Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter Sunday, is the fullest week of liturgy in the Armenian Apostolic Church. Services commemorate the events of the Gospel and the Life of Christ that are the culmination of His earthly ministry: the Last Supper, Betrayal in the Garden and His arrest, Crucifixion, Burial, and finally, on Easter Sunday, His glorious Resurrection. The density of the events leads to a density of liturgical services where the faithful are able to participate in the redemptive work of God. Armenian Christians do not recreate or even simply memorialize past events during liturgy. For Armenian Christians, Holy Week is not a play or a symbol. Rather, it is the opportunity to participate in the grace and salvation of God, through the action of His Son Jesus Christ. This understanding of liturgy, the events of Holy Week, and the faithful’s participation in those events over 2000 years after the “historical” events occurred, all emerge clearly in the liturgical texts read, sung, recited, and prayed during all the services this week. On Easter Sunday, for instance, one of the main hymns, sung during the procession, proclaims, “Today He is risen from the dead.” The text of this song demonstrates the Armenian Church’s understanding of time, liturgy, and participation. The theology of the Armenian Church and the Church’s understanding of Holy Week emerges precisely in the liturgical services themselves.
Last year during Holy Week, we described how liturgy is a source for the Armenian Apostolic Church. Liturgy is an important source of theological thinking for the Armenian Church. While the Church has a rich commentary tradition and epistolary (letter-writing) tradition, perhaps the best expression of Armenian theology is in the liturgy itself. Շարական/Sharagans, the main form of Armenian hymn, are some of the most important expressions of a rich theology. Yet, all of the prayers and litanies, all of the texts of the liturgical services, hold the keys to the theological understanding of the Armenian Church. What does the Church believe about who Christ is? Look to the liturgy! About the nature of suffering? Look to the liturgy! All of the sacraments of the Church and the accompanying liturgical services usher the Christian through life, always dependent on the Holy Trinity. To see how the Armenian Church conceives of all these questions, then, the most important place to look is the liturgy itself.
While liturgy is fundamentally a collective, participatory act, it is also a very textual act. We read prayers, litanies, Psalms, Epistles, and Gospel passages during liturgy. Even when the choir sings, they are singing a song that has been written down. This year, therefore, we are going to offer a brief introduction to many of the liturgical books of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the books where all the texts of these liturgical services are found. In addition to the texts of the prayers and readings themselves, many of the liturgical books also include rubrics, statements about how a service is conducted. It might read something like, “From the center of the Church.” Those conducting the service, then, will know that before singing a hymn, they should all first assemble in the center of the Church. Another important piece of information is who should be saying, reciting, or singing a specific piece of the liturgy. Sometimes this is stated explicitly, and you will read “Priest” or “Deacon.” Other times, the kind of liturgical text makes this implicit. Since litanies are usually read by a deacon, simply by saying “litany,” it is implied that the deacon will recite it. In addition to texts and rubrics, when the texts are supposed to be sung, some books also have musical markings called khaz. Unfortunately, as we have discussed before, the full understanding of the khaz markings has been lost. More recent liturgical books might include music for the hymns in Western musical notation, but originally the only way to notate music in an Armenian liturgical book was through the khaz. All liturgical books are made up of these elements: texts, rubrics (including the type of text or who reads it), and the khaz.
|The Book of hours, or, The Order of common prayers of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church : matins, prime, vespers and occasional offices||A partial English translation of the Ժամագիրք/Jamakirk, the Book of Hours of the Armenian Church. The full Armenian version contains all of the liturgical services known as the “hours” or “offices” like the “Morning Service.” This English version is abridged and is not a full translation of the Classical Armenian text, but it is the most complete English translation in one place (many of the individual services have been translated elsewhere).|
|Girkʿ Mets Mashtotsʿ||An early printing of the so-called “Meds Mashtots,” referring to the fact that it includes many liturgical services that can only be offered by a Bishop. The “normal” Մաշտոց/Mastots contains services like a wedding or home blessing, many of the sacraments of the Armenian Church, conducted by a priest. This particular printing is one of the treasures of the Zohrab Information Center’s collection!|
|Awag shabat‘ Avak shapat : A guide to the Holy Week services of the Armenian Church||Prepared several years ago by Bishop Daniel Findikayn, this booklet serves as an English-language guide to all the Holy Week services of the Armenian Church. It also serves as a guide to the Աւագ Շաբաթ/Avak Shapat book, the liturgical book containing all the services for Holy Week. There are so many liturgical services during this important week that they have their own book!|
Though all liturgical books share common elements and all of these books are intended to facilitate offering liturgical services, there is a dizzying array of different liturgical books. We can begin with what can be called liturgical books of the proper. In liturgical services, some of the texts and prayers are the same every time the service is conducted. During Divine Liturgy, Holy Badarak, for instance, we know that we always say the Lord’s Prayer at the same time in the service. These constant parts of the liturgical service are called ordinary or ordinaries. On the other hand, some parts of the liturgical services change, whether that depends on the day of the week, the week, or the liturgical season. In the Badarak, you might notice that sometimes the words of the Trisagion, Սուրբ Աստուած/Surp Asdvadz, changes occasionally. Those texts and movements that can change are called propers. So, the liturgical books of the propers are those books which help clarify these changes. When do certain texts change? Why do they change? It is clear that all these books are intimately linked to the question of time and calendars, a topic we have taken up before. Of the liturgical books of the proper, the oldest—though least used today—is the Ճաշոց Գիրք/Jashots Kirk, the Lectionary. A lectionary is a book of Scripture readings in the order those readings should be read through the liturgical year. It also includes some of the basic instructions for services on special days. So, the Sunday readings that are read during Badarak can be found in the Lectionary. The Lectionary is how we know which Bible passage to read on a given Sunday. Two other books, the Տօնացոյց/Donatsuyts and the Օրացոյց/Oratsuyts are liturgical calendars that provide all the details that one would need to determine all the changing parts of liturgy. The Donatsuyts is the Liturgical Directory, which is the authoritative calendar for the Armenian Church for the determination of the variables. Since the Armenian Church year varies based on the date of Easter, the liturgical calendar changes from year to year. The Oratsuyts is the Liturgical Calendar calculated out for a specific year. With these three books, one can determine which prayers to say, which hymns to sing, how to sing them, and all the other information needed to conduct a liturgical service on any given day!
