1902 Encyclopedia > Armenian Church

Armenian Church




THE ARMENIAN CHURCH, is one of the oldest Eastern Christian churches not in communion with the orthodox Greek Church or with the Church of Rome.

1. History.—This is divided into three periods, from 34 to 302 A.D., from 302 to 491, and from 491 to the present time. (1.) The first period is mainly legendary. The Church of Armenia claims an older than apostolic foundation. Our Lord, they say, corresponded by letter with Akbar, prince of Ur or Orfa; and the apostle Thaddeus, accompanied by Bartholomew and Judas, preached the gospel, and founded a Christian church in Armenia as early as the year 34 A.D. But whatever the value of these primitive traditions, Armenia could hardly be said to have a church at all during this first period, although there are evident traces of Christian worship in the country at a very early time. (2.) The historical founder of the Armenian Church was S. Gregory, called the " Illuminator." He was a prince of the reigning family of the Arsacidae, who, having been converted to Christianity, was eager for the conversion of his countrymen. In his missionary work he endured many persecutions, but at last managed to win over the king of Armenia and a considerable portion of his subjects. At the king's desire Gregory went to Cassarea, or Sis, and was there consecrated bishop of Armenia (302 A.D.) His successors afterwards assumed the title of Patriarch, subsequently Catholicos, and under their rule the infant church grew and prospered. It had to struggle against the opposition of heathen fellow-countrymen and Persian conquerors, but it succeeded in establishing itself in the hearts of the people. The Bible was translated in 410 A.D. ; the Liturgy, said to be very old, was improved; and the Armenian bishops took part in several of the synods of the church, notably in the third oecumenical council (Ephesus, 431 A.D.) About 450 A.D. the Armenian Church suffered a severe persecution, which prevented any of the bishops being present at the fourth oecumenical council (Chalcedon, 451 A.D.), at which Eutyches and his followers, the extreme opponents of Nestorius, were condemned. The Armenian Church never accepted the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, and, in 491 A.D., the patriarch, in full synod, solemnly annulled them. This act led to the separation of the Armenian from the orthodox Greek Church. (3.) The period of schismatic existence divides into three—(a), from 491 A.D. to the middle of the 15th century; (6), from the middle of the 15th to the middle of the 18th centuries; (c), from 1746 down to the present time. It is difficult to account for the schism of the Armenian Church; according to common report, the Armenians were Eutychians, and were virtually cut off from the church when the Council of Chalcedon condemned that heresy, but their own account of the matter in their authoritative documents is very different. They allege that they were misled by false reports when they annulled the fourth council; that it was reported to them that the council had decided in favour of the Nestorian heresy, and that this mistake was confirmed by a letter to the patriarch upon the subject from the bishop of Rome, in which certain words were used which might easily be interpreted in the Nestorian sense. The Patriarch Narses, in his letter to the Emperor Manuel Com-nenus, in 1166, distinctly repudiates the Eutychian heresy, but it is to be noted that, in defending the doctrinal views of his church, he employs the somewhat vague terms in use before the Council of Chalcedon, not those stricter defini-tions which were in use afterwards; he employs o-u/t/xi|ts, for instance, in its pre-Chalcedonian meaning, not evwo-is. However occasioned, the separation was gradual; Armenian bishops attended the 5th, 6th, and 7th oecumenical councils (2d of Constantinople, 553; 3d of Constantinople, 680; 2d of Nicasa, 788), and the church acknowledges the decrees of those councils as binding. Cut off from the Eastern Church, the Armenian bishops became all the more closely identified with their native country, and kept alive patriotic feeling in times of great national distress. In spite of many national calamities, foreign domination, internal dissensions, and even banishment, the Armenian Church preserved its character, doctrine, and discipline until the middle of the 15th century, when great dissensions arose which resulted in a schism. These quarrels were occasioned by Jesuit missionaries, who endeavoured to make the Armenians adopt the doctrine, liturgy, and ceremonies of the Roman Church. They succeeded in prevailing upon a great number of the adherents of the Armenian Church to separate from the community and join the communion of Rome. The Catholic Armenians, as they are called, first became a separate community towards the end of the 16th century; their existence has proved a source of great weakness to the orthodox church, and through their exer-tions the old persecutions were revived. This state of matters went on until the middle of the 18th century, when the patriarch sought and obtained the intervention of Peter the Great of Russia. Since then the Armenian Church has found shelter under the protection of Russia. There is a reformation now going on in the Armenian Church, and a Reformed Church has arisen, which seeks to ally itself with the Calvinist Churches of Europe and America.





