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Armenian Church
Armenian Apostolic Holy Church
Gregorian Church

Of the separate national Churches, formed under the influence of Monophysitism, the most important in size and influence is the Armenian. This is the most ancient national Christian Church, for the people of Armenia embraced Christianity in the third and fourth centuries. This was brought to pass largely through the wonderful activity of Gregory the Illuminator, whence the Church is called the Gregorian Church.

Although the Armenian Apostolic Church often is identified with the Eastern Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe, Russia, and Georgia, the Armenian church has been juridically and theologically independent since the early Middle Ages. The Armenian church also rejects the juridical authority of the pope and the doctrine of purgatory.

Mostly Christians since the early fourth century AD, the Armenians claim to represent the first state to adopt Christianity as an official religion. The independent Armenian church considers its founders to have been the apostles Bartholomew and Thaddeus and officially calls itself the Armenian Apostolic Church. It is also referred to as the Armenian Orthodox Church or the Gregorian Church. The conversion of Armenia by Saint Gregory the Illuminator occurred by about AD 314, although the traditional date is AD 306. Armenian Christians then remained under the powerful combined religious and political jurisdiction of the Byzantine Empire (BIZ-ahn-teen, the eastern Roman Empire, (476-1453 A.D.) until the sixth century.

The Monophysite controversy centered around the exact nature of Jesus Christ. Monophysites (mah-NOF-i-sit) maintain that Christ has one nature, partly divine and partly human. In the 500s, the Armenian church asserted its independence by breaking with the Byzantine doctrine of Christ's dual (divine and earthly) nature, which had been expressed officially by the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. Since the schism, the Armenian Apostolic Church has been in communion only with the monophysite churches of Egypt, Syria, and Ethiopia. Rather than embrace the monophysite doctrine, however, the Armenian church holds that Christ had both a divine and a human nature, inseparably combined in a complete humanity that was animated by a rational soul.

Until the Council of Chalcedon [AD 451] the Armenian Church appears to have been remarkably free from error, and in the immediately preceding period it had firmly withstood the progress of the Nestorian heresy. No bishops from Armenia were, however, able to attend the Council of Chalcedon ; and when the report of that council was carried to Armenia, mis-representations and ambiguity of expression prevented its rulers from understanding the truth as to Eutyches and his heresy. In the Armenian language there is only one word to express both Nature and Person, and hence the impression was conveyed, that in recognising two Natures in our Lord, the council had proclaimed two Persons. The Armenians, therefore, rejected the Council of Chalcedon, and were predisposed to favor Eutychianism.

Being thus divided from the Eastern Church, the Armenians remained in an isolated position very unfavorable to the maintenance of orthodoxy; and they have always been infected with Monophysite error. They have a Confession of great antiquity, which they attribute to St. Gregory the Illuminator (their Apostle of the third century), in which occurs a clause respecting God the Word, "that He had one Person, one Form, and was united in one Nature," this clause - strangely enough - concluding a statement that He was incarnate of the Blessed Virgin Mary ; and is undoubtedly, as far as its words go, a statement embracing the Monophysite heresy.

Neale, however, in his "Dissertation on the Claims of the Armenian Church to Orthodoxy " [Neale's. East. Ch. ii. 1878], expressed his belief that the theologians of the Armenian Church completely reconcile the sense in which the clause is understood with that of the Eastern Church at large ; and that the accusation of Monophysitiam brought against the Armenian Church on account of their peculiar "Confession " is not really more true than the accusation of Calvinism which has often been brought against the Church of England on account of expressions contained in the Thirtynine Articles of Religion. But all attempts to reunite the Armenians with the Eastern Church failed.

The reasons for the defection of the Armenian church, stemmed from a twofold difficulty: (i) Verbal. The Armenian word for "nature," pnoulioun, etymologically meant "essence," and was employed by the Armenian church fathers as an equivalent not only of the Greek physis of ordinary usage which means "nature," but also of Cyril's physis, "being" or "existence" (used in the expression heposis physike in his third anathematism against Nestorius), and of the Nicene ousia, "substance," as in the equivalent of homoousion, i-pnoutene, in the Armenian version of the Nicene Creed. The term "two natures," therefore, conveyed to the Armenians a suggestion of two several essences or personalities. (2) Doctrinal. The Nicene Creed had declared Christ to be -very God; and the Armenians could not conceive how one could declare a being possessing a divine personality also to possess a human nature co-ordinate with his deity without thereby predicating a separate personality of the humanity. The use of the designation Theotokos or "Mother of God" as applied to the Virgin Mary, adopted by the Armenians with the Council of Ephesus (431) which condemned Nestorius' doctrine of a double personality, further tended to confirm the view that Christ's essential being or personality belonged to his Godhead alone, and that his humanity must be regarded as only an accident of his deity. Thus whether we look at the verbal or at the doctrinal phase of the matter, the Council of Chalcedon, in affirming a doctrine of two natures in Christ, appeared to the Armenians to revive the Nestorian heresy.

