Daily Reading for March 23 • Gregory the Illuminator, Bishop and Missionary of Armenia, c. 332
In Armenian the word that we translate as “worship” is yergeerbakoutyoun. Repeated often in the Divine Liturgy, the word means literally “kissing the ground.” It says a lot about the Armenian understanding of what we do in church. The Armenian Church, like all the ancient Christian churches, worships not only in words, but also in gestures and rituals that express beyond words what we believe about God and our relationship with him. Words and thoughts alone cannot express all that we believe. The entire body and all the senses are involved. Offering incense, standing, raising our arms, bowing down, kneeling, venerating, moving in processions, elevating symbols of our faith, singing, these are the active ways in which we proclaim our faith.
Another word that all of the ancient churches use for “worship” is liturgy [bashdamounk], a word that in Armenian and Greek implies effort. (The same Greek root is found in the word “energy.”) Worship in the Armenian Church is liturgical; it involves effort and energy by the faithful. Though the pews, curtain, and elevated altar might make the Divine Liturgy appear as a performance for an audience to sit and watch, it is not at all a show. In the Armenian Church, all the people officiate, celebrating their salvation by Jesus Christ in the Church. . . .
Consequently, our worship is corporate. It is an undertaking of the Church, the community of people who have been blessed with God’s promises. Although private devotion also has a place in the Christian’s life, Christian faith is always based on a community of people. The first thing Christ did when he began his ministry was to gather a community of followers around him. The major theme of the Divine Liturgy, the Church’s main worship service, is the communion of the faithful of the Church with each other and with Jesus Christ in holy communion. This is why our worship services so often repeat, “Let us commit ourselves and one another to the Lord our God,” and most of our prayers use “we.”
Furthermore, our worship belongs to the entire Church. The Divine Liturgy is not just people saying their own private prayers in the same place at the same time. Worship means a community together in heart, soul and mind, praying to God “with one accord,” “with one mouth,” “with one word,” as our prayers say. So the progression of the liturgy should be known by all, not just the priest, choir director and deacons. In the Armenian Church we do not make the service up as we go along, or substantially change it from week to week. This is so that we can pray together.
From “An Introduction to the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Apostolic Church” by Fr. Daniel Findikyan; found at http://www.armenianchurchlibrary.com/files/introdivineliturgyfindikyan.pdf.