by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
Spirituality courses through the Armenian Liturgy. Seemingly minute details in the liturgy can bear deep spiritual and symbolic meanings. Today, we will take a closer look at some liturgical details and explain their spiritual meanings.
On Sunday mornings, the Morning Service includes the Yughaperits (Իւղաբերից - oil-bearing women). The Yughaperits commemorates the women who visited Christ’s tomb with oils and incense, only to find the tomb empty. The oil-bearing women were the first people in the world to learn of Christ’s resurrection. The Yughaperits takes place in the middle of the prayer hour. A priest, vested with a cope (Shurchar - Շուրջառ - liturgical vestment), takes the Yughaperits Gospel and ascends the steps to the Holy Altar. From the Altar, the priest reads one of the Gospel Resurrection stories, according to the tone of the day. After the reading, he blesses the faithful with the Gospel and declares the resurrection of Jesus Christ, saying: Christ is risen!
The Gospel of Yughaperits is a taller, but thinner, book. Traditionally, one cover represents Christ’s crucifixion and the other side Christ’s resurrection. Both are illustrated with metalwork. The stories of the Resurrection are taken from the four Gospels (Matthew 28:1-20 Tone 4 and 8, Mark 15:42:16-8 Tone 3 and 7, Luke 23:50-24:12 Tone 2 and 6, John 19:38-20:18 1 and 5).
The priest ascends the steps to the Holy Altar with the image of the Crucifixion, and descends with the image of the Resurrection. Liturgically, this symbolizes Christ’s salvific road from crucifixion to Resurrection. Christ ascended the hill of Golgotha to be crucified and to declare His victory over death with His blood. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s body was then laid down in a grave, but was raised from death in His glorious resurrection.
The Episcopal Divine Liturgy carries a similar tradition. A bishop’s mitre (Խոյր – Khuyr - helm) often depicts the Crucifixion on one side and the Resurrection on the other. When a bishop celebrates the mass, he ascends the steps to the Holy Altar with the image of the Crucifixion facing the front, and descends with the image of the Resurrection facing the front. This symbolizes that our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified and died for our sins, but rose from the dead and declared victory over death.
This tradition provides perspective for Christian life. Our lives evolve daily, as do our expectations. This can shift our focus to material objects, which can never satisfy us. While our challenges may take up much of our energy, they will never fade away. Christ neither promised, nor lived, a peaceful life. Nevertheless, He promises us a kind of peace different from what the world offers. Our Lord suffered at the hands of those who rejected Him, who organized His punishment, and ultimately sentenced Him to death on the cross. He took the path of suffering and crucifixion willingly, because that path led to the Resurrection.
Our life will never be peaceful, without challenge, or free of illness and difficulty. Christ’s path to resurrection changes our lives, giving them meaning. We cannot diverge from the path to Golgotha if we want to head to the Resurrection. This does not necessarily mean that God wants us to suffer like Him. Rather, God gives our lives new meaning, and the courage to face our challenges. Our lives are transformed to the path to crucifixion. He sanctified our path with his crucifixion and resurrection. The Resurrection fills our lives with peace and meaning. Christ endured the crucifixion willingly and lovingly, in order to grant us new life through the Resurrection. When we dedicate our own trials and suffering to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they bear a new, sacred meaning.
When we see this scene play out during the Morning Service, let us remember why our lives are full of suffering. Our sufferings are no longer meaningless, but lead us to resurrection. Ascending to the Holy Altar, on the path to Golgotha, takes us to God’s everlasting peace. Is there any better perspective to help us with life’s difficulties?
Glory to the suffering, the crucifixion, and the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ!