The Armenian Church

The Armenian Church is not a uniate church

1. Historical survey of the formation of the two ecclesiological trends within the Armenian Church

In the West, until recently the dominating tendency with the authors of Church History was to give a global judgment of the separation of the Oriental Churches from the centre of the Catholic unity enumerating the following differences: the Church of Constantinople separated under Michael Cerullarius, the other Churches separated since the Council of Chalcedon or with Nestorius. There was, however, not simple development of these facts, especially with regard to those Churches whose separation was caused by the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon, i.e., of the duality of the divine and human natures in the only person of the Word.

So the See of Rome having around itself the Churches of the West, remained, after the rupture of the ecclesiastical communion of the Oriental Churches, the only bastion of catholicity. As a result of this situation the distinctive note of the Church of Christ, Catholicity, could only become the synonym of Latinity, which is a property of the Western Church. The Church of the Byzantine East on her part finally appropriated the appellation Orthodox.

The Churches which contented themselves with the teaching of the first three Councils were globally judged as heretical or at least schismatic, as if all of them had remained stiff, motionless, without experiencing any fluctuations, up to the 16th and 17th centuries, when, by the missionary efforts of the Western Church, those small Oriental Catholic communities were formed. This global judgment is contradicted by facts.

It is well-known that the Christian hierarchy, which was re-established in the Armenian Kingdom by St. Gregory the Illuminator in the beginning of the 4th century, was a Church situated outside the borders of the Roman Empire and was generally called in the official texts: Church of the Barbarian lands.

In spite of such a geographical separation, this Church, however, was hierarchically linked with the nearest metropolitan See situated within the empire, namely with the Church of Caesarea in Cappadocia from where St. Gregory the Illuminator had made his way to the Armenian Kingdom. It is a well-known fact that during the first centuries, Caesarea hierarchically originally belonged to Antioch which in her turn was in ecclesiastical communion with the See of Peter. This direct link with Caesarea in Cappadocia of the Armenian hierarchy involved the solemn consecration of its Catholicos by the Archbishop of Caesarea as well as the right of the former to take part in the regional synods convoked by the latter. For the Armenian Church, this was the normal way of safeguarding, by the intermediary of Caesarea, the unity of the faith and the ecclesiastical communion with the Universal Church, i.e., Catholic Church.

Also, the Seleucia-Ctesiphon Church situated in the Barbarian land was originally linked with Antioch and through her with Rome. The form of ecclesiastical communion was still horizontal, at least for the so-called Churches of the Barbarian lands which flourished outside the frontiers of the Roman Empire.

2. The Maintenance of this Ecclesiastical Communion in the Armenian Church despite the fluctuations

This form of ecclesiastical communion with the Catholicity, imprinted on the Armenian Church by St. Gregory the Illuminator, was meticulously respected by the Armenian hierarchy during two centuries in spite of blows coming from the Armenian and foreign political powers. The dependence or the initial link, however, with regard to the consecration of the Catholicos by the Archbishop of Caesarea, was not lasting because of the obstacles originating in the pressure of the political power of the Persian Empire.

Already during the second half of the 4th century, there arose oppositions concerning the consecration of the Catholicos by the Archbishop of Caesarea which were politically motivated and put this hierarchical link to a severe test. The two kings of Armenia, Arshak and Pap, tugged between the competitions of the two empires and were motivated by the security of their state against the invading dynasty of the neighboring Sassanids who wished to disengage the Armenian Church from the hierarchical dependence of a metropolitan. We know, however, from the indications of a historian of that period, Faustus Buzant, that the Armenian hierarchy was determined to refuse submission to measures dictated by the political power. So the ecclesiastical communion with the catholicity remained untouched. In the meantime, at the end of the 4th century, under Theodosius and Sapor III, the kingdom of Armenia was divided between the two empires by a treaty which was of effect from 387 on. The lions share went to Sassanid Persia four fifths of the kingdom, called Great Armenia. The Arshakuni dynasty ruled still for a certain period as vassal kings of Persia, till it was abolished in 428.

In spite of all this, the ecclesiastical communion, as far as the unity of faith is concerned, was maintained during the whole 5th century. But from now onwards in lieu of Caesarea of Cappadocia, it was maintained by the intermediary of the new Patriarchate of Constantinople whose bishop, in his capacity of being the hierarch of the capital of the Christian Empire, according to the 3rd canon of the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople (381), had appropriated the privileges of the ancient archiepiscopal Sees of Ephesus, Caesarea and Heraclea.

