In a ceremony that connected Armenia’s deeply-rooted traditions with our unwavering Christian faith today, New York’s St. Vartan Armenian Cathedral celebrated the eve of the Feast of the Lord’s Presentation to the Temple (Dyarnuntarach).
The two-part, pre-festal service of prayer and light, presided over by Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel Findikyan, took place the evening of Saturday, February 13, as a prelude to the badarak the following morning on the presentation day itself. The events were broadcast over the Facebook pages of St. Vartan Cathedral and Vemkar, enabling the faithful to bear witness to this spiritually-uplifting and inspiring service from their homes.
The event began with a brief “anticipatory prayer service” within the warmth of the cathedral sanctuary, where members of the clergy participated in the recitation of prayer, as a small group of lay people observed and prayed while socially distanced from the pews.
A Fire of Faith on the Plaza
Worshippers then moved in procession outside to the snow-covered cathedral plaza, braving the frigid temperatures as a testament to their faith.
Clergy gathered before the bonfire, situated in the middle of the plaza, to continue the second part of the service. Amidst the censing and singing of hymns, the light of the bonfire cut through the darkness of the cold night, its flames bathing the plaza in a deep orange hue under the night sky. The faithful, who remained appropriately distanced from one another at the foot of the stairs leading from the cathedral sanctuary to the plaza, watched and bowed their heads in reverence, their faces gently illuminated by firelight.
The light took on special meeting this year on account of the darkness and fear that the covid pandemic has cast over the world. Yet, despite the freezing temperatures and blowing wind, the fire did not die out, symbolizing our enduring Christian Armenian faith.
Christ’s Light Illuminates the Darkness
As embers soared to the heavens, Bishop Daniel passionately described the significance of the fire and what it represents in our Christian faith.
“Sometimes, the most wondrous things appear in the strangest of places,” he began, as he looked from the bonfire on the plaza over to the apartment buildings surrounding the cathedral. “On this cold February night, you will see people are looking down on us right now, asking ‘Why are they gathered outside around a fire and singing, when they could be inside where it’s warm?’”
“What we are doing,” he said by way of an answer, “is continuing an ancient tradition held by the Armenian Church—which, according to the Armenian calendar, occurs the night before the 40th day after the birth of Christ.” Bishop Daniel then referenced the Gospel of Luke 2:21-40, which tells the story of Mary and Joseph, who, in accordance with the custom of devout Jewish parents of the 1st century A.D., took their newborn son Jesus to the Temple to present him to God.
“They said, ‘This child is your gift to us, Lord, and now we give this child to you for your will, your work, your blessing, and for your good in this world,’ the Primate continued.
“There at the Temple on that day, an old, pious man named Simeon, just days away for his own death, looked down upon the child and said ‘Now my eyes have seen salvation.’” Bishop Daniel referred to this event as a revelation of light for the nations of the world, and described it as a light that shines everywhere so that human beings no longer live in darkness. “We now see the fullness of God’s purpose revealed in a wounded and ailing world, a great and wonderous gift in the strangest of places.”
“We light this fire to commemorate the miracle of salvation,” he said.
Bishop Daniel concluded his message with a calling of spiritual reverence: “Let every one of us tremble in awe and fear at the wonder that has been given to all of us. The wonder that feels like the warmth of this fire, yet is greater than us gathering around it. May God open our eyes and hearts and minds to be able to have the faith of all of those who were brave enough to see the Light that is our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The actual Feast of the Presentation went forward at St. Vartan Cathedral on the following morning, February 14, with Bishop Daniel presiding over the badarak, celebrated by Diocesan Vicar Fr. Simeon Odabashian. In an unusual confluence of church observances, this year’s Feast of the Presentation of the Lord to the Temple fell on the same day as Poon Paregentan, the prelude to Great Lent (Medz Bahk), ushering the faithful into the Lenten period of fasting, penance, and reconciliation.
By Stephan S. Nigohosian
Above: Photos by Albin Lohr-Jones.