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First visit to an Armenian Church

lovesupreme

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I was visiting friends out of town this weekend and noticed there was a Syriac Church near their apartment complex. While driving Sunday morning, I missed the Syriac Church, but I happened upon a large and quite beautiful Armenian Church that was built in the last few years. Despite not understanding anything said during the services (short of the occasional "Krystos" and "alleluia"), I felt engaged the whole time. A few things that maybe you guys can comment on or answer:

1) There was procession of a purple banner with the Theotokos and the Christ-child on it. People were going up to hold it and kiss it. I didn't want to offend, so I did the same. A woman looked at me and said about two words in Armenian, which I did not understand. I asked a couple after the services if what I did was appropriate and they said yes, so I'm not sure what this first woman was saying.

2) The homily was in between elevating the gifts and Communion, which was not something I was used to. Sometime either before or after, a greeter came up to me, said a relatively long sentence in Armenian to me, then bowed to me. I bowed back. I assume this was a part of the sign of peace? I saw a few other people shortly after embrace each other and exchange some words, but they were much shorter than what the greeter told me. (I look Middle Eastern wherever I go, whether it's a Persian synagogue or an Armenian Church... so mostly people assume I know what they're saying.)

3) The man who led to the service I thought was a bishop (because of his fancy headgear), but it turns out he was the main officiating priest. There were two priests who wore purple (as opposed to the first man's red) and simple black hoods. I was told they were called "arkepiskos" which I assume means "archpriests." I think what through me off is that the archpriests wore pendants of the Theotokos, which I thought only bishops did. There was also a man who just wore a crucifix and a collar. I assume he was a retired priest, but I can't be certain.

4) There were a ton of people serving in the altar. I could tell who the altar boys were, but then there were quite a few adults who wore deacon-like stoles. Then there was one man who wore a stole with a different pattern than all the others. Not sure what the different in that was.

5) When I first arrived (I was lost and looking for the Syriac church), I asked a man who was smoking outside if this was an Orthodox Church. He seemed confused and said it was the Armenian Apostolic Church (which I knew was the right Armenian Church for me). A few other people were confused by this term, "Orthodox." I asked them if they were like the Copts and the Ethiopians and they said yes. They also said they were like the Greeks and the Russians, which makes sense because I imagine a lot of people don't know that there's only limited intercommunion between OO and EO.

6) Lovely couple afterwards got me coffee and cookies and introduced me to one of the archpriests. I told them I was Greek Orthodox and they said it was the same thing as Armenian Orthodox. I didn't say otherwise or say the "C" word (Chalcedon, of course!). The archpriest had particularly good relations with the Antiochians (my jurisdiction) and said he knew my bishop/Metropolitan quite well. He gave me a free book on the Armenian Church, The Church of Armenia by Fr. Zaven Arzoumanian.

7) Loved the music. Are organs common in most Armenian churches?

8 ) I noticed a lot of people crossed right-to-left. Is that the custom?

9) The structure of the service felt pretty familiar to me. There was sanctity, and also plenty of anxious children running around. Overall, even though I was nervous and a little perturbed when people kept speaking to me in Armenian, I felt at home. :)


That's all for now. Glad I went!
 

Mor Ephrem

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lovesupreme said:
I was visiting friends out of town this weekend and noticed there was a Syriac Church near their apartment complex.
Lucky them.  :)

While driving Sunday morning, I missed the Syriac Church...
Unlucky you.  :p

...but I happened upon a large and quite beautiful Armenian Church that was built in the last few years. Despite not understanding anything said during the services (short of the occasional "Krystos" and "alleluia"), I felt engaged the whole time.
I love happy accidents.  I'm glad you had a pleasant, prayerful experience. 

A few things that maybe you guys can comment on or answer:

...

