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On the Eve of the Presentation (Candlemas)

February 13th, 2006  - Post No. 18
Candlemas, in the Armenian tradition, is celebrated tomorrow, February 14th. Like us, they keep Candlemas on the 40th day after Christmas — remember, Armenian Christmas is celebrated on January 6th. Diaruntarach, or Candlemas, is a festival of light.

In the western tradition, it is sometimes a time for blessing candles, particularly those to be used in church services for the next 12 months. In the Armenian tradition, it is a time for blessing light as in fire, a big fire!

On my way to the Cathedral, I find a group of Armenian church women (ACW?) staffing a table with pottery lanterns for sale, 5000LL each (that’s about $4 CDN). They’re a cheerful group , and it is decidedly a cheerful gathering for this Diaruntarach evensong service.

The evening service begins at 4 p.m. and lasts a bit more than an hour. It is a variation of the usual evensong or vespers, with additional prayers and chants, and concludes with the blessing of light — candlelight while in the Cathedral, a bonfire once outside.

This blessing follows the reading of the Candlemas gospel from St. Luke (2.22-40), the story of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple for his dedication as the first born male child to Mary and Joseph. This takes place, as the Law requires, on the 40th day following his birth — thus we celebrate Candlemas 40 days after Christmas.

Near the conclusion of the blessing of light ritual this evening, small children are brought forward for a kind of presentation or visit in the sanctuary, Fr Moses and Fr Sipan carry children around the high altar, pausing to reverence the corners of the altar stone.

In the gospel reading, old Simeon recognizes the infant Jesus to be the long awaited Messiah, and proclaims his hymn, a masterpiece of the Biblical literature, the Nunc Dimitis: “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

Following the vespers service, a procession assembles, and the many gathered here tonight come forward to light their lanterns. Children have made decorated lanterns in school. The light is taken home (some use the ACW lanterns) and is left burning through the morrow. Candlemas closes Christmas season — time to take down the Christmas tree in the Catholicosate library, or so I gather. Tradition in Lebanon has it that Candlemas also signals the end of the rainy winter weather.

Archbishop Ardavazt Terterian (pictured left above), Vicar of the Catholicosate, tells me that heavy rain was in fact forcast today in the Armenian Ordo (apparently there is a weather section comparable to what one finds in the North American Farmers’ Almanac, based on lunar cycles.) Today, the forcast in the Ordo has proven to be more than a little accurate!

The procession winds its way through the Catholicosate compound to a bonfire prepared for the occasion. The problem is that it has, in fact, been raining all day, a heavy drizzle, a real soaker. The understandably reluctant fire is eventually started with the help of some “incentive” (kerosene), and once the fire is burning, the procession circles around the fire three times to the singing of the seminary choir.

I made a short video of the choir singing beside the bonfire, click here to have a look (10mb)