Posts Tagged ‘Christmas’

Re-Introductions are in Order

December 29th, 2016    |    No Comments »

One of the wonderful things about the Christmas season is the way it re-introduces us to such interesting people. And it’s not limited to friends and family: some of the most memorable re-introductions come from the surrounding culture. Who can suppress a warm smile at their first yearly sighting of Santa, Rudolph, and the elves? Or at the Grinch, and the whole Peanuts gang?

But the church, too, is actively bringing some memorable people to our attention in the run-up to Christmas. It shares these vivid personalities with us through the feast days that occupy the weeks in the latter half of Advent.

We’ll meet King David: poet and warrior, fugitive and conqueror; a man of twists and turns who knew both the exhilaration of victory and the desolation of personal loss.

We’ll meet James: the apostle called the “Brother of the Lord,” who after Christ’s ascension led the church in its turbulent dawning days, and became the first bishop of Jerusalem.

We’ll meet Stephen: that fiery speaker who preached the gospel in the public square; who is remembered as the first deacon of the church—and its first martyr.

We’ll meet Peter and Paul: the “odd couple” of the Apostolic Age; rivals in so many matters of practice and policy, yet united in a friendship of the spirit that drew both to the heart of the Roman Empire, to preach and suffer in their Master’s name.

Finally, we’ll meet the brothers James and John: two of the most intimate confidants of our Lord. John in particular left us some of the deepest, most introspective writing in the Bible. Yet to Jesus, he and James were known as the “Thunder Boys”—a name evoking vigor and action (which would also make a great title for next summer’s superhero blockbuster).

These are the stories the church re-introduces to us through the feasts of this week (on December 24, 26, 27, and 29). In this quiet period between the two blessed celebrations of Christ’s nativity, on December 25 and January 6, devote some time to reading and thinking about them. Somehow, getting to know these figures prepares us for that greatest re-introduction of all, when we will once more welcome the infant Jesus into our hearts and lives.

Revealed As Joy to the World

January 12th, 2016    |    No Comments »

Քրիստոս ծնաւ եւ յայտնեցաւ՛
Kreesdos dznav yev haydnetsav!
Christ was born and revealed!

As previously discussed, the Armenian Church celebrates both the birth and baptism of Christ on January 6 (Theophany), while all other Christian traditions celebrate only His birth on December 25 (the Julian Calendar equivalent to December 25 is January 7), and in general, on January 6, eastern traditions celebrate only the baptism of Christ (Theophany or Epiphany), while western traditions commemorate the Magi.

Why refer to the feast of His birth and/or baptism as Theophany or Epiphany (these are interchangeable terms)? In Armenian, the word designated for this feast is Asdvadzahaydnootyoon/Աստուածայայտնութիւն, which translates as ‘the revelation or manifestation of God’ (Asdvadz/Աստուած = God and haydnootyoon/յայտնութիւն = revelation). Theophaneia/ θεοφάνεια is the Greek word which translates the same way (Theo/θεο = God and phaneia/φάνεια = appearance).

Although these events in the life of Christ are celebrated on different days, the one thing they have in common is that they celebrate the revelation or manifestation of Jesus as the Son of God – God Himself in human form. Even the commemoration of the Magi proclaims the appearance of God in human form. These elite kings from the east traverse deserts on foot in search of an infant divine King revealed to them, the one who rules the Kingdom of Heaven.

Today’s hymn speaks of both the birth and baptism of Christ, and two times we sing, “who assumed a body for us and were revealed as joy to the world.” The revelation or appearance of God isn’t merely a cognitive understanding of the God in the flesh, but wonderful news that changes our lives brings joy to our hearts. Why? Because our Savior, the source and fountain of everything good, has come to heal the world and save us from death! Joy to the World!

Օրհնեալ է յայտնութիւնն Քրիստոսի՛
Orhnyal eh haydnootyoonn Kreesdosee!
Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

Hymn for the Seventh Day of Theophany
Aneghanelee puhnootyoon/Անեղանելի բընութիւն (Uncreated nature)

+ Uncreated nature, who share the Father’s essence, you were born to the holy Virgin. We extol you, co-Creator with the Father.

+ Uncreated Creator, who assumed a body for us and were revealed as joy to the world, we extol you, co-Creator with the Father.

