Baptism is the first of the seven sacraments of the Christian Church, the others being: Confirmation (Chrismation), Marriage (Holy Matrimony), Holy Communion (Eucharist), Penance (Confession), Holy Orders (Ordination of Clergy), and Extreme Unction (last blessing given to a dying person).
Sacraments are outward or visible signs and ceremonies to give us God’s invisible graces. They are channels by which the Christian graces enter into our souls to feed, to nourish and to strengthen our spiritual life.
Baptism is the first sacrament which a Christian receives. Unless we are baptized,
we are forbidden to receive any other sacrament. Any other sacrament received before receiving Baptism, will be invalid. That is why Baptism is called “the door of the Church.”
By Baptism we are made Christians, and are incorporated into the Church. Baptism gives new life to our souls. Through Baptism we become children of God, and co-heirs of Christ.
This sacrament, as well as each one of the others, was instituted by our Lord Himself. He gave us the first example by being Himself baptized by John the Baptist. On leaving this world the last order which He gave His disciples was: “Go and make disciples of all nations. Baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
How was Baptism administered in ancient times?
In the early ages of Christianity Baptism was administered without special baptismal fonts. It was administered in rivers and pools. Jesus Himself was baptized in the River Jordan. St. Gregory, the Enlightener of Armenia, baptized King Tiridat, the first Christian King of Armenia, and thousands of others in the River Euphrates.
Indoor baptisms were, however, not uncommon even in the Apostolic age. St. Paul, for example, was baptized indoors. For the sake of privacy and solemnity indoor baptism came to be the rule.
Reverence for the rite itself, and for the water, which came in time to receive a special consecration, gave rise to the use of a special font for the sacrament of Baptism. This font became one of the most important parts of the Christian Church everywhere. The ancient practice was to have it hewn out of a solid piece of rock.
In the Armenian Church, according to ancient custom, the first part of the ceremony was performed outside the door of the church. This symbolic practice, however, is no longer kept. At present, the infant is brought to the church. While the godfather is holding the infant in his arms, the priest recites, in the name of the infant, some penitential psalms, makes a triple renunciation of Satan, and then recites the Creed.
Then the priest, together with the godfather and those attending, goes to the baptismal font. Water is poured into the font. The priest says a blessing over the water. In the meantime the child is taken to be undressed and brought back. The priest then asks the godfather, “What does this child request?” The godfather replies, “Faith, hope, and love; to be baptized and to be justified, to be cleansed from sins, to be delivered from evil, and to serve God.”
The priest then asks the name of the infant, holds him up, and then immersing him in the water says: “(name), Servant of God, has come as a catechumen to be baptized; he is now baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; being saved by the blood of Christ from the servitude of sin, receives the sonship of the heavenly Father, to be co-heir with Christ and a temple of the Holy Spirit.” While saying this, the priest immerses the infant three times in the water. In this act of immersion in consecrated water consists the essence of Baptism.
Baptism by “dipping” or “immersion” was the universally accepted custom in the Church from the beginning. This is testified even by the Fathers of the Western Church, where at present it is a general practice to baptize by “sprinkling” or “pouring.” Immersion means dipping the whole body of the baptized in the water.
Since the grace of Baptism is absolutely necessary for all men, therefore this Sacrament must be denied to none, not even to infants. On this principle Infant Baptism became normal in the Church as soon as circumstances allowed. One of the aims of the Baptism is the forgiveness of all sins, including the original sin, in which we are born to this world. As original sin is universal, and the need for release from it is universal, therefore the Church wisely and justly allows infants to receive the Grace which cleanses them from the stains of the original sin and gives them, in their innocency, the equipment to fight victoriously against sin. Whole households, which included infants, were baptized by the Apostles (Cf. 1 Cor. 1: 16, Acts 10: 47, 16: 33).
“Just as parents provide the necessary physical cleansings of the child, supply it with food, guide it and educate it without regard to the will of the child, so, having in view the spiritual progress and wellbeing of their child, they provide for its spiritual regeneration and oversee its spiritual needs.”
From the earliest times a new name was given to the catechumen at Baptism, even if the receiver of this sacrament already had a name.
Unusual and pagan names should be avoided when giving a new name to a child. It is always recommended that the name of a saint should be given because the name given at Baptism is the child’s “Christian” name. At the Baptism someone should assist at the ceremony to make the profession of the faith on behalf of the child. Such a person is called godfather (in Armenian, “Gunka-hayr” which rhymes with hire). The duty of the godfather is to see that the child is brought up as a good Christian, if this is not done by the parents. In the Armenian Church there is only one godfather, of the male sex. The wife of a godfather may be considered as godmother but she never assists at the ceremony in any formal capacity.
The godfather should be over 12 years old. He must be a member of the Armenian Church. One who is not a member of the Armenian Church cannot be a godfather at an Armenian Baptism. Also, those who neither know nor practice their faith should not be chosen as godfathers. Too many people choose godfathers for their children for reasons other than spiritual.
Children should be baptized as soon as possible, preferably eight days after birth. Our baptismal fonts are not made to hold grown-ups. Besides, it is always easier and quieter to baptize a little baby than a grown up child. Another important reason is that children are entitled to receive the benefits of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as early as possible.
Baptism is necessary for salvation. The parents must not take the risk of depriving their children of the benefits of this sacrament. Parents who put off Baptism for a long time, or entirely neglect it, are endangering the eternal salvation of their children. Responsible people always should remember the warning of the Gospel, “Unless a man be born again of water and spirit he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” This is what our Lord said.
The priest is the usual minister of Baptism; therefore, administration of the Sacrament, under all normal conditions, must be at the hands of the priest. If there is a danger to the life of an unbaptized baby, any one else may and should christen the baby. In such emergency cases it is sufficient to sprinkle or apply some water on the forehead or any part of the body, giving a name and using the proper formula: “(name) is now baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Should the person so baptized recover, he must be brought to the church and his baptism must be normalized and validated by receiving the remaining parts of the ritual, at the hands of a regular priest. Such extraordinary Baptism is lawful only in the event of absolute and dire necessity.
After Baptism and Confirmation a certificate is given. It should be very carefully kept. Parents should tell their children when and where they were baptized, so that even if the certificate is lost the registration may be traced.
The Sacrament of Confirmation is actually the completion and perfection of the Sacrament of Baptism, and that is why Confirmation immediately follows Baptism in the Armenian Church. In the Roman Catholic Church it comes much later. Someone has this to say about Confirmation: “A royal seal validating, as well as confirming Holy Baptism, just as Amen validates and confirms the Creed.” By Baptism a new principle of spiritual life is given to the neophyte; by Confirmation he is endowed by all the gifts of the Holy Spirit which are necessary for the growth and progress of that life. By Baptism a new road is opened for the Christian; by Confirmation he is strengthened for this long course of spiritual conflicts in the Christian warfare as a soldier in the army of Christ.
The biblical expression for Confirmation is “laying on of hands,” as it is described in the book of the Acts of the Apostles (Chapters 8 and 19). It is always accompanied by the receiving of the Holy Spirit. “When they (Samaritans) believed . . . they were baptized” by Philip the deacon. “When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that (people at) Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit, for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit” (Acts 8: 12-17). “On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, they Holy Spirit came on them” (Acts 19: 5-6). Therefore it is the sacrament through which we receive the Holy Spirit.
In the Armenian language the name of the sacrament of Confirmation is “GUNOUNK” which means “Sealing,” referring to the spiritual fact that by Confirmation we are sealed as possessions of God. “He (God) has put His seal upon us and given us His spirit in our hearts as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 1:
22). A Christian character is given to us by this sealing.
The chief sacramental act at the Confirmation is the anointing of the various members of the body of the baptized with the sanctified oil called Chrism, hence the name of “Chrismation” given to this sacrament. This oil is called “Sweet Oil” in Armenian or “Miuron.” Holy Miuron is blessed only by the Catholicos, the head of the Armenian Church, and distributed freely to all churches. Holy Miuron is made of olive oil and of the essence of some forty kinds of flowers and other sweet smelling herbs as ingredients.
Confirmation being the completion and fulfillment of the Baptism, there is a close connection and similarity of natures between these two sacraments; therefore separate administration of the sacraments, which is the common practice in the West, is not justifiable. The practice of the early Church was to administer them together.
Like Baptism, Confirmation also is not repeatable. All those who desire to become members of the Armenian Church, and who are not confirmed in their former church, must be anointed before their formal admittance into the membership of our Church.
After the unction the child is dressed. As the last and crowning act of the sacrament the priest ties around the neck of the child a cord made of white and red colored strings. It is symbolic of the blood and water which came out from the side of Christ on the cross, and signifies purity and courage. That string combines the meanings of Baptism and Confirmation.
By Baptism, as we have said, the baptized is purified, and through
Confirmation he is given the grace of spiritual fortitude, making him a Christian soldier to fight against the powers of the Evil which beset the Christian in the course of his life.
Then the child is taken to the altar to worship God. There Holy Communion is given to him by touching his lips with a particle of reserved sacrament. Thus, almost all the necessary Sacraments for salvation, Penance, Baptism, Confirmation and Communion are administered in one continuous act of making a person a member of the Christian Church.
THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE
Penance is the sacrament by which sins committed after Baptism are forgiven through absolution by the priest.
We must receive the sacrament of Penance:
(a) Because our Lord Jesus Christ commanded it when He said: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1: 15). “Unless you repent you will all perish” (Luke 13: 3).
