4. Forms of worship, festivals, etc.
Antiquities of the Christian Church
XXIII. Of the Armenian Church
4. Forms of worship, festivals, etc.
The Armenian churches are opened regularly twice every day morning and evening for prayers, and mass is performed every day in all the city churches, though in the country less frequently, according to the size of the church and the number of priests. It occupies sometimes six hours and more, for its completion. It consists in chanting, and reading prayers and portions of the Scriptures and responses by the people. The officiating priest or bishop is richly dressed, as are the deacons and singers. Small bells are rung and incense is burned, and various other ceremonies are performed which contribute to please and awe the people. At the ordinary morning and evening prayers the people kneel and cross themselves in rapid succession a number of times while the priests are chanting the prayers. These prostrations are made frequently before a picture of the Virgin or other saint. In the more recently constructed Armenian churches, however, pictures are almost wholly excluded. In some parts of the country also, instead of repeating the ceremony of prostrating themselves as above described, they simply kneel and thus remain quietly until the prayer is finished. This seems to have been the ancient custom of the Armenian church, and a change has taken place in the churches around the Levant, probably through the influence of the Greeks.
The scriptures and prayers are read in the ancient Armenian tongue, which is understood but by very few among the people – and if understood, would hardly be intelligible, the tones of voice are so drawling and unnatural. Preaching is rare among the Armenians, and is only performed by the bishops and vartabeds, and generally only on particular feast days. The priests are never expected to preach, their business being to read prayers and say mass. Though the apocryphal books are bound up with the others in the Armenian Bible, yet they are considered as uncanonical, and are never read in the churches.
There are at least fourteen great feast days in the course of the year on which all ordinary labor is suspended, and the day is observed more strictly than the sabbath. Besides these there are numerous other feasts and fasts, more numerous even than the days of the year; so that, in some instances, several are appointed to the same day. Besides the occasional fasts, such as a fast of forty days before Easter, and another of six days before Christmas, etc., they have two weekly fasts, the one on Wednesday and the other on Friday. The Armenians have 165 days in the year appointed for fasting. They do not properly fast, however, since they are permitted to eat plentifully of all kinds of vegetable food except the vegetable oils – and a fast with them is merely abstaining from animal food.
Among the Armenians, girls are often married at the age of twelve or thirteen, the other sex rarely until they are from twentyfive to thirty. The marriage contract is made by the parents or guardians, and the parties are not expected to see one another until after they are husband and wife. The ceremonies of marriage occupy three days – during which time there are constant festivities either at the house of the bridegroom or bride, or both. The bride is last carried to the house of the bridegroom in procession of carriages or carts drawn by oxen, the ceremony of marriage being performed sometimes at the house and sometimes at church. The expenses of the dowry and the marriage festivities come upon the bridegroom, and they are usually quite large. Marriage is considered as one of the sacraments, and there is properly no divorce after the tie is once made. The laws of the Armenians .are more strict than those of Moses in regard to the degrees of consanguinity within which persons may marry.
When a person dies, several of the female friends of the family are usually present, who make a loud outcry, so as to be heard at some distance from the house. The funeral takes place on the same day. The body is dressed as when alive, and placed in an open bier which is ornamented with flowers, natural or artificial, and thus carried to the grave-yard. An irregular procession of the friends is formed, headed by priests and singers, with lighted candles if the wind will permit, and a plaintive funeral dirge is chanted as they pass along the streets. Candles are always carried, even although the funeral should be at mid-day, though sometimes they cannot be lighted. Female friends never accompany the procession to the grave. At the grave prayers are read, and the body, without coffin, is committed to the earth. The ordinary garments are first removed, and the body closely wound up by a long piece of cloth, and thus placed in the grave and covered with earth. If he be an ecclesiastic, a stone is placed on each side of the head, and another over the top to prevent the earth from coming in immediate contact with the head, which has been anointed with holy oil. After the grave of an ecclesiastic has been filled up another hillock of the same dimensions and appearance is raised by its side in order to prevent the body from being stolen. The temptation to this crime in the case of an ecclesiastic is, that as it is a sacred body, having been anointed, it may be in demand for relics. Mourning garments are never worn by the males among the Armenians; but the females at Constantinople dress in black. In the case of an ecclesiastic, prayers are read at the house every evening after the burial until Saturday. If the death takes place on Saturday they are read only on that evening. If it be a layman, they are read only once on the evening of the burial, and once on the following Saturday evening. The friends also occasionally call for the priest to say prayers over the grave; but this in Constantinople is without rule, and they do it whenever they please. In some parts of Armenia proper they have the following customs on the subject: After the burial the officiating priest reads prayers over the grave once a day for eight days if the deceased is an ecclesiastic, and for three days if a layman, and also on the 8th, 15th, and 40th days after the decease, and at the end of one year.
The present state of the Armenian church is one of deep interest. Enlightened views in regard to the truths of the Scriptures are extensively spread among them, particularly in Constantinople and in some of the adjacent cities, and it is evident that at least a portion of the church is on the eve of a reform. They are an enterprising and talented people, and evidently possess the elements of a solid and noble character. With a truly regenerated nature, they promise to be most important instruments in the hands of God, in spreading the light of true Christianity over the East.