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Chapter 38
This webpage reproduces a chapter of
A History of Armenia

by Vahan M. Kurkjian

published by the
Armenian General Benevolent Union of America

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 40

 p353  Chapter XXXIX
Leaning Towards Unity

Leon II favors Latins

Encouraged by the appearance of the Crusaders in the East, the Armenians began looking to the Latins rather than to the Greeks for friendship. The promoter of this policy was Prince Leon II, whose objective was the restoration of the Armenian kingdom in the new homeland of Cilicia. The Prince was supported by the patriarch Grigor IV and the brilliant Bishop Nerses of Lambron.​a However, the clergy of the Eastern provinces, then under Moslem rulers, were opposed to any concession to either Latins or Greeks. Nevertheless, the desire for rapprochement was predominant. Prince Leon, in his endeavor to gain the royal crown which was being promised him by the Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, sought an intermediate ground hoping for harmony without estranging the Easterns whom he needed for the realization of his bold political designs on Armenia Major. But the Eastern divines remained suspicious and unyielding. Refusing to recognize the new Patriarch, Grigor VI, Apirat, they elected Barsegh (Basil) II of Ani.

Relations more Strained

Another difficulty was that the closer intercourse between the Armenians and the Latins irritated the Greeks, and the Emperor Alexis Angelus, by way of corrective, resorted to persecution. Bishop Nerses of Lambron was sent to Constantinople in 1197 in an effort to bring about a friendly understanding, but his labour was in vain. The negotiations with the Latins were more success­ful. Henry VI, successor of Barbarossa, agreed to bestow the royal crown on Leon. The legate of the Pope demanded the acceptance  p354 of some form of union before any royal investiture took place. Despite the opposition of the Armenian clergy, Leon succeeded in procuring the approval of the twelve bishops, and his coronation took place on January 6th, 1199. The legate placed the crown on his head and the Katholikos anointed him.

Latin influence was dominant during the long Patriarchate of Constantine I (1221‑1257). The Armenian people, realizing the political, social and economic advantages to be derived from a connection with the West, became more and more reconciled to the policy of their lay and spiritual leaders. King Leon died without male issue in 1219, and his daughter Zabel, sixteen years of age, was crowned queen. Her first husband, Philip, Prince of Antioch, provoked the Armenians by his pro-Latin and other extravagances, and was seized and confined in a fortress, where he died. Her second husband, Hetoum (Ayton), son of the Regent, Prince Constantin, was crowned as King.

Wise Policy of Hetoum and Katholikos

Hetoum and the Katholikos Constantin rendered great service to the Nation in furthering a close relation­ship with the Latins without creating any public provocation. Meanwhile, they were also careful to keep on good terms with the Greeks, by negotiating with them through the Bishop Hacob I, Gitnagan (the Erudite). The successors, both of the King and the Katholikos, continued the policy of harmony with the Latins, without sacrificing the independence of the Church. But King Hetoum II (1289‑1305) proved to be such a pro-Latin zealot as to cause internal conflicts. The Katholikos Constantin II, who had opposed the King's policy, was deposed. His successor, having been carried away by the Egyptians, did not have time to act, but Grigor VII of Anavarza, who occupied the patriarchal throne in Sis, was ready to introduce into the Armenian Church some Latin innovations. He summoned a Synod in 1307 to obtain approval of his plans, but died before it met. The next Katholikos, Constantin III of Caesarea, adopted and proclaimed the syllabus of Grigor VII.

From this time on, the attempts of the Kings and high clergy to bring about a church union continued. The political situation of the country, however, prevented any relaxation of the resistance to amalgamation. The Egyptian Sultans, who aimed at predominance in the coast-lands of the Eastern Mediterranean, deeply resented  p355 any European influence on the little Christian kingdom of Cilicia, and seized upon the slightest pretexts to invade that country, whose hope for adequate military aid from Europe remained a mere fantasy.