The situation remained unchanged not only under the Catholicosate of St. Sahak the Great (389/90-439), but also under his successors during the 5th and in the beginning of the 6th centuries. Whenever doctrinal questions arose – sometimes even disciplinary problems – the Armenian hierarchy had recourse to the patriarchs of the imperial city, Constantinople. [1]

3. From the Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon Onwards

The hierarchy of Great Armenia was unable to take part in the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon (451), because of the religious war, undertaken by the Armenian princes against the Mazdaist penetration in order to safeguard their religious liberty against the mighty Sassanid Empire. This liberty was finally obtained in 484, thanks to the wisdom and the courage of the prince Vahan Mamikonian. He became the Governor, Marzpan of Great Armenia appointed by the court of Persia.

A the same time, during the second half of the 5th century, the Catholicos Kud and his successor Yovhan Mandakuni maintained their relations with the Greek-Byzantine Church.

The Synod of Dwin (506-507) which assembled under the Catholicos Babgen (490-515) speaks about it sufficiently. The ecclesiastical heads of the Aluans, of Armenia and Georgia, in solidarity with the Greeks, signed a doctrinal, Christological act having as formula of agreement the Henoticon of Zenon whose most determined defender was emperor Anastasius (491-518).

This was the period when the majority of the Oriental bishops headed by their patriarchs willy-nilly had signed the imperial decree formulated by Akakios, Patriarch of Constantinople, who thus gave birth to a schism between Orient and Occident despite the opposition of certain bishops at Byzantium as well as Jerusalem and Antioch. But, for the Sees outside the Empire, as this was the case of Armenia, Aluania and Georgia, this agreement on the basis of the Henoticon was only the proof of their goodwill to remain faithful to the ecclesiastical communion with Byzantium and the majority of the Oriental Sees with which they directly were united.

The modern authors agree that during the synod of Dwin of 506-507, convoked under Babgen I, nothing has still been formulated against the 4th Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon. Consequently, the ecclesiastical communion with the four patriarchal Sees of the Orient, continued among them and the three Churches of the northern Barbarian lands.

After the death of Anastasius I and the appearance of Justin I (518-527), the Patriarch of Constantinople abandoned the Henoticon, and his communion with the See of Peter was thus normalized.

4. The Situation of the Communion from the Council of Dwin (555) to 1080

According to most authors of importance, the rejection of Chalcedon, executed by the Armenian Church for the first time, reaches as far back as the Council of Dwin which took place in 555 under the Catholicos Nerses II. A fraction of the episcopate of the Armenian Church presided over by him rejected the Council of Chalcedon supposing its dyophysite Christological definition to be identical with the error of Nestorius. This synodical act of Nerses II, however, is far from representative of the attitude of all the episcopate of the Armenian Church of that time. In addition to the two Catholicossates of the North, of Georgia and the Aluans, the episcopate of two large Armenian regions, of Seunik and the nine bishops of Vaspurakan, refused to add their signatures to this document.

It is known that after the massacre of the Governor Persian Marzpan of Armenia and the insurrection in 572 of prince Vartan Mamikonian, when Catholicos John Gabelian had to take refuge at Constantinople asking the protection of Justin II (565-578), there was a Greek-Armenian synod where the Catholicos with the bishops who were with him signed the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon. This happened in 573 and is one proof of a certain fluctuation existing in the spirit of this Catholicos and his bishops, in spite of the fact that he had declared himself, still being in Armenia, against the formula of Chalcedon.

When Maurikios, according to the Persian-Byzantine treaty of 591, obtained two thirds of Great Armenia from Khosrow II, 21 bishops of the dioceses of the liberated territories assembled in synod under the leadership of Theodoros, bishop of Theodosoupolis (Karin, Erzerum), where the Synodal Fathers declared themselves in favor of the formula of Chalcedon, thus restoring the ecclesiastical communion with the Byzantine Church. And when Catholicos Movses II, who had his residence at Dwin in the territory outside the new frontiers of the empire, refused to accept the invitation of the 21 fathers of the Synod, the Synod proceeded with electing another Catholicos in the person of John III Bakarantzi (593-611). This was also the beginning of the division of the Armenian Catholicossate: one for the adherents of Chalcedon and another one for the opposing party. Thus, for the first time, under the occupation of Maurikios, a Chalcedonian Church took shape. It was led by John III against the anti-Chalcedonian Church existing under the domination of Persia, in geographically reduced Great Armenia.

