Fr. Daniel Findikyan, Director of the Zohrab Information Center, returned this week from Germany, where he participated in an academic conference at the University of Bonn, Germany. Fr. Findikyan gave a lecture on an Armenian funeral prayer attributed to the erudite 8th-century bishop Step‘anos of Siwnik‘. Findikyan edited and translated the prayer into English from a 14th-century manuscript held by the Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
The conference was organized by the Catholic Theological Faculty of the University of Bonn on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Roman Catholic Church’s Second Vatican Council and the 75th anniversary of the publication of the book Liturgie comparée [Comparative Liturgy], the ground-breaking study of the interconnections that are to be found among the worship traditions of the ancient Christian churches. The book was written by the great German Orientalist, Anton Baumstark. Findikyan was one of ten speakers invited to present lectures. He was the only Armenian and the only speaker from the United States.
Step‘anos’ prayer is of interest not only because of its antiquity, but because it was composed to accompany the ritual of “sealing” the grave of the deceased. This final ritual of the funeral service involves marking the four sides of the grave with the sign of the cross. The ritual is unique to the Armenian Church. The prayer offered after the “sealing” ritual asks God to protect the tomb from desecration—be it by invisible demonic forces, or by anyone who would dare disturb it. For Armenians this was a very real and troubling prospect: for centuries Armenia’s homeland was raided by hostile neighbors who were known to resort even to exhuming and looting graves.
The prayer also pleads with God for the bereaved, that God may console them in the assurance of the resurrection of the dead through faith in Jesus Christ.
Fr. Findikyan’s English translation of Step‘anos’ prayer and his exhaustive textual, historical and theological analysis have been published in a two-volume collection of essays in honor of Dr. Heinzgerd Brakmann, a world-renowned expert in the liturgies of the Eastern Churches. The article is entitled, “An Armenian Funeral Prayer Attributed to Bishop Step‘anos of Siwnik‘ and the Prayer for the Blessing of Water.” Findikyan found curious parallels between Step‘anos’ prayer and the well-known Armenian prayer for the Blessing of Water on Christmas.
The book is entitled, Synaxis Katholike: Beiträge zu Gottesdienst und Geschichte der fünf altkirchlichen Patriarchate für Heinzgerd Brakmann zum 70. Geburtstag, 2 vols. Diliana Atanassova and Tinatin Chronz, eds. Vienna and Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2014. ISBN 978-3-643-50552-1.