(b) Because we need it. It is true that by the sacraments of Baptism and Confirmation we are saved. However, it is well known that after Baptism we do not always stay in the state of grace; in other words, we commit sins. As a remedy for these sins after Baptism, the sacrament of Penance has been established.
(c) Because it increases the grace of the Holy Spirit which we already possess. The greater our knowledge about our sinfulness, the stronger become our desire and willingness to be sanctified and to be saved.
In order to receive this sacrament properly, we must:
(a) Examine our conscience. We must make a sincere effort to recall to mind all the bad things we have done in thought, in word, or in deed. We can make a good examination of our conscience by reviewing the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church, in order to see whether we have omitted to practice any of God’s commandments or committed any acts against any one of them. In our self-examination we must recall the particular duties of our state of life as citizens, as church members, as sons and daughters, as mothers or fathers, wife or husband, and to ask ourselves how we have conducted ourselves with regard to our duties in these capacities.
(b) We must be sorry for our sins, expressing to God our grief at having been disloyal to Him. This act of being sorry for one’s sins is called Contrition. Contrition is a very important act of penance. God will not forgive us our sins unless we make a true and sincere contrition.
Indeed, if we knew the nature and effect of the thing called Sin we would surely feel a sincere sorrow, because sin is the greatest of all evils with dreadful results. Ill health, poverty, and other material evils last for only a certain time; at death these evils will all come to an end. But evils arising from sin will follow and persecute us into eternity, in addition to the troubles they bring upon us in this life. We can have contrition not only by recalling our misdeeds and feeling sorry for them, but also by praying: “Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Thy great mercy; according to Thy abundant compassion blot out my transgression” (Psalm 51: 1).
(c) We must have a firm purpose not to sin again. Our day of good resolutions is not necessarily the New Year’s day. On every occasion when doing penance, we must sincerely promise God not to fall again into the same sins. After this sincere resolution, we must honestly avoid sin and everything which causes us to sin.
(d) The last act of Penance is Confession. Confession is an important part of the sacrament of Penance. There is private confession not only in the Roman Catholic Church, but in all the Ancient Eastern Churches, including the Greek, Russian, and Armenian Churches. The unfortunate fact however, is that in many places it is not practiced. But in Jerusalem it is still practiced. There is a small chapel in the Cathedral of St. James, where an elderly priest sits all during the services. Anyone desiring to go for confession sees the priest at this chapel. The priest draws the curtain and hears the confession.
If we do not feel well physically, we go to a doctor, or if we do not feel good mentally, we would perhaps consult a psychiatrist. Likewise, when we do not feel peaceful in our souls, we should go to a priest to regain our inner peace and spiritual health. That is the aim of confession. Doctors cannot give you the right form of medicine unless they know your trouble. Likewise the priest should know your spiritual troubles in order that he may give his advice or guidance in accordance with your need. Therefore, private confession is based on the teachings of the Gospels and of the Church, as well as on common sense and to the need of our soul.
It is obligatory to go to confession before Holy Communion. That is the rule of the Church. It is true that many Christians do no commit serious sins, or mortal sins, which is the technical word for heavy sins.
Nevertheless, we must confess our little sins, too. If, however, somebody says I have no sins, he is lying, as the Scripture says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (I John 1: 18). Penance, therefore, is the Sacrament through which we receive that sanctifying grace for the soul which we have lost through sin. No matter how grave our sins may have been, they are forgiven if we make a sincere contrition and a good confession.
“If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity” (I John 1: 9).
The sacrament of Penance gives the penitent, in addition, a special strength by which he will overcome temptations and lead a good life. The works of Penance act like a medicine; not only do they cure sins but also weaken the power of evil tendencies, and give new strength to the soul.
Holy Communion is THE Sacrament of the Christian Church. It is the m ost essential means for our salvation, and for our progress in the way of Christian perfection. It is the Sacrament through which we receive the Body and the Blood of Christ, under the forms of consecrated Bread and Wine, for the remission of sins and for the reception of eternal life.
I. NAMES GIVEN TO HOLY COMMUNION:
It has several names according to its various aspects and meanings. It is called: a) Eucharist, which means Blessing or Thanksgiving, and describes its Sacramental aspect. b) The Lord’s Supper, referring to the occasion on which it was established. c) Communion, because of the action and its results, inasmuch as we communicate with our Lord Himself in this sacrament. d) Sacrifice, which refers to the immolation of our Lord on the Cross, where He shed His Blood, as a victim, for the salvation of mankind. The last two terms are the most common nomenclature used in Armenian. “Holy Sacrifice” or “Sourp Badarak” is the term we use to describe the ritual of Holy Communion.