Always confined within the limits of the Armenian nation, it shared for centuries the sad fortunes of this unhappy people, which was first dragged hither and thither between the rival kingdoms of Persia and Byzantium, and later fell an easy prey to advancing Islam. Their chief misfortunes, however, the Armenians have ever owed to the savage hordes of the Kurds, who dwell in the neighbouring wilds to the south and east, and who have persistently opposed every civilizing influence. By their recent superficial acceptance of Islam these Kurds became the welcome tool of Turkish officials wherewith to harass the Armenians.

These Armenians originally inhabited the northeast of Asia Minor and the fertile plains lying between Ararat and the Caucasus. Since the province of Erivan was ceded by Turkey to Russia at the Peace of Adrianople in 1829, about one-half of the Armenians-say a million-have been under the rule of the Czar. In Russian Armenia lies Echmiadzin where the Armenian Catholicos resides. The other half, 1,144,000 (according to another authority even as many as 1,475,011) dwell in Turkey, where their hereditary homes lie in the northeastern vilayets of Erzerum, Van, Bitlis, Diarbekr and Mamuret el Aziz. In the vilayets of Erivan and Van they form a majority of the population. There they are for the most part diligent and quiet agriculturists.

But the Armenians had always displayed a considerable power of expansion, the unhappy conditions of their home provinces, as well as their native intelligence and business capacity, inducing them to emigrate. They were to be found in large numbers in all the cities of Western Asia Minor, while by 1900 in Constantinople there are 97,000 (according to other estimates 200,000 or even 215,000) of them. Nearly half of the Armenians in Turkey live outside of Armenia, and about 100,000 reside in Northwestern Persia.

There has been a divergence in language among the Armenians. Only a few, even among the clergy, understood the difficult classical Armenian. In 19th Century Armenian there were two dialects, which differ considerably, the eastern, or Ararat dialect, and the western. Many had altogether given up the use of their native tongue. In many parts of the eastern highlands Kurdish became the prevalent language. Still greater was the number of those who had adopted Turkish, which, however, with the inconsistency peculiar to many Orientals, who retained their written characters longer than their language itself, they write in Armenian script. This Armeno-Turkish has developed into a separate mixed dialect.

Armenian Patriarchs

Like the Greek Church, the Armenian also developed a group of patriarchates, which, though ecclesiastically independent of each other, nevertheless stood in close connection. Their president and leader is the Catholicos of Echmiadzin. This diocese included all Armenians in Russia, together with those scattered in Southern Asia, in Europe outside of Turkey, and in America. Next to him, and almost his equal in rank and power, was the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, who by 1900 had no less than forty-four archbishops and bishops under him, and who was the ecclesiastical head of nearly the entire Armenian population of Asia Minor and Turkey in Europe. The other three Patriarchs, those, namely, of Jerusalem, of Sis in Cilicia [the capital of the kingdom], and of Aghtamar, an island in the Lake of Van, occupied an inferior position.

For more than three hundred years nearly two thirds of ancient Armenia was under the rule of Turkey ; and, therefore, although the head of the Church (the catholicos of Echmiadzin) was a subject of Russia, the large majority of the adherents of the Armenian Church were still to be found in Turkey. Among the Armenian bishops of Turkey, the patriarch of Constantinople occupied the highest rank: he was inferior only to the catholicos of Echmiadzin. An Armenian diocese was established at Constantinople as early as 1307. Archbishop Joachim, of Bursa, was raised to the rank of patriarch of Constantinople in 1461 by the sultan Mohammed II, and he was at the same time appointed the civil head of the Armenian nation.

