PENTECOST in the Armenian Church: Three Pentecost Prayers
Sunday (June 4, 2017) is the Feast of Pentecost. According to the New Testament book of the Acts of the Apostles, the disciples were gathered in the upper room on the Jewish feast of Pentecost some time after Jesus' resurrection.
Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
A Day and a Season
"Pentecost" means fifty days in Greek. It refers both to the fiftieth day after Easter, and also to that entire season of fifty days. The 8th century Armenian Church father and theologian St. John of Otzun says that during the fifty days of Pentecost, "every day is Sunday." By this he means that every day is a day to celebrate the Easter mystery of Christ risen and active among us. There should be no fasting and no kneeling down because these are penitential rites which are not compatible with the joy of Easter.
Ancient Ceremony of Genuflexion
One characteristic of the Feast of Pentecost in the Armenian Church and all other ancient eastern churches is a ceremony of "Genuflexion" or kneeling down. After the festivities of Easter are completed on Pentecost Sunday, the church resumes its normal cycle of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. In addition, the prohibition against kneeling down in prayer and penance is lifted. In fact, the churches celebrate this by ceremonially inviting the faithful to bend the knee for the first time since Easter.
In the Armenian tradition, this ceremony takes place during the Badarak (Divine Liturgy). The priest celebrating the Divine Liturgy interrupts the Eucharistic Prayer (before the words, Arek, gerek... (Take, eat...) and reads three prayers which come to us from the ancient liturgy of Jerusalem. Each prayer is addressed to one member of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
Before each prayer a hymn is sung. After each prayer the priest invites all the faithful to bow down three times, saying, "With prayers, we fall on our knees and beseech the Lord."
St. John Chrysostom
The three Pentecost Prayers are attributed to the great orator and theologian of the early church, St. John Chrysostom ("the golden mouth"; Vosgeperan) who was enormously influential in the theology and liturgy of the Armenian Church. A priest born in Antioch, he became Bishop of Constantinople in the late fourth century. He died in exile in western Armenia.
Other traditions attribute the prayers to St. Basil the Great of Caesarea, another great saint of the fourth-century.
In most eastern churches the Ceremony of Genuflexion has a penitential theme: kneeling down is seen as a sign of sinfulness and unworthiness. In the Armenian Church, however, the three prayers to the Holy Trinity portray genuflexion on Pentecost is an act of adoration and worship. We kneel down before God to commemorate the descent of the Spirit on the Apostles on the first Pentecost day.
Pentecost and Baptism
In the Armenian Church a newly-baptized child, having been immersed in the water and anointed with the sacred oil, is taken up the steps of the altar by the priest and with him bows down "before the holy altar, and before the holy sanctuary, and before the holy font." The Armenian prayers of genuflexion recall this act of adoration at baptism and can be understood as a renewal of divine gifts received at baptism.
The great scholar of Armenian Christianity, the Benedictine monk Charles Athanase Renoux has theorized that the Armenian version of the three Pentecost Prayers and Byzantine version are based on a common model which evolved differently in the two liturgical realms.
A complete English translation of these majestic prayers is provided below.
Prayers of Adoration to the Holy Trinity on the Feast of Pentecost
by St. John Chrysostom
Translated by V. Rev. Fr. Daniel Findikyan
PRAYER TO THE FATHER
Almighty, immaculate God, Father without origin; invisible, infinite, indescribable, uncircumscribable, immutable, unknowable, unreachable; you, who alone have immortality, abiding in unapproachable light;
Through your Word, you created the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land, and all creatures that are in them; and through your Spirit, all creatures came into existence.
And for the sake of your infinite love for the human race [Eph 2:4-5], you sent your only-begotten Son to save us from the curse of Adam. He descended from heaven, took body from the holy and immaculate Virgin Mary by means of the Holy Spirit. He bore all human passions except for sin, and he liberated us from the passions of sin.
And having endured the cross and death for us, he liberated us from servitude to Satan and from the adoration of idols.
And he taught [us] to bend our knees and necks to the all-Holy Trinity, to offer prayers, and to ask for the forgiveness of our sins.
And after his resurrection, he appeared to his disciples with various signs [Acts 1:3-4], sharing the bread with them for forty days, for the establishment of the faith of his life-giving economy.
And when he ascended into heaven on the fortieth day of his resurrection, he placed his hand upon, and blessed his disciples [Lk 24:50], bestowing upon them the perfect gifts of apostleship.
And he opened their minds to comprehend the Scriptures [Lk 24:32]. He commanded them to remain in Jerusalem and to await the divine promise [Acts 1:4], the good news of the heavenly Father who loves mankind.
You, Lord, gave the human race the infinite grace of your mercy. You sent the Holy Spirit, consubstantial with you, on this great Sunday, at the completion of the fiftieth day of the resurrection of the Savior, at the third hour, when the first father was created by the life-giving divine breath of the Holy Spirit [Gen 2:7], lost to him because he tasted the fruit and died. Again at the same hour, he was brought back to life by the descent of the Holy Spirit on the ranks of the apostles.
