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Mechitarists

MECHITARISTS

The Benedictine Armenian Antonines, known also as Mechitarists, are members of an Armenian Catholic monastic congregation that follows the Benedictine Rule. They were founded in 1701 at Constantinople by mechitar. Father Stephen Melkonen, who was elected superior general in 1750, revised the constitutions. This move, although approved by the Congregation for the Propagation of the Faith in 1762, was opposed by a segment of the congregation. The failure of a general chapter (1772) to restore peace occasioned a division into two groups, one centered in Venice, Italy; the other in Vienna, Austria. Both groups work for a renaissance of the Armenian people through education and preaching and have a similar form of government, ruled by an abbot general and his assistants.

Ordo Mechitaristarum Venetiarum. The Mechitarists of Venice (OMechVen), whose revised constitutions were approved in 1928, transferred to that city from the Near East in 1715 and have as their specific aim the union of dissident Armenians with the Catholic Church. The generosity of two wealthy Armenian merchants enabled the congregation to found Raphael College at Venice (1836) and Samuel Moorat College at Padua (1834), later moved to Paris. Here Abp. Denis Affre permitted, under certain conditions, the matriculation of some Armenian dissidents. Closed by the FrancoPrussian War, the college in Paris was united to that of Venice and later reestablished at Sèvres, near Paris (1929).

The Armenian Academy at San Lazzaro was established in Rome through the efforts of Stephen Kövér Akontz, later abbot (180024) and titular archbishop of Siunia. Abbot Placide Sukias Somal (182446) collected some 3,000 manuscripts, thus contributing toward making San Lazzaro a center of Armenian scholarship. During his superiorship the great dictionary of the Armenian language was published (1836), and the scientific and literary periodical Pazmaveb was begun (1843). The congregation has schools at Istanbul, Turkey (1810); Aleppo, Syria (1936); Alexandria, Egypt (1936); and Buenos Aires, Argentina (1956); and a minor seminary at Bikfaya, Lebanon (1948). In 1965 there were four religious houses and 54 members engaged in the direction of two colleges and four schools as well as in the publication of the periodicals Pazmaveb and Endanik, and other Armenian classical, historical, and ecclesiastical works, at the publishing house on the island of San Lazzaro (Venice).

Ordo Mechitaristarum Vindobonensis. The Mechitarists of Vienna (OMechVd), whose constitutions were approved in 1885, are engaged especially in pastoral work for Armenians. After separating from the Mechitarists of Venice in 1772, they went to Trieste, where, under the protection of Empress Maria Theresa, they established a separate congregation. During the reign of their first abbot, Adeodatus Babighian (180325), they were forced to seek refuge in Vienna (1809), where St. Clement hofbauer was of great assistance. The congregation prospered under succeeding abbots, especially under Abbot Aristakes Azarian (182655), and undertook pastoral activity among the Armenians of the AustroHungarian Empire. At the motherhouse in Vienna there are a school, a theological college, a museum of natural history, a library, and a printing establishment that publishes books in many languages and the Armenian periodical Handés Amsorya. In 1965 the congregation had 32 members, who staffed parishes in Budapest, Hungary; Cambridge, Mass.; and Los Angeles, Calif.; and colleges in Istanbul, Turkey (1811); Heliopolis (Cairo), Egypt (1935); and Beirut, Lebanon (1937).

Bibliography: m. heimbucher, Die Orden und Kongregationen der katholischen Kirche 2 v. (3d ed. Paderborn 193234) 1:241246. m. van den oudenrijn, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 7:223224. r. janin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350; Tables générales 1951) 10.1:497502.

[e. elhayek]

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