Archive for September, 2011

Tracing the Roots of the “Arevagal” Service

September 9th, 2011    |    1 Comment »

The sunrise service (Arevakali jamerkoutiune) is a unique feature of the Armenian Church, absent from the breviary of fellow Eastern Orthodox Churches. The sunrise service is traditionally preformed at dawn on Wednesdays and Fridays during the six weeks of Lent—but out of convenience to parishioners, churches in the U.S. will often perform it on Sundays after the Divine Liturgy during the Lenten season.

Though introduced in the 7th century by Catholicos Ezr of Paraznakert, the sunrise service was transformed in form and structure in the 12th century by the revered theologian, writer, and composer Nerses Shnorhali. Shnorhali restructured the service by adding hymns, prayers, and psalms and pairing them with exceptionally stirring music still heard in the modern-day service.

The sunrise service is comprised of four sets, each one consisting of one hymn, one prayer, one psalm and various exhortations and supplications. Each of the four sets serves a different role in the service: the first set is used to bring the faithful into the service by addressing them as a whole. The second set serves to address martyred saints. The third set is directed towards the Trinity, and the fourth towards Christ.

As light is the central theme of the service, those addressed in each set are framed in terms of producing or receiving divine light. For example, the Father is celebrated as the creator of light during the service, while Christ is glorified as being born of light and as bringing light to the world. The following excepts illustrate the significance of light in the service:

May the name of the Lord be blessed forever; for his name is before the sun.

O God everlasting, O God eternal, who causes light to shine in this our lower world and enlightens us and dispels the darkness of our sins.

Almighty God most Great, accept our prayers of this morning and the adoration of our hearts in your holy and heavenly sanctuary, shed forth into us the light of your righteousness and wisdom, and make us the children of light and children of the day…

Vemkar users can now hear the entire sunrise service sung by the Lousavorich Choir of the Vazgenian Theological Seminary of Sevan from their 2002 compilation “Arevagal in Geghard.”

—By Jennifer Manoukian. (Manoukian, a graduate of Rutgers University with a major in French and Middle Eastern studies, is interning at the Diocese’s Zohrab Center.)

The sun rises over a small chapel at Noravank monastery in Armenia.

A Legacy of Armenian Artistic Production in Constantinople

September 2nd, 2011    |    No Comments »

As the cultural and religious capital for Armenians living under the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul, formerly Constantinople, contains within its limits some of the finest remnants of Western Armenian artistic production. If we look closely, glimmers of this once vibrant community can still be seen in modern-day Istanbul.

In their new book, “Splendor & Pageantry: Textile Treasures from the Armenian Orthodox Churches of Istanbul,” art historians Ronald Marchese and Marlene Breu study one previously unexamined facet of Armenian life in Constantinople: the intricate embroideries and sophisticated needlework produced by skilled female artisans for the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.

Founded in 1461, the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople was, in Ottoman times, a tremendously authoritative body that, in addition to providing spiritual guidance to the faithful and wielding a large degree of administrative power over the Armenian millet, also served as a patron that commissioned art used for religious ceremonies in the scores of churches under its ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

The textiles produced under the auspices of the Armenian Patriarchate encompass a wide range of functions and styles, including colorful vestments with religious imagery, beaded liturgical slippers, embroidered chalice veils and altar curtains, some with Armenian inscriptions, and vibrantly colored patriarchal canopies, among many other artifacts.

For the unnamed female artisans behind these works, textile art was a way to contribute to religious life and to preserve traditions passed down from one generation to the next. Significantly, it was also one of the few outlets for creative self-expression afforded Armenian women in the Ottoman Empire.

Marchese and Breu have interspersed hundreds of glossy, colorful images of these priceless artifacts into their study, which includes chapters on the history of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople, the histories of the churches in which these textiles were used, the significance of the iconography featured in the embroideries, and the techniques used to produce them. They also contextualize the production of these artifacts within the larger Ottoman Armenian experience by including an annex on the Armenian population both in Istanbul and Anatolia.

What permeates this foundational study is a tacit appeal to Armenians on the part of the authors to celebrate their cultural legacy and dig deeper into the intricacies of their history to discover forgotten elements that are waiting to be explored.

“Splendor & Pageantry: Textile Treasures from the Armenian Orthodox Churches of Istanbul” is available at St. Vartan Bookstore. For more information, visit or call (212) 686-0710, ext. 152.

—By Jennifer Manoukian. (Manoukian, a graduate of Rutgers University with a major in French and Middle Eastern studies, is interning at the Diocese’s Zohrab Center.)

Detail of an embroidered mitre dating to the 18th century.