The word sacrament comes from the Latin sacrare, which means “to dedicate.” Thus a sacrament is a rite which not only signifies some specific grace but which produces that grace in the soul of the person to whom it is administered.
What is grace? It is that which makes us fulfill our mission as children of God. It is not a state of being. It is a power that comes from God and regenerates and nourishes. It is the energy that feeds the growth of the believing spirit of people.
The Armenian word for sacrament is khorhoort or “mystery.” This implies that the fruits of the sacraments (such as being born to a spiritual life in baptism) are received mysteriously. Each sacrament has an inward and outward expression. For example, the outward expression in baptism is the water. This symbolizes the rebirth and cleansing of the soul of the child, which is inward. Although everything which is in and of the Church is sacramental, there are seven formal sacraments of the Armenian Church which correspond to the different states and situations of a person’s life.
Choose a Sacrament from the tabs above. This article includes:
Note: Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion are all given at the time of baptism. Together these make the new believer ready to fully participate in the life of the Church.
The understanding of the sacredness of the Sacrament of Baptism by our faithful has become over the years less than what is once was. Why we baptize, the role that the godparents play, the importance of a prayerful attitude by those who are witnessing the entrance of a new member into the society of the Church, all have become secondary matters. The following article is offered to assist our faithful in reversing that development.
The word baptism is derived from a Greek word that means washing by entering the water. The word christening means to become or to make someone a Christian. Chrismation means anointing with Chrism, i.e. with holy oil or Miuron. The Armenian word for baptism is Mkrtel, Mkrtut’iun. The word k’nunk is also in common use, meaning sealing (with Miuron).
Baptism, Chrismation and Holy Communion are the most important Mysteries or Sacraments of the Church. The Order of Baptism of the Armenian Church, as that of other Orthodox Churches, combines all three of these mysteries together with certain related Sacraments, which complete the sacred rite of Christian Initiation.
The Lord Jesus himself received Baptism and Chrismation in the river Jordan at the hands of St. John the Forerunner and thus showed his solidarity with sinful men. (Matthew 3:16-18; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Our Lord expected his followers to be baptized with the Baptism with which he was baptized, (Mark 10:38) and so instructed his disciples to do likewise. (Matthew 28:1-9). The church thus faithfully and diligently observed Christ’s ordinance to baptize all those who wanted to enter into his Kingdom (Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-4; I Corinthians 1:16-2:13; Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:5; Colossians 2:12; I Peter 3:21). Without Baptism, a person cannot obtain salvation (John 3:5).
Baptism is performed only once. The church’s Creed declares that there is only one Baptism so long as it has been administered in a manner in which its essential conditions are fulfilled, that is with water and the invocation of the Holy Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is not to be repeated and is valid for all Christians who form the one fellowship in Christ.
An infant is not conscious of what takes place at his Christening. Yet, as in all the other spheres of his growing life, his parents take upon themselves the responsibility of bringing up their child in a way that they believe is best for him. They make a commitment with a view to rearing the child in the faith of their fathers. Godparent(s) declare the infant’s faith on his behalf and declare to watch over the child, to see that he receives proper Christian training in the Orthodox faith of the Armenian Church, to instruct him and to correct him, and, if necessary, to help and protect him as a father or mother would. And, above all, to always pray for him.
Thus the child is taken into the company of believers, where what is affected in Baptism and Chrismation gradually unfolds in his soul. He is put on the path leading to Christian perfection. As the child clings during his immaturity to his parents and receives nourishment and care from them, so also he clings, during his formation years, to his Mother Church wherein he is born anew and receives the nourishments of the faith. A child brought to Baptism receives all the three great mysteries necessary for salvation and becomes a full Christian through one continuous sacred act. For the Church will not set age limits for the salvation of man through God’s grace.
As the child grows, gradually becoming independent and assuming responsibility for his own life and conduct, spiritually and in all other respects, he becomes free to accept or reject what he has received as an infant. We must keep in mind that the Christian who does not keep the vows of Baptism, i.e. who does not love and worship God but makes himself a slave of vices and sins, is a Christian and child of God only in name. Our Lord warns us of this self-deception and will not accept such individuals on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 7:21-23). St. Paul calls unworthy Christians the enemies of Christ (Philippians 3:18-19).