II. ESTABLISHMENT OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
As the central Sacrament of the New Testament, the Holy Communion was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. The archetypes of the Holy Communion are: a) the Passover, the commemoration of the passing-over of the angel of God, sparing from killing the children of Israel who had the sign of blood on the lintel of their houses, in which they were eating the Paschal Lamb. b) The Manna, the heavenly food, which was, as Moses said, “the bread which the Lord has given to eat” (Ex. 16: 15). Manna was a type of Christ who gives Himself in the Holy Communion as the true food of the soul. “My Father gives you the true bread from heaven . . . I am the bread of life” said Jesus (John 6: 31). c) The Sacrifices of the Old Testament are regarded as foreshadowing the true Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.
The Divine Institution was revealed and promised by our Lord in His preachings, before it was actually established at the Last Supper. The verses 32-50 of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John are considered as “a discourse about the food of the soul, the divine teaching made available through faith.” The latter part of the same chapter, verses 51-59, is “a discourse about the Holy Eucharist, as the Body and Blood of Christ.”
The account of the establishment of the Holy Communion is explicitly recounted in the first three Gospels (Matt. 26: 26-28, Mark 14: 22-24, Luke 22: 19-20). It is also clearly referred to in the Epistles of the Apostles. For our purpose we consider it worthwhile to bring forth verbatim the account of the foundation of this Sacred Institution, as it is given by St. Paul, which is chronologically the first written account about Holy Communion. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, ‘This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (I Cor. 11: 23-24).
III. THE MEANING OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
“This is my body . . . This is my blood”; these words are not taken metaphorically. The verb IS does not mean “shows” or “represents”. Some one has said in this connection: “In the institution of the reatest Sacrament of the New Testament . . . our Lord would have taken care that the terms He used in the founding and establishing this acrament should be clear and free of possible misinterpretation.” Therefore the words of the Lord must be taken in their obvious and usual sense, and not metaphorically.
It is plainly said in the New Testament, and it is clearly taught by the
Church from the earliest times, that “The Bread and the Wine” should not be considered as ordinary elements, “but the very Body and Blood of the Lord.” This belief is shown in the great reverence paid to the Holy Communion by historic Christianity. The earliest Fathers of the Church are quite clear in teaching that the Consecrated Elements of the Holy Communion are the very Body and Blood of the Saviour. One of them, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, living in the first part of the fourth century, has said, “That which seems bread is not bread, even if it is so perceived by the taste, but is the Body of Christ.”
IV. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE HOLY COMMUNION:
The Holy Communion is distinguished from the other sacraments first by reason of its unique character; that is to say, by the fact that our Lord is given us in this Sacrament not in the way of “superabounding grace,” as in the other sacraments; but “truly and really.” He gives Himself “as spiritual food for the faithful, quickening the soul and leading man into immediate fellowship with Him.” Second, the Holy Communion is distinguished from other sacraments by reason of its being both Sacrament and Sacrifice. As a Sacrament the Holy Communion possesses all the constituent features of sacraments in general, i.e., the outward signs, or the “matter,” the minister, and the grace bestowed. The outward sign and matter of this Sacrament is the bread and wine and the proper prayers. The ministers are the bishops and priests only. Deacons assist at the Divine Liturgy and even in emergency cases can communicate the faithful from the presanctified Holy Communion, but they can never consecrate it. The Grace bestowed through this Sacrament is remission of sins and reception and strengthening of eternal life, and union with our Lord.
Holy Communion is not only a Sacrament but also a Sacrifice. “As
Sacrifice, it is the continuation of the sacrifice of Golgotha.” The very words used by our Lord clearly show this: “My Body given . . ., or broken for you,” “My Blood shed . . . for many for the remission of sins.” “These expressions indicate that this Institution is itself a propitiatory sacrifice.” It is not simply a representation of the death of our Lord, but actual and real sacrifice, in which “The Offerer and the Victim are one and the same, our Lord, even if the sacrifice be offered by the priest.” It is not simply a reminder or commemoration of the historical fact of Golgotha, but an actual and objective sacrifice. The purpose of the sacrifice on the Cross was the reconciliation of man with God, the atonement for the sins of man and their expiation, in general. Whereas the Sacrifice of the Eucharist is offered for specific people, it is the application of the general benefits of the sacrifice of the Cross, to those for whom the Eucharist is celebrated, both for the living and the dead. It is also a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving, Worship, and Praise, which we offer to God, for His goodness and loving kindness. In this Sacrifice of Thanksgiving the congregation joins with the priest, taking part in the singing or following it in spirit. All those who would take Holy Communion must prepare themselves by repentance and obtain absolution by confession. Willful indifference to the Holy Communion or carelessness in regard to it deprives us of its benefits.