Georgia, in her turn, under the Catholicos Kurion who, between 598-599, had been sent by Movses II to lead this Church, declared herself as pure Chalcedonian.

The Armenian Catholicos Abraham I, successor of Movses II, anathematized Kurion (608-609) and forbade his followers every communion in sacris as well as in civilibus. So the already rather reduced Armenian Church became, under Abraham I in the beginning of the 7th century, also isolated from her neighbor in the North, the Church of Georgia which, breaking off its ecclesiastical communion with Abraham I, maintained it with Byzantium and the Armenian dioceses which had declared themselves for Chalcedon and were united around their own Catholicos John III Bakarantzi. [2]

The whole drama was caused by a misunderstanding about the contents of the 4th Council. The anti-Chalcedonian party confounding the dyophysite formula of this council with the Nestorian division remained clinched to the traditional Cyrillian formula: Una physis Verbi Incarnati.

Despite the good faith which characterized this refusal, it basically was but a terminological monophysitism because it professed the human as well as the divine nature in Our Lord Jesus Christ. It remains true that the consequence of this refusal was the breaking off of the ecclesiastical communion with the Catholic Church which remained faithful to the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon.

This anti-Chalcedonian fraction of the Armenian Church, headed by its Catholicos, remained separated from its neighbors in the North as well as from the other part of the Armenian episcopate who did not share the anti-Chalcedonian standpoint of their confreres.

One must admit that the determining factor of the refusal, as far as the anti-Chalcedonian fraction of the Armenian Church is concerned, was the ignorance about Chalcedon; so it let itself be carried away by the Syrian emissaries. Unable to assist at the 4th council, it lacked direct information coming from the source itself. To this we have to add the always present political factor of the pressure exercised by Persia upon her Christian subjects in order to keep them in opposition to her rival, the Christian empire.

The part of the Armenian hierarchy that had determined to remain faithful to the dogmatic formula of Chalcedon, had, in the course of the centuries, ups and downs, always having its partisans among the elite of the clergy and adepts among the faithful. The hierarchy, however, established under the occupation of Maurikios, was abolished when Khosrov Parvez got back the territory of Great Armenia from him; Catholicos John III Bakarantzi of the Chalcedonians was imprisoned and died in 615.

Under Catholicos Ezr (630-641), at the synod of Karin (633-634), convoked under the patronage of Heraclius, and later, during the patriarchate of Nerses III (641-661), when this hierarch felt himself free of the pressure of the Armenian prince Theodore Restuni, the ecclesiastical communion with the Greeks was re-established. [3] Later, also the Catholicoi of the second half of the 7th century, Anastasius, Israel, Sahak III, are for Chalcedon. Catholicos John Oznetzi (717-728), declared himself dyophysite though prudently abstaining from using the name of Chalcedon. [4] No writings or acts against the 4th Council are found in the name of the Catholicoi who governed the Armenian Church during the period from 728 to 855. The hieromonks of the monastery of Narek, from among whom we have the remarkable mystic St. Gregory of Narek, are indisputably for the two natures in Jesus Christ. [5] During the Catholicossate of Zacharias (855-877), the synod convoked at Shirakavan in 862 with the participation of the delegate of Patriarch Photius of Constantinople, Vahan-Ohan, Archbishop of Nicaea, openly adhered to the formula of Chalcedon of the two natures and one person (prosopon), though it avoided mention of the 4th Council in order not to excite the susceptibilities of the Armenians.

If the different negotiations with the Church of Byzantium, which were led by the Armenian Catholicoi in the course of these centuries, did not arrive at concrete results, the reason must be sought in the fact that the patriarchs of Constantinople, backed by the emperors, were not satisfied with the communion in faith with the Armenian Church but demanded that the Catholicoi ought to be consecrated by them. The Armenians had refused to accept this claim from the time when the hierarchical link existing in the 4th century between the Armenian Church and the Exarchate of Caesarea was broken.

