The Armenian Church
(Materials are taken from the official website of Armenian Apostolic Holy Church www.etchmiadzin.am )
There is little written documentation in existence relating to the earliest period of history of the Armenian Church. The Armenian alphabet was not invented until the beginning of the 5th century. The history of the first centuries of the Armenian Church, as reflected in the Holy Tradition, was passed on orally from generation to generation. Only after the 5th century was it recorded in written form in historiographic and hagiographic literature. The Holy Tradition is neither myth nor legend, as it has a historical basis. According to the Holy Tradition of the Armenian Church, the first seeds of Christianity were sown on the Armenian land at the time of the apostles.
In the 1st century, both external and internal conditions were favorable for preaching Christianity in Armenia. Christianity also spread to the countries close to Armenia: Cappadocia, Osrohene, and Adiabene. Armenia’s commercial, political, and cultural relations with those countries made the advance of Christianity easier. Christianity was first introduced in Lesser Armenia and then expanded to Greater Armenia.
A series of historical testimonies in Armenian, Syriac, Greek and Latin, confirm the fact that the Apostles Saints Thaddeus and Bartholomew preached Christianity in Armenia, thus becoming the founders of the Armenian Church.
An important prerequisite for the propagation of Christianity was the existence of a Jewish Diaspora in Armenia. It is known that the first preachers of Christianity usually began their activity in those communities. The Apostle St. Thaddeus, arriving in Edessa, resided at the house of a Jewish nobleman Tubia. At that time, Jewish communities existed in the principal cities of Armenia, in Tigranokert, Artashat, Vagharshapat, and Zarehavan.
After the Ascension of Christ, St. Thaddeus arrived in Edessa in 44 A.D. and cured King Abgar of Osrohene from leprosy. After preaching throughout lesser Armenia, he ordained Bishop Addeh to serve in his absence as locum tenens of the Church and left for Greater Armenia to preach the Word of God. According to the Holy Tradition, Bishop Addeh was a royal robe maker by trade, and the maker of mitres to the Edessan court. After St. Thaddeus departed, King Abgar’s son, who ascended the throne after his father’s death, re-established paganism. He demanded that Bishop Addeh make him a mitre. Bishop Addeh refused, and soon after was martyred. He is remembered as St. Addeh.
St. Thaddeus continued his preaching in Greater Armenia, and converted many followers, including Princess Sandukht, the daughter of King Sanatruk of Shavarshan, in the province of Artaz.
When the king learned of his daughter’s conversion, he used every means possible to convince her to return to paganism. Exhausting all efforts, the king finally offered his daughter a choice between Christianity and death or paganism and her crown. Remaining steadfast in her faith, she chose death, and became the first woman saint of the Armenian Church. In addition to her martyrdom, St. Sandukht is also remembered for her efforts in converting others.
By the order of King Sanatruk St. Thaddeus, along with his converts, was martyred soon after the princess in 66 A.D., for preaching Christianity. Before he was killed, St. Thaddeus secretly buried the remains of St. Sandukht. A monk named Giragos discovered the remains of St. Thaddeus and St. Sandukht near a field of Shavarshan, sometime in the 4th or early 5th century.
St. Bartholomew arrived in Armenia after preaching in Persia, during the 29th year of King Sanatruk’s reign. Here he converted the king’s sister Voguhy and many nobles. He also was martyred by King Sanatruk’s orders in 68 A.D., in the city of Arebanos, which was situated between the Lakes Van and Urmia.
Near the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd centuries, members of the Voskyan and Sukiasian families continued the preaching of St. Thaddeus. A portion of the history about the martyrdom of these Saints has been preserved until today. The author of the historic account is the historian Tatian (2nd century), who was well acquainted with all the stories of the apostles and the first Christian preachers. His references on the preachers and martyrs in Armenia are of great value.
According to the historical account, before the martyrdom of the Apostle St. Thaddeus, he converted and baptized five men, who were originally Armenian ambassadors to the Roman Empire representing King Sanatruk. After the martyrdom of St. Thaddeus, they escaped to a remote area near the mouth of the Euphates river, in the ravines of Tsaghkehats, were they remained for roughly 40 years. They were led by Voski, whose name they bore, and they are referred to collectively as the Voskyan Priests. During the reign of King Artashes, they visited his palace and began preaching the Gospel to the Royal Court. Artashes, who was at war in the East, asked the preachers to visit him again after his return, in order to continue their conversation about Christ. In the king’s absence, they converted to Christianity some princes from the country of Alan, who had come to visit Queen Satenik. Among these noblemen were members of the Queen’s family, the Sukiasian. The Voskyan Priests were martyred by the king’s sons because of their new faith. The Alan Princes having become Christians, left the palace and settled on the slopes of Mount Jrabashkh, where they lived for 44 years. By the order of the Alan king, they were martyred along with their leaders who are collectively referred to as St. Sukiasiank.
Additional information on the beginning of Christianity in Armenia is recorded in various historical accounts.
In the book "Against the Jews," written in 197 by Tertullian, he spoke of the nations who had adopted Christianity: the Parthians, Lydians, Phrygians, Cappadocians, and the Armenians. This testimony is also confirmed by the blessed St. Augustine (+430), in his work, "Against Manichaeans."
At the end of the 2nd and at the beginning of the 3rd centuries Kings Vagharsh II (186-196). Chosroes (Khosrov) I (196-216) and their successors persecuted the Christians in Armenia. These persecutions were described by Firmillian, the bishop of Cappadocian Caesarea (230-268) in his book "History of the Persecutions of the Church."
Eusebius of Caesarea mentions the letter of Dionysius, the bishop of Alexandria, "On Penitence to the Brothers Living in Armenia, whose bishop was Meruzhan" (VI, 46, 2). The letter is dated about 251-255. It proves that in the middle of the 3rd century there was an organized Christian community in Armenia, acknowledged by the universal
St. Gregory the Illuminator is the Patron Saint of the Armenian Church. He is referred to as "St. Gregory the Illuminator," or "Soorp Krikor Lousavorich" because he spread the light of Christ and converted the Armenian people to Christianity.
While Christianity was practiced in secret by a growing number of people in Armenia during the first and second centuries, it was St. Gregory (302-325) and King Trdat III (287-330) who in 301 A.D. officially proclaimed Christianity as the official religion of Armenia and thus made Armenia the first nation in world history to adopt Christianity as the state religion
The story according to the Holy Tradition is as follows: As part of a planned plot, the Persian King Ardashir I, sent a trusted friend, Anak, to Armenia, to kill King Khosrov. During a hunting trip, Anak killed the King and ran away. The loyal men of the King pursued Anak, who was subsequently killed. The dying King gave orders to exterminate Anak's family. Only one infant escaped this slaughter, and was rushed by his nurse to the city of Caesarea. This nurse happened to be a converted Christian. She brought up her charge in the Christian faith and gave him a Greek name, Gregory. St. Gregory became a devout Christian; married a Christian lady named Mariam, and had two children, Verthanes and Arsitakes.
When the Persian King heard that the King of Armenia was killed, he overran the country and established Persian rule in Armenia. Two of the children of King Khosrov were saved. The Princess Khosrovidought was taken to one of the inaccessible castles of the country, while Prince Trdat was taken to Rome. Trdat received a thorough Roman training. When he became a mature young man, able to rule a kingdom, he was sent by Rome to occupy Armenia, recover the throne of his father, and become a Roman ally.
As Trdat was returning to Armenia, most of the loyal Armenian feudal lords, who were in hiding, accompanied Trdat. St. Gregory also decided to go along with him. Nobody had any knowledge of his background or of his religious convictions. Trdat found out that St. Gregory was a well-educated, dependable and conscientious young man. He appointed him as his secretary.
After winning back Armenia, Trdat gave orders for a great and solemn celebration. During the festival, St. Gregory was ordered to lay wreaths before the statue of the goddess Mother Anahit, who was the most popular deity of the country. St. Gregory refused and confessed that he was a Christian. One of the king's ministers decided to reveal St. Gregory's secret. He told the King that St. Gregory was the son of Anak, the killer of his father King Khosrov. Trdat gave orders to torture St. Gregory. When St. Gregory stood fast, the King ordered him to be put to death by throwing him into a prison-pit (Khor Virab) in the town of Artashat to be starved to slow death.
Through divine intervention and with the assistance of someone in the Court, St. Gregory survived this terrible ordeal for thirteen years. It is thought the Princess Khosrovidought, the King's sister, had found a way to feed St. Gregory in the dungeon.
During that very year the king issued two edicts: the first ordered to arrest all the Christians in Armenia confiscating their property, the second ordered to put to death those who hid Christians. These edicts show how dangerous was Christianity for the State and for heathen religion in the country.
This undertaking of persecution revealed the presence of a group of women, who were peacefully and secretly living in the capital city of Vagharshapat. The Holy Tradition claims that a group of Roman Christian virgins ran away to the East in order to escape the persecutions of the Emperor Diocletianus. After visiting Jerusalem and paying tribute to the holy places, the virgins came to Edessa, then crossed the frontiers of Armenia and settled down in vineyards not far from Vagharshapat. The leader of these pious women was Gayané. There was also among them a beautiful maiden called Hripsimé, who King Trdat wanted to have as his concubine. Hripsimé refused and resisted the King's advances and finally fled from the Palace. This was too much for King Trdat and he mercilessly ordered to have all the women killed. They were 32 in number. Gayane, the mentor of the virgins and two others living in the southern part of the town and a sick virgin were tormented in the vineyards. The execution of the Hripsimian virgins took place in 300/301. This slaughter of innocent women and his frustration at being rejected threw the King into melancholy and finally made him insane. He could not attend the affairs of the state. In the 5th century people called this "pig’s illness", which is why sculptors portray the king with a pig’s head.
His sister, Khosrovidukht, did everything to bring her brother back to his senses. Then one day in a dream, she saw St. Gregory coming out of the dungeon and healing her brother. She told the people at the Court of her dream, and revealed that he was alive. They sent men to the dungeon to bring him out. As he emerged, out came a man with a long beard, dirty clothes and darkened face. But his face was shining with a strange and strong light. He immediately gathered and buried the remains of the virgin-martyrs and thereafter preached the Gospel for a period of time and healed the King. Trdat III proclaimed Christianity as the state religion of Armenia after which the entire royal court was baptized. King Trdat was cured and became a new man. He said to St. Gregory: "Your God is my God, your religion is my religion." From that moment until their death they remained faithful friends and worked together, each in his own way, for the establishment of the Kingdom of God in Armenia.
Establishment of the Armenian Church
St. Gregory the Illuminator organized the hierarchy of the Armenian Church according to the principles of the Armenian state administrative system. He ordained a bishop for every principality.
These bishops were under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Bishop of Armenia, who was soon called the Catholicos of the Armenians. So the structure of the hierarchy of the Armenian Church was organized being based on local conditions and independently from those processes that took place in the Churches of the Roman Empire, where in 325 the Metropolitan system of hierarchy was established in the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea and in 381, during the second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople, the Patriarchal system.
