The Origin of the Armenian Church

The origin of the Armenian Church dates 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).

Armenian clergy from Gars

Armenian clergy from Gars

During the first three centuries Christianity in Armenia was a hidden religion under heavy persecution. 

It was at the beginning of the fourth century, 301 AD, that Christianity was officially accepted by the Armenians as the state religion. St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron Saint of the Armenian Church, and King Thiridates III, the ruler of the time, played a pivotal role in the Christianization of Armenia. It is a well known historical fact that the Armenians were the first nation to formally adhere to Christianity.

Buildings of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Sis

Buildings of the Catholicosate of Cilicia in Sis

This conversion was followed in the fourth and fifth centuries by a process of institutionalization and Armenization of Christianity in Armenia.

St. Gregory the Illuminator became the organizer of the Armenian Church hierarchy. From that time, the heads of the Armenian Church have been called Catholicos and still hold the same title. St. Gregory chose as the site of the Catholicosate then the capital city of Vagharshapat, in Armenia. He built the pontifical residence next to the church called “Holy Mother of God” which then would take on the name of St. Etchmiadzin (meaning the place where the Only-Begotten Son has descended), according to the vision in which he saw the Only-Begotten Son of God come down from

Armenians in Zeytun

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 by the Church (St. Mesrob Mashdotz, 43), the Armenian culture was flourished under the guidance of the Church. The Church also played a major part in landmark events of our history.

Sis

Sis

It became the defender of the human rights of its people.   

In the sphere of theology, spirituality and literature and arts, many catholicoi, bishops and priests have made valuable contribution to the Christian thought, culture and civilization.

The history of the Armenian Church has been one of continuous and living martyrdom. However, creativity and evangelistic witness sustained the life of the Church in the midst of enormous storms and history.

Excerpts from

– The Witness of the Armenian Church in a Diaspora Situation

– The Armenian Church Beyond the 1700th Anniversary

The continuous upheavals, which characterized the history of Armenia, the church center, the Catholicosate 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 (927), to Arghina (947) and to Ani (992). After the fall of Ani and the Armenian Kingdom of Bagradits in 1045, masses of Armenians migrated to Cilicia. The Catholicosate, together with the people, settled there. It was first established in Thavblour (1062), then in Dzamendav (1072), in Dzovk (1116), in Hromkla (1149), and finally in Sis (1293), the capital of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia,

Monastery of Varak in Van

Armenians in Van, to right: Monastery of Varak

where it remained for seven centuries. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia, in 1375, the Armenian Church also assumed the role of national leadership, and the Catholicos was recognized as Ethnarch (head of nation). This national responsibility considerably broadened the scope of the Church’s mission in the Ottoman Empire and in the Diaspora.

 

Two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church

The existence of two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church, namely the Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin (the Catholicosate of All Armenians or otherwise known as Holy See of Etchmiadzin), Armenia, and the Catholicosate in Antelias Lebanon (the Catholicosate of the Great House of Cilicia or otherwise known as Holy See of Cilicia), is due to historical circumstances. In the 10th century, when Armenia was devastated by Seljuks, the majority of the Armenians left their homeland and came to settle in Cilicia, where they re-organized their political, religious and cultural life.

Sasun

Sasun

The Catholicosate, the headquarters of the Church also took refuge in Cilicia. 

In 1375 the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Cilicia became a battleground for Seljuks, Mamluks and other invaders. In the meantime Armenia was having a relatively peaceful time. The deteriorating situation in Cilicia on the one hand, and the growing cultural and religious awakening in Armenia on the other, led the clergy of Armenia to elect a Catholicos in Etchmiadzin. 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 Etchmiadzin in the person of Kirakos Virapetsi. At the same time Krikor Moussapegiants (1439-1446) 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.

Municipality in Zeytun

Municipality in Zeytun

The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate in Etchmiadzin, Armenia has been recognized by the Catholicosate in Sis, Cilicia.

 

The Catholicosate of Cilicia

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 Syria and Lebanon. The Catholicosate in Sis, as well thousands of Armenian churches, monasteries, schools and cultural centers were robbed and ruined by the Turks. Catholicos Sahak II followed his flock in exile.

