Armenian Apostolic Church, one of the Eastern Orthodox churches, is the national church of the Armenians. The center is the St. Echmiadzin Monastery – the Mother Cathedral of St. Echmiadzin in Vagharshapat city.
THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ARMENIAN CHURCH
Early historical sources of the Armenian Apostolic Church are few (Agatangeghos, M. Khorenatsi, some Assyrian and Greek sources). However, the available information is enough to get a complete picture of the historical events.
Traditionally, the Armenian Church is called Apostolic, since the first preachers of Christianity in Armenia were the two disciples of Jesus Christ, Thaddeus and Bartholomew apostles. They earned the title “First Enlighteners of Armenia.”
According to Armenian sources, the apostle Thaddeus preached Christianity in Armenia during the reign of King Sanatruk, converting many Armenians into Christians including the princess Sandukht.
As a result of persecution against Christians, King Sanatruk ordered to martyr the Virgin Sandukht and Thaddeus the Apostle in Artaz province.
The Bartholomew apostle came to Armenia with his eight Persian followers in the 29th year of the reign of Sanatruk and, according to tradition, met with the Apostle Thaddeus in Artashat.
Preaching first in Goghtn, and then in the central regions of Armenia, Bartholomew founded the Hogeats monastery in the province of Andzevatsyats. There he collocated a picture of the Virgin Mary, which he brought with him.
The preaches of Bartholomew, besides reaching to people of various classes, also reached to the royal palace. Consequently, these preaches turned the King’s sister, Voguhi, into a Christian. The colonel Terentius also became a Christian. Sanatruk, however, ordered to martyr these two as well. In 68, the king also ordered to kill Bartholomew.
THE ARMENIAN CHURCH: I-III CENTURIES
Christianity gradually spread to Armenia starting from the Apostolic times until the end of the 3rd century. Not only the preaches of Christ’s apostles played a huge role but also a number of useful factors.
In the first century, Christianity was widely spread in Armenia’s neighbors, Cappadocia (Small Hayk was a part of it), Osroene and Adiabene. The existing trade and cultural ties with these neighbors created favorable conditions for Christianity to pass through Armenia.
The existence of Jewish communities in Tigranakert, Artashat, Vagharshapat, and Zarehavan was also an important factor. The first preachers of Christianity began their activity from those communities. In 197, Tertullian also mentions Armenians among the nations that adopted Christianity in his “Against Jews” book. Augustine of Hippo also confirms this information in his work “Against the Manicheans.”
The persecutions against Christians during the reign of Vagharsh II (186-196), Khosrov I (196-216) and subsequent kings also prove that Christianity spread rapidly in Armenia.
Eusebius of Caesar, the father of church history, also mentions a repentant letter “addressed to the Christians in Armenia whose bishop is Meruzhan.” The author of this letter, according to Eusebius, was Bishop of Alexandria of the 3rd century, Dionysius.
According to several historical facts, after the apostolic preachings, a number of bishopric chairs (Goghtn, Artaz or Ashtishat) were founded in Armenia. The bishop leaders of them were the following priests:
- Zechariah (68-72)
- Zementos (72-76)
- Atrnerseh (77-92)
- Mushe (93-123)
- Shahen (124-150)
- Shavarsh (151-171th)
- Ghevondios (172-190)
- Meruzhan (240-270)
CHRISTIANITY AS A STATE RELIGION
In 301, during the reign of King Trdat III the Great (287-330) and by the efforts of Gregory the Illuminator (302-326), Christianity was proclaimed as a state religion in Armenia. It is the date of the official establishment of the Armenian Apostolic Church.
The 5th-century historians Agatangeghos and partly Movses Khorenatsi and Pavstos Buzand convey us about the story of the state proclamation of Christianity and the Armenian conversion.
According to historians, Suren Partev, later named Grigor Lusavorich (Gregory the Illuminator), was the son of Anak Partev. Anak was the one who killed the father of Trdat the Great, the Khosrov king.
In 287, when Trdat, together with the Roman troops, came to Armenia to return his father’s throne, young Grigor joined him, becoming the loyal companion of the king. However, after the victory over Persia, King Trdat offered Grigor to make a sacrifice (that is, killing an animal or a person as an offering to a deity) to Anahit the goddess.
