Anatolian Christians to celebrate Grape Festival

anatolian-christians-to-celebrate-grape-festival-2011-08-12_l1.jpgGreeks, Armenians and Syriac Christians in Anatolia are observing a grape fast by refraining from eating from the new harvest until the fruit is consecrated in church on Sunday and Monday. Churches across Anatolia will be celebrating the festival with special masses on Aug 14 and 15

Baskets of grapes blessed in churches will be distributed among the people on the day of the mass, after which time the fast is broken.

Christians throughout Anatolia are preparing to celebrate the Grape Festival and the Assumption of Mary on Aug. 14 and 15 with a variety of activities that stretch back into the pre-Christian era.

Churches across Anatolia will be holding mass for the occasion, including the Church of the Virgin Mary in Ephesus, Sümela Monastery in Trabzon, the Syriac Deyr ul-Zafaran Monastery in Mardin and the Surp Asdvazsazsin Armenian Church in Vakıflı, Anatolia’s last remaining Armenian village, which is located in the southern province of Hatay. During the celebrations of mass, newly harvested grapes will receive blessings as part of the festivities.

Assumption Day celebrates the ascent into heaven of Mary in accordance with Christian tradition. The roots of the festival, however, date back to the polytheistic era prior to Christianity; when Anatolian peoples were Christianized, new year celebrations and the vine harvest festival of the ancients were replaced by the Assumption Day and the Grape Festival, respectively.

Greeks, Armenians and Syriac Christians in Anatolia observe a grape fast and refrain from eating from the new grape harvest until grapes are consecrated in church. Ostentatious celebrations are also held in churches across Greece, as well as in the Central Armenian Apolostic church of Etchmiadzin in Armenia, the seat of the Catholicos of all Armenians.

Baskets of grapes blessed in churches are distributed among the people on the day of the mass, after which time the fast is broken, according to tradition, by eating blessed grapes mixed with non-consecrated grapes. The grapes also symbolize fertility and abundance.

Different Stories

There are several stories in circulation regarding the origins of the Grape Festival and Assumption Day. According to a story that has been transmitted through the ages within the Armenian community, when some children were poisoned by eating grapes that had not yet become ripe, the founder of the Armenian church, Surp Krikor Lusavorich (Saint Gregory the Illuminator), issued a ban on eating grapes until harvest time.

Such traditions have been preserved intact for centuries by being transmitted from generation to generation among the many Christian Anatolian peoples. This year’s celebrations will begin in the morning hours and last until around noon on Aug. 14 and 15. Baskets full of grapes will decorate sacred tables in churches.

Visitors are welcome to any number of Greek, Armenian and Syriac churches in Istanbul on Sunday and Monday to observe the vine harvest festivities during mass