Chrismation or Confirmation is the sacramental or mystical invocation of sealing by the Holy Spirit whom the neophyte receives after his Baptism. Through this act, one becomes engrafted and integrated into the Body of Christ and a participant in its life. Thus, through the Seal of Chrismation, a Christian is assured of the power of the Spirit and of resurrection. Chrismation is the Pentecost of the new Christian as well as the anointing of the neophyte into the royal priesthood of the faithful (I Peter 2:9).
Holy Communion nourishes and sustains the spiritual life of a Christian who is continuously renewed with the power of the Holy Spirit whereby his bond of union with Christ Jesus is maintained. As a Baptized and Chrismated member of the Armenian Church, the child is now entitled to the joy of participation in the Holy Sacraments of which the greatest is the Holy Eucharist, to complete the initial steps of his journey toward the true life of salvation. (John 6:54-55).
In our Mission Parishes, prior to any other arrangements being made, the date for the ceremony is to be set in consultation with either the regular visiting priest or with the with the Parish Council in order for them to seek through the Diocesan offices, the availability of a priest and of the local church used. Baptisms normally take place within 40 days of the birth of the child.
It is the right of any child to be baptized regardless of the parent’s marital status, providing the child is brought to the Armenian Church by the parents with the specific intention and desire of the child’s baptism and confirmation and, with the sponsorship/witness of a baptized member of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church who is to be the child’s godparent.
An adult who wishes to receive Chrismation or, not having been baptized, both Baptism and Chrismation, is normally first required to receive proper instruction as to the teachings of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox church prior to the administration of the sacraments.
The Sacraments of Baptism and Chrismation are to take place in the church proper. In cases of a medical emergency, the child is born premature or is seriously ill, the baptism may be performed in the hospital or at home.
When selecting baptismal sponsors for your child, the individuals are to be members in good standing of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church for, according to the teachings and canons of our Church, it is they who are to see to the nurturing of the child’s faith as an Armenian Orthodox Christian. They should be individuals who are of good Christian character, attend the Divine Liturgy regularly and are frequent communicants of Holy Communion. Parents are to take care in choosing devoted, faithful, practicing members of the Armenian Church for this responsibility and privilege. Baptismal godparents, conversely, cannot be indifferent about their awesome responsibilities and should also give prayerful consideration before accepting.
The baptismal sponsor of the neophyte who responds to the questions posed by the priest performing the baptism must be a communicant member – baptized and confirmed – of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. Traditionally this has been the privilege of men only who served as godfather of the child. Recently, the Armenian Church has granted this privilege to women to serve as baptismal sponsors or, godmothers. If parents wish for the godfather or godmother be a person of another Christian denomination, then the other godparent must be a member of the Armenian Church and must be present at the ceremony.
The family will need to bring to the church for the child:
During the ceremony the priest shall ask the child’s sponsor(s):
The sponsor(s) shall answer:
The priest shall say:
When the child is to be bathed for the first time at home, the water of the washing should be poured into the soil directly rather and not down the drain into a water waste system. The reason being that any trace of the Holy Miuron should not be mixed with unclean water.
The custom and practice of presenting an offering to the church on the occasion of a Baptism comes from both Scripture and our own traditions. When Our Lord was brought to the Temple on the eighth day of his birth by his parents for purification and circumcision, we find that they offered their gifts to fulfill their religious obligations " . . . as it is written in the law of the Lord, . . . to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ' a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.'" (Luke 2:23-24). As Jesus tells us the Luke's gospel, " . . . where your treasure is, there will be your heart also."
It is in the offering of one's monetary gift to the church in celebration of the sacrament as an expression of thankfulness for the occasion and of love of God that allows this donation to become a gift of joyous giving, rather than a "fee" of obligation that one is required to pay out of compulsion. The church historically has always been dependent upon such gifts from the faithful to help, in part, maintain the continuation of her mission.
