From the perspective of the liturgical calendar, this week could very well be one of the strangest of the year. As we have discussed before, the temporality of the Armenian Apostolic Church emerges from the quality of different “kinds” of days—every day of the year can be described as either a dominical, fasting, or saints’ day. During a “normal” liturgical week, Sunday is the Lord’s Day, the dominical day, Wednesday and Friday are fasting days, and Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday are given over to the commemoration of saints. Admittedly, this normal week is quite rare: Lent is a long period of fasting, and the forty days after Easter, which we treat essentially as 40 days of continuous Easter, are all dominical days. This week, however, is an opportune moment to detail a few additional concepts in the liturgical calendar and to look specifically at some of the periods of time which do not fit this mold. That is because this week we are in the middle of the “Fast of Elijah,” one of several week-long fasts in the Armenian Apostolic Church. The fast does not technically include Saturday, which nonetheless does not have a designated saint to commemorate, as is usually the case for Saturday. Instead, Sunday, in addition to being a dominical day, is also the celebration of the “Remembrance of Elijah.” This is one of the only instances where a saint is commemorated on a Sunday (outside of usual liturgical commemorations)! In other words, this is a very unusual liturgical week indeed!
Previously, we detailed how the Armenian Church’s conception of liturgical time, something that differentiates it from other ancient liturgical Christian rites (the complex whole of a given church’s Christian experience), is anchored in the week as the dominant unit of time. The week, built up with the three kinds of days each with their specific character, is the major organizing principle. Armenian Christians early on decided that Sunday, the Lord’s Day, should be the day most major feasts are celebrated. In other words, the day within the week was given priority over the date in the annual calendar. For example, whereas most other Christians celebrate the Assumption of Mary, in Armenian Վերափոխումն Ս. Աստուածածնի, often just called Asdvadzadzin on August 15, the Armenian Church celebrates the same feast on the Sunday nearest to August 15. As a result of this, there are only six feasts that are anchored to specific dates. All six of them are tied either to the Birth of Christ or to the Birth of St. Mary. Since we celebrate Christmas on January 6, from this date, we celebrate the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple 40 days later (as was the ancient Jewish custom) on February 14, and going backwards approximately 9 months, we celebrate the Annunciation to the Mother of God on April 7th. Similarly, according to an ancient Christian tradition shared across many churches, St. Mary the Mother of God was born on September 8. Using the same calculations, we arrive at December 9 as the Conception of the Mother of God to Sts. Joachim and Anna. The Presentation of the Mother of God to the Temple, rather than 40 days later, was incorporated into a Feast commemorating the dedication of a major “New Church” in Jerusalem commissioned by Emperor Justinian on November 21, 543. These six feasts are the only commemorations of the Armenian Church that fall on the same calendar date every single year.
Others, like Asdvadzadzin, are dependent on a calendar date (in this case, August 15), but are moved to the closest Sunday, the distinctive practice of the Armenian Rite. The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, Խաչվերաց/Khachverats, is similarly celebrated on the Sunday nearest September 14. These two feasts also belong to the category of Tabernacle, in Armenian Տաղաւար/daghavar feasts, which are the 5 principal or main feasts of the Armenian Church year. The 5 daghavar feasts are Theophany (Christmas), Easter, Transfiguration, the Assumption, and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. There are other very important feasts and saints’ commemorations, but these five are singled out as principal. While Assumption and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross are tied to specific calendar days, and Theophany is one of the six feasts that are always on the same calendar day, Easter and Transfiguration move from year to year. This movement, anchored in the celebration of Easter, is known as the Paschal Cycle (Pascha being another name for Easter).
|Tōnats‘oyts‘ ew awetaranats‘oyts‘ ew kargaworut‘iwn ew hrahang Terunakan tōnits‘||An early printed edition of the Donatsuyts, published in Venice in 1782. The Donatsuyts is the Liturgical Directory of the Armenian Church, giving the details of the liturgical calendar in a generic way, as well as the tables for calculating the calendar in a given year. This early edition is one of the many treasures in the library of the Zohrab Information Center. In Armenian.|
|Le lectionnaire de Jérusalem en Arménie :le ̆Căsoc||By the renowned Armenologist Charles Renoux, this study looks at the Armenian version of the Jerusalem Lectionary, a major source for the Armenian Lectionary, or Jashots Kirk, itself. In French.|
|Worship traditions in Armenia and the neighboring Christian East||This volume in the St. Nersess Armenian Seminary’s Avant series collects the papers from an international symposium held on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of St. Nersess. Edited by Dr. Roberta Ervine, the volume contains the essay “The Question of Modern Liturgical Reform in the Armenian Church: A Clergyman’s Perspective” by Fr. Arshen Aivazian.|
The Paschal Cycle and the extent to which most of the liturgical calendar is attached to the date of Easter, is another major feature of the Armenian Rite. Combined with the insistence on the priority of the week with its days each having different characters, the Paschal Cycle results in the complicated calculation for so many of the celebrations on the Armenian liturigcal calendar. For instance, while in the Catholic Church many saints are celebrated on the same calendar date every year, in the Armenian Church two things make it impossible to state definitively, “St. George’s Day is April 23” (as it is for many Churches): first is that saints’ days are to be celebrated on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday, and the second is that saints’ days are also tied to the date of Easter. They too move according to the Paschal Cycle. So, what exactly is the Paschal Cycle and how does it work?
