Liturgics: Penance in Armenian Rite vs. Byzantine Rite


The Service of Penance according to the Rite of the Armenian Apostolic Church

Canon of Making a Penitent (Canon of calling sinners to repentance) 

mother_see_of_holy_etchmiadzin1.  The Service (description)*

  1. The Preparatory Part

1.      (at the church-door): the reception of the penitent

2.      Ps. 42, 123, 138, 25, 38, 32 and 56 (the latter in lamentation) sometimes Ps. 50

3.      The Deacon: call for those who repent.

4.      The Priest’s Prayer 1: “O God, that are doing good and are the bestower of mercies, accept the return of your servant that has sinned, yet has been guided aright to follow your call of good-tidings…; hear his prayers, and those of us all; High-priest eternal, who came to seek out the lost Adam, and saved him that was fallen sick from the malignant dragon…”

5.      (Peace. Let us adore) End of Prayer 1: “God of many mercies… forgive them their sins and trespasses…”

6.      Ps. 41, lections form Isaiah and Ezekiel, from The Epistle to the Ephesians 6, Alleluiah, psalm 130 and, finally, form the Gospel of Luke (15, 12-32; the prodigal son)

7.      The Deacon: the second call for the penitents. Lord have mercy (35 times)

8.      The Priest’s Instruction 1: “Listen, men and women… you have with tearful lamentation taken upon yourselves the yoke of repentance… for with fasting and prayer and pious exercises you shall cleanse yourselves of sin, and of rebellious spirit of Satan./ May Christ therefore the Son of God have pity for your austere penitence; and forgive the multitude of your sins… may he therefore incorporate you in the number of his saints… may the Holy Spirit irradiate you with splendour, in the likeness of the dove plumed with light… beholding the light of the glory of the Son of God in the day of the advent… hear the voice which says: come you blessed of my Father inherit the kingdom…”

9.      The penitents abjure the devil and confess the faith in the Holy Trinity (they enter the church)

10.  Lection from Joel, Jeremia, I Peter, Isaiah, Letter to Colossians, Alleluiah, the Gospel of Luke (15, 1-10 the lost sheep and drachma)

11.  The Priest (the penitent arrayed in the philon) Prayer 2: “Let us with praise and hymn magnify the almighty God, who has arrayed his servant in a robe of salvation…”

12.  (penitent in prostration) Priest’s Prayer 3: “N, is come from baptism unto adoration. He offers adoration to Father and Son and Holy Spirit. For he avowed his first faith by the tongue of another in the age of childhood, but now by his own tongue”; (penitent on his knees) “God on high, praised and made glorious… and now, lord, accept our intercession and our supplications… remember not our sins and iniquities, whether willful or unwilled, whether of knowledge or of ignorance… open this man’s eyes and the ears of us all… suffer not Satan to make war upon us… Encourage this man to live all his life in the practice of right and of piety… and out of your loving-kindness graciously forgive whatsoever sins he has committed, either in word or in deed or in intention… I pray thee, merciful Lord, graciously grant that he may repent…” (general prayer for the penitent); “Have pity, Lord, for your love of mankind, upon the prayers of your servants… make him worthy of the Ascetics…”

B.     The Confession

13.  Confession (unto the steps opposite the holy altar, the penitent confesses)

C.     The Absolution

14.  The Absolution: “Look upon your servant… you are the Lord of the remission of the sins of this man and of us all… I have remitted according your command on earth… and in heaven has God remitted the sins of this man and of us all…” (sinners: prodigal son, harlot, robber, Canaanite). “Heal the diseases of his man’s soul” (he may inherit the heaven, etc.)**

15.  Priest’s Instruction 2 (refrain from sinning “for he shall not again receive healing”, medicine of repentance: [not like canon] heart-broken until the day of death, the rightful discipline, etc)


2. Likeness with the Service of Penance according to the Byzantine Rite

 2.1 A brief description of the Byzantine Rite

             These are the most important moments of the Byzantine Service of Penance, presented in similar fashion, though in less detail:

studenica1.      The small Blessing

2.      The starting prayers and the Psalm 50 (51)

3.      Troparia

4.      “Kyrie eleison” (40 times)

5.      Prayer 1: “God, our Lord, who through your prophet Nathan gave pardon of his sins to David the penitent…accept also, accordingly to your habitual love for mankind, your servant N. …who is repenting… because you are the God of the penitents… ”

6.      Prayer 2: “God Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, shepherd and lamb that takes away the sin of the world… pardon the sins, the inequities, the voluntarily and involuntarily transgressions, executed consciously and unconsciously…”

7.      Priest’s Instruction 1: “My child, Christ is unnoticeably present, ready to receive your confession; do not fear… here it is His icon… I am but a witness ready to confess in front of Him of everything you’ll be telling me.”

8.      Examination on faith (the penitent declares the Creed)

9.      Questioning about all the sins

10.  Priest’s Instruction 2: “From now on you’ll have to refrain from all these, because you have been baptized a second time…”

11.  Prayer 3 (the penitent is bowing): “Lord God, the salvation of all your servants… now have mercy on your servant N.”

12.  The Absolution (the penitent is kneeling, his head covered with the epitrachelion): “May our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, by his grace and his love for men, forgive you, and I, the unworthy priest, due to His power that it was entrusted to me, forgive you of all your since, in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen”

13.  The priest makes the sign of the cross unto the penitent’s head.

14.  “Axion Esti…”, “Glory to the Father, …”

15.  Priest’s Instruction 3 (the medicine/ the canon, ep.)


2.2 Several Similarities between the Armenian and the Byzantine services


  • Psalm 50 (in the beginning of the Byzantine Rite, 2) is present in one of the variants of the Armenian Rite****.
  • The emphasis on the remission of the multitude of all the sins, i.e. both willful and unwilling (Arm. Prayer 3, Absolution/ Byz. Prayer 2)
  • The priest is just a witness in front of the Lord; he is given the power, though he remains an “unworthy servant” (Arm. Prayer 3, Absolution/ Byz. Absolution)
  • The prayer “God, our Lord, who through your prophet Nathan…” (Byz. Prayer 1) is present in a variant of the Armenian service*****.


I have used the text (with variants) edited by F.C. Conybeare in Rituale Armenorum (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1905), pp. 190-204

** P. 198-199. Note that different variants present quite significant dissimilarity with concern to this moment.

*** I have read the French translation provided by Archim. A. Nelidow and A. Nivière in Euchologie, ou Rituel de l’Église Orthodoxe (Le Bousquet d’Orb : Paix, 1979), pp. 31-34

**** Rituale Armenorum, p. 190 n. (b)

***** P. 200


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