V. THE DIVINE LITURGY:
The celebration of this unbloody Sacrifice is called the “Divine Liturgy.” The Armenian Divine Liturgy is composed of four main parts. These Are: The Preparation; The Instruction; The Oblation; and The Benediction. The third part, the Oblation or the Sacrifice, is the most essential act of the Divine Liturgy.
a) “The Preparation consists of certain acts and prayers for the ritual and consequently the moral purification of the celebrant priest as well as of the participating faithful in preparation for the performance of the mystery of the Holy Sacrifice.
“The first theme of the Preparation is the assumption by the priest of his sacerdotal function by the Vesting.
“The second and third themes of the Preparation consist of acts and prayers of repentance and for divine forgiveness, which make the priest and the believer bold to enter into the presence of God in a mystical way.
“The fourth theme is the preparation of the elements of the Holy Sacrifice, i.e., the bread and the wine, symbolizing the preparation of Christ for his redemptive work before His Baptism.
“b) The Second Part of the Divine Liturgy is also called Synaxis, which is a Greek word, means meeting, and it refers to a general prayer meeting, which used to be held prior to the Eucharist, or the Holy Sacrifice proper, in the early centuries of the Christian era. The Synaxis was held for the purpose of Christian edification.
“The first theme of the Synaxis is the proclamation of God’s Kingdom in the Church, the citizenship of the faithful in it and the affinity of the Kingdom on earth with that of heaven.
“The second theme of the Synaxis (Lections, Creed, and Prayers) refers to the enlightenment of the mind of men called to enter into God’s kingdom, and to the understanding of divine truths and of the will of God. This is followed by the proclamation of and witness to the Christian faith by the enlightened believer. In this part of the Synaxis the teaching ministry of the Church is symbolized and the reception of the Gospel or the good news by mankind is sacramentalized.
“c) After moral purification and mental illumination, the third and main part of the Liturgy, the Holy Sacrifice proper, effects the spiritual and mystical union of the Christian with his Lord and God, Jesus Christ.
“This essential union of the Christian with the Lord constitutes the core of the Sacrament or Mystery of the Eucharist and is the ultimate purpose of Christian life as a whole.
“It is this third part of the Divine Liturgy which constitutes the sacrament which was instituted by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself at His last supper with the Apostles, and which was performed by the Lord in person on Calvary.
“d) The fourth part of the Divine Liturgy, i.e., the Last Blessing and
Dismissal is only an appendage and an elaborate send-off after the termination of the Sacrament.”
RECEIVING THE HOLY COMMUNION
Along with church attendance every Sunday, the periodical receiving of Holy Communion is the most important religious obligation of every practicing Christian. One can hardly be called by the holy name of
“Christian” without having the regular habit of going to church, and without receiving the Holy Communion at least once or twice during the year. The Armenian Church requires from regular practicing members the reception of Holy Communion on the following holy days of the year: Easter Sunday (Spring), Transfiguration and/or St. Mary’s Day (Summer), Holy Cross Day (Autumn), and Christmas (Winter). There is no limitation as to how often one may approach the holy altar. There is, however, strict ruling about delinquency in receiving the Holy Sacrament.
Any member of the Church desiring to take communion must previously make preparation. The first step in this preparation consists of examination of conscience, the reading of the Bible, refraining from certain pleasures, and reconciliation with your fellowman. This last is the most important requirement.
The next step is to go to the church and make confession to the priest and receive absolution a week or a few days before taking communion.
It is necessary to fast during the morning of the day when Communion is to be taken. The fast should be observed from twelve o’clock midnight until the time of Communion, which would be the first thing taken in the mouth on that day. According to common practice prevailing in America, the service of Divine Liturgy is not over before eleven o’clock A.M. Therefore, persons who are sick or unable to fast, for health reasons, can obtain a dispensation from the priest, by explaining the circumstances to him at the time of confession; or they can ask the priest to given them Holy Communion early in the morning with the presanctified and reserved Sacrament.
The prospective communicant must attend the Divine Liturgy early and devoutly on the day in which he desires to communicate. Toward the end of the service he should come into the chancel, when the curtain is being withdrawn, and the deacon calls: “With fear and with faith draw near and communicate in holiness” (Yergughiv yev havadov harach madik yev surpoutiamp haghortetsarouk). When the priest turns and comes to the edge of the bema (altar stage), the communicant should approach him, and make the sign of the cross, say “Megha Astoudzo,”2 and standing should open his mouth, slightly protruding his tongue, and on which the priest lays a small particle of the Host (Sacred Body) dipped in the Cup (Precious Blood).
It is customary for men to precede women in approaching the altar to take Communion. The communicants should come in line from the right, and after receiving the Holy Communion, should pass to the left and remain in the chancel, or when there is no more space in the chancel, in the forepart of the nave (middle part of the church), until the partaking is ended and the priest stands and blesses the people saying: “Save thy people, O Lord, and bless thine inheritance, feed them, and lift them up from henceforth for evermore.”
The communicant should then go back, take his seat and say his private prayers.