5. The Evolution of the Direct Ecclesiastical Communion with the Centre of Catholicity from the 11th to the 15th centuries

The Armenian See, following the migratory movement of its faithful from Great Armenia towards the centre of Anatolia and towards Cilicia, was transferred towards the South, into Cilicia. From the time of the Catholicos Gregory II Vkayaser (1065-1105), direct relations between the Armenian Church and Rome were established, and the form of the primitive ecclesiastical communion the horizontal form was replaced by the vertical communion, the direct communion without passing through intermediary Oriental Sees.

The ecclesiastical communion between the two Churches, Rome and the Armenian Church, is for this period an established fact.

Under Catholicos Gregory III Pahlavuni (1113-1166) as well as under the patriarchate of St. Nerses Klayetzi (1166-1173), the good relations continued. Gregory IV (1173-1193) surnamed Degha, Klayetzis successor, confessed, during the Armenian Synod of Rum-Kale (1179), also in the name of the 33 synodal Fathers, including the bishops representing the Church of the Aluans, full adherence to the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon. They are fully conscious that by this clear Christological position they are only following their most authoritative ancestors. As witnesses they quote the Catholicoi John Otznetzi, Grgeory II Vkayaser, Basil, Gregory III Pahlavuni, St. Nerses Klayetzi, later St. Nerses Lambronatzi, who had been one of the most remarkable champions of Ecumenism

Under Gregory VI Apirat (1194-1203), with the protection of the first king of the Rupenian dynasty, Leon the Great, the ecclesiastical communion with the centre of catholicity continued without any blame.

Of course, not the whole of the Armenian Church with its dioceses, dispersed outside the Cilician kingdom, shared this communion. There was dissidence between some of these dioceses of East Armenia and of the Vardapets (hieromonks) of the monasteries of Haghpat, of Sanahin etc., who always remained anchored to their prejudices with regard to the 4th Council. But the official Church led by its only head residing in Cilicia, who had most of the Armenian dioceses under his obedience, consolidated more and more its communion with Rome.

Under the Catholicoi Hovhannes VII Medzabaro (1200-1221) and Constantine I (1221-1267), the communion continued as well. The latter, following the proposition of Pope Innocent IV, convoked an Armenian synod at Sis in 1243. The synodal Fathers took into consideration the remarks of the Franks and did not hesitate to restore the practice at that time neglected of the anointing of the sick, by the 25th canon of this synod, and they also adhered to the dogma of the procession of the Holy Spirit as utroque. This is related by the historian Vartan. [6]

There is no change with regard to the ecclesiastical communion, also among the following Catholicoi of the second half of the 13th century. Gregory VII Anavardzetzi convoked the synod of Sis (1307). More than 30 bishops took part in it, and their respectful sentiments towards the See of Rome was manifest. Pope Bonifatius VIII approved the orthodox faith of Catholicos Gregory Anavardzetzi on October 26, 1298. The position of this synod was approved by his successor Constantine III (1307-1321) at the synod of Adana which took place in 1316. [7] It is a fact that the Catholicoi of the two Armenian synods, in their incontestable zeal for unity with Rome, carried it too far. Beyond the necessary unity in faith they tended to uniformity even in some points of the rite. This was bound to provoke a stronger opposition from certain dioceses of East Armenia.

Under the patriarchate of Catholicos Mekhitar Krnetzi (1341-1355), the acts of the synod of Sis of 1342 present an eloquent testimony of the unblemished continuation of the ecclesiastical communion with Rome. This synod had been convoked to refute the calumnious accusation written down in 117 chapters by the Armenian Nerses Pallientz of the so-called peregrinating brethren, against the orthodoxy of the Armenian Church. The acts are published in the collection Mansi, vol. XXV, where it is declared: Populus Ciliciae communiter, sicut Catholicon, rex et alii praelati ecclesiastici et saeculares uniti sunt Ecclesiae Romanae, similiiter et populares. This state of things perseveres during this and also the following century for the official Armenian Church was united around its only Catholicos residing in Cilicia.

6. The Ecclesiastical Communion since the Division of the Catholicossal See (1441)

In 1441, the Armenian hierarchy was divided into two: one was organized in the Catholicosate of Sis in Cilicia; the other in that of Etchmiadzin which gradually appropriated the appellation Catholicos of All the Armenians for its hierarch.

