Friday, 4 August 2017

Der Nerses Nersessian presentation

Attached is a presentation by Der Nerses Nersessian to the Manchester

congregation on aspects of the Armenian Church.

Well worth reading to augment your knowledge

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The History of the Beginning of the Armenian Church Its place within Christendom
Written By: Der Nersess Nersessian
Collated By : Dr Ara Nahabedian
nd of July 2017-07-17
Holy Trinity Armenian Church, Manchester-UK

Table of Contents:
Page 3

Introduction, the Name of Armenia v Hayastan
The conversion of Armenia to Christianity
The date of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity
The recitation of the Nicene Creed following the reading of the Holy Gospel.
Independent Jurisdiction
Armenisation (Haytsoume) of the Armenian Church
The end of the formative period of Armenian Christianity

10 12-13-14

  1. 15  The map of The Five Ancient Patriarchate
  2. 16  The diagram of Types of Religions
The Battle of Avarayr:
The Council of Chalcedon 451.

the Chart: Chronology of the Armenian Church
Dear Parishioners,*
Today we conducted Divine Liturgy in a slightly altered manner (like the services at Lent, with the difference that the curtain is left open and Communion is administered). This is to save time to execute the programme of instruction. The subjects selected for the informal presentations is to enhance your enjoyment and appreciation of the Armenian Divine Liturgy, the Feasts, the Sacraments of the Armenian Church with brief outline on the origin of the Armenian church its progress and most important the contribution the Armenian church has made to Christianity .It is inconceivable that an institution with 2017 years history could not have made its mark on the history of Christianity. I am certain that much of what I will present will be familiar to you but I wish to put that in the context of the Universal Churches.
Throughout my presentations I will be guided by the Table of Events you see on the chart page 12-14. The aim of this chart is to show Armenian history as it evolves in parallel with world history and events that have shaped our history.
1-The first point I wish to draw your attention is the names of our country: ARMENIA - HAYASTAN
There are other nations in the world who are known by two names. We as a people call ourselves Hay, our country Hayastan, our language Hayeren and commonly we attach the origin of this name to the legend of valiant Hayk Nahapet who routed Bel with his bow. In fact the name derives from Hittite records of the late Bronze Age,associated to a tribe called Hay, while the Greek and Persian sources use the name Armenia based on an eponymous hero Armenos, who led the Armenians into their new homeland . In the inscriptions of Darius I carved on the cliff at Behistun the land and the people are called Armina and Arminiya [The Peoples of the Hills, 1971]. Exhibits illustrating this period of our history from 3000BC to the creation of The Ancient Kingdom of Urartu (1979) including items from Karmir Blur are displayed in the British Museum. The Yervandakan and the Artashesian dynasties rule over Armenia coincides with the emergence of Buddhism, and the reign of Alexander the Great and the birth of Christ. The best known of the Artashesian kings was Tigran II (95-56BC), known as the ‘Great’ by the Romans and ‘king of kings’ by the Parthians. The silver coins of Tigran minted at Antioch and the Bronze
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Head and hand of Anahit and a frieze from the Temple of Garni are material witnesses of Armenia in the Hellenistic period found in the collections of the British Museum [see Vrej Nersessian, Treasures from the Ark, 2001,pp.101- 03;14-116]
2-The conversion of Armenia to Christianity
The emergence of the Arshakouni or Arsacid monarchy in AD 53 signalled a tilting of alliance from Rome towards Parthia. The conflict between Rome and nationalist Sassanid dynasty in Iran made compromise impossible and in the words of Gibbon’s Armenia ‘became a theatre of perpetual war’.
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For the history of the beginnings of Christianity in Armenia we rely solely on western sources because Armenia at this time did not have an Armenian alphabet and written literature. The history of the conversion of Armenia to Christianity is transmitted to us by oral tradition from generation to generation and only recorded in Armenian historiography and Lives of Saints after the creation of Armenian alphabet. But non- Armenian sources have preserved enough information to suggest that Christianity had a foothold in Armenia from Apostolic times. Historians like Sozomen and Eusebius mention the presence of Christians in Armenia. When Christians were being persecuted in the Roman Empire during the reigns of Emperors Diocletian (245- 313) and Decius (d. 351) many Christians took refuge in Armenia. In our liturgy in ‘The Litany of General Intercession’ the deacons standing on the left of the celebrant mention the names of many non-Armenian martyrs, among them: Yovhanniseants,
Sukiasants during the reign of the Armenian king Santruk (166-200)
and the thirty three nuns
led by Gayane and Hrip’sime who suffered martyrdom at the hands of king Sanatruk (166-200) and Trdat III( 287- 330) respectively.
    
