The Blessed Virgin Mary holds a high place in the Armenian Church, next to Christ. We begin our Divine Liturgy with these words, “Through the intercession of the holy Mother of God, O Lord, receive our supplications and save us.” In every Armenian Church the painting on the main altar is of Mary, holding the infant Savior. The Gospels teach us that Mary was blessed and called by God to fulfill God’s divine plan of salvation. Mary has a primary place of honor because through her and by the Holy Spirit God became incarnate, became human.
This Sunday, August 14, the Armenian Church celebrates the Feast of the Assumption (Verapokoum) of the Holy Mother of God, the fourth of the five major feast days in our Liturgical Calendar, and the Blessing of the Grapes. Verapokoum in classical Armenian means “transport up.” According to tradition, when the Holy Mother died she was buried by the apostles. Bartholomew, who was not present at her funeral, wished to visit her grave. When the gravestone was lifted they were surprised to find that her body had disappeared. It was believed that Christ had come and taken his mother to the Heavenly Kingdom. Based on this event, the Church Fathers established the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which is one of the five tabernacle feast days in the Armenian Church’s liturgical calendar. The feast is preceded by a week (five days) of fasting and followed by a memorial day.
Because Bartholomew was very fond of the Holy Mother, the apostle John gave him an image of her (which she had given to John). Bartholomew took this image with him to Armenia to Darbnots Kar in the province of Antsev, Vaspourakan (Western Armenia) where a convent for nuns, Hogyats Vank (Monastery of the Spirits), was built and where the icon was kept. Most depictions of Bartholomew show him holding this icon.
The concept of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary is old as evidenced in sacred prose and poetry dedicated to the Holy Mother. However, it did not become a basic doctrine of the church until the ninth century and it was in the twelfth century that the feast was called “The Assumption.”
This Sunday is the name day for those named Mariam, Maro, Mary, Mari, Makrouhi, Mayrenie, Maroush, Serpouhi, Dirouhi, Takouhi, Lousig, Lousnag, Arousiag, Arpine, Markarid, Nazig, Azniv, Seta, Dzaghig, Verjin, Arshalouys.
BLESSING OF THE GRAPES
The Blessing of the Grapes takes place on the Feast of the Assumption, although there is no connection between the two holidays. This ceremony is rooted in the Biblical tradition as commanded by God to the Israelites, through Moses, to donate the “first bearing of all their fruits, on the Tabernacle in order that with this first offering all fruits would receive Your blessing…” The hymn Park Sourp Khatchet (Glory to Your Sacred Cross) is sung; Biblical passages are recited, followed by a prayer composed by Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali specifically for this occasion. After the prayer, the grapes are blessed three times with the words Orhnestsee Bahbanestsee and then the blessed grapes are distributed to the faithful, many of whom have refrained from eating grapes through the year until after this blessing.
Certainly we can say that the Blessing of the Grapes is a celebration of the fruitfulness of the earth. Grapes are one of the oldest cultivated plants in the world. Noah planted a vineyard immediately after disembarking from the Ark (Genesis, Chapter 9) in Nakhichevan, Armenia. And, of course, the wine of the Divine Liturgy comes from grapes.
Bless, O Lord, the grape plants and vineyards from which these grapes are taken and presented to the holy church, and make them bountiful and fruitful; let them be like good and fertile land, protect the vineyard from all kinds of misfortune and destruction which come from above because of our sins, from hail, from cold, from hot winds, and from destructive insects, so that we may enjoy that which You have created in this world for our enjoyment and for Your glory, and grant that we may be worthy to eat and drink with You from the bounty of Your most fruitful vine at the table of Your Father’s Kingdom, according to the just promise which You made, to the honor and glory of Your coexisting Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the most Holy Spirit to whom is due glory, power, and honor, now and forever. Amen. (From the prayer written by Catholicos Nerses Shnorhali for the Blessing of the Grapes)