Return to Etchmiadzin (1441)

The Kingdom of Cilicia fell in 1375. During the half-century incumbency of the seven succeeding Patriarchs, the moral standard of the see suffered a lamentable decline. The succession to the Pontificate was obtained through bribery or violence, and extortion was in consequence a means of recoupment of outlays. The Patriarchate of Aghtamar, in eastern Armenia, faced with the decay of the see of Sis, assumed leader­ship to remedy the situation, and perhaps to strengthen the prestige of their own position. The theological school of Sewniq had become a center of learning under such able divines as Hovhannes of Orotn, Maghakia of Khrim and Grigor of Tadev. This sort of intellectual activity, reinforced by other considerations, gave rise to the idea of the reestablishment of the Patriarchal throne at its original home, Etchmiadzin — which at that time happened to be enjoying relatively some measure of security under Persian domination.

A general council, composed of 700 ecclesiastical and lay members met at Etchmiadzin in 1441 and voted a resolution to effect the change. Grigor IX, Moussapekian, who was Supreme Patriarch at the time, preferred, however, to remain at Sis with a limited zone of jurisdiction, and approved of the election at Etchmiadzin of Kirakos of Virap.

Unfortunately, the rosy hopes for a new era of peace and progress within the Church did not materialize. Patriarch Kirakos abdicated in 1443, to be succeeded by Grigor X, Jelalbekian, then by Zakaria of Aghtamar, and then once more by Grigor X. From that time on during the next two centuries, the Patriarchs were constrained to have one or more coadjutors. This system, which was adopted in order to satisfy the ambition of certain Bishops, had also a beneficial result; it simplified the order of succession, the senior coadjutor being immediately enthroned upon the death or retirement of the incumbent. The disturbed political situation of the country had made almost impossible the convocation of complete and untrammeled electoral assemblies.

 p356  Symbolic Relic of Dignity

The possession of the relic believed to be the right Arm (Atch) of St. Grigor Loussavoritch (the "Enlightener") had, since the early centuries, been considered an appanage to the Patriarchal dignity. Consecrations were performed with the "Holy Atch." The predominance of Etchmiadzin over Sis could be confirmed only by the presence there of this relic. Zakaria of Aghtamar carried it away with him when he was driven out of Etchmiadzin in 1447. The foundation of the Patriarchal See of Cilicia dates from 1477, when Bishop Karapet of Tokat, the anti-Patriarch, began to boast of the possession of a pretended Holy Atch (Arm).

Inner Conflict and Oppression

From Grigor Jelalbekian (1443) to Movses III's election in 1629, Etchmiadzin was a scene of conflict and confusion. There were no less than thirty pretenders to the Patriarchal seat, some of them already coadjutors. With the sale of the holy office by the Persian khans and the torture of priests, the Church's degradation had reached its lowest point.

A faint ray of light appeared with the advent of Katholikos Michael of Sebast in 1540. He held the contestants in check and adopted progressive measures. Being particularly interested in the new art of printing, he sent Abgar of Tokat to Venice for study in 1552, with a letter of recommendation to Pope Pius IV. By 1564, several books had been printed in Armenian, although we find other Armenian books printed up to 1512, but they were produced by European printers, sponsored by Armenian merchants. The movement spread far and wide — to Rome, Constantinople, Etchmiadzin, Ispahan, Amsterdam. In the last-named city the first completed Armenian Bible, illustrated, was printed in 1666 by Oskan Vartabed.

Awakening in 17th Century

Despite many drawbacks, the Armenians of the East were the first to strive towards intellectual light. Of notable import were the reforms achieved in Etchmiadzin by the Katholikos Movses III, though his tenure of office was short, only from 1629 to 1632. He succeeded in obtaining permission from the Persian King for certain needed reforms, such as the cessation of extortions and reduction  p357 of taxes. His successor Philibbos continued his progressive policies, and traveled to Turkey where through his influence he settled the controversial matters of Constantine and Jerusalem patriarchates. Movses tried also to improve the financial situation of Etchmiadzin and to that end irrigation and hydraulic projects were carried out.

