Tabernacle Feast

Holy Nativity and Revelation of God (Theophany) *

     

 

Cross, 1762

Source: Treasures of Echmiadzin

"Throughout all centuries, past religion has played a great moral and social role in influencing the history of peoples . . . At least some, if not all, of the feasts of the church comprise the structure of Armenian community life.  Thus, such celebrations serve not only for the preservation of our religious and moral precepts, but also for the general aim of reinforcing our national character." *

Introduction

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In the Armenian church, and for the Armenian people, the most joyous and loved feast is that of the Holy Nativity and revelation.  It is celebrated each year with great pomp and ceremony.

The Revelation of God Theophany took place at the beginning of the first century when for mankind and history, a new era began the Christian Era.

Christ was born in Bethlehem, under the most humble circumstances.  He lived for only 33 years.  From the Holy Birth to His Crucifixion, His life was extraordinarily miraculous, and for mankind it showed a way of life, to comprehend the true God.

Man, since the earliest of recorded time, has always had a religion.  Man has worshipped nature's elements, animals, symbolic idols, persons of wisdom or power, prophets.  He has built altars and temples of worship.  However, none of these have been fully satisfying to mankind.

Christ's Revelation as God put an end to man's mental bewilderment and his scrutinies.  God sent His Son to mankind to teach the truth, to enlighten the mind, so that man might live and enjoy life under the noblest of principles.

Thus, Christ's Birth became recognized as a great turning point in mankind's life, and in history.

Throughout all the world, the faithful, every year and with great ceremony, observe the Nativity as a feast hailing the new enlightenment, peace, and love of man.

It has become tradition for heads of churches, Catholicoi and Primates, to deliver messages to their flocks, reflecting on the mystery and significance of Christ's becoming flesh, and to remind people of life's most essential principle Peace and Love among all the world's people.

One of the most meaningful and popular of the hymns in the Armenian Church about the Nativity is "Khorourd medz yev skancheli".

 

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Venerated Customs

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It is common practice among Armenians during the Christmas season for priest to visit the homes of their parishioners, to bless the homes and their inhabitants, to bring the hallowed message of the occasion, and with the householders to sing the popular hymn mentioned above.

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The Date of Christmas in the Armenian Church: Why January 6?

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The existence of two accepted dates for celebrating Christmas, December 25 and January 6, does not reflect a doctrinal issue.  It is simply a question involving a different understanding of tradition, calendar variations, and divergent administrative approaches that have arisen between churches over a period of time.

In the earliest centuries, the mysteries of the Birth and of the Baptism of Jesus were observed on the same day, January 6.  That tradition arose out of the Gospel according to Luke, where after the verses describing Jesus' Baptism (Luke 3:21-23), it is written that he had reached the age of 30, which would mean that He was baptized on the date as His Birth, namely January 6.

The general history of the Christian churches confirms that until the fourth century, the Birth and the Baptism, as well as the presentation of Jesus at the temple, were all celebrated on the same date.

Pious faithful went to the lands mentioned in the Holy Scriptures and to designated shrines to make their vows and conduct worship on the same day.

The birthplace of Jesus: Bethlehem.

The site of the Baptism: The River Jordan.

When the early centuries of Christendom had passed and the new faith had begun to be recognized by governments, religious leaders decided to hold a series of meetings in order to resolve doctrinal issues that had arisen, and to confer on current controversies.

Some of the controversies or difficulties had arisen from old, pre-Christian practices and traditions, which, having prevailed for centuries, had set deep roots in the life of the people.  Even though they had accepted Christianity, the people often would not abandon the old concepts and their corresponding festivals and celebrations.  As a consequence of that situation and the desire to have Christianity firmly imbedded in the lives of the people, church leaders felt it wise to identify certain well established pagan festival dates with Christian festivals.

During those centuries, worship of the sun god enjoyed great and widespread popularity among peoples both in the east and the west.  Its festival occurred on December 25.  It was called Saturnalia, and it marked the start of the sun's return northward from its most southern position, nominally, the winter solstice.

Thus, some churches that regarded the Baptism as especially important, acting according to their own peculiar circumstances, chose to leave its date to be January 6, but moved the date for the Nativity to December 25.  The result would be that the old festivals on December  25 would be dedicated not to the god of sun and fire, but to the birth of Jesus that could be taken as the material representation of rational light and the sun.

Such actions were taken by the Church of Rome (Catholic) in 336, by the Church of Constantinople in 379, and by the Church of Antioch in 386.

Later, at the Council of Chalcedon in 451, it was decided that all churches should accept and celebrate December 25 as the date of Nativity, so that there would be universal uniformity.  However, in that very year, the Armenian people were locked in a life-and-death national-religious war under Commander Vartan Mamikonian against the Persians.  As a consequence, they did not attend the Council of Chalcedon (being the fourth of the series of Ecumenical Councils), and so remained faithful to its past practice, continuing to celebrate both the Birth and Baptism on January 6.

It must be noted, however, that celebrating the Birth on December 25 made things very much more convenient for pilgrims visiting the holy places, because under the primitive conditions prevailing in those days, it was in fact extremely difficult in the winter climate to observe the Birth in Bethlehem and then march on foot in procession to the River Jordan to celebrate the Baptism.

 

Gospel According to Luke (Luke 3:21-22)

"Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form, as a dove, and a voice came from heaven, 'Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am please.'"

 

Gospel According to John (John 1:29-34)

"The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is he of whom I said, 'After me comes a man who ranks before me, for he was before me.'  I myself did not know him; but for this I cam baptizing with water, that he might be reveal to Israel.'  And John bore witness, 'I saw the Spirit descend like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him.  I myself did not know him; but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, "He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit."  And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God. '"

 

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*The text for this topic is taken from: Feast of the Armenian Church and National Traditions. Garo Bedrossian, Translated by Arra S. Avakian; Western Prelacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church of America, Los Angeles, Dedicated to the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity in Armenia; Publication of the printed volume was made possible by Mr. and Mrs. Manuel and Josephine Sassounian, In Memory of their Father, Dikran Sassounian.  Printed by Yerevan Printing and Publishing, Gledale, California.  Original publication in Armenian by Nor Gyank Publishing House, Series No. 9.

 

 

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