The Armenian Apostolic Church

1700 years of Christianity in Armenia

 

 

our lady in glory armenian

Virgin Mary with infant Jesus, the adoration of the Magi, 10th century Echmiadzin Gospels, Matenadaran collection
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The origins and the history of the Armenian Church

The origins of the Armenian Church date back to the Apostolic age. According to the ancient tradition, which is well supported by historical evidence, Christianity was preached in Armenia as early as the second half of the first century, by the two disciples of Jesus Christ, namely St. Thaddeus (John 14:22-24) and St. Bartholomew (John 1:43-51). During the first three centuries A.D., Christianity in Armenia was under heavy persecution.
It was at the beginning of the fourth century, in 301 A.D., when Christianity was officially accepted by the Armenians as the state religion. St. Gregory the Illuminator (Սուրբ Գրիգոր Լուսաւորիչ, 257-331), the patron Saint of the Armenian Church, and King Thiridates III (Սուրբ Տրդատ Գ, 250-330), the ruler of the time, played a pivotal role in the Christianization of Armenia. It is a historical fact that the Armenians were the first nation to formally adhere to Christianity.
Saint Gregory the Illuminator became the organizer of the Armenian Church hierarchy. From that time, the heads of the Armenian Church have been called “Catholicos” (“Կաթողիկոս”) and still hold the same title. St. Gregory chose as the site of the Catholicosate the capital city of Vagharshapat, in Armenia. He built the pontifical residence next to the church of “Holy Mother of God” which took on the name of St. Echmiadzin (Սուրբ Էջմիածին: meaning the place where the Only-Begotten Son was descended), according to a vision, where the Only-Begotten Son of God come down from heaven with a golden hammer in his hand to locate the site of the new cathedral.
The Armenian Church played a highly magnificent role in the life of the Armenian people. The Armenian alphabet was invented in 405 by Saint Mesrob Mashdots (Սուրբ Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց, 362-440). The Armenian culture has been flourished under the guidance of the Armenian Church. In the sphere of theology, literature and arts, many Catholicoi, bishops and priests have made valuable contribution to the Christian thought, culture and civilization. The Armenian Church also played a major part in landmark events of Armenian history.
Due to the continuous upheavals, which characterized the history of Armenia, the Catholicosate of Armenia moved to different locations together with the political authority. Thus, in 485, it was transferred to the new capital Dvin. In the 10th century it moved from Dvin to Dzoravank and then to Aghtamar island, in lake Van (927). From Aghtamar moved to Arghina (947), and finally in 992 the Holy See of Armenia was settled in Ani, the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Bagradits.
After the fall of the capital Ani in 1045, and its destruction by the Seljukid Turks in 1064, masses of Armenians migrated to Cilicia region. The Catholicosate, together with the people, was settled there. It was first established in Thavblour (1062), then in Dzamendav (1072) present day Zamanti, and in Dzovk (1116) present day Gölcük. In 1149, the Catholicosate moved in the fortress of Hromkla (Hrom-Kla:  Roman Fortress), present day Rumkale, on the banks of the Euphrates River, very close to the border of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.
In 1293, the Holy See of Armenia moved to Sis, the capital of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, where it remained for seven centuries. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in 1375, it was the Armenian Church that assumed the role of national leadership. The Armenian Church is unique in that besides being a religious institution it is also a national institution inasmuch as almost all of its members are either Armenians or of Armenian descent, and for many centuries has played, in the absence of organized Armenian government, the role of this latter.
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The Armenian Church after the 14th century