Catholicos Gregory IX Mussapeghiantz (1440-1452), who continued to be the only canonically legitimate Catholicos because that of Aghtamar, from the beginning (1113) was only considered as anti-Catholicos being invited to transfer his See to Etchmiadzin was not inclined to do it. In reaction to it, the bishops of East Armenia, altogether thirteen and the same number of Vartapets, assembled in synod and elected another Catholicos in the person of Kirakos Virabetzi.

It cannot be denied that among the factors which played their role in the spirit of the promoters of this split and the division of the See and of the Armenian Church, there existed a certain distrust against the See of the Catholicossate remaining at Sis, especially after the fall of the kingdom of Cilicia.

Finally, after the division of the Catholicossal Sees, the creation of an archiepiscopal See at Constantinople endowed with large civil powers over all Christians of Armenian descent in the Ottoman Empire, introduced a political instrument of control in the service of the Sultans. Consequently, to venture to declare oneself as Catholic was, for an Armenian, equivalent to making himself a Frank; to belong to the religion of the inimical countries, to become a suspect subject.

The Armenian centres, headed by some prelates or missionary priests, continued the orthodox traditions of their forefathers. They were at Aleppo, Ankara, Constantinople, Erzerum, Tocat, Trebizond and in Persian Armenia, at Djulfa, in Georgia.

As regards the Catholicossate of Cilicia and the Patriarchate of Constantinople, from time to time there were prelates sending delegations to Rome in order to assure their Orthodoxy, their acknowledgement of the primacy of this See and to give it proofs of their communion. From the See of Sis in Cilicia, to quote only a few, Catholicos Azaria I Djughayetzi (1584-1601) sent on May 1, 1585 a delegation to Pope Gregory XIII along with his profession of the Catholic faith, signed by four of his bishops.[8]

As to the Armenian archiepiscopal See of Constantinople, the turbulent events which had upset this See during the 16th and 17th centuries had often no other cause than that of two rival trends: the one in favor of the communion with Rome, the other contrary to it.

From among the Catholicoi of Etchmiadzin, Stepanos Salmastetzi (1543-1552) travelled to Rome in 1548. He remained there till the jubilee year 1550. According to the testimony of contemporaries, he was in communion with the Popes Paul II and Julius III to whom he is said to have declared his obedience. [9]

His successor, Mikael I Sebastatsi sent, on May 20, 1562, his letter of obedience to Pope Pius IV (1559-1565), with a delegation directed by Abgar Tbir. [10]

Catholicos David (1590-1629) wrote twice to Pope Paul V: in 1605, and on May 13, 1607.

At the same period, Melchisedek expressed his submission to Rome more than once. In 1617, Melchisedek sent a delegation to Pope Paul V (1605-1621) to attest his obedience. Three years later, he wrote to the Pope a second time to reaffirm his orthodox sentiments and his ecclesiastical communion. Finally, in 1622, he renews the same sentiments to Pope Gregory XV (1621-1623) and later to Pope Urban VIII (1623-1644). [11]

Movses III Tatevatzi, after having convoked a dozen bishops to a synod at Djulfa in Persia, which treated the question of the ecclesiastical communion with Rome, sent his profession of faith to Pope Urban VIII, signed by twelve bishops.

Among the immediate successors of Movses III, it is worthwhile to mention the figure of Hagop IV Djughayetzi (1655-1680). During his long pontificate in the See of Etchmiadzin, he slowly approached the Catholic Church to take, at the end of his days, the pilgrims stick towards the Eternal City. But, already too old, fatigued by his journey from East Armenia to Constantinople, he fell sick. Before leaving this world on August 12, 1680, he called Msgr. Gasparo Gasparini, Latin Patriarchal Vicar of Constantinople, to his death-bed, and into his hands he renewed his profession of the Catholic faith.

7. The Permanence of the two ecclesiological conceptions and their conflict

Throughout this research we perceive the collision of two ecclesiological conceptions within the Armenian Church: the first is that which remains attached to the apostolic tradition of the ecclesiastical communion among the individual Churches. The other conception is that which did not consider well this primordial truth and preferred, from a certain period onwards, isolation, pretending that this is the only way to save ecclesiastical integrity. From the exposition above it can be seen that the hierarchical Church in Armenia was characterized by the first conception with St. Gregory the Illuminator in the fourth century.

The second conception appeared only later, as was illustrated above. The successors of St. Gregory remained faithful to the first conception till the beginning of the 6th century. The fluctuation is of later origin due to the misunderstanding with regard to the Christological definition of Chalcedon.