2) The homily was in between elevating the gifts and Communion, which was not something I was used to. Sometime either before or after, a greeter came up to me, said a relatively long sentence in Armenian to me, then bowed to me. I bowed back. I assume this was a part of the sign of peace? I saw a few other people shortly after embrace each other and exchange some words, but they were much shorter than what the greeter told me. (I look Middle Eastern wherever I go, whether it's a Persian synagogue or an Armenian Church... so mostly people assume I know what they're saying.)
That sounds like the kiss of peace, so the "elevating the gifts" was probably the equivalent of the "Great Entrance". 

3) The man who led to the service I thought was a bishop (because of his fancy headgear), but it turns out he was the main officiating priest. There were two priests who wore purple (as opposed to the first man's red) and simple black hoods. I was told they were called "arkepiskos" which I assume means "archpriests." I think what through me off is that the archpriests wore pendants of the Theotokos, which I thought only bishops did. There was also a man who just wore a crucifix and a collar. I assume he was a retired priest, but I can't be certain.
It sounds to me like they were bishops. 

4) There were a ton of people serving in the altar. I could tell who the altar boys were, but then there were quite a few adults who wore deacon-like stoles. Then there was one man who wore a stole with a different pattern than all the others. Not sure what the different in that was.
I would guess it's just a matter of having only so many of one pattern.  Unless it was not the pattern that differed as much as the manner of wearing it.   

5) When I first arrived (I was lost and looking for the Syriac church), I asked a man who was smoking outside if this was an Orthodox Church. He seemed confused and said it was the Armenian Apostolic Church (which I knew was the right Armenian Church for me). A few other people were confused by this term, "Orthodox." I asked them if they were like the Copts and the Ethiopians and they said yes. They also said they were like the Greeks and the Russians, which makes sense because I imagine a lot of people don't know that there's only limited intercommunion between OO and EO.
It could be that, or it could be a technically inaccurate but useful shorthand.  For example, when people ask me what I am and I tell them, if I can tell that they have no clue, I might resort to that sort of thing if it is not possible to give them a crash course right then and there. 

7) Loved the music. Are organs common in most Armenian churches?
Seems to be in my experience, at least on this side of Earth. 

8 ) I noticed a lot of people crossed right-to-left. Is that the custom?
I don't think so, but maybe there are EO among them. 

9) The structure of the service felt pretty familiar to me. There was sanctity, and also plenty of anxious children running around. Overall, even though I was nervous and a little perturbed when people kept speaking to me in Armenian, I felt at home. :)


That's all for now. Glad I went!
That's because it is home.  :)
 

dzheremi

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I would think that of all OO Armenians would be most familiar with EO practices due to their long history of contact with Russians and other Slavs in their neighborhood. Maybe that could explain the EO-style crossing? I haven't been to an Armenian liturgy yet, but I haven't seen that in any of the videos I've seen of their services. Maybe I just haven't been paying close enough attention. It would be interesting to see how that compares to the practice of Armenians in Iran, where as far as I know there aren't really any EO from which they might pick that or other things up.
 

mabsoota

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don't be confused by the funny hats.
this is normal for armenians.
it doesn't mean you are a bishop.

the bowing thing is the kiss of peace.
it's like american 'air kissing' except you kiss about 20cm away from the cheek!
i only saw it in the armenian church (have seen one matins and one liturgy).

maybe there were plenty of EO who worship with them, hence the way of doing the sign of the cross.
 

Aram

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dzheremi said:
I would think that of all OO Armenians would be most familiar with EO practices due to their long history of contact with Russians and other Slavs in their neighborhood. Maybe that could explain the EO-style crossing? I haven't been to an Armenian liturgy yet, but I haven't seen that in any of the videos I've seen of their services. Maybe I just haven't been paying close enough attention. It would be interesting to see how that compares to the practice of Armenians in Iran, where as far as I know there aren't really any EO from which they might pick that or other things up.
This is precisely it. A lot of Armenians who came from Armenia or Russia, or at least lived in Russia for a little bit, often will cross themselves in the EO fashion, whether or not they're conscious of it. I find it's a lot of younger people who do it, roughly in the 20-40 age range, or the generation who came of age in the late Soviet and early post-Soviet years. It's something you see all the time.

