Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
StudyLight.org has pledged to help build churches in Uganda. Help us with that pledge and support pastors in the heart of Africa.
Click here to join the effort!

Bible Encyclopedias
Armenian Church.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Search for…
Prev Entry
Armenia, Council of
Next Entry
Armenian Language.
Resource Toolbox
Additional Links

The designation of a branch of Christians, which, although originating in Armenia, is now disseminated over all the adjacent portions of the East.

I. History. Armenia, it is said, first received Christianity from Bartholomew and Thaddaeus, the latter not the apostle, but one of the seventy, who instructed Abgarus of Edessa (q.v.) in the faith, although the Armenians themselves maintain that he was the apostle. The light was very speedily quenched, and was not rekindled until the beginning of the fourth century. About that time Gregory (q.v.) Illuminator (or Lusarovich, in their tongue) preached the Gospel throughout Armenia, and soon converted the king, Tyridates. Gregory was consecrated first bishop of the Armenians by Leontius of Caesarea, whence the Armenian Church became thenceforward dependent on the see of Caesarea, and for a long period the successors of Gregory were consecrated by that primate. It was to this subjection to the- see of Caesarea that the primates of Armenia owed the title of Catholicos (or proctor-general), which was assigned them as vicars of the primate of Caesarea in that country. In the fourth century they received many literary institutions through the Catholicos Sahag (after 406), and a translation of the Bible through Mesrob (q.v.). The Armenian Church preserved the faith until the end of the reign of Theodosius the younger; and in 437 a synod was held at Ispahan, composed of many Armenian bishops, who addressed a synodical letter to Proclus, of Constantinople, condemning the impieties of Nestorius and Theodore of Mopsuestia. In the following century the Church of Armenia, from an excess of hatred toward Nestorianism, embraced the Eutychian (q.v.) heresy, and condemned the Council of Chalcedon. The name commonly given to the Church was Gregorian Church (after Gregory Illuminator). When, in the fifth century, several kings of Persia made an attempt to force the doctrines of Zoroaster upon the Armenians, many emigrated to various countries of Asia and Europe. About 554 a synod of Armenian bishops was convened at the city of Thevin, or Tiben, by the patriarch Nierses II, at the command of the King of Persia, who desired to separate the Armenians from the Greeks. In this synod they renounced the communion of the orthodox churches, anathematized that of Jerusalem, allowed only one nature in Jesus Christ, and added to the Tersanctus the words Qui crucifi us es. (See MONOPHYSITES). An attempt to abolish the schism was made by a synod at Garin in 629, which adopted the resolutions of Chalcedon; but soon the connection between the Armenian and the Greek Church was again dissolved. The metropolis of the Armenian Church was called Vagarsciabat in their tongue, but was known to the Latins as Artaxata, the capital of the country. In this city was built, A.D. 650, the monastery of Eschmiazin (or Etchmiaz), which contains the sepulchre of St. Gregory, and is now the see of the patriarch, or catholicos, as he is called, of Armenia Major. Vagarsciabat no longer exists; but the monastery of Eschmiazin is the seat of the catholicos, and contained three churches built in a triangle. At first the catholicos of Eschmiazin was the sole patriarch of Armenia; but before the year 1341 there were three, viz. a second at Achtamar, and a third at Sis. Ricaut, who wrote an account of "the Greek and Armenian Churches". (Lond. 1679, 8vo), mentions, besides these three, a fourth one at Canshahar. All four had under them 37 archbishops and 100 bishops. By the treaty of Unkiar Skelessi (1828) a large portion of Upper Armenia was ceded to the Czar, and thus also the head of the Church, the catholicos of Eschmiazin, became a subject of Russia. The attempts of the Russian government to induce the Armenians to enter into a union with the Russian Church have failed. In Turkey the Armenians shared in general the fate of the other Christian denominations. (See TURKEY). In 1848 they elected a council of 12 lay primates, who rule the Church in all its temporal affairs. The patriarch has only the right of presidency.