Since then, the conflict of the above-mentioned two conceptions was caused by the dominating politics in Armenia, which was more or less subjugated by foreign powers. This is why, under the government of the principalities and the Armenian kingdom of Cilicia, where the See of the Catholicos was established and when the influence of the foreign political pressure of mazdeistic Persia or that of the Muslim power had ceased, the Church had the chance to choose its way to liberty. It resolutely went back to the ancestral tradition of St. Gregory the Illuminator, St. Nerses, St. Sahak and Mesrob.

It ought to be stressed that those of the Armenian prelates who were in communion with Rome did not give in to the temptation to constitute themselves as a separate hierarchy and ecclesiastical community, independent from the mother-Church, the more so as they were not threatened by persecutions.

8. The Role of the western missionaries in this conflict

While the Armenian hieromonks, who were in communion with Rome, started to instruct the priests and the people allowing them to continue frequenting their own churches, the foreign missionaries, called the Franks, be it at Constantinople, in Turkey or at Djulfa-Isphahan in Persia and at Akhalzikhe in Georgia, where they had churches of their own attached to their monasteries, constituted small communities with the Armenians who sympathized with them and frequented their churches.

It is a fact that the faithful who frequented the missionary’s churches showed diminishing esteem towards their own Vartapets. What was still more serious, was mainly the behavior of the majority of the missionaries, who piqued themselves on their disciplinary customs, the difference of rite, their fast, calendar and the like, and thus unconsciously became the cause of scandal, because their behavior soon had its effects on the conduct of their Armenian followers.

This certainly caused disregard or even contempt of their work and above all, of the name Catholic, including the Armenians who were following them and sympathizing with them. We, therefore, must not be astonished if, here and there, the reaction of some vartapets was such that it instigated the people against the missionaries in order to keep intact the integrity of their community. So the service of the missionaries, instead of being a charitable collaboration, turned to rivalry and caused enervating and hostile controversies which, far from helping ecclesiastical communion, made it extremely arduous. A similar climate of distrust provoked among some of the Armenian clergy and people against the missionaries and the Franks, in general, counteracted and made often suspect also the apostolic activity of that Armenian clergy born and brought up within the Armenian Church itself or of those who had studied in the West at the Urbanian college in Rome who were in communion with Rome and devoted themselves zealously to diffuse the same ecclesiastical communion among their countrymen by means of instructing the masses and their religious superiors. They were looked on by the opposing party. And as the missionaries were considered invulnerable because of the protection of the Christian king of France, the arrows of the opponents were directed against the Armenian Catholic priests.

9. The Outburst of the persecutions against the Franks

The outburst of the persecutions methodically planned by the opponents against those Armenians who were suspect of adhering to the Catholics, broke out in the city of Adrianople, during the very last year of the 17th century. The sad protagonist of this event was a certain Efrem Vartapet Kopantzi, of Persian Armenia, who had been sent to Constantinople around 1684 by Catholicos Eleazar to collect offerings for the See of Etchmiadzin. Within one year he succeeded in occupying the much coveted See of the Armenian patriarchate of Constantinople, from which he was expelled after a few years (1698) and sent into exile because of his rude manners and his tyrannic behavior. This patriarch is characterized as vir pessimus by one of the most brilliant students of the Urbanian College, Khatchadour Vartapet Arakelian, in his letter of August 1, 1696.

The Mekhitarist historian M. Tchamtchian writes that Efrem reintroduced into the divine office the singing of the three strophes anathematising the Council of Chalcedon and Pope St. Leo. These strophes had been suppressed since the time of Catholicos Movses III of Etchmiadzin. Efrem occupied the patriarchate of Constantinople a third time on September 1, 1700, and he gave orders to inspect the Armenian families and force them to anathematising the 4th Council and Pope Leo. Those who refused were denounced as Franks to the Turkish authorities that imprisoned them. Efrems successor to the patriarchal throne of Constantinople was Avetik, bishop of Erzincan, a not less enemy of the Catholics than his predecessor.

