(A reflection on the Giragmdits vesper service)
By V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
The Resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is the center of the Gospel and the teachings of the Holy Church. Without the resurrection, the Gospel would merely be a book of teachings and stories. The resurrection transforms the Holy Gospel into the source of life. The resurrection makes us new, giving us a new beginning. Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of that new beginning. St. Paul the Apostle called Him “The Last Adam,” (1 Cor. 15:45) who restored us from our fallen nature to communion with God through the gift of the holy resurrection.
The Armenian Church celebrates the resurrection of Christ throughout the liturgical cycle in many ways outside the Easter celebration. One such celebration is the “Giragmdits”(Կիրակմտից or Կիրակամտից) (Giragi = Sunday, Mdits = entering), a vesper service every Saturday evening. It consists of the Evening Hour of Prayer, and takes place on Saturday evening at 5:00 pm. The Giragmdits prepares the faithful for our weekly celebration of Jesus’s resurrection each Sunday.
Jesus first revealed His resurrection to Mary and the Oil-Bearing Women early in the morning on the first day of the week, when it was still dark. (John 20:1) The resurrected Christ appeared to Mary Magdalene at sunrise. She did not know that she was witnessing the world’s rebirth. Not only did Jesus literally illuminate the day, He also brought light to the depths of Mary Magdalene’s mournful soul, which was darkened with sorrow. In this context, Mary Magdalene represents us. The sight of the resurrected Jesus, victory over crucifixion and death, caused immense joy for Mary Magdalene and her companions. They ran to the Apostles to share the good news of the resurrection, and to tell them to meet the resurrected Lord in Galilee.
According to our liturgical clock, 5:00 PM marks the beginning of the next day. At 5:00PM each Saturday, we step into Sunday and the resurrection. Accordingly, at this hour, the church celebrates the resurrection. Therefore, Soorp Asdvadz (Trisagion – the Hymn of Three Holies) is chanted as Vor Haryar I merelots (who is risen from the dead) rather than Vor Khachetsar vasn mer (who was crucified for us).
The Giragmdits service focuses on the concept of Jesus as the Light. The service begins with one of the ancient hymns of Christianity, “Looys Zvart” (O Gladsome Light). Hovnan Mantaguni includes a translation in his volume, The Armenian Liturgical Hours. Looys Zvart embodies the essence and the meaning of the service, glorifying and praising Jesus as the Light. The English translation of the hymn follows:
“O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the Immortal Father, heavenly, holy, blessed Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. For it is right at all times to worship Thee with voices of praise, O Son of God and Giver of Life, therefore all the world glorifies Thee.”
Another hymn further emphasizes Christ as the Light at this vesper service. The hymn of the Evening Service known as “Hampartsi” changes according to the day and the feast. However, during the Giragmdits service, it is always the same chant: “Soorp es Der” (You are Holy, O Lord), followed by “Yergnakaghakatsin…” (Citizen of Heaven…). The first chant glorifies Christ, our illuminator and the second hymn is dedicated to St. John the Baptist and his martyrdom. Both hymns are in the first tone of the Armenian hymnal.
Light, Beginning and Resurrection. Starting Giragmdits in the first mode (Աձ) reminds us that the grace of resurrection marked a new beginning for humanity. We have an opportunity every Saturday evening and Sunday morning to participate in this holy mystery. In the first chapter of the book of Genesis, God said “Let there be Light.” (Genesis 1:3) God created the world with His Light. The Light was the beginning of the creation. In the book of John, speaking about the “Beginning” of the Eternal Word, the Gospel writer introduces and explains that Jesus is the true Light. In other words, God’s true Light, who created the universe, rose from the dead in order for his creation to live forever. During the Giragmdits, we come together and remember Christ bringing the true Light to the world, giving us a new beginning through grace.
Why is St. John the Baptist commemorated on Saturday evening? In the Armenian Church, St. John the Baptist is known as the Forerunner. Accordingly, he paved the way for the Savior, declaring God’s kingdom. He was the last prophet. He prepared the people for the Messiah. By recalling St. John the Baptist, we prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s resurrection through the Divine Liturgy the following morning.
Giragmdits reminds us about our new life. It reminds us that God constantly gives us new beginnings. No matter who we are or how we have lived our lives, we stand at the Christ’s open tomb to welcome the new life He prepares for us. Through Him we are forgiven and invited to the kingdom of God, to live forever. Through Him, we overcome darkness with light.
Even if we do not have the opportunity to celebrate the Giragmdits service, at 5:00 PM on Saturday we are tied to the resurrection on Sunday. We also know how the Armenian Church prepares for Sunday. It spiritually ties us to Mary Magdalene and the Oil-Bearing Women, as if we are heading to Christ’s grave to welcome His resurrection and our new life. We may burn incense at our homes and bring our hearts to the empty tomb. In this way, His light refreshes and illuminates us. That is how we can get ready to attend Sunday Divine Liturgy on the next day.
Listen to "Looys Zvart" Chant by clicking on the following the link: