Pontifical Legation of the Western Europe


Movses Khorenatsi receives the commission from Sahak Bagratuni, 14th cent. Matenadaran

The Armenian Apostolic Orthodox Church is one of the ancient Oriental Churches. Our Church is in communion with Coptic Orthodox, Syriac Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox (Indian Orthodox Church).

The Armenian Church is rooted in the Apostolic age. According to sacred tradition, Christianity was preached in Armenia as early as the second half of the first century by the two disciples of Jesus Christ, namely, St. Thaddeus (John 14:22-24) and St. Bartholomew (John 1:43-51). During the first three centuries Christianity in Armenia was a hidden religion under heavy persecution.

It was at the beginning of the fourth century, 301 AD, that St. Gregory the Illuminator, the patron Saint of the Armenian Church, and King Tiridates III, played a pivotal role in the official Christianization of Armenia; St. Gregory baptized the royal family including thousands of others. Christianity was officially accepted by the Armenians as the state religion making us the first Christian nation.

Marmarashen Monastery – 10th cent., Shirak Province, Armenia

Events of the fifth century became critical in shaping the Armenian Christian culture and identity. The invention of the Armenian alphabet by the monk Mesrob Mashdots and his companions. Translations of scripture, commentaries, liturgical development, theology, and history flourished in this golden century. In addition, the fifth century witnessed the first flowering of original Armenian literature. An example is Yeznik Koghbatsi’s doctrinal work, Refutation of the Sects. The Battle of Avarayr in 451 against Persia, was a major turning point for the Armenians. Despite the defeat in battle Armenians remember their commander Vartan Mamigonian as a martyr and a victorious saint together with all those who died for their faith— we remember ita s the battle of spiritual victory.The invention of the Armenian alphabet led to the Golden Age of Armenian literature. Students were sent to theological centers in Edessa, Caesarea, Constantinople, Antioch, Alexandria, and Athens, and other places to learn the art of translating the Bible, the liturgy, as well as patrsitcs, and classical literature etc. Many of the translated works have since been lost in their Greek or Syriac original, but have been preserved in the Armenian.

Original works were also composed during the Golden Age, including works on history, philosophy, hagiography, homilies, hymns, and apologetics. Later works on the sciences were written. While much has been lost due to the ravages of war and time, many are preserved today in the great library of the Matenadaran (in which, for example, there are almost three hundred manuscripts of Aristotle’s works) in Yerevan as well as in the Armenian monasteries at Jerusalem, Venice, and Vienna. Thus, the Armenian Church provided the Armenian people with a strong Armenian Christian culture.

As mentioned above, in 451 the Armenian Church faced a baptism in blood. As Eghishe, an Armenian theologian and withness of the events mentions that for us Christianity is not a cloth that we can remove, it is a color of our skin that is impossible to change. This conviction was passed through centuries as a seal on the souls and hearts of the Armenian people. It was revealed once again during the Armenian Genocide.

Incipit of the History of Armenia by Movses Khorenatsi, Matenadaran

Like all Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Armenian Church has been referred to as monophysite by both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theologians because it rejected the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon, which condemned the belief of one incarnate nature of Christ. The Armenian Church officially severed ties with Rome and Constantinople in 554, during the Second Council of  Dvin where the Chalcedonian dyophysite christological formula was rejected.  

However, again like other Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Armenian Orthodox Church argues that the identification as “monophysitism” is an incorrect description of its position. It considers Monophysitism, as taught by Eutyches and condemned at Chalcedon, a heresy and only disagrees with the formula defined by the Council of Chalcedon. The Armenian Church instead adheres to the doctrine defined by Cyril of Alexandria, considered as a saint by the Chalcedonian Churches as well, who described Christ as being of one incarnate nature, where both divine and human nature are united.

The Armenian people have gone through many wars and achievements for the sake of Christianity, as a result of which the residence of the Catholicos has changed many times. Vagharshapat, Dvin, Argina, Ani were the main residences of Great Armenia in the first millennium.

In 1152, the residence was first established in Cilicia, in the city of Hromkla. Later in 1292, it was moved to the capital of the Kingdom of Cilicia, Sis. In 1375, with the fall of the Cilicia Kingdom the great priests of the Armenian Church intended to return the Catholicosate to its historical place, Vagharshapat, where the church of Etchmiadzin was built according to the vision of St. Gregory the Illuminator.

In 1441, the monks and bishops of Greater Armenia asked Catholicos Grigor Musabekyan to return the residence to its place of foundation. After the rejection by the Catholicos, the National Ecclesiastical Assembly was convened in the East that elected a new Catholicos of All Armenians. The leader of the church in the city of Sis, according to his limited authority in Cilicia, continued to hold the title of “Catholicos of Cilicia,” while the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin is recognized as the Catholicos of All Armenians.