Appearing in tongues of fire, [the Holy Spirit] rested upon them [Acts 2:4] and filled them with all-abundant grace to speak in every tongue and ear, ministering with one voice to the Holy Spirit. He gave birth, as a first birth, to the three thousand [Acts 2:41], in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Mt 28:19], and they first worshipped the Holy Trinity.
With them, today we too bend our knee and our neck and beseech with your apostles. Receive our adoration with theirs, and [with those] who, with the same worthiness, have mystically adored you until now.
Hear us on this great day of Pentecost, on the very day that you sent the Holy Spirit here below, after the ascension into heaven of your Son Jesus, in whom, we call to you in faith.
Look from the heights of your holiness upon these your people, who stand before you and await your great mercy.
Send your beneficent Holy Spirit today into this your temple, and upon these who have assembled in it, as [you sent Him] in those days in the Upper Room upon the apostles.
So that your only-begotten Son may always be sacrificed here, as in the upper room, where, delivering the Holy Mystery, he distributed it to the disciples at the mystical supper; and he washed their feet; and he appeared through the closed doors on the first Sunday of his resurrection in the evening [Jn 20:19, 26], and again on the eighth day in the upper room.
And at the completion of these days of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit descended with a breath of wind, and he filled them with fire, together with the holy ones who were united to them.
For this we glorify you, beneficent Lord, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and we entreat you with all our heart. Look upon us in kindness, and remember in compassion and mercy us, who have suffered, and who have been condemned, and who take refuge in you. Reverse the enslavement of our spirits, seized by the Slanderer, and restore us, who have fallen and are lost.
We entreat you, loving Lord, for although we have sinned, yet we have fallen on you from the womb of the font, and you are our God. Do not let us out of your hands, for our days of vanity have dwindled, and we have become disgraced before our enemies; the laughing-stock and the mockery of those who hate us.
Instead, hoping in your mercy which came to be on this day, we implore you. Open for us the gate of your mercy [Ps 117:19] and purify us from the secrets of our sins.
See the lowliness of your servants, and forgive us all our trespasses, voluntary and involuntary, known and unknown.
Grant expiation for your people and cleanse us all by the power of your Holy Spirit.
Save us from the clutch of the enemy and fortify our lives against the contriving snares of the Slanderer.
Commit us to an angel of peace, you, who prepare what we need before we ask.
Make us worthy before we die to turn to you in confession and in penance.
Make of us, together with the holy apostles, a temple to receive your Holy Spirit [1Cor 6:19]. And with them, write our names in the book of life [Phil 4:3].
Assemble all of us in your kingdom in the supernal Zion, in your heavenly and most high upper room. For mercy is yours, and to you, and to your only-begotten Son, and to the Holy Spirit we send up glory, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
PRAYER TO THE SON
Our Lord Jesus Christ, who granted your peace to your holy apostles [Jn 20:22] by breathing into them, and who today manifestly bestowed the Holy Spirit upon them. Having come from the Father, he abided in them, and dispersed their sorrow. And in tongues of fire resting on their tongues, he opened their mouths to speak in all tongues.
And all mankind, who, because of the tower had been scattered in polytheistic aberrations, he unified in the one knowledge of the true three persons of your power. He taught [mankind] to glorify the one God in all languages, throughout the whole universe, by the proclamation of the Gospel; and to bend the knee to the same one God, as did the three thousand, who were reborn on this day in baptism.
With them, we too have been enlightened by the same Spirit. In faith we bend our knee to the all-holy Trinity, and all of us assembled entreat you unanimously.
Look upon me, unworthy as I am, who offer the prayers of these people to you, before your holy altar.
Open, Lord, the lips of this sinner, as those of the blessed apostles, and fill us with your Holy Spirit, so that we may commune with all the graces given by you, with your chosen ones. And do not, on account of my many sins, impede the flow of your mercy toward us, who stand in hope before you and entreat your infinite compassion.
Make your servants worthy of your divine gifts; of wisdom and understanding, of counsel and might, of knowledge and the fear of God [Is 11:2]. Fill our minds with a spirit of fear. [Grant us] a pure heart and right spirit [Ps 51:10] and restore in us pure minds, loving One.
Direct our goings along spotless paths by your Holy Spirit, you, who are the harbor of ships, so that we may reflect always on your law, and keep your commandments and carry out your orders, and preach your words. Answer our prayers and our requests for the better.
You, who united our infirm nature to your unimpaired divinity, and through it joined yourself to our afflictions and healed our infirmities;
Hear us, God our Savior, and bend your ear to us who are assembled in adoration in your holy church, in the likeness of your chosen ones in the holy upper room.
