Teachings

~

 

St Nerses_1

~

 

“EXPOSITION OF THE FAITH OF THE CHURCH OF ARMENIA”

~

~

Prepared by order of Emperor Manuel I Comnene, in the year 1166, by the Patriarch Nerses IV Shnorhali (the Gracious) Catholicos of Armenia.

~

Though the poverty of ideas and words does not allow us to engage in abstract discussions above our strength, and to spread in the sea of your acquaintances one more drop, nor to add to your heavenly wisdom a dim ray of our intelligence. However, the order of your Imperial Majesty, which has been transmitted to us by a servant of his court, has inspired our humility the boldness of presenting here in writing the explanation of the dogmas of our faith.
Besides, the divine law requires us to give what we possess, whether very much or little, to the one who asks. If we must give to everyone, this precept must be observed even more with regard to the greatest of us all. It is therefore with pleasure that we fulfill this duty imposed upon us. It is not a new construction of which we lay the foundations, but we show a building built with perfect materials, which fire can not attack, based on the foundations led by the apostles, prophets [1] and orthodox doctors.
It is not an artificial eloquence that animates us, but the truth of the Holy Spirit, as it has been taught to us by those who received its inspiratory breath. We want to expose our ideas, without seeking to hide the darkness of heresy under the luminous appearance of true faith, as we imagine in our regard those who themselves have this criminal habit; and we will record in writing what is contained in the secret of our soul, taking as witness the Holy Spirit who scrutinizes the hearts, and judges and deepens everything.
Although in the past we have submitted to the estimation of an eminently pious prince the explanation of our faith [2], which you have read yourself, and though we consider it superfluous to repeat the same things, reminding ourselves of the counsel of the one who said that the prolixity is fatigued [3]. Nevertheless, as this statement is required by your Majesty’s order, we are ready to obey and add to what we have said before, so that a second and third repetition brings out the truth of our words. We will begin with the point that first calls our attention.
~
~
DOGMAS
~
Instructed by the holy Doctors of the Church, we confess that God the Father is distinct as a person, that he is without beginning and eternal, that God the Son is born of the eternal Father, not in the manner of creatures, but outside of time, and that the Holy Spirit emanates and proceeds from the Father by an ineffable mode.
The Father is named Father, because he is the cause of the birth of the Son, and the procession of the Holy Spirit.
The Son is named Son, not because of a material birth like ours, as the blind-minded believe, but because he is from the essence of the Father and he is not a creature, his birth being ineffable and above our understanding.
He is named only Son, because no being, neither before him nor after him, proceeded in essence from the Father. He is also called Verb, because his birth is immaterial, like the idea that springs from our mind.
It is not as in the mortal condition of man and by birth that the Father is before the Son; but just as the Father is eternal, so the Son is eternal with the eternal Father, and he is co-eternal from the beginning to the end, in the same way that rays coexist with the light of the sun. For the sun does not appear before the light, but both show themselves at the same time. Likewise, the light of the Son comes from the light of the Father, and is co-eternal to him. And as there is no shine without light, nor image without original, so the Father never existed without the Son, nor the Son without the Father; the Son being the splendor of his glory and the reflection of his substance. Glory is God, and the splendor of His glory is the Son. The original is the Father, and the visible image of God the Father is the Son. This is why we recognize the Son as consubstantial with the Father, and cooperating with him in creation.
We confess that the Holy Spirit is the true Spirit of God, and we do not compare him to created spirits because he has the same name; just as we do not assimilate the only-begotten Son, in essence, to those who are children of God by grace. The Holy Spirit differs from created spirits in that it must be called the Spirit of God proceeding without beginning or end, of a Father who has neither beginning nor end, from all eternity, to be perfect, incomprehensible, and unspeakable to creatures; emanating, as to its essence, from the Father alone, and by his power and by the bestowal of graces, equal to the Father and the Son, as we see by the words of the Son, when he says of the Holy Spirit: “He will not speak of himself, but he shall receive of mine and shall announce you, because all that my Father has is mine” [4].
The Holy Spirit has no beginning in time, he does not experience changes of modality, conditions to which creatures are subject; but it conceals all the depths of the mysteries of God, and reveals all that these mysteries have hidden. It is consubstantial with the Father and the Son, in its eternity, and participating in creation as equal to them in power and glory.
We confess that these three persons are contained and united in one Divinity. We do not separate them from each other in their essence, as Arius taught; but we believe and recognize in the holy Trinity one essence, one sovereignty, one power and one glory. We likewise reject the opinion of Sabellius of Libya, a disciple of the Jews, who confounded the three persons into one; but we distinguish these three persons as inseparable, and we unite them, distinguishing them one from the other, according to the orthodox doctrine of the Holy Fathers.
We confess, then, three persons, no more, no less, and one essence or nature, without dividing it in three by the number of persons; and we conform to what the Church proclaims in the hymn of Seraphim, uniting the three glorified persons into one sovereignty and divinity. For if the Father is not begotten, if the Son is begotten, and the Holy Spirit is an emanation by way of procession, it does not follow from there that they differ from one another by their essence, as Adam, Seth and Eve; for the first, not begotten, the second, born of a father, and Eve, though not begotten, but nevertheless taken from Adam, differ from each other truly by their very essence.
None of the three divine persons, who are equally adorable, prevail over the others in essence; and though the Father is called great, he is only so qualified because of his primordiality and not his essence. For by its essence it is equal to the Son and the Holy Spirit; and the divinity of the Father has never been incomplete. That is to say, at first small, and then more and more perfect; as if there were a time when he would not have been God the Father as having no son, and where he would not have been wise as not containing wisdom in himself; and as if he were weak, because he would not have had power in him (for Jesus Christ, according to the words of the Apostle, is the power and wisdom of God) [5].