The existence of two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church, namely the Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin in Armenia, and the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia in Sis, is a result of several historical circumstances.
In 1375 the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Cilicia became a battleground for Seljuks, Mamluks and other invaders. In the meantime, the growing cultural and religious awakening in homeland Armenia, led the clergy of Armenia to elect a Catholicos in St. Echmiadzin. The latter was the original seat of the Catholicosate, but it had ceased to function as Catholicossal See after 485.
Thus, in 1441, a new Catholicos was elected in Echmiadzin in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi (Կիրակոս Ա. Վիրապեցի). At the same time Krikor IX Moussapegiants (Գրիգոր Ժ. Մուշափեկիանց) was the Catholicos in Cilicia. Therefore, since 1441, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions.
From 1113 to 1895, there also existed the Armenian Catholicosate of Aghtamar, an independent See of the Armenian Apostolic Church, based in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on the Aghtamar Island in lake Van.  The Catholicosate was established by Archbishop Davit, member of  the ruling dynasty of the Armenian Kingdom of Vaspurakan. Since 16th century, the Catholicosate came under direct jurisdiction of the Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin. The Catholicosate was dissolved in 1895, amid the Hamidian massacres. After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, its former dioceses were transformed to the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople.
The hierarchical organization of the Armenian Church since 1441 recognizes two co-equal heads, each with the title of Catholicos. The primary Catholical See is in Echmiadzin, Armenia, the seat of the Catholicos of All Armenians; The second is the seat of the Catholicos of the Great House of Cilicia.  Each of these two Sees has its own dioceses, which are usually under the supervision of an Archbishop or a Bishop.
The Armenian Church has two patriarchs, the first of which resides in Jerusalem and the second in Istanbul (Constantinople). Both patriarchs of Jerusalem and Constantinople are spiritually dependent to the Catholicosate of Echmiadzin, although they retain their fiscal and organizational independence.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Jerusalem dates back to the Apostolic age. It is the “Apostolic See of St. James in Jerusalem”. It marks the continous presence of the Armenian Church in the Holy Land through the centuries.  The title Armenian Patriarch of Jerusalem dates back to 638 when first Armenian Partiarch was appointed Abraham I. The seat of the Armenian Patriarchate is the Cathedral of St. James (Sourp Hagop, 12th century). The St. James Convent, spritual centre of the Armenians in the Holy Land, is located inside the Armenian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople is the spiritual See of the Armenians living within the borders of Turkey. It dates back to 1461, when Patriarch became Hovakim I. After the Armenian Genocide in 1915, formerr dioceses throughout “Western Armenia” were transformed to the jurisdiction of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. The seat of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople is Holy Mother of God Patriarchal Church (Sourp Asdvadzadzin) in the Kumkapı neighborhood of Istanbul.
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The Armenian Church in Artsakh

In Aghvank (Greater Artsakh) region Christianity was introduced and widely spread by the grandson of St. Gregory the Illuminator, Grigorios, who became the first Archbishop of the Aghvank diocese. Grigorios was martyred in 338. In 4th-5th centuries, Christianity was spread throughout Aghvank region and became the official religion. Saint Mesrob Mashdots (Սուրբ Մեսրոպ Մաշտոց, 362-440) introduced the armenian alphabet in the liturgical life of Aghvank.
In the greater Artsakh region were established several important monasteries such as Amaras vank (4th century) and Dadivank (9th-10th century). The See of the Aghvank diocese remained in Partav up to the 10th century. Later, was transferred to Berdakur, then to Khamsh monastery, to Gandzak and finally in 1240 at the Gandzasar monastery of Artsakh.
Gandzasar monastery was built in 1216 by the Armenian prince of Khachen Hasan-Jalal Dawla. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist was concecrated in 1240. In the 14th century, after the fall of the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, and the re-establishment of a catholicosate at Echmadzin, a regional catholicosate emerged in Artsakh. Gandzasar monastery became the Holy See of the Catholicosate of Aghvank, also known as the Holy See of Gandzasar. Many of its Catholicoi were members of the Armenian Hasan-Jalal Dawla dynasty. In 1815, by the order of the Tsarist government, the Gandzasar Catholicosate was abolished and the diocese of Artsakh became subject to the Catholicosate of Echmiadzin.
In the aftermath of the Nagorno-Karabakh War (1988-1994), the liberation and the establishment of the independent Republic of Artsakh, the diocese of Artsakh covers the entire area of the Republic. It is headquartered in the Holy Saviour “Ghazanchetsots” Cathedral – Սուրբ Ամենափրկիչ “Ղազանչեցոց” (1888) at the town of Shushi. Gandzasar monastery remains the historic centre of the diocese.
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The Catholicosate of Cilicia

In the 10th century, when the historical region of Armenia was devastated by the Seljukid Turks, the majority of the Armenians left their homeland and came to settle in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, where they re-organized their political, religious and cultural life.
In Cilicia, the Catholicosate became the center of the Armenian life around which the religious, national, cultural, and educational activities were organized. After the Armenian Genocide (1915), the Catholicosate contributed significantly to the formation and organization of the Armenian Diaspora. During World War I (1915-1918), one and a half million Armenians were massacred by the Ottoman-Turkish government.
In 1921, when the French forces evacuated Cilicia, a second wave of massacres ordered by Kemalist Turkey took the lives of another three hundred thousand Armenians. The rest of the Armenians were forced to leave their centuries-old homeland and found refuge mostly in the countries of Europe and in the Middle East.
The Catholicosate in Sis, as well thousands of Armenian churches, monasteries, schools and cultural centers were vandalized, looted, burnt and turned into ruins by the Turks. Catholicos Sahak II (Սահակ Բ. Խապայեան) followed his flock in exile. After wandering in Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon, in 1930, he established the Catholicosate in Antelias, Lebanon.
The Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia has dioceses in the countries of Middle East, in Europe and in North and South America. The survival of the Armenian people after the Genocide became the focus of the Armenian Church’s concern. Soon, the Catholicoi of the Holy See of Cilicia gave a new vitality to the mission of the Armenian Church with their active presence and contribution in the life of Armenian communities.

