Holy Badarak – Divine Liturgy
The primary service of the Armenian Church, during which the sacrament of communion is administered, is called Divine Liturgy, in Armenian – “Badarak”.
The service of the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church is based upon the missals of St. Basil of Caesarea and St. Gregory the Theologian. In the course of time the Divine Liturgy, underwent changes and additions in its celebration in the Armenian language; with special rites and original Armenian chants, it assumed a national character. It is divided into four parts, commonly referred to as Preparation, Synaxis (teaching), Eucharist and Last Blessing.
During the Divine Liturgy, unleavened bread and unmixed wine are used. The communion is given to the faithful in the form of the consecrated bread steeped in wine.
Those who do not receive the sacrament are encouraged to partake in the Liturgy through prayer and unceasing remembrance of our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of Badarak, “mas”, portions of blessed thin unleavened bread, is distributed to those who have not received the sacrament. Mas is distributed on one hand in remembrance of the Agape feast (which used to take place after the Divine Liturgy) and on the other hand in order that the faithful, who have not received the sacrament, can share in the Divine feast.
Here is a brief summary of several important parts of the Divine Liturgy:
Procession Into the Church and Up to the Altar
The Divine Liturgy begins not in the elevated altar space known as the bema (elevated part of the sanctuary), but among the people. Led by the candle-bearers and altar servers, the celebrant enters the sanctuary while the people sing “Khorhoort khoreen / profound mystery”. The “mystery” is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became a human being in order to fill us personally with his divine blessings, and with eternal life.
Behind the Closed Curtain
While the celebrant and deacon attend to the preparation of the bread and wine for Holy Communion, the other altar servers light candles and form the procession. The curtain is closed so that people will not be distracted from their prayer and reflection.
The Procession and the Beginning of the Liturgy of the Word (Synaxis or Midday Office)
After the altar and the Eucharistic gifts have been prepared, the curtain opens and the deacons lead the priest in a procession around the altar and down into the nave. The celebrant offers incense to the main and side altars, the baptismal font, the sacred icons, and all the people. The people ask that the priest pray for them in the presence of Jesus. The procession marks the beginning of the Liturgy of the Word. The Liturgy of the Word concerns the Word of God, Jesus Christ. He comes to his people in the public reading of the Bible.
A Hymn to Jesus Christ the Only-Begotten Son of God
The Liturgy of the Word begins with a hymn to Jesus Christ, the Word, “Meeyadzeen Vortee yev Pant Asdvadz / Only-Begotten Son and Word of God”. This ancient hymn expresses our conviction that Jesus Christ is the immortal Son of God. He became man when he was born of the holy Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. He was crucified and destroyed death in order to give us eternal life. He is one person of the Holy Trinity.
The Jashoo Sharagan (Midday Hymn) changes each Sunday according to the feast or season of the church year. The hymn focuses on Jesus Christ and the gift of salvation that he has given us.
The Gospel Procession
The deacon calls everyone to attention by chanting “Broskhoomeh / Be Attentive”. He takes the beautifully bound Gospel from the priest and lifts it up high– over his head. Raising up the Gospel represents the authority of God’s Word over our lives. When we commit ourselves to the wisdom of the Gospel, we have a powerful source of meaning and direction.
The Reading of the Scriptures: We are Nourished by the Word of God
The focus of the Liturgy of the Word is the public reading of Biblical passages from the Old and New Testaments. Every Sunday, a passage is selected according to a system that dates back to 4th Century Jerusalem. The Scripture passages should be read by ordained “tubeerk / readers”.
The Reading of the Holy Gospel: God is Speaking
The Gospel reading is the culmination of the Liturgy of the Word. It is chanted from the bema (elevated part of the sanctuary) by an ordained deacon. The fathers of the Armenian Church emphasize that the solemn chanting of the Gospel during the Badarak is not only a lesson for our minds, but is a real meeting with Jesus Christ.
The Nicene Creed: Our Common Faith
The Nicene Creed is chanted by all the people during the Liturgy. The Creed is the official declaration of the principal doctrines of the Church. It was composed by all the churches at the Ecumenical Council of Nicea in 325 AD.
The End of the Liturgy of the Word
The Liturgy of the Word ends with a litany and a prayer. The closing prayer is specifically for those who are not yet baptized members of the Church. Since they are not yet permitted to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion, the unbaptized were originally dismissed at the end of the Liturgy of the Word. Speaking on their behalf, the priest prays, “Make us equal to your true worshipers, who worship you in spirit and in truth.”
The Liturgy of the Eucharist Begins
As the Liturgy of the Word concludes and the Eucharist begins, the celebrant takes off his crown and slippers following God’s command: “Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exodus 3:5). Just like Moses at the burning bush, the priest prepares himself to come into the presence of God. The Eucharist is the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood, offered to those who have made a life commitment to God and sealed it in baptism.
A Hymn about Holy Communion
Like the Liturgy of the Word, the Eucharist also begins with a hymn to Jesus Christ. This first hymn of the Eucharist asserts that when we receive the Body and Blood of Christ in Holy Communion, we join the Son of God who is praised by the angels in heaven.
The Procession with the Gifts of Bread and Wine
Another similarity between the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Word is that both begin with a procession. A priest or deacon moves around the altar elevating the veiled chalice above his head. Like the procession with the Gospel in the Liturgy of the Word, this procession draws our attention and devotion to the bread and wine, which become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. At the end of the procession, the deacon hands the gifts to the celebrant as they alternate verses from Psalm 24.
The Procession with the Gifts concludes with a proclamation by the deacon, leading into a prayer by the celebrant. On behalf of all those present he asks God to “grant this bread and this cup to be for us, who taste of them, a remedy of forgiveness of our sins.”