Fr. Tateos R. Abdalian
Diocese of the Armenian
Dept. of Creative Ministries
New York 2018
The Order of Baptism
Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan
1964 Evanston, IL
A Catechism of Christian Instruction according to the Doctrine of the Armenian Church
Arch. Khoren Narbey
Calcutta, India 1898 – sixth revision
Of Water and the Spirit
Fr. Alexander Schmemann
SVS Press 1974
Perhaps you have heard the expression "What's in a name?" For the Armenian Christian, the answer is, "a great deal".
In our Armenian tradition, as well as within the people of the various Orthodox Churches, a very important tradition practiced is the ancient Christian custom of taking the name of a Saint at Baptism. This custom is the bond that is established at Baptism between a Christian and the Saint whose name one bears. When we are addressed with this name, it shows honor to the Saint and in a way, invokes his or her blessing. We also directly show pious honor to Christ Himself when we accept and use a Saint’s name, since Saints are precisely those who have been joined to Christ. Such an act of humility and spiritual submission was so important to the Early Church. Unfortunately, today, our regret is that so many of our people ignore this meaningful custom. But how and why did this practice begin?
In the Armenian Church, the Nativity of Our Lord is celebrated on January 5-6. Eight days later, on January 13, the Church remembers the Circumcision and the Naming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in accordance with the Old Testament Law when he was circumcised, as were all male infants, as a sign of the Covenant of God with the Forefather Abraham and his descendants (Gen 17:10-14, Lev 12:3).
This act showed that the true descendants of the Patriarch Abraham were separated from the other nations by the sign of circumcision (a pre-figurement of Baptism), "the circumcision made without hands" (Colossians 2:11ff), and thereby became members of the God-ruled community of the Old Testament; that is, through circumcision, they entered among the chosen People of God.
The Fathers of the Church explain that Our Lord, the Creator of the Law, underwent circumcision in order to give people an example how faithfully the divine ordinances ought to be fulfilled. The Lord was circumcised so that later no one would doubt that He had truly assumed human flesh, and that His Incarnation was not merely an illusion, as some, however, wrongly believed.
After this ritual, the Divine Infant was given the name Jesus, as the Archangel Gabriel declared on the day of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary. "And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the Child, His name was called Jesus, which was so named of the Angel before He was conceived in the womb" (St. Luke 2:21). The name Jesus, which means "the one who saves", was an indication of His service, the work of the salvation of the world (Mt 1:21; Mk 9:38-39, 16:17; Luke 10:17; Acts 3:6, 16; Phil 2:9-10).
These two events - the Lord's Circumcision and Naming - remind Christians that they have entered into a New Covenant with God, that the very name "Christian" is a sign of mankind's entrance into this New Covenant and "are circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ" (Col 2:11). And the ritual of circumcision gave way to the Mystery of Baptism, which it prefigured.
One of the baptismal customs of the early Church note that when the catechumens (those preparing for baptism) had been taught everything that they were to learn, their teachers would lead them back to the bishop, and the bishop would recommend that they change their pagan names and adopt Christian ones, names to remind them of holy persons or of virtues. Thus, the Early Church attached great importance to a person’s name.
A famous 4th Century Church historian, Eusebius, recorded the Christian practice of the time of giving the names of the Apostles to children. Also in the same work, we read that the Egyptian Christians renounced their pagan names for Scriptural names — usually the names of Prophets.
In the old country, there was the special tradition of our people to celebrate one's nameday rather than the birthday. The difference between the celebration of one's day of physical birth and of one's name day is that on the former, the person whose birthday it is becomes the center of attention, whereas on the latter, the saint is the focal point. Placing the saint as the center of attention on one's name day ties the whole celebration in with the entire Church. The individual is not alone in their celebration, but does so together with the whole Church.
Celebration of the nameday is also considered to be spiritually important, for the celebrating individual develops special spiritual ties with his/her Patron Saint and, consequently, with God, for one's name day is not only a day for celebration but also is a day for spiritual growth.
The individual should attend Badarak and receive the Holy Communion on the Sunday or feast that is nearest the saint's feast day.
The custom of the Armenians is to present a lighted candle to the individual in celebration with the words anoonovut dzeranas – may you grow old with your name – with the meaning that you are to grow old sharing the name of your saint as a blessing. This can easily be done at the end of Liturgy by the Priest on behalf of the entire congregation, while at the same time offering a special blessing.