In the
Calendar) we find listed the names of ten patriarchs dating from AD 43 to AD 270. The first among these are the Apostles St Thaddeus and Bartholomew and the tenth catholicos Meruzhanes (240-270). According to
Eusebius’s Ecclesiastical history there were enough Christians in Armenia to prompt Bishop Dionysius of Alexandria (190-265 AD) to write a letter On Repentance to the Armenians “whose bishop was “Meruzhanes”. The presence of Christians in Armenia is also attested by Tertulian (c160- c.225) in his seminal work called
list of Armenian catholicoses (as found in the Armenian Annual
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Against the Jews composed in AD197. Commenting on the passage in the Acts of the Apostles (Chapter 2, v.9) which lists the names of the peoples present at Pentecost (Hogegalust) - Parthians, Medes, Phoenicians, Cappadocians he adds Armenians in place of Jews. This evidence is also repeated by Augustin in his Against the Manichaeans [for further information see: Vrej Nersessian, Treasures from the Ark, British Library, 2001,pp.18-28., J.Stevenson (ed). Creeds, Councils, and Controversies. Documents illustrative of the history of the Church A.D. 337-481. SPCK,1960].
3-The date of Armenia’s conversion to Christianity
The Armenian calendar celebrates several feasts connected with the adoption of Christianity as the state religion of Armenia. The significant word in this statement is statereligion in difference to first Christian nation. In the Armenian liturgy in the ‘Litany of General Intercession’ among the ‘believing kingsthe deacons mention the names of four ‘pious kings’: Abgar, Constantine, Trdat and Theodosius.
Abgar IX of Osrohoene Kingdom (Old Edessa, Urfa, now Sanliurfa, Turkey) was baptised Christian seventy years before Trdat, but Osrohoene lost its autonomy to Roman occupation (244 AD). In Movses Khorenatsi History of the Armenians Book II this legend is attributed to Abgar VIII (177-212) who exchanged Letters with Christ.
Constantine ‘the Great’ (272-337) became emperor in 312 after defeating his rival Maxentius at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. He attributed his victory to the Christian God and shortly afterwards toleration and favour were granted to Christianity in 313 enshrined in the Edict of Milan.
The date for the conversion of Trdat and the declaration of Christianity as the State religion of Armenia is calculated to have been in or about AD 301 (modern scholars prefer the date 314).
Three events lead to the conversion of Armenia to Christianity:
(a) the freeing of St Gregory from the pit (Khor virap),
(b) the baptism of king Trdat and the royal household and
(c) the founding of Holy Ejmiadsin [Ej (descent ) + miadsin (the Only begotten Son i.e. Christ)[ See the Map of the Five Patriarchates, Page 15 ]
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The Roman Emperor Theodosius I ‘the great’ (379-395) founded the Orthodox Christian State of the Roman Empire, and in 395 he banned pagan cults.
4-The recitation of the Nicene Creed following the reading of the Holy Gospel.
In the early Church, the practice was that the celebrant read passages from the Old Testament, the Epistles, and from the Gospels. Then, immediately after the reading of the Gospel the celebrant selected a ‘passage’( bnaban) from any of the three readings and delivered his sermon (Karoz) around that passage. At the conclusion of the sermon the congregation would give their approval and adherence (commitment) by reciting the Nicene Creed [ Hanganak Hawatoy]. Nowadays we have transferred the sermon in between ‘The Litany of the Lord’s Prayer’ and ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. This is because at the time of the reading of the Lections there is not many faithful in the church. The homily is the only crucial part of the liturgy delivered in modern Armenian.
The Nicene Creed was formulated at the Ecumenical or General Council (of Churches) that met at Nicaea (present day Iznik, Turkey) summoned by the Emperor Constantine in AD 325. Some three hundred and eighteen bishops from all over the Christian world, including Armenia in the person of Catholicos Aristakes I (325-333), attended the Council. The purpose of the Council was to debate the view of Arius, a priest in charge of a church in Alexandria, who held the pagan view that as God as an ‘unknowable, impassable, unchangeable and unreachable’, ‘Supreme being’ Christ and the Holy Spirit must be subordinate to the Father. God had created the Son to be his agent in creation and so He was God in a derivative sense, and since there was once when Christ did not exist so He could not be eternal. The ‘Anathema’ [Nzovk’] attached to the Creed makes this explicit.
The Nicene Creed affirmed the church’s belief in the Trinity of the Godhead. The significant point for us Armenians is that when Catholicos Aristakes brought the Creed back to Armenia St Gregory added to the Greek text of the Creed his own formulation of the Trinitarian Doctrine in the form of a Doxology(P’aratrut’iwn), which is unique to our liturgy. Foreigners call it ‘Hymn of the Armenian Churchor St Gregory’s Eulogy’ (see A.E.Burn, The Council of Nicaea, 1925, p.143)