Women should refrain from using lipstick before receiving Holy Communion.
There is no doubt that all of us love the “Sourp-Badarak,” the Divine
Liturgy sung in the Armenian sacred music. But that is not enough. A practicing Christian should also partake of the Holy Communion, approaching the altar, as often as he can; because the Holy Communion is our means of receiving eternal life, and the true sign of the unity of the Church. By no other act of the Church is the unity of the people of God in the church more proven than by the Holy Communion. By Communion not only are we united with God, but also with our fellowmen. Holy Communion deepens man’s communion with other men.
The real progress and strength of a church does not consist merely in its financial success, but in its spiritual oneness and love. A church cannot make any real progress unless and until Holy Communion occupies its rightful position in it. Holy Communion is of primary importance in the Church.
May God give us His grace and wisdom to know this vital truth about Holy Communion. May He create in us an ardent desire to approach His altar for Holy Communion and may He make us worthy of this greatest privilege given to men.
Marriage is a contract to form a family, and the family is the foundation of human society. The stronger the foundation, the stronger will be the structure over it. God Himself is the author of marriage. He instituted it in the Garden of Eden saying, “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam, receiving his inseparable companion from the hands of God, pronounced these important words: “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” Adam, receiving his inseparable companion from the hands of God, pronounced these important words: “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh, wherefore a man shall leave father and mother; and shall cleave to his wife, and they shall be two in one flesh.”
The purpose of the sacrament of the Holy Matrimony is to sanctify the union of man and wife for the preservation of the human race, for the increase of the members of the Church, for the promotion of mutual helpfulness and for the upbringing of the children as Christians.
The establishment of this sacrament by Christ is not explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. However, our Lord by His Presence at the wedding of Cana of Galilee, showed His readiness to sanctify marriage. He also gave laws concerning marriage (Matt. 19: 3-12). But the significant passage “upon which both in early times and today the doctrine of the sacrament of marriage is based” is Eph. 5: 22-33, which is read at our service of the Holy Matrimony as the main lesson. Here the Apostle Paul speaks of the relation of husband and wife as being similar to that of Christ and His Church, and uses the words “This is a great mystery.” Sacraments in the Eastern Churches, including the Armenian Church, are called “Mysteries.” Therefore, both the Holy Scripture and the Sacred Tradition of the Church regard marriage as a sacrament, established by our Lord.
As a sacrament, matrimony is the act by which the Church blesses the mutual agreement of the two parties, and binds the new couple with a spiritual bond to each other and to the Church. The free consent of each of the two persons is required by the priest, and this consent is an integral part of the Sacrament. According to the doctrine of the Eastern Churches the minister of the Holy Matrimony is the priest, or, on solemn occasions, a bishop.
To receive the sacrament of Matrimony worthily, it is necessary to be a practicing church member, to know the duties of married life, and to obey the marriage laws of the Church. The couple must be of proper age, physically capable of being married. There must be no close blood relationship. Both Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition emphasize the indissoluble character of the marriage, recognizing only one cause for the dissolution of the marriage tie—marital unfaithfulness; the Scriptural word is “fornication” (Matt. 5: 32, 19: 9). Second and third marriages are not looked upon with favor by the Church.
The purpose of marriage is very sacred. In Matrimony, a man and his wife are called to take part in the work of the Creator. If married people think about this fact, they surely will not neglect their duties toward their children, the chief of which is to “rear them in the discipline and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6: 4).
Besides the aim of bringing children into the world, Marriage is also instituted for the mutual support of man and woman. “It is not good for man to be alone,” said God after creating Adam, “Let us make him a helper like unto himself” (Gen. 2: 18).
What are some of the duties of husband and wife in the married state of life? The first duty of husband and wife is to be faithful to each other. They vow fidelity to one another at the marriage. With the disappearance of faithfulness the conjugal happiness ends. The married parties should bear with each other’s faults and infirmities.
Husband and wife must comfort and support each other in their common life.
The wife can influence her husband for good more by meekness and devotion, than by nagging and arguing. The husband can win the heart of his wife more by companionship and consideration, than by wealth and force. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the Church” (Eph. 5: 25) says St. Paul. “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord” (Eph. 5: 22), adds the same Apostle. The wife should obey her husband as the head of the family (Eph. 5: 23).
The man is the breadwinner and the head of the family. The wife is the queen and mother. In a true Christian marriage there is no question of first or second. There is no competition or superiority between wife and husband; for, as the Bible states, “They are no longer two, but one flesh” (Matt. 19: 6).
Through marriage the couple enters into the society formally ,and effectively. It is the beginning of all permanent relations among men. The character of a nation depends more on family discipline than on the civil constitutions or even the school system.
