Armenia, The Catholic Church in
ARMENIA, THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN
Part of the USSR until 1991, the modern nation of Armenia is located in southwestern Asia. A mountainous region, it is bordered on the north by Georgia, on the east by Azerbaijan, on the south by Azerbaijan and Iran, and on the west by Turkey. Although historically Armenia once covered much of western Turkey and northern Iran, political divisions from the 17th through the 19th centuries divided its area between the Ottoman Empire (now Turkey), Persia (now Iran), and Russia; the plight of ethnic Armenians in diaspora continued to be problematic throughout the 20th century.
Politically joined to Russia in 1828, modern Armenia built its economy on the rich soil of the Aras river valley as well as from industry. A major producer of grapes, vegetables, and livestock, the country also worked to privatize formerly communist-run machine, textile, and other industries following the end of socialist rule. After gaining its independence from the Soviet Union, the predominately Christian country entered into a dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, a region largely populated by ethnic Armenians that was made part of Islamic Azerbaijan at the break-up of the USSR. Instability caused by such political disputes as well as the decay of the economy during Soviet rule left almost half Armenia's population living below the poverty level by 2000.
Ecclesiastically, Armenia is predominately Oriental Orthodox, with the ordinariate for the Armenian Apostolic Church located at the monastery of Echmiadzin, near Yerevan. The Latin-rite Church has an apostolic administration covering the entire Caucasus region (Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan), with its seat in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. The Armenian Catholic Church, with its apostolic center in Beirut, Lebanon, is a minority religion in modern Armenia, most of its membership existing in Syria and Lebanon. The historic region known as Armenia is considered the first Christian nation.
The essay that follows, in relating the development of the Church in Armenia, includes the history of the Ottoman
Empire (Turkey) and Persia (Iran); for modern histories of the Church in these countries see entries on Turkey and Iran.
Early History. According to recovered Assyrian and Urartian cuneiform monuments, ancient Armenia was inhabited by the 13th century b.c. During the 6th century b.c. Indogermanic tribes from the Thrasic-Phrygian Tsaph invaded the area and eventually blended with the native Assyrians; eventually these Armenians fell under the domination of first the Medes (612–549 b.c.) and then the Persians (549–331 b.c.).
Artaxias, or Artashēs, was appointed governor by Antiochus the Great (223–187) and is said to have founded Artaxata, or Artashat, on the advice of Hannibal. Tigranes II, after extending his reign over the whole of southwestern Asia, was defeated by Pompey in 66 b.c. A pact with their new Roman rulers made the Armenian kings dependent on the Parthians. Under Marcus Aurelius (161–180) Artaxata was destroyed and a new capital erected at Valarshapat. Tiridates III of the Arsacid dynasty was recognized by Rome (c. 296), and Armenia became a Roman protectorate.
Christianity. The Christianization of Armenia began with the missionary efforts of gregory the illuminator, who received episcopal consecration in Cappadocia and converted King Tiridates III at the end of the 3d century. By 303 Christianity had been adopted as the national religion, and under King Chosroes III (330–339) efforts were made to evangelize the neighboring Georgians and Albanians. The Church, with its see at Valarshapat, was a suffragan of Cappadocia, but the bishopric remained in the possession of Gregory's family; his son Aristaces attended the Council of Nicaea in 325. Despite the conversion of the king, Christianity received opposition from pagan priests as well as several princes. King Arsaces (Arshak) II (350–367) named nerses the Great as bishop in 353. Consecrated in Cappadocia, Nerses held a synod at Ashtishat that legislated regarding matrimonial impediments for the nobles, the abolition of pagan funeral customs, and the establishment of hospitals and leprosaria. Nerses was eventually assassinated by King Pap (367–374).