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As for us, we shall glorify him who was before the ages ,worshipping the Holy Trinity and the one Godhead, the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, now and always and unto ages of ages .Amen”.
Another declaration in the creed to which I wish to reflect upon is the title all churches call themselves by We believe also in only one catholic and apostolic holy Church’ ( mi miayn endhanrakan ev arak’elakan [surb] ekeghetsi). We uphold this formulation as the deposit of the faith in all essentials in the title of our church is: Armenian Holy Apostolic Orthodox Church.
The Church is ‘Holy’ and is only one’ because its creator was ‘Holy’ and ‘Begotten’ .The Armenian Church is ‘Apostolic’ because the evangelisation of Armenia was by the efforts of the apostles Bartholomew (Matt.10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:23) and Apostle Thaddeus( Matt.10:3, Mark 3:18). Apostolicity is the sign, the mark of the attribute of the whole Church, of the One, Holy, and Catholic Church. ‘Apostolicity’ is claimed by:
  •   Rome (Apostles Peter & Paul),
  •   the Coptic Church (St Mark),
  •   Jerusalem (St James),
  •   The Syriac Church of South India (St Thomas) etc.
    The Armenian Church is Catholic [ Endhanrakan or Uggap’ar) since it has steadfastly maintained the deposit of the faith in all essentials as expressed by the Nicene Creed and the teaching of the First Three Ecumenical Councils. An Ecumenical Council is a meeting of the whole church represented by its bishops. The Armenian Church accepts the doctrines formulated at the Council of Nicaea (325), Constantinople (381) and Ephesus (431) [present Selcuk, Izmir province]. The faith and doctrines of these three councils is the ‘seal’ of our ‘orthodoxy’ like most of the other churches until 451.
    The Armenian Church distinguishes itself within the Christian church in that it has come into existence in a particular country, to serve a particular people. In the title ‘The Armenian’ Church”, the word for Armenian is Hayastaneayts which means “(the church of) the people living in Armenia”. Therefore it originally referred not to a nation but to a people living in a particular region of the world.
    Before concluding this section I need to make a final point. I am sure among you there will be some who have heard the name ‘Lusavortchakan’ or ‘Gregorianused to describe the Armenian Church. Both these terms were used maliciously to deny the ‘apostolicity’ of the Armenian Church. The first was coined by the Armenian catholic Mkhitarists, who deny the evidence that
Christianity existed in Armenia before the time of St Gregory Lushavoritch and deliberately associate the beginning of the Armenian Church with St Gregory the Illuminator. While the term ‘Gregorian’ for the same reasons was first employed in the Russian Constitution called Polozhenie (regulations) established in 1836 following the occupation of East Armenia in 1828.
5-Independent Jurisdiction
Christianity was brought to Armenia from Caesarea. St Gregory the Illuminator was consecrated Catholicos in Caesarea-Cappadocia (present Kayseri, Anatolia, Turkey). As the position and authority of Caesarea waned and Great Armenia [ Meds Hayk’ ceased to be under Roman protectorate as a result of the partition of the country between Rome and Persia in 387, so also the dependence of the Armenian Church on Caesarea lapsed since the Armenian church had matured and developed enough to pursue an independent course. In 389 catholicos Sahak I Partew(d.439) acceded to the throne without reference to Caesarea and by 451 Caesarea ceased to have any jurisdiction over Armenia. This was an important junction in the development of the Armenian Church.
6-Armenisation (Haytsoume) of the Armenian Church
The Creation of the Armenian Alphabet. Sometime earlier I commented upon the crucial importance of world events on Armenian history. 428 marks the end of the Arshakouni dynasty and the partition of Armenia between Persia and Byzantium. Byzantine Armenia was governed by Byzantine dukes while Eastern Armenia came under increasing pressure by Sassanian rulers called marzpans. In the Byzantine half of the country Greek was he language used and in the Persian half Syriac was used. Both languages were incomprehensible to the masses. This is borne out by Ghazar P’arpetsi’s complaint: the congregation of such a large country were quite unable to comprehend or profit from it because they did not understand the Syriac language’. A team of clergy called ‘Translators’ (T’argmanitch vardapetk’) were given the task of meeting the liturgical and spiritual needs of the Armenian people by translating the scriptural readings ad hoc. This was the time when St Mesrop Mashtots (361- 439), the Catholicos St Sahak (387-439) and he Armenian king Vramshapouh (389-417) after long and exhausting search created an Armenian alphabet which was the first step in the hayatsoum of Christianity[ Vrej Nersessian, ‘Armenian’ in Encyclopedia of the Languages of Europe, ed. By Glanville Price, Oxford, 1998, reprinted 2000,pp.13-18].
