Those who have seen Armenian Churches may have noticed a mysterious sign on top of their main altar. The interesting sign features the symbol “Է”, which in fact is the 7th letter of the Armenian alphabet. The history of this sign is of great interest to us.
The earliest evidence of the sign Eh” (“Է”) has been discovered on rock carvings in Metsamor, Armenia. These petroglyphs date to ca. 3000 BC. The sign is known to have been used by Mithraic priests in pre-Christian Armenia. During the creation of the Armenian alphabet in 405 AD, Mesrop Mashtots incorporated the sign as the 7th letter of the alphabet. The letter would subsequently be adopted by the Armenian Church, and that’s why it can be now seen in Armenian temples.
In Armenian Churches, either the sign “Eh” (“Է”) or the inscription “Asdvadz Ser Eh” (in Armenian) with its English translation “God Is Love” can be seen, mostly above the altar. What’s so special about the letter “Eh” that makes it such a key feature of the churches’ altar?
Let’s firstly look at the meaning of the sign. In the phrase “God Is Love”, the Armenian word for “is” is “eh”, so “Eh” (“Է”) literally means “is” or “he is”, which may sound like a reference to God Himself. In chapter 3 of Exodus, Moses encounters God in the burning bush. While God was briefing the prophet to deliver His people from Egypt, Moses asked:
If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
God told Moses that His name is “I am”, which technically means “Is” or “He Who Is.” God thereby is a being who just IS, and He is the only eternal God to call Himself by that name. As we already mentioned, “Eh” (“Է”) is the Armenian word for “is.” And the Armenian Church now realizes that God (Eh) dwells at the church altar, just as Moses realized that God was dwelling in the burning bush.
When pronounced, “Eh” (“Է”) is accompanied with an exhalation, so the idea of God being the breath of life is represented in the letter’s symbolism. Apart from that, the number 7 is known as the number of perfection or completion. Throughout the Bible, this number is attributed to a number of acts of God, as well as to God Himself. Thereby, the 7th letter of the Armenian alphabet “Eh” (“Է”) and its symbolism are considered Holy by the Armenian Church.
Interestingly, the letter “Eh” (“Է”) is the only letter of the Armenian alphabet that can be added as a prefix or a suffix to form a new word. “Eh” (“Է”) is not only a mere character but also a Word of and in itself.