During the 4th and 5th centuries, the Church would lose its political support. Christians were persecuted under King Yazdgard I (399–420), but through the intervention of Emperor Theodosius II they obtained toleration from King Vahrām V (c. 421–439). King Chosroes selected isaac the Great as bishop (c. 390–438), and with the aid of mesrop, the calligrapher Rufinus, and a group of young monks educated in the West established an alphabet and translated the Bible as well as Greek and Syrian works of the Church Fathers, thereby originating an Armenian Christian literature. When the see was brought under the control of Constantinople, schools and missionaries were provided with Byzantine support. After the Council of ephesus (431) the Armenian bishops requested information regarding Nestorianism and received the renowned Tome of Proclus to the Armenians. A council was held at Ashtishat (435) accepting the theotokos.
In the 5th century the term catholicos came into use as the official title for the metropolitan. In 444 Catholicos Joseph (441–453) held a synod of 20 bishops that condemned the Messalians, or paulicians, in 444, while in 450 at Artashat 17 bishops refused the invitation of the Persian king to embrace the cult of the god Aramazd. A persecution followed, and in 454 Archbishop Gevund and a number of clerics were martyred. With Byzantine assistance peace was restored in 506.
Prevented from attending the Council of Chalcedon (451) by internal troubles, the Armenian bishops had developed a faulty understanding of the problems posed by monophysitism, and in 506 they accepted the henoticon of Zeno. Catholicos Nerses II (548–557) and 17 bishops came under the influence of followers of julian of halicarnassus and repudiated the doctrines of the Council of Chalcedon.
Religious division continued. In 572, after a revolt against the Persians, Catholicos John II fled to Constantinople and accepted the Chalcedonian doctrine. Emperor maurice, after acquiring western Armenia to the river Ozal from King Chosroes Abharvēz II (590–628), held a council in Constantinople for its 21 bishops. Catholicos Moses II (574–604) of Dwin refused to attend and was replaced by John III (592–610). Iberian Catholics accepted the teachings of the Council of Chalcedon, and Kyrion, Archbishop of Mts‘khet‘a, entered into communion with Pope Gregory I (590–604). While the Syro-Armenian Synod at Ctesiphon (c. 614) rejected Chalcedon, the synod held by Catholicos Eger under Emperor heraclius (632) at Karin (Erzurum) accepted it. In 649 the third Council of Dwin accepted Monophysitism under Catholicos Nerses II at the insistence of Arab conquerors anxious to separate the Armenians from the Byzantines. When Emperor Constans II (653) dominated the region the catholicos returned to Dyophysite doctrine.
Arab Rule. Arab invaders conquered Armenia in 653. Although Arab conquerors at first were lenient, Catholics were eventually intimidated and persecuted because of their revolts. Governors in Dwin were appointed from among Armenian nobles, but after a rebellion at Vardanakert power was transferred to Muslim rulers. An uprising in 772 resulted in the burning of churches, convents, and the wiping out of a large portion of the aristocracy.
Several 8th-century synods at Manzikert dealt with the Christological doctrines in dispute in Byzantium, and the catholicos found it necessary to leave the see of Dwin because of the hostility of the Muslims. Under the ‘Abbāsids the lot of the Christians became almost intolerable, and frequent revolts were put down with intensified persecutions.
In 859 Caliph Motawakel-Billah named Ashot Bagratuni governor with the title prince of princes, and for
two centuries this new dynasty worked to rebuild the country and the Church, despite continual wars with the Byzantines, the Arabs, and the Armenian dynasty of the Artsruni. Under a succession of Bagatid rulers from 855–1020, Ani became one of the principal cities of the Orient, while commerce and literature flourished. Catholicos Peter I (1019–54) of Ani was suspected of treason for his voyages among the Greeks and in 1045 delivered his cathedral to Emperor Constantine Monomachus, who tried to force Chalcedonian doctrine on the Armenian clergy. When King Gagik II (d. 1079) repudiated this doctrine and broke the agreement reached with the Byzantines, he was imprisoned and deposed. Catholicos Gregory (Vahrām Pahlav) communicated with Pope Gregory VII (1073–85) and received the pallium as well as instructions to subscribe to the Council of Chalcedon.
Kingdom of Cilicia provides Refuge. While warring among noble families prevented the unification of Armenia, Seljuk Turks invaded the Euphrates Valley (1048–54) and sacked Sebaste (1059). With the defeat of Byzantine Emperor Romanus IV at Manzikert in 1071 the Seljuks were free to conquer Armenia. Many of the aristocracy fled west to Constantinople and Europe; others escaped into the Taurus Mountains.
During the persecutions of the 4th century a number of Armenians had taken refuge in Cilicia (in south-central Turkey); they were now joined by other compatriots. Armenian prince Ruben (1080–95) took the fortress of Partzpert and proclaimed the independence of Cilicia in 1080. His son Constantine (1095–99) enlarged the territory and made contact with the Roman Catholic leaders of the Second crusade.
In 1113 Catholicos Basil was succeeded by Gregory III (1113–66), who took part in the Latin-rite synod at Antioch. Pope Innocent II sent him the pallium, and he in turn assured Pope Eugene III of his willingness to accept Roman stipulations regarding the sacrifice of the Mass. Catholicos Nersēs IV (1166–73), called the Gracious for his theological disquisitions, entered discussions with the representatives of the Greek Church at Hromcla, and his successor Gregory IV pursued reunion efforts with the Greek Church at the synod of Hromcla in 1179. Gregory was also in contact with Pope Lucius III, whom he assured of his filial submission in 1184 and from whom he received the pallium with a miter and ring.
Cilicia's aid to the Third Crusade was rewarded by Pope Celestine III, who acknowledged King Leo I the Magnificent (1196–1219) as the monarch of the Armenians.
Leo adopted many Western customs and passed the custody of his principal fortresses to the Knights Templars. het'um i (1226–70) personally visited the court of the Mongol Khan Mangou and arranged a treaty of peace. However, the Mamelukes of Egypt invaded Cilicia, and Het'um retired to a monastery in 1270. Under Leo II (1270–89) the kingdom enjoyed a minor renaissance of culture, commerce, and religious life, despite a temporary alienation from Rome over the Templars. Leo's successor Het'um II (1289–1305) and Catholicos Constantine I protested to Pope Gregory IX against the crusaders' attempt to extend the jurisdiction of the Latin Patriarchate of Antioch over Armenia.
Het'um II sent john of monte corvino to Pope Nicholas IV with his testimony of submission (1289), and despite the pope's attempt to send aid, the Mamelukes captured Hromcla (1292), took Catholicos Stephen prisoner, and carried off the relic of the right arm of St. Gregory the Illuminator. A synod at Sis in 1307 undertook dogmatic and disciplinary reforms in accord with Roman prescriptions, and despite violent opposition from some clergymen King Oshin held a council at Adana in 1316 that received encouragement from Pope john xxii (1316–34). In 1356, Innocent IV approved the constitution of an order of Friars Unifiers, who exercised a fruitful apostolate near Nakhichevan (1440–1766).
Despite continued appeals of the popes, Western princes failed to aid the kingdom of Cilicia; its last king, Leo of Lusignan (d. 1393), was captured by the Emir Ischqtimur, and on being ransomed from the Caliph of Egypt became the guest of Charles VI of France until he died and was buried in the Abbey of St. Denis outside Paris. Cilicia then fell under the power of the Tartars and was given up to persecution and plunder. Despite the disarray of the region's Armenian church its catholicos Constantine VI was represented at the Council of Ferrara-Florence and on Nov. 22, 1439, accepted decrees of the council. Pope Eugene IV sent a letter of gratitude that was received by the Catholicos Gregory IX (1440–53).
Division within Armenian Church Widens. Although supported by the Church in Cilicia, opposition to the Council of Florence came from the monks of Oriental Armenia. Four bishops demanding the change of the catholicate to Valarshapat (modern Echmiadzin) were excommunicated by Gregory X. In a reactionary synod at Valarshapat 12 bishops elected the monk Cyriacos, who immediately won the support of 12 other bishops and their people. After the fall of Constantinople (1453) Mu[symbol omitted]ammad II recognized the Armenian bishop Joachim (Hovakim) as patriarch with his palace at Psammathia (1461), and entrusted him with ruling the domestic affairs of all the Armenians in his vast realm.