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-The Translation of the Bible: The Armenians call the Bible Astoudsashuntch, which means ‘breath of God’ and if a people has the desire for abundant life it must go on breathing God’s breathe. The Armenians are unique in that the invention of the Armenian alphabet and the subsequent translation of the Bible into Armenian is told by three contemporary historians:
(1) Koriwn vardape( c.390-447),
(2) Ghazar P’arp’etsi (437-500)
and Movses Khorenats’i (390-450).
The translation of the Bible was achieved in two stages. The first translation was done soon after the invention of the Armenian alphabet ,between 407 and 412 named the ‘hasty’(pout’anaki’) version, which was then perfected having in hand a copy of the Greek Septuagint [Yotanasnits’), brought to Armenian by Armenian representatives who had attended the Council of Ephesus in 431.
Armenian is the 7th language into which the Bible was translated [see Vrej Nersessian, The Bible in the Armenian Tradition, 2001; Vrej Nersessian ‘ The Armenian Bible’ in The Everyman Companion to East European Literature, eds.R.B.Pynsent & S,I.Kanikova,J,M.Dent, 1993,pp. 462-63.
7-The end of the formative period of Armenian Christianity
Two events that happened in AD 451 have left their stamp on our history. The First is the Battle of Avarayr and the Second is the Council of Chalcedon (nowadays Kadikoy, Istanbul) known as the 4th Ecumenical Council.
A-The Battle of Avarayr: This is the event which we teach our children from their cradle. For centuries Armenia had manoeuvred a very cautious political path between the Roman-Byzantine and the Iranian Empire. But when Christianity was declared the state religion of Armenia and the Roman- Byzantine Empire the entire future course of Armenian history was determined by Christianity’. The Persians sensing this inclination towards the west the Sasanian Empire took action to convert the Armenians back to Zoroastrianism: the religion of their forefathers. This was the beginning of the political division in Armenian society those who were Hunaser (oriented towards the Greeks like Vardan and the church) and those who were parskaser (oriented towards Persia like Vasak).In 451 The Persian Emperor Hazkert II issued an edict bidding the Armenians to renounce Christ and embrace Zoroastrianism. The
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story of this event is told by a contemporary Armenian historian Eghishe vardapet in his The History of Vardan and the Vardanians. The battle of Avarayr was not a political war but a religious one. The battle of Avarayr was the first military campaign in defence of the whole Christian Church. The struggle was for the preservation of the Church. In the words of Eghishe the Armenians fought to preserve their religious freedom and to ensure that the glory of the Church might not be dimmed’. Eghishe continues ‘we are ready to suffer persecution for our holy churches... since we recognise the Holy Gospel to be our Father and the Apostolic Catholic Church our Mother’. This was a noble cause taken ‘from all and for all”. This is what makes the Battle of Avarayr unique in the history of Christianity and not just of the Armenian Church. This is the first expression in defence of the freedom of faith what modern historians call ‘just war’. It was not a battle for ‘vasn Hayreneats (for the country). This is a later interpretation. The struggle to protect Christianity in Armenia continued until 484, when the antagonistic policy of Persia towards Christianity was reversed and he Persians declared full toleration of faith and recognised the establishment of the church with the Treaty of Nvarsak.
B-The Council of Chalcedon 451.
To finish the section covering from 3000 BC to 500 AD, one more event is necessary to comment upon. It is an event which has pre-occupied the minds of theologians since 451.
The Council of Chalcedon in 451 had destructive consequences between and within denominations. The deliberations of this Council revolved around the two nature(s) [bnoutiwn] of Christ. The Chalcedon meeting decided that Jesus Christ was one Person two natures, with one human nature and one divine nature, that is, i.e [‘in two natures]’. The Armenian Church, with four other churches:
  •   The Coptic church of Alexandria-Egypt,
  •   The Ethiopian Church,
  •   The Syrian church of Antioch
  •   The Syrian church of Malabar (a province of India)
    rejected this formulation and opted for the position that Jesus Christ is one person with one nature, human and divine as well [out of two natures][See Fig.3 The Diagram of Religions Page 16]. Our formulation is ‘Mi bnoutiwn banin marmnatselo’ “one nature of the Word incarnate’. The Armenian theologians maintained that Christ is one person, as charcoal and fire
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constitute the same live coal. God is not part of Christ. Christ is God. If the Son of God and the human Jesus can be separated, then Jesus would have died on the cross as an ordinary man and we would not be saved. In our Divine Liturgy we confirm this categorically by singing:
Holy God, holy and mighty, Holy and immortal,
Who wast crucified for us

