Armenian Church

Ancient Armenia, south of the Caucasus chain, nurtured a highly intelligent Indo-Germanic race, later dispersed and dispossessed like the Jews. Her native, autonomous dynasty ruled 300 years before Persian/Byzantine partition (387-190), thereafter surviving in the Persian sector until a.d. 428. Apostolic Christianization is claimed from a.d. 34-legends enshrining factual substratum abound in the considerable early indigenous literature. The secular background was Roman/Iranian, the religious affiliation Syriac/Greek. Gregory the Illuminator* inaugurated hereditary religious rule. The Adoptianist* heresy was widespread and may have affected Gregory. The native Armenian alphabet and vernacular Bible proved stabilizing influences.

Armenians consistently repudiated both Nestorianism,* upholding the Councils of Ephesus (431, 449), and Cyril of Alexandria who encouraged Monophysitism.* Abhorring the overhuman Nestorian Jesus, they posited an altogether suprahuman Christ. Struggling against Persia for religious independence, they missed the Council of Chalcedon (451), were out of touch and misunderstood, and the result was a hopeless split with the West that weakened the entire church and facilitated Islam's conquest.

The independent national Gregorian Church, repudiating Chalcedon, began about 506 and suffered two later splits: (1) the Romanizing Armenian Uniat Society, founded in 1335, with its renowned monastery of Mechitarists at St. Lazaar's Island, Venice; and (2) the lively evangelical Protestant Church, fruit of the American Mission after 1831, and speedily anathematized by the parent body.

Like Palestine the battleground of greater powers, and the victim of Muslim expansionism, Armenia suffered centuries of devastation by Persians, Turks, Russians, and others. The 1895 Turkish massacres shocked the world; Gregorian nationals, together with the hated Protestants, were the marked victims, while the Uniats enjoyed protection under Rome (see Uniat Churches). Dispersed Armenians still prosper in the Mediterranean basin and beyond.

H.A. Chakmakjian, Armenian Christology and Evangelization of Islam (1965); K. Sarkissian, The Council of Chalcedon and the Armenian Church (1965).