THIS WEEK IN ARMENIAN HISTORY
(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)
Death of Maghakia Ormanian
(November 19, 1918)
Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian was a remarkable figure of the Armenian Church in turbulent times at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
Boghos Ormanian was born on February 23, 1841 in Constantinople. After learning the first letters, in 1851 he was sent to Rome, where he pursued studies at the convent of St. Gregory, belonging to the Antonine Congregation, and then at the Vatican. He returned to Constantinople in 1866 and became secretary of the Antonine Congregation, while a year later he was designated principal of the Antonine School in Rome. In 1868 he obtained a master degree in philosophy, theology, and Church law, and became a member of the Theological Academy of Rome, as well as teacher of Armenian at the College of the Propaganda Fide.
Meanwhile, an acute conflict had started within the Armenian Catholic community as a result of the bulla Reversurus, promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1867, which made dramatic changes in the traditions with which Armenians were familiar. The conflict was around the figure of Andon Hassoun, Armenian Catholic archbishop-primate of Constantinople, who was consecrated Armenian Catholic Patriarch of Cilicia by the Pope in 1867, with residence in Constantinople.
Ormanian took position with the anti-Hassoun camp, and returned to Constantinople in 1870, where he published numerous commentaries in French and Armenians newspapers against the Vatican policy, as well as several books in Italian and French, which in 1874 were included in the Index (the catalog of forbidden books) of the Vatican.
In 1876 Ormanian decided to sever his links with the Catholic Church and renounce to Catholicism, and the following year he applied to Archbishop Nerses Varjabedian, Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople, asking to return to the Armenian Apostolic Church. In 1879 he received the grade of archimandrite superior (dzayrakooyn vartabed)of the Armenian Apostolic Church from the Patriarch in a ceremony at the cathedral of Kum-Kapu, in Constantinople.
After a short stint as preacher at the church of St. Gregory the Illuminator in the neighborhood of Galatia, in 1880 he was designated prelate of the diocese of Garin (Erzerum) and had an important role in the opening of the Sanasarian School of Erzerum in 1881. He also established links with the leaders of the secret organization “Defenders of the Fatherland,” founded in the same year. After his consecration as bishop by Catholicos of All Armenians Magar I in 1886, a year later he left the diocese of Garin and was invited to Holy Echmiadzin as lecturer of Theology at the Kevorkian Seminary. Among his students were future luminaries of the Armenian Church and culture, such as Gomidas Vartabed, Karekin I Hovsepiants, Karapet Ter-Mkrtichian, Yervant Ter-Minasian, and others. His teaching made an impact in the seminary.
His liberal views attracted the attention of the Russian authorities and, under the pretext of not being a Russian citizen, he was expelled from the Russian Empire in 1889. He returned to Constantinople and was named abbot of the monastery of Armash and director of the newly founded seminary.
On November 19, 1896 Ormanian, already an archbishop, was elected Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople. He succeeded Abp. Mateos Izmirlian (1894-1896), labeled the “Iron Patriarch” for his energetic protests against the Armenian massacres of 1894-1896. For this reason, he has been forced to resign by the Turkish authorities, which had exiled him to Egypt.
Ormanian adopted a conciliatory attitude towards the “Red Sultan” Abdul Hamid II, in order to avoid further massacres and create a more or less tolerable situation in the years of tyranny. His conservative policies alienated part of the Armenian constituency, and shortly after the Ottoman Revolution of 1908, a huge Armenian demonstration invaded the offices of the Armenian Patriarchate on July 16, 1908 and declared Ormanian’s dismissal from his position. The former Patriarch, in a book published in 1910, rebutted charges that he had been unreceptive to national problems and a knee-jerk to the Sultan, as well as a dictator in the management of community issues. The National Representative Assembly vindicated the former Patriarch in its session of January 3, 1913.
Ormanian was elected delegate of the Church convention and member of the Religious Council in 1913, as well as prelate of the diocese of Egypt, but he rejected this position. He took various positions in the monastery of St. James, in Jerusalem, from 1914-1917, and also taught at the seminary. He returned to Constantinople in 1918 and passed away on November 19, on the twenty-second anniversary of his election as Patriarch.
Archbishop Maghakia Ormanian was, along with his long administrative and teaching career in the Church, an accomplished scholar. He was the author of the monumental Azkabadoom (National History, 1910-1911 and 1927), a three-volume history of the Armenian nation based on the history of the Armenian Church, and The Armenian Church (1910, in French; 1911, in English, also translated into Armenian), a fundamental text on the doctrine, history, and administrative situation of the Armenian Apostolic Church on the eve of the Armenian Genocide, among many other works.