As mothers are mainly responsible for the social training of the children, mothers of a generation are of more importance than the government of the state itself. The family is the unit which makes up the nation and humanity. If the family influence is evil, no code of laws can rectify the resulting evil in society. On the contrary, if the family influence is good, any external evil influence will have little effect upon the social good order.
THE RITUAL OF THE HOLY MATRIMONY
The sacrament of the Holy Matrimony or marriage is the most important even in one’s lifetime. The interests of society and of nature meet at this moment. Therefore, every society, recognizing the importance of marriage, has clothed not only the bride and the groom in beautiful garments but has also made the ceremony itself beautiful and impressive. We can say that, properly performed, the marriage ceremony of the Armenian Church is one of the most beautiful of rituals. The following are a few notes as to how the marriage ritual is performed in the Armenian Church:
After the bridal procession, the bridegroom and the bride stand together at the entrance of the chancel (that part of the church where choir members stand while singing at the service of the Divine Liturgy).
They face the altar; the bride stands to the left of the bridegroom.
The godfather or best man stands behind the bridegroom to the right, holding the plate with the rings on it with his left hand, and the cross in his right hand. The ushers and the bridesmaids stand to the right and left of the bridegroom and the bride respectively, outside the chancel.
The bride gives her bouquet of flowers, if she is carrying one, to her maid-of-honor, who stands behind and to the left of the bride.
The priest, coming out of the vestry, stands in the chancel near the edge, facing the congregation. The congregation stands when the priest begins the service.
First takes place the blessing and putting on of the wedding rings by the priest. Rings are symbols of attachment and perpetual faithfulness.
Usually the priest himself puts the ring on the left ring fingers of the bride and the bridegroom.
Then the priest joins the right hands of the couple and makes them face each other, giving them instructions to be faithful to one another to the end of their lives.
Then the priest asks each one of the couple three times whether they will be united to one another until death. After receiving a positive answer, the priest and the deacon go up to the altar and the couple step forward to the front of the bema (stage) and face the altar. Here the couple kisses the Book of the Gospels offered to them by the deacon or the priest.
After the lessons are read, the priest blesses and places the crowns on the heads of the couple. The godfather holds the cross with his right hand over their heads. Then the prayer of crowning is recited and the couple sits on chairs facing the altar, as newly crowned king and queen. Then the priest, while reading another prayer, removes the crowns from their heads. He blesses a cup of wine and offers it to the bride and the groom to drink. With the final exhortation and the benediction by the priest, the ceremony comes to a close.
The church is an organized society. It is composed of all the baptized persons who are united in the same Faith, the same Holy Communion, the same Sacraments, and under the same Ecclesiastical authority.
Those who exercise this ecclesiastical authority form the ministers or officers of the Church who serve God, teach and sanctify the faithful, and govern the Church.
This authority to serve, to teach, to sanctify, and to govern is not given by elections or appointment, but by a sacred ritual which is called ordination. Ordination or Holy Orders is one of the important sacraments of the Church.
Through ordination men receive the power and grace to perform the sacred duties of a minister of the Church. It is true that by Baptism all Christians are endowed with the “priesthood” of laymen, who have thus the obligation to offer up to God the spiritual sacrifices of thanksgiving, prayers and acts of faith, hope, and charity. But only those men who receive the sacrament of Holy Orders are ministers of God in the full sense of the word.
The sacrament of Ordination is administered always by a bishop. There are various orders in the Church, and consequently, there are various forms of ceremonies by which each one of these orders is conferred. However, the one act that is common to all of these various orders is the imposition of hands by the bishop. That is why Ordination is also called “the Laying on of Hands,” “Tzernatroutiun” in Armenian.
For the ordination of any cleric, except a bishop, one bishop is sufficient to administer the Sacrament. The consecration of a bishop, according to the rules of the Armenian Church, is performed by His Holiness the Catholicos, having at least two other bishops assisting him at the Ordination. The consent of the laity is expressed formally at the service of Ordination by the choristers when they sing: “he is worthy.”
In the beginning the Apostles were the sole ministers in the Church. They were teachers, sanctifiers and rulers in the Church. They even used to administer the material needs of the faithful. However, as the membership of the Church increased, the Apostles created other officers to assist them. The first order thus established was that of deacons. The first deacons were elected by the faithful and were appointed and ordained by the Apostles to distribute alms, as well as to serve the public dinner tables at which Holy Communion was administered (Acts. ch. 6).
The Apostles also chose, appointed and ordained other assistants to help them in baptizing the converts, in administering the Holy Communion and for other functions in the Church. These men were called Elders. They were the predecessors of our present day priests. (The Greek word for elder is Presbyter from which the English word priest is derived). The Apostles did not stay permanently in a town or country. There were ordered by our Lord to go to all parts of the world to preach the Gospel. Therefore, before leaving a town or country, where they had already established a flourishing church, they used to appoint an able and dependable person to supervise the Christian communities of the area and to act with full authority in the name of the Apostles. These men were the successors to the Apostles in their own locality, such as a large town, a province, or even a state. They were called Bishops (Episcopos), which is a Greek word meaning “overseer.”
