Nativity and Theophany (Սուրբ Ծննունդ)
This feast is the anniversary of the birth and the baptism of Jesus Christ. He was born in a manger in Bethlehem, near Jerusalem City, but He was baptised in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Armenian Church celebrates both the birth and the baptism of Jesus Christ on the same day, the 6th January. Because Jesus was baptised when He was almost thirty years old (Luke 3:23), His baptism happened nearly on the same day as His birthday, according to church traditions. For this reason, this feast is called birth and baptism, or Christmas and Epiphany. When Jesus was baptised, He prayed to His Father; and as He prayed, Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit of God descended upon Him like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven which said, “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22). By these words, the divinity of Jesus Christ was revealed to the world. This event is called Epiphany. In the beginning all Christian churches celebrated both Christmas and the baptism of Christ on the same day, the 6th day of January, as the Armenian Church does. But later on the date of Christmas was changed to the 25th day of December, which was the pagan feast day of the sun in Rome. In order to abolish this heathen feast, the Catholic Church transferred Christmas from the 6th day of January to the 25th day of December.
To this day the Armenian Church, being faithful to the old tradition of Christianity, continued to celebrate Christmas and the baptism on the same day, 6th January. Therefore, in the Armenian Church after the offering of Christmas Badarak (mass) a special ceremony of the blessing of water takes place every year. – The Cross is immersed in this blessed water and then taken out again, symbolizing the baptism of Jesus Christ.
In the Armenian tradition the first hymns of Christmas were assigned to Movses Khorenatsi in the 5th century. During the blessing of water, two wonderful pieces of Armenian hymnology are sung by 12th century author Grigor Bahlavouni (Ov Zarmanali-) and 13th century author Hovhanness Bluz Erzenkatsi (Aysor dzaynn hayrakan).