A PRACTICAL GUIDE TO PERFORMING АЦУНЫҲӘА (ATSUNYKHUA)
(Rite of prayer among Abkhazians for sending rain)
Compiled by Archimandrite Dorotheos (Dbar), Akhra Smyr
1. Time of the event
The rite of prayer for sending rain Ацуныҳәа (Atsunykhua) is traditionally held in summer. The certain date is related to the cycle of agricultural works and it is established depending on the date of the Easter celebration.
- There are two ways of determining the date of Ацуныҳәа:
— in the period between the Afterfeast of Easter (that is, from the fortieth day after Easter) and before the beginning of St. Peter’s fast (Аԥхынчгара – summer fast); this period comes in the end of May and June (among the Abkhazians in Turkey, June is called Цуныҳәамз);
— in the period between the end of St. Peter’s fast (Аԥхынчгара – summer fast) and before the beginning of the Dormition fast (Нанҳәачгара), that is, from 12 July to 13 August.
- Ацуныҳәа is held on Sundays from 12:00 to 14:00.
- Traditionally for the peoples of the Mediterranean and Black Sea Coasts, afternoon is considered the beginning of the next day, that is, Monday, and the prayer must be performed on Sunday!
2. Venue (ацуныҳәарҭа)
- It is held by the community of a village or city (ацу, ацуҭа is a community ; the late term «аҳабла» and the Soviet term «апаселка» (settlement)) in a chosen suitable place. The location should be:
— situated away from populated areas, as a rule, on the outskirts of the village or city;
— a clean and cared place; if Ацуныҳәа is annually held in this place, then it is usually fenced off;
— A highly desirable condition (if possible) is the location situated near a river, a spring with clean drinking water..
- Elected organizers of Ацуныҳәа are responsible for the preparation of the territory (its cleaning). Elected organizers of Ацуныҳәа are responsible for the preparation of the territory (its cleaning).
- It is not allowed to hold other ceremonies in the place where Ацуныҳәа is held (Иҵасым!) .
3. Rules of conduct
- The rules of conduct for participants of Ацуныҳәа correspond to the accepted rules for visiting any other religious events.
- It is necessary to come in a clean and tidy look; violation of the dress code is undesirable (beach and evening wear are forbidden).
- Drinking wine, eating before the prayer are strictly forbidden (Иҵасым!). Prayer is the act of blessing food and drink, so consumption of unconsecrated food and drinks is not allowed.
- It is forbidden to have a firearm at Ацуныҳәа (Иҵасым!).
- Tradition allows old men to carry knives for cutting meat (аԥсуа ҳәызба) at Ацуныҳәа.
- It should be noted that any kind of enmity, conflicts, abuse, swear words are absolutely unacceptable! (Иҵасым!) Even if there is a blood feud between some people who are present at Ацуныҳәа, during the prayer and the meal, they never refuse to pray and eat together. Ацуныҳәа is a communal prayer addressed to the Creator, therefore personal enmity is unacceptable.
- During the election of the organizers of Ацуныҳәа for the next year, it is unacceptable to dispute the choice made, because this service is carried out in the name of God and people should accept any choice with joy.
Smoking, being drunk and taking any stimulating substances are strictly forbidden (Иҵасым!).
4. Sacrifice for propitiation (ашьтәа)
- Early in the morning, a sacrificial animal for propitiation is brought to the place where Ацуныҳәа is held. The man leading the prayer says a prayer (дақәныҳәоит), holding the sacrificial animal in his left hand.
- After the prayer, he takes a knife with his right hand, and symbolically makes a mark on the neck of the animal.
- The slaughter of the animal and its butchering is headed by an elected member of the community.
- The animal is held down on the ground on its left side, with its head headed to the east.
- The place of incision (on the neck and head of the animal), as well as the place where the blood of the animal was drained, is processed with a burning stick from the fire (акәасҭха) .
- Disposal of the skins and the entrails of the sacrificial animal that are unfit for food:
— away from the place of the prayer, they dig a small hole and put the skin and offal there;
— the leftovers (bones, tendons) are also put into the hole and after that the hole is thrown with earth.
- It is unacceptable to throw away or bury the entrails of the sacrificial animal (ахых-шьых) fit for food! (Иҵасым!).
