The principal liturgical service of the Armenian Church is the Divine Liturgy (in Armenian, Badarak). The Badarak is the most important expression of the Church’s faith and identity.
On the last night of his earthly life, Jesus Christ gathered his followers together for one final meal with them, a traditional ritual meal that included prayers, psalms, breaking bread, and sharing a cup of wine. The accounts of this incident in the New Testament tell us that the meal was progressing normally until Jesus took the bread into his hands, and having blessed it and broken it—just as he always had—he unexpectedly proclaimed, “This is my body which is for you.”
We can only imagine the confusion in the minds of Jesus’ disciples. It must have seemed like a scandal to deviate from the usual course of this traditional meal. Later, having blessed a cup of wine, Jesus held it in front of them saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” St. Paul adds, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:23-26)
Jesus’ apostles did repeat this ritual in commemoration of their Lord. The four gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the epistles of St. Paul, and other ancient Christian writings tell us that the young Christian community considered the regular observance of this ritual, instituted by Jesus Christ himself, to be their most important Christian obligation. It was for them a way to “be one” with Jesus Christ and to recall the mystery of perfect and everlasting life with God that he brought about for them, the life that he himself was: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (Jn 14:6)
As the Christian faith grew and spread throughout the world, this ceremony developed according to the various cultures that embraced it, a symbol of the very identity of the Church. The earliest known writings in the Armenian language show that the Armenians considered the principal expression and proclamation of their Christian faith to be the Badarak, the service centered on communion of Christ’s Body and Blood. The 5th-century Armenian historians known as Faustus and Agathangelos describe Armenians celebrating the Eucharist in monasteries and other settings, and they quote from prayers which are still used today. Those prayer fragments and scenes from the liturgy form a link between us and the earliest Armenian Christians.
In all of the ancient Churches, the Divine Liturgy consists of two large blocks: the Synaxis and the Eucharist. In the Armenian Church, these two halves are preceded by a preparatory introduction and end with a brief conclusion, both late additions to the ancient two-part structure.
The Synaxis, which means “assembly” or “gathering together,” is often called the “Liturgy of the Word” because this part of the Divine Liturgy centers on the reading of passages from the Bible, especially the Holy Gospel. The Armenian Church fathers always emphasize that in the reading of the Gospel Jesus Christ himself is revealed.
The second block of the Badarak is called the “Eucharist,” a Greek word meaning “thanksgiving.” We give thanks to the Lord because he has saved us and cares for us. The heart of the Eucharist in all ancient Christian traditions is called the Anaphora or Eucharistic Prayer. This long prayer is recited by the priest on behalf of all the people. The Eucharistic Prayer used every Sunday in the Armenian Church is attributed to St. Athanasius, the great 4th-century Egyptian theologian who so greatly inspired Armenian theological thinking. The Anaphora of St. Athanasius reflects the individuality of the Christian faith as experienced in Armenia. It brings together all of the themes of the Divine Liturgy: thanksgiving, worship, commemoration, sacrifice, Holy Communion, and the celebration of our salvation.
—adapted from The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church (Fr. Daniel Findikyan, editor)