Theology and Spirituality

According to the Armenian Church the Orthodox faith is that Our Lord Jesus is perfect in his godhead and perfect in his manhood. He is God Incarnate. Catholicos Nerses IV Klayetsi (1102-73), in his Encyclical Letter says:

The Son is begotten of the nature of the Father, but outside time. His begetting is not in the manner of the birth of man, subject to passion and transitory . . . Rather he is begotten like light from light, fire from fire, for they do not become foreign to each other in individuation, but remain one ray and one warmth of fire and of light both in the one who is generated and in the one from whom he is generated; and there is one nature for both, although they are distinguished from each other in person. In the same way the light of the Son came forth from the light of the Father and the fire of the divinity of the Son came forth from the fire of the Father, they are not other but of one and the same nature.

The Armenian doctrine of the Virgin birth and redemption is also consistent with the above exposition. Mary is 'Godbearer' (Astuadsadsin = Theotokos) and not 'Christbearer' (K'ristosadsin), a term preferred by Nestorius. In a hymn sung during the feast of Nativity and Epiphany (6 January) the birth of Christ is described by Gregory of Narek (945-1003) thus: 'The first born, of the Mother of God, Virgin Bearer of the Lord, creator becoming a true man as originally created, not in the fallen state of mortals.' Another hymn by him includes the words: 'The uncontainable in Earth and Heaven is wrapped within swaddling clothes / From the Father inseparable he seats himself in the Holy altar.'

To refute the accusation that Armenian doctrine is 'Miaphysite' in the Eutychian sense, the Trisagion as recited in the Armenian liturgy has: 'Holy, God, Holy and powerful, Holy and immortal, who was crucified for us.' The crucial clause is 'who was crucified for us'. This phrase is replaced by other phrases according to the occasion: 'who did rise from the dead' (Easter), or 'who was born and manifested for us' (Nativity and

Epiphany). Step'anos Siwnetsi (d. 735), in his Commentary on the Divine Liturgy, says that in as much as the godhead was present in Christ incarnate it was legitimate to say that 'God was crucified for us, has risen from the dead and was born and manifested for us.'

Bishop Step'anos connects the Trisagion to the elevation of the Gospel. Step'anos' description of this moment in the liturgy called the 'Little Entrance' confirms that the Trisagion is addressed to Christ only:

At the elevation of the Gospel, with spiritual eyes, we see the Son of God seated on a throne high and lifted up. The smell of fragrant incense refers to the teaching and glorification given to those born of the font, the children of the church. . . . Here the suffusion of the Holy Spirit who came from the Father, typified by the incense, takes us all up whence we have fallen. By this incense we come to God's likeness according to his image, and as we boldly process around the table, together with the seraphim, our confession of the immortal one who is crucified for us issues forth like fragrant incense. (Nersessian 2001b: 18)

The tenor of Armenian theology is daring in accepting that God does suffer and die on the cross.

David the Invincible (590-660) defines the cross with the predicate Astuadsenkal (God-receiving), since for the Armenian theologian 'the tree of life' in the Book of Revelation becomes the wood of life in the shape of the cross, for Abraham saw in the Sabek tree the Cross of Christ.

The khatchk'ar (stone cross) in Armenian sculpture or the glorified cross in Armenian miniatures representing the life of Christ, are among the most original symbols of religious piety. The cross as the 'sign' of God or the 'wood' of life is a symbol not of death but life. One of the chants composed by Gregory of Narek and sung on Easter Sunday invokes the powerful image of Christ as lion on the cross: 'I tell of the voice of the lion / Who roared on the four-winged cross. On the four-winged cross he roared / His voice resounding in Hades.' The lion is king over all the beasts and Christ is king over all creation.