Perhaps the most common thing that changes during services are the շարականs/sharagans, a special class of hymn of the Armenian Church. Sharagans are sung in many different services, though mainly in the services known as “hours” or “offices” comprising the Liturgy of the Hours. These include the well-known Morning Service, some version of which is conducted before Divine Liturgy on Sundays in the parishes. “Morning Service” is often a combination of two separate hours, the Night Office and the Morning Office. All the services of the hours can be found in the Ժամագիրք/Jamakirk, the Book of Hours. This liturgical book contains all of these services of the hours, all the offices of the Church. Some of the Latin terms for the Catholic equivalents of these services are relatively well known: Matins and Vespers, for instance. In many of the daily offices there are variable hymns. Depending on the day, a different melody and text of the sharagan will be sung. For this reason, in addition to the Jamakirk, to conduct the daily offices the other necessary liturgical book is the Sharagan or Sharagnots, the book that contains all 1165 sharagans of the Armenian Church. There are other kinds of hymns that are sung in the Armenian Church, but sharagans are the most widespread and well-known. The Sharagnots contains a wealth of theological density in the texts of the hymns. Navigating this book can be quite difficult, and we have discussed some of the musical questions related to the book previously.
With the books already mentioned one could conduct most of the services of the Armenian Apostolic Church. There is also separate book for Surp Badarak, the Divine Liturgy. The priest’s version contains the long prayer said by the priest, much of it silently. Perhaps the most familiar liturgical book is the ubiquitous Badarak book in the pews of the churches. With these books for Badarak, a Jamakirk, a Sharagnots, and the other books of the proper, one could offer most of the services of the Armenian Church. However, there are a few other important liturgical books worth mentioning.
Beyond the Divine Liturgy and the Liturgy of the Hours, there are many special liturgical services offered by the Armenian Church. Many of these are considered sacraments of the Armenian Church. Unlike in other churches, the Armenian Church does not limit the sacraments to a given number, so common recognizable services like baptisms and funerals as well as home blessings and other less common services of blessings can all be considered sacraments in the Armenian Church. The book that contains most of these sacramental liturgical services is called the Մաշտոց/Mashdots, often translated as the Book of Rituals. There are several versions of this book, since some services can be conducted by a priest and a deacon or even a priest alone, while some services can only be conducted by a Bishop. There are even some services, like the consecration of a Bishop (or, in earlier times the coronation of a king) that require the presence of the Catholicos. Different versions of the Mashdots exist for the use of a priest, a bishop, or the Catholicos.
As we mentioned at the beginning of today’s article, Holy Week, which we are currently celebrating, is full of special liturgical services. These commemorate events in the life of Christ leading up to the Crucifixion, Death, and Resurrection. Since there are so many special services offered this week, there is a separate liturgical book, the Աւագ Շաբաթ/Avak Shapat, that collects all of these services together. In the understanding of the Armenian Apostolic Church, Holy Week begins the Saturday before Palm Sunday with the commemoration of the Raising of Lazarus (“Lazarus Saturday”) and concludes with the celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. The Avak Shapat contains all the prayers, hymns, litanies, rubrics—everything needed to conduct these beautiful liturgical services. Today, for instance, is the Remembrance of the Ten Virgins. Everything one needs to offer the service is found in the Avak Shapat. It speaks to the importance of Holy Week and Easter that there is a special book dedicated just to the liturgical services of Holy Week!
There are other, less common or less used liturgical books. Among these, perhaps the most important is the Haysumavurk, the Synaxarion or Lives of the Saints. In the coming weeks, we will discuss this book by itself. Many of these books can be found, in some version online. There are even some digitized manuscript copies of some of the books.
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