Already in the beginning of May 1692, in collaboration with the Mufti of Erzerum Feyzullah and the Pasha of this town, he suppressed the flourishing mission of the French Jesuits; because of this he was excommunicated by Nahapet, Catholicos of Etchmiadzin (1691-1705). But this sanction of the Catholicos did not induce him to change his conduct. Avetik, secretly informed about the events in Constantinople whereto his friend Feyzullah had been transferred as Great-Mufti of all the Islam, hastened there. He went to Adrianople where his Turkish friend Feyzullah resided. First he procured his appointment as Vicar of Efrem, and then he denounced him as Frank, drove him away and occupied his place. In 1701, he also dethroned Archbishop Minas of the Armenian See of Jerusalem in order to extend his power also there; finally he removed bishop Sukias from the See of Brussa, the disciple of Eleazar, and made his victorious entry as patriarch of Constantinople. [12] All those of the capital who opposed Avetik were harshly treated. Thanks to his friendship with the Great mufti Feyzullah, he was to track out the Catholicos among the clergy or the faithful and get them imprisoned. The measures were rigorous and the persecution against the Franks was extended to the whole Ottoman Empire up to Syria, Lebanon, and Egypt. By the offices of the Marquis de Ferriol, French ambassador to the Sultans court, Fr. Hyacinth, a Frenchman, after having also consulted Msgr. G. Gasparini and the missionaries resided at Constantinople, was empowered to negotiate with Avetik, in order to create a climate of reconciliation. They agreed that the Armenian Catholics would again frequent the Armenian Churches provided that the hymn containing the three strophes of anathematization against the council of Chalcedon and Pope Leo would no longer be sung. Fr. Hyacinth promised to send the four vartapets among whom there were also Khatchatour Vartapet Arakelian and Abbot Mekhitar, the founder of the Mekhitarist Order who had taken refuge at the monastery of St. Louis of Pera, to Avetik.

The agreement was signed by the two sides on October 26, 1701. Patriarch Avetik organized a dinner in honor of Fr. Hyacinth and invited the four Armenian Catholic priests mentioned above. Two of them, Khatchatour Arakelian and Abbot Mekhitar refused to go there, being sure that they immediately would be arrested. The two others went there and after the dinner they were thrown into prison. But the power of Avetik declined from the beginning of the late summer 1703, when a popular riot overthrew the Great Mufti Feyzullah. The Sultan was replaced by Ahmet III (1703-1730). Avetik was forced to resign and his vicar, John of Smyrna, replaced him. Under patriarch John of Smyrna the martyrdom of the priest Komitas Keumurdjian took place; he was headed for having adhered to the Catholic faith. Komitas was declared blessed in Rome in 1929. These violent actions perpetrated against the Armenian Catholics, with the end of inducing them to frequent the Armenian churches, complicated the situation still more.

The proclamation of anathema against Chalcedon and St. Leo did not seem to cease. For the persecutors, the adherence to the anathema became the certificate of Armenianism. This inevitably created a grave case of conscience for the Armenian Catholics, the majority of whom were disposed, up to then, to continue frequenting their own churches. But they could not bear to hear attacks against their intimate beliefs. On the other hand, also the Armenian Catholic vartapets who, up to then, behaved with a spirit of understanding, in order not to create divisions among the people and the Armenian ecclesiastical community, were brought into difficult situations. So the had to choose unwillingly another way to come out of the impasse: to constitute themselves as a separate community under the jurisdiction of a bishop. This was tried, about 1715, at Constantinople by five Armenian bishops and some priests, headed by Bishop Melchior Tasbas. Their attempt ended tragically. They were thrown into the penitentiary of the Great-Lord in spring 1715 in which Bishop Tasbas, after 14 months of suffering, expired.

10. The Independent Armenian Catholic Hierarchy (1742)

As the obstacles for the free practice of worship and the persecutions did not seem to cease, some Armenian Catholic bishops headed by Bishop Abraham Ardzivian, encouraged by the missionaries, assembled in synod at Aleppo, and they ended their deliberations by proclaiming Bishop Ardzivian their Catholicos-Patriarch. This happened in 1742. Then they had recourse to Pope Benedict XIV who confirmed the election.

11. The Armenian Catholic Church is Not a Uniate Church

From the whole of the historical survey presented above, it emerges that the Armenian Catholic Church of our days is the heir of the fullness of the faith and the Catholic ecclesiastical communion of the Armenian Church hierarchisized by St. Gregory the Illuminator and followed up by Saints Nerses the Great, Sahak-Mesrop and by their faithful successors.