The texts prove beyond doubt the Armenian opposition to Eutychianism, Julianism, and Severianism. The Armenian theologian Catholicos Yovhannes Odznetsi (650-728) in his treatise Against the Phantasiasts, refutes the erroneous belief that the humanity of the Saviour was a mere appearance like the imprint of a seal on wax. He affirms that the body of Christ is real and consubstantial with ours, and that the divine and human natures exist without confusion:

The Word, in becoming man and being called man, remained also God; and man, in becoming God and being God, never lost his own substance . . . It is evident that it is the incomprehensible union and not the transformation of the nature which leads us to say one nature of the Word Incarnate. (Nersessian 2001b: 41)

Yovhannes Odznetsi occupies a distinguished place among Armenian catholicoi as the only one during whose catholicate of eleven years, 717-28, two very important local synods were called, at Dvin in 719 and at Manazkert in 726, to implement sub stantial reform in the Armenian Church. During his tenure the patristic florilegium known as Girk' T'ght'ots (Book of Letters) and the Kanonagirk' Hayots (Armenian Book of Canons) were compiled to defend the Church. In his oration, delivered at the opening of the synod, he described the battered state of the Armenian Church in the aftermath of the Arab conquests and decades of ecclesiastical tug-of-war with the Byzantine Church:

For I see many grave aberrations multiplying, not only among the lay, but also among the monastics and church primates. We, who took to the path of truth with one language, based on one proclamation, have wandered unto many trails and paths, taking up infinite and variously spurious customs, both in conduct and in worship of God.

The Greeks were not the only purveyors of alien ideas and customs. In the background to the comments of the Catholicos were the beliefs and activities of movements found in the Armenian Church: Gnostics, Borborites, Mdsghneans, Paulicians, and principally the T'ondrakians, who were also damaging the integrity and Orthodoxy of the Christian faith in Armenia. The Paulicians rejected the Church with its hierarchy, institutions and sacraments outright. To address this situation Yovhannes Odznetsi pursued a rigorous policy of restoring the unified, indigenous liturgical practices and Orthodoxy throughout Armenia.

Finally, another element of dispute concerns the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In the Nicene Creed recited during the Armenian liturgy the words about the Holy Spirit declare: 'We believe also in the Holy Spirit, the uncreated and the perfect; who spoke in the Law and in the Prophets and in the Gospels. Who came down upon the Jordan, preached in the apostles and dwelt in the saints.' In the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, accepted by both eastern and western churches, is contained the statement that the Holy Spirit 'proceeds from the Father'. To this statement the Latin West introduced an extra phrase: 'and from the Son', known as the filioque, which the Greeks repudiated.

Armenian theologians remaining faithful to the biblical citations on the Holy Spirit, preferred not to exceed the simple formula of the Creed. Nerses IV Klayetsi in his Encyclical confirms: 'The Holy Spirit is called the one who proceeds from the Father and is equal in glory to the Son', a position which he repeats in his song 'Arawot Lusoy' (Morn of Light): 'proceeding from the Father, pour out in my spirit utterance for your pleasure'.

The formal position of the Armenian Church is: 'The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and is revealed by the Son', or 'The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son.' Kirakos Gandzaketsi in chapter 50 of his History of Armenia, which is an account of the dialogue on unity between Pope Innocent IV (1243-54) and the Armenian Catholicos Kostandin I Bardzrberdtsi (1221-67), reiterates his position as being 'the Spirit proceeding from the Father and revealed by the Son'.

Vanakan vardapet (1181-1251), a leading intellectual of the Getik Monastery has a 'Doctrinal Advice', on the issue of the filioque, which is also preserved in Kirakos Gandzaketsi's History of Armenia. He holds the position: 'The Holy Spirit is from the Father and from the Son'. He explains his position thus:

Do not attempt to understand this in terms of natural things, but in terms of the cognition which is within us. Otherwise, when God is called Light and Life, what do you mean to say? Is He such a light and life as we see and live? Are you capable of understanding your own soul's name and essence? This is promised us in the world to come, when 'what eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither hath entered into the heart of man, what God has prepared for those who love Him is revealed'. (Gandzaketsi 1961: 338-44)

Although Vanakan vardapet's solution was not acceptable to Armenian theologians, it demonstrates the openness of the Armenian mind to other ideas and approaches in the interpretation of the mysteries of faith.

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