Late Catholicos Sahag Khabayan (1849 – 1939)

After wandering in Cyprus, Syria and Lebanon, in 1930, he established the Catholicosate in Antelias, Lebanon.

Thus, a new era of renaissance was opened in the history of the Catholicosate with the organization of dioceses and communities. The Armenian people spread all over the world looked at the Catholicosate with new hopes and expectations. In the course of time and in response to the growing needs of the Armenian communities and changing realities, the scope of the Church’s witness and service was broadened and its priorities were constantly revised. The survival of the Armenian people after the Genocide, which became the focus of the Church’s concern, was soon changed into community-building. The Catholicoi, Papken I, Bedros I, Karekin I, Zareh I, Khoren I and Karekin II, gave a new vitality to the mission of the Armenian Church. Besides the organization of theological and Christian education, the evangelistic witness, building of churches, schools, community centers, social institutions, and homes for elderly people became concrete expressions of the Church’s missionary outreach.

With the election of His Holiness Catholicos Aram I, a new period of dedicated service and dynamic witness begun in the history of the Armenian Church. In fact, the re-organization of the Theological Seminary, Birds’ Nest (orphanage), Sanatorium (hospital), Old People’s Home, the establishment of new departments on ecumenical relations, inter-religious dialogue, Christian education, youth,

Festive celebrations at St. Garabed Monastery in Mush

Festive celebrations at St. Garabed Monastery in Mush

communication and information, Armenian studies, cultural activities, special courses for pastors, and initiation a number of processes and programmes, conferences and seminars aimed at giving a renewed vitality and efficiency to the witness of the Church on inter-diocesan and pan-Armenian levels, clearly indicate the growing expansion of the Catholicosate’s mission of faith and the Church’s active presence in the life of our communities.

The Armenian Catholicosate of Cilicia has dioceses in the countries of the Middle East, in Europe and in North and South America. The diocesan prelates (Bishops or Archbishops) are elected by the Diocesan Council from the list of the candidates recommended by the Catholicos, and the election is confirmed by the Catholicos.

 

Catholicoi of the Armenian Church*

Saint Thaddeus

43-66

Saint Bartholomew

60-68

Zakaria

68-72

Zementos

72-76

Atrnerseh

77-92

Moushe

93-123

Shahen

124-150

Shavarch

151-171

Ghevondios

172-190

Mehroujan

240-270

Krikor I the Illuminator

302-325

Aristakes I

325-333

Verthanes I

333-341

Housig I

341-347

Paren I

348-352

Nerses I the Great

353-373

Shahak I

373-377

Zaven I

377-381

Aspourakes I

381-386

Sahak I the Great

387-436

Hovsep I

437-452

Melite I

452-456

Movses I

456-461

Kud I

461-478

Hovhannes I

478-490

Papken I

490-516

Samuel I

516-526

Moushe I

526-534

Sahak II

534-539

Kristhapor I

539-545

Ghevont I

545-548

Nerses II

548-557

Hovhannes II

557-574

Movses II

574-604

Abraham I

607-615

Gomidas I

615-628

Kristhapor II

628-630

Yezr I

630-641

Nerses III

641-661

Anastas I

661-667

Israel I

667-677

Sahak III

677-703

Yeghia I

703-717

Hovhannes III

717-728

Davit I

728-741

Dertad I

741-764

Dertad II

764-767

Sion I

767-775

Yesayi I

775-788

Stephanos I

788-790

Hovap I

790-791

Soghomon I

791-795

Kevork I

792-795

Hovsep II

795-806

Davit II

806-833

Hovhannes IV

833-855

Zakaria I

855-876

Kevork II

877-897

Mashdotz I

897-898

Hovhannes V

898-929

Stephanos II

929-930

Theotoros I

930-941

Yeghishe I

941-946

Anania I

946-968

Vahan I

968-969

Stephanos III

969-972

Khatchik I

973-992

Sarkis I

992-1019

Bedros I

1019-1058

Khatchik II

1058-1060

 

Vacancy of Five Years

Krikor II

1066-1105

Parsegh I

1105-1113

Krikor III

1113-1166

Nerses IV (the Gracious)