Although there were many other bishops in Armenia long before St. Gregory, he became the first "Catholicos of All Armenians." He governed the Armenian Church for roughly 25 years. Gregory died, shortly after the First Ecumenical Council of the Universal Church was convened in the city of Nicaea. His son Aristakes, who was ordained a Bishop by him, attended this famous Church Council as the representative of the Armenian Church, because his father was too old to attend. It was in this Council that the Creed of the Christian Church (Nicene Creed) was formulated.
The Christianized Armenian State had to defend its religion against the Roman Empire. Eusebius of Caesarea testifies that Emperor Maximin (305-313) declared war on the Armenians "who had been the friends and allies of Rome. He tried to make the Armenians, those fervent Christians, sacrifice to idols and demons, thus making them foes instead of friends, and enemies instead of allies. He himself, together with his army, was defeated in the war with the Armenians" (IX, 8,2,4). Maximin attacked Armenia on the last days of his life, in 312/313. During 10 years Christianity had taken such deep roots in Armenia that the Armenians struggled against the powerful Roman Empire for the sake of their new faith.
Armenia was a feudal country at that time. The head of the State was the king who at the same time was the lord of the central region of Ayrarat. The king’s vassals were princes, who inherited the rule of their regions or provinces and had their own armies and thrones in the king’s palace, according to their ranking.
During the reign of St. Gregory, King Urnair of Aghvank (Caucasian Albania) adopted Christianity. After the death of the first bishop of Aghvank, a Roman by origin, ordained by St. Gregory, Grigoris, the son of Catholicos Vrthanes, became the bishop of Aghvank. Restoring the Church of Tzur Grigoris left for the country of Mascuts to preach the Gospel. He was martyred there in 337 by the order of King Sanesan Arshakuny. Undoubtedly the martyrdom of Grigoris was connected with the persecution of Christians undertaken by King Shapur II of Persia. The relics of St. Gregory were buried by his disciples in Amaras, Artzakh, which later became an Episcopal See.
In 353 Armenian nobles unanimously elected prince Nerses, the grandson of Catholicos Husik (341-347) as Catholicos.
A year later Catholicos Nerses convened a Council in Ashtishat, which is known in the history as the First Armenian National-Ecclesiastical Council.
The Council decided to organize homes for the poor, established orphanages, hospitals, leprosariums and other caring institutions in different regions of Armenia. The Council also decided to establish monasteries, convents for women and schools.
The Council prohibited to bury the dead according to the pagan tradition by crying and wailing, tearing one’s clothes, thus upholding the Christian belief in life after death. It also prohibited marriage with close relatives. It recommended to give up drinking, it forbade corruption, debauchery, murder and it advised to be merciful to one’s servants and not to burden people with heavy taxes.
In the Council of Ashtishat the question of Arianism was discussed. It is known that in the first Ecumenical Council of Nicaea the definition of Christ’s divinity was adopted. Catholicos Aristakes (325-333) brought the Nicene Creed to Armenia, and it was adopted by St. Gregory the Illuminator. Several years later in the Roman Empire different factions of Arianism were prospering supported by the State. Among Armenian bishops there were also adherents to the doctrine of Arius. The Council of Ashtishat once again condemned Arianism and proclaimed its firm commitment to the Nicene Creed.
Catholicos Nerses succeeded in putting into practice the decisions of the First National-Ecclesiastical Council, a feat for which he later was called Nerses the Great.
Progression of the Faith
In 387 Armenia was divided between Byzantium and Persia. The Byzantine Armenia, which included the region of Greater Hayk, soon after the fall of the Armenian rule, was governed by viceroys appointed by Byzantium. In Eastern Armenia, which was under the control of Persia, the kings of the dynasty of Arshakunies ruled for 40 more years.
During that very period of testing times "the golden age" of the Armenian literature flourished.
Creation of the Armenian Alphabet
In Armenia, Christian services were conducted in two languages/ in Greek and Syriac. Naturally common people did not understand the service, although special interpreters translated lections from the Scripture into Armenian. In order to master the nation’s soul and conscience, it was indispensable for Christianity to be preached in the native language. Archimandrite (Vardapet) Mesrop Mashtots clearly realized this necessity when he was fighting with the remnants of heathenism in Goghtn. Mashtots was inspired by the idea of inventing the Armenian alphabet, in which task he was supported by Catholicos Sahak (387-436). After continuous and zealous work St. Mesrop, with divine revelation, invented the alphabet in 405. The first sentence translated into Armenian was: "That men may know wisdom and instruction, understand words of insight" (Proverbs 1.1).
Understanding truly the meaning of this admonition, the Armenian nation, during its whole history, used the Armenian alphabet as a weapon in fighting against foreign conquerors.
With the help of the Catholicos and the king, St. Mesrop Mashtots established schools in different parts of Armenia. Literature in translation and in the native language began to develop in Armenia. Catholicos Sahak the Parthian was at the head of the task of the translations. The Bible was first translated from the Syriac and then from the Greek into Armenian. At the same time the Catholicos sent his best students to famous cultural centers of that time: Edessa, Amida, Alexandria, Athens, Constantinople and other cities to pursue advanced studies in Syriac and Greek and to translate the works of the Church Fathers.
In a short period all, the basic theological works were translated from Syriac and Greek into Armenian. Those were the works of Irenaeus of Lyon, Hippolytus of Bostre, Gregory Thaumaturgus, Athanasius of Alexandria, Epiphan of Cyprus, Eusebius of Caesarea, Cyril of Jerusalem, Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, Gregory of Nyssa, Ephrem the Syrian, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, as well as the works of Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle, Platon.
Parallel with the activity of translations original literature in different realms, theological, moral, exegetical, apologetic, historical were being created.
Among the Armenian Church Fathers of the 5th century the following are worth mentioning.
