During Lent, the season of penitence, fasting, and preparation for Easter which began last week, you might notice that the passages read from the Bible during the Badarak, the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church, are often longer than usual. This is in keeping with a heightened focus on prayer, meditation, and reading the Bible during the season of Lent, all of which are intended to help refocus the Christian’s life on her relationship with God. Likewise, you probably know that some of the most famous and beloved Gospel passages are read during the Sundays of Lent: The Parable of the Steward and the Parable of the Prodigal Son, for instance. Every Lent, each Sunday has a specific set of readings, and those readings remain the same from year to year. Every year, the Sunday after Poon Paregentan, the feast that inaugurates the season of the Lent, is called the “Sunday of the Expulsion” and the same reading from the Gospel of Matthew is read every year on that day. What you might not notice, however, is that this regularity, this cyclical nature of the readings in which every year the Armenian Apostolic Church cycles through feasts, fasts, saints’ commemorations and their attendant readings, extends to the entire liturgical year and includes not just Sundays, but every day of the week.
Previously, we have discussed the organization of time through liturgy, especially the characteristic “feel” of each day, depending on whether it is a dominical, fasting, or saints’ day. Today, we take a step back to describe the larger liturgical calendar and the sources for the proscribed Biblical readings of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Lent is a particularly appropriate time to do this, not only because of the heightened emphasis on prayer and reading the Bible, but also because one of the most striking integrations of the Armenian liturgical calendar appears during the season of Lent. As mentioned above, not only Sundays, but every day of the week have official Biblical readings. Throughout Lent, there is a correspondence between some of these daily readings, and the passages that form the basis for St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures. These lectures, delivered most likely in 349 A.D. as instructional sermons for a group of people who were to be baptized on or around Easter, each take a different Bible passage as the starting point for the lecture. Essentially, the sermons are extended exegeses of Biblical passages. Remarkably, nearly all of the passages used in the Catechetical Lectures are found, in sequence, as the proscribed readings of the Armenian Apostolic Church during Lent. You can read more about Cyril of Jerusalem and how to use the Catechetical Lectures as a Lenten devotion here.
This remarkable correspondence raises larger questions about the Armenian calendar and the readings of the Armenian Apostolic Church. A further issue, which we have partially addressed before, is the liturgical connection between Jerusalem and Armenia. We will leave this aside today in order to focus on calendars and liturgical readings. Calendrics, the work of reckoning time and of organizing calendars, seems an antiquated and unnecessary branch of knowledge in the era of atomic clocks and Google Calendar, but it was a major intellectual undertaking and a mark of erudition for earlier scholars. A calendar is dependent upon knowledge of astronomy and is also a major cultural marker: the organization of time is itself a crucial expression of a people’s worldview. Today, the most common reckoning of time used throughout the world is the Gregorian Calendar. The Armenian Apostolic Church adopted the Gregorian Calendar on November 6, 1923, switching from the older Julian Calendar, from which it differs slightly. The differences between the two calendars grow over time, so that today, the Julian calendar is 13 days behind the Gregorian calendar. Due to what is known as the Status Quo in Jerusalem, the Armenian Church in Jerusalem still follows the Julian Calendar. This is why Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 19 in Jerusalem. In addition to the Gregorian and Julian Calendar, there was a native Armenian calendar, the dates of which can still be found on church inscriptions and in older Armenian texts. The difference between the Armenian and Gregorian calendars is 551/552 years, depending on the time of the year, such that we are in the Armenian year 1468. As you can, calendrics is more complicated than Google Calendar would suggest!
