Pious Customs of the Armenian Faith
Here are many pious customs and traditions of the Armenian faithful connected with the Feasts and Saints' Days in the Armenian Church. To enumerate and describe them all is a topic for future publication. Here we have listed some of the most common pious customs of our faithful.
Incense is used in the church as in ancient times as a symbol of honor and dignity. Likewise, when one is censed by a deacon or priests one crosses oneself so that our prayers may ascend to heaven with the incense. The fire of the thurible (censer) represents purity, and the incense, our prayers ascending into heaven.
This ancient and pious custom is attributed to the Apostles. Now, the priest travels to the homes of the faithful at Christmas and Easter, blessing the home and passing on the Good News of Christ’s Birth or Resurrection. Likewise, House Blessing symbolizes God's protective care over the home of Christian faithful, its inhabitants and the goodness therein.
Madagh is a mercy offering intended for the poor and needy. The Armenian Book of Ritual contains first the blessing of salt Intended for the madagh and then the blessing of the madagh. Madagh should be totally consumed and is distributed freely and without charge. One may offer madagh for a specific vow or in memory of loved ones on a special holiday. Presently, madagh is most often distributed on April 24 or the closest Sunday thereto in commemoration of the Armenian Martyrs. Traditionally, madagh is boiled lamb.
The mercy offering Is one of our Christian duties. Madagh Is only one means of helping the poor and needy.
Another pious Christian custom Is the lighting of candles. This custom is usually performed before a consecrated painting of a saint or saints. The faithful light candles and offers a prayer either for the living or the dead, or, In some instances, when making a vow. A person may ask for the intercession of the saint represented or any saint close to their heart.
The act of pilgrimage is an ancient one among Christians. In the early church, Christians traveled to Jerusalem and Bethlehem to visit and see with their own eyes the places where our Lord was born crucified buried and rose again. A person going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem was called 'Mahdesi', 'one who sees death,' for two reasons: religiously, as having seen the place of our Lord's death and resurrection and practically, because in those times travel was so long and dangerous one would have to face one's own death In order to make such a pilgrimage.
Pilgrimages are also made to holy places, churches and shrines as is practiced today in Iran with the annual pilgrimage to the monastery of St. Thaddeus. Also, many Armenians still make pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to Holy Etchmiadzin.
To go on pilgrimage is a blessed thing: the pilgrim has made a sacred vow. This ancient and beautiful custom should be encouraged within the church.
This custom continues today at Easter and Christmas with monetary gifts to the church to insure that the lights will ever remain burning.
The faithful who have departed are referred to as the Church Triumphant. For this reason, the church fathers set aside the day following each of the five tabemacle (Daghavar) feasts as 'Merelotz' or Commemoration of the Departed. According to tradition, Divine Liturgy Is celebrated with Hokehankisd for all souls and for those who have specific requests, then the clergy and faithful proceed to the cemeteries where the graves of the departed faithful are individually blessed.
Although this custom is maintained in the Near East and Armenia, here in the United States and Canada, grave blessings usually take place on 'Memorial Day' and upon special request.
The Requiem Service/Hokehankisd is not only a custom but also a rule of the church. Forty days after the death of a member of the church, a Requiem is offered for the repose of his/her soul. This also ends the official mourning period and usually the grave of the departed is also blessed.
After the Forty Days Requiem (Karasoonk), Hokehankisd may be requested annually on the Sunday closest to the date of death or, according to a more ancient custom, the day commemorating the saint after whom the departed was named.
Requiem services may be requested at any time during the ecclesiastical year. They may however not be performed on the Five Major or Tabemacle Feasts (Daghavars) as Hokehankisd is penitential and the Feasts are dominical in nature. Likewise, Hokehankisd should not be performed on Dominical Feasts, i.e. Palm Sunday, Ascension and Pentecost.