+ You were baptized in the Jordan by John. In the form of a dove, the Holy Spirit testified of you in a heavenly voice. We extol you, co-Creator with the Father.

+ The Word, sent by the Father, who assumed a body for us, and was revealed as joy to the world. We extol you, virgin Mother of God.

+ For the One whom the blazing Seraphim could not bear, He dwelled in your womb. We extol you, virgin Mother of God.

+ Awestruck, they trembled at His light, flashing like lightning, yet you took Him into your arms. We extol you, virgin Mother of God.

+ O Light you were sent by Father when you came down from heaven and assumed a body from the holy Virgin. You are the Lamb of God and the Son of the Father.

+ Today in the cave you were presented as Savior and you were worshipped by the magi. When the shepherds saw you they said, “You are the Lamb of God and the Son of the Father.”

+ John saw the Holy Spirit in the likeness of a dove. He cried out, saying, “This is the Lamb of God and the Son of God.”

Hymns are prayers. If there is a moment when you don’t know how or what to pray, take a hymn of the Armenian Church, or even just a verse, and repeat it back to God as a prayer.

The Nativity of Christ, 14th century, by St. Gregory of Datev at Datev Monastery

The Nativity of Christ, 14th century, by St. Gregory of Datev at Datev Monastery.

Eve of Theophany

January 5th, 2016    |    No Comments »

For the remaining days in the season of Theophany, the lyrics to the daily Orhnootyoon/Օրհնութիւն sharagan will be posted. This specific sharagan/շարական (or hymn) is sung during the Night Service «Գիշերային Ժամ» of the Armenian Church. Historically, according to Armenian monastic rule, monks would arise from sleep and gather in the church for this service probably around 3:00 or 4:00 am.

The greatest and deepest source of Armenian Orthodox theology resides in our Liturgy, in all of its breadth. It is especially in the church’s hymnography that our belief is learned and transmitted, and most importantly, confessed solemnly to God in prayer. Thus, we truly pray what we believe. In the words of St. Evagrius, “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.”

Hymn for the Eve of Theophany
Oorakhatseer srpoohee
/Ուրախացիր սրբուհի (Rejoice holy lady)

+ Rejoice holy lady in Gabriel’s good news! He has proclaimed the coming of the King, the Lord of heaven.

+ Greetings to you, Mary. The Holy Spirit will come to you and the power of the Most High will protect you from above.

+ The One to be born of you is the leader of Israel and he is proclaimed to all as mighty God, the immortal Word.

+ Rejoice and be glad most holy Virgin, who gave birth to the sun of righteousness of the world. He has shined light on the human race.

+ Rejoice and be glad secure door, who gave birth to Christ the king of the world. He is seated on a throne not made with hands.

+ Sensible fleece that Gideon saw, having faith before this. We perceive the inconceivable Nativity and we worship God, who took body from you, O Virgin.

One can see in the words of this hymn that Malachi’s reference to the rising “Sun of righteousness with healing in its wings” (Malachi 4:2) points to Jesus Christ, who came to earth and inaugurated a new day as the Son of God, to raise us to new and eternal life in Him.

Through this hymn, what does the Armenian Church say and believe about Mary, the Mother of God? What can we say about Jesus because of her?

The Incarnation of Christ, 1335, Lake Van region

The Incarnation of Christ, 1335, Lake Van region

On the Eighth Day…

January 3rd, 2016    |    No Comments »

“So the day which was first will also be the eighth, so that the first life might not be done away, but rather made eternal.” - St. Augustine

Early church writings and practice prescribed certain feasts to be celebrated as an “octave.” That is, during the liturgical year of the Armenian Church, there are feasts celebrated with eight succeeding days equally designated to that feast. Thus, the Feast of Theophany as an octave lasts not just one day on January 6, but for eight days, beginning January 6. The question that naturally arises is what is the significance of celebrating Theophany, and other octave feasts for eight consecutive days?

The practice and theology of celebrating certain feasts as an octave is rooted in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which took place on a Sunday. Prior to this event, the common understanding of the weekly cycle was that of seven days, and theologically, it was on a Sunday that God began the creation of the world. But on the day of Christ’s resurrection something new was inaugurated. Church Father, St. Gregory of Nazianzus refers to the celebration of the Resurrection as the anniversary of our salvation, a “second creation.”

