Posts Tagged ‘Nerses Shnorhali’

(Prepared by the Armenian National Education Committee)


Death of St. Nerses Shnorhali

(August 13, 1173)

One of the saints of the Armenian and the universal Church, Nerses Shnorhali, is also one of the most revered names in the Armenian Christian tradition. He was known with the appellative of Shnorhali (“Graceful”) due to his multiple talents: he was theologian, poet, musicologist, composer, and historian, and excelled in all those endeavors

Nesess Shnorhali

Nesess Shnorhali

Nerses Glayetsi was born in the castle of Tzovk, in the district of Tluk, in the Armenian Mesopotamia (the area around the city of Edesa or Urfa) in 1102. He belonged to the princely Pahlavuni family. His great-grandfather was Krikor Pahlavuni or Magistros (990-1058), a famous writer, scholar, and public official.

After the early death of his father, Prince Apirat Pahlavuni, Nerses and his older brother Krikor were placed under the guardianship of their maternal great uncle, Catholicos Krikor II Martyrophile (1066-1105), who placed them in the monastery at Fhoughri. Later, Krikor’s successor, Barsegh (1105-1113) sent them to the school of the monastery of Karmir Vank, headed by Bishop Stepanos Manouk, a highly regarded scholar and theologian.

Nerses’ brother Krikor became Catholicos at the age of 21, in 1113. Nerses was ordained a celibate priest in 1119 and consecrated a bishop at the age of 35, in 1137. He was one of the best educated men of his time.

He assisted Catholicos Krikor III in moving the Catholicosate to Dzovk, on the property of their father, in 1125. This move was brief, as in 1151 the Catholicosate moved its headquarters to the fortress of Hromkla, near the Euphrates River (Nerses’ surname “Glayetsi” was derived from the name of the fortress). In 1165 hostilities broke out between Toros II, Prince of Cilicia, and one of the strongest princes of the country, Oshin of Lambron. Krikor III sent his brother to mediate.

On his way to the mediation, Nerses met Byzantine governor Alexios and discussed the strained relations between the Armenian and Greek churches since the Greek Orthodox Church had declared that the Armenian Church and the Jacobite Church were heretics in 1140. This discussion impressed the Byzantine governor to the point that he urged the Armenian bishop to write an exposition of the Armenian faith. Nerses stressed in his letter that, as both the Armenian and Greek churches accepted the statements of the first Council of Ephesus (431), there was no clear reason for them not to be in agreement, and did not make any polemical statements about the later Council of Chalcedon and its Confession.

On Nerses’ return from his successful mediation effort and the death of his brother shortly thereafter, he was made Catholicos of the Armenian Church. He convened a council with emissaries selected by Byzantine emperor Manuel I Comnenos to discuss how they might be able to reunite the two churches (1171). The terms the emperor offered were, however, unacceptable to both Nerses and the Armenian Church, and the negotiations collapsed.

Nerses Shnorhali passed away on August 13, 1173 and was buried in the fortress of Hromkla. The Armenian Church celebrates him as a saint on October 13, during the feast of the Holy Translators, while the Catholic Church also celebrates him, but on August 13.

His prolific literary output included long poems like Lament of Edesa (1145-1146), Jesus the Son (1152), and others, such as the cosmological poem About the Sky and Its Ornaments. He refined and completed the Sharaknots (collection of liturgical hymns) and the Divine Liturgy, enriching it with his own songs, whose number amounts to more than a hundred. One of his best sharakans is the well-known Morning of Light (Առաւօտ լուսոյ, Aravod luso). He also composed some 300 riddles, extracted from Armenian folklore. His Universal Epistle, written in 1166 and addressed to the entire Armenian people, was particularly influential in Armenian medieval thought.

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This Saturday, October 8, the Armenian Church commemorates the Feast of the Holy Translators, one of the most beloved feasts. There are, in fact, two such commemorations in our liturgical calendar. One is on the Thursday following the fourth Sunday after Pentecost, which can occur in June or July; the other is on the second Saturday of October.

       The October commemoration focuses on the creation of the Armenian alphabet (406) and on the accomplishments of the Holy Translators. Mesrob Mashdots, the founder of the alphabet, and Catholicos Sahag, together with some of their students, translated the Bible. Schools were opened and the works of world-renowned scholars were translated. Their work gave the Armenian Church a distinct national identity.

       In modern times the entire month of October has been designated as a “Month of Culture.” Armenians throughout the Diaspora and Armenia mark this with cultural events not only in remembrance of the past, but in celebration of modern-day scholars, theologians, writers, and translators.

       Specifically remembered this Saturday along with Mesrob and Sahag, are: Yeghishe, a renowned student of Sahag and Mesrob, who served as secretary to Vartan Mamigonian and who wrote the great history of the Vartanantz wars; Movses of Khoren, another student of Sahag and Mesrob, who is revered as the father of Armenian history; David the Invincible, a student of Movses, received most of his education in Athens, where he was given the title “Invincible” because of his brilliance in philosophy; Gregory of Nareg, who is considered the greatest poet of the Armenian nation and its first and greatest mystic; and Nerses Shnorhali, a great writer, musician, theologian, and ecumenist.

       The holy translators, like stewards, were interpreters of the divine Scriptures by inventing letters by means of which are preserved on earth as living words for the shepherd flock of the New Israel, praise God with a sweet sounding hymn.

       They looked on the greatness of earthly glory as on darkness and having put their hope in the immortal bridegroom they were made worthy of the kingdom of heaven; praise God with a sweet-sounding song.

       By the power of the Father’s wisdom the uncreated existing One by means of their translation they made firm the throne of Saint Gregory, praise God with a sweet-sounding song.

       Saint Sahag having dressed in the new word, the holy scriptures, adorned the Armenian churches, praise God with a sweet-sounding song.
Canon to the Holy Translators, from the Liturgical Canons of the Armenian Church

Posted from the Armenian Prelacy’s (Eastern) Crossroads E-Newsletter

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