Under the Ottomans the patriarch was elected by the notables and the prominent clergymen of the Armenian community or Constantinople, and was confirmed by the Ottoman Porte. Formerly the Armenian bankers had the ascendency in this assembly; but in 1839 several Armenian employes of the Turkish government obtained the leading influence. The patriarch is entirely dependent upon these laymen, who appoint a coadjutor, or have him removed by the Turkish government, whenever they please. The new patriarch had to make a profession of faith, which consisted of nine articles, the eighth of which designated the patriarch as the vicar of Christ. The berat which the patriarch receives from the Porte conferred upon him a direct power over the priests and laity of his diocese. Like the catholicos, he had the right to ordain bishops and to consecrate the holy oil. With the exception of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, he can appoint metropolitans and bishops throughout Turkish Armenia; remove, exile, and recall them; divide or unite their dioceses. The entire property of the Church is under his control; in the administration of it he is, however, limited by the lay synod, which consists of twenty members elected by the people and confirmed by the Porte. Moreover, he was assisted in the exercise of bis ecclesiastical functions by a clerical synod consisting of his officials. As he had also civil jurisdiction, he had, like the Greek patriarch, his own court and a patriarchal prison.

Under the Ottomans he was the civil head not only of the Armenian nation, but also of the Syrian Jacobites. All communications between the Turkish government and the Armenians passed through his hands; and even the Armenian patriarch of Sis and the bishops not directly subject to his jurisdiction receive their berat through him. Like the Greek patriarch, he enjoyed a number of honorary rights and exemption from taxation, in return, had to pay an annual tribute to the Porte. His revenue consisted chiefly of taxes of installation and annual contributions from bishops; fees for ordination, for the holy oil, for marriages ; inheritances and donations.

Besides the patriarch of Constantinople, the Armenian Church of Turkey had patriarchs at Sis, in the vilayet of Adana, at Jerusalem, and at Aghtamar, on the island of Van.

The first patriarch of Sis was elected in 1440, when the clergy of Sis, afur the death of the catholicos Joseph III, feared lest the residence of the patriarch, which had been at Sis since 1294, might be removed to Echmiadzin. Without waiting for a general assembly of the Armenian bishops, the clergy of Sis hurriedly proceeded, conjointly with the people of Sis, to the election of a catholicos. The bishops and vartabeth met, however, in 1441, at Echmiadzin, and elected as catholicos the monk Kyriakos, who was almost generally recognised by the Armenian churches. In order to prevent a permanent schism, the privilege was conferred upon Sis to be governed by a patriarch, on condition, however, that he receive the holy oil from the catholicos as a sign of his submission. The condition was accepted, and from that time Sis had its own patriarchs. According to a concordat concluded between the catholicos of Echmiadzin and the patriarch of Sis, the jurisdiction of the latter was to extend over the Armenian churches of Cilicia, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine; but, as the bishop of Jerusalem made himself independent in the middle of the 17th century, his jurisdiction had since been limited to the Armenian churches of Armenia Minor, Cappadocia, and Cilicia. The patriarch of Sis has the title "Patriarch and Primate of Armenia Minor and the Armenians who are in Cilicia, Syria, and Palestine, Minister of the Right and of the Throne of St Gregory the Illuminator."

The Patriarchate of Jerusalem has been in existence since the middle of the 17th century, when the catholicos Philippos conferred upon the archbishop of Jerusalem the right of consecrating, himself, the holy oil: and the archbishop consequently assumed the title of patriarch, and began to ordain bishops. The patriarch of Jerusalem, however, ceased long ago to exercise these functions; and his powers have been greatly curtailed, as the patriarch of Constantinople calls him to account when be pleased. In order to guard as much as possible his own independence, the patriarch procured from the Ottoman government his own berat, and supported in Constantinople an agent of his own. He had to pay an annual tribute, not only to the Porte, but to the pasha of Damascus. He was elected by his suffragan bishops, and had his residence in the monastery of St. James at Jerusalem. His income was derived from the same sources as that of the patriarch of Constantinople, the presents from the pilgrims to Jerusalem constituting an element of special importance.

In 1114 bishop David of Tornik made himself Patriarch of Aghtamar, in Lake Van, and assumed the title catholicos. The schism continued to the present day; but the patriarchate was of little importance, since its jurisdiction extended hardly any farther than Lake Van. The patriarch is elected by the bishops and clergy under his jurisdiction, and was supported by the revenue of the monastery on the island of Aghtamar.

