The period of Great Lent in the Armenian Church begins with the Monday following the Eve of Great Lent, and continues to the Saturday preceding Holy Week. Each Sunday during this period is named after a parable embodying some spiritual truth, and the Scriptural readings for each Sunday underscore the day’s lesson.
The first Sunday of Lent is called Poon Paregentan or The Sunday of Good Living. It is the day before the 40-day period of abstinence and fasting begins. On the Eve of Lent, a black curtain closes off the altars of Armenian churches: the first visual appearance of Lent in the church. This the last opportunity for the faithful to eat and drink abundantly, which symbolizes the spirit of innocent joyfulness during man’s days in Eden. Paregentan festivities on this day, with food, dancing and drinking, are common among Armenians.
The second Sunday of Lent is named The Sunday of the Expulsion—a reference to the exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise. This day reminds us of the loss of man’s happiness due to his disobedience. During this day’s service the hymn of St. Nersess the Graceful, Vor Zorenes Serpoutian, describes man’s Fall: how Adam and Eve experienced the bitterness of sin and death, how they first felt “fear” in their hearts, and “hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees in the garden.” Thereafter, the re-establishment of the friendship between God and man had to await God’s entry into our lives. Through this act of grace, man is able to search his heart, perceive his condition as an exile of “Paradise lost,” and see that God has given human beings the opportunity to regain their former status.
The third Sunday of Lent is known as The Sunday of the Prodigal Son. The parable told by Jesus (Luke 15:11-32) is a familiar example of a child rebelling against its parent; but in Jesus’ telling, the parent is accepting and understanding, regardless of the child’s previous actions or mistakes. The two key words in this parable are “lost” and “found,” and in a way, the entire Lenten period might be thought of as a search for our own lost selves. The prodigal son stands as a symbol for lost and demoralized humanity; the father figure helps us grasp the depth of God’s love for mankind.
The fourth Sunday of Lent, The Sunday of the Steward, involves another parable told by Jesus (Luke 16:1-13); its great lesson is the power of salvation. We learn that we are responsible to God for all of our works and deeds-and responsible, too, to utilize the gifts He has given us. We should all be prepared, for one day we will be called to give an accounting of ourselves to God.
Lent’s fifth Sunday is known as The Sunday of the Judge. This Sunday’s parable (Luke 18:1-8) involves an unjust judge who refuses to hear a widow’s plea. But because of the widow’s persistence to be vindicated against her adversary, even this hard, godless judge gives in and conducts a trial. This parable assures us that God, our just and loving judge, will not turn a deaf ear to the pleas of His children; but we learn, too, the need for perseverance in the Christian life.
The Sunday of Advent is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent, when the church recalls the revelation of our Savior, who sacrificed His life for mankind. This day is devoted to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, our eternal Lord and King; as such we are reminded that, just as everything once began with God, so too will everything one day end with Him.
Great Lent ends with Lazarus Saturday, which recalls how Jesus raised His friend from the dead (John 11:1-44). This episode foreshadows Christ’s own Resurrection and serves to remind us of Christ’s promise of new life to those who love Him.
The following day, Palm Sunday, celebrates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, when He was hailed as the Messiah and King of Israel. Since Christ was greeted with palm fronds and olive branches on that day, we observe this occasion by distributing palm leaves to the congregation. During the Palm Sunday liturgy, the service of “The Opening of the Doors” takes place. The priest and faithful pray for entry once again into God’s glorious Kingdom and wait for the church to symbolically open Her doors (by opening the black curtains) just as Christ paved the way for the resurrection of humanity.