The Armenian Church affirms the fundamental centrality of Easter in the life of the Christian and as the fulfillment of Christ’s earthly ministry by anchoring the liturgical calendar to Easter. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s Resurrection and victory over death, the great victory of Christianity. The Council of Nicaea in 325 set the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox. Since this coordinates a solar and lunar event, the date of Easter moves around, somewhere between March 22 and April 25. While most Christian churches use this formula for calculating Easter, not all Christian rites are as closely bound up in the date of Easter as is the Armenian Apostolic Church’s calendar. Once the date of Easter for a given year is determined, many other dates, such as Lent (the forty-day preparatory fast is tied to Easter), the Ascension (forty days after Easter), and Pentecost (50 days after Easter) all fall into place. This is what is meant by the Paschal Cycle: all the dates in the liturgical calendar that are set by the date of Easter. The Տօնացոյց/Donatsuyts, the Liturgical Directory of the Armenian Church has all the variables for liturgical services in a generic manner, described in relation to Easter (for instance, Pentecost, which we just celebrated this past Sunday, is the 7th Sunday after Easter). Additionally, it has the rules for calculating out the calendar for any given year. In the Donatsuyts, there is a table with the 36 letters of the Armenian alphabet. By using the calculation for the date of Easter on a given year, one determines which “Letter of the Year” it is. From there, the rest of the calendar falls into place, and the Donatsuyts gives the actual calendar dates for any year, depending on the “Letter of the Year.” Calculated out according to the “Letter of the Year,” each of the major Sees of the Armenian Apostolic Church publishes an Օրացոյց/Oratsuyts, a Daily Directory that has all the different feasts, fasts, and saints’ days affixed to the calendar date for that particular year. The Paschal Cycle is thus set for a given year!
As we can see, the calendrics of the Armenian Apostolic Church are quite complicated. In addition to the Donatsuyts and the Oratsuyts, the other main book connected to the liturgical year is the Lectionary or Ճաշոց Գիրք/Jashots Kirk. The Jashots is perhaps the oldest and most fundamental books of the Armenian Rite, heavily influenced by liturgical practice in Jerusalem. In a wonderful chapter on liturgical reform from a clergyman’s perspective, Fr. Arshen Aivazian details many of these liturgical books. In fact, for a special June Semester at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, Fr. Arshen is currently teaching a course on the use of the Lectionary. These liturgical books present all the details of the liturgical day in addition to charting out the cycles of feast, fast, and saintly commemoration we have discussed today.
This week’s particular fast, the “Fast of Elijah,” is one of ten week-long fasts that fall outside of the usual Wednesday/Friday weekly fasts or the Fast of Great Lent. Many of these week-long fasts, like “The Fast of the Nativity and Theophany,” “Fast of the Transfiguration,” “Fast of the Assumption,” “Fast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross,” and “Fast of the Holy Cross of Varak,” are directly precede feast days. In this list, you should recognize most of these fasts as preceding not only feasts, but many of the daghavar feasts listed above. Two other fasts, the “Fast of Advent” and the “Fast of the Catechumens,” are linked to periods in liturgical year: Advent being one of the names for the period preceding Christmas. The “Fast of the Catechumens,” also known as the “Preliminary Fast” begins 10 weeks before Easter, and is a kind of preparation for Great Lent. Finally, in addition to the “Fast of Elijah” this week, the “Fast of St. Gregory the Illuminator” and the “Fast of St. Hagop” are weeklong fasts tied to the commemoration of important saints. The Fast of Elijah, while not encompassing Saturday, culminates in Sundays “Remembrance of Elijah.” The fact that a Saints’ commemoration falls on Sunday is highly unusual. Recall that Elijah is one of only two people in the Old Testament who went to God without dying—in this, both Enoch and Elijah are types of Christ’s own Resurrection and Ascension into heaven. While Elijah’s presence at the Transfiguration along with Moses demonstrates Christ as the fulfillment of the Law (Moses) and the Prophets (Elijah), it is Elijah and not another prophet because of his association with the Resurrection. In the Armenian commentary tradition, the Transfiguration itself becomes associated with Resurrection and Paradise. In a few weeks on the Feast of the Transfiguration we will have more to say about this. For our purposes today, we can note that in the complex calendrics of the Armenian Apostolic Church, where normally a saint would not be commemorated on a Sunday, there is a logic to commemorating Elijah on Sunday, as he is so closely associated with the Resurrection that is the heart of the celebration of a Sunday dominical day!
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