A Service of Prayer and Light at St. Vartan Cathedral

The Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America celebrated a special pre-festal service of prayer and light at New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral on February 13, the evening prior to Dyarnuntarach–the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple. Diocesan Vicar the Very Rev. Fr. Simeon Odabashian officiated at the event.

The service, a prelude to the Feast Day, is highly symbolic in its use of prayer and flame to represent the bringing of the light of Jesus Christ to illuminate the void of darkness in the world. It is comprised of prayers, hymns, and Scripture readings in the cathedral sanctuary, after which clergy and parishioners form a procession and move outdoors to the plaza to light a bonfire.

Passersby on Second Avenue stopped to observe the majestic and solemn ceremony, as the flames bathed the plaza in an orange-yellow hue and its embers soared to the heavens.

For centuries, Armenians have traditionally lit candles during this evening church service, along with a customary bonfire in church courtyards. There was a strong feeling of faith and participation among the parishioners who attended the service at St. Vartan Cathedral, as they sang along with the hymns with hands folded in prayer and observed the lighting of the bonfire with reverence.

“The tradition of the nakhadonag, or pre-festal service, began with celebrations on the evenings before Christmas and Easter,” said Fr. Odabashian. Although the pre-festal service of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple was previously observed in some locations around the world, it has recently enjoyed a resurgence at the behest of Bishop Daniel Findikyan. “Many parishes are beginning to follow this tradition at the local level, as a reminder to all that Jesus Christ is the Light of the world.”

Other members of the clergy of the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church who served in the pre-festal service included cathedral vicar the Rev. Fr. Davit Karamyan; Rev. Fr. Diran Bohajian; Rev. Fr. Abraham Malkhasyan; Rev. Fr. Krikor Sabounjian; and Rev. Fr. Tateos Abdalian, as well as several Diocesan deacons and altar servers.

A Glimpse of Salvation

The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple is celebrated by the Armenian Church each year on February 14, exactly 40 days after its observance of Armenian Christmas on January 6. The Feast Day is rooted in the gospel story (Luke 2:21-40) in which Joseph and Mary bring the newborn Christ to the Jerusalem Temple for the first time, in accordance with Jewish canons.

By visiting the temple and offering a sacrifice, new mothers would be fulfilled in being purified with “fire and water” and the newborn would become blessed.

In Luke’s account, when Simeon, a righteous prophet of advanced age, saw Mary and the infant Christ, he sensed God’s presence. He held the child in his arms and thanked God for giving him this glimpse of the world’s salvation, declaring: “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.”

St. Vartan Cathedral’s celebration of Dyarnuntarach culminated with a special Divine Liturgy on the morning of February 14, the feast day itself.

By Steve Nigohosian

Click here to view photos by photographer Albin Lohr-Jones.

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