Grigor had received Christian education in Caesarea. Therefore, he refused to make the sacrifice. Consequently, by the king’s order, he had to go through 12 kinds of torture.
Knowing also that Grigor is Anak’s son who killed King Khosrov, Trdat orders to throw him in Artashat’s dungeon (deep pit or “Khor Virap”). Grigor miraculously lives there for 13-14 years.
After imprisoning Grigor, Trdat the Great urged his subjects to remain faithful to the pagan religion. He also set death penalty for Christians.
KING TRDAT BECAME ILL…
A few years after the tragedy, King Trdat became ill with a swine fever during hunting. Agatangeghos writes: “Trdat began to rage and eat himself. He went out of the human race like Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, in the form of a wild pig and as one of them – went to live among them.”
The cause of Trdat’s disease was the murder of the 33 Hripsime virgins. Especially, the most beautiful of one of them – Hripsime. They escaped from the hands of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Hripsime rejected the proposal to marry Trdat.Consequently, she was stoned to death.
Soon, Trdat’s sister, Khosrovidukht, sees a dream. In her dream, the only one that can cure Trdat is Grigor, who was in the dungeon. Therefore, they bring him to Vagharshapat from the deep pit.
The kingdom welcomes Grigor with great honor. The first thing that Grigor did was to bury the remains of martyr virgins. He then set a 5-day fast and cures the king with his prayers.
Then, Grigor preached to the royal palace and the nation the Old and New Testaments for 66 days. On the last day of his preaching, a vision shows him the place of the construction of the Holy Etchmiadzin Cathedral.
Afterward, Grigor, together with Trdat, walks around the Armenian world, preaches Christianity, destroys pagan monuments, and builds Christian ones in their places.
Later, Trdat the Great, by the decision of the Council of Elders sends Gregory the Illuminator to Caesaria to consecrate him as a bishop. After returning from Caesarea, the newly elected Catholicos baptizes King Trdat and the whole kingdom in the river Aratsani.
Then, Gregory together with Trdat the Great started the construction of Echmiadzin Cathedral. By the edict of Trdat III the Great, Christianity became the state religion of Greater Armenia.
What happened with the Armenian church after Gregory the Illuminator?
Aristakes Patriarch replaces his father Gregory the Illuminator. As a bishop, Aristakes represented the Armenian Apostolic Church in the First Council of Nicaea. He brought with him the rules of the council and the Creed (Article of Faith).
As a result of fighting against pagan princes, Aristakes was conspiringly killed. His brother Vrtanes, who was the next patriarch, had the same fate together with his son Husik A Patriarch.
During the Catholicosate of the grandson of Husik Catholicos, Nerses A the Great, many reforms took place in the Armenian Church. The first national church council of the Armenian Church took place in 353 in Ashtishat. They adopted, and then implemented a number of doctrinal, organizational, benevolent decisions. During this meeting, they once again denied and cursed arrogance.
The Golden Age of the Armenian Church
The golden age began at the beginning of the 5th century. It was when Catholicos Sahak A Partev (the son of Nerses the Great) and master Mesrop Mashtots created the Armenian alphabet under the patronage of King Vramshapuh.
The invention of the alphabet became a powerful weapon for the preservation of the Armenian Church and statehood. It also became a stimulus for the enrichment and enlivening of church-ritual, literary, and cultural life.
After St. Sahak, the Catholicosate stopped belonging the family of Gregory the Illuminator. In the second half of the 5th century, people started rebelling against the Zoroastrian Sassanid Persia’s religious assimilation. Soon the rebellions turned into the wars of Vardanants and Vahanants, during which the Armenian Apostolic Church also provided a patriotic service.
As a result, the Persian government persecuted two Catholicos of the Armenians, Hovsep Hoghotsmets (440-452) and Gyut Arahezatsi (461-479). There was a relative peace during the Catholicosate of Hovhan A Mandakuni (479-490) and Babken A Votmsetsi (490-516).
