Nersēs of Cla

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NERSĒS OF CLA (11011173), also known as Nersēs Clayatsi and Shnorhali; theologian, catholicos, and saint of the Armenian church. Born in the province of Tloukʿ in Cilician Armenia (the central part of southern Turkey), Nersēs lost his father at an early age. Together with his elder brother Grigor, he was entrusted to the guardianship of his maternal granduncle, the catholicos Grigor II Vekayaser who commended them to the Monastery of Shoughri. Grigor's successor then placed them under the tutelage of the monk Stepanos Manouk, a renowned scholar and theologian.

Ordained a celibate priest when he was seventeen years old, Nersēs was consecrated a bishop at the age of thirty-five. He then served his church and nation in numerous capacities, including contributing to the establishment of peace in Cilician Armenia. Endowed with a keen mind and a Christian spirit, he became the architect in developing intercommunion and reconciliation between the Armenian and the Greek churches. Following the death of his brother, the catholicos Grigor, Nersēs was consecrated catholicos of the Armenian church in 1166. He died in 1173 and was buried in Hromcla.

Nersēs is considered one of the great literary figures in the ecclesiastical history of the Armenian church. He composed prayers, liturgical songs, and chants, sometimes written acrostically (consisting of thirty-six verses after the order of the Armenian alphabet or according to the alphabetical arrangement that spells his name). Uniquely impressive is Nersēs's prayer, Havatov Khosdovaneem (I Confess with Faith), currently available in thirty-six languages. Chief among his literary achievements is Vipasanoutyoun, a novel in poetic form; Voghb Yedesyo (Lamentation of Edessa); and commentaries on the first five chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, Gregory of Nyssa's discourse On Evil, and the discourse of the Neoplatonist Armenian philosopher David the Invincible. Also renowned is Toukht Enthanrakan, an exhortation on Christian behavior and a treatise on pastoral theology. It also supplies information concerning the hierarchy of the Armenian church, the stratification of society, and the manner of life in twelfth-century Cilician Armenia.

Nersēs always struggled to maintain the autocephalicity of the Armenian church, defining the important issues facing church unity in eight letters to the Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenus (c. 11221180). Nersēs remarked that unity cannot come by imposing royal force but through love, tolerance, and humility, thus indirectly warning the Byzantines not to impose their Chalcedonian faith on other churches. He saw the truths of Christianity in the unity of its parts, since no single church may consider the Christian faith its sole possession. His approach regarding unity was slowly finding adherents when his death halted the progress of further negotiations.

Nersēs dominated the thought and orientation of the Armenian church in twelfth-century Cilician Armenia, thus crowning its silver age in literary achievements. In due time, Nersēs received the appellation Shnorhali ("grace-filled") in recognition of his deep Christian faith and accomplishments.


Nersēs's Hisous Vordi (Constantinople, 1824), written in 1152, is a reproduction of the Old and New Testaments in poetic form, containing episodes from church history and ending with the events that are to ensue during the second coming of Christ. It is available in English, translated by Jane S. Wingate, as Jesus Son (New York, 1947). Toukht Enthanrakan is available in classical Armenian (Jerusalem, 1871) and in vernacular Armenian translated by Anoushavan Vardapet Danialian (Beirut, 1977). For discussion of Nersēs's life, see volume 30 (1973) of the Armenian journal Echmiadzin. Mal'achia Ormanian's Azgapatowm, 3 vols. (19121927; reprint, Beirut, 19591961), is a comprehensive study of the Armenian church as well as of the politics of the Armenian nation. Of particular relevance to the study of Nersēs are paragraphs 927, 931, 936, 939, 944, 948953, 961992.

Avak Asadourian (1987)