There are, therefore, basically three main orders in the Church: Those of Deacons, Priests, and Bishops. These three orders have been instituted in the Church since the time of the Apostles.
At present Deacons assist the bishop and priest in the church during the divine offices, by singing, censing, and bringing the gifts to the holy altar during the Divine Liturgy.
The Priests administer all the sacraments except the Holy Orders and are the shepherds and the leaders of local churches under the bishop.
Bishops, with the full power of the Apostles, are the governors of various Dioceses of the Church. They alone administer the Holy Orders.
According to the canons of the Armenian Church, Bishops alone are authorized to consecrate churches, altars and baptismal fonts.
In addition to these three basic orders, there are in the Church, many other ranks and offices: some of them are higher, others lower. The higher ranks are those of Archbishop, Patriarch and Catholicos. They have higher authority and jurisdiction in administrative matters. In its proper and ancient meaning, the Archbishop was a prelate who had other suffragan bishops to assist him in governing his diocese. Greeks use the word Metropolitan instead of Archbishop. At present in the Armenian Church “Archbishop” is only an honorary title given by His Holiness the Catholicos to those bishops who are distinguished by their position or good record of activity.
The office of Patriarch is the highest in the Greek Church. In our Church, however, the Patriarch is an archbishop, who occupies one of the historical patriarchal Sees of Jerusalem or Constantinople. Patriarchs are independent in all administrative matters within the area of their own jurisdiction.
The office of Catholicos is the highest office in the Armenian Church. The Catholicos is the head of the whole Armenian Church. It is a Greek word meaning General. The full title of the head of the Armenian Church is “Supreme Patriarch Catholicos of All Armenians.”
The Primate or the Ordinary of a Diocese (Arachnort) is a high ranking clergyman who holds the highest position and authority in a given diocese.
He may have a lower order than that of a bishop, and even if there are retired bishops or even archbishops in his diocese, they come under his jurisdiction in matters of administration.
Vartabed is an academic church title given to a celibate priest who has the necessary education.
Dzayrakoun Vartabed is an honorary title given to those Vartabeds who have been elected primate, or who have distinguished themselves by their learning in the fields of theology, religious teaching, and Holy Scripture, etc. It corresponds to Doctor of Divinity in the Western Church.
Apegha is a celibate priest, attached to a monastery.
Archpriest is also an honorary title given to those priests who have fruitfully served their church for long years or who have distinguished themselves in outstanding service to the Church.
Minor orders of which there are as many as six, are given to those who take care of the material building of the church and assist in the Divine Office, by singing, reading the lessons, etc. They are Doorkeepers, Psalmists, Readers, Acolytes or candle bearers, and Exorcists, whose function is to read prayers over sick people. Subdeacons have the highest rank among the holders of minor orders. For each one of these minor orders the proper symbols of the office are given to the candidate at his ordination.
These differences of rank and office are necessary for the proper government of the Church. Without them the Church would be a society without organization. “I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying of my hands,” writes St. Paul to his disciple Timothy (2 Tim. 1: 6).
The “Gift” or the Grace which is given to a minister at Ordination is the spiritual authority to fulfill all his duties worthily and in a manner pleasing to God, and to live a virtuous life in conformity with his calling.
A candidate for Holy Orders must be a person fit for his task, having good moral character, knowledge of the Bible and Church laws. He should be well trained in the ritual of the Church. He must be a man of faith, piety, and wisdom. He must be healthy in body, without physical impairment, which would prevent the performance of his duties in the ministry of the Church.
All members of the Church, whether clerical or lay, constitute together the Faithful; faith being the basic virtue of a Christian.
A good Christian has before him a wide scope of activity in the community, if he or she wishes to participate in the work of the Church. It is a great service to the Church if a family encourages one of its young members to consecrate his life to the service of God and His Church by becoming a priest. If this is impossible, a family should try to defray the expenses of a candidate for priesthood in one of the seminaries of the Church.
People may devote themselves to the service of the Church not only by entering Holy Orders, but also in the lay state. The latter service is, sometimes, as valuable and meritorious before God as the service rendered by entering the Holy Orders.
Church Donation Non-Member Member
Baptism/Wedding/Funeral $350.00 $300.00
Priest* $200.00 $150.00
Soloist* $150.00 $100.00
Organist* $150.00 $100.00
Deacon* $100.00 $50.00
Funeral Home Service
Priest* $150.00 $100.00
Deacon* $75.00 $50.00
Use of Cultural Hall (maximum of 4 hours)* $50.00/hour $40.00/hour
Custodial (clean up)* $100.00 $75.00
*Minimum suggested donations