 

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Cathedrals of the Armenian Apostolic Church

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~Etchmiadzin_cathedral
The Holy Echmiatzin Cathedral – Էջմիածնի մայր տաճար (literally: the descent of the Only Begotten Son). It is the Mother Cathedral of the Armenian Apostolic Church. Built by St. Gregory the Illuminator in 301, following the adoption of Christianity in Armenia as a state religion.

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dvin old

The Basilica of St. Gregory & St. Sarkis, in the early medieval capital of Dvin (4th-5th century). Only ruins remain today, very close to the modern day Hnaberd village, Armenia

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yererouk_02a

The Basilica of St. John the Baptist & St. Stephen the Protomartyr (4th-5th century) in Yererouk, Anipemza village, Armenia. It is the best preserved proto-Christian Armenian basilica survived to our days.

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280750-zvartnots-armenia-e1535468887202.jpg

Zvartnots Cathedral – Զվարթնոց տաճար (literally: place of the celestial angels) is a centrally planned aisled tetraconch type church built by the order of Catholicos Nerses the Builder (643-652). Now in ruins (collapsed since 10th century), it is located at the edge of Vagharshapat city (Echmiadzin).

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zvartnots replica 1

A museum replica of Zvartnots Cathedral as it supposedly stood during 7th century.

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ani_05_large

The medieval Armenian capital of Ani (5th-10th century), lies today on the turkish – armenian border line, adjacent to the riverbanks of Akhurian river, on the turkish side of the border.

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Cathedral and church of St. Gregory

The Cathedral of Virgin Mary, and the church of Holy Redeemer in the medieval Armenian capital of Ani (5th-10th century).

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North façade

The Cathedral of Virgin Mary in the medieval capital of Ani, as seen from a different angle.

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Akdamar-Adasi_t4oyo0

Cathedral of the Holy Cross (10th century). It was the Holy See of the historical Armenian Catholicosate of Aghtamar (1113-1895). It is located on Aghtamar island, in lake Van.

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Գանձասար_Վանք

Gandzasar Monastery – Գանձասարի վանք (10th-13th century), Vank village, Republic of Artsakh. The Cathedral of St. John the Baptist – Սուրբ Յովհաննու Մկրտիչ, was built between 1216 – 1238. It was the Holy See of the historical Armenian Catholicosate of Aghvank (1240-1836).

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rumkale_panoramic2

The Hromkla Fortress (Rumkale) on river Euphrates. It was the Holy See of the Catholicosate of Armenia in 12th-13th centuries, where St. Nerses IV Shnorhali lived and served as the Catholicos of Armenians.

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Varagavank_staff

Varagavank monastery (11th century), in Vaspurakan region, modern day Van. One of the richest and most celebrated Armenian monasteries. The Cathedral of St. Sofia (the Wisdom of God) housed a fragment of the True Cross and relics of St. John the Baptist. The monastic complex was vandalized, burnt and turned into ruins during the masacres of the Armenian Genocide in 1915.

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Varagavank today

Remnants of the Varagavank monastery, now turned into a village barn. Locals call their village “Yedi Kilise” (meaning: Seven Churches) in memory of the seven churches that once comprised the monastic complex of Varagavank. Most of those ruined structures were completely collapsed in 2011, as a result of the Van earthquake.

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Sis-Catholicosate

The Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia at Sis (1293-1930). The monastery and the Cathedral of St. Sophia (The Holy Wisdom of God) in a picture of 1890s.

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sis monastery ruins

Remnants of the Cathedral of St. Sophia. Once the Holy See of the Catholicosate of Cilicia, now turned into ruins. In the present day village of Kozan, Turkey.

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Antilias cathedral

The Cathedral of St. Gregory the Illuminator, in Antelias, Lebanon. Since 1930, it is the Holy See of the Armenian Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia.

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