V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
During the Divine Liturgy, you will notice the celebrant removing the helmet or mitre from his head before the Presentation of Gifts, and replacing it near the end of the service. What does this mean, and what spirituality does removing and replacing the crown reflect?
Let’s start by examining the spiritual meaning of the crown and the mitre in the Armenian Church. The crown or the helmet is called a Saghavard (Սաղաւարտ) or Tak (Թագ). The mitre is called a Khouyr (Խոյր) or the Tchataltak (Չաթալթագ). It is shaped like a crown, made with textiles, sometimes decorated with stones, and a small cross on the top. The Saghavard symbolizes both the glorious triumph of Christ over death, as well as His sufferings. The Khouyr (Խոյր) or the Tchataltak (Չաթալթագ) consists of two almond-shaped textiles that are sewed together, depicting biblical images or figures. It has two crosses, one at the top of each piece, symbolizing the Old and the New Testament. The crosses also reflect his biblical knowledge and ecclesiastical authority.
While we call the Saghavard a crown we must look beyond the worldly understanding of the word. The celebrant does not wear it for looks, or his own glory, but because he represents Christ and His life. He wears the crown as a spiritual reminder for the faithful, similar to the rest of the clergy vestments. The crown represents the helm of salvation, which the celebrant wears to fight against evil’s power. It reminds us that Christ fought the evil one for us. Let us first examine what the celebrant prays when he puts it on his head before starting the Liturgy:
“Put, O Lord, upon my head the helmet of salvation to fight against the powers of the enemy, by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ unto whom is befitting glory, dominion and honor, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ brought humankind salvation through His betrayal by humanity, condemnation to death, suffering, crucifixion, entombment, and finally rising from the dead. He takes us through His triumphant journey with Him, so we may receive the grace of salvation. He encourages us to stand tall in the face of tribulation and suffering. Moreover, He changed the meaning of our suffering, by sanctifying them with His blood. Jesus makes them powerless over us, if only we put our faith in Him.
After we have taken the Word of God and confessed our faith, the deacon cautions the congregants to stand with a clean heart and full of faith. “Let none of the catechumens, none of little faith and none of the penitents nor of the unclean draw near unto this divine mystery.” The celebrant removes the crown from his head and the slippers from his feet, because the Holy Gifts of the Eucharist will be brought to the Holy Table. Jesus Christ, the true King, is going to walk to the Holy Altar and sit on his Holy Throne, the Holy Table. In the Middle Eastern world, you would remove your hat as a sign of respect. Accordingly, the celebrant may not keep the helm on his head in the presence of the King. Our Lord comes to the Holy Altar as a sacrifice for His children. It behooves the celebrant to remove his helm.
Think of the Divine Liturgy as follows: until this moment, the celebrant stands at the Holy Altar wearing a crown, preparing the faithful to be cleansed of their sins. However, when the Lord comes to the altar, He takes that crown. After all, Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection underpin our salvation. Accordingly, the celebrant does not wear his crown during the Anaphora and the main part of the Liturgy. In fact, the celebrant does not replace his helm until the absolution, which is the fourth and final part of the Divine Liturgy. Put another way, our Lord’s sacrificial love takes our broken crown, and restores our communion with God. No guilt, no suffering, no pain, no trouble, no injustice, no weakness, no disability, no grief, and no other situation can rule over us. Our crown is restored. This is why the celebrant replaces his helm or mitre at this point of the Liturgy, because it symbolizes Christ’s resurrection through the cross. Christ’s grace restores our nature in communion with Him.
Often, we feel like we lose our peace. We may not realize what is happening or where we are going. Christ illustrates this with two parables: the parable of the lost sheep, and the parable of the prodigal son. He understands that we often lose our way. When we lose our way, He stands in our midst. He honors us with His image and likeness, and the Divine Liturgy every Sunday reminds us of this. The King of kings that we read about in the Bible is a kindhearted servant who sacrificed His life to save the world. Glory to Him now and unto the ages of ages, Amen.