The catholicos of Sis was restricted to spiritual functions; in 1587 it had 12 chapels and the catholicate counted 24 dioceses, 300 priests, 20 convents, and hundreds of monks. Catholicos Khach'atur (1560–84) wrote to Pope Gregory XIII; and his successor, Catholicos Azaria, accepted a profession of Catholic faith. In 1683 another Azaria died in Rome, where he had taken refuge; so too did his successor Gregory Pidzak (1683–91).
Catholicos Stephen V had made a profession of faith in Rome (1548–50), and his successor Michael sent an envoy to the court of Paul IV, who helped found an Armenian printing press in Rome. Pius V gave the Armenians the church of St. Mary of Egypt, and Gregory XIII, in his bull Romana Ecclesia, praised the faith of the Armenians. But Armenia itself was continually attacked by Turks, then Persians, leaving its bishops and people in continual ferment, at times in union with Rome, and at times in schism.
Meanwhile, religious priests remained active. In 1583 the Dominicans established a province in Trans-Caucasia; and in 1626 the Jesuits opened a house in Alep. They started a mission at Isfahan in 1653 and carried on successful work at Erzurum (1685–91) and Yerevan toward the end of the century despite the outbreak of persecution. The Capuchins arrived in Alep in 1627; and the Carmelites were sent into Persia in 1705. Augustinians and Theatines also worked in Persia and Georgia. Between 1694 and 1764 the constant struggle between Catholics and Orthodox Armenians for predominance would be fueled by civil rulers, and many Armenians left the area for the Holy Land.
Birth of Modern Nation of Armenia. In 1828 Russia gained control of the northeastern portion of Armenia, which had been under the control of the Ottoman Turks for over 300 years. A systematic attempt was made to incorporate the Armenians into both the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox church. While in 1866 the Armenian and the Russian branches of the Church were united under Patriarch Peter IX Hassun, this effort masked difficulties that would be renewed half a century later, in 1911, when a synod was held in Rome to deal with the reorganization of the Church's governance.
Meanwhile, at the close of the 19th century a group of Turkish-Armenian intellectuals educated in the West formed resistance groups in the remainder of Armenia, hoping to enlist the aid of Western powers in preserving their culture. They joined the Young Turks in their 1908 revolt, but their goal of uniting Armenians backfired under the Young Turk government. Amid an outbreak of ethnic violence, all Turkish Armenians were deported to Syria and Palestine, resulting in a million deaths; the date of April 24th thereafter served to commemorate those who died in concentration camps or of disease and starvation during their forced relocation east of Turkey between 1915 and 1918. Ottoman persecutions during and after World War I reduced the Armenian clergy by more than half and exterminated up to two million of the region's Christian inhabitants before the Treaty of Lausanne incorporated Turkish Armenia into the republic of Turkey in 1923.
Meanwhile, Russian-controlled Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia joined together in 1917 to form the Transcaucasian Federal Republic. Unfortunately, the new nation would last only a short while before falling victim to further Turkish aggression. On May 28, 1918, Armenia declared its independence, but by 1922 was once again joined with its Transcaucasian partners as one of 15 Soviet Socialist Republics, with Yerevan as its capital. In 1936 the region split again, with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia the result. Some 150,000 ethnic Armenians moved to this new homeland following World War II, but many more resided in Istanbul, Lebanon, and other parts of the world. The city of Jerusalem had an Armenian quarter, in addition to quarters for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Ethnic Divisions Characterize 20th Century. As was the case with other nations while under Soviet rule, from the 1950s through the 1980s Armenia's Apostolic and Latin-rite churches suffered both materially and spiritually under communist domination. Monasteries and other church buildings were closed, and clergy were forced either underground or out of the country as communist leaders sought to eradicate all vestiges of the Armenian Christian heritage.
