‘Khaghogh Orhnek’ or ‘Grape Blessing’ is among the most beloved ceremonies in the Armenian Traditional Feasts. Each year, on the Sunday closest to the date of August 15, with priest and deacons in their colorful and decorated silky robes, the Armenian Church conducts a beautiful liturgy rich in symbolism: The blessing of grapes at the Alter.
Steeped in history and tradition the feast predates Christianity, and has its roots in pagan times. Originally, it was a traditional homage to the Gods. Today, the blessing of the grapes has become a religious ceremony dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
Dating back to paganism, grape blessing had much in common with the pre Christian New Year celebrations ( Navasard) which was traditionally celebrated in mid-August, a time of rebirth and regeneration. The Gods, especially the ones who were responsible for a bountiful harvest, received from the faithful gifts of first fruits,wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, nuts and honey for blessing. The first blessed harvest was sacrificed to Goddess Anahit, patroness of fecundity and maternity. These bounties were then distributed by the pagan priests. Since these pagan times the grape was considered to be the “noblest of all fruits”but also the ‘’forbidden fruit’’ not to be eaten until blessed (a tradition still upheld by many Armenians today).
These pagan customs where then transferred to the Armenian Church when the country in 301 A.D. accepted Christianity as its state religion. In these ancient times a solemn ceremony would take place in the vineyards. The priest would walk in a procession carrying a pair of clippers in his right hand and a cross in his left hand as he blessed the vineyard and the grapes. He would ask God to bless the vines on which the grapes ripened and keep the vineyards from evil in the form of hail, frost, high winds, and harmful insects. After the ceremony, best wishes were exchanged among the parishioners for increased bounty after which “madagh”, the traditional animal sacrifice, a mercy offering intended for the poor and needy, would take place in the villages. It was also customary to set aside a portion of grapes for the birds as well, for whom the fruits were hung from high perches, such as lamp-posts or stone monuments.
Today the occasion on which the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates the blessing of grapes is a major feast day called “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” and underscores a wonderful insight unique to Christianity. The story of assumption concerns Virgin Mary, who has a primary place of honor in Armenian Church doctrine because it was of her and by the Holy Spirit that God became incarnate. She is seen as the image of humanity fully obedient to God and ultimately sanctified by doing God’s will. Grape is chosen for benediction on the feast remembering her Dormition and Assumption, since Christ blessed the wine made from grapes and gave it to his disciples as a symbol his vital blood.
The symbol of this festivity is the idea of maternity full of faith, love and hope. It is also the day when grapes enter the church as “forbidden fruit” and leave it blessed. This is a festival which is a mixture of celestial and terrestrial, solemnity and familiarity, tradition and modernity.
The Monday following is “merelots”, when people go to the cemetery to pay tribute to their dead relatives.
ZORAH – 6000 years of tradition in every bottle