As if it were irrational, because the Word would not have been with him yet, which, according to the evangelist St. John, was in the beginning with God. As if he had not been a vivifying one, because there would have been a time when he did not have the vivifying spirit with him. But the Father is always the Father, invariably having with him the Word, power, wisdom and life; and the Son is always the eternal Son of the Father, forever with him; so the Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of God, eternally with God.
The Father is the principle, and the Son and the Holy Spirit emanate from this principle, without limits of time and without cause. The Father pre-exists by himself, the Son and the Holy Spirit have their origin in the Father, but from all eternity and before all things, creators with the Father and time and all that is subject to time, beings intellectuals and material beings, called by them from nothingness to life.
We confess that only one of the three persons, the Son, acting by the will of the Father and the Holy Spirit, and announced by the Archangel Gabriel, descended on the earth created by him, but without leaving the places where he exercised his providential power, and remaining, without being diminished, in the dwelling from which he had descended. He, who was incomprehensible to creatures, wanted to shut himself up in the womb of the Virgin, and received from her a perishable body, subject to sin like ours: the soul, the spirit, and the flesh that he mingled [6] to his essence impeccable and free from corruption, and with which he was one in an indivisible manner.
He did not change the material nature of his body into an immaterial nature; but from a sinful body he made an impeccable body when he chose; from corruption, incorruptibility; from what was mortal, immortality; keeping in this union the divine nature and the human nature without confusing them. Designed and sealed for nine months in the Virgin’s womb, he was born of her without altering her immaculate virginity, holding at once of her father an immaterial birth, and of her mother a birth according to the flesh. Son of God, he became Son of man, without one being the Son of God and the other the Son of man; the hypothesis by which an only son would have made two sons, as Nestorius taught blasphemously.
For the Word did not enter the body, but he incarnated, not by a change, but by a union made in the womb of the Virgin. The Word did not materially form a body, by a creative operation, as some heterodox think. But, it received from the Virgin a body, not foreign to it, but holding of its substance. It was not in appearance that he passed through it, as through a canal, as Eutyches and his adherents falsely supposed. But, he really took a body of the substance of Adam, by a new and marvelous union, which is above all similarity.
For from the beginning of the ages there has never been such a union of the Creator and the creature; it is only in some way, and not with perfect exactitude, that we can compare the union of the soul and the body with the union of divinity and humanity, as Saint Gregory of Nyssa says, in his Book on Nature [7], in the discourse on the union of the soul and the body, where he expresses himself thus.
Porphyry, this adversary of Jesus Christ (the objections of our enemies are strong against us and have not been fought against), gives a similar testimony in his second speech. Here are his words: It can not be said that a substance is filled by a substance which is other, while preserving its greatness and unaltered its grandeur; but by bringing it together it converts it into its own nature. Porphyry says that when he refers to the union of soul and body. If these words are true to the soul, in relation to its immortality, how much right are these words in relation to the Word of God, which is truly and exactly immaterial.
We also believe that the Word, which, according to the word of St. John, became flesh, did not incarnate in losing its divine essence, but that it truly joined the body, and made flesh, while remaining immaterial, as it was from the beginning. It is not because one has been flesh [8] and the other spirit; but it is the same and only Jesus Christ who is flesh and spirit. Flesh by the humanity he has clothed, and spirit by the divinity he possessed; the same, visible and invisible, tangible and intangible, perishable and imperishable, temporal and eternal.
Son of man and Son of God, consubstantial with the Father by his divinity and consubstantial with us by his humanity. Not being, because of that, a double person, but remaining one and the same person, formed of two natures united in Jesus Christ by an indivisible union, but without confusion. Although the human mind is too feeble to probe this mystery, which is above all intelligence, yet nothing is impossible to the divine power. For if the soul and the body are the creation of God, and if these two contrary entities can form a nature such that neither one of them loses its essence by uniting, how much more is it possible to the all-powerful divine nature to become flesh and to remain immaterial, to unite with our human nature, which has been created, and to preserve intact the uncreated nature that the Word holds from the Father
Just as we confess that of two natures or substances one person was formed, and that in this union one of these two natures has not been absorbed by the other; so we admit, as to the two wills, that the divine will in Jesus Christ was not contrary to the human will, or that contrary to the divine will; but that in a single being there was a double will, according to the difference of times; that it was sometimes divine, when Christ wanted to manifest his all-powerful divinity, and sometimes human, when he wanted to show himself in the humble condition of humanity.
This double will is not a sign of antagonism, but of their mutual independence. For the human will did not oppose the divine will, as it happens in us, where the flesh has desires contrary to those of the spirit [9], but the human will was subordinated to the divine will. Indeed, when the Lord wanted it and allowed it, the body felt what was peculiar to it, as it was during the prayer that preceded the Passion, and during the temptation after the forty-day fast, when allowed human nature to feel hungry [10].
Though he has indicated a difference between the will of the Father and his own, saying: “Not as I wish, but as you wish” [11], this expression is a sign of assent, like that of a son vis-à-vis his father, not opposition. This explanation is confirmed by another passage, where he maintains the will proper to the deity, and where he removes the will of the flesh: “I came down from heaven, not to do my will, but that of my father” [12].
The words descended from heaven prove that his divinity was immaterial, and not his body, which he clothed only by coming to earth. But, besides, who will dare to separate in the divinity the will of the Son from that of the Father? If the Son, to show what is the Father’s will, says to us: “This is the will of my Father, that those who have faith in me will have eternal life” [13]. If, therefore, the Father’s will is to to give eternal life to those who believe in the Son, is it not at the same time the will of the Son? That alone is enough to prove the agreement and exclude any idea of opposition.