During the 1970s the Armenian Secret Army for the Liberation of Armenia began a campaign of terror against Turkish officials as a way to balance the scales of justice against the atrocities perpetrated upon the Armenian people during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In 1989 a second wave of violence erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh, a region of Muslim-dominated Azerbaijan that was home to a predominately Armenian Catholic population. When Armenia declared independence from the USSR on Sept. 23, 1991, violence on the part of Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh increased, forcing Islamic Azeri populations from Armenia and Catholic populations from the Nagorno region. This violence, supported by the Armenian government, was halted by a cease-fire in 1994 from which permanent political resolutions had yet to be made by 2000. Political crises continued to haunt Armenia following a constitutional referendum in the mid-1990s, with the election of a strongly nationalist president 1998 suggesting that the region's long history of religious and ethnic instability might easily be revisited. The region's increasing poverty did little to allay fears of political upheaval.
While political changes were marked by division, the Church Armenian Apostolic moved toward closer relations with the See of Rome following the overthrow of communism. On Dec. 10, 1996, Catholicos Karekin I (d. 1999) joined with Pope John Paul II in a joint declaration of faith that helped bridge the theological gap between the two churches. This declaration would be mirrored in a similar reconciliation of faith between the pope and Armenian Apostolic Catholicos Aram I of Antelias. Both church leaders were also assured of Vatican support of their efforts toward rebuilding Armenian society following communism. In addition, the pope offered words of encouragement to the leaders of the Armenian Catholic Church (see armenian christianity).
The Church Moves into the 21st Century. The Armenian Apostolic Church was granted the status of national church of Armenia by the 1991 constitutional Law on Freedom of Conscience. While Armenia's constitution also proclaimed religious freedom, "proselytizing" was prohibited by all but the national church, all minority religions being required to register with the government. Because of the separatist efforts in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, followers of Islam were treated in a discriminatory manner and many continued to leave Armenia.
In 2001, Armenians celebrated the country's 1,700 years of Christianity. As was characteristic within many former Soviet republics, the Armenian Apostolic Church had several claims against the government for land and other properties confiscated by the communist administration. In April 2000 negotiations between church and state began, the Church's goal to settle those disputes prior to the anniversary celebration. Another goal of the Armenian Apostolic Church was to begin a dialogue with the state regarding taking its role in education as well as in the moral guidance of Armenian society.
The preeminent Catholicos of Echmiadzin was led by Catholicos Karekin II Nersissian, former archbishop of Yerevan, beginning in October 1999, following Karekin I's death. Among the new Church leader's first actions was the creation of a new department of Christian outreach, designed to begin a dialogue between the Apostolic Church and other Armenian faiths. Such a dialogue would help bolster the Church's weakened resources in the wake of communism, as well as combat the sagging spiritual fervor of many Armenians. Indeed, by the millennium Christianity had become less a faith than an ethnic marker separating the majority population from Azeri Muslims. Karekin II also met with Pope John Paul II in November 2000 to continue efforts at reconciling the Armenian Apostolic Church with the Holy See. During that visit the pope presented the catholicos with relics of St. Gregory the Illuminator for placement in a cathedral in the Armenian saint's honor then under construction in Erevan.
In 2000 Armenia contained 29 parishes administered to by one secular and 16 religious priests, the scarcity of clergy a consequence of Soviet government. The Latinrite church shared a papal nuncio with Georgia and Azerbaijan. The Armenian Catholic Church, which counted close to 345,000 members worldwide in 2000, was headed by Patriarch Nerses Bedros XIX of Cilicia, who was based in Beirut, Lebanon. During a Jubilee celebration in Rome in September, the pope spoke to a group of Rome-based Armenian Catholics, urging them not to abandon those who remained in Armenia due to poverty. He also sent a message to members of the Armenian Apostolic Church, letting them know that "the Pope of Rome is carefully following [your] efforts to be 'the salt of the earlth and light of the world.'."
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[n. m. setian/eds.]