Introduction to the Badarak
The Divine Liturgy is the main worship service
of the Armenian Church. But the Badarak, as we call it in Armenian,
is much more than that. It provides the most intimate encounter
we can have with God in this life. In the Divine Liturgy, Jesus
Christ, the Son of God, comes to his people—to you and me—in two
forms: First, by his Word, in the reading of the holy Gospel; and
by his holy Body and Blood, in Holy Communion. These two actions—the reading of the Word of God, and the reception of Holy Communion—are the two pillars or building blocks of the Divine Liturgy in all
ancient, apostolic churches.
Supported by these two pillars is a magnificent structure of words, music, symbols, and rituals. For those unfamiliar with it, the Divine Liturgy can seem like a bewildering array of disjointed movements and rituals, and arcane theological terminology. The complex interplay of the celebrant priest, the deacons, the other altar servers, the choir, and the people might lead one to overlook the logic and purpose of the Divine Liturgy, and to miss its very real benefits.
Back in the 10th century, the great Armenian theologian Khosrov Antsevatsi eloquently described the importance of the Divine Liturgy when he wrote: "Since those who confess and show repentance receive atonement by means of the Holy Mystery [the Badarak], and are reunited to Christ in order to become for Him Body and members, we should be eager for the great medicine." The Divine Liturgy is the great medicine that provides true meaning and direction for our lives. It offers the peace and solace that only God can give—a free gift no less—in an age when so many people are searching, and spending millions of dollars in vain to find personal stability and security.
The Badarak really is a matter of life and death. This guide to the Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church is something like a travelogue that leads you on your journey, supplying helpful information about points of interest along the way. It is designed to accompany the new Divine Liturgy "Pew Book," The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church: With Modern Armenian and English Translations, Transliteration, Musical Notation, Introduction and Notes (New York: St. Vartan Press, 1999). Page numbers from the Pew Book have been placed in square brackets [ ] for easy cross-reference. While it will not answer all your questions, this booklet will help you to discover the larger themes that unite the words, music, and rituals of the Badarak. In this way, it is hoped, you will be drawn into deeper and more meaningful participation in the Divine Liturgy.
Before the Badarak Begins: We Prepare Ourselves
We prepare ourselves for the Divine Liturgy both physically and spiritually. The custom of the Armenian Church is to fast from all food and drink from the time we wake up on Sunday morning until we have received Holy Communion. Fasting helps us to focus our minds and hearts on the spiritual nourishment we will receive in Holy Communion. Exceptions are made, of course, for those who, for health reasons, must eat in the morning. They may have a light breakfast and still come forward for Holy Communion.
Spiritual preparation for the Badarak is by means of prayer. To participate fully in the Divine Liturgy, one should devote at least fifteen minutes of quiet time with God either on Saturday night, or on Sunday morning. This quiet time serves to help us focus on the great mystery of being with God. It can include reading of, and meditation on relevant passages from the Bible, or prayer and reflection.
As we shall see, the Badarak is a procedure with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Therefore, it is very important to arrive in Church at least five minutes before the Divine Liturgy begins, and to remain attentive until the end. When we enter the Church, we make the sign of the Cross, take a place—preferably not in the rear pews—and standing, recite the Lord's Prayer. Then we may be seated in silence until the celebrant and servers enter the church.
Before the Badarak Begins: The Priest Prepares Himself Alternating
For the celebrant priest, the Divine Liturgy begins in silent prayer in the vestry. There, the priest and deacon alternately recite the verses of Psalm 131, "Let your priests clothe themselves with righteousness; and let your saints exult with joy." The priest then prays to God, acknowledging his own sinfulness and the extraordinary privilege given to him by God to lead the people of God in the offering of the Divine Liturgy.
The various vestments worn by the priest are inspired by those worn by the Jewish priests in the temple, as described in Exodus 28. Each article is accompanied by a brief prayer, which the priest offers as the deacon hands it to him to put on. As he puts on each successive garment, the priest prays that God will also clothe him with the grace and virtues to preside worthily at the Badarak: "Clothe me with a radiant garment and fortify me against the influence of the evil one, that I may be worthy to glorify your glorious name…".