At an early period efforts were made to establish a closer connection of the Armenians with the Roman Catholic Church. In consequence of the Crusades, several kings, in the twelfth and following centuries, interested themselves in behalf of a corporate union of the churches with Rome, and the synods of Kromglai (1179), Sis (1307), and Atan (1316) declared themselves in the same way. At the Council of Florence (1439), the Armenian deputies, together with the Greeks, accepted the union, but neither people ratified it. Some churches, however, remained, ever since the fourteenth century, when Pope John XXIII sent a Roman archbishop to Armenia, in connection with Rome, and formed the "Armenian Catholic, or United Armenian Church," which in doctrinal points conforms with Rome, but in all other respects agrees with the Gregorian Armenian Church. Through the influence of Mechitar (q.v.) and the Mechitarists, this branch obtained a literary superiority over the main (nonunited) body, which, especially in modern times, has worked not a little in favor of Rome. Of late, not only a number of Armenian villages have accepted the union, but in Turkey, among some of the leading men of the national (Gregorian) Armenian Church, a disposition has been created to try anew the accomplishment of a corporate union. (See UNITED ARMENIAN CHURCH).

The efforts made by the High-Church Episcopalians for establishing a closer intercommunion between the Church of England and the Eastern churches was favorably received by many Armenians of Turkey. A pamphlet was published in 1860, in Constantinople, with the imprimatur of the Armenian patriarch, to show how nearly the Armenian Church is like that of England. The pamphlet, to this end, quotes from the prayer-book the whole of the twenty-fifth Article of Religion, but so shapes the translation as to make it appear that the Church of England, as well as the Armenian, believe in seven sacraments, though five of them, the pamphlet says, are received only, as they are by the Armenian Church, as secondary sacraments. Several Armenian theologians are quoted in support of this theory. In the same year(1860), Rev. G. Williams, of Cambridge (England), had an interview with the Armenian archbishop of Tiflis, in Georgia, relative to the scheme of a union between the English and Armenian churches. Mr. Williams was the bearer of letters from the bishops of Oxford and Lincoln, who, it appears, assumed to speak in the name of the Church of England to the " catholicos, patriarch, bishops, etc., of the orthodox Eastern Church." He was to see "the holy catholicos," the head of the entire Armenian Church, at Eschmiazin; but, being somewhat unwell, and his time of absence having almost expired, he abandoned his journey to Eschmiazin, and spent ten days in Tiflis to confer with the archbishop of that city. He expressed, in the name of the Church of England, his acknowledgment of the Armenian Church as a true, orthodox, and apostolic church, and kissed "the sacred hand of his holiness." The archbishop, in return, granted to him his episcopal blessing, and expressed a thousand good wishes for himself and his people. To the proposition of Mr. Williams to send a few young Armenians to Cambridge for an education, no definite answer was given.

The Armenian Church has produced a numerous theological literature, the chief works of which have been published at Venice by the Mechitarists, and at Constantinople. The translation of the Bible by Mesrob is still regarded as a model of classic language. The most celebrated Armenian writers were Gregory Illuminator and David the philosopher. A martyrologium was compiled in the ninth century by Kakik and Gregory, an enlarged edition of which (Haismavark, Constantinople, 1847) is still read in the Armenian churches. See Neumann, Versuch einer Geschichte d. Armenisch. Literatur (Leipz. 1836). (See MEKHITAR).

II. Doctrines, Usages, and Polity. -The Armenians are said to be Monophysites, but modern "missionaries are generally disposed to regard them as differing more in terminology than in idea from the orthodox faith on that point. They agree with the Greeks and other Oriental churches in rejecting the 'filio-que' from the Nicene Creed, and maintaining the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Father only. With some difference in forms and modes of worship, the religious opinions of the Armenians are mostly like those of the Greeks. The sign of the cross is used on all occasions; but made by the Greeks with three fingers, by the Armenians with two, by the Jacobites with one the Greek usage pointing to the Trinity, the Armenian to the two natures made one in the person of Christ, and the Jacobite to the Divine unity. They profess to hold to the seven sacraments of the Latin Church; but, in fact, extreme unction exists among them only in name, the prayers so designated being intermingled 'with those of confirmation, which latter rite is performed with the 'holy chrism' by the priest at the time of baptism. Infants are baptized, as commonly in the Greek and other Oriental churches, by a partial immersion in the font and three times pouring water on the head. Converted Jews, etc., though adults, are baptized in the same manner.