St. Gregory the Theologian is explicit on this point: “According to him,” he says, “the words of the Son to the Father: “That it is not my will be done, but yours, which is mine also”, Jesus Christ has wanted to make known that his will is the same as that of the Father. For if all that is of the Father is also of the Son, it is evident that the will of the Father is that of the Son, and the will of the Son that of the Father” [14].
As we have said, there was, by the unique and absolute power of divinity, a double will, divine and human, without opposition. We believe that the actions, performed in this union, were equally divine and human. We do not attribute to the only immaterial divinity of Christ his most sublime actions, and to his humanity separated from his divinity the actions of an inferior order; indeed, if it had been so, how could one say that the Son of man descended from heaven [15], or that he is a crucified God, and that his blood is divine? But we confess that the divine actions and human actions of Christ were those of the same person, who at one time, as God, did divine actions, and sometimes, as man, human actions. This is the proof of the economy of his whole life, from beginning to end.
~
Conclusion
Although he was conceived as a man, nevertheless he was conceived by the Holy Spirit as God.
He was born of a woman as a man, but, like God, he preserved his mother’s virginity after childbirth.
On the eighth day he was circumcised as a man, and he abolished corporal circumcision, teaching the circumcision of the heart as the lawgiver of circumcision.
He was presented after forty days in the temple, as a man, and he was recognized by Simeon, as God, liberator of those who are bound in bonds.
He fled to Herod as a man, and rejected idolatry from Egypt as God.
He was baptized by St. John as a man; but, like God, he has erased the sins of Adam by his baptism, and he has been proclaimed as such by the Father and the Holy Spirit.
New Adam, he was tempted like the old Adam; but, as the creator of Adam, he has defeated the tempter, and, like God, he has given the children of Adam the power to crush the power of the enemy.
As a man, he suffered hunger, and, like God, he satiated the multitude with a few loaves.
As a man, he thirsted, and, like God, he called those who were thirsty, and gave them to drink from the source of life.
As a man, he felt lassitude in walking, and, like God, he was the refuge of the afflicted and the sinners overwhelmed by the burden of their sins, to whom he gave his yoke soft and easy to wear.
As a man, he slept in a boat, and, like God, he walked on the waves and commanded the winds and the sea.
As a man, he paid the tax, and, like God, he ordered to remove a stater from the mouth of the fish.
As a man, he prayed with us and for us, and, like God, he welcomed with his Father the prayers of us all.
As a man, he shed tears on his friend’s grave, and, like God, he dried up the tears of the sisters who were crying a brother, raising him up.
As a man, he asked where Lazarus had been buried, and, like God, he gave him life four days after his death, calling him aloud.
As a man, he was betrayed for a small sum of money, and, like God, he redeemed the world by the shedding of his precious blood.
He was mute like a lamb to the one who shorn [16] according to human nature; but by its divine nature, it is the Word of God, existing from the beginning, by whom the heavens were made firm [17].
As a man, he was tied to a cross between two thieves, and, like God, he saw the stars of darkness and brought the good thief into paradise.
As a man, he drank vinegar and tasted the gall that was presented to him, and, like God, he turned the water into wine, and changed the bitterness into sweetness [18].
As a man, he died; like God, he raised the dead by his omnipotence.
As a man, he drank the chalice of death by his will, and, like God, he conquered death by his death.
~
Exposition of Faith
He who died is no other than the one who triumphed over death, but he is the same and the only one who is at once dead and alive, and life-giving; the one and the same Jesus Christ, at once man, of a mortal nature, and God, of an immortal nature. Not divided into two hypostases by the division of the two natures, as if it were one who suffered and died, and the other who was impassible and immortal. But formed of two contrary natures, he felt in his unity the effects of these two opposite natures: by human nature, the sufferings and death imposed on humanity; by divine nature, impassibility and immortality.
He, who is dead by the body, is the same who is alive by the deity; he who has suffered, is the same who has been impassible; he who, under the action of fear, sweated the blood, is the same who slaughtered those who rose up against him. He who was for a little while in humiliation and a little inferior to the angels, and who was comforted by the angels, is the same who consoled all creatures. Creator of all beings with his Father, following the deity, he was a creature like us, according to humanity.
The Apostles, sent from the Word, proclaim Him God and perfect man, by a more perfect union than that of the soul and the body.
His human soul, which he recommended to his Father, separated from his body; but the divinity remained indivisible in both, at the same time remained with the rational soul, when he descended to hell, to the souls who were held there, and was inseparable from the body deposited in the tomb, not in part, but entirely in both.
He is the same who was in the bosom of the Father and in the bowels of the Virgin, on the throne of glory and in the manger of Bethlehem, the right hand of the Father and on the cross, above the cherubim and in the the grave, for heaven and earth are filled with his glory [19]. He rose again on the third day, He who is our resurrection and our life, and ascended to the heavens which He never departed. He will come down again one day to resurrect the race of Adam, and to judge in his justice the living and the dead according to their words, their thoughts, their actions and their faith, by rewarding the good ones and by condemning the wicked to the tortures.
He is the same who will reign with those who will be crowned with him in the ages of age, disscovering to all, and without veil, the science of faith which we now possess only imperfectly, from faith to the Father, to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, to whom belong glory and power in all ages. Amen.
This is the exposition of our doctrine on the consubstantial Trinity, the only Divinity, and on the incarnation of the Son. An exposition which is in conformity with our profession of faith, and which we have made by order of your Majesty; that it suffices for the moment by providing the opportunity for Your Wisdom to make new progress in wisdom according to the word of the wise man.