Koryun is one of the first students of Mashtots. In 430 he left for Byzantium to study the Greek language and returned Armenia in 434. Apart from the translations of the works of Church Fathers, "The Life of Mashtots" also belongs to his pen, written in 443-449, at the request of Catholicos Hovsep. This work describes the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the propagation of education and enlightenment in Armenia. "Collection of 23 Sermons", ascribed to St. Gregory the Illuminator, has been preserved until today. However some scholars think that these sermons were written in the first half of the 5th century, probably by St. Mesrop Mashtots.
Eznik of Kolb also is one of Mashtots’ first students. In 427 he was sent to Edessa to improve his knowledge of Syriac and in order to translate books. Then he went to Byzantium for the same reasons. In 434 he returned to his homeland and under the guidance of the Catholicos Sahak, revised the translation of the Bible. He took part in the Council of Artashat in 449, as the bishop of Bagrevand. Eznik of Kolb is the author of "The Book of Refutation of Sects." This is the pearl of the Armenian Church literature, where the author speaks against the dualistic Zoroastrian conception of good and evil as the dual origin of all Creation. The work includes chapters against the Persian religion of mazdeism, against the Greek polytheism, against the atheism of Epicure and others, against the Gnostic dualism, the everlasting existence of the substance like God, against the heresy of Markion.
Eghishe studied in Alexandria. He went on a pilgrimage to the holy places in Palestine, and then participated in the Council of Shahapivan in 444. He is the author of numerous works, among them the following are worth mentioning: "Regarding Vardan and the Armenian War", which is one of the masterpieces of historical writings; "The interpretation of Genesis; Joshua; Judges", "Lord Appears on Mount Tabor"; "Teachings about Christ’s Passions, Crucifixion, Burial and Resurrection", "Regarding the Human Spirit".
Agathangelos is the author of the history of Armenian conversion to Christianity, composed between 461-465, based on the early written sources. This book also includes, "Teaching of the Illuminator", written in 440s.
Phaustos Buzand wrote "The History of Armenia" in the 70s of the 5th century, where he describes the political and Church life of Armenia between 330-387. This work is a precious source of information on the history of the Armenian Church of that period.
Movses Khorenatsy was the disciple of St. Sahak and St. Mesrop. After studying Greek and philosophy in Alexandria, Greece and Rome he returned Armenia in 440. His principal work "The History of Armenia" was written in the second half of the 5th century. Until the 19th century it was used as the basic textbook in all Armenian schools and higher educational institutions.
Mambre Vertzanogh is considered to be the younger brother of Movses Khorenatzy. Some of his sermons have been preserved until today. They consist of "Regarding the Resurrection of Lazarus","Regarding the Birth of the Savior", "Regarding the Entry of the Lord to Jerusalem".
Lazar Parpetsy wrote "The History of Armenia" at the end of the 5th century, which was the continuation of "The History of Armenia" of Phaustos Buzand and it covers the years 387-485.
Hovhan Mandakouny was the Catholicos of Armenia during 478-490. He inspired the commander-in-chief, Vahan Mamikonian, to fight against the propagation of the Persian religion of Zoroastrianism. He is the author of numerous prayers, canons and homilies.
The achievements of the translators and the writers of the 5th century Armenian literature is so important in the national culture that the Armenian Church canonized them and every year celebrates their memory.
Armenia has been under the influence of either Byzantium or Persia since ancient times. Beginning with the 4th century, when Christianity became the state religion first in Armenia, then in Byzantium, the sympathy of the Armenians turned to the West, to their Christian neighbor.
Realizing this well the Persian kings, from time to time, tried to uproot Christianity in Armenia and to propagate Zoroastrianism forcibly.
Some princes, especially the masters of the southern regions, which had common borders with Persia, shared the goals of the Persians. Two political factions were formed in Armenia/ byzantinophiles and persophiles.
During 330-340 the Persian king Shapur II began persecuting the Christians. According to the Persian and Armenian sources thousands of people were martyred during that period. Shapur II attacked Armenia in 337 in order to exterminate the new faith. He won over the princes of Bzhnuny, Aghdzny and others by promising them various positions. But the Armenian troops, under the leadership of the commander-in-chief, Vatche Mamikonian, struck a destructive blow to the enemy.
The next year Shapur II, having gathered a greater army, again headed for Armenia. The Armenian troops went to meet him. The commander-in-chief, Vatche Mamikonian, died in the fierce battle, Catholicos Verthanes, wishing to immortalize those who had died "for the sake of the Fatherland, the Church and the Faith", established a day of commemoration for the Mamikonian martyrs.
Until the end of the 4th century the Persian court kept trying to convert Armenia to Zoroastrianism through fire and sword, but the brave commanders-in-chief, Vasak, Moushegh and Manvel, with God’s help were successful to assert their nation’s right to uphold Christianity.
In the middle of the 5th century the Persian court once again, this time very resolutely, tried to have the Armenians renounce their faith. In 448 Yezdegerd II (438-457) sent a message to Armenia demanding them to adopt Zoroastrianism. In 449 a National-Ecclesiastical Council was convened in Artashat in order to respond to the message of Yezdegerd. The Council replied that in state matters the Armenians admitted the power of the Persian king, but in the matters of faith they admitted only God’s power. "Nobody can move us away from this faith, neither angels, nor people, nor sword, nor fire, nor water, nor any severe ordeal. For we have a covenant of faith not with human beings, in order to lie to you like children, but an indissoluble vow with God, from whom it is impossible to stay away neither now, nor tomorrow, nor for ever and ever" (Eghishe II, 40-41). In this way the Council refused the proposal of adopting Zoroastrianism.
