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The Armenian Church Tradition Matagh (Sacrificial Offering)

Matagh (sacrificial offering) is one of the old traditions of the Armenian Church. Its meaning is to give a gift to God and show mercy by helping the poor.

Matagh has existed in Armenia since the times of St. Gregory the Illuminator. After the adoption of Christianity in Armenia, the Church had to decide how to use the animals grown for making a sacrifice in pagan temples. St. Gregory the Illuminator offered to distribute the meat of these animals to the poor as a symbol of mercy.

King Trdat became one of the first persons who offered a thanksgiving sacrifice to God in the Church of St. John the Forerunner. After the victory over the Huns, King Trdat and his people headed by St. Gregory the Illuminator made matagh by killing several animals and distributing their meat to the poor.

Since those times the Armenian Church adopted the tradition of making a sacrifice during great dominical feasts; in connection with the consecration of churches; and on similar events. People offer matagh to express their gratitude to God for granting them health and well being; to cure from illnesses; to ask for the peace for the souls of the dead.

For making matagh a person needs just two things: an animal to sacrifice and some salt. It is allowed to kill only healthy and only male animal or bird. It can be a sheep, a cow, a dove or a chicken.

If a sacrifice is a chicken, its meat is traditionally distributed to three houses; a sheep’s meat – to seven houses; a cow’s meat – to forty houses. The matagh meat must not be kept for more than a day. If the sacrifice is a dove, it should be set free.

Contrary to the pagan tradition, the salt in matagh must be blessed because it is the symbol of purity. Salt is considered to purify the animal. The matagh meat should be cooked in water with salt, no other additions are allowed.

Some clergymen and theologians from Sister Churches consider matagh as a remainder of paganism, barbarism and Judaism. However, it is not so - the Armenian ritual of matagh is deeply humane and Christian. It lets people express their mercy and kindness by helping the poor.


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