~

TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH
~
Let us now say a few words about the traditions transmitted to us by the ancient Fathers, and against the opinions of those who do not admit them. We will make known the reasons which lead us to observe these traditions, and we will explain ourselves, God serving us as witness, in all sincerity and without ulterior motive.
~
The Unleavened Bread in the Holy Eucharist
Let us first speak of the bread of the Holy Sacrifice, which we and the Romans use unleavened, and the other churches, fermented. Each on both sides tries to justify the custom to which he is attached. But, he who loves the truth must not make himself the slave of usage as ignorant, or justify himself by vain words, used as a simple argument of discussion; on the contrary, he must travel in spirit through the spiritual paradise (I mean the holy books), and seek the fruit of truth, and then taste it. Thus, with regard to the institution of the sacrament which we have just named, we find in these books the truth which we seek.
All the mystery of the incarnation of Jesus Christ, as well as the perfection of his flesh and blood, are announced by the prophets in various figures and in different words. First, at the table of Abraham, who was the type of the table of the cenacle, the Lord ate, not the fermented bread, but the unleavened bread, as it follows from these words of Abraham to Sarah: “Haste you knead three measures of pure flour, and make breads baked under the ashes” [20]. This same bread, a simple figure, when the Word had not yet incarnated, he also used it when he was made flesh, and, calling him his body, he shared it among the sons of Abraham, according to the faith, instead of the veal and matzoh that he had eaten in the shade of the oak of Mamre. That, the bread baked by Sarah was unleavened, is seen by him whom Lot gave to the angels; for it is written, “He baked unleavened bread and served it to them” [21].
When the children of Israel were about to leave Egypt, Moses commanded them not to bring fermented bread with them, to abstain entirely from their homes for seven days, and to feed themselves, during all this time. week, unleavened bread only. This was the type of unleavened bread used in the Lord’s Supper, and the seven days represent the seven ages of the world. By this commandment, the Lord has desired that all who stray from Egyptian incredulity, to make their way to the land of promise, not to carry with them the ferment of sin, but to feed on bread, incorruptible and divine, at once mystical and material, that is, of the body of God, and of the word that comes out of his mouth [22]. In the same way, manna, which according to the Apostle St. Paul was the type of the bread of life, was eaten by the Jews in the desert as unleavened bread [23].
And when God commanded Moses not to appear before him empty-handed, he wanted every day to be placed on the altar of propitiation the bread of proposal, as emblem of the body of Jesus Christ. That this bread was unleavened and unfermented is what is shown by what priest Abiathar says to David: “It is not unclean (that is, fermented) bread that is in my hands. but holy offerings of bread [24] which were unleavened”. There are many such examples in ancient times; but let us come to those of the new law and the real ones.
When the true Lamb had tasted the mystic lamb and unleavened bread with lettuce, and fulfilled the precept of the old covenant, he instituted the news according to the Gospel story. Taking on the bread table (it is obvious that it was unleavened bread, since it was the first day of the feast of unleavened bread), he said: “This is my body” [25].
It is therefore fitting that the body of one who is born of the Virgin, and who was immaculate, be represented by a unleavened bread and not by a fermented bread.
For us, who celebrate the holy Mystery with unleavened bread, we have to justify our use these reasons and others that provides the Holy Scripture. Those who perform this sacrament with the fermented bread can also rely on some passages of Scripture to defend their rites. They first quote the praise of leaven by the Saviour, who compares it to the kingdom of heaven. It is true that it is not the sacrament of the sacred bread that is involved in this example, but the preaching of the Gospel [26], which entered the world as leaven enters the flour, and who fermented all who believed in it, exciting them to the love of God.
Elsewhere, leaven is taken as the symbol of evil, in the sacred books, witness these words of St. Paul: “Jesus Christ, our Passover, was slain. Therefore, let us celebrate this feast, not with the old leaven, nor with leaven of wickedness and malice, but with the unleavenedness of sincerity and truth. And Gregory the Theologian, in his sermon on the Passover, says that fermented bread can not be the bread of life [27].
Although we have remarked that this sacrament, which was transmitted to us by the Lord, had been accomplished with unleavened bread, however the apostolic traditions can not enlighten us completely on this point, so as to learn if it is the unleavened bread or the fermented bread that was used in the first centuries of the Church. We only know that it was prescribed to the faithful to bring the bread with which were celebrated the holy mysteries. So, if the Holy Spirit had judged that one was pleasing to God, and not the other, it would have taught it to the Church, either through his Apostles, or through the clog of the holy Doctors.
But we know for sure that what pleases God is an orthodox faith and an irreproachable life. Provided that the sacrament is accomplished with righteous intentions and is pure from all heterodox opinions, the traditions or usages of which we speak here, which are customs peculiar to each people, do not contain in themselves anything which can exceed or diminish the faith. So, when the head, which is the faith, is firmly united with the supreme leader who is Jesus Christ, then the members, which are the traditions, remain in good condition and come to the aid of one another, for the glory of Christ our God.
~
The Pure Wine in the Holy Eucharist
The continuation of our discussion now leads us to speak of the chalice of the blood of Jesus Christ. It is only with us, and not in the other Churches, that by virtue of a tradition that goes back to St. Gregory, we employ for the Eucharist pure wine, without a mixture of water. The main reason for this use is that the blood of Jesus Christ is incorruptible by his union with the incorruptible Word; and it is in this spirit that the chalice of his blood receives nothing but pure wine from us. This is made evident by the general denomination given to wine. If, indeed, the wine without a mixture of water is called pure wine, it is undeniable that when this mixture is added, the wine ceases to be a pure wine and can no longer be so called. Moreover, when the Lord took the chalice between his hands, he said: “This is my blood, the blood of the new covenant”, and he added: “I will not drink henceforth from this fruit of the vine until this day I will drink it again with you in the kingdom of my Father” [28].