Battle of Avarayr
In May 451 the famous battle of Avarayr took place. Under the leadership of the commander-in-chief, Vardan Mamikonian, 66 thousand Armenian soldiers, women, monks and old people resisted the Persian army, which had 200 thousand soldiers.
The battle of Avarayr was the first example of armed self-defense of Christianity in the world history, when light and darkness, life and death, faith and renunciation resisted each other, when once again the word of the Gospel was affirmed:"… unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit" (John 12.24).
The Armenians went to their death with the slogan/ "Unconscious death is death, conscious death is immortality". The historian Eghishe, who lived during that period, wrote that there were neither winners nor losers in the battle of Avarayr. Though the Armenian troops were defeated and had losses, the battle of Avarayr ennobled and strengthened the spirit of the Armenians so much that they were able to survive forever.
The commander-in-chief, Vardan Mamikonian, the grandson of Catholicos Sahak the Great, sanctified the Armenian land through his blood and fortified Christianity in Armenia. The Armenian Church canonized Vardan and the 1036 warriors who had died with him on the battlefield of Avarayr.
During the following 30 years, in the struggle against Persia the Armenians asserted their right to be faithful to Christianity, and in 484, the peace treaty of Nvarsak was signed between Armenia and Persia, in which the Persians acknowledged the right of the Armenian nation to practice Christianity freely.
In the early days of the Universal Church there arose a need to convene the hierarchy of the Church in a formal setting. The purpose was to make decisions regarding dogmatic issues facing the Church and to address the dissenters and sect movements.
The first three meetings convened by the Universal Church are referred to as Ecumenical Councils. During her history the Armenian Church participated in and accepted the decisions of these three Ecumenical Councils - the first council was the Nicaean Council held in 325 AD, the second was the Constantinople Council in 381 AD and the third the Ephesus Ecumenical Council in 431 AD. All are listed on our church calendar.
In addition to attending the Ecumenical Councils, the Armenian Church convened many Church Councils where high-ranking church clergy gathered to make decisions over the inner order and structure of the Church, internal issues facing the church, and to answer various other questions. In addition to the Armenian Church Councils, there were also National Councils which were attended by both the secular and clerical hierarchies of the Armenian Nation. At times both secular and religious issues were discussed at these councils. And finally other Councils were convened and held by various Churches, some of whose decisions were recognized and accepted by the Armenian Church
Ecumenical Councils are those which took place before the first division of the Universal Christian Church. Almost all the bishops of the time participated in these councils and the decisions and canons adopted by the councils were recognized by the Universal Church.
The Armenian Church recognizes the Ecumenical Councils of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381), and Ephesus (431). The decisions and the dogmatic formulations of these councils are the basis of the theological thought of the Armenian Church which help her to protect herself against different sects and religious denominations which threatened her in the past as well as today.
Some councils which were recognized by the Latin and Byzantine Orthodox Churches as Ecumenical were denied according to the councils of the Armenian Church.
The councils which were not recognized by the Armenian Church as Ecumenical are the following: the Council of Chalcedon (451), the Second Council of Constantinople (553), the Third Council of Constantinople (681) and the Second Council of Nicaea (787).
In the first Ecumenical Council in Nicaea (325) and in the second Ecumenical Council in Constantinople (381) the dogmas about Christ’s Divinity and Holy Trinity were defined precisely. The following theological problem, in which the Church of Christ was seriously engaged for a long time, is the question of unity of human and divine natures in Christ. In 431 the third Ecumenical Council in Ephesus (431) under the leadership of St. Cyril of Alexandria condemned Nestorius’s teaching about two natures and two persons of Christ.
After the Third Ecumenical Council the adherents of Nestorius found refuge in Persia, began to translate and spread the works of the teachers of Nestorius, Diodore of Tarsus and Theodore of Mopsuestia, who were not condemned in the Council of Ephesus. Acacius, the bishop of Melitene and Proclus, the Patriarch of Constantinople warned Armenian Catholicos Sahak in their letters. In messages sent in response Catholicos Sahak wrote that the preachers of such heresy had not appeared in Armenia yet. In those letters, Armenian Christology was based on the teachings of the Alexandrian school. St. Sahak’s letter addressed to Patriarch Proclus, as an example of Orthodoxy was read in the fifth Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 553.
Koryun, the author of Mashtots’ life, testifies that "deceitful books, nonsensical traditions of a certain Theodore appeared in Armenia". Learning about it St. Sahak and St. Mesrop immediately took measures to condemn the propagators of that heretical teaching and to destroy their writings. Certainly this refers to the works of Theodore of Mopsuestia.
In 451 at the Council of Chalcedon a new definition of faith about Christ’s "two natures" was adopted.
The Armenian Church, engaged in a tense struggle against the Persian Zoroastrian religion, did not have the opportunity to follow closely the Christological disputes that took place in the Byzantine Empire and to determine her position. Armenia and the Armenian Church scarcely took a breath during that period, when Vahan Mamikonian became the governor of Armenia (Marzpan). At that time the Christian Church was divided into three branches with three different definitions of faith: Chalcedonian teaching predominated in Rome and in all the West, Miaphysitism in the spirit of Henoticon of the Byzantine emperor Zeno (474-475, 476-491) - in Byzantium and Nestorianism - in Persia.
In the first Council of Dvin (506), in which Babgen, the Catholicos of Armenia (490-516) with 32 bishops, Gabriel, the Catholicos of Georgia with 33 bishops and the bishops of Aghvank participated, the Henoticon was officially adopted by the Armenian and neighboring Churches. Nestorianism, as well as the definition of faith of the Council of Chalcedon as a factor contributing to the development of Nestorianism, were condemned in the same Council.
In 518 Justinian I (518-527) rose to the throne of the Byzantine Empire. He condemned the Henoticon of Zeno, wishing to restore the disturbed relations with Rome and proclaimed the Council of Chalcedon as Holy and Ecumenical.
The Armenian Church, being beyond the boundaries of the Empire, was free of the pressure of Byzantium’s imperial power. The definition of faith of the Council of Chalcedon, which was adopted in Byzantium, was unable to influence the Armenian Church
Armenian Church Councils
In the early days of the Universal Church there arose a need to convene the hierarchy of the Church in a formal setting. The purpose was to make decisions regarding dogmatic issues facing the Church and to address the dissenters and sect movements.
The first three meetings convened by the Universal Church are called Ecumenical Councils. During her history the Armenian Church participated in and accepted the decisions of these three Ecumenical Councils - the first council was the Nicaean Council held in 325 AD, the second was the Constantinople Council in 381 AD and the third the Ephesus Ecumenical Council in 431 AD. All are recognized on our church calendar.
Councils which were local in nature whose decisions didn’t affect the Universal Church but were ratified only by one or several churches belonging to the Universal Church are called local or particular councils. Some local councils which are recognized together with their canons by the Armenian Church are the following: the Councils of Ankiuria (314), Neocaesarea (approx. 319), Gangra (approx. 340), Assyrian (or of Assyria) Antioch (341), Laodicean of Phrygia (343-381 (360)), Sardica (a. 343).
Besides attending the Ecumenical and Local Councils the Armenian Church convened many National Church Councils, where high-ranking church clergy gathered to make decisions over the inner order and structure of the Church, internal issues facing the church, and to answer various other questions. After the first three Ecumenical Councils it is through these National Church Councils that the Armenian Church expressed her official viewpoint on the theological, rite, canonical, administrative-organizational and other issues of the church.
Listed below is brief information about the Armenian Church’s most significant councils.
Councils of Ashtishat (352, 354, 435)
Convened by Nerses the Great in the city of Ashtishat, the Council was assembled to discuss several issues concerning the church and to review general aspects of Christian doctrine. The second part of the meeting was held In 374 to continue with the discussion of the same items. For the purpose of general regulation the councils at first accepted the canons called apostolic canons and then established definite canons for local needs. Here is a review of some that are significant:
• To open orphanages and homes for the poor in suitable places.
• To open inns in villages and provinces, so that the guests and foreigners wouldn’t be left without a place to dwell.
• To open hospitals and leprosariums. For these benevolent institutions the council set up taxes from crops, cattle, etc., supervisors were appointed for the trust work.
• To prohibit the burial of the dead with heathen traditions; the tearing of clothes, roaring loudly, but to believe in Resurrection and in the life after death.
• To be faithful to each other in married life, to avoid the marriages between the relatives.
• To stay away from alcoholism, prostitution, killing, etc.
• To establish monasteries and convents.
The 3rd council meeting was called in 435 by the efforts of Catholicos Sahag I and Mesrob Mashtots to discuss the decisions of the 3rd Universal Council of Ephesus and accept their decisions.
Shahapivan Council (444)
It was convened by Catholicos Saint Hovsep I. 20 bishops, many eminent clergymen, as well as the Govenor Vahan (Marzpan), Commander Vahan, Vardan Mamikonian, and numerous other noblemen in the Middle Ages in Armenia (nakharars) were in attendance.
The Council is known in history for the strictness of its decisions, especially towards the members of the Mtsghni sect who became very active after the death of Saints Mashtots and Sahag. The Council accepted 20 canons the greater part of which concern the clergy; Bishops, Reverend Fathers and Deacons. It regulated their inner life and established severe punishments in cases of violation. The acceptable degrees of marriage were established (after 4 generations, canon Number 13). It strictly prohibited both laymen and clergy from turning to witches and sorcerers. The canons concerning the members of Mtsghni sect were also strict. (Canon Numbers 19 -20).
The severity of this council was supposed to bring an end to the activities and events which were dangerous for the newly established church.
The Shahapivan council initiated the political rights of the Armenian Church and as such can be considered the first code of law in the Armenian nation.
Artashat Council (449)
The Council of Artashat was convened as an answer to Hazkert’s letter. With the help of the Armenians and the Armenian Church, the nation prepared for the battle of Vardan and his Companions. The content of that letter is represented in Eghishe’s History in detail.
The First Council of Dvin (506)
The synod of the Armenian, Georgian, and Caspian-Albanian bishops assembled at Dvin during the reign of Catholicos Babken I. The participation of the Catholicoi of Georgia and Albania were set to make clear the position of the churches concerning the Chalcedonic Council. The "Book of Epestles" mentions that 20 bishops, 14 laymen, and many nakharars participated in the council. The involvement in the council discussion of different level of lay persons seemed to be a general rule in Armenia.
The Second Council of Dvin (551)
The second Council of Dvin was ordered by Catholicos Nerses II of Bagrevand where definite rules and regulations were established and the Armenian Church Calendar was set.
18 bishops and nakharars took part in the council. The Chalcedonic Council decisions were officially denied during this Council and thus the ties with the Chalcedonic Churches were severed. The observance of the feast of Holy Nativity and Theophany was reinstated for January 6. The handwritten document, "The Vow of the Unanimity of the Armenian Land" was accepted. Nestorianism, and the Messelians and the Paulicians were all refuted and strict decrees were issued against them. The previously accepted 37 canons were established in the "Regulation of Armenia" as the canons of "Catholicos Nerses and Bishop Nershapouh of Mamikonians". Here are few of them: the 16th canon prohibits women to stand beside the priest and conduct services. According to the 19th canon in cases where the priest reveals the confession of someone, he is to renounce his holy orders. The 29th canon bans giving lodging and shelter to the members of any sect.