2. Doctrines.—These are almost identical with those of the orthodox Greek Church. The Armenians accept the first three, and the fifth, sixth, and seventh oecumenical councils, denying that of Chalcedon only, but, as has been explained, they, in their authoritative documents, reject the Eutychian heresy, which that council was called to condemn. The chief source of information as to the doctrine is contained in the letter of Narses above referred to. They reject the Western addition of filioque to the Nicene Creed, and deny the distinctive doctrines of the Roman Church.

8. The Liturgy is said to date from the 1st century, and to have been founded on that of the Church of Jerusalem. St Gregory remodelled it, and introduced the Nicene Creed, using that edition which contains the damnatory clause, and adding a conclusion of his own. Prayers of John Chiysostom and of Basil the Great were introduced in 430 A.D. Prayers are said for the dead, and entreaty is made for the pardon of their sins, but the church does not believe in purgatory, nor admit of indulgences. The holy days are Sundays, the chief feasts observed in the Eastern Church, and ten national saints' days. Christmas is cele-brated on the 6th of January, on the day of the Epiphany, and not on the 25th of December.

4. Sacraments.—-The Church of Armenia has the seven sacraments: baptism, confirmation, the eucharist, pen-ance, ordination, marriage, and extreme unction. Bap-tism is by immersion ; the child is immersed three times; it is then anointed with holy oil, is confirmed, and partakes of the eucharist in both elements. Confirmation is administered to children immediately after baptism. The eucharist is administered in both elements to all members of the church; the bread is always unleavened, and the wine is not mixed with water. Confession must precede the partaking of the eucharist, save in the case of children under seven years of age. Penance consists of confession and fasting. Ordination is by anointing with the holy oil. The marriage service is almost the same as in the Greek Church. In extreme unction only priests are anointed with oil. Laity have the prayers said over them, but are not anointed.

5. The Clergy.—There is the threefold order— bishops, priests, and deacons ; and there are three degrees of episco-pal rank—the archbishops (chief among whom is the patriarch or catholicos), the bishop, and the vartabed, or doctor of theology, who has frequently charge of a diocese, with episcopal functions. The clergy are further divided into the black and the white. The black clergy are monks, and are alone eligible for the higher clerical offices ; the white clergy include the parish priests and lower clergy. The clergy may marry before ordination, but not after; and a priest's widow is not allowed to remarry. The priesthood is hereditary. During his father's or grand-father's lifetime the heir may follow a secular calling ; but he must leave this and enter the priest's office on the death of the priest he is heir to. There are four patriarchs, who have their seats at Constantinople, Jerusalem, Sis, and Etchmiadzin. The clergy of all ranks are supported entirely by the free-will offerings of the people.

Authorities:— The Life and Times ofS. Gregory the Illuminator, translated by S. G. Malan, 1868. (This is a translation of authoritative papers, and includes a short summary of the state of the Armenian Church. It is founded on authoritative documents.) The Divine Liturgy of the Armenian Church, transi, by S. C. Malan, Lond. 1870 (very carefully done). Histoire, Dogmes, Traditions et Liturgie de l'Eglise Arménienne, Paris, 1855 (fuller, but not so accurate). Codex Mysterii Missal Ârmenorum seu Liturgia Armena, Rome, 1677 (Lat. and Armen. Later editions of the Liturgy published at Rome belong to the Catholic Armenian Church, and are worthless). (T. M. L.)







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