This Sunday, September 17, the Armenian Church commemorates the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Khachverats), which is the last of the five Tabernacle Feasts observed by the Armenian Church during the liturgical year. The Exaltation celebrates the transformation of the cross as an instrument of punishment into a venerated symbol of life and victory. A sacred religious symbol that was now exalted and glorified.
Most Christian churches commemorate this holy day on September 14. The Armenian Church celebrates it on the Sunday closest to September 14. It is the oldest of the feasts devoted to the cross. The cross, once a means of death for criminals, became the dominant symbol of triumph over death. Christ’s apostle James, Patriarch of Jerusalem, elevated the Holy Cross during a religious ceremony while chanting the hymn, “Khachee oh Krisdos Yergeer Bakanemk,” (To Your Cross We Bow), thus accepting the cross as a symbol of salvation and an object of utmost veneration. James was later martyred in Jerusalem, and upon his grave stands the expansive Armenian monastery of St. James in Jerusalem.
There are four feasts devoted to the cross in the Armenian liturgical calendar, with the Exaltation being the most important. The other three are: Apparition of the Holy Cross; Holy Cross of Varak, and Discovery of the Cross. Each of these four holidays devoted to the Holy Cross are related to the life and the salvific work of our Lord.
The ceremony for the Exaltation begins with the decoration of the Cross with sweet basil (rehan), a sign of royalty, and also as a symbol of the living cross that is carried around the church in a procession led by the priest, and followed by deacons and altar servers. After the Bible readings, the officiating priest lifts the Cross and makes the sign of the Cross, and blesses the four corners of the world (Andastan service), asking God’s blessing and bounty for the prosperity of the Armenian Church and for the fruitfulness of the land, and all the holy places and inhabitants thereof.
The Khachveratz ceremony was prepared by Catholicos Sahag Dzoraporetsi (677-703). He also composed the hymn that is sung on this day. As with other Tabernacle Feasts, the Exaltation is preceded with a period of fasting (Monday to Friday), and followed by a Memorial Day (Merelotz). The Eve of this Feast is also celebrated (Navagadik). Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, following Memorial Day are feast days dedicated to the Holy Church.
Name day commemorations this Sunday include: Khatchadour, Khatchig, Khatcherets, Rehan, Khatchkhatoun, Khachouhi, Khatchperouhi, Khosrov, Khosrovanoush, Khrosrovitoukhd, and Nshan.