The Third Council of Dvin (609-610)
The 3rd Council of Dvin was convened during the reign of Catholicos Abraham I of Aghbatank and Prince Smbat Bagratooni, with clergymen and laymen participating. The Georgian Church was split from the Armenian Church and the Catholicos had repeatedly tried to turn to Catholicos Kurion of the Georgian Church. The council was convened to clarify the relationship of the Armenian Church towards the Georgian Church. After the Council, Catholicos Abraham wrote an encyclical letter addressed to the people where he blamed Kurion and his adherents for the split. The Council never set up canons; it only deprived Georgians from taking communion in the Armenian Church.
The Council of Karin (633)
Emperor Heraclius and Catholicos Yezr I met to discuss Armenian Byzantine church relations. The dogma of the one nature of Christ was accepted in the council as a bridge between Chalcedony and those who didn’t accept it. But later this dogma was renounced in the 6th Ecumenical Council. It also found no dogmatic ground in Armenia. The letter which had been signed by Catholicos Yezr was more a political obligation than a religious conviction.
The Fourth Council of Dvin (645)
It was convened during the Pontificate of Nerses III of Tayk. Seventeen bishops and many nakharars took part in it. Twelve canons were accepted (in the decree known as "The Canon of the Holy Council of Dvin"). The decree contained canons regulating the inner life of the church; and it established rights for the leaders of the church.
The Fifth Council of Dvin (648)
It was convened during the reign of Nerses III of Tayk. All the bishops and nakharars took part in the Council. The Council was summoned to give an answer to the Byzantine Emperor’s letter concerning the adoption of Chalcedony. The Council also planned to prepare a manual of faith for the faithful so that they would be ready to respond to those who followed the beliefs of Chalcedon. The Council also established twelve canons which regulated the rights and responsibilities of Bishops and the issue of financial provisions to the priests. In the sphere of marital rights it was stated to approve second marriages in cases where one of the spouses remained in oblivion and isolation for more than 7 years.
The First Council of Partav (709)
It was convened to discuss the matter of the Catholicos of Aghvank, Nerses Bakour, who was following the teachings of Chalcedon. Through the efforts of Catholicos Yeghia I, a confession message was created where the unanimity of the Armenian and Albanian churches concerning all the confession questions was established.
The Sixth Council of Dvin (719-720)
It was convened during the Pontificate of Hovhannes III of Odzoon. The council put the scattered canon decisions in the correct order and organized the "Regulations". 32 canons were established. Here the order of the services was regulated, some ritual canons were reestablished (Unlike the Greeks the observance of the Holy Nativity and Theophany and Epiphany was on the same day, on the 6th of January). Canons were set up against the sect movements of the Paulicians and Docetism. It was also ordered to revere the anointed cross and Savior images and to stay away from the members of sects (29th -30th canons).
The Council of Manazkert (719)
At this council some dogmatic questions were discussed which had been raised in the Assyrian Church, and led to divergence. The famous Armenian Theologian Translator Khosrovik took part in this Council. The goal of this council was to amend the divergences that had occurred between the two churches concerning the purity of the Savior’s body. The Assyrians accused the Armenians of following the teaching of Julian of Halicarnassus and the Armenians in their turn accused the Assyrians of following the teachings of Severus of Antioch.
The Council established 10 anathemas which refuted the teachings of Julian of Halicarnas and Severus of Antioch and their followers and reestablished the orthodox teaching of the Holy Trinity. As a result an alliance was created between the Armenian and Assyrian churches.
The Second Council of Partev (771)
It was convened by Sion I of Bavonk. The representatives of the Aghvank church also took part in the Council as Partav is the Headquarters of the Albanian Catholicosate. The council adopted 24 canons which concerned the church order and the rights and responsibilities of the clergymen. For example the 11th canon prohibited marriages with pagans, the 13th Canon - prohibits the second marriage, the 16th canon prohibits the marriage between relatives up to the 4th generation. The 24th canon established the canon of the Old Testament.
The Council of Shirakavan
The primary reason for convening the Council of Shirak was a letter to the Armenians received from Patriarch Photius of Constantinople concerning the adoption of chalcedony. Patriarch Photius had repeatedly tried to convert the Armenians living in his territory to Chalcedony and had unleashed persecution against Armenians. Catholicos Zachariah I of Dzak wrote a letter to Patriarch Photius stating that the Armenian faith was in agreement with the decisions of the first three Ecumenical Councils. In his reply letter Patriarch Photius tried to prove the orthodox character of Chalcedony and once again suggested that the Armenians should adopt Chalcedony. The Council of Shirak renounced Patriarch Photius’ suggestion and after stating the faith of the Armenian Church in 15 anathema, sent the reply to Patriarch Photius.
The First and Second Councils of Hark (1002, 1051)
These two councils refuted the Tondrakian movement. The first Council anathematized Bishop Hakob of Hark after accusing him of being adherent to the Tondrakian movement. The actions of these councils were of strategic significance in stopping the further spread of sect movement in Armenia.
The Council of Black Mountain (1114)
This council was to solve the disputes which arose regarding the Patriarchal See. The election and authority of Catholicos’ Grigor Pahlavouni was called into question by Bishop David Artsrouni of Aghtamar, because of the Catholicos young age. Bishop David was ordained Catholicos of the opposite See by several bishops who were in agreement with Bishop David. The council gathered the attention and participation of 2,500 clergymen, princes, nakharars and laymen. The council officially recognized Catholicos Grigor I Pahlavouni as the legal Catholicos. Bishop David could not agree with the decision of the Council and established the Catholicosate of Aghtamar. The action of this Council was to require that the election of the Armenian Catholicos could be considered valid only upon the agreement or ratification of the four Episcopal Sees of Armenia (Bjni, Haghpat, Artaz, Datev).