Today, of course, both the feast/name day and birthday can and should be observed. When parents receive the joyous news that they will soon be blessed with a child, it is advised that they decide in a timely manner on the name to be given to the infant, remembering our Lord’s name, "Jesus," was "given" by an Angel even before Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the immaculate womb of the Mother-of-God (Annunciation: St. Luke 1:31).
In contemporary times, following the exact same tradition that prevailed in the Early Church, children should be given the names of the Saints who have sanctified our Church and whose intercessions uphold our faith and our spiritual efforts, for their names are reminders of faith and virtue. Armenians also have the good custom of giving a child the name of the Saint who is celebrated on or near the day of the birth, for it is the Saint of this name who is the patron of the child.
Also there is further custom of bestowing a name associated with the feast day that coincides with the birth. A few examples of this are: Avedis for the Nativity; Haroutune for Easter (Resurrection); Vartouhi (Rose) Transfiguration; Mariam or Mary for the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin; Khatchig for the Feast of the Holy Cross. The Pastors of parishes can assist with this information.
As the child grows, an important teaching that parents can offer to their children is the habit of praying to their patron saint and establish a special devotion, so that they may receive an abundance of God's blessings.
Not only should we hold our patron saint in special reverence, but also a child should have an icon of the saint in their room. On the feast day of the saint, the family ought celebrate the child's name day and the saint's day. This day is considered as our birthday into the Church and on this day we celebrate this important event.
Fr. Tateos R. Abdalian
Creative and Digital Ministies
Diocese of the Armenian Church
Note: Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion are all given at the time of baptism. Together these make the new believer ready to fully participate in the life of the Church.
In the process of growing up, the child needs the strength of body and mind. Chrismation, or the anointing with oil at baptism, seals him or her with the Holy Spirit, promising spiritual strength as a member of the Church.
Note: Baptism, Chrismation, and Holy Communion are all given at the time of baptism. Together these make the new believer ready to fully participate in the life of the Church.
We all need nourishment to live. The soul needs spiritual food to keep alive and to grow in the Kingdom of God. Holy Communion is the most important sacrament and the center of the Church’s life; this union with the Lord is indeed the ultimate purpose of a Christian life as a whole. Communion (haghortootiun in Armenian) refers to the mystical union of people with God and each other as they gather, pray, read the Bible, remember Christ, and share in his redemption of the world through the bread and wine that become truly his body and blood. The faithful are encouraged to take Communion as often as they can.
In confessing sins and seeking forgiveness, the faithful are made whole again as citizens of God’s kingdom.
Marriage is one of the seven basic Sacraments of the Armenian Orthodox Church. It is directly related to the experience of being God’s people and with the mystical experience of membership in the Church. This Sacrament, which blesses the union of a man and woman, begins with the partners themselves belonging to the Body of Christ, His Holy Church, and their sharing in the fullness of its liturgical life of prayer. Their witness to the Armenian Orthodox Faith becomes visible in their frequent reception of Holy Communion. Therefore, it is at the Divine Liturgy that they can together experience their union in Christ the Lord as husband and wife forever.
It is significant that in the early Christian Church the marriage of a couple was validated by attending the Divine Liturgy, partaking of Holy Communion together, and finally, receiving a blessing from the bishop who offered a simple prayer for their life together. The formal rites of marriage as celebrated today evolved from these early practices.
Indeed, the free consent of the couple, both then and now, is essential in order to receive the sacramental blessing; not only their free consent, but also much more. The gathered body of the Church, the sharing of the Eucharist, the experience of prayer at the Divine Liturgy as well as the blessing of the Priest – all these together represented Christ in the celebration of this event as “sacrament” and were important. With our Lord at the center of this event, marriage becomes truly a Christian celebration, giving birth to a union that is sanctified, blessed and hallowed by the grace of God. The initial practice of Eucharistic sharing in marriage as the central experience of faith is still preserved by the Armenian Orthodox as the couple, both communicant members of the church, are instructed to receive the Sacrament of Penance prior to and Holy Communion on the Sunday preceding their marriage.
This prenuptial sharing of the Body and Blood of Christ clearly shows that marriage is not only contractual or a legal validation of a man and a woman but more so a true celebration of the entire church, i.e., the couple, the congregation of believers, and the Priest who are themselves all witnesses to a new life centered in the Eucharist.
