Apostolicity and Missions

In The Epic Histories of P'awstos Buzand (425-86), and the Armenian version of the Acts of Addai, Christianity was first introduced into Armenia from Edessa by Thaddeus, the apostle who converted the royal princess Sandukht. From the seventh century the name of the apostle Bartholomew is also added to the apostolicity claim in Armenian historiography. These traditions corroborate historical evidence pointing to the influx of Christians from Syria and Adiabene during the second and third centuries. P'awstos Buzand speaks of Daniel 'of Syrian race', who 'set up the great and first church of the mother-of-the-churches in all Armenia' (1989: III, xiv). Tertullian, in his Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles lists the Armenians among those who witnessed at Pentecost the descent of the Holy Ghost on the Apostles (Acts 2: 1).

The second, more successful, attempt to establish Christianity in Armenia is credited to St Gregory the 'Second Illuminator' in the See of Cappadocia. Agat'angeghos, who attests the conversion of Armenia to Christianity by Gregory calls it 'the renewal of the Armenian priesthood', and ascribes apostolic foundations to the fresh missionary impetus by linking the Christianization of Armenia to the martyrdom of St Thaddeus. P'awstos Buzand records that St Gregory was consecrated in Caesarea and was placed 'on the throne of the apostle Thaddeus'. This expression is repeated by Movses Khorenatsi, who says that Gregory 'sat on the throne of the holy apostle Thaddeus'. In the history of the numerous apostolic origins claimed by various churches east and west, the Armenian Catholicos and historian Yovhannes V (898-929) provides as good an explanation as any:

The establishment of the holy Christian faith spread all over the earth, and above all among the Armenian people, thanks to Bartholomew, who is one of the twelve, and

Thaddeus who is one of the seventy, who received from Our Lord Jesus Christ responsibility for evangelizing and spreading the doctrine in our land. (Nersessian 2001b: 25)

The idea of primacy in the Armenian Church is unanimous with the Orthodox tradition in its affirmation of the Church as an organic unity. To the Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, inviting the Armenian Church 'to unite with the Church of Rome', and by this union 'to obey the Pontiff of Rome', Bishop M. Mouradeants in his reply questions the validity of the invitation:

But perhaps you invite people from Christ to Peter or from Bartholomew to Peter? If you are inviting from Christ to Peter, it is manifest that you invite from the Lord to His servant, from the Teacher to His disciple, from the Saviour to the saved, from the service of God to the service of man. If you invite people from Bartholomew to Peter, it is evident that you are inviting from like to like, from disciple to his fellow disciple, from the Apostle to the Apostle, both of whom were taught by the same teaching, received the same Holy Spirit. (23 August 1888)

Despite the triumphal narratives that idolized the heroic age of Trdat and St Gregory, the conversion of the pagan aristocracy of Armenia was a slow process. Paganism persisted for centuries in the intellectual culture, oral literature, cultic practices and religious festivals. P'awstos Buzand is very critical of this period:

For from antiquity when they had taken on the name of Christians, it was merely as [though it were] some human religion; and they did not receive it with ardent faith, but as some human folly and under duress. They did not receive it with understanding as is fitting, with hope and faith, but only those who were to some degree acquainted with Greek or Syriac learning were able to achieve some partial inkling of it. As for those who were without skill in learning and who were the great of the people - the nakharars as well as the shinakan . . . consumed themselves with vile thoughts in perverse practices, and in ancient pagan customs. (1989: III, vi, 72)

The Armenian Church had to tread a narrow path between a number of political forces and religious ideologies: Persian Zoroastrianism, and various sects such as the Manichaeans, the Messalians and Borborites. The council held in Ashtishat in 365 set down regulations banning the pagan style of funerals, such as the rending of garments, loud wailing and unbridled mourning.

Movses Khorenatsi recalls the mission of Grigoris, one of the grandsons of St Gregory, to the tribe of the Mask'utk'. It is revealing that King Trdat sent his mission because the government of the north-western regions believed that if the king wished to rule over their lands, he should send them bishops from the line of St Gregory, because they are 'seeking them ardently'. Conversely, the Mask'utk' were convinced that 'this is a ruse on the part of the king of Armenia [Trdat] to prevent us from looting his country' (1978: I, xiv, 94-5; III, iii, 255-6). Movses Daskhurantsi, sums up Mesrop Mashtots and his companions' missionary work in these terms: 'He revived the church and strengthened the faith and spread the teaching of the Gospel . . . A perfect preacher and apostle to the barbarous mountain tribes, he taught them to write in their own lan guages' (1961: I, 55). According to Ghazar P'arpetsi (c.43 7-500) by the close of the fifth century Armenia had eighteen bishoprics, and of these, six were in Georgia and Caucasian Albania. Arshak Alpoyachian (1947) and Nicholas Adontz (19 70), in their analysis of the growth of the episcopal sees in Armenia, drawing upon the lists of the bishops who attended four Armenian church councils: Artashat in 450 (I and II), Dvin in 505 and 555, and Manazkert in 726, concluded that the number of bishops increased from eighteen to twenty-four, to twenty-six, to twenty-seven, and to twenty-eight by 726.

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