Scriptures exhort us to be merciful and to give alms to those 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, pious Armenian custom during which an animal is scarified to be given as an offering to the poor and needy. In pagan Armenia, before Christianity, people used to offer burnt sacrifices to idols. However, after Christianity, this custom was transformed into something more meaningful where animals were sacrificed in order to be cooked and distributed to those in need.
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. The meat is then 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 almsgiving and our love expressed towards needy. Fourth, it is the memory of those who are asleep in Christ.”
According to St. Nerses Shnorhali, from the time 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. 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. The sign of the cross is given to the animal to consume. Once the animal is cleansed from divine curse (Gen. 3) and reinstated to its original blessings (Gen. 1:22), the animal is then slaughtered and cooked with the blessed salt. 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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