They readily admit to their communion Romanists and Protestants baptized by sprinkling, differing in this from the Greeks, who receive none, however previously baptized, without rebaptizing them. They believe firmly in the 'real presence' in the Eucharist, and adore the host in the mass. The people partake, however, in both kinds, the wafer or broken bread (unleavened) being dipped in undiluted wine (the Greeks use leavened bread and wine mixed with water), and laid carefully on the tongue. It must be received fasting. They reject the Latin purgatory, but, believing that the souls of the departed may be benefited by the aid of the church (which, of course, must be paid for), they pray for the dead. Saint-worship is carried to an extraordinary length, the addresses to saints being often grossly idolatrous, and the mediation of Christ lost sight of in the liturgical services of the church, as it is in the minds of the people. The cross, and pictures of the saints, are also objects of worship, as possessing inherent efficacy. The Supreme Being is likewise represented under the form of an aged, venerable man, with whom, and the Son, under the form of a young man, and the Holy Spirit, symbolized as a dove, the Virgin Mary is associated in the same picture. The perpetual virginity of the latter is held as a point of pre-eminent importance. Confession to the priesthood, in order to absolution, is deemed essential to salvation. Penances are imposed; but absolution is without money, and indulgences are never given. Baptism confers regeneration and cleansing from sin, original and actual; spiritual life is maintained by penances and sacraments; and the priest holds in his hand the passport to heaven. The merit of good works is acknowledged, particularly of asceticism. Monachism, celibacy, fasting, etc., are viewed as in other Eastern churches, but fasts are more lengthened and severe; the number of fast-days, when no animal food of any kind can be eaten, is 165 in the year. On the fourteen great feast-days the observance of the day is more strict than that of the Sabbath, which last is as in Roman Catholic countries. Minor feasts are even more numerous than the days in the year. The Church services are performed in the ancient tongue, not now understood by the common people, and in a manner altogether perfunctory and painful to an enlightened mind.

"There are nine different grades of clergy, each receiving a distinct ordination by the laying on of hands. Four of these are below the order of deacon, and are called porters, readers, exorcists, and candle-lighters. After these come the sub-deacons, the deacons, the priests, then the bishops, and, last of all, the catholicos. The catholicos is ordained by a council of bishops. He is the spiritual head of the church, who alone ordains bishops, and can furnish the meiron, or sacred oil used by bishops in ordaining the inferior clergy, and in the various ceremonies of the church, The priests are obliged to be married men, and can never rise higher than the priesthood, except in case of the death of a wife, when, not being allowed to marry a second time, they may enter among the Vartabedsan order of celibate priests, who are attached to the churches as preachers (the married priests do not usually preach), cr live together in monasteries, and from among whom the bishops, etc., on whom the law of celibacy is imposed, are taken" (Newcomb, Cyclopcedia of Missions).-Bekenntn. d. Christl. Glaubens d. arnmen. Kirche (Petersb. 1799); Armenionorum Conjessio (Viteb. 1750); Liturgia Armena (cura G. Andichian, Ven. 1826); Taufritual des armenischen Kirche in Russland (Petersb. 1799).

There are among the Gregorian (Non - united) Armenians a great number of monks. They follow either the rule of St. Anthony or that of St. Basil. The monks of St. Anthony live in solitude and in the desert, and surpass in austerity almost all the orders of the Roman Church. There are sometimes as many as a hundred monks in one monastery. The order of St. Basil (introduced into the Armenian Church in 1173) is less strict; their convents are in the towns, and from them the bishops and vartabeds are taken. Their principal convent, called "Three Churches," is at Eschmiazin. Most of their convents are poor, but they have three very rich ones in Jerusalem. The United Armenians have the following orders:

(1.) A congregation of monks of St. Anthony, still existing, under a general abbot, who resides on Mount Lebanon, while a procurator general represents the order at Rome.

(2.) A congregation of Basilians, also called Bartholomites, founded in 1307 at Genoa by a fugitive monk, Peter Martin. They obtained many convents in Italy, assumed in 1356 the rule of Augustine and the garb of the Dominican lay brothers, and were suppressed in 1650.

(3.) In 1330 a number of Armenian monks and priests were induced by some Dominican friars to join the Church of Rome, and formed a monastic congregation, called the United Brethren of St. Gregory Illuminator. They likewise adopted the rule of St. Augustine, and the constitutions and habit of the Dominicans. In 1356 they fused entirely with the Dominican order, and were formed into the province of Nakhchevan.