1166-1173

Krikor IV

1173-1193

Krikor V

1193-1194

Krikor VI

1194-1203

Hovhannes VI

1203-1221

Constandin I

1221-1267

Hagop I

1268-1286

Constandin II

1286-1289

Stephanos IV

1290-1293

Krikor VII

1293-1307

Constandin III

1307-1322

Constandin IV

1323-1326

Hagop II

1327-1341

Mekhithar I

1341-1355

Hagop II

1355-1359

Mesrob I

1359-1372

Constandin V

1372-1374

Boghos I

1374-1382

Theodoros II

1382-1392

Garabed I

1393-1404

Hagop III

1404-1411

Krikor VIII

1411-1418

Boghos II

1418-1430

Constandin VI

1430-1439

Krikor IX Mousapegiants

1439-1446

 

Election of another Catholicos in Etchmiadzin (1441)

 

Holy See of Etchmiadzin

Holy See of Cilicia

Giragos I

1441-1443

Krikor IX Mousabegiants

1439-1446

Krikor X

1443-1465

Garabed

1446-1478

Aristakes II

1465-1469

Stephanos

1478-1488

Sarkis II

1469-1474

Hovhannes I

1488-1489

Hovhannes VII

1474-1484

Hovhannes II

1489-1525

Sarkis III

1484-1515

Hovhannes III

1525-1539

Zakaria II

1515-1520

Simeon I

1539-1545

Sarkis IV

1520-1536

Ghazar I

1545-1547

Krikor XI

1536-1545

Thoros I

1548-1550

Stephanos V

1545-1567

Khatchadour I

1551-1560

Mikael I

1567-1576

Khatchadour II

1560-1584

Krikor XII

1576-1590

Azaria I

1584-1601

David IV

1590-1629

Hovhannes IV

1602-1621

Movses III

1629-1632

Betros I (Coadjutor)

1602-1608

Philibos I

1633-1655

Minas I

1621-1632

Hagop IV

1655-1680

Simeon II

1633-1648

Yeghiazar I

1682-1691

Nerses I

1648-1654

Nahabed I

1691-1705

Thoros II

1654-1657

Aghexanter I

1706-1714

Khatchadour III

1657-1674

Asdvadzadour I

1715-1725

Sahag I

1674-1683

Garabed II

1726-1729

Azaria II

1683-1686

Apraham II

1730-1734

Krikor II

1686-1693

Apraham III

1734-1737

Asdvatzadour I

1693-1696

Ghazar I

1737-1751

Matheos I

1694-1705

Minas I

1751-1753

Hovhannes V

1705-1721

Aghexanter II

1753-1755

Bedros III (Coadjutor)

1705-1721

Hagop V

1759-1763

Krikor III

1721-1729

Simeon I

1763-1780

Hovhannes VI

1729-1731

Ghougas I

1780-1799

Ghougas I

1731-1737

David V

1801-1807

Mikael I

1737-1758

Daniel I

1807-1808

Kapriel I

1758-1770

Yeprem I

1809-1830

Yeprem I

1771-1784

Hovhannes VIII

1831-1842

Theotoros III

1784-1796

Nerses V

1843-1857

Giragos I

1797-1822

Matheos I

1858-1865

Yeprem II

1823-1831

Kevork I

1866-1885

Mikael II

1832-1855

Magar I

1885-1891

Giragos II

1855-1865

Megerdich I

1892-1908

Mekerdich I

1871-1894

Matheos II

1908-1910

Sahag II

1902-1939

Kevork V

1911-1930

Papken II (Coadjutor)

1931-1936

Khoren I

1932-1938

Bedros IV

1940-1940

Kevork VI

1945-1954

Karekin I

1943-1952

Vazken I

1955-1995

Zareh I

1956-1963

Karekin I

1995-1999

Khoren I

1963-1983

Karekin II

1999-

Karekin II

1977-1995

 

 

Aram I

1995-

 

 

  

 

* Taken from Amine Jules Iskandar, “La Nouvelle Cilicie : Les Arméniennes du Liban”, Antelias, 1999, pp. 118-121.