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 (Verapokhoum) of the Holy Mother of God, the fourth of the five major feast days in our Liturgical Calendar. Verapokhoum in classical Armenian means “transport up.” According to tradition, when the Holy Mother died, she was buried by the apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane. 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, Vaspurakan (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, Mary, Mari, Maroush, Makrouhi, Mayrenie, Serpouhi, Dirouhi, Iskouhi, Takouhi, Arousiag, Arpi, Arpine, Arshalouys, Markarid, Seta, Antaram, Dzaghig, Verjin.
Today the saints have gathered together, the blessed apostles and the holy virgins in bright garments with their lighted lamps and in unison they sang: Blessed are you, all-praised among women.
Today having placed the holy Virgin at the door of the tomb, they awaited the coming of the Lord himself. And behold, they saw on the heights the Creator coming with a multitude of angels; and in unison they began to sing in praise: Blessed are you, all-praised among women.
Today they saw the holy Virgin floating through the air and on the fiery chariot ascending into heaven with the wise virgins entering into the heavenly tabernacles; and in unison they sang in song: Blessed are you, all-praised among women.
Today, accompanied by the many-eyed cherubim and the six-winged seraphim you entered into the radiant tabernacles and saw the various thrones prepared for you, O Lady; with them we also sing: Blessed are you all-praised among women.
(From Canon for the Assumption of the Mother of God, according to the Liturgical Canons of the Armenian Apostolic Church).