The Councils of Dvin
In 506, Catholicos Babken A convened the Church Council of Dvin. The churches of Georgia and Albania, who also accepted the leadership of the Armenian Church also attended. For the first time in the Dvin’s Council, they examined the 4th Council of Chalcedon (451) and the issues discussed during it. In addition, because of the Battle of Avarayr and the unstable political situation, a representative from Armenia did not participate in the meeting.
The council completely rejected Chalcedon’s decisions, considering them as a contradiction to the decisions of the first three Councils. The Council of Chalcedon also had an internal goal. They wanted to increase the influence of Byzantium on the Christian peoples of the East, depriving them of their cultural and dogmatic autonomy.
In 554, the second council took place in Dvin. This once again cursed the Council of the Chalcedon and broke the relationship with the Byzantine Church. During the reign of Pap, Armenia gained an administrative independence. After that, in the sixth century, the Armenian Church finally withdrew from the Byzantine Church by accepting only the first three councils.
Nevertheless, Byzantium did not stop its policy of assimilation (especially after the 2nd division of Armenia between Persia and Byzantium). As a result of the policy of Maurice Emperor, the Georgian Church was separated from the Armenian Church by accepting Chalcedonianism in 608.
Heraclius together with Emperor Constantine also tried hard to make the Armenian Church accept Chalcedonianism and monophysitism. However, due to current politics, the assimilation failed. A major obstacle to this was the Arab invasions.
THE ARAB DOMINATION
The beginning of the 7th century was dangerous for the Armenian people and the church not only because of the persecutions of Byzantium, but also the collapse of the Persian state. For nearly two decades Armenia the arena of Arab-Byzantine wars.
It was only during the reign of Grigor Mamikonian (661-684) that the Armenian Church had the opportunity to take a little breath. The vivid evidence of this was the construction of a number of churches. Komitas A Aghtsetsi (615-628), Nerses III Tayetsi (641-661) catholicoses showed a vigorous patriotic activity.
At the beginning of the 8th century, however, Arab invasions created a disastrous situation in Armenia. As a result, the Armenian Church lost its significance for several centuries.
They exiled the Catholicos Sahak III Dzoraporetsi (677-703). The Paulician and Tondrakian sects also invaded Armenia. In 717, the Patriarch Hovhan Odznetsi took over the pastoralism of the Armenian Church. He not only fights stubbornly against the sects but also convened the last Council of Dvin in 720. During the meeting, he brought to life 32 rules regarding household, marriage, ritual and other issues.
He also convened the Manazkert Council in 726. The aim of the council was to find a cooperation between the two anti-Chalcedonian Churches – the Armenian Church and the Assyrian Church.
After Hovhan Odznetsi (717-728) until the half of the 9th century (until the establishment of the Bagratuni dynasty), there are no outstanding cases and episodes in the history of the Armenian Church.
The Kingdom of Bagratuni and The Armenian Church
During the second half of the 9th century, during the Catholicoses Zakaria Dzagetsi (855-876) and Gevorg B Garnetsi (877-897), the Bagratuni Kingdom prevailed over the Arabian yoke. This way, they restored the statehood and the Church’s independence.
Nevertheless, Arab pressures on the Armenian Church and Catholicosate continued. The Catholicos Gevorg Garnetsi was in captivity. They also persecuted the Catholicos and historian Hovhannes Draskhanakertsi (898-929).
Along with the gradual decline of the Arab domination, the aspirations of Byzantine to assimilate the Armenian Church increased. The Patriarch of Constantinople offered to unite the two churches.
With regard to this offer, a council was convened in Shirakavan, which rejected the suggestions of the Chalcedonians. Byzantium began to create disruptions in the Armenian Church. They persecuted the Armenian clergies.
A number of anti-Catholicosates appeared. As a result, the Catholicosate constantly moved to various places. During the 10 – 11th centuries, however, the Ani kingdom experienced a rise in spiritual and cultural life.
There were schools, manuscripts, a number of churches and monasteries (Kamrjadzor, Dprevank, Sanahin, Haghpat). Outstanding church figures also appeared (Hovhannes Kozern, Stepanos Asoghik, Sargis Anetsi, Aristakes Lastivertsi, master Hovhannes Sarkavag).