The metropolitans, or archbishops, were not distinguished from the bishops by any greater jurisdiction, but only by some honorary rights. The catholicos can only be elected out of their number. The bishops were regularly elected from the unmarried vartabeds, and only occasionally, and by special permission of the catholicos or the patriarchs, from the monks, since, according to the Church law, a monk is not to become a bishop. The bishop is generally elected by the clergy and the heads of families, and after the election be is presented for confirmation to the catholicos or the patriarchs, who appoint several (generally three) bishops for examining the candidate. It was required that he be fifty rears of age, of legitimate descent for three generations, on both father's and mother's side, and well versed in the Holy Scriptures and the canonical law.

Many of the metropolitans and bishops have no dioceses, but lived in convents, and there hold the office of archimandrite. Many of them are at the same time vartabeds. The patriarch of Constantinople, according to the regulations made by the provincial council on November 20, 1830, had under his jurisdiction 18 archbishops, or metropolitans, and 35 bishops.

The Patriarchate of Sis embraced three towns and forty villages. Towards the close of the 16th century the patriarch of Sis still had 23 archbishops and bishops under his jurisdiction. The diocese of the patriarch of Jerusalem embraces the churches of Palestine, Syria, Akra,and Tripolis. His residence, in the monastery of Mar Yakub on Mount Zion, was built in the llth century, belonged to the Armenians as early as 1238, and has been in their undisputed possession since 1666. Besides the patriarch, 5 bishops and more than 100 priests lived in the monastery. The total number of suffragan bishops was reported to be 14. The diocese of the patriarch of Aghtamar comprises two towns and thirty villages. In the second half of the 17th century he had under his jurisdiction from 8 to 9 bishops residing in the monasteries on the shore of Lake Van.

Armenians form the largest Christian community in Turkey and number about 60,000. After the death of the patriarch of the Armenian Apostolic Church in Istanbul in March 1998, a controversy arose over the selection of his replacement, or over the freedom of the church to govern itself without government interference. The election of a new patriarch was supposed to occur after the traditional 40 days of mourning, but government officials in Istanbul delayed approving an election date. The governor of Istanbul declared that, under Turkish law, the eldest and most senior cleric in line for patriarch must fill the post until a successor is elected; but the Church observed that the practice had not been followed after the deaths of the past two patriarchs.

On August 3, the Istanbul deputy governor unilaterally appointed senior, retired Archbishop Shahan Sevadjian as interim patriarch, preventing the selection of Archbishop Mesrob Mutafyan, who had acted as Church leader during the late patriarch?s final illness. Mutafyan was a much younger man favored by many in the Armenian community. Some observers suggested political reasons for the government?s interference. They characterized Sevadjian as a Turkophile and Mutafyan as independent with possible ties to the Government of Armenia.58 Others contended that a group of local Armenians, unhappy with the prospect of Mutafyan, used their influence with local officials to delay the election. Because the order appointing Sevadjian also ordered the Church to cease ?direct contact? with government ministries in Ankara, the controversy also may have been part of a dispute between the Islamist-led Istanbul government and the secularist-led national government.

On August 19, 1998, Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz wrote to the Istanbul governor, saying that elections should proceed in accordance with the regulations. On September 1, the governor approved an election. President Suleyman Demirel and Speaker of the Turkish Grand National Assembly Hikmet Cetin sent open letters to the Armenian community that were published in Armenian newspapers, assuring Armenians that the leader of their choice would be accepted by the Turkish Government. On October 14, the General Assembly of the Armenian Church Community, representing some 16,000 church members, elected a new patriarch, overwhelmingly affirming their initial choice of Mutafyan. This reportedly was the first time that Armenians in Turkey elected a patriarch who lacked the open support of the authorities.

Armenian Uniate (Mekhitarist)
Armenian Rite Catholic
United Armenian Church

The Church of Rome began to gain a firm footing among the Armenians at the time of the crusades. Although the bulk of the nation always continued averse to a union with Rome, considerable numbers accepted the union, and, retaining the rites of the national Church, were organized into a United Armenian Church. The Hecbitarists gained for this ecclesiastical community a greater literary distinction than can be claimed by any other Oriental communion.