Because Sunday, “the Lord’s Day,” is always a celebration of the resurrection of Christ, the day of a second or new creation, it has been transformed into what the early church referred to as the “eighth day.” St. Basil the Great writes, “The Lord’s Day is great and glorious. The Scripture knows this day without evening, having no other day, a day without end; the psalmist called it the eighth day, since it is outside of time measured in weeks.”

Sunday, in the Christian sense, is considered to be a day that lies beyond the limits of the ordinary weekly seven-day cycle. The rhythm or cycle of the week is now grounded in the celebration of the Badarak (Divine Liturgy) – a celebration and proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and His salvation and restoration of creation. Therefore, during an octave celebration, it is proper to celebrate Badarak on each of the eight days to repeat the celebration of the feast.

The week as we typically know and live it is related to time, while the eighth day is outside of time. It is an everlasting day without hours, days, months, or years, and the Badarak is the sacrament in which we partake of the new and everlasting life in Christ, which He promised to those who love Him and do His will. “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.” ~ II Corinthians 5:17

We live in the Eighth Day! The new has come! Blessed is the revelation of Christ!
Have a blessed Theophany octave!

The Etchmiadzin Gospel, 989, Noravank Monastery, Armenia

The Etchmiadzin Gospel, 989, Noravank Monastery, Armenia

Why January 6th?

January 2nd, 2016    |    No Comments »

One of the more obviously distinctive features of the Armenian Church is the celebration of Christmas on January 6. While the rest of the Christian world celebrates the birth of Christ on December 25, the faithful of the Armenian Church wait almost two more weeks before they celebrate the birth and baptism of Christ on the feast of «Աստուածայայտնութիւն» (Theophany). But what is the reason the Armenian Church celebrates Christmas on January 6 rather than December 25?

Ironically, the birth of Jesus was of no interest to Christians for centuries after the event. That is to say that the nativity of Christ was not viewed as the “birthday” of Jesus Christ the same way we tend to view birthdays. Before the fourth century, the emphasis was on Christ’s death and resurrection rather than His birth. Yet looking back at His birth from the perspective of His death, the nativity takes on meaning, not as the birthday of a person, but as the coming of salvation into this world embodied in a person – Jesus Christ. So Christmas is more correctly the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God.

The celebration of Christmas, the nativity of Christ, on December 25 was unique to the city of Rome in the early part of the fourth century. At this time, the rest of the world celebrated Christmas on January 6. The Roman tradition of celebrating Christmas on December 25 eventually and gradually spread to other parts of the Christian world beginning with nearby North Africa.

By the late fourth century we have evidence that Antioch, Constantinople, and other Christian centers shifted the celebration of Christmas from January 6 to December 25 following the example of Rome. Again, reasons are various and disputed, but this calendrical shift resulted in the nativity of Christ being celebrated on December 25 and His baptism being celebrated on January 6.

It was not until the mid-fifth century that Jerusalem followed the pattern of the rest of the Christian world in moving its celebration of Christmas to December 25, thus making Jerusalem the last place in the East to adopt the Roman practice.

Around this time Armenia was building its liturgical tradition from the model of Jerusalem, a place of fascination for Christian Armenians. In the mid-fifth century, under St. Mesrob Mashdots and his colleagues, not only the Holy Bible, but also vast volumes of liturgical material, including the liturgical calendar from Jerusalem with its original Theophany date of January 6, were translated into Armenian.

Also around this time, controversies were raging in the Christian East regarding the divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. The Christian Armenians were becoming increasingly insistent that separating the revelation of Jesus’ divinity at His baptism from the revelation of His humanity in His birth as a human was tantamount to causing division in the one person of the Son of God.

So why does the Armenian Church celebrate Christmas on January 6? While the Armenian Church was forming its liturgical tradition, it adopted January 6 from the tradition of the Holy City of Jerusalem prior to its decision to shift the date to December 25, and also to maintain the authentic incarnational theme of Theophany as the revelation of God through the person of Jesus Christ.

What is an apparent oddity in our tradition leads us into the heart of our deepest Christian convictions. Blessed is the revelation of Christ!

This article is featured in the latest issue of the The Treasury.

Baptism of Christ

Baptism of Christ, The Khizan Gospel, 1368.