5. Preparation of the ritual table (ашәымкьаҭ)
- Each community which hold Ацуныҳәа should have a special table and all the attributes necessary for serving the prayer. It is forbidden to use them for other purposes.
- Nowadays, most communities do not use the traditional table – ашәымкьаҭ , instead of it, a ritual table is used. This is a wooden table covered with a white tablecloth.
They put on the ritual table:
— ritual ceramic or metal utensils for hot coals; the coals are taken out of the fire on which the meat is cooked and put into the censer just before the beginning of the prayer;
— a ritual wooden bowl (аҿа) or a ritual wooden mug (ачаҟәа);;
— a ceramic jug with wine (аирыӡ);;
— a tray (агәаблаа) for the liver and heart of the sacrificial animal, pre-strung on a slingshot stick (ҩ-цык змоу аҵәы, агәи, агәаҵәеи нахаҵаны) and an Abkhazian knife (аԥсуа ҳәызба);
— coarse salt (аџьыкахыш) is served on a special ceramic saucer;;
— if Ацуныҳәа is held without a sacrificial animal and wine, a bowl of dumplings (ачаҳаржәқәа) and vessels with drinks made of honey with water and sour milk with water (ацхаӡҩа, ахарцәӡҩа) are put on the ritual table; however, if there is a sacrificial animal, then dumplings and above drinks are not placed on the ritual table!
6. Washing hands
- Not far from the ritual table, a special pole is installed for the Abkhaz (cross-shaped) towel.
- A young man stands next to it and his task is to pour water for washing hands.
- All people wash their hands (рнапы аӡы ақәырҭәоит).
- This process is not hygienic, but sacred one, that is, every participant of Ацуныҳәа demonstrates that he intends to appear before God and pray with clean hands, pure thoughts and ask to forget his sins.
7. The man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ)
- The man leading the prayer is аныҳәаҩ, but not аныхаԥааҩ.
- The man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) is elected from the community. If there is no person suitable for this ceremony in a community, then one can invite a representative of the neighboring community as the man leading the prayer.
- The man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) can hold Ацуныҳәа in several communities, but the only condition: he cannot serve two prayers during the same day.
- The man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) should be an old man with a good reputation and without physical disabilities (агра змам). He must prepare for prayer several days. During this time, if he is married, he cannot have intimacy with his wife (аныҳәаҩ иҽыкәабаны, иҽрыцқьаны даауеит).
- On the day of Ацуныҳәа, the man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) should be dressed in a traditional Abkhaz white shirt (аԥсуа кьаҿ). The white color symbolizes the purity of the person who lead the prayer.
- Before the beginning of the prayer, the man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) tells in details to participants of Ацуныҳәа the order and rules of the ceremony for its participants.
- The man leading the prayer is the keeper of the ritual items used at Ацуныҳәа.
- All participants of Ацуныҳәа stand in a semicircle behind the prayer, facing east.
- Men and women stand separately, women with children stand on the left hand of the man, who prays, men are on his right hand.
- All men take off their hats.
- All participants listen attentively to the prayer. Prompts from those present are unacceptable!
- If the man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) is dressed in a traditional Abkhaz shirt or other clothes with a lap belt, it is customary to remove the upper belt and hang it on a walking stick (алабашьа)
- The man leading the prayer takes the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal in his right hand, strung on a slingshot stick, raises his hands and says the prayer:
Уаа Анцәа суҳәоит!
Иахьа абри аныҳәарҭа
зчеиџьыка еилаҵаны иамҵалаз
Уара умч шьарда идууп,
ҳаздааԥсаланы иҳахәап ҳәа
инылаҳҵаз ԥгалас иҳаҭ,
ақәа анаҳҭахыу ҳазумыргәаҟын,
амра анаҳҭахыу иҳагумыжьын.
Убарҭ рчеиџьыка агьама аабап ҳәа
асасцәа иҳаниаз абзиаразы урхылаԥшы!
All those present answer «Amin!».
- After the prayer, the man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) puts the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal on a tray (агәаблаа). Then he cuts off pieces from the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal, dips them in wine and burns them in a ceramic or metal dish with hot coals set on the ritual table.
- Then the man leading the prayer removes the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal from the slingshot stick, cuts off pieces from them for himself and consumes, drinks wine from the ritual cup (three sips!), which is also placed on the ritual table during the prayer.
- Young male members of the community help him to cut the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal into pieces for all present.