Today, this Eucharistic tradition is confronted with many challenges. In our pluralistic society the great diversity of religious faith confessions makes the ‘ideal’ of a marriage between Armenian Orthodox partners less a reality in the Church community. The Church now encounters the condition of a ‘mixed marriage’; a marriage between an Armenian Orthodox and a Christian from another faith confession. Such situations do not change the general meaning of marriage with regard to its intent, but certainly present problems when celebrating the rites of blessing.
It should be understood that mixed marriages are neither encouraged nor forbidden by the Armenian Orthodox Church. Sacramental blessing by the church, granted through the person of the Officiant Priest, could only be administered and celebrated for those who are baptized Christians. Canonically there is no separate liturgical rite for an Armenian Orthodox and a non- Christian.
As stated, mixed marriages are those between Armenian Orthodox and persons from Christian confessions that acknowledge belief in the Holy Trinity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. The celebration of the Sacrament of Crowning, as it is traditionally called, is allowed for a mixed faith union out of concern for the couple’s well being inviting them both to share in prayer and affirm, however possible, their common faith within the rite without compromise of personal or Church integrity. This practice of ‘oekonomia’ thus allows both to share as much as possible. It should remain clear that the acceptance and participation of a non-Armenian Orthodox Christian in the marriage rite does not imply his/her conversion, nor does it grant him/her the privilege to actively receive the other Sacraments of the Church. It is only by the Sacrament of Chrismation that one becomes a member of the faith community; after proper catechizes before or after marriage.
The key to the success of a mixed-marriage, from the day of the ceremony to the eventual Christian formation of family, and the interpersonal relationship of the couple as well as their extended relationships with friends and family members, is the extra sensitivity to the spirit of love and sacrifice. Armenian Orthodox partners should make every effort to be sensitive to the feelings, beliefs, practices and perspectives of their spouses. It is likewise hoped that the non-Armenian spouse will do the same.
There are basic standards that exist in all Oriental Orthodox Churches regarding the meaning of marriage and its sanctification by the Church in the office of her priesthood and by the witness of her faithful. However, even within this unified bodies of ancient Churches there are differing interpretations and practices of these standards.
For example, the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches require re-baptism of Protestants or conversion to Oriental Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism and Byzantine (Chalcedonian) Orthodoxy. Such a requirement precludes altogether the existence of mixed marriages in these Churches. The Armenian and Syrian Churches, however, never mandate conversion or practice re-baptism, provided that the baptism of the non-Oriental Orthodox has been admitted with the Trinitarian formula. In all cases, the Christian formation of children is expected to develop in the particular Church in which the marriage was blessed. No promissory document must be signed.
Christian marriage is essentially a meeting of two beings in love, a human love that can be transformed by the sacramental grace of the Holy Spirit into an eternal bond, indissoluble even by death. Marriage in the Armenian Church is a Sacrament (in Armenian, Khorhoort, translated as “Mystery”) directly relating to the experience of the faithful being the mystical body of the Church. Marriage is also a sign of God’s Kingdom, for it begins to restore the unity of mankind, broken by sin, and, represents a greater mystery, the unity of redeemed mankind in Jesus Christ.
Scripture teaches God created humanity as male and female with the intent that they should join and be together as one. Christ blessed the wedding at Cana with His presence and performed a miracle, which assisted in the joyous celebration of the event. The Letters of St. Paul to the Corinthians and Ephesians become the basis for the Christian teaching on marriage.
The Christian doctrine of marriage is a joyful responsibility giving legitimate satisfaction to the body and to the soul showing what it means to be truly man, created in the image and likeness of God.
Compiled in part from the Canons and practices of the Armenian Church the directives issued by the Primates of the Diocese of the Armenian Church (Eastern), and local conditions.
In our Mission Parishes who have their own Church sanctuary, prior to any other arrangements being made, couples are advised to contact their local Parish Council at least eight to ten months prior to the date of a wedding to confirm the availability of an Officiating Priest and sanctuary. In the situation of Mission Parishes without a permanent sanctuary, the couple need contact the Parish Council who in turn will contact the Diocese and/or the assigned visiting Pastor. In either case, the couple is to meet with the Officiating Priest for premarital counseling on at least two or three occasions.