In 1019, Petros A Getadardz (1019-1058) became the Catholicos of All Armenians. During this period, the Bagratunian Kingdom experienced a crisis. He connected all his plans and hopes to Byzantium, leading to the collapse of the Armenian Church.
In 1045, as a result of the Byzantine policies, and the blear-eyed actions of the state and the church, the Bagratunian kingdom collapsed.
Unprecedented persecutions began against the Armenian Church. They imprisoned and tortured the successor of Petros Getadardz, Catholicos Khachik Anetsi (1058-1065). Afterward, the Byzantium banned the Armenian Church to choose a Catholicos for a while. At the end of the 11th century, the Catholicosate moved to a safer place – Cilicia.
Catholicosate of All Armenians in Cilicia
In 1080, the last heir of the former Bagratuni kingdom, Gagik’s relative, Ruben joined Cilicia with his territories and founded the Armenian Principality of Cilicia. In 1198, that Principality finally turned into a Kingdom and survived until 1375.
Parallel to the movement of the Armenian political center to Cilicia, the Catholicosate was also moved. The Armenian Church survived in Cilicia from 1062 till 1441. Nevertheless, the Armenians never lost their spiritual life.
By coming together in Sanahin, Haghpat, Syunik, and Khorasan, Armenian clergymen formed a group of Eastern Vardapets. Until the final establishment of the Catholicosate of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Cilicia, three Anti-Catholicosate existed in Hon, Marash, and Tarson.
When Catholicos Grigor II Martyrophile (1066-1105) was still alive, in 1081, Barsegh A Anetsi (1105-1113) became the co-Catholicos of Ani. Grigor Martyrophile had given his agreement since he was missing from Armenia in order to collect the conducts and testimonies of the saints.
Barsegh with his efforts could abolish the Anti-Catholicosates of Cilicia. After the death of the Grigor, Barsegh moved to the Red Monastery of Kesun. After Barsegh, the 20-year-old Grigor III Pahlavuni (1113-1166) became the Armenian Catholicos.
The choice of the young Catholicos caused the establishment of the most durable Anti-Catholicosate of Armenia, Akhtamar (1113-1895). Protesting against the Catholicos of All Armenians Grigor, the bishop of Akhtamar, David chose himself as the Catholicos of Akhtamar. However, he immediately got rejected.
Because of the political situation in 1116, Grigor Pahlavuni moves from the Red Monastery to Tsovk. Here, however, he was still not secure, therefore, ends up in Rumkale. During these times, he repeatedly tried to re-establish the Catholicosate in Ani. The Catholicosate of Armenia remained in Rumkale until 1292.
Nerses IV the Gracious
After Grigor Pahlavuni, the leader of the Armenian Church became his brother Nerses D Pahlavuni of Kla or Nerses IV the Gracious (1166-1173). He was one of the most honored patriarchs in the history of the Armenian Church.
The history of Shnorhali (Gracious, Graceful) is well-known not only because of his writings (He wrote a number of theological works and liturgical issues) but also for his political activities.
In contrast to the Byzantine assimilation policy of that time, Nerses Catholicos began his correspondence with the Emperor Manuel Komnenos. Shnorhali tried everything to preserve the integrity of the Armenian Church.
During the period of the next Catholicos Grigor IV Tgha (Tgha translates as Adolescent; 1173-1193), in 1179, a large church council took place in Rumkale. The Eastern Vardapets rejected the suggestion Emperor Manuel (the death of the Emperor in 1080 also contributed).
At the same time, another danger threatened the Armenian Church. Along with the Crusades, Armenian ministerial homes, in order to find political support in Cilicia, change their outlooks to the Catholic Church.
The Unitorian Movement in Armenian Church
Before we start, let’s see who the Unitors are:
A Catholic church preacher who went to other countries to convert Christians into Catholics. (consolidators)
In the 12th-14th centuries, the Armenian Church for the first time made close relationships with the Roman Catholic Church. This relationship was largely related to the formation of a number of Western ministries in the territory of Cilicia and surroundings, formed as a result of Crusades. The political and economic unstable position of Cilicia also influenced it.
Wanting to get the help of the West, and consequently, the support of the Roman Church, some Armenian political and spiritual figures were ready to make concessions even in spiritual-dogmatic matters.
