For Armenians, the home has always been the center of family life, the sacred space in which we celebrate life and gather for important events. Our home is our sanctuary from the outside world. It is a place of spiritual refuge and peace, a place where God’s loving presence can be felt. When we think of what home means to us, we might imagine a place that represents family, life, happiness, joy, sorrow, and all the memories which can encompass a lifetime.
A beautiful tradition in the Armenian Church which emphasizes the importance of the home and family is the home blessing service. This tradition has its roots in Apostolic times when filled with the joy of our Lords’ Birth (Nativity) or Resurrection (Easter) the Disciples and followers of Jesus would go to the houses of all the faithful bringing the blessing of the Good News to their homes. Likewise, the customary time of the year when Armenian homes are blessed are Eastertide (the fifty days after Easter), Christmastide (the forty days after Christmas until February 14, the Feast of the Presentation), and after having moved into a new home.
The beauty and the significance of the home blessing is the imparting of God’s protective power over the Christian home, with all its gifts and the family who dwells therein. In addition, the Armenian Church has always valued the family and its integral role as a base and strength of the nation.
When a home blessing is conducted the family members gather together with the priest and a service takes place in which symbolic life-giving gifts are sanctified. The priest gathers bread, water and salt and sanctifies each one through prayers, hymns, and biblical readings.
Scripture is filled with different imageries and ideas that impart a special significance to the bread. It is represented as a sustainer of life which is best underlined by the metaphorical use of “bread” in the New Testament. The greatest example of this is Jesus’ discourse which followed His miracle of feeding five hundred with only five loaves of bread and two fish. The next day when the eager multitude came to look for Him, the Lord said: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” He then added, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (Jn. 6:51).
Another essential element, without which sustenance of life would have been impossible, is the water. From the very first verses of the Bible we have reference to the water, when God separated water from the sky and created land and seas. Water, in the scripture, is also associated with blessing, cleansing from defilement and as a life giving substance. When we are baptized we become born again through the water and spirit (Jn. 3:1-14). Our sins are cleansed by “washing with water through the word”(Eph. 5:26).
As with bread and water another important element for sustenance is salt. Salt is connected to purity and the Romans used to say that it is pure because it comes from the two purest things of all - from sun and sea. Salt also has the quality to preserve things. However, one of the greatest qualities of salt that we all appreciate is that it flavors and gives taste. Christ called his disciples the “salt of the earth” who by their commitment, like salt, enrich the lives of many.
During the home blessing there is also incense burned, which is, of course, the symbol of our prayers rising to God. As the psalmist proclaims “May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2)
At the conclusion of the service it is a custom in some communities for the priest to present the family with Nushkhar, a round, unleavened Communion wafer, which symbolizes our Lord’s presence within that household and His protective seal over the family.
Unfortunately, this beautiful and meaningful ceremony, with many other traditions of our Church, is slowly disappearing in today’s secular society. The necessity of God’s blessings and protection was in demand in the past and we crave it even more desperately today.
St. Mary encourages its congregation to invite the Pastor over for a traditional Home Blessing to restore the peace of Christ to your household and to bestow His manifold blessings upon your family.