Blessed John Chrysostom, in explaining these words in his commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, says: “He is thus extirpating, to the root, another bad heresy. There are some who, in the holy mysteries, use the water, but the Lord said: Of this fruit of the vine”. The vineyard produces wine and not water. Those who mix the water with the wine try to divert the words of this holy doctor, by affirming that there were people who used only pure water to fulfill the holy Mystery, and that it is d them whom St. John Chrysostom speaks, and not of those who mix water with wine. As for us, we have never heard any mention of this kind of people, and we have read nothing about it, about such an insane heresy [29].
Those who perform the mystery with wine mixed with water may be right in doing so; but those who use pure water, in whose name do they do it? Is it in the name of Jesus Christ? No, certainly, because the Saviour, according to the Evangelists, took the wine in his hand and not the water, when he said: “This is my blood”. As long as no one, except Jesus Christ, had instituted this sacrament, either with wine or with water, I conclude that all that is said must be regarded as pure inventions and not as truth.
Those who mix water with wine make this traditional use rest on the circumstance that it flowed from the side of Jesus Christ by two streams, one of blood and the other of water. But can we rightly think that this great and admirable miracle took place for the object of this sacrament? Had God had this in mind, that it would have been enough for him to inspire some of the animated men of the Holy Spirit, the Apostles, or the most illustrious doctors of the Church, to prescribe the shedding of water in the chalice of the Lord, and no one would then have opposed it. But, it is not for this mixture to be made because of the fact that the water flowed with the blood on the Saviour’s side, but to indicate the mystery of the baptism in the death of Jesus Christ, according to the words of the apostle St. Paul to the Romans: “Do you not know that all who were baptized in Christ Jesus were baptized in his death?” [30]
St. John Chrysostom, in his commentary on the Gospel of St. John, says: “The Church was founded from the two streams that flowed on the side of Jesus Christ, for we are born for the second time by the water of baptism. and his blood feeds us. Likewise, St. Gregory of Nyssa, in his address on the burial of the Lord, says, putting these words in the mouth of Joseph of Arimathea: “I will touch his immaculate side, whence flowed, as from a fountain, the mysterious blood and refreshing water”.
Saint Ephrem the Syrian also says: “A jet of water flowed from his body, to extinguish the fire of the first Adam and to erase the traces of the servitude which bowed him under the yoke of evil”. The blood springs from it also by an effect of his mercy, for it is by this blood that he has redeemed us from our servitude. And as all vitality is in the blood, it is through his blood that he has revived our life. Several other doctors, alluding to this text of the Gospel, comment on it in the same way by relating water to the sacrament of baptism and blood to the sacrament of the Eucharist.
As we have already said, when speaking of the sacred bread, the Lord requires from us, above all, true faith and irreproachable actions, and not fulfillment of the holy mysteries with fermented bread rather than unleavened bread. We will repeat the same thing when speaking of wine. Whether it is used with water or without water, neither of these uses can worth to us the praises of God or to attract on our heads punishments. Those alone will be glorified by him who offer their gifts with a holy heart and a righteous spirit. But those who are soiled with impure thoughts and criminal acts, whether they celebrate with pure wine or with a mixture of water, they must certainly expect to be punished.
If either of these two practices had been in the formal will of God or his saints, they would have recorded it in writing, as were other precepts. St. Paul, in his Epistle to the Corinthians, in speaking of the Eucharist, did not say how to celebrate it, whether it is with fermented or unleavened bread, with a mixture of water or without water, but he has mainly insisted on what God requires of us: “Let each one experience himself”, he says, “and let him eat this bread and drink this chalice; for whoever eats and drinks it unworthily eats and drinks his own condemnation, not making the discernment he owes to the body of the Lord” [31]. Other interpreters of divine oracles likewise recommend, not the distinction of matter, but a worthy preparation for the sacrament.
~
The Holy Feasts of Christmas and Epiphany
There is still a tradition in the Armenian Church that dates from the earliest times. and according to which the feast of Christmas is celebrated the same day as that of the Epiphany. The reason for this custom is not fortuitous, but quite mystical. In the first centuries, it was general in all the churches, as is known to your wisdom; and although in the course of ages some churches have made this unique feast two separate festivals, we have preserved unaltered the tradition of St. Gregory, based on the testimony of St. Luke. The Evangelist, after having recounted how Zachariah became silent, adds: “It came to pass, when the days of his ministry were over, that he returned to his house; and Elizabeth, his wife, became pregnant” [32].
The time of the priestly service of Zacharias is, according to St. Luke: the five days of the feast of the Atonement and the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, in all twelve days. The appearance of the angel and the silence of Zechariah came on the first day of the feast of the Atonement, that is, the tenth day of the seventh month of the Hebrews (Tishri), September 27 of the Roman calendar. It is on this date of Elizabeth’s conception. I tell you that it is the very day this conception was announced by the archangel Gabriel that Zacharie returned to his house, and that his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. While Zechariah was to wait for the end of the feast, as the story of the Evangelist proves, when it is said: “When the ovens of his ministry were finished, he returned to his house”. This house was located in the mountainous parts of Judea, far from Jerusalem. So you place the Annunciation of the Virgin on March 25, and the Nativity of Jesus Christ on December 25, twelve days before us.
But we, who base ourselves on the words of St. Luke, say that Elizabeth’s conception took place after the twelve days of the two feasts, which are called days of the priesthood of Zacharias, were finished, that is, say the 23rd of the Hebrew month Tischri, or October 10th.
According to this calculation, the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary must always fall on April 7th and Christmas on January 6th. Thirty years later, on the same day of the month when the Saviour was born, though at a different day of the week, he was baptized in the Jordan, which is a perfectly accurate account. If, in fact, he had thirty years, no more, no less, it follows that the day of his baptism must have coincided with the day of his birth, counting thirty full years without adding anything to it. But, if the nativity comes before, twelve days, before baptism, then there was no reason to say that Jesus was about thirty years old [33]. But that he had entered his thirty-first year,  as this results from the denomination of the days.