Purify us of all the filth of sin, and send your Holy Spirit on us, united in faith, so that He may abide in us and enlighten our minds in the light of the knowledge of God, and lead us in all truth in the observance of your commandments. May He make us skilled in the law of the divine testaments, which the prophets and the apostles and the vartabeds spoke by the Holy Spirit, who will teach us and strengthen us to do all.
I entreat you and implore you to look in conciliation upon this your people, the price of your holy blood [cf. 1Cor 6:20, 7:23]. Do not ignore their entreaties on account of my many transgressions, for they are your saved ones, and to you do they lift up their hands and ask for conciliation.
Now receive the genuflexion of these who pray as from those who are newly enlightened, and the lifting up of their hands as an evening offering; and their prayer, as sweet incense before your beneficent lordship. And cover them under the shadow of your wings, protecting them from visible and invisible enemies. So that living in this world with pure Christian faith, we may be worthy of heavenly life with all your saints, and that giving thanks, we may glorify you with the Father and with the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
You, true God, who are Lord of power, fountain of light and of life, flowing unsearchably from the Father, O miracle-working Holy Spirit, promised to the holy apostles by Christ our God. By his death, he broke the chains of death and locked the origin of sin in the inextinguishable flame and in the outer darkness.
There, with unbreakable chains he firmly locked up the vile dragon with his rebellious powers, and by his resurrection he rescued from hell those who were sequestered there, the sons who had fallen asleep because of Adam.
And going up to the Father with our nature, at the fulfillment of all good things and at the completion of all the mysteries, he sent you, the Renewer, the life-giving Holy Spirit, as the Comforter [Jn 14:16, 26] for those in sorrow.
You, O inaccessible One, came down, God from God the Father, and came into the upper room from heaven, and filled with ineffable joy and grace your chosen ones, whom you sent as a proclamation of the Word of life throughout the entire earth.
They filled the universe with your full knowledge, Lord, and introduced the whole world to the one Godhead, abolishing the worship of useless idols.
Through the holy font they gave birth to the Gentiles, for adoption by the heavenly Father, and they made them all worshippers of the all-Holy Trinity.
In all places they laid the foundation of the holy church and they erected the table of your glory, from which they fed all who believe in you with the immortal Mystery. Turning earth into heaven, they made the earthly equal to the heavenly.
And now, O Lord our God, merciful and loving, receive the requests which we make of you, and give rest to those of ours who have fallen asleep, who, also enlightened by spiritual birth, became worthy of the name "Christian," and participating in the divine Body and Blood [1Cor 10:16], they have left this world in faith and right teaching. Today, on the great day of your appearance, we have commemorated them in the hope of this saving Badarak.
Lord almighty, God of the mortal and of the immortal, creator of all and Lord of life and death; provider for body, and in the future, the hope of all the corners of the earth; who, on the last day of the great feast of Pentecost exhilarated by your glorious advent those who were assembled in your name in the upper room, hear also now the voice of our supplications, and remember those who have fallen asleep, (our fathers and brothers), and give them rest in a place of light and in the tabernacles of your saints.
Remember their prayers and implorations, and their confession both in this life and at death, and grant forgiveness for all their transgressions. Make all of them worthy to await the distribution of the good and glorious things to come, which you have prepared for your beloved, and with them [make them worthy] to bless the all-holy Trinity.
And to us, assembled in your name in your holy temple, worshippers and celebrants of the day of your all-saving advent, grant your heavenly peace and the renewal of [our] souls and bodies from the staleness of sin so that we may be born again in repentance and tears. And strengthen us all, in sobriety and righteousness, together with the holy apostles, so that we may abide in you, lest there be in us any opportunity or occasion for evil.
Purify the lips and tongues of your servants by means of the fiery tongues, so that with spiritual blessing we may be worthy to sing, and to say psalms, and to pray at all times with the spiritual ones; with a holy heart and humble spirit to offer you the rational service, and from the depths of the heart, with tearful pleading, to ask you for expiation.
Fortify our entire life in fear of you, and defend and protect us from evil thoughts, words and deeds.
Make us worthy to live in your pleasure, and according to your will to complete the course [of our lives] in the confession of the true faith and ardent contrition, participating in the saving Mystery, with a priestly funeral, with offerings and sacrifices to make commemoration before your holy altar always.
Falling down before you, we ask, O loving Holy Spirit, that you also keep our souls fearless in their journeys during this bodily life, so that they be spared from ethereal and vile demons; that you may lead them on a straight path [Ps 142:10] in this blessed life and in this station of the just, where the souls of the saints bless you joyously. And at the renewal to come, when the Savior, consubstantial with you, comes to awaken all at the sound of the archangel's trumpet, and the voice of God;
And when you, our God and Lord, Holy Spirit, receive all mankind through the resurrection, and renew each one in spirit from the threat of Gehenna, and exempt them from unforgivable torment, and join them in the camps of your saints, with those who love your name, to become heirs of the kingdom of heaven; then we too, your rational flock, who believe in you, shall bless and glorify the all-holy Trinity, now and always and unto the ages of ages. Amen.