Sahak Parthev

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SAHAK PARTHEV (d. 439) was chief bishop of Armenia from circa 387 to 439. Sahak, son of Nerses the Great, is surnamed Parthev, or Partʾew ("the Parthian"), because of his descent from Gregory the Illuminator and the Armeno-Parthian Arsacid dynasty. There is very little information about his early years and the first two decades of his pontificate. The fifth-century Armenian historians Koriwn and Lazar of Pʾarpi speak for the most part about his role in the cultural movement at the time of the invention of the Armenian alphabet in 404 ce. Sahak, who presided over the Persian sector of Armenia, patronized the educational, missionary, religious, and literary activities of Mesrop Mashtotsʿ, the inventor of the Armenian alphabet. Sahak was instrumental in the spread of literacy in the royal central provinces of Armenia; he personally revised the Armenian version of the scriptures on the basis of the Septuagint and translated several works of the Fathers from Greek, a language in which he was proficient.

In 420 Sahak went to the Persian court in Ctesiphon (near present-day Baghdad), where he intervened on behalf of the Persian Christians who were being persecuted. In 428, when the Sasanids put an end to the Arsacid dynasty of Armenia, Sahak was removed from office, since he was of Arsacid lineage. He was replaced by southern and Syriac bishops, but evidently continued to exercise authority in spiritual matters.

Sahak is well known for his correspondence with Patriarch Proclus of Constantinople (434446) and Bishop Acacius of Melitene concerning the "heretical" teachings of Theodore of Mopsuestia. Contact with these bishops led Sahak to banish Theodore's works from Armenia. A part of Sahak's letter to Proclus was officially read during one of the sessions of the Second Council of Constantinople in 553.

In the mid-430s, while Sahak was still alive, the canons of the councils of Nicaea and Ephesus were brought to Armenia and translated into Armenian, probably by Sahak himself. There are also canons attributed to Sahak that are probably not authentic that are from a later period predating the eighth century.

Koriwn states that Sahak translated and adapted the Greek liturgical texts for practical use. The exact nature of his influence on the present-day liturgical books has still not been carefully studied. There are also hymns ascribed to him that bear the stylistic marks of later centuries. The earliest translations of the Fathers, however, were made under his supervision, according to the trustworthy testimony of Koriwn.

Sahak died on September 7, 439, and was buried in Ashtishat. Soon thereafter a martyrium was built over his grave, and he was venerated as a saint. In his youth he had married and fathered a daughter, who became the mother of Vardan Mamikonian, the commander-in-chief of the Armenian army. Sahak was the last of the bishops of Armenia who were of the lineage of Gregory the Illuminator. He is greatly venerated by the Armenians as a saint and honored, with Mesrop Mashtotsʿ, as the cofounder of the Armenian literary tradition.


Conybeare, F. C. "The Armenian Canons of Saint Sahak Catholicos of Armenia." American Journal of Theology 2 (1898): 828848.

Garitte, Gérard, ed. La narratio de rebus Armeniae. Louvain, 1952.

Koriwn. Varkʿ Mashtotsʿi. Yerevan, 1941. Translated into English by Bedros Norehad as Koriun: The Life of Mashtots (New York, 1964).

Lazar of Pʾarpi. Patmutʿiwn Hayots (1763). Tbilisi, 1904. Translated into French by P. S. Ghésarian as "Lazare de Pharbe, Histoire d'Arménie," in Collection des Historiens de l'Arménie, edited by Victor Langlois, vol. 2 (Paris, 1869).

Tallon, Maurice. Livre des lettres. Beirut, 1955.

Krikor H. Maksoudian (1987)