Hacob III (1655‑1681)º repaired to Constantinople in 1664 to grapple with certain problems, especially the proselytizingº campaign of a Roman priest, Clement Galanus. An Armenian vardapet, Thomas of Aleppo, pro-Latin, had usurped the post of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, but he was soon expelled therefrom in an outburst of popular indignation. Hacob also had to face Eghiazar of Aintab, who proclaimed himself anti-Katholikos and Patriarch of Jerusalem and Constantinople. Hacob again journeyed to Constantinople where he died in 1680º under the strain of his overwhelming task. The anti-Katholikos was legitimately elected and did some praiseworthy work before his death in 1691.

Simeon of Erevan. A New Era

From the Katholikos Nahapet of Edessa down to 1763, all his successors, ten in number, gave of their best for the high position of the see. The most distinguished of them was the last of the ten, Simeon of Erevan, whose innovations may be said to have opened up a new era. He established legal registration of the real and personal properties of the Monastery, insured the protection of other interests of Etchmiadzin, effected the enrichment of the Seminary's curriculum and the founding of a print shop and a paper mill. He was also the author of the Armenian Church calendar, and instituted a chancery for the official records. The Katholikos Ghoukas (Luke) of Erzerum (1780‑1799) endeavored to implement the projects of Simeon. He also formed a permanent council of Bishops as advisers to the Supreme Patriarch. The embellishment of the interior of the Cathedral at Etchmiadzin was another of his projects.​b

Relations with Russia

The tranquillity necessary to such spiritual and intellectual enterprises was, however, of short duration. Etchmiadzin was almost continually at the mercy of avaricious and tyrannical Persian Khans, making life unbearable for the Armenians. The result was that they began to seek Russian protection. A number of families  p358 took refuge in Russian territory, and thus came about a closer relation with the Tsarist empire of the North. Archbishop Hovsep Arghoutian won the sympathy of the Empress Catherine II (1762‑96) and her son, the Tsar Paul I (1796‑1801). It was not long before the Russians began taking more drastic measures. They declared war on Persia, occupied Erevan and Etchmiadzin, and an Armenian contingent of volunteers, with Archbishop Nerses Ashtaraketsi in command, joined the Russian army. Generous promises, implying the creation of an autonomous Armenia, were made by the Emperor Nicholas I (1825‑55), but proved to be mere empty words. Russian generals on the scene discouraged the idea of Armenian independence, and in 1836 Etchmiadzin was placed under Governmental control by a regulation known as "Polozhenia." At this, Armenians throughout the world expressed some resentment, but eventually discovered that State supervision had its advantages. The Armenians in the Caucasus and in the other parts of Russia were all enjoying peace and security in business and the arts, and had made notable progress in cultural fields.

Between Russia and Turkey

In 1903 the Russian Government assumed a threatening attitude because of certain political demonstrations staged by Armenians. All the properties of the Armenian Church in Russia were confiscated and their schools were closed. The oppressive measures had attained fearful proportions when they were revoked in 1905. Steps taken by the Russian orthodox clergy caused great concern to the Armenians in Russia and abroad. Armenians in Turkey did not conceal their irritation, even advocating a pro-Turkish policy, until the black days of the Armenian tragedy of 1915, planned and executed by the Young Turk leaders, restored the Giant of the North to the former place of "Keri" — uncle.

Etchmiadzin still Center

The patriarchal See of Etchmiadzin, which was occupied by Ephrem at the time the Russian annexation, still remains as the residence of the Supreme Head of the Armenian Church. Since Ephrem (1809‑1831), nine Katholikosi have succeeded each other — Hovhannes VIII (1832‑1842), Nerses V (1842‑1847), Madteos (1848‑1865), Kevork IV (1866‑1882), Magar I (1885‑1891),  p359 Mkrtich I (1892‑1907), Madteos II (1908‑1911), Kevork V (1911‑1931), Khoren I (1933‑1938), Kevork VI (1945‑1954), and Vazken I (1955‑ ).​c

Armenian Religious Denominations

The Armenians are divided into three faiths:—

  1. Those who belong to the National Armenian Orthodox Church, mistakenly called by others, "Gregorians." The majority of the Nation are members of this Church.