Taking this into consideration, the Catholic Church was pushing the idea of the political union of churches. The Catholic Church basically claimed two concessions;
- Mix the Holy Communion Wine with water
- The celebration of Christmas on December 25 instead of January 6.
At the 3rd raid of Crusaders, at the request of the third bishop of Rome, Pope Cletus, Cilician Armenia, with King Levon, greatly supported the crusaders. For this, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Henrikh IV, recognized Levon as the King of Cilicia. In 1196, he received a crown from Alex III.
Levon wanted the West to crown him, but the Catholic Church did not want to perform a crown ceremony on the heterodox king. Hence, the Pope’s delegate was sent to Cilicia with the proposal to unite the Armenian and Latino churches.
Levon convened a meeting to discuss the issue. The council completely rejected the cardinal’s suggestion by making concessions for another point. In 1198, January 6th, the delegate executed Levon’s coronation and Catholicos Grigor VI Apirat (1194-1203) – the consecration ceremony (it was carried out according to the Latin ritual translated into Armenian).
The Unitorian aspirations continued…
during the reign of King Hetum and Catholicos Constantine A Bardzraberdtsi (1221-1267). It was when the Armenian Apostolic Church was offered to accept the teachings of Filioque. Catholicos Constantinople convened a council in Sis (1251) to discuss the issue. However, the participants didn’t come to a general agreement. Hence, the Catholicos forcefully turned to the Eastern Vardapets.
Since these teachings were new and unknown, the answer to the issue took a long time. The Latin Church, however, continued to send its delegates to Cilicia with the aim of depriving the Armenian Church of its independence.
The Catholicos Grigor VII Anavarzetsi (1293-1306) and King Hetum II, who had a positive attitude towards Catholics, also contributed to this process. With their efforts and contributions, there were some changes in the rituals.
By resisting this, the Eastern Vardapets exhort Grigor Catholicos to have sobriety. Taking into account the threatenings of surrounding Muslim countries, Grigor Anavarzetsi justified his actions by telling that Rome and Byzantium were Christian countries and less dangerous than the Muslims.
Shortly after understanding that neither Rome nor Byzantium were going to assist the Cilician kingdom, the Catholicos isolated himself from his activities. Consequently, the king exiled him for not signing a communion letter with Rome.
The Councils of Sis
In 1307, King Levon convened the 7th council of Sis. 43 bishops and a number of Cilician authorities attended it. Levon presented to the audience a letter with concessions and serious religious changes. Grigor Anavarzetsi allegedly wrote it. The majority of the audience accepted the concessions, receiving the opposition of the Eastern Vardapets.
Only during the time when it became crystal clear that the Latin Church was not willing to help Cilicia (especially when the Egyptian Mamluks were continuously attacking Cilicia), Mesrop A Artazetsi (1359-1372) convened the 8th Council of Sis in 1361. He canceled all kinds of changes and contributions.
In 1375, as a result of the Mamluks’ invasions, the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia eventually ceased to exist. The idea of moving the Catholicosate to a safer place – to Armenia itself, was getting stronger.
The Silver Age of the Armenian Church
In spite of the political upheavals together with the policy of unification of the other churches, the spiritual and cultural life in Cilicia and the Armenian Church was in a very good state. This was the “silver age” of the Armenian Church.
During this period numerous monasteries and churches, and universities have been built. People copied manuscripts, created unique values of art, science, and culture. Toros Roslin led the improvement of miniature art.
At the beginning of the 13th century, life also flourished in northern Armenia. With the help of the efforts of the Zakaryan government house, Armenia was freed from the Muslim domination. Therefore, the country experienced a cultural uplift. As a result, Sanahin and Haghpat monasteries and cloisters, Gladzor University, Vorotnavank and Tatev Monastery, etc. were founded.
In this era, such famous figures as Nerses Shnorhali, Hakob of Kla, Hovhan Vorotnetsi, Grigor Tatevatsi, Tiratour of Cilicia, Yesayi Nchetsi, Mkhitar Gosh and others worked in the Armenian Church.
