Armenian Apostolic Church

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Armenian Apostolic Church


one of the oldest Christian churches. Christianity began to be disseminated in Armenia in the early centuries of the Christian era. In A.D. 301 KingTiridates III proclaimed Christianity the state religion, thus differentiating himself with regard to religion from Sassanid Iran, which was trying to subjugate Armenia. In A.D. 303 a cathedral was built at Echmiadzin (near Yerevan), which became the religious center of all Armenians and the seat of the supreme patriarch and catholicos of all Armenians. The Armenian Apostolic Church is sometimes called Gregorian from the name of the first catholicos, Grigorii Parte v.

In the fourth century the Armenian Apostolic Church became a powerful economic and ideological organization, with large landholdings in its possession. At the Council of Dwin in 506 the church, reflecting the desire of the ruling classes of Armenia to oppose Byzantine aggression, definitively separated itself from the Byzantine Church and became autocephalous.

The Armenian Apostolic Church, in contrast to the Orthodox and Catholic churches, acknowledges the divinity and humanity of Christ within a single nature; for this reason it is considered Monophysite.

In the fourth to 11th centuries various heresies were widespread in Armenia: the Borboriani, the Messalians (fourth and fifth centuries), the Paulicians (sixth to ninth centuries), the Thondraki (from the ninth through the mid-11th centuries), and others. In these heresies the protest of the popular masses against feudal and clerical oppression was reflected under the guise of religion. The official church, with the support of the state, savagely suppressed these movements. Beginning in the 13th century the Catholic Church tried to spread its influence in Armenia; however, it was unsuccessful. After the loss of Armenia’s state form in the 14th century, the church remained as a centralized national organization. In time Echmiadzin ceased to be the center of the church. The center shifted consecutively to the cities of Dwin, Ani, Hromkla, and Sis. In 1441, Echmiadzin again became the residence of the church and has remained so to the present day. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Armenians were increasingly attracted toward Russia, from which they hoped to receive aid in their struggle against the rule of the Turkish and Iranian conquerors. Reflecting these moods, the Armenian catholicos tried to establish relations with Russia. Archbishop Iosif Argutinskii played a prominent role in the development of Russo-Armenian ties in the second half of the 18th century.

Under the circumstances of Armenia’s enslavement by foreigners, the Armenian Apostolic Church served as the center of culture and scholarship in Armenia. In the monastery schools there was instruction in rhetoric, grammar, philosophy, mathematics, and painting, as well as religion. Books and manuscripts were copied in the monasteries.

After the incorporation of Armenia into Russia in 1828, the tsarist government confirmed the basic privileges of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The rising Armenian bourgeoisie forced the church to serve its purposes and to fight against the revolutionary movement of the masses. Like other churches, the Armenian Apostolic Church took a hostile attitude toward the October Socialist Revolution. After the rise of the bourgeois Armenian republic of the Dashnaks (1918–20), the Armenian Apostolic Church supported the counterrevolutionary nationalist government of the Dashnaks. After the establishment of Soviet power in Armenia in 1920, the church was separated from the state, and the schools were separated from the church. The victory of socialism in the USSR inevitably caused a sharp decline in the influence of the Armenian Apostolic Church on the toiling masses. At the present time the church maintains a position of loyalty to Soviet power and participates in the struggle for peace. Since 1955 the head of the Armenian Apostolic Church has been Catholicos Vazgen I. At his residence in Echmiadzin there is a special theological seminary, and a regular monthly magazine entitled Echmiadzin is published there. Within the church the Echmiadzin catholicate has authority over the Cilician catholicate (Antelyas), the patriarchates of Jerusalem and Constantinople, and the various eparchial administrative subdivisions of the church—in the United States (the California and North American eparchies), South America, Western Europe (with its center in Paris), the Near and Middle East (the eparchies of Iran-Azerbaijan, Tehran, Isfahan, Iraq, and Egypt), the Far East (the Indian and Far Eastern eparchy), and the Balkans (the Rumanian, Bulgarian, and Greek eparchies).


Ormanian, M. Armianskaia tserkov’: Ee istoriia, uchenie, upravlenie, vnutrenii stroi, liturgiia, literatura, ee nastoiashchee. Moscow, 1913. (Translated from French.)
Ocherki istorii SSSR, III-IX vv. Moscow, 1958. Pages 167–228, 408–502


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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