Armenian Language Corner

Maundy Thursday and the Eclipse

If there is no light in the room, you say «Մութ է» ( Moot eh ) to mean “It is dark.” However, if you wanted to be less colloquial and a little more literary, you might use the word խաւար ( khavar ), which means both “darkness” and “dark.” If you wanted to translate “In the Darkness,” you could either say «Մութին մէջ» ( Mootin mech ) or «Խաւարին մէջ» (Khavarin mech ).

The word khavar, already recorded in the fifth century A.D., probably comes from an Iranian source (for instance, we have Middle Persian xvarvaran and Farsi xavar ), meaning “west.” The West is where the sun goes down (Armenian արեւմուտք/arevmoodk ) ; therefore, the idea of “west” would normally be associated with darkness.

The word khavar may remind you of one of the highlights of the Holy Week, as celebrated by the Armenian Apostolic Church: the Խաւարում ( Khavaroom ). During this ceremony, held on Maundy Thursday, the twelve candles lighted in the church are put out one after the other, symbolizing the abandonment of Jesus by the twelve Apostles—including the black candle representing Judas—after the Last Supper and his prayer at the garden of Gethsemane. The church remains in the dark, while the poignant hymn Where Are Thou, My Mother? ( Ո՞ւր ես, մայր իմ / Oor es, mayr eem ) is sung. The action of darkening is called խաւարել ( khavaril ), but there is not an exact term in English to translate khavaroom, and thus the Latin translation tenebrae is used.

There is another khavaroom that became fashionable this week, after the total eclipse of the sun recorded on Tuesday, August 22, 2017. Khavaroom is the Armenian word for “eclipse” (from Greek ekleipsis “fail to appear”), and, as we may notice, whoever created the Armenian equivalent did not care about a literal translation, but applied the concept of darkening also used in the Holy Week.

To end this small note on astronomy, let us remember that, if it is a solar eclipse like this one, we call it արեւի խաւարում (arevi khavaroom ), while the moon eclipse becomes a լուսնի խաւարում ( loosnee khavaroom ).

Get your vocabulary ready for the next total solar eclipse in seven years!