Reestablishment of the Catholicosate in Echmiadzin
After the collapse of the kingdom in Cilicia, the Armenian Church faced a number of problems. The spiritual-cultural crisis, the economic and political destabilization, made the Church unable to function freely and purposefully.
Taking these factors into account, since the end of the 13th century, the Armenian Apostolic Church leaders took steps to move the patriarchal seat to a safer, more comfortable place.
At the beginning of the 15th century, Kara Koyunlu(Jahan Shah) established their power in Armenia itself. After that, there was a relatively peaceful and favorable situation. There was also the opportunity to establish the Catholicosate at Holy Etchmiadzin.
They made the decision still when the Catholicos of Cilicia Grigor IX Musabekiants was alive, with his consent.
In 1441, on the Ascension Day, by the efforts of Tovma Metsopetsi and Hovhan Hermonetsi, a meeting took place in Vagharshapat. 700 bishops participated. The position of Catholicos went to Giragos Virapetsi (1441-1443), who actually became the head of all the Armenian Catholicosate, Hierarchical Churches, Dioceses.
Shortly after, in 1446 in Cilicia, Karapet Eudokatsi became the Catholicos. He proclaimed himself as a Catholicos of Sis. That way, he restored the Cilician Catholicosate of Sis.
Afterward, in 1461, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople was founded. Vagharshapat once again became the spiritual center of all Armenians. Holy Etchmiadzi, deprived of statehood, was the spiritual and national-political center of the Armenian people who lived all over the world.
The center of the Armenian Church, Vagharshapat, was under the rule of Persia and didn’t have a statehood. As a result, in the 15th-16th centuries the Armenian Church, yet again, experienced dark and stagnant years.
During that period, inside the church, the Catholicosate became a subject of competition. Meanwhile, outside there was the foreign policy. Persia and Turkey split and weakened the Armenian Church.
Only in the beginning of the 17th century, during the reign of Catholicos Movses III Tatevatsi (1629-1632), Philip I Agbaketsi (1632-1655), Hakob IV Djughayetsi (1655-1680), the internal state, material condition, national- cultural life of the Armenian Apostolic Church began to rise.
Relations with the Persian palace, with the Hierarchical Chairs, were regulated. A number of schools and educational institutions were established in Syunik, Vagharshapat, in the islands of Lake Van, Nor Jugha.
The rebirth continued during the subsequent Catholicoses Eghiazar I Aintaptsi (1691-1705), Ghazar I Jahketsi (1737-1751), Hakob V Shamakhetsi (1795-1763; this patriarch was one of the first to help Armenia get rid of the foreign yoke) as well.
One of the most brilliant patriarchs of the era was Simeon I Yerevantsi (1763-1780). He took actions on returning the property of the Armenian Church, enlivening the spiritual life. He also made improvements in the ritual life.
THE ARMENIAN CHURCH: XIX-XX CENTURIES
Because of the rapid changes in the state life, the beginning of the 19th century was an important period for the Armenian Church. A significant part of Armenia, Eastern Armenia, liberated from the Turkish-Persian yoke and fell under the rule of Imperial Russia.
The Armenian Church and the Armenian people became enthusiastic for becoming a part of Christian Russia. Hence, they greatly assisted Russia in their fights against the enemy. Introducing itself to the Armenian people as a fellow liberator, Russia paid a lot of attention to church issues and the Armenian Church.
Russia realized that after the loss of statehood, the Armenian Apostolic Church was the only way to express the interests and moods of the Armenian nation. Accordingly, Russia was trying to reduce the political role of the Armenian Church inside the country, to use the authority of the Catholicosate of All Armenians in Russia in order to influence the Armenians, including the ones living abroad.
Russia even had the right to verify the choice of Catholicos. What’s more, in 1836, the Russian government published a document “Polozhenie” that regulated the relations between the country and the Armenian Church.
The document diminished the authority of the Armenian Church, deprived it of property, schools, and possessions. This caused the indignation of the Armenian people and the Armenian Church. However, until 1917, “Polozhenie” did not cease to exist.
THE SPIRITUAL AND CULTURAL LIFE DURING THAT PERIOD
Despite the problems, the Armenian Church continued to maintain its existence while at the same time making some positive results in spiritual and cultural life.
