Blessing of the Grapes
In our national and church life great importance is given to the Divine traditions which originate from the Holy Scriptures. They became the best way to express the unique image of our nation and church. Thus, these traditions were valued and adopted as sacred services, improving throughout the centuries.
One of the holy celebrations of the Armenian Church is the Blessing of the Grapes which is offered following the celebration of Divine Liturgy on the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. It is also one of the Holy Traditions of the Universal Church.
During pre-Christian times "the feast of Roots and Fruit" constituted part and parcel of the religious rituals of almost all nations. On this day a special ceremony was conducted by the servants of the temple, during which the first fruit of the year was offered to the corresponding God embodying fertility; as a sign of obedience, gratitude and fruitfulness for the coming year.
Although the above-mentioned ceremony of offering the first fruit was also found in Armenian traditions, it was not distinguished as "the feast of Roots and Fruit". It was considered to be one of the feasts devoted to the Goddess Anahit as she embodied fertility and fruitfulness.
After Armenia’s adoption of Christianity as the state religion in 301 AD, St. Gregory the Illuminator implemented new directions in the Armenian Church concerning traditions. The first Armenian Patriarch changed the essentials of the services, but included parts of some customs and rites of the old Armenian religion into the new Christian Church traditions. One of them was the offering of the first fruit from the harvest. After reviewing and modifying this tradition, St. Gregory the Illuminator Christianized the service and introduced it into the Armenian Church traditions correlating it with the Feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God. Upon the direction of St. Gregory the "offering" of the fruit was changed to be a Holy blessing of the harvest conducted by a priest.
The order of offering the first fruit to God was established by the Prophet Moses: 1 "When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, 2 you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. 3 You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, "Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.
[…] 10 "So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me. You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God." (Deuteronomy 26:11- 3; 10 )
During the services, the following harvests were offered: wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, honey. Among these offerings, the grapes were of special significance for the Romans, for two reasons. Firstly wine, which was considered to be the best remedy for removing sadness and was associated with happiness and well-being was made of grapes. Secondly the grape was the national symbol of Israel and at the same time a symbol of peace and well-being.
According to this God-founded cannon every year Israelis offered the first fruit of their gardens to God’s temple. They clearly understood and frankly believed that all the fruit they enjoyed was granted to them by God in Heaven. Thus, in gratitude, they had to offer the first fruits of their harvest and their just earnings to the Merciful God.
In the Armenian Church grapes are given preference over other fruits to be blessed as the first fruit of the harvest. This is conditioned by a number of historical and religious circumstances. After the devastating flood, our ancestor Noah planted a vineyard in the valley on the slopes of Mt. Ararat and grew grapes. 9:20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. (Genesis 9:20)
The fruit of the vineyard became the decoration of the Araratian valley; it was considered to be the noblest fruit and was called the KING OF THE FRUIT. Jesus Christ repeatedly assimilated himself with the vine 15:1 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower." (John 15:1). According to the explanation given by our Church Fathers the Holy Mother of God is the selected branch that presented humanity with a pure and life-giving vine - Jesus Christ. The blessing of the fruit conducted on the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God coincides with the end of summer when the grape ripens.
According to the generalized tradition the choice of grapes over other fruits is usually explained by the convenience of the season, however some consider that it is not exactly so. As it has been mentioned, our Lord described himself as the vine and when we read in the Gospel (John 15 1:8) we see that His words reveal the symbolic mission of the grape vines in the life of the Church. Thus, the hypothesis that only suitable weather conditions were a factor in the choice is questioned. Because these factors, the Armenian Church has given preference to the grape, which every year on the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God is blessed after the Divine Liturgy and given to the faithful in attendance.
Although St. Gregory the Illuminator didn’t establish a specific service for offering the first fruit of the harvest, his followers kept this tradition and handed it down through generations. St. Sahag of Partev canonized it "as a rule" and St. Nerses the Graceful turned this tradition into a formal service establishing readings from the gospel of the prophets and the apostles as well as a special prayer of blessing for the consecration.
Thus, the blessing of grapes became a devout ceremony attached to the feast of the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God.
Today it is traditional for faithful Armenians who have grape vines or vineyards to offer the first fruit of their harvest during the blessing of the grapes so that the original meaning of the ceremony established by St. Gregory the Illuminator would be continued and the divine and heavenly blessing would abundantly inundate their fields.
The canons of the Armenian Church do not prohibit eating grapes before the Blessing of the Grapes, and the tradition of abstaining from eating grapes before the ceremony is rooted in the people, and has become a national custom. As the grape was given preference for blessing over all other fruits, then waiting with obedience and abstinence until the blessing of the grapes follows in the tradition established by St. Gregory.