THE HOLY MOTHER OF GOD
Սուրբ Աստուածածին (Our Patron Saint)
St. Mary, chosen by God for her humility and purity to be the mother of Jesus, the promised savior, is venerated by the church as the Holy Mother of God (Asdvadzadzin). Her name is invoked first in the intercessory litanies and prayers of the church, because she is the highest ranking saint. Together with her saintly and noble parents, Joachim and Anna, and her husband, Joseph, St. Mary belongs to the small group of the immediate forerunners of Jesus Christ. Her picture with the Christ child in her arms adorns the main altar of all Armenian churches. The Cathedral of Etchmiadzin is devoted to St. Mary, the mother of the only begotten. St. Mary’s song of praise, the Magnificat (Luke 1:4655) is the oldest Christian hymn. It inspired medieval hymn writers to compose numerous hymns honoring the Holy Mother of God.
The daily worship services of the Armenian Church require the chanting of at least one such hymn (Magnificat or Medzatzoostzeh) during the Matins service. The Armenian Church celebrates five major feasts of St. Mary. They are: 1. Conception of the Virgin Mary (December 9) 2. Nativity of the Virgin Mary (September 8) 3. Presentation of St. Mary at the Temple (November 21) 4. The Annunciation (April 7) 5. The Assumption of the Virgin Mary (nearest Sunday to August 15) Conception and Nativity of the Virgin Mary: St. Anna and St. Joachim, the parents of St. Mary, are not mentioned by name in Holy Scripture. There is, however, a wealth of oral tradition concerning them. St. Anna was a descendant of the royal line of King David. When grown, she was espoused to a God-fearing, God-loving man named Joachim, who lived near Nazareth. This holy couple lived in great faith, simplicity, and humility for twenty years without being blessed with children. Among the Jews this was viewed as a disgrace and a chastisement from heaven. Joachim and Anna were very unhappy because they had no children, but they never complained to the Lord, instead, they prayed continually that a child would be born to them. In sincere humility Joachim and Anna submitted to divine will.
Confidence in the goodness of God sustained them in their bitterest moments, and as they advanced into middle age they redoubled their offerings to God in the hope of obtaining grace from heaven. One day after long prayers and abundant tears, St. Anna suddenly remembered having read in Holy Scripture that the mother of Samuel, who like herself was named Anna, had made a vow that if she should be blessed with a child, she would dedicate it to God. St. Anna followed her example. From the depth of her heart she uttered the same words pronounced by her saintly ancestor. St. Joachim went into the desert to devote himself to prayer and fasting. St. Anna performed the same devotion in her own house. St. Joachim passed forty days in the desert. His grief was soon turned into joy. An angel of the Lord came to him and said: “Joachim, you have been a faithful servant of God.
The Most High from his throne in heaven has heard your prayers and longings. He will grant to you and your devout companion more than you have asked for. For behold Anna shall conceive and bring forth a daughter who shall be blessed among women and she shall be called Mary. This shall be a sign to you; namely, when you go to Jerusalem, you will meet your wife before the gate which is called golden.” About the same time an angel appeared to St. Anna and brought her the same joyful tidings. Without knowledge of the other’s revelation, Joachim and Anna rose up and went to the temple to give thanks to God. They met each other at the Golden Gate that stands behind the temple. Together they entered the temple with great joy and offered up a lamb. With humble prayers they thanked God for the great honor bestowed upon them.
Presentation of St. Mary at the Temple: Joachim and Anna had prayed that they might have a child and made a solemn promise that if a child were born to them, it would be dedicated to the service of God. A daughter, Mary, was born to them, and they did not forget their promise. When Mary was three years old, her parents took her to the temple where she was dedicated. Tradition tells us that she stayed there in the care of devoted women until she was betrothed at about the age of fourteen. Annunciation of the Holy Mother of God: This feast is discussed separately in the section “April/May.”
Assumption of the Holy Mother of God: The greatest feast exalting the Holy Mother of God is the Feast of the Assumption. It is also one of the five major feast days or daghavars of the Armenian Church (along with Theophany, Easter, Transfiguration, and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross). Historic data tells us that St. Mary lived in Jerusalem about fifteen years after the resurrection and then died. Eastern tradition tells us that at her death an elaborate funeral took place. The apostles, with the exception of St. Bartholomew, buried her with great reverence in the Garden of Gethsemane. For three days and three nights angelic singing was heard over her tomb. Then the apostles saw a vision of Jesus coming down from heaven and taking his mother up from the grave to be with Him in heaven. When Bartholomew arrived, he wanted to see Mary for the last time. The apostles took him to the tomb, and to their amazement, found it empty. They were convinced that her body had been taken up into heaven by the Lord. This belief was sanctioned by the church between the 9th and 12th centuries. The Armenian Church observes this feast for nine days as ordered by feast. The sharagans dedicated to Asdvadzadzin are among the most poetic and beautiful of our hymnal. On this day, following the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, the blessing of grapes takes place.