A new, English-language edition of one of the central books of the Armenian Church has just been published by the Eastern Diocese of the Armenian Church of America.
The Lectionary of the Armenian Church—known as the Jashots Kirk—compiles all of the Biblical passages read during the church’s liturgical celebrations. Typically, specific passages from the Gospels, the Old Testament, and the Epistles are read from the altar on a given feast day. With rare exceptions, every day of the year is assigned a set of distinct readings, and the complete cycle repeats itself, with certain variations, year after year.
The practice of reading Scripture in a worship setting dates back to the earliest days of the Christian movement. The formative centuries of the Christian Church saw various selections of readings dedicated to specific occasions in the liturgical year. The Armenian Lectionary has unique features of its own, and has been in use for centuries. It was first published in book form in Venice, in 1686, and has seen several editions and revisions since then.
This new edition, titled The Lectionary of the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church, presents the complete lections for Sundays and feast days of the liturgical year, in English. Its publication at this time is the fruit of many years of labor by the Rev. Fr. Arshen Aivazian, a longtime pastor in the Eastern Diocese, now retired, who also served in the Western Diocese.
“This project began more than 10 years ago, during the time I was serving as pastor in Fresno, California,” recalled Fr. Aivazian. “Gradually, week by week, I would collect the Scripture readings of the church, and also gather the materials from the church fathers that are often hard to come by.”
Some of the latter resources had never been translated from their Armenian versions into English—and creating such translations thus became part of Fr. Aivazian’s overall task.
First Complete English Edition
After painstaking effort, the resulting volume represents the first complete translation of the Armenian Church Lectionary into English—indeed, into any modern language. It gathers in a single volume all of the Bible readings for every day of the year (not just for Sundays), including the special readings assigned to feast days, and commemorations of the saints.
This edition of the Lectionary also standardizes the English version of Scriptural passages read in parishes. As Fr. Aivazian explains in an introductory note, after much consideration he obtained permission to reproduce the readings in the English translation known as the New King James Version, which he chose for its “sound reflection of Orthodox theology and its authorized usage in other Orthodox jurisdictions.”
The volume also contains complete English translations of some unique prayers for special observances of the Armenian Church.
More generally, it reveals the importance of the Bible for understanding the Armenian Church, its liturgy, and faith.
“This Lectionary will assist our churches in many ways,” said Diocesan Primate Bishop Daniel. “The Word of God, as presented in the Bible, is proclaimed in every liturgical service of the Armenian Church. It is the magnet that draws us into the life and light of God. Only when we devote ourselves to that sacred Word, as individuals, as families, and as the Church, can we truly begin to ‘Build Up the Body of Christ.’”
The Primate continued: “I applaud Fr. Arshen for his meticulous work, over many years, to bring the Armenian Church’s ancient compilation of Scriptural readings and Psalms to greater public awareness, especially for English-speaking Armenians. The Armenian Lectionary, in all its forms, is a call to re-dedicate ourselves to God’s life-giving Word.”
A Vehicle For God to Speak to His People
With all the material it contains, this new Lectionary clocks in at well over 600 pages. In addition to the readings themselves, that volume includes a general introduction by Fr. Aivazian, surveying the long history of the Armenian Church Lectionary and his own efforts in assembling a modern edition; an overview of the Armenian liturgical calendar; and a selection of homilies and treatises by various Church Fathers, translated (some for the first time) into modern Armenian and English.
One very useful inclusion is an article setting forth practical instructions to the lectors themselves—that is, the altar servers who read the Scriptures to the public at every service. Along with advice on vocal style and preparation, Fr. Aivazian instructs lectors to “Always bear in mind that you are placing yourself in the service of God. You are making yourself a vehicle through whom God is speaking to his people.”
A generous grant from the Dadourian Foundation subsidized the publication of the book.
In addition, a generous donation by Mr. and Mrs. George Mekenian and Mr. and Mrs. Steven Mekenian will allow each clergyman of the Eastern Diocese to receive a complimentary copy of the book. The donation was made in memory of Rose Mekenian, the late wife of George, and Steven’s mother, who passed away in 2002.
“Rose was a gracious Armenian woman, a woman of the deepest faith, who served the church with great love and kindness all her life,” recalled Bishop Daniel. “She was a true leader of our Diocese—one of the very first women ever to serve on the Diocesan Council—and she was an inspiration to so many people. It’s fitting that such a gift should be made in her memory.”
The new English-language edition of the Lectionary of the Armenian Church is a hard-bound volume, available for purchase from St. Nersess Armenian Seminary, at a cost of $100 (plus shipping). A portion of proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the mission and work of the seminary. Place orders through the seminary website, www.stnersess.edu, or via phone at (914) 273-0200.