Worship usually lasts for about 2,5 hours, the service having been extended by additional prayers at various times over the centuries. Despite its length there were traditionally no seats but pews are now becoming more common. Worship is quite different from that in Western churches. Visitors need not attend the whole service (which usually starts at 10.30) and can come just for part except that at some churches (notably Sevan) the building is so crowded that it is difficult either to enter or to leave. (Geghard is a good option on a Sunday morning for those staying in Yerevan with access to transport.) Even for those with no knowledge of the Armenian language the beauty of the singing is deeply impressive.
The devout fast on Sunday mornings before going to church. For the celebrant priest the liturgy begins in the vestry. He acknowledges his sinfulness and how privileged he is to be able to lead the people in worship. The deacon then hands him in turn the various items of the vestments and he puts each of them on with a brief prayer. The priest and deacon now enter the nave but do not go immediately up to the bema. At first they remain among the congregation where the priest symbolically washes his hands and then asks the congregation to pray for his forgiveness. Once they are up on the bema, the curtain is drawn across it to avoid distracting the congregation with the preparations. After the elements have been prepared the curtain opens and the deacons lead the priest in a procession round the altar and down into the nave, walking round the whole church offering incense and inviting the faithful to kiss the cross which the priest carries.
After two hymns, one of which is sung every Sunday and the other of which varies, the deacon symbolically holds the Gospel book over the priest's head and there is a further procession around the altar accompanied by another hymn. This is followed by readings from the Bible and more prayers. The main part of the service, the liturgy of the Eucharist, starts with the priest removing his crown and slippers in obedience to God's command to Moses at the burning bush. The deacon processes around the altar holding the veiled chalice above his head. At the end of the procession the deacon hands the elements to the celebrant. The so-called kiss of peace which follows is a ritualised greeting everyone makes to their neighbours. A long sequence of prayers and hymns concludes with the curtain being again closed, this time for the priest to receive communion while hidden from view - it is traditional in all Eastern Churches for the celebrant to receive communion out of sight of the congregation. Communion is now distributed: as communicants stand before the priest they make the sign of the Cross and say 'I have sinned against God.' Thereupon the priest places a small part of the bread which has been dipped into the wine directly into the mouth of the communicant who again makes the sign of the Cross. (The sign is made in the same way as in the Orthodox Church - right breast before left - but the opposite way from the Roman Catholic practice which is left breast before right.) This is followed by more prayers and hymns during part of which the curtain is closed while the priest and deacons reorganise the altar. The priest then raises his right hand to bless the congregation in Armenian style - with the thumb and ring finger forming a circle to represent the world and the other fingers pointing upward to represent the persons of the Trinity. The service ends with the congregation kissing the Gospel book.
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