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The Dominical Feasts and Fasting Days of the Armenian Church

Besides the ordinary fasting days (Wednesday and Friday) there are also special periods of fasting throughout the year in the Armenian Church calendar. They traditionally occur before significant dominical feasts:

  • Great Lent which lasts for forty days (seven weeks before Easter);
  • Fast of Catechumens – the third week before the Great Lent, from Monday to Friday;
  • Christmas (Nativity) Fast – from 30 Dec/12 Jan to 5/18 Jan;
  • Assumption Fast – a week before the feast of Assumption, from Monday to Friday;
  • Transfiguration Fast – a week before the feast of Transfiguration, from Monday to Friday;
  • Exaltation Feast – a week before the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, from Monday to Friday.

There are also one week fasts during which it is allowed to commemorate the lives of the Biblical and historical saints on the Saints’ Days: on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Here are these fasting periods:

  1. Fast of St. Gregory the Illuminator – a week before the feast of Discovery of the Relics of Saint Gregory the Illuminator (the fifth century), from Monday to Friday;
  2. Fast of St. James – a week before the feast of St. James of Nisibis (+350), from Monday to Friday.
  3. Fast of the Cross of Varak – a week before the feast of the Apparition of the Holy Cross on Mount Varak (623), from Monday to Friday;
  4. Fast of Elijah which takes place along with the dominical feast of Pentecost, from the second to the sixth day.

The dominical feasts of the Armenian Church include the feasts commemorating the earthly life of Lord Jesus Christ and the Mother-of-God Saint Mary, as well as the feasts dedicated to the Holy Church and the Holy Cross.

Epiphany and Easter became the first dominical feasts in the Armenian Church calendar. In old times Epiphany was celebrated from January, 5 to January, 13. That feast combined all commemorations of the first events of the earthly life of Lord Jesus Christ. With time the days pertaining to those events became separate feasts.

Nowadays there are the following dominical feasts in the Armenian Church:

  • Epiphany (Nativity of Jesus Christ and His Baptism in the River Jordan) - 6/19 Jan;
  • Christmas season (6 days) – from 7/20 to12/25 Jan;
  • Eve of the Epiphany - 5/18 Jan;
  • Naming or Circumcision of Jesus Christ - 13/26 Jan;
  • Presentation of Christ in the Temple - 14/27 Feb.

The second (Easter) cycle of the feasts dedicated to Lord Jesus Christ was called Resurrection (Easter). It began from Palm Sunday (Entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem), and finished on Pentecost, including the recollections about the last days of the earthly life of Jesus Christ. Later on that cycle was also divided into separate dominical feasts. Here they are:

  • Palm Sunday (Entrance of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem);
  • Holy Week;
  • Easter Sunday;
  • Easter;
  • Ascension;
  • Descent of the Holy Spirit, Pentecost;
  • Transfiguration (Vartavar) – that feast was established in the memory of the Transfiguration of Jesus Christ on Mount Tabor.

The feast of Transfiguration (Vartavar) replaced one of the greatest pagan feasts of the Armenian people. It was celebrated on the first day of the Armenian calendar – on the first day of Navasard (August, 11). However, some old traditions of that time are still used for commemoration of the feast of Transfiguration. For example, on Vartavar people used to let pigeons fly in the air; throw water on each other; decorate buildings and themselves with roses; and so on. The Armenian Church tried to add Christian meaning to these traditions: they connected them with the Great Flood, Noah's Dove, and other Biblical events.

The Assumption of Saint Mary was also commemorated in August. Taking that fact into consideration, in the fourth century Catholicos Movses II (574-604) included the feast of Transfiguration into the Easter group of the dominical feasts and ordered to commemorate it on the seventh Sunday after Pentecost. That’s why in the Armenian Church calendar the date of the feast of Transfiguration is movable (from June, 28 to August, 1).


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