  2. Members of the Roman Catholic Church. The main difference between these two faiths lies in the fact that the Roman Catholics recognize the Pope of Rome instead of the Katholikos of Etchmiadzin as their spiritual head.

  3. Those who are affiliated with some branch of Protestantism — mostly Congregationalist.


There were, before World War I, a few thousand Armenian-Greeks, calling themselves Hai-Horom, who spoke the Armenian language, but professed Greek Orthodox doctrines. They lived mostly in the district of Eghin, on the Euphrates, and around Gheyveh, on the Ankara railway line. They were originally members of the Armenian National Church. Those Armenian Emperors who sat on the throne of Byzantium were Hai-Horoms; they had to take the oath of allegiance to the Greek Orthodox Church upon assuming the crown.

Moslem Armenians

There also exists in Turkey a large community of Moslem Armenians, forcibly converted during centuries of persecution and massacres. Most of them still retain Armenian customs and traditions. Thousands were added to these converts to Moslemism in various parts of Turkey during the massacres of 1894 and 1915.

Old Words and Customs

A great number of agricultural, architectural and home-life words used by Turks are of Armenian origin. A few of the Christian customs still practiced by Moslem women before the Armenian deportations were these:— Making the sign of the Cross on the dough;  p360 bringing sick children to the Armenian Church, for the priest to read to Gospel over them; sending gifts to the Church and asking for prayers by the Sabbath congregation.

J. A. Tavernier, the French traveler, wrote in 1665:— "From Tokat (Asia Minor) to Tabriz (Persia), the country is inhabited by almost none but Christians; one should not be surprised if, in the cities and in the countryside, fifty Armenians are found for one Mohammedan."

In Armenia were found the roving bands of Armenian Gypsies, known as Tchingans or Poshas. They spoke the Armenian language, also an idiom allied to the Sanscrit of India.

Patriarchate of Constantinople

Sultan Muhammed II, after conquering Constantinople in 1453, granted the Greek patriarch privileges connected with religion. A new Armenian colony brought to Constantinople in 1461 was placed on the same footing as the Greek element, with Bishop Hovakim of Brussa as their Patriarch. The Armenian Patriarchs of Constantinople gradually extended their influence over all the provinces of Turkey, even including the dioceses of the Patriarchate of Jerusalem and the Katholikosate of Sis and Aghtamar.

Creed and Differences

The chief doctrinal points of the Armenian Church are as follows:—

  1. Rejecting the Filioque, it asserts that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father alone, not from the Father and the Son.

  2. It rejects the decision of the Council of Chalcedon with regard to incarnation.

  3. In reciting the Trisagion, it retains the addition, qui crucifixus pro nobis — "who hast been crucified for us."

  4. It denies purgatory, but prays for the dead, consecrating to this devotion the day after Epiphany, Easter, the Transfiguration, the Assumption, the Exaltation of the Cross,​1 the Feast of St. Vardanians and Green Sunday (the second after Easter), dedicated "to the memory of the myriads of martyrs dead during the World War of 1914."

 p361  The Nicene Creed

The Symbol adopted by the Armenian Church, that of the service, is the Athanasian formulary which was born during the council of Nicaea. The Church has another symbol, too, adopted later which appears in the ritual, to be pronounced by the ministers of the Church on the occasion of their ordination. Its difference from the first is by paraphrased formularies, the principal one of which concerns the nature of Jesus Christ. They profess the monophysitism of the Council of Ephesus, quite different from that of Eutyches. The latter's name, together with that of Arius, of Macedon and of Nestor, are solemnly anathematized by the Church.

The differences separating the Armenian Church from the Greek Orthodox lie in the rejection of the Armenians of the Council of Chalcedon, and in non-recognition of the following councils — although the points defined by them were not rejected ipso facto.

