Inter Church Relations and Ecumenism

In the Kingdom of Cilician Armenia (lasting 1197-1375, and now in south-east Turkey) when the survival of the kingdom depended on good relationships with the Greeks and the Latins, the Armenian Church was drawn into uninterrupted series of negotiations between the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. Contacts had begun in the time of Catholicos Grigor II Vkayaser 'Martyrophile' (in office 10661105), and Grigor III Pahlavuni (in office 1113-66) attended the Latin Council of Antioch (1141), and later sent a delegation to meet Pope Eugene III (1145-53) in Italy. Soon after, talks with the Byzantine Church resumed under Catholicos Nerses IV Klayetsi (1166-73), and continued with Nerses Lambronatsi, Archbishop of Tarsus (1153-98), and Catholicos Grigor IV called Tghay (1173-93), which all ended without any substantial result, with the death in 1180 of the Emperor Manuel I Komnenos. The negotiations had failed because, for the Armenian ecumenists, union was ideally the fruit of the communion of faith and not of administrative submission on their part, or uniformity of practices, as indicated in the following statement: 'The cause of our running away from you is that you have been pulling down our churches, destroying our altars, smashing the signs of Christ, harassing our clergy, spreading slanders in a way that even the enemies of Christ would not do, even though we live close to them [i.e., Islam countries].'

The efforts for unity with the papacy at the time of the Armenian Cilician Kingdom came to nothing also because of the insistence of the papal claim of primacy. Mkhitar Skewratsi, the Armenian representative at the council in Acre in 1261, summed up the Armenian frustration in these words: 'Whence does the Church of Rome derive the power to pass judgment on the other Apostolic sees while she herself is not subject to their judgments? We ourselves [the Armenians] have indeed the authority to bring you [the Catholic Church] to trial, following the example of the Apostles, and you have no right to deny our competency.'

The story of the relationship of the Armenians with the Roman Catholics is long and at times ignoble. An example of extreme Catholic reprisal against the Armenians in Constantinople is the almost unbelievable story of Patriarch Avedik (1702-11), who was kidnapped during the reign of Louis XIV of France (r. 1643-1715), tortured, taken to the Bastille, brainwashed and made a Latin priest, shortly after which he died. The story is told in Dumas's novel, The Man in the Iron Mask.

The Armenian Church, with a presence in almost all the major cities of the world, is provided with favourable opportunities for full participation in the ecumenical movement. Representatives in the capacity of observers, consultants or guests attended ecumenical conferences such as the World Conference on Faith and Order, in Lund (1952), Lausanne (1972) and Edinburgh (1973). Armenian representatives were also present at the General Assembles of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam (1948), Evanston (1954) and New Delhi (1961). On his return from the council in Rhodes, Archbishop Tiran Nersoyan presented the working of the WCC in a booklet Ekeghetsineru Hamashkharayin Khorhurde (Jerusalem, 1959). In August 1962 at the Central Committee meeting in Paris, the two catholicoi (Ejmiadsin and Antelias) became full members of the World Council of Churches.

The first major ecumenical event was the meeting of the Heads of the non-Chalcedonian Churches (Coptic, Ethiopian, and Syrian) in Addis Ababa, in a conference convened by His Majesty Haile Selassie (15-21 January 1965). For several years Armenian theologians have contributed to the debate on church unity between the Eastern Orthodox or Chalcedonian and the Oriental Orthodox or non-Chalcedonian Churches. The conclusions reached in these 'unofficial consultations' have been specific, far-reaching and constructive. The first four meeting were held at Aarhus (1964), Bristol (1967), Geneva (1970) and Addis Ababa (1971). The texts of the contributions, with a full record of the discussions, were published in The Greek Orthodox Theological Review X, 2 (1965) and XIII, 2 (1968). Pro Oriente has since 19 71 organized five 'Unofficial Theological Consultations between theologians of the Oriental Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church' in Vienna. The first theological dialogue since Chalcedon was described as 'a positive successful and hopeful step which proved that theological discussions with friendly attitudes lead to proper and useful results'.

In May 1970 Catholicos Vazgen I had an audience with Pope Paul VI, the first meeting between a catholicos and the pope since the visit to Rome of Catholicos Step'annos V Salmastetsi (1545-67). The final seal of approval was given to the theological rapprochement in December 1996, when Catholicos Garegin I and Pope John Paul II signed a Common Declaration with the intention to remove any remnants of discord or mistrust between the Armenian and Roman Churches. While the Declaration was welcomed as an ecumenical gesture, its theological basis remains controversial. In 2001, on the 1,700th anniversary of the Armenian Church, Pope John Paul paid a visit to Ejmiadzin, returning to Holy Ejmiadsin the relics of St Gregory the Illuminator.

