Every part of our ancient Badarak is special and important. But many of us probably also have their favorite parts – moments, hymns and prayers of Badarak we connect with on a deeper and more intimate level. For me, that special part of the Divine Liturgy is ‘Kreesdos ee mech’ – the kiss of peace. Some might find such preference and choice to be strange because hugging strangers is not their cup of tea or perhaps they find it disruptive to their personal prayers and liturgy. But there is much to learn from this very brief liturgical ritual and when correctly understood it will undoubtedly help us to better connect with, appreciate the Badarak and grow in our faith. I believe within itself the Kiss of Peace contains the entire spiritual meaning and depth of the Badarak and the entire Biblical teaching of how God works and functions within our lives.
One of today’s scripture readings is from the last chapter of St. Paul’s letter to Corinthians. In the concluding paragraph of the letter we find the following reference to the Kiss of Peace. “Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss” 2 Cor. 13:11-12. In fact, this is only one of the many references to the Holy Kiss or Kiss of Peace found in the New Testament. From the writings of St. Justin Martyr, we know that the Kiss of Peace was incorporated into a divine liturgy in the second century (see Justin Martyr, First Apology, Chapter 65). But then, in the eleventh century it mysteriously disappeared and was removed from the Divine Liturgy in most traditions.
This is not the case for the Armenian Church where the Kiss of Peace always preserved its prestigious and prominent place within the Badarak. But the most interesting part of the Armenian tradition for me is the very sequence of the ritual and manner in which we give and receive the Voghchooyn. The Kiss of Peace originates from the altar and from the chalice directly when the celebrant blesses the faithful while keeping his left hand on the chalice. For a brief few minutes, the solemn and prayerful atmosphere of the Badarak is interrupted and the church comes to life as the Voghchooyn starts traveling in waves and makes its way from the first row of pews to the last. The ritual varies from church to church. In many traditions, it is not celebrated at all, in others, only the clergy exchange the kiss of peace. It can be a hug, a polite handshake, a single kiss; someone of Greek descent might give you a kiss on each cheek, while a Serbian will probably give you three. Is it right-left-right or perhaps left-right-left? Nobody knows for sure.
What we do know for a fact is that neither the Voghchooyn from chalice nor the celebrant’s blessing from the altar do not reach us directly. Instead, it must pass and travel through many people, the entire congregation around us, before it reaches us. The entire community gathered together for the Badarak, our friends next to us and the random stranger in front of us – all become the very instrument and medium through which God’s blessing of the Kiss of Peace is transferred to us.
Through the Voghchooyn and the immortal and divine liturgy, the church teaches and reminds us that God loves and cares for us deeply. He uses every opportunity and excuse to reveal himself in our lives and shower us with his blessing. But He often works, speaks to us, and blesses us through his creation and, most importantly, through people in our lives. Dear or despised, friend or foe, someone we love and deeply care about or a random stranger, everyone matters because the Divine Blessing flows to us through each and every encounter and person around us. But for us to be able to receive our divine blessing, we have to be open and willing to embrace, love, forgive and accept everyone, all the time. Then and only then will the divine Kiss of Peace reach and fill every aspect and circumstance of our lives, repeal all sadness, fear and trouble out of our hearts and lives and fill us with the peace of Christ to whom glory and honor now and forever, amen.