The first Higher Educational Institution in the region was established in Echmiadzin, the Gevorkian Seminary (1874) was founded together with the Museum of the Mother See of Holy Echmiadzin, the printing house, the paper workshop, and the first official newspaper of the Armenian Church, “Ararat” magazine (1868).
Mkrtich I Khrimyan (Khrimyan Hayrik, 1892-1907) was one of the famous spiritual figures of this period.
Until becoming the Catholicos, he was involved in not only spiritual but also social activities.
As the head of the Armenian delegation, he participated in the Berlin Congress(1878), where the Armenian Question was put to the discussion.
During the time when he became a Catholicos, the Imperial government made a new law (1903), according to which all the church property was confiscated and the Armenian schools were being closed.
Khrimyan actively opposed this law by sending a letter to the Tsar. He ordered dioceses to disobey that law. Soon this law ceased to exist. The situation of the Armenian Church in Western Armenia was also complicated.
Nevertheless, the Armenian Patriarch continued to remain in its position. The Turkish government, however, was constantly trying to interfere in its choices and operations. Without the patriarch, national-church and community issues could not be solved. The patriarch was the mediator between the state and Holy Etchmiadzin.
To settle the “question”, in 1860 the government put forward the National Constitution, which existed until the 1880s. Accordingly, the leadership of the Armenian community and the population of the Ottoman Empire was carried out through two boards – the spiritual council (14 bishops with the Catholicos as the head) and the secular council (20 elders, elected by 400 people).
In 1895-1896, the massacres of Armenians began. The Patriarch of the time, Mkrtich Khrimian together with Archbishop Maghakia Ormanyan and others tried their best to prevent these events.
The 20th century for the Armenian Apostolic Church started with the enthronement of Khrimyan Hayrik (Mkrtich Khrimyan, Khrimyan Father). Patriarch of Constantinople Matthew II Izmirlian (1908-1910) was his successor.
The next one was Gevorg V Surenyants (1911-1930). During his Catholicosate, he witnessed a number of historical events – the First World War and the Armenian Genocide, the Sardarapat Battle and the creation of the First Republic of Armenia, the Sovietization of Armenia.
Still in 1912, by the efforts of Catholicos Gevorg, Echmiadzin has repeatedly raised the issue of the Armenian Question, trying to put Europe’s attention on it. However, the war of 1914, the 1915 Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire left the Armenian Church’s efforts in vain.
Understanding the importance of the Armenian Church and the clergymen in the national life, the organizers of the massacres killed more than 4,000 clerics, destroyed the monuments and wealth of Christian culture, burned about 2000 churches and monasteries in the empire.
As a result of the massacre, the Catholicosate of Sis was in danger. It remained in Sis until the 1920s and then found its final destination in Antelias, Lebanon only in the 1930s. The Patriarch of Constantinople and the Catholicosate of Aghtamar also ceased to exist.
The Armenian Church was deprived of its 1,500,000 believers
During the Great Genocide and in the following years, Echmiadzin started its support towards the victims of the disaster and escaped refugees.
Assistance Committees were established in different cities in Armenia and abroad. They sent letters to the highest state institutions voicing on the bloodshed taking place in Turkey.
After exterminating the Armenians of Western Armenia, the Turks moved to the eastern part of Armenia – Yerevan and Holy Etchmiadzin. In 1918 May, the Armenians stood up and won the unequal battles of Gharakilisa, Bash-Aparan, and Sardarabad. Armenians banned the enemy to enter into their motherland.
The sound of church bells continued to ring throughout the battles. Catholicos Gevorg II did not leave the church – the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin, despite all of the threats. A number of Armenian Church servants appeared on the battlefields.
After the glorious victory, another great event followed. It was the birth of the First Republic of Armenia on May 28, 1918. The Armenian Church unanimously welcomed this event. Despite the short-term existence of the Republic, the Armenian Church started to form relations with the government. The Armenian Apostolic Church had the opportunity to act independently.
The wide opportunities coming with the new republic did not last long. In 1920, the Soviet invasion of Armenia became the beginning of new trials for the Armenian Church. It lasted for more than 70 years.