This formulary would at first view seem independent of that of Nicaea, so that many scholars, Armenian and foreign, do not recognize any subordination of the one to the other. On the contrary, the two documents have been regarded as not only alike, but even identical. The Armenians lay claim only to the priority of their symbol or credo. They charge that an allegedly ancient Greek translation, supposedly written by St. Athanasius, is a counterfeit. Others hold the contrary belief. Evagrius the monk, who died in 399, used it in a treatise, of which an Armenian translation is in existence. In a letter to the Syrians, dated 504, Katholikos Babken used the symbol of Nicaea, but in a second letter he employed the above formulary. In the preceding century, Katholikos Sahak had inserted this symbol in his reply to Proclus. There have been later unauthorized compilations of the formulary. The one now recited in all the Armenian churches has a slight difference from the above.

The following declaration of faith of St. Gregory the Illuminator concludes the profession of faith:—

"And now we glorify him who was before all eternity, worshipping the Holy Trinity and Godhead of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost, now and ever, and unto unending times. Amen."

Name of the Church

The Armenians make use of the ethnographic term, "the Armenian Church" (Hay Yekéghétzi), or "the Church of Armenia"  p362 (Hayastanyaitz), or of "the Armenians" (Hayotz Yekeghetzi). The words holy, apostolic, orthodox have no official authorization. After the Russian occupation of Etchmiadzin, the word Loussavortchakan (Illuminatorian) was placed in front to specify the denomination of the Church and the word rendered in Russian by the term Gregorian, taken from the name of the Illuminator. The designation, Armeno-Gregorian Church had thus been recorded in the Russian pologenia (regulation) of 1836.

"Seeing that so much stress is laid on the need of a doctrinal designation," says Maghakia Ormanian, formerly Patriarch of Constantinople, "could not that of Oughapar (Orthodox) Church be adopted? . . . We should be complying with common practice if we were to adopt the expression Oughapar Armenian Church."

Armenian Catholics

First Appearance

Roman Catholicism was introduced among the Armenians of Cilicia as far back as the thirteenth century. Long afterwards, in the early nineteenth century, the activity of Latin missionaries in Turkey, meeting opposition from the native Armenian clergy, created discord and bitter quarrels between the two parties. A pamphlet urging National unity, printed in Constantinople in 1820, had an appeasing effect for a short time; then passions rose again and assumed treasonable proportions. Families inclined to the Roman Church were accused of disloyalty to the Sultan, and were subjected to many hardships. They were saved from persecution by the intervention of European diplomats, especially those of France. Finally in 1831, Armenians of the Roman Catholic faith were authorized by the Sultan to organize their own community, with a Patriarch, independent of the Armenian hierarchy. The situation was improved in 1846, when a group of educated young men from among the Catholic Armenians, founded in Constantinople a Society, having as its object the cultivation of tolerance, the conciliation of parties and the promotion of education among the Armenians. By a happy coincidence, the Armenian Mekhitarist Fathers of Venice and Vienna, who acknowledged the Pope as their supreme head, were rendering invaluable service to their Nation through schools and publications, diffusing enlightenment and inspiring patriotism.

The first Katholikos of the Armenian Catholics was elected in  p363 1740 and given residence in the monastery of St. Mary of Bzemmar in Lebanon. Later, during the Patriarchate of Antoine-Hassoun of Constantinople, that See of Bzemmar was transferred to the Turkish capital, and in 1866 the Church's two chief officers were united in the person of Archbishop Hassoun as Patriarch Katholikos.

Armenian Protestants

American missionaries first appeared in Palestine and Syria in 1824. Two Armenian bishops, Hacob and Dyonesius,º unfrocked because of peculations during their administrative duties in the monastery of Jerusalem, had, after a short affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church, adhered to the American movement. In 1830 Dwight and Smith, Presbyterian missionaries, traveled together in the provinces of Armenia. In 1831 a Mr. Goodell established his headquarters in Constantinople and began a systematic labor among the Armenians. The first Protestant Church, under the auspices of American Congregational missionaries, was organized in Constantinople in 1838, with the cooperation of Armenian ex-priests from Nicomedia. Mr. Schneider was then in charge of the field of Brussa, and Mr. Johnston of that of Trebizond.

