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Discussions on church union with Byzantium

In 1165, around the time Mleh was furthering his Muslim contacts in exile, a chance discussion between bishop Nerses Snorhali and the imperial pro-tostrator Alexios Axouch during a campaign in Cilicia began a desultory set of theological discussions over the possibility of ecclesiastical rapprochement with Byzantium, which lasted until the Emperor Manuel I Komnenos's death in 1180.37 The emperor entrusted these negotiations with the Armenians to an experienced theologian-diplomat called Theorianos, who had the task of realising Manuel's goal of preserving Antioch's client-status as a basis for expanding his authority south towards Jerusalem and northwards over the sultanate of Konya. The nine points the emperor presented for acceptance in 1171 encompassed the ratification of the last four ecumenical councils, confession of the Chalcedonian definition and anathema of those denying it, omission of the phrase 'who was crucified for us' from the trisagion hymn, and a few ritual issues including the employment of leavened bread and wine mixed with water in the preparation of the eucharistic elements, as well as the canonical regulation that the emperor should confirm appointments to the catholicate.38 Nerses sought to call a synod to review the stipulations, but died before this could be done. After much further discussion under his successor Grigor Tlay (1173-93), a synod of thirty-three hierarchs and abbots, including Jacobite representatives and the catholicos of Albania, finally met at Hromklay in 1178 and offered a balanced and judicious response. In certain areas such as Christology they displayed a conciliatory disposition 'for the peace of the church', while in others they maintained that the onus probandi remained firmly on the Greek side, such as in demonstrating the final four councils did not contradict the first three and in remonstrating that the addition to the trisagion was of Greek not Armenian origin.39 Significantly, their handling of the question of the standing of the catholicate and the problem of succession reveals the degree to which Antioch had become a focus of Armenian ecclesiastical ambition, as was also the case in the temporal sphere. The signatories approved ofimperial sanction on condition that the Armenian catholicos henceforth be acknowledged as

37 L. B. Zekiyan, 'St. Nerses Snorhali en dialogue avec les Grecs: un prophète de l'oecuménisme au XIIe siecle', in Armenian studies in memoriam HaïgBerberian, 861-83.

38 Zekiyan, 'St. Nerses Snorhali en dialogue avec les Grecs', 866-67.

39 See Clemens Galanus, Conciliationis Ecclesiae Armenae cum Romana (Rome: Urban Press, 1651), 1, 331-44 (for the synodal acts); J. Meyendorff, Christ in eastern Christian thought (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1987), 35 (for the theological point at issue).

patriarch of Antioch, thereby maintaining his autocephaly.40 Neilos Doxopa-tres's near contemporary Greek treatise on the five patriarchal jurisdictions was translated into Armenian at this juncture and clearly played a part in discussions on the status of the Armenian see.41

Nevertheless, these synodal decrees were not representative of all shades of contemporary Armenian ecclesiastical opinion. Opposition came from a group of scholars and prelates collectively referred to as the 'northern var-dapets'.42 Their respect for tradition is well illustrated by a later issue arising from the service of Armenian troops on Georgian campaigns under the command of the brothers Zak'are and Ivane Erkaynabazuk, who were dignitaries of the Georgian court. Whereas the Georgians had obtained dispensation to celebrate the liturgy on portable altars during manoeuvres, the Armenian forces had not received permission to introduce this practice. Although the synod of Sis gave its permission (1204), the rigorist party in the north refused to adhere to the ruling and blocked the measure at the local synods Zak'are summoned at Lori (1205) and at his capital in Ani (1207), compelling him to impose it within the context of military discipline.43

At the other end ofthe spectrum, a number of Armenian churchmen focused less on the historical precedents of the Armenian confessional tradition and matters of institutional advantage in inter-church negotiations, but appealed rather to the spiritual reality of the church as the body of Christ, affirming this as the basis for the underlying unity of Christendom. Their number included figures such as Mxit'ar Gos (c. 1140-1213), and in the next generation Vardan Aygekc'i (c. 1170-1235) from Greater Armenia.44 In the thirteenth century the popular poet Frik gave voice to another point of view on Christian unity: he argued that its absence had been a major factor in Muslim advances and proceeded to list the key foibles of each communion, which had militated against greater cohesion and cooperation.45

40 Abel Mxit'areanc', Patmut'iwn zotovoc' hayastaneayc' eketec'woy [History of the Synods of the Armenian Church] (Valarsapat: Mother See Press, 1874), 116-17.

41 F. N. Finck, Des Nilos Doxopatres taxis ton patriarchikon thronon armenisch und griechisch (Iijmiacin and Marburg: Vagarshapad, 1902).

42 They came under the leadership of Grigor Tuteordi and Dawit' K'obayrec'I and were concentrated in territories then under Georgian control.

43 Mxit'areanc', Patmut'iwn zolovoc' hayastaneayc' eketec'woy, 118-22.

44 Paroyr Muradean, 'Dawanakan handurzolakanut'ean ew azgamijean hamerasxut'ean gaiap'ara ZB-ZG dareri Hayastanum' [The idea of confessional tolerance and internal national solidarity in twelfth-thirteenth century Armenia], Ganjasar 4 (1994), 95-108.

45 Frik, Frik Diwan, ed. Tirayr Melik' Muskambarean (New York: Melgonean Foundation, 1952), 274-80.

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