Armenian Language Corner

Another Mashdots (Not St. Mesrob)

Everybody knows that St. Mesrob Mashdots was the creator of the Armenian alphabet and has a fair idea of the efforts he made to that effect, as well as the work that he carried out in the first decades after the creation toward setting the grounds of Armenian written literature.

There is no scholarly consensus about the meaning of the surname Mashdots, which his disciple and biographer Koriun used, without ever mentioning the name Mesrob. However, the word Mashdots also has another meaning, since it designates the ceremonial book of the Armenian Apostolic Church, which contains the rites and prayers necessary for ceremonies and sacraments.

There are three classes of Mashdots, called Ձեռաց Մաշտոց (Tserats Mashdots), or “Manual Mashdots”; Մայր Մաշտոց (Mayr Mashdots) օr “Mother Mashdots,” and Հայր Մաշտոց (Hayr Mashdots) or “Father Mashdots.”

The Tserats Mashdots is the one used by priests and contains all texts required for sacraments and other rituals, including prayers for different occasions (home blessing, well blessing, new book blessing, et cetera). The Mayr Mashdots is for the special ceremonies performed by bishops (ordination, delivery of staff, church consecration, priest’s burial), while the Hayr Mashdots is reserved for the consecration of Catholicoi and the blessing of the Muron.

It is unclear why this collection has received the name Mashdots. It has been linked to St. Mesrob Mashdots or to Catholicos Mashdots I Yeghvardetsi (897-898), who had compiled the collection when he was still a monk at the monastery of Sevan.

For those who are interested, there is a Mashtots on sale on e-Bay. It is an edition of 1790, printed in Trieste by the splinter branch of the Mekhitarist Congregation that settled in that Italian city after leaving Venice, before moving to Vienna in 1811. It is a rare edition, and the seller is obviously unaware of its contents: It has been listed as “an Armenian book about [Mesrop] Mashtots.” Needless to say, it is not…

While correcting misunderstandings in religious matters, we should recall a CD of Armenian sacred music released years ago. It contained a version of the hymn Ուրախ լեր (Urakh ler), which is sung at the end of the wedding ceremony.

The publisher had provided translations of the hymn names. Knowledge of Armenian had not reached the point to be aware that the word լեր (ler) has nothing to do with լեռ (lerr “mountain”), and that’s why the title of the hymn was translated as… “Happy Mountain” (!).

Actually, լեր (ler) is a conjugation of the verb “to be” in Classical Armenian, equivalent to եղիր (yeghir) in Modern Armenian. The first sentence of the hymn «Ուրախ լեր, սուրբ Եկեղեցի, քանզի Քրիստոս արքայն երկնից այսօր պսակեաց զքեզ խաչիւն իւրով» (Oorakh ler, soorp Yegeghetsee, kanzee Krisdos arkan yergnits aysor bsageats uzkez khachivun yoorov), namely, “Be joyful, holy Church, for Christ the king crowned you from Heaven with His Cross today.”

We invite the reader to replace “Be joyful” with “Happy mountain” and see what happens…