|Kochʿumn Ěntsayutʿean||An Armenian version of St. Cyril of Jerusalem’s Catechetical Lectures. The readings for the sermons coordinate with some of the Armenian readings for Lent.|
|A comparative calendar of the Iranian, Muslim lunar, and Christian eras for three thousand years||By Ahmad Birashk, this book demonstrates the cultural differences between different calendrical systems by comparing the calendars of three cultural and religious traditions. Comparative calendrics was a major intellectual field.|
|Tomari patmutʿyun||The History of the Calendar, detailing the history and the system of the Armenian calendar. It shows the cultural dependences on ancient Armenian mythology and the science of reckoning time in Armenia. In Armenian.|
Liturgically, the reckoning of time and the calendrics of the Armenian Apostolic Church are also quite complicated. Similar to the calendars discussed above, there are cultural and theological differences between different Christian Church calendars. Crucially, the Armenian Apostolic Church is unique in its emphasis on the week, rather than on the specific day itself. This is why there are very few feasts or saints’ commemorations that are the same calendar day each year. For instance, in the Catholic Church celebrates St. Christopher every year on July 25, while the commemoration in the Armenian Apostolic Church usually falls somewhere in October. The Armenian Church decided long ago that theologically, the character of the day, which we have described before, and its place in the weekly cycle, was more important than a particular date. Long ago, Armenian Christians decided to celebrate major domical feasts on Sundays, moving feasts that other churches celebrate on a set date to the nearest Sunday. 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. Unlike other Christian Churches with fixed yearly calendars with many fixed feasts, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates only six feasts on the same day every year.
Instead, the Armenian Church calendar is anchored by Easter, which was set by the Council of Nicaea in 325 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. 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). Other feasts, such as Christmas (Theophany), which is set on January 6, Assumption, certain feasts of the Cross, and others, all help to set the rest of the calendar. Saints’ commemorations are generally tied into the movable weeks around these set periods.
If all of this sounds a little complicated, it is. There are entire liturgical books dedicated to determining the feasts and fasts of a given year. The Ճաշոց Գիրք/Jashots Kirk or Lectionary contains the Bible readings for every liturgical day of the year and every liturgical service on a given day, cycling through according to the periods of theological significance described above. The Jashots Kirk contains some extra-biblical readings as well as some of the rubrics, the rules and details for how to perform the daily services. Mostly, though, it is the Տօնացոյց/Donatsuyts, a “Calendar” which is the Liturgical Directory, that describes all of the variables, the parts of a liturgical service which changes depending on the day. The Donatsutys is a “master text” that provides these liturgical details no matter the year. From the Donatsuyts, it is possible to calculate these variables for a given. Each major see of the Armenian Apostolic Church—Etchmiadzin, Antileas, Jerusalem, and Istanbul—calculates out the liturgical calendar for a specific year and publishes it each year as the Օրացոյց/Oratsuyts, a Daily Directory or calendar for the given year. In addition to these major liturgical books connected to the calendar, there are a couple other important books that move through the liturgical year, through the calendar of the Armenian Apostolic Church. One is the Շարակնոց/Sharagnots, the Hymnal of the Armenian Church which we have discussed before. Another is a remarkable book, known in Armenian as the Յայսմաւորք/Haysumavurk, literally meaning “On this day…” which is how the daily entries often begin. It is known technically as the Synaxarion and it is a set of daily readings about the lives of the saints. We will have the chance to discuss this fascinating source in more detail another time. Yet today, we can end by noting that these daily readings of the lives of the saints do not always align with the liturgical celebration of the saints, since the Haysumavurk is organized by calendar dates, not by the yearly calculations of the liturgical cycle! Our Lenten period of fasting and preparation for Easter is one piece of a dynamic theological calendar. As we move through this season, we have the opportunity to see the theological significance of the readings and hymns that move us through the liturgical year.
|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.|
|Ōrats’oyts’ : S. Ējmiatsin||Each of the major sees of the Armenian Apostolic Church produces its own local liturgical calendar, a version of the Oratsuyts, with computations from the Donatsuyts for a given liturgical year. The Zohrab Information has a large collection of these Oratsuyts from Etchmiadzin and Jerusalem, as well from Antelias and Istanbul.|
|On this day : the Armenian Church Synaxarion (Yaysmawurk’) : January||Compiled and translated Dr. Edward G. Mathews Jr., this is the first month of the daily set of readings concerning the lives of saints, known as the Haysumavurk. With classical Armenian and English facing pages.|
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