In the entire Christian East, including Armenia, Great Lent begins on the 7th Monday before the Feast of the Glorious Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ (Easter). Lent begins on a Monday and lasts exactly 40 days.
For the Armenian Church, Great Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. That is the 40th day. The next day is Lazarus Saturday (the 41st day). Lent does not include Holy Week, which begins on the Monday after Palm Sunday. A new period of fasting takes place during Holy Week.
Click here to read more about Abstinence and Fasting
The principles and practices of Lent in the Armenian Church are deeply rooted in the Bible, the ancient Christian traditions, the life example of Christ and His disciples, and the lives of the great church fathers, all of whom contributed to the establishment of the canons of Lent. The focus of Lent is on “Man the Sinner”: on his repentance, his spiritual cleansing, and his eventual salvation.
Lent is a very personal spiritual journey. It is a period of sincerity, self-recognition, and reflection. Abstinence, moderation and sacrifice free us for meditation and the realisation of the darkness of our world without God. As the prophet Joel advised us, you must “turn towards the Lord…with all your heart” with honesty and humility. In this way, we are able to create a bridge between God and us. Through prayer, we communicate with God, express our love, ask for forgiveness. Prayers of the sincere heart are acceptable to God.
Fasting during Lent needs to be done in the context of deep reflection on the truth about ourselves, in a spirit of unusual sincerity and honesty. Fasting is, in fact, a companion to prayer: one more way we speak to God from the heart.
The true understanding of Lent rests on a sturdy tripod of prayer, abstinence, and charity. Lent reminds us that man is always confronted with choices that lead us to two paths in life. The first path is one of darkness, evil and sin. The second is that of light, God, righteousness, and goodness. At the juncture of these two paths stands the fortress of prayer, abstinence and charity, which leads mankind forward to seek perfection. This is the purpose of Great Lent in the Armenian Church.
During this long interval of abstinence, especially during the first forty days, the Armenian Church has prescribed soul-fulfilling services of prayer for its faithful. These services, called “Arevagal” (Sunrise) and also “Khaghaghakan (Peace) and “Hangstyan” (Rest) are “Zhamergoutiun” (Liturgical Offices), and they are conducted usually on Wednesdays and Fridays, morning and evening, as dictated by local conditions and conveniences.
The sharagans (hymns) of the Sunrise service were composed by Catholicos St. Nerses Full of Grace. They embody profound meaning and are beautiful literary gems. They are directed mainly to spiritual light, truth, and beauteous glorification.
These services, which are conducted with the curtain drawn, thus concealing the altar during Medz Bahk, direct the worshippers’ attention to spiritual introspection and self-appraisal in place of the resplendence of the Divine Liturgy performed at other times by bishops in splendid vestments.
The period of Great Lent consists of seven remarkable Sundays: Eve of Great Lent, Sunday of Expulsion, Sunday of the Lost (Prodigal) Son, Sunday of the Steward, Sunday of the Judge, Sunday of Advent and Palm Sunday. Click here to read What do Lenten Sundays mean to us?
The 24th day or the fourth Wednesday of the period of Great Lent is called Michink (Mijink) symbolising that the first half of the period of Great Lent has already passed. On this day fasting is not stopped. According to folk tradition, the housewives bake unleavened cake and put a coin in it while baking. The current year will be successful for the member of the family who will have the coin in his or her portion.
According to ancient traditions marriage and offering sacrifice are forbidden during the period of Great Lent. However, by the pontifical encyclical of Vazken I Catholicos of all Armenians, it is permitted in case of extreme necessity to perform the sacrament of marriage during the period of Great Lent and on Sundays, except all days of the Holy Week.