- Those present come to the ritual table one by one in order of seniority (first men, then women and children). The man leading the prayer gives everyone pieces of the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal. The ritual bowl with wine is also passed from hand to hand, from one member of the community to another one. And everyone takes three sips of wine without any words or toast.
- The ritual table should be approached from the side where the man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ), stands, that is, from the west side of the table.
- The order of eating the blessed food is as follows: first, they eat the pieces of the boiled heart and liver, and only then consume the wine, and not vice versa, because the blessed food is not a snack for wine.
- While consuming the sacrificial food and wine, everyone says the following short prayer: «Алԥха ҳауааит!» »
- During the meal, the ritual table (ашәымкьаҭ) remains inviolable, and on it there are still: ceramic or metal dishes with hot coals, pieces of the boiled heart and liver of the sacrificial animal; a jug for wine (аирыӡ), a ritual bowl (aҿa) or a wooden mug (ачаҟәа), a tray (агәаблаа) with a slingshot stick.
The pieces of boiled heart, liver and wine left after praying, are consumed with a common meal.
- Abysta is laid out in portions on the table without plates.
- Cooked meat, divided into portions in Abkhazian style. If there are a lot of people, then portions of meat are laid out for everyone on each mamalyga. If there is a small number of people at Ацуныҳәа and there is much meat, then it is served in several portions in the middle of the table.
- Red Wine. Any other alcoholic drinks are prohibited (Иҵасым!).
- Ацхаӡҩа, ахарцәӡҩа (cold water with sour milk or honey). Any other drinks (lemonades, compotes, etc.) are prohibited (Иҵасым!).
- Dumplings with cheese (ачаҳаржәқәа). Any other desserts (cakes, sweets, ice cream, etc.) are prohibited (Иҵасым!).
- Coarse salt . Any other spices and sauces (аҵәҵәыра, аџьыка, арашых) are prohibited (Иҵасым!).
- All food is served hot as soon as the participants of Ацуныҳәа take their sits at the table.
10. Meal (аишәа ахатәара)
- According to tradition, the meal is carried out on the ground, the food is put on fresh leaves of a tree (usually a nut). However, in our time, due to the environmental pollution, such kind of meal can be unsafe for health. The good replacement for fresh leaves is a paper cloth (ақьаад цқьа);
- During the meal, women with children and men sit at different tables. The order of seating at the table is by seniority.
- No one can get up at a meal while making toasts (ашьапақәгылара ҵасӡым) . One does not get up even if a late participant of Ацуныҳәа comes up to the table (аӡәы дагханы дааит ҳәа уаҩы дихаҵгылаӡом).
- The number of toasts at the meal is limited by prayers and wishes. There are seven main toasts made at a meal during Ацуныҳәа (number seven is sacred in the religious tradition of Abkhazians):
— Анцәа Улԥха ҳаҭ! God bless us);
— To the Power of the Heavens (Ҳаиҳа зымчу, Иаҳхылаԥшхәу, Аԥаимбарцәа) and the patronage over all those present, the people and the country;
— To the performer of the prayer (аныҳәаҩ);
— To the country (ҳ-Аԥсныра ныҳәаз);
— To the current organizers of the prayer;
— To the newly-elected organizers of the prayer;
— Appeal to the Creator to help in holding Ацуныҳәа next year.
- During the meal, it is prohibited to make “personal” toasts, except the toasts to the man leading the prayer, to the current and future organizers of the prayer. According to Abkhaz tradition, toast is a prayer, therefore the man leading the prayer has already made this prayer for all those present. The toast to the man leading the prayer is made, because during the prayer he appeals to the Creator on behalf of all participants of Ацуныҳәа. The toast to the organizers of the prayer is made in order to thank them for their efforts and for the successful organization of Ацуныҳәа next year.
- Toasts to the dead, including those who died in the war, are prohibited.
- The younger participants of the meal get up from the table earlier than old participants.
- In the end of the meal, everyone washes their hands again. It is a necessary part of the ritual because particles of the blessed food shouldn’t remain on the hands of the participants of the prayer.
11. Distribution of food
- The man leading the prayer (аныҳәаҩ) is presented by participants of Ацуныҳәа with honorable pieces of the sacrificial animal (аныҳәаԥса).
- The remaining portions of food are usually distributed among absent, sick or needy members of the community (for example, large families).
- Leftover food should never be given to pets (Иҵасым!)..