(4.) The most celebrated of the Armenian monks are the Mechitarists (q.v.).

III. Present Condition and Statistics.-The estimates of the present number of Armenians greatly vary. According to the latest information (1887) they amount to about 3,000,000 souls. Russia had, in 1851,372,535 Gregorian (Non-united) and 22,253 Catholic (United) Armenians. Persia has, according to the " Missionary Herald" of 1859, about 30,000; according to Ubicini (Letters on Turkey), 600,000 Armenians. Ubicini gives 40,000 for India, and 60,000 for Western 'Europe; but other statements give lower figures. The Armenians of Western Europe are mostly United; of those in India, Persia, and Turkey, only a minority (in Asiatic Turkey 75,000 in 1844, which number has since increased). The number of Armenians in Turkey who had declared themselves Protestants amounted in 1858 to nearly 6000. The catholicos of Eschmiazin (now in Russia) is still regarded as the chief bishop of the church. He is appointed by the Czar, and has under him a synod, an imperial procurator, and 67 bishoprics. Also the bishops of Constantinople and Jerusalem assume the title Patriarch, though they are said not to be strictly such, but rather superior bishops, possessing certain privileges conferred by the patriarch. The United Armenians have in European Turkey 1 archbishop at Constantinople; in Asiatic Turkey, 1 patriarch in Cilicia, 1 archbishop at Seleucia, and 9 bishops; in Persia, 1 bishop at Ispahan; in Austria, 1 archbishop at Lemberg, besides whom also the Mechitarist abbots of Venice and Vienna are archbishops in partibus.

IV. Armenian Protestant Missions.-The history of Protestantism among the Armenians forms one of the most interesting chapters in the history of modern Protestant missions. As a forerunner in the reformation of the Armenian Church we may regard a priest by the name of Debajy Oghlu, about 1760. He lived in Constantinople, and wrote a book in which he praised Luther, and castigated both clergy and people with an unsparing hand. His book, though never published, circulated from hand to hand, and was later used by the Protestant missionaries with some effect. The efforts of the Protestant Church in behalf of the Armenian Church began with the circulation of the Bible. In 1813 the British Bible Society began the publication of the Armenian Bible (the translation made by Mesrob in the fifth century), and in 1815 an edition of 5000 copies was issued at Calcutta. The same society published in 1823 at Constantinople an edition of 5000 copies of the New Testament, and of 3000 copies of the four Gospels alone. Simultaneously with the British society, the Russian Bible Society undertook the publication of the Armenian Bible, and issued at St. Petersburg, in 1817, an edition of 2000 copies, and soon after an edition of the ancient Armenian New Testament. A great enthusiasm manifested itself in Russia for this work, the Emperor Alexander, the archbishops and bishops of the Greek and the Armenian churches, and nearly all the Russian nobility being among its patrons. The Armenian Bibles and New Testaments thus printed were widely circulated through various agencies. But it was soon discovered that the mass of the people did not understand the old Armenian language, and that one portion (perhaps one third, chiefly in the more southern portions of Asia Minor) had even lost the use of the modern Armenian, speaking only Turkish. This led to the translation of the Bible into modern Armenian and into Armeno-Turkish (Turkish written with Armenian characters). The former translation was issued by the Russian society in 1822, the latter by the British society in 1823. These translations, however, called forth the opposition of the Armenian patriarch of Constantinople and the Armenian clergy in general.