The communist regime, officially proclaiming atheism as an ideology, began to persecute religion and the church. In, 1920, the school was eventually separated from the Church. Later, they also confiscated all the church property. There were only 4 churches remaining.
Several organizations with the aim of destructing churches were created. In such hard conditions, Catholicos Gevorg II succeeded in altering the church calendar, establishing the Supreme Spiritual Council and the national-church assembly regulations.
In 1941, during the Great Patriotic War, the Armenian Church with its small opportunities stood beside Armenia. With the efforts of Archbishop Gevorg Chorekchyan, donations and military forces were sent to the front (“Sasuntsi David” and “General Baghramyan” tanks).
This fact slightly changed the Soviet government’s approach to the Armenian Church. As a result, in 1945 they permitted to hold the Catholicos elections (Gevorg VI Chorekchyan was elected, 1945-1954). They also allowed to publish the Official Magazine “Echmiadzin” and open the Theological Seminary.
With the Catholicos Gevorg, a new phase of rebirth started. It continued during the reign of Vazgen I Palchian (1955-1994) patriarch. The Soviet authorities did not completely leave the Armenian Apostolic Church alone. There were still many restrictions. However, due to the Catholicos’ provident actions, the Church continued its national-religious activities taking small steps. Holy Etchmiadzin and a number of churches and monasteries were reconstructed and built.
Since 1988, a number of Armenian clergymen showed their support and participated in the Artsakh War. They also showed their support during the huge earthquake of December 7, 1988.
The Armenian Apostolic Church Today
In 1990, September 21, Vazgen I blessed and greeted the birth of the new Armenian statehood, the Third Republic of Armenia. The Armenian Church was no longer under the Soviet pressure and had the opportunity to act freely.
The created blockade, the ongoing war against the Azeri invaders, the political and economic crisis could not suppress the desire of liberation of the Armenian people and the Armenian Church.
In 1995, His Holiness Garegin II owned the patriarchal throne of the Great House of Cilicia. He became the Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin I (1995-1999). Under his rule, the Armenian Church had a new diocesan division, with 8 dioceses instead of the former 4.
Church life was enlivened, Gevorgyan Seminary went in the hands of the Mother See, a new student building was built, Sevan’s Vazgenian Spiritual School opened together with Shirak Spiritual School. Christian Education Center also opened, dozens of books were being published, inter-church relations became stronger.
In 1995, they opened the Faculty of Theology at Yerevan State University. Before the 1700th anniversary of Christianity proclamation in Armenia, the construction of St. Gregory the Illuminator Cathedral began in Yerevan. The construction ended during the reign of Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II Nersisyan (ruler since 1999).
Dozens of monasteries and churches were being repaired and renovated. The number of clergymen increased by hundreds, and the educational quality of the spiritual seminaries was at a new level. A number of ancient manuscripts and churches belonging to the Armenian Church went to the hands of Mother See.
With Catholicos of All Armenians Garegin II, Armenians in 2001 celebrated the 1700th anniversary of the proclamation of Christianity as a state religion in Armenia.
The Catholicos has implemented a number of social, charitable, children’s and youth’s spiritual education programs.
Interchurch relations were strengthened and expanded. The Armenian Church, standing on the solid foundation today, leads its faithful followers towards the light and salvation.
The Spiritual Rankings
Junior Clerics of the Armenian Church
- Scribe – a common ranking for junior clerics (readers, gatekeeper, candle bearers, oath readers)
- Deacon – chosen from Scribes
- Priest (married) – due to their long services, they can get the title of Senior Priesthood
- Hieromonk (celibate priest) – due to their pedagogical, scientific activities, they receive a degree of Master (Vardapet), then the Tsayraguyn Vardapet(the rank of supreme doctor of Christian dogma in the Armenian Apostolic Church along with the Armenian Catholic Church)
- Bishop – the highest rank in the Church hierarchy
- Archbishop – bishop of a higher rank
- Patriarch – the leader of one of the hierarchical chairs (centers)
- Catholicos – the head and the leader of the Armenian Church. In the Armenian Church, he is higher than the Patriarchs, Archbishops, and Bishops. He is usually elected out of bishops. After the election, Catholicos is considered as “the first among the equals.”
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