- Independent Journalism From Today's Armenia
 January 9 , 2004 

Holy Holiday: Armenian Christians follow ancient traditions in celebration of Christ's birthday

The Holy See at Christmas.

Christmas mass was celebrated throughout the Armenian Apostolic Church Monday evening with the traditional greeting:

"Christ is born and revealed! Great tidings to you and to us." And the reply: "Blessed be the Revelation of Christ."

During world-wide ceremonies Armenian Christians mark the birth of Jesus with candlelight services symbolizing the Star of Bethlehem that led Magi to the Christ.

And the Christmas Day ceremonies also mark the first of five feasts in Church tradition.

"Christ came to earth to free people from their sins and lead them to God. Christmas is a celebration of spiritual renovation of the soul. The symbol of the feast is connected with the symbol of salvation," says priest Khoren Kirakosyan.

Christmas is also known among people as "zatik". During zatik people also add to festive tables fish, vegetables, wine and rice pilaf, which must necessarily be mixed with raisins. These dishes also announce the end of fasting.

The faithful scramble for Holy Water.

Avetik Isahakyan (grandson of Armenian poet Avetik Isahakyan), who visited the Holy See for mass said: "This is our national holiday. By preserving our religion for many centuries we have preserved our identity."

According to him, pilaf prepared at that day symbolizes fertility and abundance while fish symbolizes the miracle of Christ feeding thousands with just a few fish.

Priest Khoren explains that during ancient times early Christians used to draw fish in the sand to recognize each other. About the wine that people drink during the holiday he says: "The wine is Christ's blood and we give mass also using wine. The New Testament says, 'I am the true vine'."

On this holiday the yard of the Holy See in Echmiadzin is full of believers. This year's services included Minister of Foreign Affairs, Vardan Oskanian, who served as usher at the mass.

One believer, Lilit Karapetyan from Armavir, spends January 5 and 6 in Echmiadzin and says that each year she observes the Fast from December 30 to January 5. "On January 6 after the mass I confess and after taking communion I end my fast."

In the evening of January 5, when darkness slowly covers the city, one can everywhere meet people holding lit candles in their hands and hurrying to reach their homes.

Candles light the path of faith.

"After candlelight mass people take lit candles as a symbol of divine light," Ter Khoren says. "They take lit candles to light their homes with holy light of the Lord."

Seda Kartchikyan says that devote believers don't do any housework that day. "I learned all of that from my elder. Especially they used to forbid laundering and having bath, namely, it was forbidden to use soap. It was also strictly forbidden to make needlework as it was regarded as sin. And today all of that I transmitted to my daughters and daughters-in-law."

While in much of the Western world Christian churches celebrate Christmas on December 25, the Armenian Apostolic Church has maintained the more ancient date as its holy holiday. (January 6 is also celebrated as the Day of Epiphany.)

Following mass, ministers at Holy Echmiadzin distribute holy water - symbolic of granting absolution and of healing. During ancient times people would pour that water into pans for cheese and oil and in the storehouses hoping that it will help in providing abundance.

Raya Margaryan returns from church holding in her hand a small cup filled with the consecrated water. "Every year I come here and take consecrated water with me. It gives us success and health and saves us from evil."

For the next month, spiritual shepherds of the Church will be visiting people's houses to carry out home consecration. They consecrate bread, water and salt of the houses they visit. Residents of houses eat bread and drink water and then the priests splash consecrated water on the walls and burn incense.

The festive holidays end January 13 (also known as "Old New Year").


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Amber Square?

All dressed up for the holidays, Republic Square has never looked so rosey (well not since it was "Lenin Square" anyway). In addition to its giant holiday tree, this year all government buildings were lit, casting a soft glow in the moist Yerevan nights.





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