Christianity in Armenia
The origin of the Armenian Church dates back to the Apostolic age. According to the ancient tradition 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 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 official Christianization of Armenia. It is a well recognized historical fact that the Armenians were the first nation to formally adhere to Christianity. This conversion was followed in the fourth and fifth centuries by a process of institutionalization and Armenization of Christianity in Armenia.
A Migrating Catholicossate
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 in recent times 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 coming down from heaven with a golden hammer in his hand to locate the site of the new cathedral to be built in 302.
The continuous upheavals, which characterized the political scenes of Armenia, made the political power move to safer places. The Church center moved as well to different locations together with the political authority.
Thus, in 485, the Catholicosate 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 Cilician Kingdom, where it remained for seven centuries. After the fall of the Armenian Kingdom in Cilicia, in 1375, the 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.
Two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church
The existence of two Catholicosates within the Armenian Church, namely the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin (the Catholicosate of All Armenians), Etchmiadzin-Armenia, and the Catholicosate of the Graet House of Cilicia, Antelias-Lebanon, is due to historical circumstances. In the 10th century, when Armenia was devastated by Seljuks, many Armenians left their homeland and came to settle in Cilicia where they re-organized their political, ecclesiastical and cultural life. The Catholicosate also took refuge in Cilicia.
In 1375 the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia was destroyed. Cilicia became a battleground for hostile Seljuks, Mamluks and other invaders. In the meantime Armenia was having a relatively peaceful time. The deteriorating situation in Cilicia on one hand and the growing cultural and ecclesiastical awakening in Armenia on the other, led the bishops 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 of Cilicia. Therefore, since 1441, there have been two Catholicosates in the Armenian Church with equal rights and privileges, and with their respective jurisdictions. The primacy of honor of the Catholicosate of Etchmiadzin has always been recognized by the Catholicosate of Cilicia.
The Faith of the Armenian Church by Hratch Tchilingirian
The Faith of the Armenian Church is transmitted through the church’s Holy Tradition, that is, the ongoing life of the church from the time of Christ to our times. The Bible, liturgy and worship, writings of the church fathers, church councils, saints, canons, religious art and rituals organically linked together formulate the Holy Tradition of the Church. This Faith is articulated in the Creed of the Armenian Church, the formal declaration of beliefs, which in turn defines the church’s raison d’etre and sets the parameters of its mission and functioning.
The Armenian Church professes her faith in the context of her worship. Theologically, whatever the church believes, the church prays . As such, the Armenian Church’s worship and liturgy constitute a prime source for teaching and living her faith. Tradition, on the other hand, defines and formulates the "articles of faith" and transmits them from generation to generation.
As articulated in the Creed, the Armenian Church believes in One God, the Father Almighty who is the Creator of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. Humanity (male and female) is created in the image and likeness of God, and as such is a special creature. However, because of the Fall of man, sin entered the world.
The Church believes in Jesus Christ, "the only begotten Son of God, who came down from heaven, was incarnate, was born of the Virgin Mary, by the Holy Spirit." He became man, suffered and was crucified, and was buried. He rose again from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again with glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Armenian Church believes in the Holy Spirit, uncreated and perfect, who proceeds from the Father, and together with the Father and the Son is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit spoke to the prophets and apostles and descended into the Jordan river, witnessing Christ’s Baptism.
The Armenian Church is One, Holy, Apostolic, Catholic Church . She believes in one Baptism with repentance for the remission and forgiveness of sins. On judgment day, Christ will call all men and women who have repented to eternal life in His Heavenly Kingdom, which has no end. Christ overcame the power of death with His own death and gave salvation to all mankind.
Qestions & Answers on Armenian Christianity
Who brought Christianity to Armenia?
Christianity was brought to the kingdom of Armenia by two of Jesus’ Apostles, Thaddeus and Bartholomew in first century A.D.
When did the Armenian nation become Christian?
Christianity became the national religion in 301 A.D.
Who was responsible for Armenians embracing Christianity?
St. Gregory the Enlightener was imprisoned for years, and upon his release he converted King Tiridates III, by healing the king of an incurable affliction through the power of God. After, the king proclaimed Christianity the official religion of Armenia, making it the first country with a national Christian church, the pair helped spread the religion.
Who were Hripsime and the virgins?
Hripsime was one of a group of nuns who lived in Rome under the direction of their superior, Gayane, around 284-305 A.D. When Roman Emperor Diocletian tried to force the beautiful Hripsime to marry him, the nuns fled to Armenia. There, the Armenian king, Drtad, fell in love with Hripsime’s beauty and decided she should be his wife. But the nun refused to break her vows to God by marrying the king. King Drtad tortured Gayane, trying to get her to permit Hripsime to marry him, but Gayane refused to give in. Eventually King Drtad had Gayane, Hripsime, and the 32 nuns tortured and killed because they chose their faith and devotion to God over the wishes of a king.
What was the Battle of Avarayr?
Avarayr is the site in southeastern Armenia where St. Vartan and 1,036 noblemen fell defending the Christian faith against the Persian Empire.
Why is Mt. Ararat important to Armenians?
Mt. Ararat, now in Turkey, but once part of the ancient Armenian kingdom, is traditionally known as the resting place of Noah’s Ark.
Why was the Armenian alphabet created?
Until the 5th century, Christian worship in Armenia was conducted in Greek or Syriac, since there was no Armenian alphabet, hence no written language. In 404 A.D., St. Mesrob (at that time a monk) completed an alphabet of 36 letters. His objective was to translate the Bible into Armenian, and the golden age of classical Armenian literature began shortly thereafter.
What is Holy Muron?
Holy Muron is oil from extracts of more than 40 different kinds of plants that is blessed by the Catholicos once every seven years.