Contacts with the Anglican Communion have been much more regular. Catholicos Vazgen I met the Archbishop of Canterbury, Geoffrey Fisher in 1956, and Archbishop Dr Donald Coggan visited Ejmiadsin in October 1977, the first head of the Anglican

Church to make such a visit. Archbishop Dr George Carey was also among the many church leaders who attended the ceremonies in Holy Edjmiadcin marking the 1,700th anniversary of the Armenian Church.

References and further reading

Adontz, N. (1938) The Armenian Bible and its significance. In Célébration solonelle du quinzième centenaire de la tracution arménienne de la Bible. Paris.

-(1970) Armenia in the Period of Justinian: The Political Conditions Based on the Naxarar System, trans. N. G. Garsoian. Louvain: Imprimerie Orientaliste.

Agat'angeghos (19 76) History of the Armenians, trans. R. W. Thomson. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Alpoyachian, A. (1947) Hayadavanut'yan taradsman shrjanake (The Spread of Armenian Christianity). Ejmiadsin 3-4: 20-30; 5-6: 20-5.

Avgerian, M. (1874) Liakatar vark' ev vkayabanut'iwn srbots, vork' kan i hin tonatsutsi Ekeghetswoy Hayastaneayts (The Complete Lives and Martyrologies of Saints as celebrated in the Armenian church calendar), 12 vols, 2nd edn. Venice. First published 1810-15.

Conybeare, F. C. (trans.) (1905) Rituale Armenorum, being the Administration of the Sacraments and the Breviary Rites of the Armenian Church together with the Greek Rites of Baptism and Epiphany. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

- (2001) The Armenian Church: Heritage and Identity, compiled and with introduction by

V. Nersessian. New York: St Vartan Press.

Eghishe vardapet (1982) History of Vardan and the Armenian War, trans. R. W. Thomson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Eusebius of Caesarea (192 7-8) The Ecclesiastical History and the Martyrs of Palestine, trans. H. J. Lawlor and J. E. L. Oulton. London: SPCK.

Gandzaketsi, K. (1961) Patmut'iwn Hayots (History of Armenia), critical edn. by K. Melik'. Erevan: Ohandjanyan.

Gat'rjean, Y. (189 7) Srbazan Pataragamatoyts Hayots (The Sacred Missals of the Armenians). Vienna.

St Grigor Narekatsi (2001) Speaking with God from the Depths of the Heart: The Armenian Prayer Book of St Gregory of Narek. Bilingual Classical Armenian-English, ed. and trans. T. J. Samuelian. Erevan: Vem Press.

Hakobyan, V. (1964, 19 71) Kanonagirk' Hayots (Canons of Armenian Councils), 2 vols. Erevan.

Khosrov Andzewatsi (1991) Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, trans. S. Peter Cowe. New York: St Vartan Press.

Koriwn (1964) The Life of Mashtots, trans. B. Norehad. New York: Armenian General Benevolent Union.

Movses Daskhurantsi (1961) The History of the Caucasian Albanians, trans. C. J. F. Dowsett. London: Oxford University Press.

Movses Khorenatsi (19 78) History of the Armenians, trans. R. W. Thomson. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Nerses de Lambron (2000) Explication de la Divine Liturgie, trans. I. Kechichian. Beirut: Librairie Orientale.

St Nerses Shnorhali (1996) General Epistle, trans. and ed. Fr. Arakel Aljalian. New York: St Nerses Armenian Seminary.

Nersessian, V. (1987) The Tondrakian Movement: Religious Movements in the Armenian Church from the Fourth to the Tenth Centuries. London: Kahn and Averill.

-(199 7) A Bibliography of Articles on Armenian Studies in Western Journals, 1869-1995.

London: Curzon Press.

-(2001a) The Bible in the Armenian Tradition. London: British Library.

-(2001b) Treasures from the Ark: 1700 Years of Armenian Christian Art. London: British


Nersoyan, T., Archbishop (1996) Armenian Church Historical Studies: Matters of Doctrine and Administration, ed. with an introduction by V. Nersessian. New York: St Vartan Press.

Ormanian, M. (2000) The Church of Armenia, trans. G. Marcar Gregory. Montreal: Armenian Holy Apostolic Church, Canadian Diocese. First English edn 1912.

P'awstos Buzand (1989) The Epic Histories, trans. N. G. Garsoian. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Sozomen (1855) The Ecclesiastical History. London: Bohn's Ecclesiastical Library.

Thomson, R. W. (1995) A Bibliography of Classical Armenian Literature to 1500 AD. Turnhout: Brepols.

-(trans.) (2001) The Teaching of Saint Gregory, rev. edn. New York: St Nerses Armenian


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