By Florence Avakian
“The center of gravity of the Armenian Church’s liturgical year is undoubtedly Holy Week,” the eight days leading to Easter, says the introduction of a fascinating new book which debuted on Thursday evening, March 19, during a lecture presented by its author, the Very Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan, director of the Diocese’s Krikor and Clara Zohrab Information Center.
“At no time of the year is there such a concentration of poignant, ritually lavish, and theologically rich services in such a short period of time,” he said at the start of an inspiring talk. “These somber and solemn services radiate exquisite exuberance.”
Fr. Findikyan, who holds a Ph.D. in Liturgical Studies, as well as degrees in music, is professor of Liturgical Studies at St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, and a visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Using PowerPoint to illustrate his comments, the liturgical scholar said the services have evolved over many centuries.
The new book is intended to assist clergy, seminarians, deacons and choir members in conducting each of the Holy Week services “with propriety, prayerfully and meaningfully,” Fr. Findikyan explained. With its valuable liturgical glossaries in Armenian and English, the book will also be of interest to anyone who is interested in the “nuts and bolts” of the Armenian Church’s worship tradition.
The Gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, are stories of the passion of the last days of Jesus Christ, which were of great interest to the earliest Christians, he explained. “When we enter Holy Week, we enter what it means to be Christian,” he said. “What spoke to the hearts of the earliest followers of Jesus Christ was his suffering, death, and resurrection.”
Holy Week is not a drama, Fr. Findikyan said. “The services have four related purposes: remembrance, prayer, confession of faith, and celebration. Easter is the high point, the culmination. More than any other Christian church, Armenian Holy Week services have remained remarkably unchanged from their original shape in ancient Christian Jerusalem.”
These services, he continued, come from the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (4th century), where Christ was crucified. Armenians, he said, have “an undying fascination with Jerusalem,” and noted that one fifth of Old Jerusalem today belongs to the Armenians, who have an “unparalleled authority in Jerusalem.”
Concluding his inspiring and thought-provoking lecture, Fr. Findikyan said, “Holy Week is about reality, not pretending. People always look forward to going to church on Easter, and the churches are always packed. But the true significance is walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death to the Ultimate Celebration.”
Fr. Findikyan has dedicated the book to two people who first introduced him to Holy Week when he was a young man at St. Gregory the Illuminator Armenian Church in Binghamton, NY: the Rev. Fr. George Arakelian and Professor Hrair Dekmejian. Fr. Arakelian, who was the first graduate of St. Nersess Seminary to become a priest, inspired Fr. Findikyan by his “raw, powerful Christian faith.” And Professor Hrair Dekmejian’s masterful chanting of the stunningly beautiful hymns of Holy Week “still echoes in my ears every year when I pray these services,” he said.