Fasting Before Theophany

January 1st, 2016    |    No Comments »

The five major (daghavar/տաղաւար) feasts of the Armenian Church, including Theophany, are preceded by a fast lasting a minimum of one week. Because Theophany is celebrated on January 6, the Fast of Theophany is from Wednesday, December 30 through Tuesday, January 5 (also known as the Nativity Fast). In the Church, fasting precedes feasting!

Why do we fast before a feast? And why do we fast at all?

We fast in order to realize our hunger for God, and the pains of hunger should become reminders to fill that void with prayer and acts of charity such as giving, sharing, and forgiveness. As Orthodox theologian Fr. Stephen Freeman explains, we fast so that our spiritual senses are refined in order to understand where our heart should be. When we fast we no longer allow worldly values and self-centeredness to distract us from what is most essential – communion with God and with others. We are freed from greed and careless waste, as we are better able to make the distinction between what we want and what we need. We then become freed to serve others, and so fasting becomes not so much an exercise in giving something up, but an expression of giving, compassion, and love. And most importantly, fasting is only useful if it leads to forgiveness, humility, and awareness of our dependence on God.

Lastly, we fast together as a community to fulfill the life of the Church as the Church. When we fast together, we are properly prepared to feast together – to celebrate, commune, and give thanks, because through fasting we experienced the love and compassion of God and the joy of depending on Him for sustenance and eternal life. We fast before Theophany in order for our hearts to prepare Him room so we can celebrate with joy the salvation that has come to the world!

To recognize the season of Theophany, there will be blog posts on the Diocesan website for the next 12 days on subjects related to the Feast of Theophany, including why we celebrate Christmas on January 6, why Theophany is 8 days long, and reflections on the daily Theophany hymns. There will also be a unique Armenian icon related to the birth or baptism of Jesus featured in each blog post.

Happy New Year and have a blessed season of Theophany!

Nativity, 11th century, Armenia

Nativity, 11th century, Armenia

What It’s All About

December 24th, 2014    |    No Comments »

There were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

But the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold—I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying: “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace; good will toward men.”

As a very wise person once said, having quoted this passage from the gospel of Luke: “That’s what Christmas is all about.”

Today, in these hours before so much of the world celebrates the birth of Jesus, we wish our readers all the blessings of Christmas.

Some 12 days from now, faithful souls in Armenian sanctuaries across the world will be raising their voices in grateful praise of our Lord’s birth—and we encourage you to be a part of that joyous celebration in your local church.

And throughout the coming days, keep hold of what Christmas is all about: God’s love for mankind; His gifts of peace and good will—embodied in the birth of His precious son.

Read the Primate’s Christmas message for this year in English and Armenian.

A hilltop pasture on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

A hilltop pasture on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Photo by Garo D. Nalbandian.

The Roots of Christmas

January 4th, 2011    |    No Comments »

A reliable feature of recent Christmas seasons is the chorus of voices in our newspapers, magazines, and television programs, “assuring” us that the roots of Christmas lie in pagan celebratory practices.  But is that really the case?

In an article titled “How December 25 Became Christmas” (published in “Biblical Archaeology Review,” and available online here), a scholar of the early Christian movement questions this conventional wisdom of the secular world.  Simultaneously, he offers an alternative explanation rooted in the authentic Christian spirituality of the 2nd through 4th centuries A.D.  Armenian Christian readers will take a special interest in the writer’s knowledgeable references to the Armenian Church’s traditional date for our Lord’s nativity—January 6—which provides a vital piece of evidence for the case he makes.

Read the whole thing, and let us know what you think.

Of course, while these discussions are interesting, they should never distract us from the true meaning of Christmas, which our church will proclaim to the world on Thursday, January 6: “Krisdos dzunav yev haydnetsav!”  “Christ is born and revealed!”

Pieter Bruegel’s 1566 oil painting of Bethlehem at the time of Christ's birth.

To Serve Him Without Fear

December 10th, 2010    |    No Comments »

“When one is called by God, it is natural to feel nervous, or unworthy,” writes Archbishop Khajag Barsamian.  “But the Nativity story shows that when God calls us, such fears are immaterial.”

On Thursday, January 6, 2011, the Armenian Church will celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and Theophany of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In Armenian tradition, this feast day commemorates not only the birth of Christ, but also His baptism by John the Baptist. The latter is remembered through the “Blessing of Water” ceremony, which follows the Divine Liturgy on January 6.

Click here to read the Primate’s Christmas message.

The Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi (15th-century manuscript).