The spread of this new doctrine was rapid. The Armenian patriarch of Constantinople, Stepanos Aghavnie (Stephen the Dove), a man of pacific temperament, looked upon the movement with little anxiety. The notables of the nation, dissatisfied with his forbearance or indifference, created in 1839 the office of Coadjutor in the Patriarchate. The man chosen for this post was Bishop Hacob Seropian, who, in an excess of energy, exiled four leaders, three of whom had had no part whatsoever in the Protestant movement. The three were Phizica Boghos, a man of learning, Thomas, a vartabed, and Kevork, a priest. Upon Stepanos's retirement from office, Hacob succeeded to the throne of the Patriarch. He forbade attendance at American schools by children, and hurled excommunication at those who were in sympathy with the dissident and disloyal members of the National church.

These threats and penalties did not serve their desired purpose. The preachings, publications and educational enterprises of the missionaries gained prestige from them and attracted more adherents. Another school was founded at Bebek, which was destined in after years to become Robert College. Meanwhile, the Patriarch's  p364 aggressive policy had suffered a check as a result of pressure on the Sublime Porte by the diplomats of America, England and Prussia.

Hacob now changed his tactics and had recourse to weapons of a moral and persuasive nature. He began paying special attention to the schools of his own church, and particularly to the Jemaran (Academy) of Scutari. He also became engaged in another and most crucial struggle within his own flock. Resenting a dictatorial attitude of the Amiras — the wealthy and influential Armenian grandees — Hacob assumed the leader­ship of the popular or middle class front, which was mostly represented by the heads of various trades and crafts (Esnafs). The struggle was to end after twenty years with the establishment of the Constitution of the Patriarchate.

The denominational controversy did not survive as long as that. Patriarch Matthew inaugurated a series of debates, in which learned men from each side took part. In one of these meetings, the utterances of an Armenian Vartabed were so sarcastic and insulting with regard to the Virgin Mary, the Cross and baptism that the Patriarch unfrocked him and published a bull against the Protestants. Again diplomatic pressure was brought into play. The British Ambassador, Sir Stafford Canning, not only remonstrated with the Grand Vezir, but wrote a letter to Patriarch Matthew, reproaching him for his intolerance. Matthew answered him in writing and then called upon the Ambassador in person to explain his actions. The Ambassador had already been persuaded to modify his views to some extent through the mediation of Bishop Horatius of the Anglican Church of Constantinople. In a subsequent report, the Bishop characterized some elements of the movement as "a mixture of atheists and radical factions, destroyers of Church canons and of original truths." But whatever the factual details may have been, the cause of freedom of worship was to triumph at last. At the behest of Lord Cowley, the British Ambassador, seconded by the Ambassador of Prussia, an Imperial edict was promulgated in 1847, authorizing the creation of the Protestant Millet (nation) of all non-Moslem races, with a Vekil (representative or head) of the community.

The Author's Note:

1 Dznound, Zatik, Vartavar, Verapokhoumn, Khatchvératz.

Thayer's Notes:

a For a brief but useful and equally sympathetic assessment, see "Nerses IV" in the Catholic Encyclopedia article Nerses I‑IV; and for a more detailed look at him and his poetry, see "St. Nerses the Armenian and Our Lady".

b For a careful history of the various phases in the building of the cathedral, see Etchmiadzin in the Index of Armenian Art at California State University, Fresno; for a similarly good detailed page, the Armeniapedia article Ejmiatsin Cathedral Compound. Much of the interior decoration of the church has been removed since the time of Katholikos Simeon.

c Bringing the list up to date (2009): Vazken I (1955‑1994), Karekin II (1995‑1999), Karekin II (1999‑ ).

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Page updated: 27 Oct 17