As for the rest of it, sounds like the OP probably saw some bishops, and a fairly standard Armenian liturgy. As for the Apostolic thing, a lot of Armenians in America don't like using the word Orthodox, it was a major point of contention in the 1950s between the two factions of the church in the United States and Canada. Some people still feel residually strongly about it.
 

lovesupreme

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Hi all, thanks for your responses.

I mistyped. Most people crossed themselves left-to-right, which seems to be the custom. I noticed I was crossing myself differently than the majority.

Regarding not using the word "Orthodox," the service books inside did say "Armenian Orthodox" on them, fwiw.

There were two clergymen dressed like this (one of whom I was introduced to):



There was one clergyman dressed like this:

 

Aram

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If you saw a priest dressed like the second picture (Fr. Krikor Sabounjian from Boston, BTW), that's a priest. Celibate or married, that's what priests wear when they celebrate the liturgy. The first picture is the traditional Armenian monastic habit, the difference between priests and bishops being the panagia vs. either the pectoral cross or no cross at all (Armenian custom is to grant the pectoral cross for length of service, ~10 years or so at minimum). If you saw a clergyman dressed like that with a panagia, that's a bishop. If you saw a bishop serving a liturgy, it would look something like this, and would be far more elaborate than a normal priest's liturgy:

 

lovesupreme

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Aram said:
If you saw a priest dressed like the second picture (Fr. Krikor Sabounjian from Boston, BTW), that's a priest. Celibate or married, that's what priests wear when they celebrate the liturgy. The first picture is the traditional Armenian monastic habit, the difference between priests and bishops being the panagia vs. either the pectoral cross or no cross at all (Armenian custom is to grant the pectoral cross for length of service, ~10 years or so at minimum). If you saw a clergyman dressed like that with a panagia, that's a bishop. If you saw a bishop serving a liturgy, it would look something like this, and would be far more elaborate than a normal priest's liturgy:

They each wore a panagia, so they must have been bishops who were not serving. This would explain why they only came up during Communion. One of them did give a homily after the priest had given a homily, which was not a custom I was familiar with (in my parish, only the bishop would give the homily if he was present.)

I was pretty nervous about protocol and just sort of held my hands out all shy-like. I doubt the bishop noticed, which is why he didn't offer out his hand to kiss. I always kind of panic about protocol, but he didn't seem too offended. Ugh, bishops scare me, even after Metropolitan Joseph disarmed my fears by giving me a fist-bump that one time...
 

TheTrisagion

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Aram said:
If you saw a priest dressed like the second picture (Fr. Krikor Sabounjian from Boston, BTW), that's a priest. Celibate or married, that's what priests wear when they celebrate the liturgy. The first picture is the traditional Armenian monastic habit, the difference between priests and bishops being the panagia vs. either the pectoral cross or no cross at all (Armenian custom is to grant the pectoral cross for length of service, ~10 years or so at minimum). If you saw a clergyman dressed like that with a panagia, that's a bishop. If you saw a bishop serving a liturgy, it would look something like this, and would be far more elaborate than a normal priest's liturgy:

Is he wearing plastic bags over his hands?
 

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TheTrisagion said:
Aram said:
If you saw a priest dressed like the second picture (Fr. Krikor Sabounjian from Boston, BTW), that's a priest. Celibate or married, that's what priests wear when they celebrate the liturgy. The first picture is the traditional Armenian monastic habit, the difference between priests and bishops being the panagia vs. either the pectoral cross or no cross at all (Armenian custom is to grant the pectoral cross for length of service, ~10 years or so at minimum). If you saw a clergyman dressed like that with a panagia, that's a bishop. If you saw a bishop serving a liturgy, it would look something like this, and would be far more elaborate than a normal priest's liturgy:

Is he wearing plastic bags over his hands?
It's a transparent cloth.
 
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