The Kiss of Peace
St. Paul routinely directed the members of the Christian communities to “greet one another with a holy kiss”. A ritualized greeting of peace and reconciliation is found in the Eucharist of all ancient Christian churches.
A Call to Attention: Let us Stand in Awe
After the Kiss of Peace, the deacons invite everyone to give their undivided attention to the main prayer of the Badarak: the Eucharistic Prayer. During this prayer, the celebrant asks God to do for us what Jesus promised at his Last Supper: to fill us with His Body and Blood, the sacrament of His holiness and divine life, in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. The celebrant is speaking on behalf of all of us.
The Eucharistic Prayer
The Eucharistic Prayer of the Church is attributed to the great 4th Century Egyptian theologian St. Athanasius, who strongly influenced Armenian theology. The Prayer is called “Eucharistic” because the story of our salvation in Christ revolves around Christ’s Last Supper.
Theologians refer to the first part of the Eucharistic Prayer as the “Preface”. The Preface praises God for sending his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to be born, and to take on the condition of humanity in order to cleanse it and reconcile it with God the Father. This is the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. We see the same mystery revealed in the bread and wine of the Badarak.
The Hymn of the Angels: Holy, Holy, Holy
The angelic song of the three holies known as the “Sanctus / Soorp, Soorp, Soorp”, is sung in the Eucharist of all ancient Christian churches. When we sing this hymn, we are reminded of the extraordinary privilege of being a Christian.
The Last Supper
After the Sanctus, the Eucharistic Prayer describes “the outpouring of Jesus’ infinite loving-kindness to us”. The Prayer recalls God’s repeated attempts in the Old Testament to coax mankind back from the vain and sinful distractions of this life to the loving security of God. This culminates in the sacrifice of God’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross as a redemption for our sinfulness. “The world-saving Cross…the occasion of our redemption” is perpetuated for us in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharistic Prayer narrates this event, quoting Christ’s own words: “Take, eat; this is my body…Drink this all of you. This is my blood”.
“Epiclesis” (eh-pi-clee’-sis) is the term theologians use to describe the next part of the Eucharistic Prayer. In the Epiclesis we call on God’s Holy Spirit to come down “upon us and upon these gifts,” so that they may become “truly the Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”.
After the Epiclesis, in the presence of Jesus Christ in his Body and Blood, we pray to our heavenly Father for all of our daily cares and concerns. These requests of the Divine Liturgy are called “Intercessions.” We pray for peace in the world, for the stability of the Armenian Church, for our Catholicos, Bishops and clergy, for civil leaders, for travelers, prisoners, captives, for the sick and suffering, for temperate weather and sufficient food, for those who help the poor, for all the living and all the dead.
The Conclusion of the Eucharistic Prayer
The great Eucharistic Prayer ends with a final reference to Holy Communion, a closing doxology in praise of the Holy Trinity, and of course, the seal of all prayers, Amen: “And having cleansed our thoughts, make us temples fit for the reception of the Body and Blood of your Only-begotten, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, with whom to you, O Father almighty, together with the life-giving and liberating Holy Spirit, is befitting glory, dominion and honor, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen”.
Prayers and Hymns before Holy Communion
Originally at this point Holy Communion was distributed, the people were dismissed and the Divine Liturgy ended. But after several centuries, new hymns and prayers were added between the end of the Eucharistic Prayer and the distribution of Holy Communion. These rites developed as further preparation for receiving Holy Communion. Theologians call these liturgical elements “Pre-Communion Rites.”
Two Hymns of Praise
Two hymns were added before the distribution of Holy Communion. The first is addressed to Christ: “Meeayn soorp / The one holy”. It is sung while the celebrant elevates the Eucharistic bread and the chalice over his head, proclaiming that they are the Body and Blood of Christ. The second hymn is sung in praise of the three persons of the Holy Trinity: “Amen, Hayr soorp, Vorteet soorp, Hokeet soorp / Amen, Holy is the Father, Holy is the Son, and Holy is the Spirit.”
Before Holy Communion
At this point the curtain is closed. Behind the curtain the celebrant offers two personal prayers before he himself receives Holy Communion. It is an ancient custom in all Eastern churches that when the priest celebrating the Eucharist receives Holy Communion, this is done out of the sight of the faithful. During this time behind the curtain, the priest asks God to forgive all of our sins, and relates himself to the prodigal son (Luke 15:11).
Confession and Absolution
It is an ancient tradition of the Church that even before receiving Holy Communion the faithful have opportunities to examine their lives and confess to a priest. They confess their sins and reflect on any distractions that have taken them away from a life in Christ. The priest prays that God will forgive them and restore their status as children of God.
Holy Communion is distributed in the following manner. Those who have been baptized stand before the priest, make the sign of the cross, and say “Megha Asdoodzo / I have sinned against God.” The priest then places a small particle of our Lord’s Body and Blood — the bread having been dipped into the wine — directly into the mouth of the believer. The believer makes the sign of the Cross and steps aside for others to approach. After all have received Holy Communion, the priest uses the chalice to imprint the sign of the Cross over the communicants and blesses them with Psalm 28:9: “Save your people, Lord, and bless your inheritance; shepherd them and lift them up from henceforth until eternity”.
Last Blessing Conclusion of the Divine Liturgy: Prayer and Gospel
The Badarak concludes with the Word of God in the Gospel according to St. John [1:1-14]. This custom came to the Armenian Divine Liturgy from the medieval Roman Mass, which the Armenians came to know when the Crusaders passed through Cilician Armenia on their way to the Holy Land in the Middle Ages.
After the final blessing, the faithful come forward to kiss the Gospel book, saying “Heeshestseh Der zamenayn Badarakus ko / May the Lord remember all your sacrifices.”
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