Have mercy upon us’.
Our rejection of the Council of Chalcedon is not because we were engaged at the Battle of Avarary nor was it because our church fathers deficiencies of the Greek language or as the Armenian Catholics claim due to misunderstanding (t’iwrimatsouteamb). We rejected it for the same reason as the four other churches and most importantly our decision to do so took place fifteen years after the Council of Chalcedon, at the Council of Dvin in 506, in which the Georgians and the Caspian Albanians were also present.
Others call us this group of five other churches Anti-Chalcedonian or Non- Chalcedonian or Lesser Eastern Churches .The Greek and Roman Catholics call us Monophysite (from monos, one and physis nature). It is crucial to realize that the ONE nature is both human and divine. [ see Vrej (Nerses) Nersessian ‘The Armenian Tradition’ in The Orthodox Christian World, ed. By Augustine Casiday, Routledge, London, 2012, pp.41-57; Vrej (Nerses) Nersessian, ‘Armenian Christianity, in The Blackwell Companion to Eastern Christianity, ed. By Ken Parr, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, pp.23-46]
I am most grateful to Dr. Ara Nahabedian for his interest and encouragement by converting my notes into a leaflet.
Rvd. Dr. Nerses (Vrej) Nersessian Holy Trinity Church
nd July 2017.
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Paragraph Number
The Chronology of The Armenian Church
Page Number
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3000 BC
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1500 BC
1200 BC
860 BC
590 BC
550 BC
Yervantagan Dynasty,
450 BC
Alexander The Great 356- 323 BC
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Artashesian Dynasty, Tigran II the Great 95-56 BC
190 BC
1 AD
Jesus Christ
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Arshakouni Dynasty 53-428 AD
Christianity in Armenia
Catholicos Aristakes I (525-333)
Meeting in Niacea
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Meeting in Constantinople
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The Chronology of The Armenian Church
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Byzantian Armenia
Persian Armenia
Division of Armenia: Byzantium v Persia
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Bardzer Hayk
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Ruled by Byzantian Dukes
Arshakouni Dynasty 53-428 AD, under Sassanian Persian rule
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Greek language
Syriac language
406 428
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Armenian Alphabet:
Mesrob mashtots (361-439), Sahak catholicos (387-439), King Vramshapouh (389-417)

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Meeting in Ephesus
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Battle of Avarayr-Vartan
Meeting in Chalcedon
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Meeting in Dvin
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Bagratouni Dynasti
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Seljuk Invasion of Armenia
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Cilician Kingdom
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Paragraph Number
The Chronology of The Armenian Church
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Western Armenia
Eastern Armenia
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Turks in Armenia
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Russian Occupation East Armenia
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Ottoman Turks
1st Republic, Independent
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2nd Republic, Soviet Armenia
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3rd Republic, Independent
To Date
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