All weddings are to follow the Canons of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.
It is the responsibility of the couple to present a valid license to the Officiating Priest prior to the service.
The wedding ceremony is to take place in the church proper.
Both parties must be baptized and chrismated Christians, and, at least one must be a confirmed member of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church.
Those who are to enter into the chancel are to be Christians. The Brother-in-the-Cross (Khatchnyekhpayr), who participates in the ceremony by holding a cross over the heads of the bride and groom, is to be a baptized and chrismated communicant member of the Armenian Church. The Maid/Matron-of-Honor is to be a baptized Christian, but not necessarily of the Armenian Church.
When either party has been divorced from a living spouse, a dispensation from the Diocesan Primate, based upon legal documents presented to the Officiating Priest, is necessary. This information is to be provided to the Officiating Priest well in advance of the wedding date in order to secure the permission of the Diocesan Bishop for a second marriage to take place.
No marriage can be solemnized in the Armenian Church when it is the intent that a second religious ceremony be held in another church or any other place. The reverse is also not acceptable. By the same token, a marriage done in a civil court is not sacramental and requires the proper blessing of the Church in order for it to be considered a Sacrament.
Music played prior to the ceremony, the processional and recessional, is to be liturgical in origin and is ordinarily selected from the Armenian Church hymnal. Popular/secular music is deemed inappropriate. Final decisions shall be made in consultation with the Officiating Priest.
Invitation of other participating clergy must first be discussed with the Officiating Priest who, upon approval, shall make all arrangements of invitation for such through his office. If the guest priest is a member of the Armenian Church Clergy, he may be invited to share in the service. Clergy of other denominations shall be allowed participation in extent to the faith traditions of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The same applies to deacons, soloists and other participants.
The Officiating Priest shall make all necessary arrangements for the deacon, organist and/or soloist. The Parish Council will provide the couple with all additional details and forms regarding donations to the church, honorariums, and fees. If the Officiating Priest or other clergy are to be invited to the reception, a wedding invitation properly is to be sent.
Decorations and flower arrangements for the church or altar and their placement should first be discussed with the Officiating Priest. No nails, screws, or adhesive tape may be used. Open light candles that may be potential fire hazards will not be allowed. The Officiating Priest, his designee, or the local church personnel may remove decorations contrary to the above in advance of the service. No furniture in the sanctuary shall be moved from its place.
Wedding rehearsals shall be arranged with the Officiating Priest. All bridal party members who are to participate in the ceremony are asked to be present.
Photographs and/or video recordings may be taken at any time during the service. The bridal couple should instruct the photographers to speak with the Officiating Priest prior to the service for instruction. At no time may photographers or guests enter into the chancel area, ascend the steps of the Altar bema area, or be at the altar itself.
The attire of the bride and her attendants must be tasteful in accord with proper attire for attendance at worship. Low cut gowns, short pants, costumes and such are deemed inappropriate.
Keeping in mind that during the ceremony, either wedding braids (narods) will be tied around the heads of the couple, or, crowns will be placed upon their heads, bridal head covering should be such as to accommodate these. Hats cannot be worn.
In preparation of their new life together, the bride and/or groom who is a member of the Armenian Church is encouraged to come before the Officiating Priest for individual confession and the reception of Holy Communion, at a time prior to the wedding ceremony.
Weddings may not take place on Sunday mornings, during Great Lent or Holy Week, or on the five major feast days: Epiphany, January 6; Easter; The Feast of the Transfiguration; The Feast of the Assumption of Mary the Mother of God; and The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.
The Armenian Church requires that a Priest be the minister of the Sacrament, as he, in the name and with the authority of the Diocesan Bishop, brings the marriage into being by conferring upon the couple, the blessings of the Church. Each action accomplished in the service is done to emphasis the relationship of oneness of the couple to each other and to the Church body.