A Protestant mission was established among the Armenians by the American Board in 1830, after the way had been previously prepared by the conversion of three Armenian priests (two of whom were bishops) by the American missionaries of Syria, and by the famous school of Pestitimalyan, a man conversant not only with Armenian, but also with Western literature and theology. The first missionaries were E. Smith and H. G. O. Dwight, who were joined in the following years by W. Goodell, J. B. Adger, B. Schneider, C. Hamlin, and others. The missionaries soon organized several schools at Constantinople, Pera, Brousa, Hass-Keuy, Bebek, and through them worked successfully for spreading evangelical views in the Armenian Church. In 1834 the mission press was transferred from Malta to Smyrna, and there soon began a most successful operation, printing, up to the 1st of January, 1838, two and a. half million pages in the Armenian languages. In the following years Mr. Goodell completed the translation of the whole Old Testament into the Armeno-Turkish language, and W. Adger issued Ian improved translation of the New Testament into modern Armenian. The missionaries early found devoted co-laborers among the Armenians; among whom Sahakyan, who was converted when a student, in 1833, and a pious priest, Der Kevork, were prominent. Though not interrupted, they encountered a strong opposition, which was generally headed by the patriarchs and the chief Armenian bankers in Constantinople, and sometimes manifested itself as open and cruel persecution. That was especially the case when, in 1844, Matteos, formerly bishop of Brousa, was made patriarch of Constantinople. For two years he used all means within his reach against the favorers of the Protestant missions, and it required the interference of the Christian ambassadors to obtain an order from the sultan, which put an end to further persecutions (March, 1846). Up to that time the converts had not formally separated from the church; but when they were now formally excommunicated by the patriarch Matteos, and thus also cut off from the civil rights of the Armenian community, (See TURKEY), they organized independent evangelical Armenian churches. The first churches thus organized were those of Constantinople, Nicomedia, Adabazan, and Trebizond.

Their number has since steadily increased. In 1850 the Protestants were placed on an equality with the other Christian denominations, and, in 1853, even on an equality with the Mussulmans before the law. The report made by the American Board on the Armenian missions in 1859 shows them to be in a very prosperous condition. They are now divided into two separate missions, the Eastern Turkey and Central Turkey. The former contained, in 1888, 95 stations occupied by missionaries; 115 out-stations, occupied by native teachers or helpers; 15 missionaries, of whom one is a physician; 26 female assistant missionaries; 27 native pastors; 51 native preachers; 48 other native helpers (not including 170 native teachers). The number of churches was 41, with 2542 members; the total number of adherents 15,413; the number of common schools 144, with 5261 pupils. There were also 14 higher schools of learning, with 526 scholars; also a theological school with 8 students. In addition to these there were 5 girls' schools, with 213 scholars. The average Sabbath congregations were 11,010. The Central Turkey Mission presented 2 stations; 51 out-stations; 7 missionaries; 3 physicians 1'6 assistant female missionaries, 19 native pastors; 27 native preachers; 110 native teachers; 4 other native helpers, 33 churches, with 4050 members, 17,056 adherents average Sabbath congregations, 10,000 1 theological school, with 7 students; 2 advanced schools with 89 students, 4 girls' schools, with 195 scholars; 95 common schools, with 4157 scholars. In 1889 a great revival occurred at Aintab, resulting in the conversion of 600 souls. In 1859 the Turkish government appointed an Armenian Protestant censor, in order to relieve the Protestants from the annoyances which they had suffered from the (Gregorian) Armenian censor. The civil community of the Protestant Armenians was at that time greatly suffering from pecuniary embarrassment, as the Protestants, on account of their poverty, find it difficult to pay the tax levied on them for supporting their civil organization. Until 1859 the American missionaries had mostly confined themselves to the Armenians of Turkey, but in that year one of the missionaries visited several Armenian villages of Persia for the purpose of establishing a Protestant mission.

V. Literature. For the Armenian Church, see Neander, Ch. Hist. ii, 113, 553; Ricaut, Greek and Armenian Churches (London, 1679); St.-Martin, Memoires historiques et geographiques sur l'A rmenie (Paris, 1819, vol. ii); Hisfoire, Dogmes, Traditions, etc., de l'Eglise Armenienne (Paris, 1855, 8vo); Ubicini, Letters on Turcey, translated by Lady Easthope (Lond. 1856); Neale, History of the Eastern Church, vol. i (Lond. 1850, 2 vols. 8vo); and especially the History of Armenia by the Mechitarist Tchamtchenanz (3 vols. 4to, Venice, 17841786). On the introduction of Christianity, see F. Bodenstedt, Ueber die Einfihrurg des Christenthums in Armenien (Berlin, 1850). On the statistics, Marsden, Churches and Sects, vol. i; Newcomb, Cyclopcedia of Missions; Smith and Dwight, Missionary Researches in-Armenia; Coleman, Ancient Christianity, ch. xxvii; Christian Remembrancer, 23:349; Church of England Quarterly, July, 1854; Dwight, Christianity Revived in the East; Reports of A. B. C. F. M.,; Schem, Am. Ecclesiast. Year-book. (See ASIA).

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Armenian Church.'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​a/armenian-church.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
Ads FreeProfile