The Council of Rhomkla (1179)
The Council of Rhomkla was convened during the Pontificate of Catholicos Grigor IV Tgha to discuss the issue of unity between the Armenian and Greek churches. The relations between the two churches were strained, and the Greek Church demanded the adoption of a Chalcedonic Resolution and the additional Ecumenical Councils, which were not recognized or accepted by the Armenian Church. The Armenians were against accepting such a condition. 33 clergymen from Great Hayk and Cilicia were present at the Council. The Catholicos of Aghvank and the representatives of the Assyrian Patriarchate were also in attendance. The Bishop of Tarson Nerses of Lambron, the protector of peace and concord was present at the Council. On the one hand this Council condemned Monophysitism on the other hand it renounced also Diophysitism, the teaching that preached two wills, two influences, remaining faithful to the traditional belief of the Armenian Church.
The Council of Tarson (1196)
The Council of Tarson was convened during the Pontificate of Grigor VI Apirat, to continue the discussions on the problems between the Greek and Armenian Churches. The Council members adopted several suggestions offered by the Roman Catholic Church. Nerses of Lambron was the primary supporter of these actions, who at that time saw their acceptance as the only way path to reconciliation. But some points that were suggested by the Armenians to the Roman Catholic Church were never adopted. Also noteworthy is that no Archimandrites from Greater Armenia took part in the Council.
The Church Councils of Sis
The Church Councils of Sis were convened during the XIII-XIV centuries in the city Sis, which was then the capital city of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia.
The First Council of Sis (1204)
The First Council of Sis was convened upon the initiative of Catholicos Hovhannes VI of Sis, during which questions regarding the rituals were discussed and eight canons were adopted. The Armenian brother Princes Ivane and Zachariah were among the most influential figures of the time and Ivane’s conversion to the Greek faith posed a serious threat for the independence of the Armenian Church both in the Church and political spheres. With this in mind, Catholicos Hovhannes VI agreed to discuss the suggestions of Zachariah at the Council. The Council adopted eight canons, which allowed the following:
• Canon A – To allow for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated in the open air, under a tent as in the Georgian Church.
• Canon B - To observe the feasts of Annunciation of the Holy Virgin Mary on the 6th of April, the Assumption of the Holy Mother of God on the 15th of August, and the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross on the 14th of September as in the Georgian Church.
• Canon C - To adopt the tradition of paying tribute to icons.
• Canon D - To offer the Divine Liturgy not only for those who rest in eternal sleep, but also for those who are alive, as in the Georgian, Greek and Assyrian Churches.
• Canon E - To prohibit Armenian clergymen from eating meat in response to accusations the Georgian Church.
• Canon F - To order the Armenian clergymen to live in cloisters and have no property.
These canons were adopted to guarantee the independence of the Armenian Church and to avoid further conflicts with the other Churches. But most of the Oriental Archimandrites refused to even hear the decisions of the Council, and the protest caused the clergy to divide broke into two factions.
In order to resolve the differences, Prince Zachariah called a Council in Ani with the participation of Oriental Archimandrites (among them Mkhitar Gosh). The Council renounced the decisions taken by Sis, and considered it an adoption of Chalcedony. However, Prince Zachariah continued to abide by the canons of the Council, implementing them for the Armenians serving in the Georgian army.
The Second Council of Sis (1243)
The Second Council of Sis was called to discuss questionable conduct which was being reflected in the actions of laymen and clergy. The Council adopted 24 canons in order to improve on the morals and principles of the people. Particularly the number of generation separation allowed for marriage between relatives was changed to 6 (the prior level had been 4). The bridegroom was to be a minimum of fourteen years of age, and the bride a minimum of twelve years of age. Prostitution and adultery were denounced.
The Third Council of Sis (1251)
The Third Council of Sis was devoted to the discussion of the teaching of the theological formula of Filioque, which had been presented by the Pope of Rome who requested that the theory be accepted. The Council did not come to a final answer and the Pope’s suggestion was addressed to the Oriental Archimandrites for discussion. The Oriental Archimandrites finally renounced and never adopted the formula.
The Fourth Council of Sis (1289)
The Fourth Council of Sis addressed a political problem rather than a church one. Catholicos Constantine II of Katouk resisted and opposed the suggestion of Pope Nicolas IV of Rome the adoption of the Roman faith by the Armenians. His rejection of the suggestion caused King Hethum and Bishop Grigor of Anavarz to convene the council and proclaim the Catholicos dethroned.
The Fifth Council of Sis (1307)
The Fifth Council of Sis discussed the suggestions of Pope Crèmes IV of Rome, the adoption of the Roman faith in exchange for rendering military assistance to Armenia. Under the pressure of King Levon IV and the newly elected Catholicos Constantine III of Caesarea, the Council adopted the Roman faith and, agreed to join the Roman Church. The oriental Archimandrites opposed the decision of the Council and did not obey. A period of rebellion began which was followed by the sixth Council of Sis and the Council of Adana.
The Sixth Council of Sis (1309)
The Sixth Council of Sis has held to specifically renounce the decisions of the 5th Council of Sis, whereby the Armenian Church was to join the Roman Catholic Church. The original decisions were never adopted by the Oriental Archimandrites and the decision was only enacted on paper.
The Seventh Council of Sis (1345)
The Seventh Council of Sis was convened by Mekhitar I of Grner. In expectation of receiving military assistance from the West it formally accepted the motion of the Pope of Rome to join the Catholic Chu<