Magazine Summer 2008 The Blessed Message

20 May 2008, 17:30
1880 |

The Blessed Message

There is one birthday that is celebrated by the entire Christian world. In the past this special holiday was common for all followers of Jesus Christ. However, the Armenian Apostolic Church is now one of the few Christian churches that have preserved the early tradition of celebrating Christmas on January 6, sometimes known as the Holy Epiphany.

For centuries Christmas was celebrated at the same time as the Holy Epiphany. In the fourth century the Roman Church issued a decree indicating that Christmas was to be celebrated on December the 25th, and the Epiphany – on January 6th. The Council of Chalcedony in 451 CE confirmed this decision, and since this time most Christian nations celebrate the holidays separately. The Armenian Church remained outside of the Roman Empire's (and the Vatican’s) influence and to this day maintains the more ancient tradition of celebrating the birth and baptism of Christ on January 6.
The meaning of The Holy Epiphany for Armenians extends beyond the Baptism of Christ in the Holy waters of the River Jordan. According to the author of The History of Armenian Church, Patriarch of Armenians of Constantinople, Magakii Ormanian (1896-1907), it was on the exact date of January 6, 303 A.C., in the city of Bagawan, that an epochal event took place, the baptism of King Tiridat III the Great, (287- 330), the first Armenian who officially accepted Christianity.
In another account, an author known as Aghatangelos, wrote in his History of Armenia – (which is also the earliest account of Armenian historiography dating from the first half of the fifth century):
“He (Gregory the Illuminator) ordered the royal troops to spend a month in prayers and fasting… When the fast was broken, the King himself, the blessed Gregory led the army with the Queen Ashkhen, his sister the great Princess Khosrovadoukhd, all the courtiers and the royal troops at his side. At sunrise he brought them all to the banks of River Euphrates, and there he baptized them in the name of Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. When the king and his people came down to the waters of Euphrates to be baptized, a miraculous sign from the God appeared. The waters of the river stopped in their course and reversed their flow. A blinding pillar of light stood upon the waters of the river, and above it the image of the Holy Cross descended. The light shone until the setting of the sun. The sacred oils that Gregory poured during the baptismal ceremonies made circles around his people. All who gathered there were astounded by this miracle and began to pray to the greatness of God. By the evening of that day the signs from the Lord had disappeared and they returned to the village. More than one hundred and fifty thousand soldiers of the royal army were baptized on that day…”
It is significant that in Armenian, people call this holiday Dzherorhgnerk, which means “sanctification with water.” This ritual blessing with water takes place on January 6th after the Christmas liturgy. The water in the baptismal font is blessed with the addition of Holy Myrrh and by the Invigorating Holy Cross. The priest chooses the Baptist – the most virtuous man among the parish, who symbolizes John the Baptist. After the blessing of the waters, the Baptist takes the cross home and returns it back to the church after forty days. The water, which acquires miraculous qualities, is distributed to the congregation. In the past people sprinkled this holy water on the storage vessels for cheeses and butter, as well as their cellar and granaries. The holy water was stored until the following year to be used when needed – for the sick, to purify defiled utensils, to mix into the ashes of the bonfires of Terendez ( also known as The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple). Through the practice of spreading of holy oil on the surface of water, people sought to predict the future. Even the neighboring Kurds believed in its power to foretell; they often questioned Armenian priests to find out what kind of a year was in store, “What did the cross predict? Will the winter be severe? Will the summer bring abundant rains?”
The old traditions are not followed so strictly anymore. For example, ham is a common main dish of many on a contemporary Armenian New Year’s Day table, and yet the New Year’s Day celebrations fall on the week of the strict Christmas lent. In the past this feast excluded all foods of animal origin. It was also prohibited to work at night– that could have “displeased” Christ. Some chores would have been postponed for other times of the season. For example, no one would dare try to swingle wool or spin yarn during the Christmas week. Of course nowadays such occupations are rare. Our weavings are manufactured, and our yarns are machine-spun.

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