Vrej Nerses Nersessian

The fundamental work on Armenian hagiography began with the Mkhit'arist scholar Fr. Mkrtitch Avgerian (1762-1854) (pseud. Aucher), who, between 1810 and 1815, published the 12 volumes of his famous work Liakatar vark' ew vkayabanut'iwn srbots, vork' kan i Hin tonatsutsi ekeghetswoy Hayastaneayts (The Complete Lives of the Saints Found in the Old Calendar of the Armenian Church). Of particular importance is the twelfth volume, entitled Mnatsordk' Varuts srbots artak'oy tonatsutsin meroy, yishatake-lots i Yaysmawwurs kam i Charentirs Hayots orpes ew Yunats ew Latinatswots (The Remaining Lives of Saints not Found in Our Calendar, Commemorated in the Synax-aries and Lectionaries of the Greeks and the Latins). Anthologies of works by other authors include Sop'erk' Haykakank' (Armenian Hagiography) in 22 volumes, published in Venice between 1853 and 1861, and Vark' ew Vkayabanut'iwnk' srbots hatentir k'aghealk' i char entrats (Selection of Lives and Martyrdoms of Saints Abridged from Selected Homilies) published in 2 volumes in Venice in 1874. The 'Lives' of modern Armenian martyrs from the period 1155-1843 were collected by H. Acharyan and H. Manandyan under the title Hayots nor vkaner (New Armenian Martyrs) and published in Ejmiadsin in 1903.

The Armenian Synaxary, which contains the lives or acts of saints to be read in church on the day of their commemorations, is called Yaysmawurk, literally 'On this day'; it is arranged according to the Armenian year, whose opening day, since the variable year has been changed to a fixed one, corresponds to 11 August. The Synaxary has several redactions:

(1) Ter Israel's (d. 1249) redaction (Matenadaran MSS 1339, 2695, 4512, among others) has the Armenian translation of the Greek Menologion done in 991 by Yovsep' as its base text, to which he adds the Armenian commemorations. However, he does not begin the year in September nor does he follow the practice laid down by Grigor II Vkayaser regarding Navasard (August), but follows the Latin tradition starting on 1 January, with the feast day of St Basil of Caesarea.

(2) Kirakosvardapet Areweltsi's (d. 1272) redaction (Matenadaran MSS 7433, 7529, 7530, among others), begins the liturgical year according to the Armenian calendar on 1 Navasard (i.e., 11 August, the feast day of St John the Baptist), ending in the following August. In the first edition, which he completed in 1253, he added 122 new Acts, while in the second, which he completed in Sis in 1269, he increased the number of Acts by 170. He employed the Armenian calendar, and in order to make it more interesting, he also provided dating according to the Latin and Syriac-Hebrew calendar.

(3) Grigor VII Anawarzetsi's (d. 1307) redaction (1293-1307), although preserving the general outline of Ter Israel's edition, departed from the Armenian tradition both theologically and structurally. He introduced a number of Catholic rituals, began the year on 1 September, and placed the Annunciation, Birth of Christ and Epiphany, and Presentation in the Temple according to the Greek and Latin calendar, on 25 March, 25 December, 6 January, and 2 February respectively. The Armenian Church did not accept the Menologion composed by Grigor Anawarzetsi, which was deliberately designed to please the Latinizing party in their pursuit of Armenian-Catholic unity, and this is why so few manuscripts have survived (Matenadaran MSS 7529 dated 1326, and 4873 dated 1427).

(4) Grigorvardapet Khlatetsi Dserents (d. 1425) composed his redaction in 1401, and this is the most voluminous and popular. Over two hundred manuscripts have survived and it was the first to be published, in Constantinople in 1706 (reprinted 1708, 1730, 1834). Its popularity is based on the fact that he introduced into the classical text the acts of popular, folkloric figures such as Himar Vanetsi (the Idiot of Van), T'amar Mokatsi, Eghisabet the martyr, Melik'set' and Karapet Vanetsi and 'many new saints, martyred in our times'.

The Armenian Church does not have a formal ritual for granting sainthood. The last saint accepted into the Armenian Synaxary was the scholar and philosopher Grigor Tat'evatsi (1346-1409) whose feast day falls on the Saturday before the fourth Sunday in Lent. The accounts of Christian martyrdoms are divided into three types: Acta (accounts of trials and condemnation written for the purpose of spiritual edification), Passiones or Martyria (descriptions of the martyr's life and death by contemporary eyewitnesses), and Martyr's Legends (legendary stories and narratives of later times).