Indeed, at sunrise we give the day a new name and not that of the day that has elapsed. It is the same for the months and for the years, where the first day is called by the name of the day begins and not the one that has passed. It is from these carefully considered considerations that the holy fathers of the first centuries decreed to celebrate, in the same day, the mystery of the nativity and baptism of Jesus Christ. We, by following this rule, only follow their traditions.
There is, in addition, another mystery to consider here. As the Saviour was born, according to the flesh of the Virgin, so he took a new birth by baptism in the Jordan, to be an example for us. And as these are two births, though differing from each other as to mystery and time, nevertheless we have decided to celebrate at the same time, in the same day, this first and second nativity.
There are many other reasons which can justify the Armenian tradition, prove its agreement with the traditions of the first Fathers of the Church, and show at the same time that it is not arbitrarily that we remain apart from other peoples, for the celebration of these solemnities. It is they, on the contrary, who, having first followed the same usages as we, have changed them at their pleasure and are now observing them in a new way.
Our Church has maintained this ancient custom in an invariable way. Is it because of the remoteness of our country, or because of a split that has given rise to feelings of hatred? This is what we do not know. Hatred, in fact, is not only opposed to the introduction of new traditions, but strives even to remove from ancient usages those who hate each other as adversaries. While an ardent charity excites not only what is convenient and easy, but what is painful and untimely, out of condescension for those whom we love. Besides, what seems most important to me in this is not the date of the month or the name of the day, but only the aversion that results from it. Because, whatever the day when we celebrate a feast, if it is without dispute that we do it, we make ourselves agreeable to God. What is greater than the solemnity of Easter, on which several churches disagreed, as reported by Eusebius of Caesarea?
The inhabitants of Asia Minor celebrated it on Thursday, as in the old Law, according to the teaching of the Evangelist St. John, while the Church of Rome celebrates it on Sunday, the day of the Resurrection of Our Lord. But after a few slight discussions, the agreement was re-established on both sides by St. Irenaeus, disciple of the Apostles. He said to one and the other: “The truth of faith being the same for all, it is not appropriate to argue for a difference in the holiday season; for all that is done for the glory of God is approved by him also. This is how the color of the skin, whether black or white, can harm the body, if the constitution of the body is healthy. It is the same with those who have a true faith; the variety in the observance of the festivals or in some point of ecclesiastical discipline can in no way prejudge their salvation.
~
The Trisagion
Thus the trisagion [34], by which the three Persons of the Trinity are invoked in your churches, and which we only address to the Son, is a mystical and sublime hymn in both cases, if it is not controversial; if, on the contrary, provokes arguments, it is no longer a song of praise, but of blasphemy.
Some of you, slandering us, object that in the trisagion we say the crucified Trinity; but ours, in their turn, answer you, that you do not name him who was crucified for us God strong and immortal in death, but that you call him Man simply; and both parties strive in this debate to snatch an unfortunate victory. We, though we addressed this song to the only Son, according to the tradition of the first Fathers of the Church. There are, however, certain offices where we sing the hymn of Seraphim in honour of the Trinity. If both parties could agree by God’s will, then everything could be arranged by adding a few words.
At the first time, the trisagion, conceived in these terms: God strong and immortal, would be dedicated to the Father; the second time to the Son, and the third time to the Holy Ghost. So that each of the three Persons would be glorified in an equal and complete manner, and not in half and in part, as it would be if one said the Father God only, without adding strong and immortal; and the Son, strong, omitting the words God and immortal; and the Holy Spirit, immortal, neglecting the words God and strong. On the contrary, it is necessary to apply to the three persons and to each of them separately these three attributes.
~
The Holy Cross
It is from the same source that arises an unfounded objection to the subject of the holy cross, namely, whether the wood of which it was made must be joined or not by means of nails. In this respect, there is no positive precept in us. And besides, from what teaching could we admit that the cross must be honoured under one aspect and despised under another? Is it by a command from God? But there is no such thing. These difficulties, no doubt, arise from the ambushes temptation makes for us, who wants the sign used to overcome to be insulted by those who revere him, and who would like to see this sign destroyed by their hands, in order to make it one. play for him, and for them a cause of perdition.
If it were not so, what would be the wrong that a nail can do to faith? It is evident that this nail is placed by us only in order that the arms of the cross remain superimposed, without being able to separate; and, besides, what completes the proof of what I advance is that the crosses of gold or silver are not made of two pieces, we do not put any nail. It can not be supposed that the true cross was without nails, for it could not have borne the weight of a body.
According to a symbolic idea, the tree of the cross, or the perpendicular part, is the emblem of the Divinity, the transverse part, that of humanity, and the nail that connects them together means the love that unites God with men. What is the harm to the soul whether the nails are used or not in this situation? An argument over such a subject is a childishness, unworthy of a man who has reached maturity.
As for the blessing of the cross, which we have adopted from the first Fathers of the Church, and on which your teachers are struggling, we shall be short. We ourselves have found it in this country written in Greek characters in an Old Testament. Is it more convenient to first read the divine words from the Prophets, the Apostles, the Evangelists, and to recite the prayers that the priest utters on a new cross, and then to erect it to the East and to love it? Or should one simply prostrate oneself before a material object, without having blessed it, as if every object of quadrangular form, which is offered to look in paintings or elsewhere in some other way, was worthy of adoration?
~
The Holy Icons
Shall I speak again of the images of the Saviour and of the saints, against which some of our own, ignorant people, show aversion? You are scandalized, considering this conduct as a prescription imposed by us on our whole nation. But we, as well as all who follow our example, understand and teach that in the presence of the cross that has borne a God, we are not paying tribute to a material object, but to the invisible God who is there. was attached. Likewise, in the image of the Saviour, it is not a material painting that we adore, but Christ, who is the image of God the Father, invisible [35].