Mekhitar was a priest of the Armenian church. In the year 1700 he, with a few followers, came from Erzroom to Constantinople. He took up his residence in the suburb of Galata, and for a while preached in the Church of Gregory the Illuminator. In 1701 he organized his disciples into a religious order. But presently a persecution of the papal Armenians broke out. Mekhitar and his followers belonged to the Romanist party, and they were compelled to seek safety abroad. In 1703 Mekhitar landed at Modon on the Morea, which was then under the Venetian government. The young priest now organized his order under Benedictine rules, and erected at Modon a monastery of which he was designated abbot by bull of Pope Clement XI (1712). But Mekhitar and his monks were not destined long to remain on the Morea. In 1715, anticipating the Ottoman occupation of the peninsula, the abbot of Modon removed to Venice-a city which from Cilician days had harbored a prosperous colony of Armenians-and in 1717 leased the island of St. Lazarus, on which he founded the convent which still bears his name, and which now for two centuries has been the center of extensive missionary, educational, and literary activity.

In regard to their political rights, the United Armenians were subject to the jurisdiction of the patriarch of the National Armenian Church until pope Pius VIII, in 1830, succeeded, with the aid of France and Austria, in making them independent. He erected at Constantinople the see of an archbiahop-primate for the Catholic Armenians, who was to be immediately subject to the holy see. At the appointment of the first primate the pope appears to have taken into consideration the national wishes, and to have conceded to them the right to propose three candidates for the vacant see, from whom the pope chose one. In 1845 the pope appointed Anthony Hassun as successor of the primate, without consulting the nation. By a brief of April 30, 1850, pope Pius IX erected the towns of Anarra, Artvin, Brousa, Erzrum, Ispahan, and Trebizond into episcopal sees of the United Armenians, and made them suffragans of the Armenian archbishop of Constantinople. The same brief appointed the bishops of these sees without consulting the nation. The United Armenian nation gave its consent to the establishment of the sees, but refused to recognise the bishops, because they had not previously been consulted. After some time, they yielded this point also, in order to prevent a schism; and the Turkish government, through the mediation of France, gave to the new bishops the necessary berat.

When the pope established the see of an archbishop-primate at Constantinople, it was intended to confer upon him also the secular jurisdiction over the Catholic Armenians; but the Porte did not recognise the primate, and clothed, by a berat of 1831, a priest of the Order of Mechitarists with the prafcctura national. At the request of the French ambassador, after some time, a patriarch was appointed, but without any ecclesiastical functions, and having only those secular rights which are connected with the offices of the Greek and the Gregorian-Armenian patriarchs. The patriarch was to be elected by the United Armenian community, and to be confirmed by the Porte. He was to be assisted by a council of administration consisting of twelve members, who were likewise to be elected by the nation and to be confirmed by the Porte.

The berut given to the patriarch extended his jurisdiction over all the United Eastern churches; but, in consequence of the religious controversies and inner dissensions which arose, the patriarch lost the right to represent the other Catholic nationalities at the Porte, and this right passed over to the rttil of the Latins. In 1866 Hassun, the archbishop-primate of Constantinople, was elected also patriarch of Cilicia, and assumed as such the name Anthony Peter IX. Thus for the first time the highest ecclesiastical dignity of the United Armenians, the patriarchate of Cilicia, was united in one person with the civil headship of the United Armenian nation which was attached to the office of the primate of Constantinople.

Simultaneously with confirming the new patriarch, pope Pius IX, in July, 1867, issued the bull Roverturus, which abolished the right that hitherto the United Armenians had enjoyed with regard to the election of their patriarch and their bishops, and reserved for the Pope the right hitherto not exercised by him. The opposition which at once manifested itself against this bull led in 1870 to an open schism. The opponents secured the assistance of the Turkish government; Hassun was exiled from Constantinople and from Turkey, and Kupelian chosen in his stead patriarch of the United Armenians. Besides, a number of bishops sympathizing with Kupelian were appointed for United Armenian dioceses.

Notwithstanding repeated excommunications by Rome, the party headed by Kupelian remained in opposition to the pope, and assumed a position similar to that of the Old Catholics in Western Europe. The Kupelians continued for many years to enjoy the patronage and active support of the Turkish government, but never succeeded in bringing over to their side the majority of the United Armenian laity. In 1876 a general amnesty, granted by the new sultan, Hurad, on his accession to the throne, permitted Hassun to return to Constantinople. The schism continued, however, until 1879, when the efforts made bv the papal delegates and the ambassador of France secured the submission of Kupelian and the other bishops of the opposition, and the entire end of the schism.




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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 02:33:13 ZULU