An Armenian Synaxary (Or. 6555) in the British Library's collection defines the purpose and contents of the Yaysmawurk' in these terms: 'Here, then, are completed the glorious Feasts of all saintly champions, ascetics of old, and all Dominical Feasts . . . which the priest teaches by reading and recounting to all the lives and martyrdoms of the lovers of Christ and of them that fulfilled his commands.'

Literature dealing with the lives of saints was among the earliest translations into Armenian. Between 454 and 464, Abraham Khostovanogh translated into Armenian Marutha of Maiperkatensis' Book of Martyrs, containing accounts of those who suffered for the Christian faith under the Sassanian kings Shapur II, Yazdegerd I and Vahram V. The first lives to appear in Armenian were those of the Apostles Thaddeus, Bartholomew, St Gregory the Illuminator, Princess Sandukht and Princess Shushanik, St Hrip'sime and St Gayane, incorporated into the historical writings of Movses Khorenatsi, P'awstos Buzand and Agat'angeghos.

The most important achievement of this genre was the works of Koriwn and Eghishe vardapet. Koriwn, as witness, wrote a biography of St Mesrop Mashtots entitled Vark' Mashtotsi (The Life of Mashtots), in which he remarks 'We related this not for the glory of the saints of God who already have been honoured for their most luminous faith and life, but as an inspiring example to their spiritual sons and to all who, through them, will be taught from generation to generation.' Eghishe vardapet, who also wrote a witness account of the 451 battle of Avarayr, in his History of Vardan and the Armenian War calls his work simply a Yishatakaran (Memorial). The struggle of Vardanank' was, in the view of Eghishe, a struggle for the preservation of the glory and liberty of the Church. The troops going into battle prayed: 'May our death be equal to the death of the righteous and the shedding of our blood to that of the sainted martyrs; and may God be pleased with our voluntary sacrifice and deliver not his Church unto the hands of the heathens.' They also vowed: 'We are ready to suffer persecution, death, and all sorts of violence and afflictions for our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we were reborn . . . Since we recognize . . . the Apostolic Catholic Church our Mother.'

The most indefatigable translator of Lives of the Saints was Grigor II Vkayaser (10661105), nicknamed 'Martyrophile', who is described as 'a wise and virtuous man'. The historian Kirakos Ghandzaketsi says of him: 'This wonderful patriarch translated from Greek and Syriac numerous hagiographical works and encomia.' The poet Nerses Shnorhali, in his Vipasanut'iwn (an epic poem) writes of him:

He appeared to us as a second Mesrop,

Translated numerous books from Greek and Syriac [originals],

And works on the lives of the saints.

The complete contribution of Grigor Vkayaser was first published under the title Girk' vor kotchi Harants Vark' in New Julfa in 1641, and was reprinted in Constantinople in 1720 and in Venice in 1855.

In the Armenian Church calendar 112 days are put aside for 'the celebration', which can fall on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, since Wednesdays and Fridays are deemed fast days and Sunday is reserved for the Lord's Resurrection. All in all, there are 400 saints divided into three groups: (a) biblical; (b) saints of the Universal Church up to the Council of Chalcedon in 451, and (c) Armenian saints. The Armenian Church does not possess a procedure in canon law as does the Roman Church for the sanctification of saints. Generally, it has been through the piety of the faithful and through their acceptance of the exemplary spiritual strength of an individual that believers themselves recognize and honour them. Then the proper ecclesiastical authorities, after being likewise convinced of their spiritual strength and exemplary behaviour, canonize them through inclusion in the Directorium. Although the majority of the Acts in the Armenian Synaxary are also found in the Latin and the Greek, the versions differ considerably. Of the acts described in all the synaxaries, the most interesting are those belonging to the lives of St Martin, Bishop of Tours; St Benedict; St Thomas Becket; and saints who lived after Chalcedon and who were Chalcedonians, such as Pope Agapetus (d. 536) and Pope Gregory the Great (d. 604); we also find St. Augustine included. By continuing to commemorate these early and non-Armenian saints, the

Armenian Church lays emphasis on the fact that in its mission to its people, as the mother and fortress of the faith of the Holy Gospels, it is and shall remain 'apostolic' and 'universal'.

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