We honour and glorify the images of the saints, looking upon them as our mediators and protectors to God; that is, we offer our adoration to God as intercessors. For it is only to the image of the Creator alone, and not to creatures, that adoration is due. The image and the name are the same thing, one being a simple form, and the other a simple meaningful name, one recalling to the eye and the other to the ear the idea of a thing.
We also prostrate ourselves before men, not only before those who are worthy of it, but even before those who are unworthy of it, in so far as they carry the image of the Divinity in their lives, to say, the soul. When it is separated from the body, then it belongs only to the bodies of the saints to be honoured; because, according to what is written, God rests in their bones [36]. But the bodies of those who have not attained holiness must not be the object of such homage, for they contain nothing divine in them. The name and the image alone, apart from the substance, even if they belong to saints, as to persons deprived of holiness, should not be honoured. For the Creator alone is to be present everywhere in his essence; that is why its invisible essence is worshiped in its visible image and in its name.
The essence of created beings is contained only in the place where it is, and not in all places. As the visible image of a creature does not in itself contain its invisible type, as it is for the image of the Creator, it follows that we must not worship the image of a human creature to the equal of the image of God. There is on this point a testimony of the Apostle who says that, as a result of this full submission of the Son, clothed in our nature, to his Father, submission which went to the death of the cross, the Father gave him for reward a name that is above every name [37]. How this name is above every name, is what the Apostle explains in the same passage: “In order that in the name of Jesus”, he says, “every knee should bow, in heaven, on earth, and in the underworld” [38].
If, then, the name of Jesus Christ is, like his image, above all names and the object of the worship of all that exists in heaven and on earth, according to the words of the Apostle, by therefore his name must be glorified as his image, as we have said. Thus, it is not appropriate to look upon the image and name of beings of a servile nature as the signs of adoration, as the name and image of the Lord. We creatures must adore only the image reproduced by the painting of our Creator and Saviour.
As for the images of the faithful servants of God, who by their nature have been servants like us, we must honour and respect those images, according to the merit they represent. Their contemplation should excite us to imitate the virtuous life of those whose traits they remind us of and to take as a model, while reflecting on the real afflictions they experienced. Let whoever despises them not imagine that his disdain falls on a simple material image, but on the one represented, whether it be that of the Lord himself or of his servants.
~
The Lent
I will add a few words about the fast called “aradchavork” (that is, prior), and about which your party has invented a fable.
A monk named Serge, they claim, had a donkey and a dog; this dog always preceded his master in the places where he went, and announced his coming there, so that the people might come to meet him. It is because this dog always preceded his master, they add, that we gave fasting the name of the animal, according to the order of this same Serge. Such slander is worse than all the false doctrines of the pagans.
Here is the fruit of hatred; when one hates someone, one stops ones ears to not hear good, and that good, one holds it for a lie, while one avidly welcomes the falsehoods and the fables, and that one takes for truths, as we see by this single example. If we find ourselves in the darkness of ignorance, as are those of idolatry, it would be impossible to impute to us such an absurd invention. But that can not be, now less than ever, when all the earth is filled with the knowledge of God, and the torch of wisdom illuminates the world. The first reason we call this fast “aradchavork” is because it precedes Lent and is like the forerunner. In the second place, it is because it is the first Lent that St. Gregory imposed on the Armenian nation, when he was removed from the pit where he had been precipitated.
He wanted then that those who had been struck by a heavenly chastisement fasted for five days, in order to make themselves worthy by this penance to obtain their healing [39]. That is why a large number of people are now fasting during these five days. according to ancient usage. In the following, it has been judged expedient to add this fast to that of the Ninevites, whom the Syrians and the Egyptians observe rigorously. For us, the reason why we celebrate, at the end of this first Lent, the memory of St. Sergius, General of the Army, is because, in the course of the year, the 30th of January is the day St. Sergius shed his blood for the faith of Jesus Christ.
That’s why we decided to celebrate on the Saturday of the same week, as the first Saturday of Lent all Christians celebrate the memory of St. Theodore.
This Serge, according to his history, was a general, a native of Cappadocia, at the time of Constantine the Great. He distinguished himself by his valor in the wars against the barbarians, and by his ardent faith in Jesus Christ. When Julian the Apostate ascended the throne, the pious Serge took refuge in Persia, and it was there that with his son he bore witness to Jesus Christ before King Sapor, and having his head cut, he received the palm of martyrdom.
~
Conclusion
This is all I have to say about the traditions of our faith and the discipline of our Church. When you read this statement before Your august Majesty, may your high wisdom not think that our words were dictated by a spirit of falseness or adulation, as if we had retraced lines not already engraved in our hearts. He who does this is worthy of God scattering his bones [40], according to the word of the prophet concerning hypocrites. For the torch of faith must not be hidden under a bushel in the darkness; but it must be placed on the candlestick of truth [41]. The faith that hides itself is like impiety, because then there is fraud and not truth.
May the Lord deign to fertilize the seed of our words, spread on the fertile ground of your ideas, and make it multiply. This seed will not be smothered by brambles or rootless and dried up, or eaten by the birds of the sky. May you reap the fruits of peace and love for the great work you are pursuing, not to the same extent or double the gain that has been entrusted to the earth, but a hundredfold of a triple measure. Thus, and you, and those who have cultivated this spiritual field, you will be rewarded according to the amount of the harvest, by Our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and honour, as well as to the Father and to the Holy Spirit now, and forever, forever and ever. Amen.

