Scriptures exhort us to be merciful and to give alms to those who are in need. We read both in the Old and New Testament that giving alms and being merciful are one of the greatest attributes of a righteous and God-fearing person. Proverb 14 says, “He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors him” (31).
Proverb 19 tells us, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed (17). In Luke 6 we read the commandment of our Lord, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (36). The Apostle James informs us that “judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).
Madagh is an act of mercy, thanksgiving and alms offering. It is an ancient Armenian pious custom during which an animal is scarified to be given as offering to the poor and needy. In pagan Armenia, before Christianity, people used to offer burnt sacrifices to idols. However, after Christianity, in Armenia this meaningless custom was transformed to something more meaningful. Animals were offered as sacrifice in order to be cooked and distributed to the poor and needy.
As St. Gregory Illuminator commanded people, “instead of making offerings to the dead idols, as you did before, bring your gifts to One God, from dumb-animals, mixing with them the blessed salt”. That is why before the animal sacrifice is made the salt is blessed by the priest and given to the animal to eat, and the meat is cooked with the same blessed salt.
St. Gregory of Tatev interprets the word "Mad-agh" as "offering salt". He further explains that Madagh “first of all is a gift offered to God. Second, it is the hope for salvation… Third, it is alms giving and our love expressed towards needy. Fourth, it is the memory of those who are asleep in Christ.”
According to St. Nerses Shnorhali, even from the times of St. Gregory the Illuminator, after Armenians were converted into Christianity, Madagh was offered during the Feast of Resurrection, the Dominical and Saintly feasts, and in memory of the departed and as a memorial meal it was distributed to the needy and poor.
According to the ritual of Madagh, the salt which is a symbol of purity, is blessed by the priest with psalms and prayers, and the sign of the cross, then it is given to the animal to consume, (so that the animal would be cleansed from divine curse (Gen. 3) and be reinstated to its original blessings(Gen. 1:22)). Later the animal is slaughtered, cooked with the blessed salt and the meat is distributed to the poor and needy.
The animal offered as Madagh can be calf, lamb, rooster or pigeon. Madagh is not offered during the fast days and Lent.
Madagh is only one means of helping the poor and needy, our duty as Christians should be constant thanksgiving, almsgiving and worship with our pious works and unshaken faith.
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