The ring has been a symbol of faithfulness from the earliest of biblical times, both of God to man and of man to his bond of marriage. As the circle is the perfect shape symbolizing eternity, so the love and faithfulness of bridegroom and bride to each other is also to be the same. As the rings are blessed, they are placed on the third finger of the left hand with the words:
The Priest joins the right hand of the bride to the right hand of the bridegroom, recalling the oneness of Adam and Eve. He places his hand over theirs symbolizing the sanctifying blessing of their union, proclaiming ”…Wherefore them that God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
The bridegroom and bride are asked to respond three times to the inquiry of the priest. They each state their willingness to assume their proper roles as husband and wife in the context of St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians.
The bridegroom is asked if he will be lord to this woman unto death. By his yes he promises to give of himself in total love and faithfulness to his spouse as Christ gave to his bride, the Church, in total love, even unto death.
The bride is asked if she will be obedient to this man, even unto death. Her yes testifies to her willingness to be obedient to her husband, as the faithful are to be obedient to the Lord as the head of the Body, the Church.
Lordship and obedience are dynamics of a special covenant and expression of a sacrificial love, enduring even to eternity. In no way does it suppose a worldly master/servant relationship, but rather that of Jesus as Lord and Master who gave of himself as servant to the world.
The Scripture readings include the most revealing sections of the New Testament relative to marriage. The important point made by Paul in the Epistle to the Ephesians is that of the union of Christ with the Church, His Body, is the model – the absolute model – of the relationship between husband and wife. Marriage as a Sacrament is the introduction and the transposition of man-woman relationship into the already Kingdom of God, where Christ and the Church are one body. The Epistle gives further lucidity to the promises made earlier of the man and woman on being lord and obedient.
The weddings chaplets placed upon the bridegroom and the bride are of Biblical origin. Traditionally a sign of victory in athletic competition, St. Paul writes; “Every athlete in training submits to strict discipline; he does so in order to be crowned with a crown that will not last; but we do it for one that will last forever.” (I Cor. 9:25) Thus the chaplets become a symbol of eternal reward for righteousness. The prayer recalls the marriages of the Holy couples of Israel, asking God to place the bridegroom and bride in the company of these ancestors of Christ, to bestow upon them the same blessings they received as God’s chosen. The Priest beseeches God to “make their marriage fruitful with offspring.” God continues to act through human creative fertility; the “Temple of His body” is still being built and child bearing is participation in the Mystery of Christ. Childbirth and the raising of children are indeed a great joy and God’s blessing. In giving life to others, man consciously imitates God’s creative act. The Gospel is read of the marriage in Cana of Galilee. The changing of water into wine points to a transfiguration of the old to the new, a passage from death to life. It announces the possibility of transforming the natural order of things into a joyful celebration of God’s presence among men.
Wine is a gift of God to man and symbolic of life itself. Wine is something that makes us happy, something that sparkles, is used medicinally, and is sweet. That same wine that makes us happy can make us sad, can become flat and dull, can make us sick, and can go sour. It depends on how we use it. The couple shares in this common cup, as they are to share in the joys and difficulties of life together.
After the offering of the “Lord’s Prayer”, the newly married couple receives the blessing of the Church, sending them into the world to now live as husband and wife, king and queen of their kingdom and family.
**(Adapted from the document “Guideline for Oriental Orthodox / Roman Catholic Marriages [revised June 1993] by the Reverend Father Garabed Kochakian and Very Reverend Chorepiscopus John Meno)
Before focusing on these particular issues, a general overview of the understanding of a Roman Catholic/Armenian Orthodox marriage, from a Roman Catholic viewpoint, would be helpful to clearly set basic guidelines for the Armenian Orthodox.
The Roman Church views as essential the following steps for the blessing of a marriage, to be in complete harmony with her church order.
As indicated in marriages between Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians, it should be noted that the Roman Church recognizes the validity of the marriage as Sacrament when celebrated by an Armenian Orthodox clergyman.
Also it is important to remember that the Roman Catholic priest, in all weddings, serves as the witness of the Church while he observes the bride and bridegroom impart/administer/celebrate the sacrament upon each other. * The couple is considered to be ministers of the Sacrament of Marriage. Such an understanding is not theologically consonant regarding the general administration of the sacraments for the Armenian Orthodox who perceives the priest, the representative of the Bishop who is himself the fullness of the Church, as both liturgically and canonically the chief dispenser of God’s grace, the celebrant and sole sacramental minister.