~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

~


NOTES

~
[1] Epistle to the Ephesians, II, 20.
[2] Saint Nerses alludes to a first exposition of the Armenian faith he sent, when he was still a simple bishop, to Prince Alexis, son-in-law of Emperor Manuel Comnenus and commander of his armies, when Alexis was in Mopsueste, Cilicia, during the year 614 of the Armenian era (1165 AD).
[3] Saint Gregory of Nazianzus.
[4] Saint John, XVI, 13 and 15.
[5] I Corinth., I, 24.
[6] By the word “mela” Saint Nerses does not mean that in this mixture one substance has been absorbed by the other but wants to demonstrate the penetration of one nature through the other. The term mixture in Greek “σύμμιξις” was used by the Greek Fathers before the heresy of Eutyches without any fear of false interpretation later to avoid any misunderstanding this word was replaced by that of union “ἔνωσις”. The Armenian tradition uses the term mixture in the sense that the Cappadocian Fathers and St Cyril of Alexandria used it, that is to say, as the equivalent of unification, union, coalescence, intertwining or intermingling, and as opposed to fusion, confusion or tangle. In Armenian, the orthodox term of mixture is translated and used as the equivalent of unification or union, while the forbidden term of tangle, equivalent of confusion, is rendered by a pejorative.
Although the Council of Chalcedon (451) rejected the term mixture as synonymous with confusion, various Byzantine theologians will still use it in its orthodox sense until the middle of the eighth century. But as early as the ninth century, Chalcedonian sources will constantly associate mixture and confusion, and deny that the Armenian language and Christology have been able to maintain the distinction. Thus the writings of the Patriarch of Constantinople Photius (858-867, 877-886), in his exchanges with the Catholicos Zak’aria Jagec’i (855-876), will translate into Greek, in the same Chalcedonian way mixture-confusion, both the orthodox term and the proscribed term.
[7] This book, which some attribute to Nemesis, bishop of Emessa, in Syria, has always been regarded by the Armenians as the work of St. Gregory of Nyssa, from the seventh century, when he was translated into Armenian by Stephen de Siounik.
[8] Allusion to the letter of Pope Leo I to Flavian written during the Council of Chalcedon and where the words both relating to the two natures of Christ had been rendered by the Armenian translator by the word womn, c That is to say someone who made the Armenians believe that the Council of Chalcedon had fallen back into the heresy of Nestorius.
[9] Galatians, V, 17.
[10] S. Matthew, IV, 2.
[11] Ibid., XXVI, 59.
[12] St. John, VI, 40.
[13] Ibid., Ibid., 38.
[14] St. Gregory Nazianzen, speech XXXVI.
[15] St. John, III, 13.
[16] Isaiah, LIII, 57.
[17] Psalm, XXXII, 6.
[18] That is, the bitterness of the fruit that our first parents ate.
[19] Isaiah VI, 3.
[20] Genesis, XVIII, 6.
[21] Genesis, XIX, 3.
[22] S. Matthew, IV, 4.
[23] I Corinth., X, 3 and 4.
[24] I Kings, XXI, 4.
[25] S. Matthew, XXVI, 26.
[26] S. Matthew, XIII, 53 and S. Luke, XIII, 21.
[27] I Corinth., V, 7 and 8.
[28] S. Matthew, XXVI, 29.
[29] Saint Nerses was no doubt unaware that there was a sect called the Hydroparastates.
[30] Romans VI, 3, and Galatians III, 27.
[31] I Corinth., XI, 28 and 29.
[32] S. Luke, I, 23 and 24.
[33] S. Luke, III, 23.
[34] Holy God, strong God, immortal God, have mercy on us.
[35] Iconoclasm was soon condemned by the Church of Armenia. In the seventh century, Vrt’anes K’ertol, who held the role of Catholicos during the interregnum of 604-607, wrote his “Treatise Against the Iconoclasts”, listing the Christological scenes to be painted on the walls of churches, and observing that the Icons proper were brought from the Greeks. The iconoclasts were severely punished under the Catholicosaur of Abraham (607-611), and were still the subject of virulent refutations by the Catholicos Yovhannes Awjnec’i (717-728), at the same time Leo III the Isaurian ordered in the Byzantine empire the first destruction of icons.
Painted images are an integral part of the tradition of the Armenian Church, even though the iconography is not as developed as in the Orthodox Church, with the Holy Cross and the Gospel remaining prominent. The altars of the churches thus systematically support a painted and large icon representing the Holy Mother of God and her Son. Between the seventh and thirteenth centuries, it was not uncommon to cover the walls of the fresco churches, whose remains remain, notably at the Tatev monastery. The actual icons were more rare, usually housed in monasteries. The most flourishing expression of Armenian iconography is the miniature, illustrating the evangelicals kept open in the churches and offered to the kisses of the faithful.
[36] Psalm, XXXIII, 21.
[37] St. Paul, Epistle to the Philippians, II, 9.
[38] Ibid., 2.
[39] In the statement of the Armenian faith addressed to Prince Alexis, St. Nerses explains the origin of this five-day fast: “When St. Gregory, our Illuminator, came out of the Khor-Virab cave, and gathered before him the king of Armenia Tiridates, who, by a punishment of God, had been changed into a boar, as well as all the great ones of the realm and the tormented troops of the evil spirit, he prescribed to them all a fast of five days , and an absolute abstinence from food during this time, like the Ninevites. By this penance, he worked their healing. This fast, which for this reason was established by St. Gregory in the past, became an institution which he prescribed to observe from year to year in the Church of Armenia, so that his countrymen would not forget the blessings of the Lord. It was thought expedient to join this fast, to which the Armenians were indebted for their salvation, to that of the Ninevites, by which these had been preserved from the threats of death, and which are still practiced today by the Syrians and the Egyptians”.
See Speeches and Letters of S. Nerses, St. Petersburg edition, in 4 °, 1788, p. 99. Cf. the Latin translation of the works of St. Nerses, S. Nersetis Clajensis, Opera studio and labore, J Cappelletti presbyteri Veneti, Venetiis typis, PP Mechitaristarum in insula S Lazari, t. I, p 195; 1833; in 8 °. Cf. also on the origin of the fast called aradchavork, Agathange, History of the preaching of S Gregory and the conversion of Armenia to Christianity, p 323; Zénob of Klag, History of the country of Darôn, p 44; as well as the unpublished Universal History of Etienne Açoghig, liv. II, ch. I.
[40] Ezekiel, VI, 5.
[41] S. Matthew, V, 15. and S. Luke, XI, 33.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Back to top