by V. Rev. Fr. Barouyr Shernezian
The Intercessions immediately follow the hymns to the three persons of the Holy Trinity. The participants commemorate the saints who lived, fought and were martyred for their Christian faith. We ask for their intercession. Christianity would not have spread if not for truly exemplary people who lived and fell asleep in Christ for their faith. Saints and martyrs help us understand our Christian faith and how to practice Christ’s teachings on earth.
The Armenian Church does not remember saints and martyrs merely to respect their memories. Instead, we request their intercession. The Church believes that they can pray for us and help us to receive God’s mercy. You might ask, “isn’t it enough to pray directly to our Lord Jesus Christ?” In a similar vein, why do we ask friends and family to pray for us? After all, we can pray to our Lord directly. However, prayer is not only a way to speak with God but is also a way of becoming one with Him. Through prayer, we become one with Him. Christ united heaven and earth. Therefore, we are one Militant and Victorious church. Remembering, praying with, and asking for the intercession of the saints shows that we are “citizens of heaven” living on earth. Anyone who lives in Christ can speak to God and act with grace.
During the Intercessions, the altar servers move from the right side of the Altar to the left, from where they chant the intercessions. The altar servers move from the left to the right from the perspective of the Altar. This simple movement has a symbolic meaning. In the biblical context, the left is associated with sinners and the right with righteous people. In the Gospel of John, when the apostles went fishing after the resurrection, Jesus instructed them to cast the net on the right side of the boat and bring them to Him. (John 21) This is interpreted to mean that the righteous people, saved through their faith in Christ, will join the other fish that are with Christ. The altar servers, who generally chant from the left side of the Altar, symbolize the faithful. They represent the faithful, standing at the Holy Altar while guiding them to bow down to God, asking them to pray, and instructing them to recite Psalms. When the deacons move to the right side of the Holy Altar, they symbolize the Victorious Church. The Victorious Church consists of the saints, martyrs, patriarchs, matriarchs, and all those who fell asleep in Christ battling evil during their earthly lives.
The body and the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ are the source of life. Christ broke the bread and wine at the Last Supper, His body and blood, and instructed them to commemorate this special meal and teach it to others. Along with spreading the Word of God, the saints shared the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Holy Eucharist is the living element that unites the faithful with our Lord, Jesus Christ. All the saints are the rays of the life-giving Holy Eucharist. As we remember and commemorate them at the Holy Table, we give thanks for their devotion. They devoted their lives to the Holy Eucharist, either by preaching the Gospel, sharing grace and blessings, or shedding their blood.
By commemorating the saints, we feel them with us around the Holy Table, united with them through the Holy Eucharist. God’s holiness and righteousness gather us around Him. We are all invited to partake in the Holy Banquet. God’s Kingdom is at hand! All those who fought for the kingdom are with us, encouraging us with their prayers and intercessions. They pray from heaven for those who fight a spiritual battle on earth.
The saints’ intercessions make attending faithful feel enormous spiritual power. The power descends on the Holy Altar and centers around the Holy Eucharist. The faithful feel the saints behind them. When the altar servers move from the left to the right, it reminds us that we are called to pass from our sinful life to righteousness through repentance and the Holy Eucharist. Christ calls us to sit at His right hand and enjoy His joyous victory. When we sing, “hishya Der, yev Voghormya,” we ask God to have mercy on us by listening to our prayers and those of the saints. If they were able to face the evil and injustice in the world, we can do it too! God calls us to continue the mission of the Holy Eucharist: becoming the body of Christ. One day, all are called to join the Victorious Church, those who serve faithfully and declare victory over death and sin.