We have discussed the church as witness in the varied theological explanations of the Orthodox and Catholic understandings. It is necessary to address the issue of the laity as witness to the sacramental blessing of marriage and their participation in the ceremony itself.
The lay witnesses in the ceremony of blessing are the Best Man and the Maid/Matron of Honor. In all the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Best Man should himself be a member of the faith community. In the Armenian and Syrian Orthodox tradition, the primary major witness is the Best Man or more appropriately, the Brother-in-the-Cross, for during the ceremony of both Churches, he holds a Cross between the couple (Syrian) or over their heads (Armenian). In the Armenian Church, the Brother-in-the-Cross serves as baptismal godfather of the child(ren) of the couple. This, however, is a national custom and not a theological regulation or requirement.
There is no question with regard to the validity of the Sacrament of Marriage when it is celebrated and blessed in an Oriental Orthodox sanctuary with an Orthodox priest officiating.
When an Oriental (Armenian) Orthodox/Roman Catholic couple is united in Holy Matrimony in a Roman Catholic ceremony, certain questions for the Armenian Orthodox arise relative to the full sacramental validity. The sacramentality of the service would not be a question if an Armenian Orthodox priest were present at the ceremony and offered prayers legitimating the union of the couple at an appropriate point during the service. His presence and active participation would then satisfy the action of the “Church” as bestowing the sacramental blessing.
However, if there were no Oriental (Armenian) Orthodox clergy present at the celebration of the Catholic ceremony, the question as to the sacramental validity arises. There is no question regarding the validity of marriage, but concern as to the authenticity and legitimacy of the sacrament as understood by the Armenian Orthodox Church would exist. The marriage would appear to be deficient in regard to the Orthodox form and the theological concept of sacrament as Grace bestowed through the persona of the priest.
It is hoped that this information will serve as a valuable guide to both Armenian Orthodox and Roman Catholic couples who are preparing for the Sacrament of Marriage. Focusing upon your common aspects of Christian faith and tradition rather than the issues that divide them, will enable you to establish a basic foundation of a spiritually healthy and meaningful Christ-centered relationship.
The decision and choice of living out the faith within the tradition your union has been sacramentally blessed is an important consideration, particularly in regard to family faith formation. Though Eucharistic unity between Roman Catholics and Oriental Orthodox is not presently a reality, this in no manner minimizes the respect that should be extended toward each other’s church nor does it preclude, at the least, the sharing of a similar Christian faith. Nonetheless, affirming a commitment to a faith praxis, that is to be lived out, is the major objective of the priest(s) who shall bless this holy union of a man and woman and for the sake of their children.
Fr. Tateos R. Abdalian, Director,
Department of Mission Parishes
Diocese of the Armenian Church
Invitation of other participating clergy must first be discussed with the Officient of the marriage ceremony. Upon approval of participation, the Pastor shall make all arrangements of invitation for such through his office.
If the guest priest is a member of the Armenian Church Clergy, he may be invited to share in the service comp-etely. Clergy of other denominations shall be allowed participation in extent to the faith traditions of the Armenian Orthodox Church. The same applies to deacons, soloists and other participants.
The Pastor or the Parish Council shall make all necessary arrangements for the deacon, organist and/or soloist, and will provide the couple. If the Pastor or other clergy are to be invited to the reception, a wedding invitation ought be sent directly to them.
The custom and practice of presenting an offering to the church on the occasion of the Sacrament of Marriage ceremony comes from both scripture and our own traditions. (See Luke 2:23-24).
The offering of a monetary gift to the church in the celebration of the sacrament is an expression of thankfulness and love of God that allows this donation to become a gift of joyous giving for the occasion. It is not a fee of obligation that one is required to pay out of compulsion.
The church historically has always been dependent upon such gifts from the faithful to help in part, maintain the continuation of her mission.
The amount of suggested donations for the Sacrament of Marriage may be discussed with the Parish Council.
In cases where there is hardship, families are assured that they may speak with the Pastor in confidence regarding this matter.
People dedicate their lives directly to God and commit to serving in his Church.
The sacrament heals the soul and body of the sick.