The Armenian Catholic Church, as a counterpart of the Armenian non-Chalcedonian Church, has its beginning not in the 17th century, but at the moment when an Armenian Church, separated from the Catholic communion because of Chalcedon, began.

In the historical survey we have shown how a handful of Armenian bishops having a Catholicos pro-tempore, about the end of the 6th century, created a split because of the Council of Chalcedon, while another group of Armenian bishops refused to adhere to this split and elected, at the synod of Karin (Erzerum) their own Catholicos in the person of Hovhaness III Bakarantzi in order to be able to continue their ecclesiastical communion faithful to the Armenian tradition with the Universal, i.e., Catholic Church, through the mediation of the Church of Constantinople. These bishops who unanimously adopted this attitude were well-aware of what they did; they were more numerous than those who, at the Armenian synod of Dwin of 555, had chosen an attitude opposing the Christological definition of the Council of Chalcedon, provoking thus, for the first time, the state of division within the Armenian Church.

The attitude of the synod of Karin opposed to the schism was followed, as we have seen, by the Catholicoi Ezr, Nerses III and John Otznetzi and was then ratified by the Synod of Chirakavan.

Since then, the transmission of this attitude of this part of the Armenian Church was taken up by Gregory II Vkayaser, and it was faithfully continued by his successors residing first at Rum-Kale, then at Sis in Cilicia, till the middle of the 15th century. The ecclesiastical communion did not continue through the mediation of the See of Byzantium, already in the state of separation since 1054, but it was a direct communion with the See of Peter.

After the division of the See of the Armenian Catholicossate, in 1441, there was no lack of Catholicoi of the one or other See, who gave eloquent proofs of their orthodox attitude towards the dyophysite formula of Chalcedon and in favor of the restoration of the full ecclesiastical communion between them and the Holy See of Rome.

All the hierarchs we mentioned were like the conducting wire of the Catholic torch in the life of Armenian Christianity, from the beginning till the 18th century. This wire transmitted to us the authentic tradition of our Fathers, protagonists of the unity of the Church of Christ which they had professed and which we unanimously profess in the Creed deposited by the 150 Fathers of the Council of Constantinople: One, Catholic, Apostolic Church.

The initiative of 1742 taken up at Aleppo by Bishop Abraham Ardzivian, and supported by some Armenian Catholic bishops of that time, to constitute a separate hierarchy for the Armenian Catholics is but the connection with this conducting wire of the authentic Gregorian tradition. Strictly speaking, the Armenian Catholics, were not separated from their brothers who knowingly or unwittingly remained in the separation. The latter, carried away by the vartapets and their adherents, constantly supported by the authority of the Muslim dominators, found themselves detached from the trunk of the big tree of the Universal Church and consequently from their fellow Armenian brothers who remained inserted in it, keeping jealously the physiognomy of an individual or national Church.

In the light of these premises, it would be falsifying the history if one would deprecatingly call the Armenian Catholics Uniates: they are rather the authentic guardians of the fullness of the Armenian tradition of their Fathers.

[1] P. Boghos Ananian, The life of Mesrob Mashtotz (in Armenian), Venice 1964, 279-352.
[2] Oukthanes, History, Vagharsapat, 1871, 132-136; Kirk Teghtotz, Tiflis 1901, 109-136; N. Akinian, Catholicos of the Georgians, Vienna 1927, 223-235.
[3] V. Hatzuni, Important problems of the Armenian Church History, Venice, 1927, 455-460.
[4] J.B.Aucher, Opera Johannis Ozniensis, Adversus Phantasticos, Venice, 1834. M. Tchamtchian, History of the Armenians, Venice, 1786, II, 575-576.
[5] J. Mecerian, LaVierge Marie dans la Littrature medivale de lArmnie, Beyrouth, 1954, 9.
[6] Vartan, History, Venice 1862, 148.
[7] Sacra Congregazione per Le Chiese Orientali, Codificazione Canonica Orientale, Fonti: Serie III, vol. T. I 206-207.
[8] Tchamtchian, op. C. III, 258.
[9] G. Petrowic, La Chiesa Armena in Polonia, Rome, 1971, 90-101.
[10] Tchamtchian, op. C. III 519-524.
[11] Tchamtchian, op. C III 599-600
[12] Tchamtchian, op. C. 732-735.

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