- Getting Involved
The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church
Paree Kaloust¸ welcome to the Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church. There are a number of things about our worship that are different from the services of other churches, whether Roman Catholic, liturgical Protestant, or evangelical. In an effort to help alleviate confusion, here are twelve things you should know before you visit the Armenian Orthodox Church.
Here are 12 things you should know…
A SENSE OF HOLINESS If you are from a Protestant or non-liturgical tradition, you may feel overwhelmed the minute you walk in the door of an Armenian Orthodox Church. You will find yourself surrounded by a blaze of colors in the priests’ vestments and icons. The pungent odor of incense will assault your nose. Rich, deeply moving but unfamiliar music will fill your ears. All around you people will be doing things – lighting candles, kissing icons, making the sign of the cross, bowing, standing in prayer – everything. To someone accustomed to four bare walls and a pulpit, all this may seem pretty strange.
It is important to remember that none of this is an end in itself. Everything we see, hear, smell, touch, taste or do in the Orthodox Church has one purpose and one purpose only: to lead us closer to God. Since God created us with physical bodies and senses, we believe He desires us to use our bodies and senses to grow closer to Him.
Traditionally, Orthodox churches use no instruments, although some churches today will have organs. Usually a small choir leads the people in a Capella harmony. This is done in Jerusalem and many monastic communities.
The faithful are encouraged to sing with the choir because the choir’s responses are the people’s responses. This constant singing is a little overwhelming at first, but it should not be intimidating – even for those who are not blessed with musical talents.
What keeps this from being exhausting is that it’s pretty much the same song every week. Relatively little changes from Sunday to Sunday; the same prayers and hymns and responses fall in the same places, and before long you know them by heart. And these same melodies are sung at all Armenian Churches across the world. Then you fall into the presence of God in a way you never can when flipping from prayer book to bulletin to hymnal.
Before Divine Liturgy begins, the priest and some Deacons have matins (Morning Service), which is about an hour long. So the priest and deacons regularly serve each Sunday for about 3 hours. Needless to say, Orthodoxy is not for people who find Church boring.
Not that we think she or any of the other saints have magical powers or are demigods. When we ask her, or any saint, to intercede or pray for us, we are asking that they speak to God on our behalf, just like any one of us would pray for each other. They are not dead, after all, just departed to the other side. Icons of these saints are placed in the sanctuary to remind us that all the saints are joining us invisibly in our worship.
For centuries, there were two different types of Armenian: written and spoken. Because the written remained the same (because) it was written) and the spoken evolved due to interactions with foreigners, the differences between what was written and what was spoken became larger and larger. It became so different that Classical (written) Armenian became unintelligible.
Today’s Liturgy is still conducted in this language for many reasons, yet at the same time, priests realize that the people do not understand what is being said. Sometimes the priest will read certain prayers in English, but most of the time the faithful are encouraged to follow along in the Liturgy books provided in the pews. If you don’t know where we are, don’t hesitate to ask someone nearby – chances are they may know.
Many Armenians are amazed and thrilled when non-Armenians are interested in the Armenian Church. We love to share who we are and what we believe with everyone – especially those that join us in worship and pray.
If you are interested in attending and worshiping at an Armenian Church, speak with the parish priest. He will more than welcome you into the community and the family of faithful there.
The Armenian Church seems startlingly different at first, but as the weeks go by it gets to be less so. It will begin to feel more and more like home and it will draw you into the Kingdom of God. I hope that your first visit to an Armenian Orthodox Church will be enjoyable, and that it won’t be your last.
This pamphlet has been adapted and modified from “Before Your First Visit to an Orthodox Church” by Frederica Mathewes-Green and from a similar pamphlet as used by St. Sarkis Armenian Orthodox Church in Carrollton, TX.