shape us. This season of Easter, when liturgically every day is Easter, a celebration of the Resurrection, is an especially appropriate time to strive to let the liturgy shape our lives.
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