On September 16, the Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates one of its five major church holidays – the Feast of the Cross (Armenian: Khachverats). Khachverats is celebrated in the memory of the return and glorification of the Life-Giving Cross of the Lord.
The Armenian Church celebrates this feast on the Sunday between September 11 and 17. The Saturday prior to the holiday is considered the day of renewal. In the evening, the consecration churches and the four sides of the world takes place.
According to one legend, the first bishop of Jerusalem Jacob, having found the True Cross, raised it high to demonstrate it to the believers while singing the sharakan “Thy Cross, Oh Christ, we worship.”
Another legend says that the True Cross found by the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great Helena was erected by the Patriarch of Jerusalem Macarius before the city’s settlers.
In 335, Emperor Constantine built the Temple of Holy Resurrection at the site of the burial of Christ. The temple was consecrated on September 13. Thereafter, the celebration of the temple’s consecration took place annually and lasted eight days. On September 14, the believers were gathering at Calvary where the Life-Giving Cross was erected.
The Feast of the Cross became even more important after the return of the True Cross from the Persian captivity in the first half of the 7th century. In 610, Persian king Khosrov with a large army attacked the Byzantine Empire. Encouraged by the first victories, the Persians captured Jerusalem along with the True Cross in 614. Many were set on fire, killed, or taken captive. Among them was the patriarch of Jerusalem Zechariah.
After many years of war, the Byzantines led by Emperor Heraclius defeated the Persians and liberated the True Cross in 628. Armenian troops led by Mzhezh Gnuni took part in these events. Accompanied by processions and services in churches, the liberated True Cross was solemnly carried through Armenia. The True Cross would eventually be returned to Jerusalem.
“The cross for Christians is the pride and symbol of the power of God. The innocent blood of Christ was shed on the cross. While on the cross, Jesus showed his boundless love for people. The cross for Christians became a guarantee of hope, love, and salvation,” said Priest Shmavon Ghevondian.
The Armenian Apostolic Church celebrates three other holidays associated with the True Cross – Varaga Surb Khach, Tyut Khach, and Yerevan Khach. But the most important and solemn of them is Khachverats.
This holiday is very popular among people. On this day, Armenians make pilgrimages to churches. In many places, they craft crosses with their own hands and decorate them with flowers and greenery.
In general, Khachverats (or Srbkhech (Holy Cross)) marks the beginning of autumn. This is a fun holiday which is associated with the tradition to set a festive table.
The main dish is a goatling baked in tonir, hence one of the names of the holiday Ulnots (Armenian: “ul”, goatling). This tradition is still preserved by the inhabitants of Shirak and Javakhk. This dish is prepared exclusively by men.
Ghapama is also served to the table, which is a baked pumpkin stuffed with rice and dried fruits. A no less common dish is mshosh, which is lentils cooked with nuts and dried fruits. Besides, it is customary to serve a lot of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and sweets to the table.