- The bones of the meat remaining after the meal are placed in a specially dug hole. During the stabbing of the sacrificial animal, the skin and entrails unsuitable for food were already placed in that hole. After that, the hole is covered with earth.
- The horns of the sacrificial animal (if it is a goat) are hung on the branches of a tree growing nearby. The same thing is done with a slingshot stick.
- The ritual table (if it is ашәымкьаҭ) is disassembled and placed in a clean place.
- A ritual table, ceramic or metal utensils for coals, a wine jug (аирыӡ), a ritual bowl (аҿа) or a wooden mug (ачаҟәа), a tray (агәаблаа) and an Abkhaz towel, all of these utensils are kept in the house of the man leading the prayer until the next prayer.
List of required equipment for holding Ацуныҳәа:
- Ritual table and white tablecloth (ашәымкьаҭ ма аишәа).
- Ritual ceramic or metal utensils for hot coals.
- Ceramic jug for wine (аирыӡ).
- Ritual wooden bowl (aҿa) or a wooden mug (ачаҟәа).
- Wooden bowl (агәабалаа) and a nut slingshot stick (ҩ-цык змоу аҵәы) for the cooked heart and liver of the sacrificial animal.
- Abkhazian knife (аԥсуа ҳәызба).
- Abkhazian towel (cruciform).
- Ceramic saucer for salt.
- Sacrificial animal (ашьтәа).
- Red wine (аҩы).
- Coarse salt (аџьыкахыш).
- Сauldron for cooking meat (ақәаб), a tripod for cauldron (ахшьапы), colanders to remove the foam (ақәадаб хыхга) and take out cooked meat (ажьхы).
- Big wicker basket for serving meat (акалаҷкәыр).
- Сauldron (ақәаб) for mamalyga, a tripod for cauldron, wooden scrapers for mamalyga (амҳаԥқәа).
- Corn flour (ашыла).
- Dumplings with cheese (ачаҳаржәқәа).
- Sour milk and honey for ацхаӡҩа and ахарцәӡҩа (cold water with sour milk or honey).
 This ceremony is similar to the biblical understanding of the sacrifice of animals and birds. For example, “Then Noah built an altar to the LORD. And taking from every kind of clean animal and clean bird, he offered burnt offerings on the altar. When the LORD smelled the pleasing aroma, He said in His heart, “Never again will I curse the ground because of man…” (Genesis, 8: 20 -21)
 A table on four high legs driven into the ground. It is usually made from fresh stakes of hazel (or hazelnut), the countertop is covered with branches of the same tree, the top of it is covered with leaves. (ашьаҟақәа ԥшьба нарсны, хыхь алабыҵәқәа нақәҵаны, урҭ рханы арасабӷьы ма арабӷьы нықәҵаны). Such a table was used during public prayers, mainly sacrificial meat and other products were placed on it. It is known that the same tables were used by Abkhazian shepherds during their stay in mountain pastures and for making cheese. Ts. Bzhania explains the etymology of this word in the following way: “ашә” is cheese and “мкьаҭ” is not clear. Perhaps this is the same component of the word as in “ҩаӡамкьаҭ” – the name of the Nart wine-press-jug, that is “ҩаӡа” is young wine and possibly, “лагуан” and “мкьаҭ” mean a storehouse” (Bzhaniya Ts.N. From the history of economy and culture of Abkhazians, Sukhum: “Alashara”, 1973. – p. 98).
 The proposed version of the prayer was written down by Andrey Chochua (Chochua A. M. Ацыу-ныҳәара / Chochua A. M. Collected works in 3 volumes. V. 1. Sukhum, 1968. – p. 179).
 Honorable parts (ажьыхәҭа) are considered: the head of an animal “ахыбжа” cut in half, which is served to the most honorable and senior guests, a scapula “ажәҩашәаҟьа”, a thigh “аԥылгыды”. It is not customary to give the shin “аԥымаҵәа” to guests or seniors.
 According to the religious tradition of Abkhazians, the remains of the meat and bones of the sacrificial animal were not given to the dogs. In this regard, let me remind you of the word of Christ: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (Matthew 7:6) In the Holy Scriptures sacrificial meat was called sacred, and dogs and pigs were considered unclean animals (the Bible. Modern Russian translation. M.: Russian Bible Society, 2011. – p. 1062).
5 August, 2021